Island to island in French Polynesia!Sometimes we’re asked ‘How did you manage to bring up children while at the same time traveling to so many distant places?’ We’re happy to explain about the various home schooling programs we used, but perhaps the best answer is that our mobile lifestyle gave a unique chance to see the world & experience things that other children of their age would only read about in books…How’s this for a truly unique experience: traveling by cargo ship to distant islands in French Polynesia!
Although everyone has heard of Tahiti, not so many people understand that this is only the main island & that the whole country is made up of widely scattered island groups that cover an area as big as Western Europe. Although some of these islands can be reached by propeller planes, most of them don’t have airports & can only be reached by ship. So it was that Susan & I, along with our 2 children—Philip (12) & Shelly (9)—decided to see if we could get a donated passage on the ‘St Xavier Marie Stella’–a 75 meter vessel, with an itinerary of visiting 12 atolls in the Tuamotu group of islands). We were given some bunk beds & found ourselves sharing the dormitory-cabin with heavily tattooed sailors & a few surprised local travelers!
Visiting these Pacific atolls was an incredible experience as each island is in fact an enormous ring 10 to 50 kilometers across, with a turquoise/blue lagoon in the middle. At first glance, one might think there’s nothing but palm trees, but after disembarking from the ship by means of a small whale boat, we soon found there were small villages with shops, post office & most other signs of civilization, (no traffic jams though!). At each island, we found people to be very receptive to our tracts & gospel materials, as anything new is really appreciated.
We quickly learned that one question that the crew didn’t like being asked was, “How long will we spend on this island?” or “What time do we leave?” We were told that only the captain knows this, but when we asked the captain, he didn’t know either! Apparently, everything depended on the winds & the tides, as well as how much cargo there was to load & unload. This made things a little difficult for our outreach as we never knew how far we could stray from the ship before it would pull up the anchor & sail off, leaving us marooned! On one occasion we misjudged the situation & were busy doing outreach several kilometers away from the ship….fortunately the captain send an islander after us in a jeep & he was able to find us just in time!
Since our atoll trip, we’ve since traveled with 2 more large cargo ships, this time visiting the mountainous & more populated Marquise & Austral islands. The Lord led us to spend a few days to a week at each main island in order to visit the schools, hospitals & colleges to give slide shows & promote ‘Activated’. This involved praying for some accommodation & then taking the next ship. That might sound easy enough but each time it was a real miracle as sometimes we would be dropped off in the middle of the night at an empty quay, while at other places there were serious rumors that the ship we were planning to catch had been cancelled & the next one would only arrive 2 weeks later! In every case though, the Lord was faithful to raise up some free accommodation. All in all, it’s been a very interesting & challenging way of preaching the gospel “unto the uttermost part of the earth”. Oh yes—and a great geography lesson for the children at the same time!