My heart soared with adventurous expectation as I boarded the already over-burdened wooden boat. The journey to reach the mysterious Bipi Island far across the open ocean would take 14 hours. I knew very little of the infamous island, other than it supported a massive population of 2000 - quite incredible considering the total land area only spanned two square kilometers.
The journey was punctuated with frequent stops at other islands along the way. The sights savoured during these brief sojourns are etched forever in my memory. Hundreds of brightly-coloured youths and children gathered around the boat in dug-out canoes. Offering fruit and flowers to the passengers, their beaming smiles with dazzling white teeth stood out from their ebony faces. Beyond them, their island home with pristine turquoise-blue water graced coconut-lined beaches. The scene was surreal, as if I had entered into a postcard of an idyllic paradise. Pinching myself, I quickly realized it wasn’t a dream. I was beholding living edens.
As usual, my white skin and red hair drew a crowd of inquisitive spectators. My every movement was observed with intense interest and scrutiny. I didn’t mind though. God had made me like this for a reason and one of them was to use these opportunities to share Jesus with them.
Excited passengers announced that Bipi was the next stop. As the anchor was weighted, the setting sun, a magnificent shimmering orb sitting on the distant ocean horizon, flung out its majestic hues across sky and water.
Although small, Bipi was known to be the spiritual heart of this island province. The sorcerers ruled the heavens and the inhabitants with their dark powers. Despite the modern era that the rest of the world gloried in, Bipi had remained steeped in ancient traditions and superstitions.
Stepping up onto the beach I could clearly ‘see’ an unnatural hazy dome shrouding the island. Passing through the main village pathway to our lodging, it felt that I had entered into a haunt of devils. This place was ‘dark’!
I thanked God for the privilege bestowed upon me - the first ever white missionary to set foot on the island. Prayer gushed from my heart for the light of the Son to penetrate the pervading spiritual darkness.
Our week-long objective was to pioneer and establish an outreach on the island. The experiences encountered during the week were more than can be contained here - images and memories that cannot be erased with the course of time, but most significantly was one event that forever touched my own life. The oppression that accompanies spiritual darkness had bound the islanders in unjust tradition. One of these was the ‘rule’ that women and children could only eat after the men had stuffed their stomachs full, so food scraps and left-overs were their regular diet. The tradition went for women visitors as well! Plenty of food would be cooked but very little would be left over.
After a few days, my hunger sharply increased. Things were getting beyond a joke in my opinion. I now NEEDED some food! Pulling my interpreter by the hand, I dragged her to the tiny cooking hut. “I’m hungry!” I told her, motioning for her to find something for me to eat. “There must be something in here!”
The state of the ‘kitchen’ was appalling. A filth-laden dirt floor was surrounded with walls and thatched roof that were literally caked in the soot of hundreds of fires. In the centre of the hut sat a large earthen-ware cooking pot, also covered in black soot. Peering inside it, I discovered rice! On closer inspection, I found it was burnt and stuck to the inside of the vessel. Sighing, I resigned myself to partake of my ‘meal’. Sitting on the ground, I leaned over and began to scrape off the burnt rice - no easy task! Finally, a piece broke into my hand. With drooling delight, I lifted the food to my parted lips.
Suddenly, an assortment of chickens and dogs burst into the hut from another entrance. Making a bee-line for the rice in my hand, these creatures wrestled frantically to seize the food for themselves. Vigorously I fought off the chickens and dogs. It was a defining moment in my life. Overwhelmed with humiliation at having to fight for my food with animals, I recoiled in horror. This was too much. Aren’t I entitled to eat? my mind screamed. In the midst of it all, God spoke forcefully within my soul, “How far are you willing to go for Me and the gospel?” Stunned by God’s abrupt interaction, my humiliation instantly converted to humility in prayer. Yes, for the sake of bringing the gospel to this island, it is worth the inconveniences, even starvation and contending with animals, in order to ‘save some’.
A work of God’s grace had been fashioned in my heart. Later that day the first convert was led to Christ. Paul’s words uttered in a past millennium now spoke again with resounding force in my own soul, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”*
A few days later as we departed the island for home, I looked up into the brilliant blue sky and saw that the spiritual haze had gone. The light of the gospel had dispelled the darkness!
A true story.
* 1 Corinthians 9:22 (NIV).
Karen Elengikal is an inspirational, published writer from Sydney, Australia. Karen's first book 'Kidz Battle Zone' was released in 2007. (see FW Book Review).