What do you get when you put Indiana Jones, John the Baptist, and a missionary together? You get John G. Paton. A man who was willing to go to an island where the missionaries before him went and were killed and eaten by the islanders within hours of their landing. If ever there has been an autobiography that read like an adventure novel, it is that of John G. Paton. Though his account is exciting to read, his faith despite difficult situations and his love for Jesus stand far above the adventure. He begins his autobiography by saying, “What I write here is for the glory of God” and truly his life was one lived for God’s glory.
John G. Paton was called to be a missionary to a small island in the Pacific Ocean during a time when traveling on a ship would take months. He would leave his home of Scotland, his family whom he was close to, and serve the Lord faithfully for the rest of his life. John G. Paton is a world changer because he counted the cost in serving the Lord and knew it was worth it so the gospel could go out to a world that needed it. God used the life and testimony of John Paton to awaken Christians in America and Western Europe to missions.
Some points that stand out about John G. Paton:
He had a God-fearing father, who impacted his life:
In his autobiography, John recounts his father’s faith and the impact it had on him. Here is a brief example of how he was impacted by how his father would spend time in prayer in a closet in their house.
“How much my father’s prayers at this time impressed me I can never explain, nor could any stranger understand. When, on his knees and all of us kneeling around him in Family Worship, he poured out his whole soul with tears for his conversion of the Heathen world to the service of Jesus, and for every personal and domestic need, we all felt as if in the presence of the living Savior, and learned to know and love him as our Divine friend.”
His father praying for the lost in unreached parts of the world caused a desire for John to reach the lost in the unreached parts of the world. As a parent, you may never know the impact of your prayers.
This shows me the example that I am called to live before my children. As a father, one of the biggest blessings is being able to share with my children who Jesus is, not only by my words but with my actions. John Paton loved his children and loved Jesus more. Because of that, his children saw the gospel lived out and made them desire to know the living God!
He had a courage despite criticism:
Upon hearing the need to reach the lost in parts of the world that were unreached, he was bold in his calling. John Patton stepped down from a fruitful ministry in the heart of Glasgow, Scotland, to go to an island chain called New Hebrides (today Vanuatu), because he had heard the testimony of two missionaries who shared the need of the gospel to go to this lost people. The calling was dangerous because other missionaries who went before were not only killed but eaten by the people they went to share the gospel with.
When John was announcing to different members of his church that God was calling him to go to New Hebrides, he was responded to with some criticism by a respected elder. Mr. Dickson said, “The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!” John Paton said in response to Mr. Dickson,
“Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”
Mic drop. John G. Paton knew that courage came from Christ and his calling was from the Lord. This same courage came into play so many times when it would have been easy for him to throw in the towel and go back home. May we be confident in where the Lord is leading us despite criticism we may receive.
He had steadfast faith:
Today in the twenty-first century, it may be hard for us to know the sacrifice that the believers and missionaries of the nineteenth century endured. Travel took longer and had greater danger. Sickness and disease were rampant and expected. There was a higher infant mortality rate than today. And the list can go on and on. John faced many trials throughout his life yet he endured to the very end. Jesus tells us that “in the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV).
John Paton endured the death of his first wife and first child as they arrived on the island. They arrived on November 5, 1858, and their baby was born February 12, 1859. His wife, Mary, was very sick and passed away on March 3. Their baby passed away a little over two weeks after Mary died, on March 20, 1858. John arrived on this remote island with only his wife and expected baby, and in less than three months he was alone with just the heathens he went to share the gospel with.
John writes about his troubles in his journal with a mindset that shows us his faith and confidence in his calling.
“I do not pretend to see through the mystery of such visitations—wherein God calls away the young, the promising, and those sorely needed for his service here; but this I do know and feel, that, in the light of such dispensations, it becomes us all to love and serve our blessed Lord Jesus so that we may be ready at his call for death and eternity.”
John faced his own struggles throughout the many years of his service to the New Hebrides. He was sick and close to death several times. His life was threatened over and over again and he was close to death by the hands of the people he went to share the love of Jesus with. Yet John remained faithful to his calling to reach the lost of the New Hebrides. Jesus was his desire and we see that through his life of faithfulness.
God used John to be a world changer as countless people of the New Hebrides responded to the gospel and an awakening of mission work among those in America and Europe.
- The Autobiography of the Pioneer Missionary to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) by John G. Paton
For Young Readers:
- John G. Paton: South Sea Island Rescue (Trailblazers) by Kay Walsh