John G. Paton: A Missionary of Courage


John Paton was a man of courage. Like his father before him, John Paton was strong in his faith and worked among the cannibals of the New Hebrides, which is the modern nation of Vanuatu in the South Pacific Ocean.

Early Life

John Paton was born in 1824 in Scotland. His father was devoted to his faith in Christ. Three times a day, John’s father would go into his prayer closet and pray; each time he came out of his prayer closet, his countenance would be different than before. In his essay, “John G. Paton: Apostle of Christ,” Eugene Harrison writes, “In a passage of extraordinary beauty, he has pictured his father, James Paton, as a man of singular piety, going three times a day into ‘the prayer closet’ and coming forth with shining face as of one who had been on the Mount of Transfiguration.”[1] This impacted young John deeply. John went to Elementary school and then dropped out at the age of 12 in order to help his father with the trade of making stockings. Even though John did not get a formal education beyond Elementary school, he taught himself Greek and Latin for two hours each day.

Preparation for Missionary Service

John Paton was a city missionary in Glasgow for 10 years. In fact, while a missionary in Glasgow, “He learned to deal with all kinds of people, and he saw the power of the gospel to uplift the most depraved.”[2] This work in Glasgow, prepared Paton to work among the cannibals of the New Hebrides.

Work among Cannibals

When Paton first got accepted to work among the cannibals of the New Hebrides, there were people who tried to persuade him not to go. One old gentleman warned John, “The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals.”[3] To this John replied that he may as will give his life for Christ, since in the end, his body will rot in the ground.

In 1858, Paton sailed to the New Hebrides to work among the people of Tanna, who were cannibals. A year after arriving on the island, Paton’s wife died. The people of Tanna were dishonest, treacherous and Paton did not like the values held by the people. The people of Tanna tried to kill Paton multiple times through black magic. In addition to the opposition of the people, Paton also contracted Malaria.[4] Unlike the rest of his family, Paton survived his bouts of Malaria.


In 1862, the missionaries working with Paton agreed he should take a furlough. He used the furlough as an opportunity to raise funds for a ship to help the missionaries in the New Hebrides. At first, Paton only traveled to Australia to fundraise, and it went really well. Because it was so successful, he decided to go to Scotland and England too. While in Scotland, he met a woman named Miss Margaret Whitegross, married her and later returned to the New Hebrides-this time to the island of Aniwa.

Work on Aniwa

The people of Aniwa were more open to the Good News than the people of Tanna. Many people came to know Christ’s love, and a church was started there.

Extensive Tours

In 1884 and 1892, Paton made extensive tours in order to speak about the need for more missionaries in the New Hebrides. In 1900, Paton made his last tour of America.


Paton died on January 28, 1907 in Melbourne, Australia. He lived to be eighty-three years old.


The story of Paton has inspired thousands to become missionaries. According to Randy Alcorn, “Because of Paton’s story, nearly one in six Presbyterian ministers in Australia left to serve God as missionaries.”[5] That is a tremendous impact. All of Paton’s suffering was worth it.


Paton never let fear hold him back from sharing the Good News, even when his life was in danger from cannibals. We too can be fearless as we share the Good News.

[1] Harrison, Eugene Meyers. “John G. Paton: Apostle of Christ.” Wholesome Words.

[2] Pounds, Jessie Brown. “Pioneer Missionary: John G. Paton.” Wholesome Words.

[3] Piper, John. “You Will Be Eaten by Cannibals! Lessons from the Life of John G. Paton”

[4] Parsonson, G.S. “Biography- John Gibson Paton.” Australian Dictionary of Biography.

[5] Alcorn, Randy. “To ‘Live and Die Serving and Honoring the Lord Jesus.’” Eternal Perspectives Ministries.


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