And Shredded Sails
You have all heard the story of Jonah and how the prophet of the Lord tried to run away from doing the job that God had given him to do in warning Nineveh. Our story this time is about a missionary and how God again directed a ship by a great storm. This time, however, God used the storm to take a man to a place where people had been praying for missionaries to come.
In 1786, a party of Methodist missionaries sailed from England on their way to Nova Scotia in Canada. There was already some mission work going on in the area, and these missionaries were going there to help strengthen the mission work that was already begun. They set sail from England on September 24. Their progress was very slow; for week after week, they found themselves being buffeted by storms. The seas were rough and the winds blew hard. Two months later, on December 4, they were finally approaching Newfoundland, but still seemed unable to complete their crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.
About this time, Dr. Coke, the leader of the mission party, received a very strong impression that they were going to be driven to the West Indies. This was a very strange thing, as they were even then getting very close to Newfoundland, and the West Indies were thousands of miles away.
Because of the contrary winds, it was becoming almost impossible for the captain to hold his course. He became convinced that somehow the missionaries were responsible for his trouble. Crying out that there was a Jonah on board, he threw many of Dr. Coke’s books and papers overboard and even threatened to throw the doctor himself over.
At ten in the evening, a dreadful gale blew from the northwest. Mr. Hilditch, one of the passengers, came running to Dr. Coke, crying, "Pray for us, Doctor, pray for us, for we are just gone!" Coming out of his cabin, Dr. Coke learned that a dreadful hurricane had just arisen. The crew, being taken by surprise, had not had time to take down the sails and expecting that at any moment the ship would be filled with water and sink, in desperation were about to cut the mast down. Once the mast and sail had been cut down the ship would no longer be able to travel with the wind and would float helplessly on the sea.
After meeting for prayer, the missionaries sang a hymn together. Just at that moment, the foresail shredded to pieces, allowing the crew to save the mast, and probably the ship itself.
The captain decided to head across the Atlantic for the West Indies, the very place that Dr. Coke had felt impressed they were to go. The half-wrecked ship landed at Antigua in the West Indies on Christmas day. On this Island, two thousand miles from their intended destination, the Methodist missionaries found a shipwright [a carpenter who works on building and repairing ships] preacher by the name of Baxter, who had been working with the Black slaves of the island. Through his labors, more than two thousand had been converted to the gospel. These faithful people had been praying that God would send them missionaries!
Dr. Coke clearly understood God’s providence to have directed them to these islands to work for the people there, and he determined to make it his place of labor. He saw in their experience the "stormy wind fulfilling His Word" (see Psalm 148:8) in sending messengers of light across the seas. These missionaries were almost the first ray of light to have come to the slave population of these dark islands.
Dr. Coke was the agent used of God to plant the light of truth among the slaves of the West Indies. During his lifetime, he crossed and recrossed the Atlantic Ocean a number of times. Finally, in his old age on his way to start a mission on Ceylon, an island country not far from the coast of India, he died aboard a ship and was buried at sea.