When God Makes His Presence Known When You Least Expect It

We all have traditions of some kind. Some of us make a point of seeing family every year for Christmas. Some of us prefer to eat certain foods on certain days, because that’s what we grew up with.

I have traditions, too, though they tend to be a bit more… exotic than what some people might do: every year for Easter, I run off somewhere in the South Pacific.

Seriously, I do. There are several reasons why, but one of the biggest reasons why I keep doing it: every time I go somewhere, I have my faith deepened in ways I could never have anticipated.

The tradition started three years ago. The first year, it was a trip to the Solomon Islands, where (long story much shorter) I had a life-changing encounter with a group of guys from a Christian organization known as the Melanesian Brotherhood, an experience which also deepened my faith in ways I never thought possible (funny how God sometimes puts us in those situations, isn’t it?). The second year, it was a visit to Nukuʻalofa, Tonga, where even though I was the only non-Tongan person in the church the pastor took the time – in front of hundreds of parishioners – to break from speaking Tongan and explain in English what he was talking about. And this year? I went to Samoa.

I could go on (and on, and on) about my experiences there (I do also happen to be a travel writer, after all), but perhaps the biggest takeaway was this: once again I was reminded that, no matter where we are, God has a way of reaching us – even in some of the most unexpected situations.

The sun was blazing bright as the MV Lady Samoa III bobbed up and down with each gentle swell of the shimmering emerald sea. The old ship was half-full, but there were still enough people sitting on the deck that walking across it without stepping on someone would automatically qualify one for the gymnastics events at the Olympics. Barely a cloud in the sky, it was still muggy enough in the 90-degree weather to make wearing glasses all but impossible since they fogged up as thickly as holding them over a boiling pot of water.

It was somewhat cooler inside, but not by much. Then again, with one-way tickets costing just 12 tala (about US$4.70) for the hour-long journey across the quiescent Apolima Strait from the island of Upolu to Savai’i, there wasn’t much room to complain. Sitting next to a steam-enveloped window in seat A21 near a group of several women beating large red paper fans seemingly as if their lives depended on it, I was just about to doze off, as I usually did when riding pulic transportation in any country.

But something caught my eye. On the small television – its picture so grainy, and considering the overall surroundings, it was easy to think the ship was a portal back in time to the 1970s – was a film of some kind. My interest was piqued because it didn’t appear to be a Hollywood blockbuster, however, but a religious movie. At least, it seemed to be, since most of the plot appeared to be centered around a church and the main character was a priest. Furthermore, rather than focusing on sex or violence, the movie was peppered with scenes of the priest speaking to his congregation and talking about things such as how “stealing an idea is as bad as robbing a bank.” Intriguing.

I hadn’t the foggiest notion what the movie was called, but that wasn’t the point. What was incredible was that here I was, in a public setting in a remote part of the world, having a completely unexpected Christian experience with hundreds of strangers. Coincidence? I think not. Everything happens for a reason, after all.

The Bible tells us time and time again that God is everywhere, and is always watching us. But sometimes, it’s nice to have such an obvious reminder.

A reminder, I’ll add, that will stick with me long after memories of anything else I did on that trip fade.

After living for several years in Europe, Ben pursued a lifelong dream and moved to New Zealand. His work has appeared in The Washington PostBusiness InsiderThe New Zealand HeraldIdealogDeutsche Welle, and others. He can be found on Twitter @benmack_nz.