The fascinating autobiography of John Paton wins hands down as one of my favorite mission books. His ministry to the New Hebrides (the present-day island group, Vanuatu) in the mid 19th century grips and enthralls as he faces cannibals, disease, the death of his wife and baby and angry supporters back home.
First of all, I love stories and accounts of pure courage and adventure. John Paton’s story is true bravery in modern missions. I know something of the kind of moxie it takes to plant a Biblical culture in a hostile place, but the cannibals of the New Hebrides were truly terrifying. For over four years and around everyone turn someone was lying in wait to kill the “foreign missionaries”. Not to mention the perils of the outback in Australia as Paton raised money for the mission and covered the globe in risky ship travel from 1858-1885 for the sake of the Gospel.
Secondly, this book lets us see what we are really made of. What would we be like if we had never ever heard of Christ or the Bible? This book gives a grim portrait of what that could be like.
But most importantly, this book vividly portrays the power of Jesus Christ to radically change depraved souls. John Paton brought the Gospel to isolated island tribes that had been devouring one another for centuries. The results are fascinating. On his first attempt at planting the Word of God in the South Pacific, his wife and child died and the immediate effect of the Gospel was that the natives became vicious toward God and those that served Him, while loving the alcohol, tobacco and guns trafficked by white merchants.The New Hebrides, since 1980 named Vanuatu.
But Paton persevered and on his second mission, 1862-1885, to Aniwa, he records each painful step as the Gospel transforms the chiefs and finally the population of these tribal man-eaters. During his lifetime he saw Aniwa’s culture changed through Christ and His Word. Cannibalism, wife beating, and strangulation of the wife at the death of the husband ceased, as well as thievery, deception, polygamy, and infanticide.
Reverend Paton’s autobiography touches on every aspect of modern missions. He records with great insight how he was raised, the ministry he had in the slums of Glasgow preparing him for the field, his relations and ministry to supporting churches in Australia, Scotland, the USA and Canada. His exploits preceded him and while in the US he dined with Grover Cleveland at the White House. His story includes the record and pros and cons of the use of military Naval canons against the lawless natives by the British on the islands. Paton gives short shrift to those who don’t believe in teaching the law of the Bible but only bringing the Gospel explaining why that of necessity the missionaries had to teach and sometimes enforce God’s law before they could preach the love of God. The Law of God gave the opportunity to preach the Love of God. Paton saw the law as the tutor to lead them to Christ. Paton’s influence on the church in Scotland was astounding. Not only was he named the moderator of their General Assembly in 1864, but also under his influence one in six ministers from his denomination became a missionary.
On page 498 (of the long version) Paton crystallizes one of his theories on mission work.
“Rush not from Land to Land, from People to People…Kindle not your lights so far apart, amid the millions and the wastes of Heathendom, that every lamp may be extinguished without any of the others knowing, and so leave the blackness of their Night blacker than ever. The consecrated Common-sense that builds for Eternity will receive the fullest approval of God in Time.”
Go in full-bore and win a culture effectively and lastingly. Today 60% of the 270,000 who live on the Islands of Vanuatu are church members. John Paton and his coworkers laid a firm foundation through hard work, determination and not least, the blood of martyrs. By absorbing the spirit of this great man, and the principles of his ministry experience we all will become better disciples of Christ and be better equipped to win the nations.
The abridged version of the story is
as of 2 June 2015 $1.99 on Kindle
But all serious students of missions should read the unabridged version
Blake Purcell, Director of Slavic Reformation Society