Through Geddie’s example of starting “missions societies” in each of the presbytery churches in Nova Scotia, coupled with the conviction that the local church could and should take responsibility for world missions, the church became dramatically more involved and effective in praying, sending, going, and giving.
John Geddie (1815–1872), a Scottish-born Canadian Presbyterian pastor and missionary, became known as “the father of Presbyterian missions in the South Seas.” For twenty-four years, he and his wife, Charlotte, faithfully proclaimed Christ, translated the Scriptures, and planted churches in the New Hebrides islands (now Vanuatu).
When John lay gravely ill as a newborn, his parents promised the Lord that they would devote him to missions if He would spare John’s life. Though they never told him of their vow, reading missionary publications became a consistent part of his upbringing after they immigrated to Pictou, Novia Scotia, in 1816.
Young John was raised in the traditional Scottish Presbyterian way of instruction in Bible and catechism. Though the Geddie children possessed “friendly dispositions,” John was described as having a “very determined spirit, approaching it might be said to obstinacy. If you crossed his disposition, it was not easy to conquer him.” The Lord utilized this persistence to sustain him and his family in the difficult calling that lay ahead.
In 1834, at age nineteen, Geddie professed faith in Christ, and his lifelong acquaintance with missionary stories matured into a passion for foreign missions. During his theological studies, he experienced a protracted period of poor health during which he, like his parents, vowed that if the Lord would restore him to full health, he would take the message of salvation to foreign lands. The Lord answered that prayer. He was licensed by the Presbytery of Pictou in 1837, ordained in 1838, married in 1839, and with the full financial and spiritual support of the Prince Edward Island Presbytery, John and Charlotte Geddie set sail for New Caledonia in the South Pacific on January 31, 1847.
On October 17, 1847, they arrived in Samoa, to the surprise of the missionary leadership in the area who knew nothing of their coming. The Geddies immediately learned that their intended destination of New Caledonia was considered too dangerous for missionary work. During their months in Samoa, the New Hebrides were chosen as the new target island group (situated just east of New Caledonia), with the Geddies selecting Aneiteum (the southernmost island of this chain) as their new home. After eighteen months in travel, the Geddies finally arrived at their permanent missions destination on July 31, 1848.
Soon they discovered the depths of the depravity of the people to whom they were sent. Women were considered the slave of the husband (in fact, the words “wife,” “servant,” and “slave” were interchangeable). Hard labor was the responsibility of the wife, and the suicide rate was high. Baby girls were on occasion put to death. When a husband died, the wife was immediately strangled so that her spirit would accompany her husband’s spirit to “the land of darkness.”