A Place For All To Worship

Day 13 | Friday, December 11, 2020

Captain Fatty and Polynesian Hospitality

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. — 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

My wife and I are sailing the in the South Pacific and it is increasingly obvious to us that it’s almost impossible to out-gift a Polynesian.  No matter how much we give them, clever people that they are, they always manage to give us back more and more and more.  You know, it’s downright embarrassing – they have almost nothing and yet they consistently out-gift us.  It is as if social encounters are a contest, and the person who leaves with the most stuff loses.  Take the pearl carver we recently met in the Tuamotus (two-a-ma-twos) in French Polynesia for example.  I gave his kids a tiny, stuffed rabbit and he immediately gifted us back with an intricate good luck carving he wore around his neck.  I couldn’t believe it – it was a beautiful, lovely piece. I attempted to refuse it but quickly realized that I was now obliged to accept it.  And accept it I did, with lavish, heartfelt praise.  Thinking quick, Carolyn handed me a copy of one of my books (Chasing the Horizon, I think) and I autographed it for him with a flourish.  Anyway, the pearl carver held the book with trembling hands, and then he dashed home and spent all that evening, straight through till dawn, carving me a pearl.  I have never, ever received such a gift.  Just the pearl alone itself was huge but the carving, as intricate and personal as it was, was absolute magic.  

Now this pearl carvers big dream was to wear a Harley-Davidson T-shirt.  I know, I know that sounds mighty tacky to us, but no culture can judge another culture without the prism of its own, so we eventually sent that carver various Harley-Davidson ticky-tack from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa – we even sent Carolyn’s 78-year-old mother into a Harley dealership in Chicago where she bought half the store.  Thus, in the end, we gave him more stuff than he gave us – Hah! Hah! We won!  Isn’t that a marvelous way to do business?

More recently in the Hypi group of Tonga we were invited ashore for dinner by the Hipolo family.  Dirt poor – literally, their tiny beach hut was made of palm fronds and sticks, hard-packed dirt floor, goats and pigs wandered about, there was absolutely no metal anywhere save for their centrally-displayed symbols of wealth – eight unwashed, tin cans, food cans nailed proudly to the wall, proof of the generosity of their yachty friends over the years.  They did not have a single penny to their names, but they were great and gracious hosts, with finer manners than most Westerners I know.  We ate taro and bread fruit and yams, fish, octopus, shellfish and an unlimited supply of fresh coconuts to wash it all down with – the mid-day meal lasted all day and stretched into the night.  I played my guitar.  They played their ukulele.  It was heaven on earth – a precious moment lost in time.  We were ancient sailing explorers, they the generous Polynesian hosts.  The following day we left but not before gifting them with a filet knife, some fishhooks, and two cans of corned beef.  But somehow I feel as if we short-changed them.  They were so loving and child-like with their affections, so pure and in-the-moment, I have nothing to teach them and everything to learn from them.

Fatty Goodlander

Captain Fatty Goodlander is an original sea gypsy. The 56-year-old sailor has lived aboard boats for 48 years sailing the world’s seas and circumnavigating the globe. Goodlander and his wife, Carolyn, have sailed more than 100,000 miles on their 38-foot cutter, Wild Card.1


God of all hope, in Jesus your salvation broke into our world, and his return gives purpose to our living in this broken world. Make me ready for that future day by living hopefully today. In the name of our soon arriving Savior, Amen.

Go deeper

Ponder the meaning of hospitality in your life. Sketch a picture of hospitality to share with someone you love. 

  1. From NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, August 3, 2008.