“The love of Christ banished the terrors of the law.” Those were the words of John Geddie concerning his salvation at age nineteen in 1834. He tirelessly preached this same message of Christ’s love as a missionary in the New Hebrides islands for twenty-four years.
John was an avid reader; his favorite subject being stories of mission efforts and the desperate need of the Gospel in unevangelized areas. After completing secondary school at Pictou Academy in Nova Scotia, he studied theology. Small and slightly built, he was often referred to as “little Johnnie.” While at seminary, his health became so poor that he was told to give up his studies. He promised the Lord that if his health were restored, he would go as a missionary to a heathen land. On March 13, 1838, he was ordained and began pastoring a church on Prince Edward Island.
During his time as pastor, he promoted foreign missions which was a new idea to the colonial churches. Up to this point, they had sought financial aid for their own work, but had not considered sending out missionaries. It took several years and many pleas, but a mission society was finally formed. John and his wife were the first missionary volunteers. Their destination was Aneiteum, an island in the New Hebrides where people practiced cannibalism.
The Geddies arrived in New Hebrides in 1848 and soon felt the reality of their situation. They were on an island, surrounded by people from whom they had much to fear and whose language and customs they did not know. Geddie wrote, “We have His promise, at whose command we have come hither, ‘Lo, I am with you alway.’”
Their first task was to learn the unwritten Aneiteumese language. Then they began to print materials and teach the people to read. After three years and much labor, John had won a total of ten people to the Lord. Several times, while walking the trails, spears and clubs were thrown at him. He once faced an angry crowd of men who threatened to kill him for interfering as they strangled a young widow to death that she might “join her husband in the afterlife.” He unwittingly violated some cultural taboos and made the chieftain angry. But eventually the message of Christ’s love penetrated the hearts of the people and hundreds turned to the Lord.
As people were saved and their lives changed, John began to teach them and send them out to other islands with the message of the Gospel. People came from all over the region to see what had happened in Aneiteum. One group even brought a pig in the hopes they might use it to purchase a teacher to take back to their village. When John Geddie died on December 14, l872, a tablet was placed behind the pulpit of the church in Anelcauhat which reads: In memory of John Geddie, D.D. When he landed in 1848, there were no Christians here, and when he left in 1872, there were no heathen.”