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Trials of a Missionary

From his early boyhood, John Paton wanted to be a missionary. Before studying theology and medicine, Paton served for ten years as a Glasgow City Missionary. After graduation, he was ordained and set sail for the New Hebrides as a Presbyterian missionary. Three months after arriving on the island of Tanna, Paton’s young wife died, followed by their five-week-old son. For three more years, Paton labored alone among the hostile islanders, ignoring their threats, seeking to make Christ known to them, before escaping with his life. Later, he returned and spent fifteen years on another island.

Paton was working one day in his home on the translation of John’s Gospel—puzzling over John’s favorite expression pisteuo eis, to “believe in” or to “trust in” Jesus Christ, a phrase which occurs first in John 1:12. “How can I translate it?” Paton wondered. The islanders were cannibals; nobody trusted anybody else. There was no word for “trust” in their language. His native servant came in. “What am I doing?” Paton asked him. “Sitting at your desk,” the man replied. Paton then raised both feet off the floor and sat back on his chair. “What am I doing now?” In reply, Paton’s servant used a verb which means “to lean your whole weight upon.” That’s the phrase Paton used throughout John’s Gospel to translate to “believe in.”

Morning Glory, Sept. /Oct. , 1997, p. 50