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A Review of Letters and Sketches from the New Hebrides

These letters provide honest insights from a woman’s perspective regarding the difficulty of mission work.

  • Byron Snapp,
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She buried her head in her pillow and wept as the ship on which she was a passenger was being towed out to sea from Liverpool in 1864. She did not know when she would see her relatives or her native home again. — The author recounted this incident in the first of her many moving letters to friends and family that make up the contents of this volume.

Margaret Whitecross Paton was the second wife of the famed missionary to the New Hebrides, John Paton. God had already given the missionary much success on the island of Tanna. He and his second wife settled on the island of Aniwa on which God again blessed his ministry.

These letters provide honest insights from a woman’s perspective regarding the difficulty of mission work.

Due to their inhabiting an isolated island, mail was delivered and picked up once a year. The author wrote long letters to recipients. Although Maggie wrote these letters for the eyes of family and friends, the modern-day reader will gain a better understanding of life on that mission field through her heartfelt letters.

The Patons had to work to get their house and a church constructed and to translate scripture into the local language. While her husband worked on a multitude of tasks, she strived to reach out to the female natives. She taught them the importance of clothing and how to sew. Her sewing classes had the greater goal of developing relationships in order to bring the gospel into the conversation whenever possible. These classes also helped her to learn their language.

However, her life involved far more than sewing classes and hosting infrequent visitors. She had to face destructive hurricanes, the news of the death of fellow missionaries by native hands, and the death of some of her own children.

The couple also sought ways of teaching natives bent on revenge the better way of reconciliation and ways of dealing with destructive marriage relationships in a culture that had a deeply imbedded, unbiblical view of women.

Yet in the midst of sorrow, God brought much reason for her to rejoice. She saw the gospel advancing among the natives, the development of a hunger to worship the Lord, and a developing work ethic. Natives began to learn to wear clothing to worship services, and then daily. A growing love and respect among the natives for the missionaries often provided the basis for necessary protection in the midst of dangerous situations.

As she wrestled with the many decisions, sacrifices, and heartaches faced by missionaries — particularly being separated from her own children due to their educational needs — she cautioned recipients that many parents are not realistic when they look forward to their own children serving on the mission field, unaware of the sacrifices that must be made and the heartaches that must be endured.

These letters span some twenty-five years of missionary life and experience. Maggie entered the mission field as a supportive helpmate. Thus she brings much insight in each letter to the fact that God blesses faithfulness in one’s calling.

This volume provides an inside look at the sacrifices and challenges of life on the mission field and the spiritual legacy and blessings that faithful missionaries often see as the fruit of their arduous toil.

  • Byron Snapp

Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia.  He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina.  He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren. 

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