100 years of celebration of the SDA church in SI – Part 2
Gizo is the capital of the Western Province in the Solomon Islands. With a population of 6,154 (2005 estimates), it is the second largest town in the country. It is situated on Ghizo Island approximately 380 kilometers west-northwest of the capital, Honiara, and is just southwest of the larger island of Kolombangara.
Gizo has a small landing strip on the nearby island of Nusatupe to the north east of the town, making it relatively developed compared to other settlements in the general vicinity. These days Gizo is a tourism center with diving and surfing being popular activities.
This area of the Solomon Islands has had a history of headhunting. According to local stories the Gizo tribes were notorious in this activity. As a consequence the surrounding local tribes took the unusual step of joining together to obliterate the Gizo tribe. The stories further relate that the only survivors were a Gizo woman and her son.
This event led to Ghizo islands being declared as a property of the state, rather than the usual customary ownership prevalent in much of the rest of the Solomons. As a secondary consequence becoming an administrative and business center because of the relative ease with which registered land titles could be obtained.
The Methodist Mission in the Western Province was established by Rev. John Frances Goldie in 1902. He dominated the mission and gained the loyalty of Solomon Islander members of his church. The relationship with the colonial administrators of the British Solomon lslands Protectorate were also fraught with difficulty, at this time due to Goldie’s effective control over the Western Solomon Islands.]
From 1927 to 1934 Dr Edward Sayers worked at the Methodist mission where he established a hospital at Gizo and also at Munda and Vella Lavella, and carried out fieldwork in the treatment of malaria.
Gizo is the second landing sight of Captain Griffitt Jones and Mrs. Marion Jones of England who were working for the Seventh-day Adventist Australasian Conference, Australia. The day is Friday, 29th of May, 1914 some 100 years ago to date.
THE ADVENT HERALD
Boats were the only means of transportation in the early days of the Solomons Islands. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been very instrumental in the spreading of the Gospel in the Islands of the Pacific. Advent Herald was first of the kind followed by many namely Varivato, Laoheni, Vinaritokai, Dani, Raratalau, GFJones, Batuna, Dandavata, Melanesia etc. The Advent Herald was a ketch of 32 ft and was contained in the MV Mindini when it arrived at Gizo wharf at the Burns Philp dock. The following story is an example of how God has protected His properties in time of trouble and uncertainties.
When the Japanese attacked Rabaul the early January 1942, it was decided that all European women and children of the mission would be evacuated to Australia. On the 8th of January, 1942, the MV Melanesia took the women and children to Gizo where they boarded the SS Malaita for the voyage to Sydney, departing Gizo on 12th January, 1942. When by January 25th Rabaul had been taken, the men abandoned their posts and set sail for Australia in the Melanesia. During the war the mission was entirely in the hands of Solomon Island missionaries who led by one of the first converts from Marovo Lagoon, Kata Ragoso.
The story of Portal tells of bravery, courageous men from the villages in the Marovo.
A Major in the British army was in charge of his majesty’s fleet in the Marovo. The fleet was made up of ships which really belonged to the mission but the army had taken control of them. They were the Dandavata, the Portal, and the GFJones. The Flagship was the Dandavata.
The Japanese were coming fast through the Solomons planning to get to Australia. This tiny fleet of God’s ships had fought without ceasing against the enemy. They had been successful in keeping the Japanese out of the Marovo Lagoon.
When the village men told the Major that the Japanese were coming and that he would have to leave quickly he decided it was time to go. He gave orders for the three ships to start up and get going. The Danadavata and the G.F. Jones had more modern and newer engines than the Portal, and they started very easily and were ready for the sea. The engine of the Portal refused to start. There was no time to waste and because the Major did not want the Japanese to have the Portal he gave orders for the Portal to be burned. He did not like doing this but there was no other way.
Two drums of petrol were emptied over the ship and the Major himself struck a match and threw it into the cabin of the Portal. Immediatelly, there was a roar and a sheet of flame reaching to the masthead took hold of the Portal.The Major, satisfied that the Portal was burnt, boarded the Danadavata and headed for the open ocean.
Our Seventh-day Adventist men could not bear to think of the mission ship, Portal burning so they prayed to God asking Him to do something to save the ship. The flames were burning in the cabin and the rigging with fury. Suddenly, almost as though an invisible blanket had been put over the ship, or some giant breath had given a mighty puff, the fire went out.
The men were convinced that God had heard their prayers and they shouted,””Portal hemi boat bilong God. Hem nating bone,” The men decided to try and hide the Portal from the enemy.
Some swimming, and some with poles, they managed to get the ship into the mouth of little creek in among the mangroves. By this time it was getting dark and the Japanese force passed by without seeing them. Through the night the men worked hard, lowering the masts, and taking down the awnings. Palm trees were taken from the jungle and placed around the deck. When daylight came the ship was so well disguised that it looked as if there was no ship there.
But the men’s work was not finished. They decided that if the Japanese came back and found the boat they wanted to make sure they wouldn’t be able to use it.
So, what did these clever men do? They took the engine to pieces, bit by bit. These bits were given to different men and told to care for them faithfully so that when the missionaries returned they could rebuild the engine. Some pieces were hung in trees, some hidden in the ground. And some worn as necklaces around their necks.
The fighting continued and although the planes flew over the Portal every day it was never discovered.
At the end of the war when the missionary returned he found a ship he thought had been burned but it had no engine. But suddenly from all directions came the engine parts and soon the Portal was ready to do God’s work again.
The men looked at the missionary and said, “ Portal, emi ship bilong God. Hem nating bone.”
(As told by Mrs Thelma Silva, the wife of the late Pastor Kevin Silva who was the founder of Pathfinder works in Australia and Solomon Islands. She was the guest speaker at Honiara, Solomon Islands during the 100 years celebration Pathfinder Camporee December, 2013. Additional information from the Seventh-day Adventist World Encyclopedia).
Compiled by Wilfred Tatagu Liligeto
Chea Village, Marovo Lagoon Solomon Islands