"A Tale of a Fateful Trip"

Ata, an island In the South Pacific, was thought to be uninhabited. But as fisherman Peter Warner passed nearby, he saw, through his binoculars, evidence of a burned patch of ground where there had been a small fire. Out of curiosity he went in for a closer look.  A naked teenaged boy came running through the surf towards him, and what a story young Stephen had to tell.

There were six boys altogether, ages 13 to 16. School friends, they had stolen a 24-foot boat in order to take a joy ride--"a three-hour cruise," perhaps—but a storm took them off course and far away. By now they had been marooned on this little island for 15 months.

Coincidentally, Gilligan's Island, all about seven adults in a similar situation, was currently one of the most popular television shows in America. The year was 1966.

News of their rescue spread quickly back in Australia, where the guys were from. And there were many tears of joy across that nation. Their funerals had already been conducted, months earlier, and here they were--alive!

The teenagers lived off of raw fish, coconuts, and birds' eggs. Later, when they found the ruins of a long-deserted village, they retrieved some tools, a few domesticated plants, and even a small flock of chickens—descendants of ones that had been left behind when the island was abandoned, one hundred years earlier. They captured rainwater for drinking in hollowed out logs. They were able to start a fire and managed to keep it going for the rest of their time there.

The six castaways built a thatched-roof hut and an outdoor gymnasium with a badminton court. One of them made a primitive guitar out of the debris from their boat. They sang each evening around the fire—and prayed. They made a schedule of work and rest periods and stuck to it. And when they had their inevitable squabbles, they had an agreed upon procedure for handling them and cooling off.

A week ago, I preached a message entitled The Real World—about the challenges of living together in community. I meant to tell this story as an example of how to do it, but ended up leaving it out. Lessons like sticking together, working side by side. Handling relationship problems without violence, and not giving up when the going was tough. Singing and praying and never losing hope. A modern-day application of Jeremiah 29:4-14.

You have probably read William Golding's Lord Of The Flies—where boys stranded on an uninhabited island give in to anarchy and murder. But that doesn't have to be the result of major dislocation in life. By learning to cooperate, even a bad situation can be made bearable.

These boys returned home to the open arms of their families, as celebrities—and Peter Warner was hailed as a hero for finding and rescuing them. He died last month in New South Wales, Australia, at age 90. 60 Minutes told this story a few weeks ago, but I only learned of this amazing story from his obituary in the New York Times.

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