Deep-seated tensions within the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Pitcairn Island had seen numbers dwindle from 22 attendees to just five. The church was set to close. Then a miracle happened.
When Pastor Jean-Noel Adeline was asked to go to Pitcairn Island, he soon realised he was facing a significant challenge. Before travelling to the tiny, isolated Pacific island, he spoke to one of the five remaining church attendees. And things looked grim.
“He said to me that they had planned to tell the Union 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 church in the world. The island has no airstrip and no safe harbour. From New Zealand, it’s an arduous journey to get there, involving two flights and two boat trips.
The last full-time pastor spent six years on Pitcairn up until 2011. Since then two pastors from French Polynesia Mission spent one year each on the island. The last pastor left in 2015 due to ill health.
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 they came up with a plan: to send one pastor every quarter, each spending two and-a-half weeks on the island.
Pastor Adeline was the first to go there 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 really 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 just expound on His Word. And I believe God will do something.”
And so his mission began. Every evening at 7pm—aside from Thursday when the supply boat arrived—Pastor Adeline held a meeting at the church. The first meeting, on the Sabbath, saw 26 people in the pews, both Adventist and non-Adventist. Every morning at 7am he also held a revival series specifically for the church members.
“Slowly but surely the members started to realise that even though the church is about people, first of all it’s about God,” Pastor 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.
“From then on God started to work miraculously. 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, there were 36 the following Sabbath and 37 on the final Sabbath, which was a day of much rejoicing as five baptisms were held in Bounty Bay. A further 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,” she said. “I watched them unfold these past 18 days. Decades-old animosity, dried up and blown away by the revelation of our sinful nature when compared to Christ’s character. We learned to give up self and focus on Jesus. We stopped looking for fault in others while examining our own warped character. We prayed together, for each other and for our community. We asked God to, once more, take control. From a community in crisis, in 18 days, we have become a community united.”
Pastor Adeline said he appreciated very much 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, he wants the momentum to continue and is appealing to church members around the South Pacific to pray for the people on Pitcairn Island.
“It’s a miraculous result,” he said. “This was not a physical work, it was spiritual warfare. 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.
“But we want this to continue. That’s why we need prayer. We need people to continue to pray for Pitcairn so that what is happening there will blossom and bear eternal fruits.”
NZPUC leaders remain committed to appointing a permanent pastor to Pitcairn Island and pray that God will help them to find the most suitable person.