John G. Paton

THE SAINT JOHN OF THE NEW HEBRIDES
1824-1907

John Gibson Paton was kneeling at the side of his dying wife. They were in a foreign country, on the island of Tanna, far removed from home and friends. She had just given birth to her first son, and he lay dying beside her.

The natives had told her, "Missi, you will die here. We sleep on the hills, and the trade winds keep us well. You must go sleep on the hill." But before that could be done, ague and fever had attacked the young mother and her little baby boy. Once more she looked up to her husband while the shadow of death was creeping into her eyes.

"John," she whispered, "I do not regret leaving home and friends. If I had it to do over, I would do it with more pleasure, yes, with all my heart."

Then, the angels came and carried her and her baby to Heaven.

"But for Jesus and His fellowship, I must have gone mad beside that grave and died," Missionary John G. Paton afterwards declared.

A wonderful people they are - these foreign missionaries who leave father and mother, and home and friends, for Jesus' sake. Beside them the greatest soldier heroes are but dwarfs.

John G. Paton, the "Saint John of the New Hebrides," was born in Scotland, on May 24, 1824. There a little cottage was his home, and there the pious parents reared five sons and six daughters and saw them go out into the world. In the little cottage, built of stone, was a "middle room," the sanctuary, where each day the godly father went, and shutting the door behind him, prayed on his knees. "My father walked with God," said John Paton afterwards; "Why may not I?"

The little home became his school.

There he learned the Bible stories, the Shorter Catechism, and there he received his first lessons in Greek and Latin, he being his own teacher. Afterwards he studied theology and medicine at Glasgow, and being graduated, he served as city missionary from 1847-1857.

But his heart longed to serve the Lord in a more difficult field; he wanted to be a foreign missionary. His friends and parish members were amazed, but finally they said, "We long ago gave you away to the Lord, and in this matter also, we shall leave you at God's disposal."

On April 16,1858, John G. Paton, with his beloved wife, Mary Ann Robson, who was to be taken away from him so soon left their native land. The young couple sailed to Australia and from there to the New Hebrides Islands, where he began his work on the little isle of Tanna, due east from Australia about a thousand miles. There, on February 12, 1859, his beloved wife and her little baby boy died. But the natives did not receive the missionary kindly. They were intractable, and on February 4, 1862, he was driven away by their savage attacks.

Even so John G. Paton did not give up his hope in the conversion of the strange and cruel island people. From island to island he sailed, trying to interest the natives in the Gospel. When this work showed no fruits, he returned to Australia and then to Scotland to win new missionaries for the work. With seven missionaries, and with his new wife, Margaret Whitecross, he returned to the New Hebrides, and in 1866, took up mission work on the island of Aniwa. There he stayed until the whole island had been converted to Christianity. But more missionaries and funds were needed for the many islands of the South Sea. Again, he went to Australia and to Scotland soliciting funds and men, and again he returned to the New Hebrides, full of faith, and hope, and love for the poor perishing natives. In 1897, he printed the New Testament in the Aniwan language, having worked at the translation for many years. He was a man of very picturesque appearance and bore his testimony with great power. He wrote many tracts on missionary topics, and was incessantly busy in spreading the Gospel among the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands.

When he finally died on January 28, 1907, Christianity had been firmly established on the islands. Hundreds of missionaries were working among the natives who at first had refused to listen to John Paton. They had quantities of stone idols and charms which they reverenced in their superstition; they also had devil kings and witch doctors, who hated the missionary. In addition, they were cannibals and devoured human bodies with great delight. They were treacherous, lying, thieving, and cruel men. Yet John Paton loved them for Jesus' sake, and did not rest until chapels and churches everywhere testified of Jesus their Savior. Again and again, the missionary was beset by them, muskets were aimed at him, "killing stones" were hurled at him, clubs raised to strike him, but he showed no fear; he stood before them courageously, praying inwardly to God and, as by miracle, his life was spared. On one island the thing that 'broke the back of heathenism" was the sinking of a well. There water was scarce and precious. The natives were affrighted at the thought of securing "rain from below." Here was a thing which their idols could not do. The missionary himself was doubtful whether water could be found. But he hired the men, paying them with fish hooks, and they dug and dug, while John Paton prayed earnestly to God. At last water was found, and the natives cried out, "Jehovah is the true God!"

It is not an easy thing to love heathen who are immoral and degraded. Only the love of Christ can constrain us to go to them and suffer the hardships of missionary life among them. John Paton loved the Lord Jesus Christ; he "walked with God," and his work was not in vain.

- Taken from the book "Boys and Girls Who Became Great Missionaries"