The Story of John G. Paton: Thirty Years among South Sea Cannibals

Book Review
  • Approximate Time Commitment: 10 minutes

THE STORY OF JOHN G. PATON: Thirty Years among South Sea Cannibals by John G. Paton. This review was written by Hank Griffith of South Suburban Evangelical Free Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota. This book is good for those who are interested in learning about the struggles of a 19th century pioneer.

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(From Wikipedia) “John Gibson Paton (24 May 1824 – 28 January 1907), born in Scotland, was a Protestant missionary to the New Hebrides Islands of the South Pacific. He brought to the natives of the New Hebrides education and Christianity. He developed small industries for them, such as hat making. He advocated strongly against a form of slavery. …  Though his life and work in the New Hebrides was difficult and often dangerous, Paton preached, raised a family, and worked to raise support in Scotland for missionary work. He also campaigned hard to persuade Britain to annex the New Hebrides. He was a man of robust character and personality. Paton was also an author and able to tell his story in print. He is held up as an example and an inspiration for missionary work.”

John G. Paton

Though not written in a polished style, this autobiography is an amazing story! 19th century pioneer missionary John G. Paton was an incredibly courageous man of God! He tells one story after the other of God of providing for him and rescuing him from numerous dangers. Except for the first part of the book, which tells the story of Paton growing up years in Scotland, I was held spellbound by the tales of this brave man of God who left his rural Scottish village to be one of the first missionaries in New Hebrides (Vanuatu today) in the South Pacific, a land known at the time for cannibalism and cruelty.

Three thoughts

Three thoughts kept coming to my mind as I read The Story of John G. Paton: (1) the almost insurmountable challenges that early Protestant missionaries faced; (2) the enthusiasm, the generosity, and the prayers for the “heathen” that Christians in the Western World had in those years, and (3) the power of the gospel to transform the lives of “savages”. I can’t help but wonder if something has been lost in our more sophisticated churches and missions agencies today.

I’ll end this brief review with an excerpt from Chapter XLI – “The Last Awful Night.”

Worn out with long watching and many fatigues, I lay down that night early, and fell into a deep sleep. About ten o’clock the savages again surrounded the Mission House. My faithful dog Clutha, clinging still to me amid the wreck of everything else, sprang quietly upon me, pulled at my clothes, and awoke me, showing danger in her eye glancing at me through the shadows. I silently awoke Mr. and Mrs. Mathieson, who had also fallen asleep. We committed ourselves in hushed prayer to God and watched them, knowing that they could not see us. Immediately a glare of light fell into the room!  Men passed with flaming torches; and first they set fire to the Church all around, and then to a reed fence connecting the Church and the dwelling-house. In a few minutes the house, too, would be in flames, and armed savages waiting to kill us on attempting escape!

Taking my harmless revolver in the left hand and a little American tomahawk in the right, I pleaded with Mr. Mathieson to let me out and instantly to again lock the door on himself and wife. He very reluctantly did so, holding me back and saying, “Stop here and let us die together! You will never return!” I said, “Be quick! Leave that to God. In a few minutes our house will be in flames, and then nothing can save us.”

He did let me out, and locked the door again quickly from the inside; and while his wife and he prayed and watched for me from within, I ran to the burning reed fence, cut it from top to bottom, and tore it up and threw it back into the flames, so that the fire could not by it be carried to our dwelling house. I saw on the ground shadows, as if something were falling around me and started back. Seven or eight savages had surrounded me, and raised their great clubs in air. I heard a shout – “Kill him! Kill him!” One savage tried to seize hold of me, but leaping from his clutch, I drew the revolver from my pocket and leveled it as for use, my heart going into prayer to my God. I said, “Dare to strike me, and my Jehovah God will punish you. He protects us, and will punish you for burning His Church, for hatred to His Worship and people, and for all your bad conduct. We love you all; and for doing you good only, you want to kill us. But our God is here now to protect us and to punish you.” They yelled in rage, and urged each other to strike the first blow, but the Invisible One restrained them. I stood invulnerable beneath His invisible shield, and succeeded in rolling back the tide of flame from our dwelling-house.

At this dread moment occurred an incident, which my readers may explain as they like, but which I trace directly to the interposition of my God. A rushing and roaring sound came from the South, like the noise of a mighty engine or of muttering thunder. Every head was instinctively turned in that direction, and they knew, from previous hard experience, that it was one of their awful tornadoes of wind and rain. Now, mark, the wind bore the flames away from our dwelling-house; had it come in the opposite direction, no power on earth could have saved us from being all consumed! It made the work of destroying the Church only that of a few minutes; but it brought with it a heavy and murky cloud, which poured out a perfect torrent of tropical rain. Now, mark again, the flames of the burning Church were thereby cut off from extending to and seizing the reeds and the bush; and besides, it had become almost impossible now to set afire to our dwelling-house. The stars in their courses were fighting against Sisera!

The mighty roaring of the wind, the black cloud pouring down increasing torrents, and the whole surroundings, awed those savages into silence. Some began to withdraw from the scene, all lowered their weapons of war, and several, terror-struck, exclaimed, “That is Jehovah’s rain! Truly their God is fighting for them and helping them. Let us away.” A panic seized upon them; they threw away their remaining torches; in a few moments they had all disappeared in the bush; and I was left alone, praising God for His marvelous works. “O taste and see that God is good. Blessed is the man that trusteth in Him!”                                                                                     HG


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