John Williams (d. 1839)

Mark Fackler

READ : Isaiah 6:6-10

“Here am I; send me!” (v. 8)

This is probably the most quoted “missionary call” in all the Bible. Isaiah’s boldness was John Williams’ most likeable, and unnerving, trait.

Williams was an unlikely missionary. Apprenticed to an ironmonger, the rough, heavy work was just right for John, who was skidding from the faith his parents taught him. But at age 18, John was converted. So enthused was he for the gospel that Williams joined the London Missionary Society. In many ways, he was the ideal missionary: a good mechanic, durable traveler, gifted at languages and public speaking, a problem solver and team builder.

After 18 years in the South Pacific, John and Mary Williams (and two sons) returned to England where crowds loved his stories and responded generously to his appeals. Then they went back to the New Hebrides. But trouble was brewing. People there had recently been cheated by traders. John and his missionary colleague James Harris attempted to show the people how Jesus’ love defeats all evil, but an angry crowd killed them both, then ate them.

Years later the Martyr’s Church at Erromango was built to remember Williams, Harris, and the many Polynesian pastors and evangelists who gave their lives for the gospel in the beautiful, spiritually tangled, South Pacific islands.


Lord, where idyllic landscapes hide spiritual cesspools, send the Light.