Taken from Pioneering in the New Hebrides, autobiography of John G. Paton (1824-1907), edited by his
brother James Paton. Copyrighted and printed 1898 by Fleming H. Revell Company.
Outwitting the Enemy by Flight
For some time, John Paton endured life-threatening dangers at the hands of natives strongly opposed to
his Gospel work on Tanna Island in the South Pacific. God miraculously protected and sustained him time
and again, but the enemies’ fury, fired by hell itself, grew greater and greater. At last John Paton felt
constrained to leave until it became more favorable to carry on his ministry among them. With his faithful
national worker he escaped from his home and made his way through treacherous enemy territory, pursued
by still further enemies – to the other missionary home located on the island. These missionaries, too, were
in imminent peril.
One day when the enemy forced the missionary wife to show them through the house in their search for
John Paton, he was bolted into a closet room engrossed in writing and they missed him altogether. They left
greatly disappointed at not finding him.
At last the enemies determined to burn the property. One night about ten o’clock, they crept stealthily to
the mission grounds while the exhausted missionaries lay sleeping. John Paton’s faithful little dog awakened
him. Jumping up and arousing the other missionaries, he saw a glare of light as men passed the windows
with flaming torches. The church was set on fire, as well as a reed fence connecting the church to the home
in which they stood. Knowing that in a short time the house would be aflame, John Paton seized a little
tomahawk and slipped out into the dark night. He hacked down the reed fence and threw it into the flames,
cutting off the wall of fire to the house. At that moment he found himself surrounded by men. The story
continues in his own words:
“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
God Fights for Him Again
“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, and had it come in the opposite
direction, no power on earth could have saved us from being 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
upon the reeds and the bush. And besides, it had become almost impossible now to set fire to our dwelling
house. The stars in their courses were fighting against Sisera! (Judg. 5:20). The mighty roaring of the wind,
the black cloud pouring down unceasing 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, terrorstricken, exclaimed,
“‘That is Jehovah’s rain! Truly their Jehovah 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
the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in Him’ (Psa. 34:8).
“Returning to the door of the mission house, I cried, ‘Open and let me in! I am now all alone.’ Mr.
Mathieson let me in, and exclaimed, ‘If ever in time of need God sent help and protection to His servants in
answer to prayer, He has done so tonight! Blessed be His holy name!’
“In fear and in joy we united our praises. Truly our Jesus has all power, not less in the elements of nature
than in the savage hearts of the Tannese. Precious Jesus! Does He not chide us, saying, ‘Hitherto have ye
asked nothing in My name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full’? (John 16:24). How much
help, blessing, and joy we lose every day, because we do not take all to Jesus as we ought! Often since have
I wept over His love and mercy in that deliverance, and prayed that every moment of my remaining life may
be consecrated to the service of my precious Friend and Saviour!
“All through the remainder of that night I lay wide awake keeping watch, my noble little dog lying near me
with ears alert. Early in the morning friends came weeping around us. Our enemies were loudly rejoicing. It
had been finally resolved to kill us at once, to plunder our house and then to burn it. The noise of the
shouting was distinctly heard as they neared the mission premises, and our weeping, friendly natives looked
terror-stricken, and seemed anxious to flee for the bush.
“But just when the excitement rose to the highest pitch, we heard or dreamed that we heard a cry higher
still, ‘Sail O!’ We were by this time beginning to distrust almost our very senses, but again and again that cry
came rolling up from the shore, and was repeated from crowd to crowd all along the beach, ‘Sail O! Sail O!’
The shouts of those approaching us gradually ceased, and the whole multitude seemed to have melted away
from our view. I feared some cruel deception, and at first peered out very cautiously to spy the land.
“But yonder in very truth a vessel had sailed into the bay. It was the Blue Bell, Captain Hastings. I set fire
to the reeds on the side to attract his attention. I put a black shawl as a flag on one end of the mission house
and a white sheet on the other.”
On this ship the missionaries left the island. John Paton intended to wait on a friendly island until the Lord
again opened a way for him to return to Tanna. But God directed him to another island of the New Hebrides –
Aniwa. Here he labored with a new wife and family until that whole island was turned from idolatry, and a
thriving church was planted there which has sent forth many national evangelists and teachers.
Tanna Not Forsaken
And what of Tanna? God sent another missionary couple there in after years to carry on the work that
John Paton had begun. This perhaps was in no small part due to a plea which was sent to the Governor of
New South Wales, Australia by those people of Tanna who loved the Word of God. They pled with the
governor to deal with the enemies of the Gospel so that the missionaries could return.
“Oh, compassionate us, chief of Sydney!” their plea concluded. “Hold fast these three, our missionaries,
and give them back to us, and we will love you and your people. You and your people know the Word of
Jehovah; you are going on the path to heaven; you all love the Word of Jehovah. Oh, look in mercy on us
dark-hearted men, going to the bad land, to the great eternal fire, just like our fathers who are dead!
“May Jehovah make your heart and the hearts of your people sweet towards us, to compassionate us, and
to look in mercy on our dark land; and we will pray Jehovah to make you good, and give you a rich reward.
“The names of us, the chiefs of Tanna, who worship towards Jehovah” – Ten Tannese chiefs signed with
Although they addressed their plea to the governor, it was God in heaven who took note of that pained cry
from hearts that longed for the blessings of the Gospel. In love and mercy God answered by sending to them other devoted servants who were willing to hazard their lives that these lost in the darkness of sin might be