While in Scotland, Paton was married to Margaret Whitecross, and together they sailed to the South Seas. They reached Aneityum in August, 1866, where he learned that faithful old Abraham had gone to his heavenly reward. He had received and prized highly a silver watch his missionary friend had sent him from Australia. When he was dying he said, "Give it to Missi, my own Missi Paton, and tell him that I must go to Jesus, where time is dead."

Mr. and Mrs. Paton established a new Mission station on Aniwa, the nearest island to Tanna, to lead the Aniwans to Christ while awaiting the day when he could return to the scene of his early hopes and sufferings. They built a house for themselves and two houses for orphan children. Later a church, a printing house, and other buildings were erected. They found the Aniwans to be essentially the same sort of savages as the Tannese. The same superstitions, the same cannibalistic cruelties and depravities, the same barbaric mentality, the same lack of altruistic or humanitarian impulses were in evidence. The belongings of the missionaries were often filched and many attempts were made to kill them. All sorts of experiences, from comedy to tragedy, entered into the pattern of their lives.

At first the Patons lived in a small native hut. While he was engaged in building a house on a spot some distance away, his adze slipped and cut his ankle severely. He urged some of the native men to carry him to his hut. When they demanded payment, he produced some fish-hooks, which were in great demand, and gave several to one of the men. This man took him a short distance, put him down and ran away. A second man was similarly paid and similarly put him down after going a few steps; then a third, and others. Meanwhile, the patient suffered terribly and bled profusely.

Having recovered and gone back to house-building, he noticed one day that he needed some tools which were at the hut. Writing a note on a piece of wood he handed it to a chief, named Namakei, and asked him to give it to Mrs. Paton. "But what do you want?" the old chief asked wonderingly.

"The wood will tell her," was the reply.

Namakei thought this was a strange sort of joke, but did as requested. His surprise knew no bounds when Mrs. Paton sent just what her husband wanted. The missionary took advantage of the opportunity to tell him about the Bible, through which he could hear God "speak" to him. An intense desire was awakened in the old man's soul to see the Word of God printed in his own language, and induced him to be of great assistance in this undertaking, while also inspiring him to learn to read. When at length the first section of the Bible was printed, he inquired eagerly: "Missi, can it speak? Does it speak my language?"

"Yes, it does."

"O Missi, make it speak to me!"

Paton read to him a few verses and the chief exclaimed joyfully, "It does speak! It speaks my own words! Please give it to me." After pressing it to his heart, he handed it back disappointedly saying, "Missi, it will not speak to me!"

Paton explained that he must first learn to read, then he could make the book speak. Noticing that the chief's sight was poor, he found a pair of glasses to fit him and Namakei cried with glee, "I have gotten back the sight I had when a boy. O Missi, make the book speak to me now!"

He was given the first three letters of the alphabet. These he soon mastered and ran to the missionary saying: "I have lifted up A, B, C. They are here in my head now. Give me other three."

Namakei applied himself with much diligence. As soon as he could read, he would say to the people: "Come and I will let you hear how God's book speaks our own Aniwan words. Listen to these beautiful words, telling why the Missi came to live among us wretched people and of his, Friend Jesus, who always goes with him, to make him strong in all his undertakings."

Somewhat haltingly he read out the words: "Go and make disciples of all nations. And lo, I am with you alway."

Just as Nebuchadnezzar observed the form of Another, like unto the Son of God, in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, so the savages of the New Hebrides discerned that the missionary was not alone and was not dependent upon his own resources.

Through discouragement and fiery trials, the missionaries labored on, knowing that He who was with them was mighty in His saving, transforming power. As Paton testified: "In heathendom every true convert becomes at once a missionary. The changed life, shining out amid the surrounding darkness, is a gospel in largest capitals which all can read."

Namakei turned out to be an excellent exhibit of "the new creature in Christ," though it required a considerable time to pass from the stage of praising Jesus to possessing and enthroning Him in his life. Due to the great scarcity of water on Aniwa and the prevalence of disease due to drinking bad water, Paton determined to dig a well. When the idea was suggested to Namakei, the old chief thought the Missi had lost his mind. But the white man worked hard for many days, despite the severe heat of the tropical sun. When the well caved in one night, he cleared it out again after much effort. Namakei tried to persuade him to desist from this mad and stupid effort, telling him that water comes only from above and that if he should strike water he would drop through into the sea and be eaten by sharks. Eventually the white man came out of Jehovah's well with a jug full of water. Namakei hesitantly took the jug, tasted the water, then cried: "Rain! It is rain! The world is turned upside down since Jehovah came to Aniwa!" Cautiously he and the others peered into the well to see "Jehovah's rain springing up below.

"Is this well just for you and your family?" they inquired.

"No, all of you may come and drink as much as you need."

Greatly pleased, the people ran off to spread the news. But Namakei said "Missi, may I help you in the service next Sabbath? I'd like to preach a sermon on the well." The Missi readily agreed.

Having heard of what was in store, a great crowd assembled in the church the next Sabbath. Namakei delivered a powerful and eloquent message, closing as follows:

"Friends of Aniwa, something here in my heart tells me that the invisible God does exist and that I shall see Him some day when the heaps of dust are removed which now blind my old eyes, just as we saw the water that had so long been invisible, when the dirt and the coral were removed in making the well. From this day, my people, I must worship the God who has opened for us the well. Let every man who thinks as I do go now and fetch the gods of Aniwa, that they may be destroyed. Let us stand up for Jehovah God who sent His Son Jesus to die for us and to bring us to Heaven." This speech, coupled with the chief's stalwart example, caused many to turn from heathen idols to the true God.

After many requests, Namakei secured permission to go to Aneityum with Paton to attend the yearly meeting of the missionaries. He was now very old and feeble. At the meeting he rejoiced to hear how the people of various islands were accepting the gospel and turning from their heathen ways. "Missi," he said, "I am lifting up my head like a tree. I am growing tall with joy."

After a few days on Aneityum the old chief fell ill as he was resting under the shade of a Banyan tree. "O Missi," he whispered, "I am near to die! Tell my people to go on pleasing Jesus. O Missi, let me hear your words rising up in prayer. My dear Missi, I will meet you again in the home of Jesus."

Such was the triumphant death of one who had once been a cannibal, but who had come under the transforming touch of the living Lord.


Heroes of Faith on Pioneer Trails by E. Myers Harrison. Published by Moody Press, Chicago, Illinois, c1945.


JOHN GIBSON PATON (1824-1907). Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu).


From: http://www.wholesomewords.org/