Catherine and Elisha* sat in the stiff wooden pew of their small-town church on Sabbath morning. Catherine clutched three coins. Her brother fingered the coins in his pocket. The children had worked hard all week to earn 16 cents† to give to the special mission offering. Catherine had helped her mother bake bread, and then had sold it to their neighbors. Elisha had washed windows and delivered purchases for the owner of the general store.
At last the pastor announced the mission offering. As the children slipped their offering into the special box, the pastor reminded everyone that the offering would help build a mission ship. “We’ve earned enough to buy a board!” Elisha told the pastor, his eyes shining.
Others came forward too with their offerings. “My offering can buy some nails!” one boy said excitedly.
“Maybe my offering can help buy some canvas for the sails,” a little girl added. Coin by coin the offering box grew heavier.
Adventist Church members were excited. Mothers baked bread and cakes for their children to sell. One boy helped his mother pop popcorn over the family’s wood-burning stove to make hundreds of popcorn balls to raise $15 for the Pitcairn fund!
Everyone worked hard to raise money to build the ship. It was almost impossible to imagine raising the $12,000 needed to build the missionary ship.‡
Many years before there was a ship called the Pitcairn, a young man named John Tay heard the story of a rebellious crew on a British ship who had mutinied and put their cruel captain and a few of his crew aboard a lifeboat and sailed away on the mother ship, the Bounty. The mutineers had then taken refuge on a tiny island in the South Pacific called Pitcairn. It was so small and so far from shipping lanes that the mutineers were sure they would never be found.
But life wasn’t as secure as the mutineers and the women they had brought with them had hoped. Within a few years alcohol nearly destroyed the islanders as the men fought among themselves. Eventually only one of the mutineers, John Adams, remained alive to care for the four women and 23 children on the island. He gave up alcohol and turned to the Bible for guidance. Soon he and all the women and children on Pitcairn became Christians.
After some time news of the discovery of Pitcairn reached the world, and John Tay vowed to visit the island and share the Adventist message with the people there. He traded his skills as a carpenter for passage aboard a ship that took him to the South Pacific. Four months and six ships later John Tay arrived on Pitcairn.
Tay showed the islanders Bible truths they hadn’t known. Some people recognized the truths from tracts that had been shipped to the island years earlier. By the time the next ship docked at the island, virtually everyone on Pitcairn was keeping the Sabbath.
“Please baptize us!” the people begged. But John Tay wasn’t a pastor and felt he couldn’t baptize these people. He promised to send a pastor to baptize them.
Tay returned to San Francisco and told the story of Pitcairn. His passion inflamed believers, and eventually church officials voted to raise funds to build a ship that would sail to Pitcairn and other South Pacific islands to share the gospel with the people there.
Sabbath School members across North America—for that’s where most Adventists lived at the time—united to raise money to build the mission boat that was fittingly named Pitcairn.
In 1890, four years after Tay had first visited Pitcairn Island, the Pitcairn sailed toward Pitcairn Island with a crew and three missionary couples, including John and Hannah Tay. One month later the little ship approached Pitcairn. How warmly the Adventist visitors were greeted, especially John Tay!
Within a few days 82 Pitcairners were baptized, and the Adventist Church was established on Pitcairn. Just 100 years after the mutineers had stepped onto Pitcairn Island, virtually the entire population of Pitcairn Island had become Adventists.
Our mission offerings continue to reach around the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ, just as they did 100 years ago.
* Children’s names are fictional, as records of individual donors were not kept.
† A little more than US$3.50 today. For comparison, in 1886 a loaf of bread sold for less than five cents.
‡ The final cost of the ship, including furnishings and a pump organ, came to about $19,000.