Allen Francis Gardiner grew up in a Christian home, took to the sea, and achieved a successful British naval career with little thought for God. But in 1822 he fell ill and reevaluated his life. He scribbled in his journal: After years of ingratitude, unbelief, blasphemy and rebellion, have I at last been melted? Alas, how slow, how reluctant I have been to admit the heavenly guest who stood knocking without!
Traveling around the world had given Captain Gardiner a glimpse of the need for missionaries, and he gave himself for the task. Leaving England for South America, he hoped to minister among the Araucanian or Mapuche Indians of southern Chile. Government interference and inter- tribal fighting forced him back to England. Three years later he was at it again, visiting the Falklands and investigating the possibility of taking the gospel to the islands of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Sensing opportunity at hand, Gardiner returned to England and on July 4, 1844, established a small organization called the Patagonian Missionary Society. He wrote, I have made up my mind to go back to South America and leave no stone unturned, no effort untried, to establish a mission among the aboriginal tribes. While God gives me strength, failure will not daunt me.
Gardiner visited South America a third time, but his efforts were again thwarted by intertribal fighting and governmental interference, the land being strongly Catholic, intolerant of Protestant missions. He returned to England, recruited six missionaries, and set sail for Tierra del Fuego. But all seven men died of disease, starvation, and exposure on Picton Island. Gardiner, the last to die, dated his final journal entry September 5, 1851: Good and marvelous are the loving kindnesses of my gracious God unto me. He has preserved me hitherto and for four days, although without bodily food, without any feelings of hunger or thirst.
Captain Allen Gardiner died without seeing a single soul saved among those for whom he was most burdened. But he lit a fire which has never gone out. His South American Missionary Society (as it came to be called) has been sending missionaries and saving souls for over 150 years.
My dear friends, stand firm and don’t be shaken. Always keep busy working for the Lord. You know that everything you do for him is worthwhile. (I Corinthians 15:58)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Sept. 4.