The story of Pilots is a fascinating one and offers important insight in terms of what the organisation is all about. Pilots started with a boy from Tottenham who got himself lost in the Pacific…Well, kind of…in a roundabout way…
John Williams began life as a carpenter but, in the early 1800s, at the age of seventeen, felt called by God to serve as a missionary in the South Pacific with the London Missionary Society. Together with his wife, Mary, he lived and worked in the region for many years, spreading the good news of Jesus in places such as Tahiti and Samoa.
John and his colleagues didn’t aim simply to impose their beliefs on others, but rather to respect the people and places they visited, learning about local customs, as well as sharing their own. This sense of open-mindedness and respect continues to play a vital role in the work of Pilots in the twenty-first century.
After John Williams died, the London Missionary Society asked churches in Britain to raise money to buy a missionary ship so that his work could continue. In local churches, children heard adults talking about how they could do this and decided to join the fund raising efforts. They and their friends worked extra hard and together raised £6,000 for the first ship, which was named the ‘John Williams’. Children kept raising funds for many, many years and supported a total of seven ‘John Williams’ ships. The last one stopped sailing in 1974.
In 1936, the London Missionary Society decided it was time to give something back to all those children who supported their work so faithfully and, consequently, started an organisation for children and young people, calling it ‘Pilots’ after the trained mariners who use their extensive knowledge of local waters to guide ships through difficult and often dangerous territory to places of safety and security. This is where the nautical theme of the organisation comes from!
This sense of acknowledging and supporting children in the work they already do, rather than simply preparing them to do things later in life, is crucial to the spirit in which Pilots operates.