“Force will not do. Only the compulsion of love will avail,” that was the mantra of John Geddie. We think that compromise is rooted in our loss of respect for God’s moral law. Actually, it always goes back, not to the law, but to love! The most compelling proof of our love for God, our admiration for His Holiness, is that love constrains us to do what is right and righteous.
John Geddie went to serve among the Melanesian and Polynesian peoples. On his first day in the islands, he witnessed a trader who had landed the previous day being killed, roasted and eaten. Such a scene would have jolted most to flee for their lives. Dietrich Bonheoffer, who died at Nazi hands, explained the focus of his own life, “When God calls a man, He bids him come and die.” When James Calvert, the great Methodist Missionary, went out to preach to the cannibals of the Fiji Islands, the captain of the ship sought to dissuade him. “You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages.” Calvert only replied, “We died before we came here.”
Such was the resolves of Geddie as well. He would become legendary, the father of the Christian faith in the islands of the South Seas, particularly, Aneiteum. Arriving in 1848, he had never seen creatures like these savages. A contest seemed to be their daily custom – whose face could appear more grotesque, more brutal, more non-human, more hideous? They not only looked like savages, they acted the part as well.
Women were slaves who did not even have to right to live – apart from their husbands. The culture demanded that when a husband died, his wife along with all the younger children not yet capable of self-care, must die with him. The oldest son had the responsibility of strangling his mother. Cruelty and unthinkable brutality was one with the culture.
Cannibalism was rampant on all the islands. The natives savored human flesh as the most flavorful of all foods. It was considered proper to eat all enemies killed or taken in war. Island Chiefs commonly killed their own subjects to serve at a feast. The killing and eating of one’s own children was not unheard of!
Love was not allowed to grow in such a culture. The depth of moral degradation was staggering. No moral codes seemed to exist. Licentiousness was endemic. Revenge was a sacred duty. There was not even a word for forgiveness in their language. Families bound together by love were completely unknown. They were religious, but their faith did not improve the quality of their character. It only reinforced their twisted values. Their gods were revered for the storms they created – thunder and lightning, hurricanes and devastation or death and disease. To be divine-like meant deadly power and brutality, rage and unrestrained force.
Why did the missionaries of the 1800’s take such risks among people so brutal and dangerous? Geddie would write, “The love of Christ sustains us and constrains us. My heart pants to tell this miserable people the wonders of redeeming love.” He knew that if such people were to be won to Christ that they could only be drawn “with cords of love. I know of no power that is adequate to transform their lives except that which transformed my own life, namely, the power of the living Christ who “loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood.”
The natives were illiterate and saw no value in learning to read and write. He had to trek repeatedly among them, over hill and vale, reciting the story of Christ over and over. He was not welcomed. The natives saw no value he added to their island. Instead, he was an obstacle, challenging their Centuries old way of life. Through the forests and over the mountains, he survived multiple attempts on his life. Stones, clubs and spears were hurled at him, and occasionally he was wounded, but he kept telling the natives of the Redeemer’s love and exemplifying love in all his actions.
Learn more about John Geddie next week!
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