When Pastor Jean-Noel Adeline was asked to go to Pitcairn Island, he soon realized he was facing a significant challenge. Before traveling to the tiny, isolated Pacific island, he spoke to one of the five remaining church attendees. According to the church member there, things looked grim.
“He said to me that they had planned to tell the union [church administrative unit] to close the church, to sell the church properties, including the mission house,” said Pastor Adeline, a long-time evangelist based at the New Zealand Pacific Union Conference (NZPUC).
“This was due to major tensions among the members. Some of them had not spoken to each other for years. We must remember that they have been in a very difficult situation, without a permanent pastor for some time.”
The Adventist Church has a long history on Pitcairn Island, which has about 54 residents—mostly descendants of the sailors involved in the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789. Twenty-two residents are listed as members of the Adventist Church—arguably the most isolated Adventist congregation in the world. The island has no airstrip and no safe harbor. From New Zealand it’s an arduous journey to get there, Adeline pointed out, involving two flights and two boat trips.
The last full-time pastor spent six years on Pitcairn, until 2011. Since then, two pastors from the French Polynesia Mission each spent a year on the island. The last pastor left in 2015 due to ill health.
Desperate for Spiritual Refreshing
NZPUC leaders saw that the church members were “desperate for spiritual refreshing,” but the union was unable to find a suitable pastor, according to secretary-treasurer Graeme Drinkall. So the leadership at the union office came up with a plan: send one pastor every quarter of the year, each spending two and a half weeks on the island.
Adeline was the first to visit under this new arrangement. Soon after his arrival, he was asked about his strategy to sort out the issues between the church members. “With my hand on my Bible, I said ‘Listen, I don’t have a plan, but I have this old Book, and I have God, and I believe He has a plan for this island. By His grace, I’m going to expound on His Word. And I believe God will do something.’”
And so the pastor’s mission began. Every evening at 7:00 p.m.—except for Thursdays, when the supply boat arrives—Adeline held a meeting at the church. The first meeting, on the Sabbath [Saturday], saw 26 people in the pews, both members and nonmembers. Also, every morning at 7:00 a.m., Adeline held a revival meeting specifically for the church members.
“Slowly but surely the members started to realize that even though the church is about people, first of all, it’s about God,” Adeline said. “It’s about His name, His character, His glory in our midst. It was helping the members to see why we exist as a church—not for ourselves but to be a light to Pitcairn, to help people to see Jesus. We are here to save the lost.”
A Miracle Unfolds
Adeline shared the impressive changes he began to witness. “From then on, God started to work miraculously,” he said. “Members started to go to the houses of those they had hurt and confessed their sins. It was a miracle to see them at church sitting together, singing, holding hands, praying with each other, crying with each other.”
This became a powerful testimony to all those on the island, including the mayor, who started attending the evening meetings. He encouraged his wife to attend. From 26 attendees on the first Sabbath, 36 came the following Sabbath, and 37 on the final Sabbath. It was a day of celebration as five baptisms were held in Bounty Bay. An additional five people have requested baptism, including the mayor and his wife.
In a post to her Facebook page, Pitcairn resident Melva Warren Evans said the outcome was “nothing short of a miracle.”
“I tell you now, miracles can and do happen,” Evans said. “I watched them unfold these past eighteen days. Decades-old animosity dried up and blew away by the revelation of our sinful nature when compared to Christ’s character.”
Evans said that they learned to give up self and focus on Jesus. “We stopped looking for fault in others while examining our warped character. We prayed together, for each other and our community. We asked God to, once more, take control. From a community in crisis, in eighteen days we have become a community united.”
Adeline said he appreciated the people of Pitcairn Island for their hospitality and warm fellowship. “They are very welcoming and took great care of me,” he said. “It was the privilege of a lifetime to go there; the island is so beautiful, filled with fruit trees and natural wonders.”
With such a significant spiritual transformation underway, Adeline wants the momentum to continue and is appealing to church members throughout the South Pacific to pray for the people on Pitcairn Island.
“This was not physical work; it was spiritual warfare,” he said. “Satan had been trying to claim the church and the people. Only the Spirit of God can penetrate our soul, melt our heart, smash our pride, and make us new.
“We need people to continue to pray for Pitcairn, so that what is happening there will blossom and bear eternal fruits,” he said.