Creeping silently over the eastern hills, a big red moon rose up into the night sky. Higher and higher it rose, its shafts of light dancing from place to place as the landscape began to slip away into the darkness of the coming night. From a bunch of bamboo trees came the chatter of hundreds of sparrows gathered there for the night, holding their evening meeting to discuss the happenings of the day.
Suddenly the chatter would stop and all became quiet for a moment, as something interrupted them. Then, far away over the bush covered hills to the west, came the ringing of a bell, loud and clear. Soon the sparrows started chattering again, but the bell continued its clang…clang…clang.
To me, at three or four years of age, it seemed very eerie, especially when my father remarked that it was only the curfew bell being rung at the Maori Pa (Village) about a mile or so from us, as the bird flies, beyond the hills. The hair stood up on the back of my neck as I imagined a band of Maori warriors charging out of the bush that covered the hills, and down towards us in the gathering dusk.
It did not ring every night, only at certain times, and then we could only hear it when the air was still and clear. Why did they ring that bell just as the darkness began to settle on the land? The ringing of that bell at dusk made a big impression on me as a boy, and to this day I can hear it as clearly as if I were still there on the old home farm.
Not until just before my 19th birthday did I realize the significance of the ringing of that bell.
The Story of the Bell
One night, 100 or so years before, an old Maori chief had a dream. In that dream he was shown, among other things, that Sunday was not the true Sabbath, but Saturday, the seventh day of the week, was God’s Holy Day.
From that day on he kept Saturday as the Sabbath and he taught the rest of the tribe to do likewise. Then, in true missionary fashion, he visited other villages and told them about his dream and led them to keep the seventh day Sabbath also. In these villages he also built churches in which they could worship.
At some time he visited the Maori village situated not far from where we lived. It was after I became a Seventh-day Adventist that I realized that the bell only rang on Friday nights, just as it was starting to get dark. It was the curfew bell, which rang each week at the start of the Sabbath, calling all the villagers home for the night to keep the Sabbath.
When I was a boy they were still very strict about not working on Sabbath. Sometimes a local farmer would offer the young fellows a very high wage to come and help him stack his hay on Saturday. If these young men gave in and went, as they sneaked back into the village that night they would be hauled before the tribal committee and fined for breaking the Sabbath.
They called their church the Ringatu church, and no Maori who belonged to it would work on Saturday. Also, for some reason I never was able to find out, they kept the 12th day of every month as holy and would not work on that day either. They would gather in their meetinghouse and stay there for 24 hours. They took turns, going around the room, as one would pray, another sing, another read from the Bible, another give a talk, and so on, throughout all the hours of the 12th of every month.
To a little boy, that bell ringing every Friday night just as it was getting dark, had an eerie feeling about it, and the hair would stand up on the back of my neck. I have been a Seventh-day Adventist for over 50 years, yet every Friday night I have rallied to the call of that bell in my mind. All of those years, in my mind, that bell has rung the curfew and brought my attention to the start of the Sabbath.
Just by Chance?
Coming in for breakfast one Sunday morning when I was six years old, my mother asked me which I would like to do. Go with her and my father to church at 11am, or go with my two older brothers to drive some pigs down from their farm to ours, ready for a truck to take them to market the following day. Now driving pigs between the farms was the most exciting thing a small boy could become involved in. For the first half mile after leaving their farm the road wound its way down through patches of bush with no fences on either side.
Just imagine what six big, fat pigs would do, who do not want to leave home. Every now and then they would dive off the road into the bush and scatter and there would be dogs barking, and pigs squealing, and men yelling and one little boy waiting on the road nearly dying of laughter. When the pigs emerged from the undergrowth back onto the road I was waiting to see if they turned down hill again. But if a big pig came charging towards me I would say “shoo,” and if he did not stop I would dive over the bank out of his way. Then I would get abused for not stopping him, and men and dogs would rush up the road to bring him back, by which time the others would have disappeared into the bush again. To me, this was too good to miss.
Unpredictably, I chose to go to church. I had no reason for going, but I believe I know why I was led to make that decision. When we got to church some of my mates from school rushed over and asked me to go with them to Sunday School, which I did. That was the one and only time in my whole life I ever went to Sunday School, and that day the teacher was teaching the Ten Commandments.
That is how I learned what the Ten Commandments were. We went over and over them until we all knew them by heart. From that day on they became the standard for my life.