Miracle In The Surf

     A cool breeze ruffled the palm fronds and carried the salty smell of the sea to Biribo’s nostrils as he shuffled his bare feet in the warm sand. For hours he had been standing on the shore, straining his eyes seaward.
     He knew that somewhere out there in the Pacific Ocean his father was paddling homeward. It had been three days since he had gone off in his little canoe to the mission headquarters to collect his monthly pay.
     For a few minutes Biribo’s attention wandered to the far end of the island, where some of the men and boys were preparing to go out to the reef after octopuses. When he looked back at the blue horizon, he saw a tiny black speck. It must be Father coming!
     Biribo’s heart thumped with excitement as he watched the speck grow bigger and bigger and gradually resolve itself into the shape of a canoe. Yes, it was his father. “He’s coming. He’s coming!”     Biribo flew up the sandy path to the village.
     “Father’s coming!” he yelled as he scrambled up the notched trunk that served as steps to the palm-thatched platform that was his home.
Biribo’s mother gave an excited cry and, gathering the baby under her arm, raced back with Biribo to the shore.
     The canoe could now be seen plainly. They stood waving and calling, although they knew that their voices wouldn’t be heard above the roar of the waves.
     As Father neared the shore, Biribo waded into the water to help him beach the canoe. Mother and baby ran forward to greet him, and Father smiled at them and took the baby in his arms.
But almost immediately Biribo sensed that something was wrong. Father’s smile was only on his lips. His eyes looked worried and sad.
     Mother noticed it too. “Did you have any trouble?” she asked as she picked up the paddle. They all turned to walk up the tree-lined path.
     Father didn’t answer at once. He stared straight ahead as if he were looking at something miles away. Finally he said quietly, “I’ve lost the pay packet.”
     Mother drew in a quick breath but said nothing. They weren’t likely to starve, because there were plenty of fish in the sea and coconuts on the trees, but they needed money for salt and soap and cooking oil and matches.
     “How did you lose it, Father?” Biribo shooed a stray chicken from the front of their hut, and they all clambered up the palm trunk and squatted on the rough floor.
     “I don’t know.” Father’s voice was husky. “I tucked the envelope into my belt when I got into the canoe. It must have fallen out while I was paddling. I’ve searched everywhere in the canoe, and it isn’t there.”
     He looked down at his simple skirt-like garment. “Perhaps if I had had a shirt and trousers with many pockets, it would have been safe.”
     Silence fell in the little home. Even the baby seemed to know that something was wrong.
“Maybe it will float ashore,” suggested Biribo hopefully. “Sometimes we find things tossed up on the beach. We can go every day and look for it.”
     “One tiny brown envelope in that vast ocean?” Father’s tone showed how foolish Biribo’s suggestion was. “Besides, there were some silver coins as well as the paper money. Their weight would have carried the packet clear down to the bottom of the sea.”
     Biribo tried again. “We can pray.”
     Father looked at Mother, and she said, “Yes, we can pray. The Bible says that God made an iron axhead swim, so He can make silver money float if He wants to.”
     A glimmer of hope shone in Father’s eyes. “Of course He can. God knows where our money is, and He knows how much we need it. Let’s pray right now.”
     Baby plumped down on her chubby little knees with the others. Father prayed first, and then Mother and Biribo. They all asked God to please send the money to them if it was His will.
     In Search of Money
     As soon as it was daylight the next morning Biribo rushed down to the beach to search for the missing money. Perhaps it had been washed ashore during the night.
Carefully he went up and down the beach, turning over every stone and large shell, sifting the sand through his bare brown toes. There was no sign of the money.
     Undaunted, the little family prayed again. Morning, noon, and evening they prayed that God would send the money to them, and with every prayer their faith became stronger. They sensed that God would send the money somehow.
     On the second morning Biribo searched even more carefully. Still there was no sign of the money.
     That afternoon Biribo took his baby sister with him. She sat on the sand and played with a handful of shells while Biribo hunted carefully along the water’s edge and into every crack and crevice of the rocks near the shore. Still no money.
     The boy sighed as he sat down on the sand near his sister. He hoped that God would send the money soon, because Mother’s oil bottle was empty and only 10 matches remained in the box. He had counted them that morning while she was coaxing the cooking fire into flame.
For a little while Biribo amused the baby by covering her short legs with mounds of sand and letting her wriggle her toes and kick until she was free again. Then she began to cover his legs while he leaned back on his elbows and drowsily watched the gentle wavelets lapping the shore of the lagoon.
     Farther out near the reef, sea birds dipped and soared. There must be a shoal of fish nearby. Yes, he could see small dark patches on the surface of the blue lagoon. But were they fish? Biribo’s forehead creased as he strained to see.
     Suddenly he leaped up and sent sand spraying under his running feet. His baby sister cried out with surprise at his abrupt movements and turned to watch him.
     Straight into the water Biribo splashed, grabbing and clutching at the bits of paper that were floating toward him. Tears mingled with the salt spray on his cheeks, and yet he laughed—laughed and shouted as he gathered up the money that God had sent.
     Stopping only long enough to hoist his little sister onto his hip, Biribo ran home. “It’s come!” he cried as he pushed the baby up the steps.     “Mother, Father, the money has come! God has sent it.”
     There was no sign of the brown envelope, but when Father counted the paper money that had floated ashore he found that only one note was missing—and the silver coins.
     Oh, what prayers of praise and thanksgiving bubbled from their grateful hearts. Mother and Father went back to the beach with Biribo, and he showed them just where he had been sitting on the sand and how he had seen the money floating ashore and had dashed into the sea to collect it.
     “It was coming in right there!” His voice trembled with excitement as he pointed to a spot a few feet from the shore.
Then his black eyes widened, and his pointing finger stiffened with amazement. There in the very same spot, a plank of driftwood was bobbing gently toward them. And on top of the driftwood was a piece of paper money, and on top of the note—acting like a paperweight—was a little pile of silver coins!
     As the driftwood slid onto the sand Father stepped forward and reverently counted the money that God had sent. It made up the exact amount of his lost pay. Not one cent was missing.
Editor’s note: The father in this story is Pastor Iati from Tanna, who was stationed on the island of Mavia as district director of Santo in 1962 when this miracle occurred. Goldie Down