[private] From the deck of the small sloop, Elder Hutchins and his wife Cora gazed at the rolling hills and white beaches of the historically famous and easternmost island of the Bay Islands Archipelago off the coast of Honduras. This was the island that almost four hundred years earlier Christopher Columbus had named the Isle of Pines, but he could have also called it Isle of Cacao because it was here that he tasted what would later be called chocolate. It was the first time chocolate had been tasted by any European.
The Hutchins were about to disembark on the island of Bonacco. The year was 1892, and they had come a long way from their home in the United States. Elder Hutchins had given up his dream of becoming a doctor to answer the call of the General Conference to become a missionary on these islands. It was only about 5 year earlier that the message of the Seventh Day Adventist was brought to these islands by Elizabeth Elwin, sister of Angelo Elwin, the founder of Mangrove Bight on Bonacco. At her request the General Conference had decided to send a missionary to further the message of the fairly new religious denomination in this area.
Prior to the arrival of the Elder, a few tracks and pamphlets had been passed out among the natives but there was no predominant organized religion in this place. The one gathering place that existed on the Cay was an interdenominational church where a few persons from various denominations would take turns holding services for their own. The very first time that Elder Hutchins held a church service on Bonacco, the turnout was impressive. The Elder knew that he was on fertile ground because these people were hungry for the word. After the service the Elder met all those in attendance and was surprised to find out that even the local Methodist minister had come out to hear the sermon. He would later tell his wife that he now knew that the sacrifices they had made in order to be here would be worth it.
The Elder’s previous gatherings on the island of Roatan had not been encouraging, so he decided that it must be this island that God had chosen to further his works in this part of the world. After the conversion and baptism of many of the populace, the new converts were able to purchase the gathering hall from the other denominations. The Bonacco Seventh Day Adventist church was born, the first SDA church of the Inter-American Division. The little, white church house in the center of the Cay became the focal point in the spreading of the Adventist message to other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. From here the Inter-American Division of the General Conference would send forth the message, from Boca del Toro to Panama and Bonanza, from Nicaragua to Morant Point in Jamaica.
With the keel hewn from a giant Bonacco pine, timbers from Jamaica and planking from Tampa, the local craftsmen (all charter members of the new church) built a little schooner for Elder Hutchins. The Elder, who by now had taught himself dentistry, used the schooner to carry the word abroad, while selling books and filling and pulling teeth to pay his way.
A few days ago, had they been around to see it, the good Elder Hutchins and those charter members of that first church would have been in shock to find out that after 115 years of existence the little white church was abandoned so that the members could attend a sort of revival held in the other Adventist church on Bonacco. It’s a huge cement building, called the Spanish Church, that dominates that area of the Cay. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the singing of the Old Rugged Cross in Spanish. It seems alien to me even to the point of being blasphemous. I can’t help but wonder if this is the beginning of the end for the little, white church in the middle of the Cay that has meant so much to so many for so long. [/private]