by Tom Wacaster
In the year 1800 A.D., an outrigger canoe from Rai’atea, near Tahiti, was caught in a storm, blown off course, and then after drifting 750 miles west, landed on the northern shore of Rarotonga. The fishermen were greeted by the ariki chief, Makea Timirau, and the people of the Te-au-o-Tonga tribe. The fishermen shared with the people of Rarotonga news about a new god that had come to their island some two years earlier. That “god” was Jehovah, Who had a son by the name of Jesus Christ. Because of the teaching of the people from Beritini (Britan), many of the people were becoming Christians. The aged chief of the Te-au-o-Tonga tribe asked the fishermen, “Why would you desert the gods of your fathers to serve this Jehovah? What blessing has Jehovah brought to Rai’atea?” The Rai’atean fishermen answered in one word: “Peace!” After the fishermen had left for home, the Rarotongans pondered the significance of the news which they had received. “Peace” was a dream of their entire island. For over a century now they had experienced only anarchy and agnosticism. These people had been looking for such a god who could bring them the peace experienced by their neighboring Rai’ateans. Over the next several years they would dream of the day when this Jehovah would come. In the midst of their search for alternatives came the visits of James Cook and the “Bounty” that renewed these dreams. The Rarotongans wanted the blessings of this new “God,” so chief Makea commanded the people to pray daily that someone would bring Jehovah. He built a temple to Jehovah, and named the next generation “Jesus Christ.” For more than a quarter century the people of that island literally for “priests” of Jehovah to come. In July, 1823, a teacher from the London Missionary Society arrived. Messengers quickly spread the news to others on the island, “Jehovah is come!” Within months hundreds of ancestral figures were burned and almost all of the 8,000 inhabitants of that island were studying the Bible every day.
The amazing providence of God can be seen in this story, for without the storm it is possible that the inhabitants of Rarotonga might well have remained in darkness for yet another century or two. My various mission trips over the past two decades has convinced me even more that God works in a providential way to get His gospel to those longing for the truth. Let me tell you of an incident this past week that reminded me of the wonderful providence of our God. One of the primary cities in which Nehemiah Gootam and I have worked over the years is Palacole. My first work in this city was in 2004. Good hotels were hard to come by; in fact they simply did not exist. One year when we were leaving to head to Palacole, Nehemiah purchased some sheets in Kakinada to carry with us. Upon our arrival in Palacole, we checked into the local hotel, and Nehemiah gave me two sheets to use in the place of those already on the bed. Digny brown is how I would describe the sheets the hotel supplied. The bathrooms were anything but clean, but at least it was a place where we could lay our head for a couple of days.
Three years ago they built a new hotel in Palacole: The Royal Regency. The name of the hotel is a little misleading, but the rooms are descent, and for the most part clean and comfortable. It so happens that a young man took a job with that hotel sometime back. Somehow he and his father had heard of the church of Christ in Palacole but had not come into contact with any of the members. His father preaches for a 150 member denominational church. On our last morning at Palacole, as we were packing to leave, the young man came to my room and began a conversation with Nehemiah. As it turns out it was his night to work the 3rd floor, and had heard us speaking about the church, the school and the Bible. He took advantage of the opportunity, inquired about the school and expressed a desire to learn more. Circumstance? Was all of this an accident in some random chain of events? I don’t think so. There have been too many examples like this in almost every place where I have preached, both in local work and in mission work. The world may see all such chain of events as mere circumstance. Believing in a God Who oversees the universe, and Who will not allow a sparrow to fall without taking notice, I prefer to see it as God’s providence. God not only requires that we seek Him (Heb. 11:6), but He too is active in seeking lost humanity.
When Papehia, the Polynesian teacher, landed on Rarotonga in 1823 he was considered an answer to the prayers of the people. His arrival generated great joy, and people were running around the island shouting the news of Jehovah’s arrival. Today there are untold millions who may very well be praying that Jehovah will come. I am thankful that you and I can play some small part in answer to their prayers; and I am thankful that our God, in His wonderful providence, is able to get us in touch with those souls seeking the true and living God.