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Geddie Convinced His Church to Send Him to Polynesia

Geddie promoted missions in Canada and served in Polynesia.

SHORTLY AFTER HE WAS BORN in Scotland, John Geddie became seriously ill and nearly died. His parents pleaded with the Lord to spare their only son, promising to devote him to the service of the Lord. The boy lived, but was such a small, timid child no one could have imagined he would become a fearless missionary who would convert an island of cannibals. 

While Geddie was still a child, his parents moved to Canada due to economic hard times. His parents did not tell him they had promised him to the Lord, but his father grounded him in the Bible and catechism. At nineteen Geddie made a profession of faith and planned to enter the ministry. Frail, with a thin voice, and often sick, he nonetheless did his work well and founded a missionary prayer meeting. 

Geddie became a pastor and won the hearts of his people by hard work, faithful preaching, and gentleness. He convinced fellow Presbyterians to engage in home missions but the brunt of the work fell on him. He became known all over Prince Edward Island and used his contacts to remind fellow pastors and Christians of the need for foreign missions, taking the lead to form a mission society and gather contributions for groups such as the London Missionary Society. Nova Scotia was very poor at the time, and his suggestion that the colony send its own missionaries was considered impractical. 

Geddie surmounted all objections. In 1844, the Presbytery approved the mission, and by July 1845 had raised enough money to fund a missionary. In November 1846, Geddie, his wife Charlotte, and their children sailed from Halifax to begin work in Polynesia. In his farewell sermon he assured his listeners that whatever hardships lay ahead, he was sure that “to bear the Redeemer’s yoke is an honor to one who has felt the Redeemer’s love.” 

After investigating the Pacific islands, the Geddies settled on Aneiteum in 1848—a small island in the New Hebrides chain whose spiritual condition was appalling. Traders exploited and abused the islanders and infected them with deadly diseases. The natives lived in filth and ignorance, eating one another and killing a man’s wives when he died. 

Although Geddie learned the local language and opened a school to teach its children, his work met with no outward success. On the contrary, when he walked through the forests, he was pelted with sticks, stones, and clubs. He even had to dodge spears. Sometimes he was injured and became discouraged. 

Suddenly, the situation changed. Three years after the Geddies began their work, some chiefs converted to Christianity. Immediately the mass of people followed their lead. Over the coming years, Aneiteum even sent missionaries to neighboring islands. 

On this day, 14 December l872, Geddie died in Australia, where he had sailed following a stroke. He is memorialized by a wooden tablet in the Aneiteumese language which says in part, “He labored amidst many trials for the good of the people, taught many to read, many to work and some to be teachers...When he landed in 1848, there were no Christians here, and when he left in 1872 there were no heathen.”

Dan Graves

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For a quote by Geddie, read "Geddie's Vision Vindicated"

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