CAPTION: Sam Rylands with Brother Jack Alik, one of the Melanesian Brothers

Trainee priest stranded in Solomon Islands

Posted: 30th March, 2020

A young trainee priest is trying to get home to the UK after becoming stranded in the Solomon Islands when flights were cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Sam Rylands, 30, whose parents are both priests in the Diocese of Exeter, is believed to be the only Briton stuck there.

He had been on a visit to the Melanesian Brotherhood, an Anglican Christian community in Tabalia with an official link to the Church of England in Devon.

Sam, who is in the final year of ordination training at Trinity College, Bristol, flew out to the islands on 5 March and was due to return just after Easter.

Sam said: “My original return flight was cancelled and then the subsequent two flights I booked once I had advice to ‘move my travel plans forward’ were also cancelled.

“Healthcare is very poor here… there is only one hospital and no ventilators”

All flights to Australia (the only place to transit to the UK) have now been cancelled and Sam said: “It looks like I will be here for the forseeable future.

“My wife Lily and my family and friends have been contacting their MPs and the Foreign Office on my behalf.”

Sam said there had not yet been any confirmed cases of coronavirus in the islands but there were fears an outbreak could have a devastating effect: “Healthcare is very poor here… there is also only one hospital on the island and no ventilators.

“Another concern is that, being a group of isolated islands, if restrictions are in place too long then the economy will be seriously affected with food and medicine shortages.

“This could easily spark social unrest.

Sam says the Melanesian Brotherhood are ready to help deal with the virus

“We are praying that it doesn’t take a grip here, because if it does it could ravage the population, health wise but also economically and socially.

“We are also praying daily for all those affected by corona virus across the globe, including those back in the U.K.

The British Government has announced a new partnership with a number of airlines to try to get tens of thousands of Britons stranded abroad home.

It’s not yet clear if the move will now enable Sam to get a flight back to the UK.

Sam said he it trying to make the most of his extended stay until travel becomes possible again: “I think the Brothers could play a significant role here in encouraging people to take this virus seriously and to stress the importance of hygiene and measures to prevent its spread.

Not holding hands to pray

“They are a highly respected community in the Solomons, especially for their role during previous ethnic tension.

“They are preparing to step into the breach again if the virus spreads.

“I am trying to encourage, communicate, and model the importance of good hygiene but this seems like a very difficult task.

However, he added: “We did take the small but significant step of not holding hands to pray before we ate our last meal!”