Sometimes our plans don’t work out as hoped because God detours us, leading us elsewhere in his overruling providence. Thomas Coke, a sophisticated Oxford-educated Welshman, left his ministry in the Anglican Church in 1777 to become John Wesley’s chief assistant in the new and quickly growing Methodist movement. On September 24, 1785 he packed his books and bags and sailed out of England, down the channel, and into the Atlantic, leaving for Nova Scotia where he wanted to establish the missionaries who accompanied him. But the voyage was ill-fated and grew more perilous by the day, the ship being caught in mountainous waves and mast-splitting winds. The ship’s captain, determining that Coke and his missionaries were bringing misfortune on his ship like Jonah, considered throwing them overboard. He actually gathered some of Coke’s papers and tossed them into the ocean. The voyage took three months rather than the expected one, and instead of landing in Nova Scotia, the damaged ship ended up in the Caribbean, limping into St. John’s harbor on the island of Antigua on Christmas Day.

Coke knew that at least one Methodist lived somewhere on Antigua, a missionary named John Baxter. Hoping to find him, Coke and his three missionaries asked to be rowed ashore from their shattered ship in the predawn morning. They started down the street in St. John’s and stopped the first person they found, a fellow swinging a lantern in his hand, to inquire of Baxter.

It was John Baxter himself. He was on his way to special Christmas morning services he had planned for the island, and the sudden appearance of Coke and his missionaries out of the darkness—out of nowhere—seemed too good to be true. It took three services that day to accommodate the crowds. After it was over, Coke and his associates abandoned any idea of going to Nova Scotia. Instead, they planted the missionary team on Antigua and on neighboring islands; and by the time of Coke’s death in 1814 there were over 17,000 believers in the Methodist churches there.

I am the Lord, your holy God, Israel’s Creator and King.
I am the one who cut a path through the mighty ocean.
I invite the whole world to turn to me and be saved.
I alone am God! No others are real.
I have made a solemn promise, one that won’t be broken:
Everyone will bow down and worship me.
(Isaiah 43:15,16;45:22,23)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Sept. 24.

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