Missions History: John Geddie

“In accord with the Redeemer’s command and assured of His presence, we are going forth to those lands where Satan has established his dark domain. I know that suffering awaits me. But to bear the Redeemer’s yoke is an honor to one who has felt the Redeemer’s love.”

With these words, a man named John Geddie and his wife set sail from Halifax, Nova Scotia in November 1846. Their destination was the islands of the South Sea.

And their mission was to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In our prison ministries, that is our mission, too.

Born in Scotland, John’s family had emigrated to Canada when he was just a baby. He grew up in the Presbyterian church and enjoyed reading about foreign missionaries and the great need for missions.

Nicknamed “wee John” because he was a rather short man, John struggled with ill health. But he dedicated himself to God, promising that, if his health improved, he would serve on the foreign mission field. John studied theology, became a pastor in Prince Edward Island, and married Charlotte McDonald. 

But foreign missions was always close to John’s heart. Ahead of his time, he believed that even colonial churches should send out missionaries to foreign lands. While his fellow pastors sought to raise support for their own churches, John wanted to raise support for foreign missionaries. He faced much opposition to this idea, but he persisted. 

John pleaded, “To undertake a mission to the heathen is our solemn duty and our high privilege…With 600,000,000 of immortal souls as my clients, I beg you to arouse yourselves and to take a worthy part in this noble enterprise…” At last, the church decided to send out the Geddies as missionaries to the South Seas. And, on November 30, 1846, the Geddies sailed.

In October 1847, they landed in Samoa. John spent 6 months studying the Samoan language. Then he and his family settled on the island of Aneiteum, in the New Hebrides. He wrote, “Though severed now from those with whom we could take sweet counsel, we are not alone.

“We have His promise, at whose command we have come hither, ‘Lo, I am with you alway.'” 

The people of the South Seas did many evil things. Cannibalism was part of the culture, as well as the killing of unwanted babies. When a husband died, the wife and young children would be killed as well. Forgiveness was an unknown concept, while revenge was considered required.

The people worshipped idols and evil spirits. They also believed that their sacred men had power to cause storms, hurricanes, and disease. It was into these dark and desperate circumstances that John hoped to bring the light of the gospel. 

Although Aneiteum was his base of operations, John also travelled throughout the islands to evangelize. On these tours, people would hurl spears, clubs, and arrows at him. But John persisted in his mission work. He also established many schools to teach the natives to read and write. 

In 1851, the Geddies began to see some fruit for their labours. Several native chiefs believed on Christ, and many of their people were converted, too. John trained them to share their faith with others and took them on his weekly evangelistic tours.  

By the mid-1850s, John Geddie estimated that over half of the island’s population were Christian.

Twenty-five churches were eventually established on the island, and thousands of natives accepted Christ. Many of these converts went on to become missionaries on other islands. 

After serving in the New Hebrides for twenty-four years, John Geddie took his final journey and entered the gates of Heaven. Behind the pulpit of his church in Anelcauhat, a simple plaque was placed. It read,  

“In memory of John Geddie, D.D., born in Scotland, 1815, minister in Prince Edward Island seven years, Missionary sent from Nova Scotia to Aneiteum for twenty-four years. When he landed in 1848, there were no Christians here, and when he left in 1872 there were no heathen. 

God took a humble Canadian preacher and worked through him to reach thousands of souls for Christ. The life and ministry of John Geddie show us that God can use anyone who is willing to serve Him. Contact us at our prison ministries for practical ideas about how you can start serving God.


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