In October, Charlie Fletcher participated in the New Zealand Church Missionary Society (NZ CMS) celebrations of the bicentenary of Christianity in New Zealand.
It was a privilege to share in the NZ CMS celebrations of the bicentenary of the gospel in New Zealand. The weekend gathering was called ‘Our Story’, as I participated in it several things impressed me. Here are six brief reflections.
First, Steve Maina, the Kenyan National Director of NZ CMS, had invited teams of young Kenyans to New Zealand to engage in “reverse mission”, and they had seen several hundred people come to Christ in preceding few weeks. What better way to celebrate the gospel’s arrival than by sharing it, and what better way to celebrate a missionary past than by embracing the new missionary paradigm of mission from everywhere to everywhere.
Second, the event took place beside the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, and it was moving to hear Mark Grace recall the gospel underpinnings of the treaty established between the early settlers and the Maoris, a very different history from the legal declaration of terra nullius (land of no one) which marked and marred European colonization of Australia a few years before.
Third, Ridley graduate Malcolm Falloon shared some of his doctoral research on the early missionary endeavours in New Zealand. It had taken eleven years from the arrival of the missionaries in 1814 for the first Maori convert to be baptised, but by 75% of Maori self-identified as Christians by 1842, 90% by 1852. Through missionary journals and letters, Malcolm traced the decisive turning point in the Maori response to the gospel back to a single night of prayer, a Wednesday evening prayer service on 24 February 1830. What a great reminder of one of CMS’s founding principles: look for success only from the Spirit of God.
Fourth, some of the participants in the celebrations were descendants of Thomas and Jane Kendall, a couple who were among the first missionaries sent to New Zealand by Samuel Marsden. The missionary couple fell into moral disgrace and out of favour with Marsden, and their memory was largely eradicated, the house they had lived in literally buried. Two hundred years on, the head of CMS-UK, Philip Mounstephen, was on hand to welcome their descendants formally back into the CMS family, a powerful witness to the reconciling power of the gospel.
Fifth, there is Samuel Marsden himself. With the personal encouragement of William Wilberforce, Marsden was the second chaplain sent to New South Wales. He is often remembered in Australia as the Flogging Parson for his reputation as a severe magistrate. Among Maoris he is more kindly remembered as the Apostle to New Zealand. After meeting Maoris in New South Wales, Marsden was the first to preach the gospel in New Zealand, and he made seven visits there himself, as well as lobbying the newly formed CMS to send missionaries. It is encouraging to be reminded that God can deal a straight blow with a crooked stick.
Sixth, one day we made a pilgrimage to Marsden’s Cross, the remote site on the Bay of Islands where, on Christmas Day 1814, Samuel Marsden became the first person to preach the gospel in New Zealand. Marsden’s text was Luke 2:10—I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. The news that Marsden brought to New Zealand 200 years ago, the news that the angel brought to the shepherds 2000 years ago, is still good news, and the good news still needs telling.