The Well


John Patton, missionary in the New Hebrides in the mid-nineteenth century, concentrated all of his efforts on demonstrating God's love to the natives. His initial efforts weren't overly successful, however. The islanders had their own gods. They didn't think they needed another one, and as a result, John was often ridiculed.

While ministering to the people on the Island of Aniwa, John noticed that several of its inhabitants suffered from a form of elephantiasis. Wondering why, he began to realize that the climate on this particular island was different from the others. Aniwa didn't have the tall hills of the other, more mountainous islands, and without the hills, there was nothing to attract clouds during the non-rainy season. During the rainy season, from December to April, rain was abundant enough, but the rain water quickly disappeared into the porous soil. Because of this, there were no rivers and no lakes on Aniwa, and when the rainy season was over, freshwater was in short supply.

As time went on, God began speaking to John about digging a well. When he approached chief Namakei and one of his friends about the plans, the chiefs looked at him with bewilderment. Then they started to laugh. "Freshwater only comes from the sky!" Was their credulous response. "Dirt cannot produce water!" They then requested that John NOT spread such foolish ideas among their people. They claimed that if he did, the people would stop believing anything he said.

Despite the opposition, John started to dig a well near his mission house. Some locals helped him at first, but when one wall of the well collapsed at just twelve feet, they all abandoned the project.

This didn't deter John however, and he continued to dig by himself. He designed a creative block-and-pulley system that would allow him to raise a bucket filled with dirt out of the hole, where one of the native teachers could then dump it on the ground outside.

John worked feverishly for weeks on this project, until he finally reached a depth of about thirty feet. Here he noticed that the earth was a bit damp. That evening, filled with the confidence that can only come from the Holy Spirit, John approached the chiefs. "Tomorrow God will give us water from that hole," he declared. It didn't matter to him that the chiefs dismissed his comment.

The next morning, as he was preparing to continue the dig, John sank about two feet through a narrow hole in the center of the well. Immediately, water began gurgling up to fill the hole. John tasted the water. It was brackish, but it was definitely drinkable! "Come see the rain that God has provided us through the earth!" He called out excitedly.

The natives were skeptical, but when John let them taste the earth-given water, they couldn't believe their eyes. "Wonderful are the works of your God!" Exclaimed Chief Namakei. "No gods of Aniwa have ever helped us in any way. Since you came to our island, the world has turned upside down!"

But the chief suddenly had a new concern: What if John kept the water for himself? "Will you share that water with us or is it all for you and your family?" He asked.

John laughed: "This water is available to anyone," he answered. "Come and take as much as you want. I believe there will always be plenty for us, and the more we use it, the fresher it will become. This is the way with many of the God-given gifts, and for this we praise His name!"

Shortly after that, chief Namakie forsook all of his gods and declared himself a follower of Jehovah. He then encouraged all of his people to do the same. In the weeks that followed, many islanders came to the Lord. They brought their idols and piled them up on a heap just outside of John's house, and from that point on, meetings to worship God attracted large crowds. Families in Aniwa began to have morning and evening worship, and eventually, every islander became a worshipper of the only true God. Is it any wonder that crime became a thing of minor concern on the island?

What started out as a crazy idea became the catalyst for the conversion of all the Aniwans. John depended on God's Spirit for guidance, and when he received instruction, he acted upon it. We have the same choice to make. Sometimes we wonder how we can witness to our family. We may have been burned several times trying to do so and may have decided to not bother them with this any longer. John could have decided to do the same, but he didn't. Instead he began to rely more and more on divine guidance.

Only God can bring about a miracle of repentance. Will you give up, or, like John Patton, will you persevere?

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." (Gal 6:9 NIV)

Rob Chaffart

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