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John Paton: Pioneer Missionary to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu)

The work of the Lord goes forward according to God’s eternally predestined plan, yet it must be remembered that God’s eternal purposes include obedience and accountable responsibility of His believing people. This responsibility involves the vastly important matter of prayer. Prayer does indeed move the Hand that moves the world. When Almighty God called John G. Paton into the Christian ministry, the Lord was answering prayer — years of his parents’ and other believers’ prayers.

At age 64, Dr. Paton felt compelled to write his autobiography:

“What I write here is for the glory of God. For more than 20 years I have been urged to record my story as a Missionary of the Cross. My heart (long) has shrunk from the task, as savouring too much of self. Lately the conviction has been borne home to me that, if there be much in my experience which the church of God ought to know, it would be pride on my part, and not humility, to let it die with me.”

This 500-page account of one of the greatest Christian missionaries shares astounding answers to prayer, which reveal the power and providence of God’s mighty work. This is the only way that the preservation of Paton’s life can be explained. For instance, on numerous occasions strong cannibals surrounded him, determined to kill and eat him. Paton’s book is full of God’s mighty enabling; however, in this short review, only three or four interesting incidents may be pointed out. John Paton’s childhood home was poor, but happy. His godly parents reared eleven children in a small Scottish cottage that knew the gracious presence of Almighty God. Paton’s father was a man of prayer and a diligent laborer in providing for his family. When John left home for Glasgow to prepare for his life’s work, his father walked with him for the first six miles. The scene is very touching as his father walked most of the way in silent prayer, but occasionally gave words of loving counsel to his beloved son. The point of separation was heart- rending. Going the rest of the way alone, John asked God for grace to never grieve nor dishonor such a godly father and mother.

During some years of his training, Paton labored in the slums of Glasgow. As he ministered the Word, he saw the desperate need to teach total abstinence from alcohol. That ministry trained the young to fear the very name of intoxicating drink.

He concludes,

“From observation at an early age, I became convinced that mere temperance societies were a failure, and that total abstinence, by the grace of God, was the only sure preventative as well as remedy. What was temperance in one man was drunkenness in another; and all the drunkards came, not from those who practised total abstinence, but from those who practised or tried to practise temperance….I had known ministers and others, once strong temperance advocates, fall through this so-called ‘moderation’ and become drunkards. Therefore, it has all my life appeared to me beyond dispute, in reference to intoxicants of every kind, that the only rational temperance is total abstinence from them as beverages.”

John G. Paton and his wife went out as missionaries to one of the most savage and dangerous islands of the New Hebrides in the South Pacific. Of course, fevers, malaria, and various diseases were rampant in such a primitive environment. Not long after going to the island, John’s heart was broken as he had to bury his wife and infant son who had succumbed to malaria. Paton continued to labor among the natives and to pray for a breakthrough on the island. If only a way could be found to show them that Christ was superior to their demon idols. The Lord led Paton to dig a well to supply fresh water for the people of the village. The natives thought that Paton was insane because rain came from the sky and could not come up from the ground. After many hot, weary days of digging, Paton finally reached fresh water, which sprang up from the well bottom. The missionary said that the well did more to break heathenism on that island than much preaching could have done. The natives then brought their idols and cast them down at the missionary’s feet.

Once again God answered prayer. Through the gospel, the New Hebrides and some of the surrounding islands were transformed. God has lost none of His mighty power. He is able to answer prayer for His people today to subdue the heathen at home as well as those in foreign lands.

Missionary to the New Hebrides: An Autobiography by John G. Paton is available to buy at Christian bookstores.

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Myron Mooney

By Myron Mooney

Rev. Myron Mooney is minister of Trinity FPC, Trinity AL.