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A Relational Example of Rescuing the Lost

Author Nijay Gupta recounts the 1965-1966 story of a group of six boys who ran away from their homeland of Tonga.

The young boys stole a boat and headed out hastily in search of Fiji (some five hundred miles away). They took a sack of food and a small gas burner stove, but no map or compass. Due to their amateur sailing skills and the unfriendly seas, they were lost, adrift for eight days, until they finally spotted land. They ended up on the deserted island of Ata. These Tongan boys were stranded there for fifteen months.

Their rescue finally came through Australian Captain Peter Warner, who happened upon them as during a return sail from the capital of Tonga. Casually focusing his binoculars at a nearby Ata Island, which was thought to be uninhabited, he noticed a burned patch of ground. He said during a later interview, “I thought, that’s strange that a fire should start in the tropics on an uninhabited island. So, we decided to investigate further.”

As they approached, they saw a teenage boy rushing into the water toward them; five more quickly followed. When the boy reached the boat, he told Mr. Warner that he and his friends had been stranded for more than a year, living off the land and trying to signal for help from passing ships.

Most stories of dramatic rescues tend to stop there, and the reader is left wondering, “What happened to these boys? Were they okay? Did they live happy, and fulfilled lives? Did they stay friends?”

The rest of the story is that immediately after Wallace delivered them back home, they were arrested for stealing the boat they had “borrowed.” Warner took pity on them and paid the boat owner $200 to get the kids off the hook. Furthermore, Warner decided to quit his job in Sydney and stay in Tonga long-term. He started a fishing business there and hired the shipwrecked boys as his crew. Warmer mentored and stayed friends with some of them for the rest of his life. One of the boys said, after several decades of friendship, “He [Warner] was like a father to me.”

Gupta adds, “This captures poignantly the difference between a plastic, ‘get-out-of-hell-free’ type of salvation message of Christianity, and a deeper, more relational, dynamic vision of ‘rescue’ that is characteristic of the New Testament.”

Editor’s Note: Captain Peter Warner passed away in April of 2012 at the age of 90.

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