September 20 – John Hunt & Pacific Martyrs

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

John Hunt & Pacific Martyrs, martyrs

The invading Fijian warriors stormed the village. They intended to wipe out its residents. But they felt restrained. They planned to kill all the natives and cast them into ovens to cook them for eating. However, they admitted, they couldn’t carry out their grisly plan because the God of the Christian missionaries was stronger than they were.

The lead missionary of the village on the island of Viwa, John Hunt, had recently witnessed God’s power in another way. Prior to the civil war that brought the warriors rushing into the village, God sparked a spiritual revival in Viwa. In the first week alone over 100 natives confessed their sins. They spent time on their knees as warriors of prayer, unaware that a deadly physical war was about to erupt.

John Hunt was born near Lincoln, England. He engaged in farm work throughout his youth. At age fourteen, John became a Christian. He was eventually invited to become an exhorter at the local Methodist Church. Other speaking opportunities came. His messages won decisions for Christ. He decided to enter full-time ministry.

John studied at the Wesleyan Theological Institute in Hoxton. After graduation, the missions board asked him to consider Fiji. John married Hannah Summers and they departed by ship to the South Pacific.

In 1839, John and Hannah disembarked at a missionary station on Rewa. They soon witnessed the uncivilized Fijian’s ways. The punishment for stealing was usually to have the offending fingers chopped off. The natives purged their population of the sick and aged by strangling them to death. One day the natives of the village where John lived avenged the death of one of their own by killing eleven men from the other village, cutting up their bodies, and cooking and eating them.

John and Hannah Hunt’s lives were sometimes threatened, but they always felt that God protected them. John stated in one of his journal entries, “I feel myself saved from almost all fear though surrounded with men who have scarcely any regard for human life.”

The Hunts relocated to the missionary station at Somosomo and later saw their most rewarding ministry at Viwa.

John preached three times every Sunday and lectured three days a week. He opened a small medical clinic. He routinely sailed to nearby islands that had not heard the gospel message. While keeping up his demanding schedule, John became skilled in the Fijian language and spent what time he could translating the New Testament. God rewarded his efforts.

In 1845, John called a prayer meeting for villagers to confess their sins. They came and expressed their sorrow through sobbing and moaning as they pled for forgiveness. That atmosphere of repentance went on for days. Many came to a sincere confession of faith in Jesus Christ. The queen of Viwa became a devoted Christian. After that, the local beaches flowed with less blood.

John joyously wrote in a letter, “Many who, a little while ago, were among the worst cannibals in the world, are now rejoicing in God their Saviour.”

One of John’s greatest successes was the translation of the New Testament, not only into the Fijian language, but with Fijian idioms. He believed anyone could put Fijian words into sentences, but he gave careful attention to “expressing an idea exactly in the way in which a native would express it if he had the idea in his own mind.”

As he translated, John consulted a Greek Testament and a lexicon. Since so much of the New Testament had no literal equivalent in the Fijian culture, John also relied on help from converts. He completed the New Testament, and it was published in 1847.

William E. Richardson