Angelina Zimmer, CGO Office Administrator
Islands. Unique little worlds that never touch. Culturally exclusive in many ways and differing in dialects or complete languages in most cases. The Southern Pacific Ocean connects hundreds of thousands of islands. Some are inhabited and some are not. This story takes place in the island of Tahiti; the largest of the Îles du Vent (Windward Islands).
Henry Nott was a bricklayer by trade. Little did he know, he would lay the foundation of the Gospel on a very dark island. In 1797, the London Missionary Society sent him and several others as some of their first missionaries. Unprepared for the field they would wash up on, these missionaries would face unbelievable hardship. Captured by Napoleon’s fleet, the supply ship took five years to reach them. Meanwhile Henry Nott worked hard to learn the language and reach the people. One by one the other missionaries died, disserted, or went mad.
According to the book Giants of Missionary Trial, Nott and the other missionaries dealt with a specific group of people called the areois. “They blackened their bodies with charcoal and dyed their faces red. They had no occupation but dancing, boxing, wrestling and indulging in acts of buffoonery. They made it a practice to kill their children as soon as they were born. Pomare's chief wife, Iddeah, was a member of this society and had killed three of her children subsequent to the arrival of the missionaries.”
Nott estimated that about two out of three children were killed due to the parents or relatives that performed this tragic cultural practice. This was a terrifying group of people and contributed much to the withdrawal of many other missionaries that initially started with Henry Nott.
Unfortunately, being bereaved of other missionary help was not the only tragedy that Nott experienced. Henry Nott and a newly arrived missionary from Britain fell in love and were married in Tahiti. Unfortunately, this “honeymoon spot” was not paradise in the early 1800’s, and Nott’s new wife grew discontent and died two years later.
At the end of ten years, it was only Nott who remained. While walking and talking with the king Ponmare II, Nott would reason: "For the sake of your immortal soul and of your influence upon your subjects, I urge you, for the thousandth time, to turn to Christ. Do not longer reject His glorious salvation. Every human soul is of infinite value to Him."
The king would reply with "Doubtless you are right, but for one who has sinned so disgracefully and wallowed in the depths of heathen depravities, there is no hope.”
But there was hope for such a sinner and finally after 22 years of work, Nott saw his first fruits of his faithful labor. Ponmare II, the king of Tahiti, finally accepted Christ and “in the presence of 5000 people was baptized.” After his conversion, the King began to work with Henry Nott on translating the Bible into the Tahitian language.
An excerpt from the Giants of the Missionary Trial by Eugene Harrison, draws a unique parallel between Henry Nott and Martin Luther.
“Martin Luther called John 3:16 ‘the little gospel.’ When, during his last illness, someone recommended to him a certain remedy for his severe headache, he declined with these words: ‘The best prescription for head and heart is to be found in John 3:16.’ And in his dying moments he repeated the text three times.
"Said Henry Nott: ‘The only sure and efficacious remedy for the ignorance, the depravities, the sorrows and sins of mankind, is to be found in the Gospel of John 3:16.’
"In appreciation of the sublimities of John 3:16, Martin Luther and Henry Nott were of much the same mind.”
Ruth Tucker, a missionary historian, wrote of Nott’s work “But for the perseverance of Henry Nott, the work in Tahiti would no doubt have been abandoned.”
William Carey desired that there would be a mission in Tahiti as early as 1787. However, Carey was led to India, and we all know his story. The man who was chosen for Tahiti was Henry Nott. Fulfilling God’s will for his life and Carey’s dream, Nott continued to be faithful and is primarily responsible for the translation and production of the Tahitian Bible.
After 47 years of faithful work, Henry Nott died in 1844 leaving a Christian mission, a translated Bible, and a body of believers on the island of Tahiti.
Harrison, Eugene Myers. “Henry Nott: Herald of the Love of God in Tahiti.” Giants of the Missionary Trial , Wholsome Words, 1954, www.wholesomewords.org/missions/giants/bionott.html.
Tucker, Ruth (1983). From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya A Biographical History of Christian Missions. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. ISBN 0-310-23937-0
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.