In the tiny South Pacific archipelago nation of Vanautu, John Frum Day has been celebrated for over sixty years now. It is a ritual of one of the so-called "cargo cults" leftover from World War II. American soldiers by the tens of thousands came into the Pacific Theatre of WWII and its many islands, dropping in from planes overhead and being dropped off from massive boats by sea. As they brought with them their western machines, jeeps, radios, food items, riches, etc., the local villagers living in grass huts with their ancient superstitions thought the gods had arrived. In many cases, villages began worshiping military leaders and praying that these "gods" would bless them with all these wonders they were seeing. When the war ended and the soldiers disappeared, the islanders kept praying for their return. As the years passed by with no return of these wonders, most of these cargo cults faded away with the disillusionment of unfulfilled expectations. But the John Frum cult remains, even being featured on the Vanuatu's travel bureau website.
Every February 15th, in the village of Lamakara, islanders gather to honor John Frum. Men march in order with bamboo sticks carved like rifles with bayonets, while other natives dress in bright colors and do special dances. Flags from America are flown proudly, be they Stars and Stripes or Confederate ones. A chief visits a volcano and speaks to John, who supposedly now lives there, and tends to a special house or temple to John. Other celebrations ensue. Every Friday is also a religious day, as locals gather for a time of hymn singing and drinking to John. Though no naval record points to an actual sailor with this name, locals claim a man decked in naval attire with this name promised that he would return with planes and boats loaded with goods if they would pray to him. Though he has not yet kept his promise, sadly the islanders have maintained theirs.
As I read about this in the Smithsonian (you can go here to read the full story), the exact name of the island caught my attention and reminded me of another John who had gone there nearly a century before. The island this cult resides on is Tanna Island. This is the island that John G. Paton, known as the missionary to the New Hebrides (now called Vanuatu), first went to from Scotland in his mission work. After being there for three months, he tragically saw his wife and then newborn son succumb to illness. Paton continued to minister to the natives there, but ultimately he had to flee Tanna for his life. He eventually resettled on the nearby island of Aniwa. Though the people of Aniwa were just as cruel and cannibalistic as those on Tanna, it was here that the Lord blessed Paton with success. After many years, the entire island embraced Christ.
Several lessons are to be gained from this fascinating history:
- Why did one island become so enthralled with Christ and another similar in nature generally reject Him even to this day? Nothing but the sovereign grace of God can explain that.
- One common objection raised against Christianity is "What about those who have never heard about Christ?" A careful look at the history of the church will show that in those places where the gospel is lacking, most often there was a prior rejection of it. This should serve as a warning that God will turn His attention away from those who resist Him.
- People naturally prefer the gods of their own making over the true knowledge of Christ.
- As the Westminster Confession of Faith states, wherever God constructs a true church, Satan erects a nearby synagogue to mislead people.
- The foolishness of idolatry should not decrease over time just because it becomes more culturally acceptable. Even the Smithsonian can go to this remote island and refer to this John Frum religion as a cult. Why can it not see the same in Mormonism, whose roots are just as bizarre?
"For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods." -Psalm 96:4