I attended my first ASi convention in Spokane, Washington, in 1995. During the convention I met Craig Scott and Shane St. Clair, who had just started a new ministry, Search for One (SFO). They wanted to provide medical and dental help to the republic of Kiribati, located between Fiji to the south and the Marshall Islands to the north.
Kiribati (pronounced kir-ibus) is comprised of three island groups: the Line Islands on the east, the Phoenix Islands in the middle, and the Gilbert Islands to the west. The country extends for almost 2,000 miles in the equatorial Pacific, with very little landmass and lots of ocean.
Of the 23 inhabited islands, the vast majority of the population live on the Gilbert Islands, and SFO has focused its efforts there.
I love sailing. When I heard about the opportunity to be a boat captain and host family in this very remote part of the South Pacific, it did not take me long to volunteer. I presented my plan and the exciting mission opportunity to my family. We sold our vehicles, moved our things to storage, and prepared to start the medical mission program.
One day after we arrived, we headed out with a construction team to Abemama, one of the atolls in the Gilbert Islands. The Adventist boarding academy’s cafeteria roof needed repair. Kauma (pronounced cow-ma) Adventist School (KAS) boards 300-500 students. More than 90 percent are non-Adventist when they arrive, but many convert to Adventism by the time they leave. The school is one of the greatest evangelistic tools in the country.
When we arrived at the beginning of the school year, we found that the whole island was running out of supplies, including the school. Local freight boats had not delivered food or other supplies for weeks, because of high winds. Three hundred fifty students were arriving, and there was not enough food to feed them.
Takamati was the boys’ dean and a longtime supporter of SFO. An excellent seaman, he knew the passageways in and out of the various island lagoons. We hatched a plan to take a boat to Tarawa (the main island) and bring back food and supplies for the school.
In a day’s time we gathered enough fuel (also in very short supply) to sail to Tarawa. We left about 5:00 p.m. Wednesday evening and had a quick, uneventful trip, sailing with winds and currents and arriving about 5:00 a.m. Thursday morning. Mission headquarters had food and supplies ready to be sent back to the school. Young men at the mission office loaded the boat with several thousand pounds of rice, flour, sugar, and other staples. By 5:00 p.m. Thursday we were back on the ocean for the return trip to Abemama.
It did not take us long to realize that it was going to be a long, rough trip. The wind, waves, and current were against us. Providentially, we had loaded twice the amount of fuel needed for the trip. We were both experienced seamen and knew our route well.
As we journeyed into the night, we checked our GPS position and added fuel to the running tank every three hours. It became apparent that even with the extra fuel, we would need to make faster progress to reach our destination. By midday Friday I made a satellite call to the mission office. I told them we were running late and were low on fuel. The mission office quickly relayed the message to Barnabas, the high school principal. At 3:00 p.m. Friday afternoon he rang the emergency school bell. This summoned all the students and staff to the chapel for a special prayer service for us on the open ocean.
Up to this point we had not seen any improvement in the wind or waves despite our fervent prayers and those ascending from Kauma. The waves were in excess of 25 feet. Our 26-foot boat felt very small. We had prayed that God would calm the wind and waves for us, but that had not happened.
At exactly 3:00 p.m., while the students and staff were praying, the outboard motor quit. We had not transferred fuel to the running tank soon enough. I transferred fuel, and Takamati checked the GPS. I went to the back of the boat to start the outboard motor, and with my first hefty pull on the rope it ripped out of my hands. The motor would not turn over. With no power we were going three knots in the wrong direction. I tried to start the engine again. A big wave picked up the back panel of the boat and brought it down hard on my face. Fortunately, it didn’t knock me overboard, but I had a large gash on my forehead.
I called to Takamati, who was now in the boat’s cabin bailing water. Blood was streaming down my face. He handed me a rag and went to the back of the boat to attempt to start the engine. The first several pulls were ripped out of his hands too. Miraculously, the boat started.
We were about 27 miles from the lagoon. The harsh winds had been blowing salt water in my eyes for so long that I couldn’t see the compass anymore. Takamati took over, and I went below and lay down on rice bags to rest a little. Before I knew it, Takamati called me up to transfer fuel. It was dark, and I asked what time it was—9:00 p.m. We were near the lagoon. I quickly transferred the very last of the fuel to the engine.
I calculated the time and distance from our previous fuel transfer. This tank ran twice as long as during any other part of the trip, and we had traveled three times the distance. I asked Takamati if the weather had improved. He said no, it was worse. It was a clear miracle. As we traversed the lagoon we contemplated what we had just witnessed.
The best part was sharing the experience with the students and staff who had been praying for us at the hour of our worst extremity. In true missionary spirit KAS shared their valuable supplies with other schools on the island that had the same needs.
God still performs miracles! We were fortunate to see His hand at work that day.