Preaching Gospel against all odds

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, May 9, 2018

“The Cannibals! You will be eaten by the Cannibals!” said the old man, arguing why this new, young missionary from Scotland shouldn’t travel the South Seas. 

The 32-year-old missionary, John G. Paton, replied, “Sir, you are advanced in years now, 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 worms — and in the Great Day of Jesus’ return, my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our Redeemer.” 

With that one witty retort, a missionary was born who faithfully served God during his time on the New Hebrides islands in the South Pacific from 1858-1881.  

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As John and his pregnant wife, Mary, arrived on the island of Tanna in the South Pacific in 1858, they were greeted by painted “savages,” curious why the white man had come to their island to help them and point them to a new god, a new Lord – Jesus Christ. 

Three months after they arrived, Mary gave birth to their first son, Peter — but, tragically, Mary died almost three weeks later, followed by Peter at only 36 days old. 

John buried them together and spent many nights sleeping on their graves to protect their bodies from being eaten. Despite all the animosity from the natives, “supporters” back home, other missionaries criticizing his work, and merchant traders — his love for Jesus and spreading the Gospel continued against all odds. Paton’s courage and trust in God’s sovereignty couldn’t be shaken. His faith was unbreakable. As Isaiah the prophet reminds us, “if you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all,” Isaiah 7:9.

Paton went on to do many wonderful things as a missionary for the Lord in his life. He is still regarded as one of the greatest missionaries the world has ever known. 

The irony is that many times in his life, he stated he felt miserable, abandoned, doubtful, and powerless. So why in the world continue? Isn’t the Christian life supposed to be easy?

Why should we continue when we might feel exactly the same way as Paton? While Jesus was on the road to Jerusalem from Galilee with his disciples in John 6, he began to teach the crowds how he was the Bread of Life and whoever came to him would never hunger or thirst ever again. 

Sadly, in John 6:60-71, many of Jesus’ followers didn’t like this simple fact, so they turned back, never following him again. They convinced themselves that they could earn eternity alone. That’s not how the Gospel works. Jesus teaches clearly that by faith in Him, even if we’ve messed up 1,000 times today already — if we still have an unshakeable faith in Christ and believe He is the only way to everlasting life — we will hear the words one day, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

John G. Paton knew this and still pressed on to teach the Gospel, because the Gospel was and still is the only way to eternity. As the familiar hymn says, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.” The hope is that we aren’t alone and we never have been. Whatever trial or obstacle that stands in your way this month, thank God that through faith in Him, we have the greatest gift of all coming: eternal life with Jesus Christ! “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain,” 1 Corinthians 15:58.

Seth Duhs is the minister of New Covenant Presbyterian Church.