By Rick Frazee
This article is based on a true story. Sometimes we see God working among us and assume that it means that God is working just here and just now. This story can give us a perspective that is eye opening and encouraging, a perspective that we should be reminded of every now and then. With apologies to Paul Harvey, I call this message “The Rest of the Story”
Remember the story of the “Mutiny on the Bounty”? Remember Captain Bligh and the hero/mutineer Mr. Christian? That was essentially a true story that happened in the late 1700s. It begins with King George III of England in the year 1768 when he decided that certain uninhabited South Sea Islands would be more useful if they had a better food supply.
It was believed that the breadfruit palm could make these islands habitable, so in 1787 King George sent out a small ship (The Bounty) to transplant the breadfruit from Tahiti to these other South Sea islands.
The Bounty arrived in Tahiti on October 26, 1788. Just a few months later, some of the crew led by Mr. Christian mutinied. They didn’t want to leave this beautiful island. The pirates were chased down and most of them were brought to justice. However, nine mutineers escaped on The Bounty taking with them 17 natives, including six men, ten women, and one girl of 15.
In their desperation to escape the hangman’s noose they fled to a small, little known place called Pitcairn Island. It was a tiny place, only two miles long and one mile wide, a rugged, mountainous island with only about 88 acres of soil suitable for crops.
This small group set out to make Pitcairn their home; nine hardened, tough English sailors and 17 Tahitians creating one of the most diverse and unlikely groups imaginable, marooned on a beautiful South Sea island
They had escaped the oppression of British rule, and surely their dreams were of an island paradise of peace and happiness. But the society that resulted, well, the Encyclopedia Britannica called it “Hell on earth”. They created their own culture with no rules, with no law. They not only practiced polygamy, but every possible combination of men and women. History is unclear on the details, but some have said that the hero, Mr. Christian, was shot and killed after attempting to steal another man’s wife.
They lied, cheated, stole, and murdered until within just a few years there was just one of the original mutineers left. It was so wretched and violent that only one of the original fifteen men died of natural causes. This society gave new meaning to the word dysfunctional. It was on course for extinction: one man left with a harem of Tahitian women and a bunch of children.
Which brings us to “The Rest of the Story”.
The last mutineer was named Alexander Smith. This man who could barely read and write was left wondering what had happened to their dream of paradise, a man left with ugly memories and an uncertain future.
Then, in a sailor’s chest, he found a book. He began to read it. It made sense. He started to regret his past and resolved to follow the principles that he found in that book. He set out to teach a new way of life to the kids. They grew up, got married, and more children were born. Their society prospered.
Finally, nearly twenty years later in 1808, the American ship The Topaz brought news of the fate of the mutineers to the rest of the world. What could be left of such a dysfunctional group of people with terrible examples of family relationships?
What was society like when Pitcairn was rediscovered?
I would like to quote from The Book Nobody Knows, by Bruce Barton:
There was no jail. There was no hospital. There was no insane asylum. There was no illiteracy, no crime, no disease. The people had no doctors, took no medicine, used no liquor…. Nowhere on earth were life and property more safe. What changed that place from a hell on earth to a little speck of heaven dropped down on the South Seas? The reading of The Book.
The reading of the Holy Bible? Now, my curious nature said, “This is too good to be true. This sounds like a fairy tale.” After a trip to the library and armed with a stack of books I set out to discover the true story of these people, who were human beings just like you and me. I found that the picture Bruce Barton painted in words was essentially true, but it failed to express their struggles. The struggle to survive the elements, the hurricanes, the heat, drought and cold. The fight to overcome their own mistakes brought down on them by a dysfunctional society, illiteracy, and their own human nature. Through all of this a seemingly perfect society began to emerge. Why? They took the Bible literally, and they did their best to pattern their little island world after the model they found in God’s Word, the Bible. As a result, God poured out abundant blessings.
Are we as committed? Are we as determined?
I have known many who have studied the Bible, sometimes pretty diligently, but seldom with such graphic results. So I determined to find out what they did that so dramatically turned their society around. I found evidence of three basic points whose results are so dramatic and inspiring.
First, they put themselves in God’s hands, totally, and without reservation. They trusted God to speak to them through the words of his Bible, by prayer, and by study. They prayed together in the morning and in the evening. In their tradition they all studied the Bible together, every day, using it as a guide for living.
One story tells of a visitor staying with an Island family. After everyone in the house had gone to bed, the Pitcairners waited until they thought the visitor was asleep, then they all got up to pray. They were dedicated to looking to God for answers.
Which brings me to the second point: they tended to be open minded. They followed the example of the Bereans. In Acts 17:11 we read, “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
The people of Pitcairn Island actively followed this verse. One book said the Pitcairners were known for their insatiable desire for religious tracts. When they found the truth, the same thing happened to them that happened to the Bereans: “Therefore, many of them believed” (Acts 17:12). They were actively searching God’s Word for His will and asking how it applied to them.
Finally, they took action. They were motivated. When they found the truth, they applied it. They zealously embraced the principles they discovered in God’s Word, sometimes maybe too enthusiastically.
When they discovered fasting, for a while they fasted twice a week.
When they came to understand foot washing as a symbol of humility, they washed each other’s feet every week.
When the seventh day Sabbath was presented to them in the mid-1800s by the Seventh Day Adventists “with the support of many passages of scripture”, they zealously embraced the Sabbath.
The book Pitcairn Island, by David Silverman, says,
Evidence of the modern Pitcairners’ faith is both abundant and impressive. Their close observance of its tenets involves not merely the practice and rituals; it requires many material sacrifices. The Sabbatarian restrictions on labor frequently proved galling [from the author’s point of view], as when, on one of their all-important trips to gather miro-wood. Unfavorable winds landed them at Henderson Island on the Sabbath. The Pitcairners chose to return without the prized wood rather than cut and load it on the Sabbath.
These people energetically embraced the Bible as the literal words of God, a blueprint on which to base their lives. It worked with awesome results. Even when outsiders severely criticized them for their strict adherence to biblical principles, they followed the Bible anyway. Think about it! They were being called legalistic, yet no one could argue with the results.
A friend of mine once knew a man who went to Pitcairn as a social worker. When he came back, he was not only baptized, but he came back to the United States to tell their story to anyone who would listen.
What an awe-inspiring example for us today! They used the Bible, the power of God speaking through His Word, to overcome the worst kind of dysfunctional background and physical trials. The next time you are discouraged or depressed, the next time you are faced with an impossible trial, turn to the answer Book. Look for God to reveal the answer through the textbook of life, the Holy Bible. Expect God to help just as He helped them. God did it for them, and He will do it for us.
Earlier, I promised “The Rest of the Story”. I’d like to list for you a summary of the teachings of the Pitcairners of the late 1800’s. Again, from David Silverman’s book Pitcairn Island (remember that Mr. Silverman was an outsider—think about what he would say if he were talking about us):
Their tenets included belief in the Second Coming of Christ and the concurrent beginning of the Millenium, and a Hebraic emphasis on Sabbath observance on Saturday. The new creed further involved acceptance of the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice, the doctrines of salvation by faith, baptism by immersion, foot-washing before communion, and tithing.
Mutineers to God’s elect! Could that be the real rest of the story?