Wow! I thought. What an awesome story! Missionaries, cannibals, a terror-filled night, the threat of doom. This adventure had it all! I was on the edge of my seat with anticipation as Mom continued.
Scottish protestant missionaries, John G. Paton and his wife, whose lives were constantly threatened by the natives of the New Hebrides Islands of the South Pacific, were now surrounded by those same angry natives who seemed to be patiently waiting for the perfect moment to storm their house for bloody revenge. How long that night must have seemed. And these weren’t just any natives; they were the cannibals of Tanna. I shuddered as I listened to the Patons’ true story.
John and his wife must have been terrified. To my young mind it just didn’t seem fair. Here this young couple had sacrificed all their worldly possessions and traveled to an island filled with man-eaters to share the message of salvation, yet instead of the natives being grateful for their message of hope, it appeared that . . . dinner was being served. To be eaten by savages! That was more than I could fathom.
Mom continued with the mission story, explaining that when morning arrived and the Patons looked out their window, the natives were gone. Sometime during the night, while the couple was praying for God’s special protection, the natives had disappeared.
How strange! I wondered. Why would these natives, who appeared to be in complete control of the situation, just turn and leave? I was certain that John and his wife must have wondered the same question, and as the story progressed, I discovered that I was right. Exactly one year later, after the chief of Tanna was converted to Christ, John quizzed him on why he and his warriors had not killed them that night. The chief answered with a question. “Who were all those men you had with you there?” John was puzzled. “There were no men there; just my wife and I.” The chief began to argue that he and his warriors had seen many men standing guard—hundreds of big men in shining garments with swords drawn, ready for battle. They seemed to circle the mission station and were so fierce looking that he and his braves were too frightened to attack (Dr. Billy Graham’s 1975 Angels: God’s Secret Agents).
How exciting that moment must have been for the Patons, to discover that God had sent his mighty angelic warriors to surround their home for protection. Their salvation was nothing short of miraculous. I loved these stories! How I wanted that kind of an exciting life; to be a missionary, to be delivered by God in such awesome and supernatural ways. As a child, it seemed like the Patons’ life—a life on the edge with attacks coming from every direction—was one to envy. It never crossed my young mind that living through those extremely difficult situations might not be as fun as they sounded in storybook form.
Now, after being a pastor’s wife for nearly thirty years, I long for a little less excitement. A quiet, restful evening at home without any drama; getting to work in my yard, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face, and hearing the noises of God’s creation. Those are the times to cherish. What are not so easy to treasure are the trials of life, the difficult situations that cause us to wonder if we will even survive. Yet scripturally speaking, I must cherish those times as well, for it is when the natives are restless and have surrounded that our God molds us into who He wants us to be.
(Introduction to It’s Hard to Drain the Swamp When Yer up to Yer Ears in Alligators!)