orn in 1899 in rural Australia, Rubina May Ferris lived a life of adventure, heartache, and joy. Together with her husband, Norman, they helped pioneer the Adventist work in the South Pacific’s Solomon Islands. It was dangerous, demanding work. Yet Ruby never felt she accomplished much for the gospel.
When Ruby passed away at 103, she left behind a diary. Called Nana’s Memoirs, it provides an intriguing glimpse into the heart of a missionary whose passion for souls knew no bounds. The following are excerpts from Nana’s Memoirs.
“Baby Overboard!” (1929)
As furlough came to an end, preparations were made for our return, but high winds and heavy seas thwarted our plans. So we anchored for the night, hoping the morning would bring calm waters. . . .
Morning brought no change to the weather. So we decided to travel around by the top of New Georgia, thus averting traveling in heavy seas. The ship tossed almost uncontrollably. Late that night we entered the calm waters of the Marovo Lagoon. We were exhausted and glad to leave the rolling seas behind us.
I bedded down on the bare cabin top with my daughter Norma on my left side and baby Ray on my right arm, and we all fell asleep without anything to eat. How long we traveled I do not know. All at once the Kima lurched over to port, and threw Norma into the sea. All was panic. Our boat had struck a rock, and the keel had run into a groove in the rock that held her fast. I screamed out, “Norma has gone overboard! Norma is overboard!”
Jamuru, one of the crew, dived overboard, but only came up with a basket of sweet potatoes. Then Ragoso dived down and brought her up, not much worse for her bath. The orders were given for all to quickly move forward to see if we could get the boat off the rock. Norman had come to assist the baby and me when suddenly the boat turned and threw us into the water on the starboard side. We were quickly assisted aboard. But our position was really precarious now for we were on a falling tide.
The dingy we towed was too small and leaky to be of any help for survival, so two people were sent in it to secure help from a village miles away. As the hours passed the boat sank further and further into the sea. I wondered what was to be our end as we waited and prayed and listened. After what seemed like hours, the noise of paddling a man-o-war canoe filled our ears. God had heard and answered. It was late next morning when we arrived at Batuma worn and weary.
How They Need Jesus
One Sabbath morning we were about to conduct Sabbath school with our crew when a big, strong-looking fellow came stomping up. When I asked him the reason for his coming, he replied, “Picanniny belong me sick too much.” I explained that we would go to his village and see his sick child.
The patient was a little girl about 18 months old, and upon questioning the mother we found that the child had not had a bowel motion for two or three days and seemed uncomfortable. I began to prepare a mixture to bring relief, and as I prepared to administer it, the mother and the whole family fled to the bush and refused to let me near the child. One woman had a high tropical ulcer on her leg with blood running down and flies swarming it. She did allow my husband to give her an injection before we returned to our station.
Next morning we again visited the home where the sick child lived and what I saw staggered me. The devil priest had been called in and with a knife had cut a gash fully an inch deep all around the bottom of the child. They said this was to let the devil out. The little girl was only semiconscious. I made a dressing of soothing ointment in the form of a napkin. . . . I visited the child again in the evening, but there was no change in her condition.
Next morning before arriving at the village, I could hear the cries of mourning from the house and knew that the child was dead. With the mother still holding the baby, I sat on the wooden slat that composed her bed and putting my arms around her told her how sorry I was. I asked her how many other children she had, and her reply was, “This make’m four fellow he die finish.” She had lost three other babies besides this one.
I thought of my own children, snug and happy at home, and here this dear mother had lost all four. How badly they needed the healing power of the gospel of Christ.
“Kill Him! Kill Him!”
While awaiting the arrival of ?our baby, my husband decided to make a visit to the nearby island of Guadalcanal. All our work to this time had been on the other side of the island, and we were anxious to get a footing on this side. My husband took his cook boy, Imbi, and his crew over to the closest village. He left the crew to care for the boat and ventured ashore with Imbi. He did not know that the devil had spoken to Ngata, a devil priest, in the village, telling him that Norman was coming ashore and that he was to go down and kill him.
So on going ashore the two met. The devil, through Ngata, said, “Kill him, kill him!”
Another voice said, “He has something good for you.” So Ngata put down his waddy [hunting stick] and listened for the first time in his life to the gospel story. He was thrilled and begged for a teacher to come to his village and tell him more. My husband did not have a teacher available at the time, and Imbi, an uneducated lad, offered to stay and teach Ngata more. This once-heathen priest became converted and did a mighty work among his people after being baptized.
War clouds now were looming on the horizon, and the Japanese had eyes on Singapore. German raiding ships were also plying the Pacific waters. The government had at the time sent up Dracula Thompson to send up coast guards around the islands. Things were really getting serious, and we were advised by the security guard to send the two eldest children back to Australia for their safety. This we did.
As the Japanese continued their conquering thrust south, the government ordered all women and children south on the next available steamer. We left Tulagi with a cyclone threatening and the ship full. It was sad saying goodbye to my husband, leaving him alone on the wharf.
As we got underway, the ship tossed and rolled and many of the passengers became seasick. Toward evening the ship was battened down to keep the waves from washing over, and fat burning in the galley sent smoke up to the decks. Because of this, I left the music room and went out on the back side of the ship to get a breath of fresh air. As I did so, a searchlight picked up our ship and played all over it. I ran back inside and “Sparks,” who was in the music room, heard me say, “Searchlight! Searchlight.”
“Oh, no,” he said, as he spotted the light. The captain was told to turn, and as the boat wallowed in the high seas it became apparent that we were in trouble. We were ordered to muster in the dining room and to bring our survival kits with us. Pregnant women, seasick and carrying buckets to vomit into, and mothers with babies were among the motley throng. The captain had thrown his ship’s papers overboard, thinking that a “raider” was bearing down on us. I was paralyzed with fright. . . .
A Mission Heritage
Needless to say, Ruby and Norman and their children—Ray, Norma, Ervin, and Marilyn—survived the war and served as missionaries for several years. Son Ray was killed as a young man in a traffic accident. While Norman was serving as superintendent of Mona Mona Mission in Cairns, Australia, he also died as a result of injuries suffered during an automobile accident.
Norma grew up to follow in her parents’ footsteps. She and her husband, Barry Crabtree, served as missionaries in the Vanuatu and Fiji islands before spending several years in pastoral ministry in Australia and the United States. Now retired, they live in Victoria Point, Queensland, Australia.
Son Ervin served Australia and New Zealand as conference and union conference youth director for nearly 40 years. Since 1996 he has served as Short-term Ministries director for the South Queensland Conference and is involved with the Fly and Build Programme, building hospitals, churches, clinics, and schools in the Solomon Islands.
In 1989 Ruby was invited to an anniversary celebration where she and Norman had labored so hard to start a congregation many years before. “Here Mother saw the results of her service,” says Ervin. “She was thrilled to find seven churches with 1,800 members.”
In 1995, at age 96, Ruby visited the Solomon Islands again. As her boat docked in Guadalcanal, more than 1,000 uniformed church members formed an honor guard to greet her. Tears filled her eyes as she said, “It must have been worthwhile after all.”
Lauri Falvo is a communication projects manager for the office of Adventist Mission in Silver Spring, Maryland., United States. Ready Ruby Ferris’s complete memoirs at www.adventistmission.org. The office of Adventist Mission thanks Ervin Ferris, Ruby’s son, for sharing his mother’s inspiring diary.