January 26, 2022

Adventist History on Display in French Polynesia

New historic courtyard tells how the Adventist message reached the region.

Tracey Bridcutt, Adventist Record, and Adventist Review

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in French Polynesia has installed a historic courtyard that tells how the Adventist message reached the island nation.

The courtyard, located at the French Polynesia Mission headquarters in Pape’ete, commemorates the arrival of Adventist missionary John Tay to the shores of Tahiti on December 24, 1890, aboard the mission ship Pitcairn. The story is presented on large plaques in both the French and Tahitian languages.

Mission president Roger Tetuanui said the courtyard will be central to their plans to hold an annual celebration to mark the anniversary of the arrival of Adventism in French Polynesia.

Along with the courtyard, the mission has installed a large permanent marquee to accommodate about 2,000 people. The marquee will be used for combined meetings with Adventist churches from Tahiti and sister island Moorea.

Located near the marquee is an old college building that the mission is renovating to bring it up to safety standards.

Tetuanui said the building will be used as a training center for young people to prepare them for the future and for volunteers who want to become missionaries in the islands the mission seeks to reach — the Marquesas Islands, Tuamotu Islands, and Gambier Islands.

“We want to train these people to know the culture, the language, and the world view of the people who live in these islands, and send them there to share the gospel message,” he said.

John Tay and the Pitcairn

When John Tay, from the United States, met Jesus, everything changed in his life. As a teenager, he loved the sea and sailing ships. Tay regularly went to the wharf to meet the large ships. He talked to sea captains about faraway places. But then he started to speak about Jesus.

In 1886 Tay could resist no longer. He left behind his wife and home in Oakland, California, finding passage on four different ships until he arrived at Pitcairn Island about four months later. John stayed on the island until the next ship arrived, about five weeks after that. During that time, he preached about Jesus. When he left, every single individual on Pitcairn was keeping the Sabbath and requesting baptism. Tay promised to send a minister to baptize them and organize a church.

After several years and many complications in reaching the islands in the Pacific, Adventist leaders at the General Conference decided to build their own mission ship to serve the region. The Pitcairn was launched on July 28, 1890, carrying three missionary couples, including John Tay and his wife. Upon their arrival on Pitcairn, 82 people were baptized into the newly organized church.

Merle Poirier contributed to this report.

The original version of this story was posted by Adventist Record.