There have been many strange stories about happenings in the South Pacific islands during the war years. This is one of those stories and perhaps is the strangest one of them all. This is about the mission schooner called Portal. It is a story about a boat that would not burn.
The Portal, and two other boats, the Dadavata and the G.F.Jones, had been commandeered by His Majesty's Navy and were anchored in the Marovo Lagoon in the Solomons. One day, a native came running up to the commander of the fleet of boats at his headquarters and gave the message: "The Jap man was coming in a plenty big fella ship!"
This was the moment that the commandant had dreaded would one day happen. They had to escape quickly so he gave the order for the three boats to get underway. The men were able to successfully get two of the boats under way, but the Portal's weary old engine just didn't want to start. Since they didn't want any remaining boats to fall into enemy hands, the sad order was given to destroy the Portal.
Two full drums of petrol were poured over the deck and in the cabin and the engine room. The fuel was then ignited by a bundle of waste being thrown into the cabin. As flames began to burst from the cabin, the men in charge of the demolition abandoned the Portal and escaped aboard one of the other boats and headed away from the approaching Japanese out into the safety of the lagoon.
Fourteen Japanese gunboats were rapidly descending upon them but the natives weren't terribly worried. The crews manning the Dadavata and the G.F.Jones knew every reef and shoal of the treacherous lagoon. They were easily able to outmanouvre the Japanese and escape.
But what about the Portal which had been left going up in flames? As the two boats were making their escape, the Solomon Islanders who had been watching with terrible sadness their beloved mission boat burning, prayed to God that somehow their boat could be saved. Instantly, and notwithstanding the fact that two full drums of petrol had been poured onto the boat, the fire miraculously went out.
With the realization that the LORD had answered their prayers and put the fire out, the islanders gave a joyous shout "Portal 'im 'e boat belong God. 'Im 'e no burn!"
The natives lost no time. They had to work quickly. Hurrying to the schooner they worked together to manouvre the boat into the mouth of a creek and moved it further up into the mangroves. They removed the mast and rigging and placed foliage over the Portal to camouflage the boat. By early the next day the boat was well hidden so that it could not be noticed either by sea or from the air. It was as if the island had swallowed up the boat--there was no trace of it remaining.
Weeks, months and years rolled by. The war dragged on with the Japanese actually taking possession of Marovo Lagoon. During all this time with planes flying overhead the Portal lay there undiscovered. Neither did any bombs dropped into the lagoon fall near the boat.
Eventually the war came to an end. Peace came again to the lagoon and one day in 1945, Elder Norman Ferris returned. He had been a missionary in the islands for many years before the war. The island natives welcomed him back joyously.
After prayers of thanksgiving some of the islanders got together and decided to bring the Portal out of its hidingplace.
Pastor Ferris, who noticed that not a few of them were heading away in a certain direction, called after them, "Where are you going?"
And as they were going, they called back, "We go catch 'im Portal!"
To this, Pastor Ferris cried out, "But the Portal was burned and sunk!"
Again the reply was given, "Government 'e no savvy 'e all time 'e gammon, Portal 'im 'e boat belong God 'im 'e no burn. Portal 'e stop, we get!"
And get it they did! The old boat looked a real mess. But after they cleaned it up it didn't look too bad and even proved seaworthy! Ferris walked over the boat and was lost in wonder that after these few years of war that the Portal could actually have survived. His hopes were badly dashed, however, when he found his way to the engine room and realized that something very important was amiss. There was no sign of the engine! Had it fallen into the hands of the Japanese?
Now Pastor Ferris was in for a real big surprise. Immediately the natives sent out the word, "Masta, 'im 'e want engine belong Portal one time quick." And from here and there, the natives began to bring in parts of the missing engine. Some parts had been buried in the sand and other parts hung in the trees out of enemy view. Some of the natives had worn parts as ornaments in their hair. When all the bits and pieces had been collected it was found that not even a small screw was missing.
Then the men who had dismantled the engine came forward. To the amazement of the pastor, they put it all together. Even after three years, they knew exactly which part went where. The fuel tank was then filled, the engine heated, and a rope put around the flywheel. Then the men gave a pull on the rope and the old engine roared to life.
Finally, the Portal was scrubbed and repainted except for the one small spot where the timber had burned near the door of the cabin. That one spot has been left to remain there as a mute testimony to the fact that the Portal, 'im 'e boat belong God, 'im 'e no burn.
And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. Isaiah 65:24
The voice of the LORD divideth the flames of fire. Psalm 29:7
Booton Herndon, The Seventh Day: The Story of the Seventh-day Adventists, pp. 240-243.
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Last revised: 30 Sep 2011.