It wasn't until 1606 that Spanish explorer Fernandez de Quiros discovered a chain of eighty islands stretched across 450 miles in the South Pacific. Later named the New Hebrides, the islands were inhabited by peoples whose existence had been unknown to the rest of the world for centuries.
It would be another 230 years before two London missionaries made the first earnest attempt to bring the gospel to these unengaged and unreached peoples in 1839. But they were killed and eaten by cannibals only minutes after going ashore.
John G. Paton and his wife set sail to the islands in 1858. But this decision didn't come without criticism. On one account before leaving, a respected elder chided the couple, "You will be eaten by cannibals!" To which Paton responded,
Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms.
Paton didn't play. He was a courageous man who understood how to do missions when dying is gain. God is sovereign, and Paton knew it. He endured one threat after another and put it all on the line for the glory of Christ.
Originally a message delivered at the 2000 Conference for Pastors, John Piper's biography of Paton is now available as the eBook, John G. Paton: You Will Be Eaten by Cannibals!
"I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms" (p. 6).