“But how can you bring up rain out of the ground, Missi John?”
Old Chief Namakei could not imagine such a strange thing. His
dark brown face was wrinkled with worry as he faced the white
man. John Paton, the missionary, rolled up his sleeves and
lifted the shovel.
“God has put good water down in the ground as well as in the
clouds, Chief Namakei,” he explained patiently. “We will dig a
hole down to find it. Then your people won’t need to pay the
witch doctor for drinking water.”
“Rain out of the ground . . . Drinking water underground?” a
murmur of laughter swept through the watching crowd of natives.
The island of Aniwa* had no springs, and its people had never
heard of fresh water coming from any place except the rainwater
cistern on the witch doctor’s land. Rain in these New Hebrides
Islands was scarce enough, and all that fell soon sank into the
dry soil. The only pool of rainwater was closely guarded by the
wicked witch doctor. Since he controlled the supply, all the
people must pay what he asked or go thirsty! He pretended to be
in charge of the weather too, and would do his rain dances only
when the people were desperate enough to bring huge offerings to
Now the witch doctor lurked in the bushes on the edge of the
clearing, keeping an eye on the people as they watched
Missionary John. “I will curse them all!” he muttered angrily,
fingering his necklace of bat’s bones and shark’s teeth. “I will
curse their yam gardens and their fish traps! I will bring
poisonous snakes upon them, until they are ready to forget about
this foolish foreign missionary. Fresh water out of the ground,
indeed!” He shook his head, making his wooden earrings dance.
“When we have our well of water,” John Paton told the people,
“it will be free for everyone. There will be enough water for
all, to fill your gourds and buckets whenever you wish! Now who
will help me dig?”
“Not me! Digging is women’s work,” laughed a tall young savage
with blue designs tattooed all across his muscular chest.
“I’ll help for awhile, if you give me one of those sharp metal
fish hooks you brought,” another man bargained.
Sweat began to roll down the missionary’s forehead as he dug
busily. “Yes, every man who works for a day may have a fish
hook,” he replied. “It might take a few days before we reach the
water in the ground.”
The soil was hard and full of rocky coral, so John Paton was
glad when a few men took turns with him in digging. Sitting
under a tree to rest, he thought of his boyhood home in
Scotland. Scotland was much cooler than the Island of Aniwa, and
there was plenty of water there! But John Paton had made up his
mind when he was only a little boy, that as soon as he grew up
he would be a missionary. These islands of New Hebrides were the
place to which God had called him, so here he would stay!
He had found the people to be cannibals, who lived in poor
little huts and worshiped almost everything: the shark gods,
tree gods, ocean gods, and weather gods. Women did all the work,
while the men spent their time in fighting one another. John
could not even count the narrow escapes he had had in the past
few years: times when his life was almost brought to an end by
an axe or gun in savage hands.
Sometimes he had saved himself by running straight into the arms
of some cannibal, hugging his enemy tightly to keep him from
lifting his club to strike. Once he had knocked up the barrel of
a musket aimed at his heart, sending the bullet harmlessly into
the air. One night he needed to climb a tall tree and spend the
long dark hours hiding in the branches, while savages whooped
and fired their muskets below him. Often his life had been saved
by nothing but the miraculous power of God, when his attackers
were frightened away by angel guardians.
One night, when an army of attacking cannibals burned the
mission church, John Paton and the other missionaries were
rescued by a ship from another island. After this John had made
a trip back to Scotland to raise money for a mission boat of his
own. Most of the money came from children in Sunday Schools, and
John named the boat “Dayspring”. When the beautiful little ship
Dayspring returned to the New Hebrides Islands, the savages were
filled with surprise.
“How is this?” they marveled. “We killed some of the
missionaries and drove the others away. Yet they come back! And
not to make money, like other white men. These came only to tell
us of their God and His Son Jesus. If their God makes them so
brave, we ought to worship Him too!”
Now John Paton was well accepted on the island of Aniwa. He
spent much of his time caring for the sick where there were no
doctors or nurses. As he walked from one place to the next, he
sang hymns in the language of the people of Aniwa. “Missi John!”
“Missi John!” children would cry with delight when he passed. If
only I can give the people their own well, John thought, then
the witch doctor’s hold on them will be broken at last! and he
climbed into the deepening hole once more.
But late in the afternoon, disaster struck. One side of the
well-hole suddenly caved in and a pile of dirt tumbled down
around the feet of the man who was digging. It was not at all
dangerous, but the people of Aniwa were terrified. “You see!”
the witch doctor shrieked in triumph. “You have made the earth
gods angry! This work must stop, or everyone will die!” And
nobody could be persuaded to dig another shovelful.
“Then I will dig it by myself,” John said sadly. And he toiled
on alone, while the people begged him to give up the job. “If
you do reach water,” they told him, “you will fall through into
the sea and the sharks will eat you! Please stop, Missi John!”
Still he dug away, until his hands were blistered by the shovel.
A second day, and a third. His hopes rose as the hole grew
deeper, for the coral and earth were becoming damp! “I think God
will give us water tomorrow,” he told the curious watchers as he
climbed out of the hole that evening.
Early the next morning, John went down into his well and dug a
small hole in the bottom. Suddenly, water came gushing in! John
was so excited that he could hardly steady his hand to hold his
cup. Dipping the cup full, he tasted the water and found it
fresh and sweet!
“Water!” he shouted. “The water is coming in!”
Men, women, and children, all the people of Aniwa came running
pell-mell to see the marvelous sight. As the water level rose in
the new well, John leaned down to fill his cup again. “You
first,” he said, handing the cup to Chief Namakei.
At first the old chief dared not touch it. “Yes, it certainly
looks like rain,” he ventured cautiously. Finally he accepted
the cup, shaking it a little to see whether it would spill. Next
he had to test the water with his finger. At last he got up
enough courage to taste a sip, rolling it around in his mouth.
He swallowed, then shouted, “Rain! Rain! Yes, it is rain! Missi
John has brought us rain out of the ground!”
Cups of water were passed from hand to hand, and the islanders
came one by one to peer wonderingly into the hole which was now
full of water.
Chief Namakei stood straight and tall. “Hear me, my people!” he
spoke solemnly. “The God who could give us this water is the
only true God. I command that all the idols in our houses shall
be burned. We will hear Missi John now, and learn all we can
about God and His Son Jesus!”
John Paton bowed his head, a prayer of thanksgiving rising in
his heart. “Thank You, Lord!” he whispered joyfully.
In the distance, the sad figure of the witch doctor could be
seen slipping silently away, all alone, to his hut.
of a group of islands now called Vanuatu (formerly New
Hebrides), east of Australia and west of Fiji.
The well John Paton dug was more of a miracle than he
realized that day! In later years when other men tried to
dig wells on the island of Aniwa, they could find no fresh
water anywhere! Only salty ocean water came up in the wells.
The well John dug was the only spot where drinkable water
could be found on the island of Aniwa.
John Paton worked as a missionary for nearly 50 years in the
New Hebrides Islands.
Chief Namakei also became a Christian minister and preached
to his people until his death a few years after this story.
To order this
Missionary Stories with the Millers,
Don L. Martin at Green Pastures Press.
Copyright 1993. All Rights Reserved. Published on this website by permission
of Green Pastures Press. No part of this chapter may reproduced in any
manner without written permission from the publisher.