Missions History: John Gibson Paton

 
In a poor Scottish home in the early 1800s, a father led his family in prayer. One of his sons would later write, “How much my father’s prayers impressed me…he poured out his whole soul with tears for the conversion of the heathen world to the service of Jesus, and for every personal and domestic need…As we rose from our knees, I used to look at the light on my father’s face…hoping that, in answer to his prayers, I might be privileged and prepared to carry the blessed gospel to some portion of the heathen world.”
 

This son was named John Gibson Paton, and God would answer his father’s prayers.

Early Life

Young John went to work at age 12 in the family stocking business. However, he was resolved to become a preacher of the gospel. To prepare, he studied at an academy for six weeks and then worked at an office. After being fired from that position because of his commitment to God’s work, John worked as a tract distributor in the city of Glasgow for ten years. But the cause of foreign missions was always on his mind. At our church in North Sydney, we are happy to support several missionaries, both in foreign missions and right here in Canada.

 

Calling to Missions

One day, John attended a meeting that would shape the course of his future. At this meeting, it was reported that they had been unable to find a missionary for the New Hebrides. He heard the Lord saying, “Since none better qualified can be got, rise and offer yourself.” John volunteered to go, and he was accepted. 

 

On August 30, 1858, John landed in Aneityum with his wife Mary Ann. Soon, they were sent to the island of Tanna. The people of the New Hebrides had an extremely evil culture. Cannibalism was part of the culture, as well as the killing of unwanted babies. When a husband died, the wife and young children would also be killed. Forgiveness was unknown to them, while revenge was considered a duty. The people also worshipped many idols and evil spirits. They believed that their sacred men had power over storms, hurricanes, and disease. It was into these dark and desperate circumstances that John hoped to bring the light of the gospel. 

 

Great Trials

But, in early 1859, a great sorrow came into John’s life. A few days after his infant son was born, both his wife and baby died. John soon found that working with the tribespeople was an uphill battle. Sometimes, they would seem to understand the Gospel. At other times, they would try to break into John’s house to kill him. They even blamed him for the arrival of a drought. They threatened to kill him and his helpers or force them to leave Tanna. John and his helpers prayed earnestly for rain, and God answered their prayers.

 

Watching God Transform Lives

At last, a local man named Namuri accepted Christ as his Saviour. He taught the Tannese people about Jesus and showed them God’s love. When an attempt was made on his life, John nursed Namuri back to health and invited him to stay in the mission house with him. Namuri replied, “Missi, when I see them thirsting for my blood, I just see myself when the missionary first came to my island. I desired to murder him, as they now desire to kill me. Had he stayed away because of such danger, I should have remained heathen; but he came, and continued coming to teach us, till, by the grace of God, I was changed to what I am.” Namuri continued to tell people about Christ until he was martyred a few weeks later.

 

After working on Tanna for over three years, John was forced to leave. With only the clothes on his back, his Bible, and some translations into the island language, John travelled to New South Wales, Australia. There he spoke to many churches about the need for missions. John began to mobilize missionaries and resources for the South Seas. In Scotland, he also met and married a new wife, Margaret Whitecross. 

 

In addition, John believed that a mission-ship was necessary to reach the scattered islands. Travelling to America, England, Scotland, and Australia, he raised the funds necessary for the mission ship Dayspring. This ship visited island after island, planting missionaries in needy villages. 

 

Next, John served on the island of Aniwa for fifteen years. Facing constant threats to his life, he worked patiently and diligently. After years of work, a school was established, a church built, and many souls won for Christ. At the first communion service held there, twelve people were received as church members. John wrote of his feelings on that day, “I shall never taste a deeper bliss till I gaze on the glorified face of Jesus Himself.” What a joy it must have been to see the fruits of his labour! At our church in North Sydney, we are always thankful to see new people come out to church and believe on Jesus Christ.

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Will you serve God faithfully as John Paton did? Join the friendly church family of Northside Baptist Church on Sundays at 11:00 am. 

For more information, call (902) 736-6465or email northside1178@gmail.com