Young, athletic scholars often make the best missionaries, especially when, like John Coleridge Patteson, they abandon all for Christ. Patteson, great-nephew of poet Samuel T. Coleridge, was “finely educated” at Oxford where he excelled in sports, especially in rowing. Following graduation he became a curate of the Church of England and soon sailed to New Zealand to assist his missionary friend, Bishop George Selwyn.
Patteson conducted schools for Melanesian Christians, preached the gospel, and translated the Scriptures. He spoke 23 dialects and translated the New Testament into local languages. In 1861 he was consecrated Bishop of Melanesia, and after 20 years, only 40 of the 800 natives on the chief island, Mota, remained unbaptized.
But European slave traders sullied the atmosphere by sailing among the islands, kidnapping native boys. In all, an estimated 70,000 young men were captured into servitude. Patteson fought the practice tooth and nail; but a fear of Europeans emerged among the islanders, and many held Patteson at arm’s length. Might he, too, be wanting their boys, not for the purposes of educating them, but for enslaving them?
On September 21, 1871 Patteson anchored alongside an island. He spoke to local schoolboys about Stephen, the first Christian martyr. He concluded, saying, “We are all Christians here on this ship. Any one of us might be asked to give up his life for God, just as Stephen was in the Bible. This might happen to any one of us, to you or to me. It might happen today.”
Patteson closed his Bible and went ashore. He was met by a barrage of arrows. Shortly, an unmanned canoe was found drifting in the water. It contained Patteson’s pierced body, covered by a palm with five knotted fronds, showing that Patteson’s life had been taken in exchange for five island boys who had been kidnapped. He was in his mid-forties. His death sparked such protest that South Pacific kidnapping was eventually ended; and his martyrdom inspired many young men who gave their lives to South Seas missionary work.
As Stephen was being stoned to death, he called out, “Lord Jesus, please welcome me!” He knelt down and shouted, “Lord, don’t blame them for what they have done.” Then he died. (Acts 7:59,60)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Sept. 21.
*Note the header: Exeter Cathedral is a photograph by Colin and Linda McKie which was uploaded on August 25th, 2017.