John Williams (1796–1839) was an English missionary who evangelized the Pacific South Sea Islands and died a martyr. This month is the 225th anniversary of his birth.
Williams was born June 27, 1796, at Tottenham High Cross in London to John and Hannah Williams. His father’s ancestors had been Baptists for generations. The Calvinistic Methodist movement influenced his mother.
In 1814, he had a conversion experience and joined the Tabernacle Church (Calvinistic Methodist). In 1816, he volunteered as a missionary with the London Missionary Society and was ordained in September.
On Oct. 29, 1816, he married Mary Chauner. The couple started their journey to the Society Islands. Their first missionary post was on the island of Raiatea. They had a friendly welcome by King Tamatoa, a monarch who had been waiting for someone to give them the message of salvation.
John and Mary served on Raiatea for 5 years. Their work resulted in a congregation of over 2,000 people. Hundreds were baptized. Naked cannibals started wearing clothes. Idols were destroyed. Farms were cultivated, and animals from Australia helped the farmers.
The missionaries’ next stop was Raratonga in the Cook Islands. Although they experienced success, they endured many difficulties.
Malaria and tropical diseases caused Mary to lose several babies. (The couple had 10 children. Only three lived to be adults.)
After Raratonga was evangelized, they went to the Samoan Islands.
Williams used Jesus as an example and sent out native disciples two by two to reach the villages.
A ship, The Messenger of Peace, was built, and Williams traveled to numerous islands. In 10 years, many people responded to the gospel.
In 1833, John and Mary traveled back to England for the first time. John had become a celebrity. Huge crowds came to hear him preach. Young men and women resolved to become missionaries.
In April 1838, the couple left for the islands. Due to a high mortality in the South Pacific, they left their 6-year-old son in England.
Upon their return, Williams decided to evangelize the New Hebrides islands. The most savage cannibals in the Pacific lived there. Leaving Mary at the mission station, he landed on the island of Erromango on Nov. 20, 1839. He was brutally beaten with a war club until dead. The cannibals ate his body.
In his Bible, Williams had written on a piece of paper a text from Jesus: “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Luke 32:22). His prayer was answered. His faith never wavered.