In 1932, Captain McLaren brought a mission boat into the unentered territory of Mussau and Emirau. There was a good reason it was unentered: when the first missionary arrived he was clubbed to death and eaten.1 So when Captain McLaren steered the boat into what is sometimes known as “Dead Man’s Cove”, he did so at considerable personal risk to himself and his team.
When the mission boat made its way towards Mussau, the warriors in their war canoes raced out to meet them. Things were looking very grim. And then the small group had an idea—sing. Their first barrage began with “anywhere with Jesus I can safely go . . .”
. . . a community of mighty warriors became the birthplace of mighty men and women of God.
And that is when something astonishing happened. The warriors stopped rowing and started listening. And then the negotiating began. “If you teach us to sing like that, we’ll spare your lives,” the warriors offered. And so it began. Before too long, the entire island had become Adventist Christians.
But did it make any difference? No-one has been eaten on the island since and a community of mighty warriors became the birthplace of mighty men and women of God. An Adventist school was set up, and good health practices adopted. And incredibly, Mussau and Emirau are doing a fabulous work for God all over Papua New Guinea and even further afield.
But it isn’t a simple story, because now we have third and fourth generation Adventists. And all the familiar struggles to keep the first love of faith alive, occur in this beautiful community. The problem is particularly severe when young people move off the islands. That said, the Advent faith is still very much alive on these islands—and judging by the beautiful children at church, it has a very bright future!
But did they ever learn to sing beautifully? Visit our website to hear the unrehearsed congregational singing and decide for yourself.
1. Some reports of his death don’t mention cannibalism, but the oral tradition on the island indicates the missionary was indeed eaten.
Barry goes back
It’s almost three decades since the Oliver family packed their bags and headed from Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, to Australia. In those three decades a lot has happened. A volcanic eruption destroyed the town of Rabaul, the mission complex included, and left the old Oliver home a shambles. The one time mission man has become the Division man. The Oliver boys have grown up. Julie Oliver has survived a life-threatening illness. And Barry and Julie have celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.
Last month, Barry returned to the New Britain and New Ireland Mission, and for the first time in all those years he travelled to the island of Mussau—a small place with a very big part in Adventist history.
“I love travelling throughout the Division,” notes Barry, “but there’s something very nostalgic about coming back here—it feels like coming home.”
It’s also a place rich with memories. “The last time I was in Mussau, Julie and my young boys were with me. It was very special as we travelled over on canoes—probably very similar to the ones that first met missionaries when they arrived here.”
Barry also had the chance to visit his old home in Rabaul while in New Britain. The volcano was rumbling in the distance the day he visited. “I’ve got so many memories here. It was tough work, but I wouldn’t give up the experience for anything. Doing cross-cultural service makes you see the world in a different way. I’ve drawn on the experience many times and continue to.”