A Missionary Kid, His Dad and His Prayers
by Denis Jenkins
In the 1950s, it was still not easy being a missionary. I suppose it wasn't so bad for the adults who had the focus and purpose of spreading the gospel as they were engaged in their mission. Adult missionaries and the local people engaged over their work. But as a missionary child, it meant being taken away from family and friends. Missionary children lived much of the time in isolation both at school and socially. A missionary and his family were socially high on the pecking order and therefore local parents would tell their children not to annoy the missionary children as they were considered to be like children of royalty not to be approached unless specifically invited. Even when they were invited, they would stand in awe and not truly be engaged in games. In their view the missionary's child always had to win. This took all the fun out of games. They would talk amongst themselves and so the missionary child would feel left out.
An added stress on missionary children was when their fathers would travel for their work. Travel was so primitive that as a child you would fear that you may not see your father again. Many journeys were on foot through jungle trails or vast lava fields open to the beating sun. Facing accident disease and misadventure in meeting not so friendly people could be a real possibility. When travelling by sea some of the journeys were in small open boats or even large seagoing canoes. Even the more sophisticated travel was primitive; small 45 foot heavy wooden hulled launches. Some would be without radio and in the best inter-island boats, the diesel motors were great while running but frequently temperamental. So, missionary children lived in continuous fear for their loved ones safety.
As a child, each time my father left for a work related journey, I would pray my heart out. I would pray that God would keep his hand of protection over my father. I could not concentrate on anything else, while he was away, as my mind was constantly in prayer pleading with God that he would bring my father safely back home again.
Time and time again, all would be well and my father would return safely with great stories about his journey. But the stories illustrated the primitive and unreliable conditions he worked in. One time he was in one of the small wooden hulled island trading boats fast asleep in his cabin. Mind you one of few cabins on board as most of the locals would travel on the deck. He became conscious that something was hurting a finger. Then ouch that really hurt!!! He woke right up, grabbed his torch and shone it around. There was the largest rat he had seen almost the size of a cat. He fled up the stairs onto the deck with his finger stuck in a bottle of Dettol, he grabbed on the way, in case he could get a serious infection from the bite. Dad travelled deck passenger for the remainder of that trip. At another time he was travelling in a small island trading boat which got caught in a large storm. It heaved about so much that Dad decided he would need to go up on deck as he was feeling violently sea sick. He got to the door leading onto the deck to find that it had been locked to keep passengers off the deck. Now, feeling so ill he flew into the toilet just in time and unloaded into the pan. He felt so ill that he had to hold onto the rail on the wall. Everything was spinning in front of him. Little by little his eyes began to focus and low, he saw something bobbing around in the toilet. It took a little while for his head and eyes to clear, and then he realised it was his false teeth.
He believed that God had saved his parishioners' on the other island the agony of having a gummy preacher.
My father was due to take a short trip this time from Upolu to Savaii, two islands in Samoa. This was a relatively short and safe trip. He was going over in the morning and returning in the afternoon. This should have landed dad back home around 6.00PM. Six pm came and went and still no dad. Soon it was 9.00pm. Mum was mildly worried and phoned Pastor Helsby in Savaii to find out that dad had left on the 3.00pm ferry. Everyone then went into real worry mode. Mum phoned a prominent church member in Apia who decided it would be a good idea to drive out towards the ferry terminal to see if dad had broken down on the way, in his car.
John Ryan, drove out toward the ferry one hour away - hoping that around the next bend he would find dad. Each corner revealed nothing and the next corner would be the ferry wharf. As he rounded the bend, his heart leapt in alarm. There was dad's car in the parking lot and also a large group of people milling about.
John Ryan leapt out of his car wondering what had happened to dad. As he came to the centre of the group, he did not find dad but an official from the terminal talking to a large worried group of people.
"What has happened!!!" John demanded. The official broke the news that the ferry had not arrived. A search boat had gone out but could not find a trace of the ferry. The ferry must have broken down and then drifted away with the current between the two islands. Possibly the ferry had sunk without trace. Being dark there was no use in sending out a search boat or a plane.
A phone was located then John phoned Mum. We could not hear what was being said but Mum started to cry. We knew something was really wrong. We fell to our knees in prayer and prayed that whatever had happened that the Holy angels would bear dad up and keep him safe. We prayed and drifted off to sleep. We would fitfully wake up and pray again all the time our hearts breaking with grief and fear for what might have become of dad.
Morning came and still no dad, no John Ryan and we had not heard a word about what was happening. Finally, the phone rang. It was John Ryan who informed mum that planes were being sent out to see if they could find the ferry. By 1.00pm the planes came back, having covered hundreds of square miles, and yet with no sight of the ferry. We were devastated and feared for the worst.
Meanwhile on the ferry a small band of passengers were all huddled around my dad, the minister onboard, all praying that they would be found and rescued. The captain knew that the current was not going to go near any shipping lanes and they could just drift out into the Pacific and never be found.
Dad had boarded the ferry in Savaii a routine journey that he made all the time. The engines started belching a thick mist of diesel over everything. In fact dad was so used to this smell of diesel that it conjured up in his mind the smell of adventure.
The ferry pulled out of the wharf and through the reef and then the usual swell that was frequently very deep and then very high. The little craft would first climb the swell and then on top - the swell would drop giving one a sinking feeling in the stomach. Dad mused how it was quite fun and exhilarating. They were about half way through the journey when there was a mighty bang in the engine room. Smoke came through the hatch. Engineers rushed around with fire extinguishers and put out the flame. The ferry tossed around at the mercy of the swell. At times they thought they might turn over as they were slashed by waves.
The captain sent up a flare believing the people on either shore would see it. He sent MADAY signals out by radio until the batteries went flat and no one replied. They quickly drifted out of sight of land. The further they went the more serious they knew their plight was.
Away from the channel and the swell between the two islands, the sea became calmer. They drifted off into the blackness with no navigation or general purpose lighting on board. Women and children began to cry it became cold and the passengers huddled together for warmth.
All night, they prayed on and off that God would send them deliverance.
A large cargo vessel was steaming across the Pacific. It had left port late and they were charging along at speed to make up for lost time. The captain took an unprecedented decision to leave the shipping lane and to take a short cut. This was highly irregular and he was breaking the rules. But he knew the area well and knew how to keep out of trouble.
As his deck crew were scouring the horizon for any reefs or sand bars, one of the crew yelled to the captain. The Captain thought they were approaching danger and ordered the engines to be slowed. "What's the matter', he demanded of the crew member. "A small boat" he yelled back. " A small boat, and they are waving something." The captain took a closer look through his binoculars and yes he could see people on deck frantically waving a white cloth of some type.
The small praying group on deck opened their eyes. To their amazement, on the horizon, they could see the smoke from a ships funnel. Then, they could see a ship rising over the horizon and what is more it was coming towards them. The captain had no more flares and no way of warning the big ship of their plight. He ordered all the passengers to climb onto the ferry roof.
Everyone took off shirts and were waving frantically. My father took off his white shirt and gave another passenger his white coat to wave. The sun glistened on the white clothes and the ferry captain had found a shaving mirror that he then flashed by Morse Code that the ferry was in trouble.
On the large ship's deck, the captain saw the flashing light and had his signals officer determine if it was a message. The ships officer read, "Mayday - Mayday- we are in trouble and need help". The cargo ship flashed back a message - "We are on the way". The ferry captain flashed back "Thank God for his mercy and his saving grace".
Dad and the other ferry passengers were soon on the cargo ship deck and a message flashed back to Apia that dad was safe. We fell to our knees in thanksgiving. I know from a little boys experience that God is real and answers prayer.
This article is Copyright © 2013 by Denis L Jenkins. Used by permission.
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