multiculturalism

The Multicultural Face of Mission

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How do we reach an increasingly multicultural society with the Gospel?

More than 25% of New Zealander’s were born overseas. Last year 60,000 permanent and long term migrants made NZ their home and this is projected to increase. In God’s great kindness the nations are coming to us – how can we hold out the gospel of life to our increasingly multicultural society?

On Wednesday June 15 at 7pm, our very own Steve Maina will be speaking on this topic at a Multiply gathering. He’ll shave about his experience of seeing the Gospel proclaimed in different cultural contexts all around the world and will be joined by a panel of local church leaders to dig into how their churches are working to engage the nations that have come to our doorstep with the Gospel.

What are the opportunities we have for reaching the nations that have come to NZ? Where are our cultural blind spots that inhibit gospel growth? How can we change anything apart from the gospel to remove and stumbling blocks for people from other cultures?

The event will be held at Lone Star, 364 Riccarton Road in Christchurch. The bar is open for you to grab a drink, and we will kick off with some nibbles. See you there!

Responding to the Refugee Crisis

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We’re currently in Turkey, witnessing what some are calling the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time and the largest mass movement of people since WWII. There are four million refugees from Syria outside their country and two million of them are here in Turkey, a country that doesn’t want them. We’ve been active in feeding them at the borders and helping to manage relocations into homes of compassion and missional centres in European cities. It’s been good getting to re-establish relationships with ministry leaders again, joining forces to respond to such a serious crisis and huge opportunity for the Gospel.

Half of the four million Syrian refugees outside of their country are under 18 years of age and half don’t have passports. The two million refugees in Turkey are not given ‘refugee’ status but are rather treated as ‘guests’ – without permission to stay or work. Thousands have died this year in boats during their desperate journey to Europe. Some have suffocated in trucks during the land journey. It’s a horrible crisis but there is hope. Thousands upon thousands of homes have opened up for them around the world and we are witnessing one of the greatest acts of compassion in our lifetime. Many of these homes are Christian and already stories are emerging of transformation by the power of Jesus.

Through connecting country leaders with houses of compassion and hubs of holistic service in many countries, we hope to create a network that will enable refugees to find a new home, even if only temporarily. And we feel the best way to help at the moment is to be present in the areas where the refugees are. Please pray for us that we will have everything we need to fulfil God’s purposes.

 

The Thornberrys are NZCMS Mission Partners in Europe who are now focusing on the Syrian refugee crisis. They urgently need more support to enable them to effectively serve many in need. Please consider donating towards their increased expenses that this ministry is incurring for them. Your donation, whether one-off or on-going, will support real ground-work with the refugees.

Information about giving can be found by clicking here. (The above image is from European Commission DG Echo on Flicker.)

Reaching out by inviting them in (Issue 23 bonus material)

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By Felicia Erickson

Middleton Grange International College in Christchurch has been serving the international student community since 2000. From the beginning homestays have been part of our strategy and we’ve placed thousands of students in primarily Christian homes. Our school moto is “In Thy Light shall we see Light” from Psalm 36:9, and with this as our focus we’ve been able to equip our students with the truth of the Gospel and shine light into the world.

As a Christian organisation, part of our God given mission has been to find ways to include international students in the school, most of them coming from non-Christian backgrounds. But can the hosting of students – the welcoming of students into homes and families – also be seen as missional? Rather than answering from the school’s perspective, I thought it’d be interesting to hear from one of our host families. Below is an interview with one of our host mums.

 

Why did you consider hosting for a Christian school?

I’ve been hosting international students since 2009. A friend asked me to host for Middleton Grange since she knew I had hosted other students for different English language study providers before. Now that I have hosted for Middleton Grange I will certainly continue to be available for their students in the future.

As a Christian, I want to be free to share my faith, and hosting for a Christian school means students are constantly interacting with other Christians. This means there is continuity between their experiences at school and home – there’s a missional overlap between their formal life at school and their informal life as a temporary member of our family.

How is welcoming home-stays into your family life a missional opportunity?

While they’re with us we include students as members of the family, providing support as they adjust to life in a new country and are away from their families. This hospitality is one way we outwork our faith.

We openly share our faith through our day-to-day relationship with them and include them in the ways our faith is outworked at home. We also include them in our faith-based activities, including church and youth group as well as a Christian outreach to the homeless and less advantaged at Latimer Square on Friday evenings. At home, I make an effort a few evenings a week to play cards one-one-one with my students so we have an opportunity for conversation. This has often turned to faith-based discussions that have emerged through conversation about their daily activities and issues they are working through back home with friends and family.

What sort of fruit have you seen?

Through the time together closeness develops and I think my faith shines through as I show them love and genuinely come to love them. We’ve been encouraged by comments from students about how loved and welcomed they felt, many saying they now feel part of our family. We also celebrate when students say that their faith has become much stronger during their time with us. The students we’ve hosted who happen to go to church only go for Christmas and Easter. Many have commented how different our church, Grace Vineyard, is and how much more fun it is. They say they look forward to church and youth group and now realise it is not only for ‘old people.’

We’ve also discovered that hosting students encourages us in our faith. It has provided opportunities for us to see the fruit of living out our faith. So it’s not just for the benefit of the students!

 

Why not consider hosting international students as part of your family’s mission? What could be more missional than welcoming someone into your life, allowing them to see your faith in action. This is one very simple, very concrete way you can welcome the ‘stranger among us.’

For more information about Middleton Grange’s International College feel free to contact call 03 341-4054 or email a.wright@middleton.school.nz

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of Intermission will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. Why not take up the challenge and start using Intermission in your community? For more information or to order copies click here.

Strangers and Syrians – What Helping Looks Like (Issue 23)

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I arrived back in Wellington airport the week before Christmas feeling a little like a stranger in my own land. Two months later, I was again at the airport, but this time I was holding up a welcome sign in Arabic, waiting for a Syrian refugee family to arrive.

While on NZCMS leave and home service I’ve been volunteering with Red Cross refugee services. Because of my understanding of Arabic and my familiarity with Middle Eastern culture, I’ve been able to offer support to a Syrian mother and her five children, helping them adjust to life in New Zealand. This has involved collecting donated goods and furnishing their house, accompanying the family to appointments for housing and benefits, enrolling them in schools and medical services, and teaching them about public transport and banking.

Since the family don’t speak English and my conversational Arabic is reasonably fluent, I’ve been doing a lot of translation. This is fantastic Arabic practice for me and makes it easier for them to communicate with the others supporting them. There’s also been a need for some cultural translation – we may be familiar with how life works in our country, but for a foreigner things can be quite strange and difficult to understand. And it’s not just the big stuff like learning the language and understanding our (mumbly) accent. For example, we’ve been discussing the difference between pyjamas and track-pants, and teaching them the rules of cricket (which, as it turns out, is important for living in New Zealand when we’re hosting a world cup!)

It doesn’t just go one way either. I may be welcoming them into my Kiwi world, but they are equally delighted to welcome me into theirs. It was a hilarious and great joy to join in a ‘henna night’ (an Arabic hen’s party) for one of the daughters who is about to get married. In the context of a women’s only environment, the veiled Muslim women wearing long loose fitting clothes were unrecognisable in their tight mini-dresses, full make-up and belly dancing moves! Which raises an important point: Many of us will love the idea of helping out with families like this, but we find a number of barriers in our way.

One barrier might be that you don’t feel you know enough about their culture to be any help. Another may be that, deep down – hidden somewhere in your heart – is prejudice, a distrust of their culture, fear of opening up to people you don’t really understand. Sometimes the most missional thing we can do is take on the role of humble learner, giving them the honour of being the cultural teachers. And in the process we may discover that some of our prejudices melt away. Those strange veiled women – something we don’t really understand – suddenly become people like us in the privacy of their own home!

In Cairo, I used to walk past Syrian refugees every day on my way to the gym and to buy vegetables. In fact, the United Nations refugee agency hired part of the All Saints Cathedral building in Cairo as a refugee centre. Although the Anglican Church in Cairo has a large refugee ministry, I wasn’t able to engage with it personally or offer much of a hand, except to pray as I walked past them each day. So the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of one Syrian family settling in New Zealand has brought great joy to me. With all the news of wars and violence in the Middle East, it was hard not to respond in this practical way when the opportunity presented itself. Plus a side benefit has been eating Middle Eastern food and drinking cardamom-infused sweet Arab coffee – something I miss from Egypt!

For families like this, our volunteer team plays a significant role in their first six months of New Zealand life, as it takes at least six months to really settle in a new place. The goal of the volunteers is to support the family to live independently in New Zealand after this time.

There’s lot of ways Kiwis can help support and journey with the ’strangers among us.’ And it’s not just people like me who happen to speak another language that can make a difference. What’s needed is regular Kiwis willing to give some of their time to people that are feeling lost, alone and vulnerable in an unfamiliar land. As Scripture says, “Treat the stranger among you as if they were one of you, loving them as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:34).

Volunteering with Red Cross is definitely an option I’d recommend. For more information, see their website.

 

For Discussion

What barriers keep you from taking opportunities – big or small – to welcome foreigners to our land?

What ways can your community, small group or family reach out to ‘strangers’ like the family above?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of Intermission will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. Why not take up the challenge and start using Intermission in your community? For more information or to order copies click here.

The Practice of Loving Strangers (Issue 23)

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Scripture doesn’t seem to have a problem with self-love. In fact, it seems to be a given. Jesus told us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. But what about those who are not our ‘neighbour’? Scripture tells us that our love for the ‘stranger’ is to be as strong as our love for ourselves: “Treat the stranger among you as if they were one of you, and you shall love them as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:34). My dear friend, if you’re to look deep within yourself, can you honestly say that you’ve learned to love ‘the stranger’ as yourself? If not, are you willing to do it?

Our story of loving ‘strangers’

The Lord has sent us in New Zealand sojourners who are different to us in race, language, colour and beliefs. He has sent them to us as a Church. In 2001 a vision was given to start a ministry in Christchurch among migrants and refugees from the Middle East. Soon after the ministry was established, it started to serve a large sector of migrants in many areas, helping them settle. Over time we’ve learned much about what it means to love ‘strangers among us.’ We’ve learned that helping and loving others is more valuable than time and that migrants are not ‘clients’ or ‘cases’ but friends and brothers and sisters. We’ve learned that immigration is like an organ transplant. It’s removing a living organ from one body and transplanting it into another. It comes with pain, suffering and sometimes rejection. It is a long process for the new organ to fit into the new body successfully. And above all, practical love is the key to people’s hearts. We’ve learned that others are more willing to hear the Good News if they see God’s love through us as we share with them in their suffering.

I can tell you many stories of individuals I’ve met on this journey who are suffering and in need, people who are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, spouses and children. Like the father who had to leave behind his children, wife and his business to flee for his faith. Or the medical doctor in his mid- 20’s who came to live as Christian leaving behind wealth, a little daughter and his wife – his family gave his wife to another man while he has been in NZ. Or the two girls who were abused by their own family members – when they received Christ they had to leave their country to escape the death penalty.

What does loving a stranger look like? We’ve helped many brothers and sisters who’ve come to Aotearoa for safety. We also have the opportunity to help international students who are coming from Islamic countries for education. After asking the Lord to open a door, a friend who is a taxi driver met one of these students who needed help. He connected that student to us and the next week another 40 students were meeting in our office for cultural activities. Many of them accepted Christ as a Lord and Saviour.

We’ve been able to provide emergency accommodation, financial support, legal aid, friendship, pastoral care. We’ve offered ourselves as a family for them and connected them to godly people who helped them in different areas. We see Christians using their God-given gifts and placement within New Zealand society to help us to love these ‘strangers’ among us.

Many more stories could be told – we have a new one every day. The Lord is doing his work, and we are the tools in his hand. The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. There is much that we can do to love the stranger among us.

Practical suggestions

Speak to your pastor or mission team about putting you in contact with someone who is serving in this area or ask them if they know of a ‘stranger’ who needs help. Introduce yourself to a migrant or visitor to your church and consider inviting them for a meal at your home where you can come to know them closer. Perhaps that will open further opportunities to help: assisting them with finding a job, with cultural adjustment, with basic living needs. If you know about a new neighbour, go knock on their door. Introduce yourself, welcome them and invite them over if they want. Call a mission organisation or group that is works with migrants or refugees. Offer yourself to share in welcoming and helping ‘strangers.’ Commit as a church or small group to regularly pray for the ‘strangers’ in your community. Perhaps this could even become part of your regular church services or small group gatherings? Take time to identify the needs in your local community. What is it that ‘strangers’ are in need of? Is it guidance, cultural-interpretation, friendship, counselling, work skills, housing and furniture? Are there ways your church or small group could start meeting some of these needs? Perhaps most importantly, lift up your heart to God and ask him to open your eyes to see and find those who are in need.

If anyone is interested to learn more about this ministry in Christchurch, please contact office@nzcms.org.nz

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of Intermission will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. Why not take up the challenge and start using Intermission in your community? For more information or to order copies click here.

Strangers Among Us: Some Biblical Reflections (Issue 23)

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Over the last six years that I’ve lived in Christchurch, I’ve noticed the cultural make-up of our society changing. The nations have come to our doorstep. We hear about this through the media, but often it’s reported in a way that encourages us to be fearful of strangers. Xenophobia is becoming more common in our world as globalisation creates a highway for people on the move. Xenophobia literally means ‘fear of strangers.’ Sadly this fear could cause us to give in to a spirit of self-protection and self-preservation.

The biblical story includes many accounts that encourage us to see things differently. Most strangers don’t come to threaten us but come to give us a deeper appreciation of the richness of life. It’s not only that we’re to welcome them, but we’re also to learn that they have much to offer us.

Welcoming the stranger

We’re all familiar with Jesus’ Great Commandment: Love God with your whole being and love your neighbour as yourself. This stems from the Old Testament, but if you look through the Old Testament you’ll discover another important commandment which is repeated 36 times: “Love the stranger among you for once you were strangers in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). This was a reminder to the people that they were strangers (‘refugees’) in Egypt in the time of the famine. It was a reminder that through Joseph and Jacob, Israel received hospitality, welcome and settled for many generations.

A ‘stranger among us’ is in fact how Jesus came to earth. He was a ‘stranger in their midst’ asking to be welcomed. As a baby his family escaped to Egypt as refugees seeking asylum in a foreign land. Throughout his time on earth, Jesus demonstrated radical inclusion under what he called the Kingdom of God. It’s a Kingdom of welcome, generosity, hospitality, grace, mercy and justice. This is the Kingdom that the Church is to witness, proclaim and practice.

In this Kingdom there is no Jew and Gentile, no slave or free, no male or female – whatever categories that once divided people, creating an ‘us’ and ‘them’ have been effectively done away with through Christ (Galatians 3:28). In other words, there are to be no ‘strangers among us.’ We’re to embrace all people – especially the marginalised, weak, vulnerable, poor and stranger. We’re to cultivate an openness towards the stranger rather than fear.

Welcoming ‘strangers’ is a critical part of what it means to follow Jesus. It’s participating in mission. In his book You Don’t Have to Cross the Ocean to Reach the World, David Boyd states that the measure of a mission minded Church will not just be how many missionaries are sent out but whether the stranger feels at home in the Church.

What do strangers bring?

Welcoming strangers is not a one way street – strangers don’t just receive hospitality. In Scripture strangers also offered gifts and contributed to needs in the host country. Joseph became governor in Egypt. Ruth became part of David’s and Jesus’ whakapapa. Rahab hid Israel’s spies. Esther saved the Jews from destruction. Daniel served in Babylon. The list goes on!

As I read Scripture, I see God calling his people to be pilgrims, people who are on a journey. This world is not our home – we’re to live as strangers in it (1 Peter 2:11). Imagine if this reality became so real to us that strangers – immigrants, refugees, outsiders – found they could relate to us (or better, that we could relate to them). We wouldn’t just be the hosts, but fellow pilgrims who also don’t quite feel at home here.

Globalisation means that we’ll continue to see more people from different parts of the world in our communities, yet many migrants say that it’s difficult to connect with the Church. May our communities of faith be places of hospitality, healing, hope and grace. Maybe we’ve missed some opportunities, but let’s keep our eyes open for the next ‘stranger’ and open our lives to them. Let’s learn to welcome the stranger in our midst.

 

For discussion

What positive examples of ‘welcoming the stranger’ have you seen?

Why do you think we’re sometimes fearful of ‘strangers’ or ambivalent towards foreigners, immigrants, refugees, those who don’t speak English?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of Intermission will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. Why not take up the challenge and start using Intermission in your community? For more information or to order copies click here.

The Shape of Today’s World (Issue 23)

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It wasn’t all that long ago that you could walk down the street and only run into people just like you – people who shared similar upbringings, values, interests, beliefs. We were all basically the same, like smurfs among smurfs, or Temuera Morrison among the clones. Sure, we knew that there were people somewhere who were entirely different to us, but they were far away from our world and (most probably) far away from our thoughts. We knew of missionaries who had braved the elements and set sail to those ‘others,’ but only the elite few possessed such a calling.

But worlds collide.

Not long after we discovered Chinese food and Thai curries we realised that our once homogeneous cities were becoming increasingly diverse. Thanks to a number of factors – globalisation, convenient international travel, the internet, refugees seeking asylum to name a few – we regularly find ourselves rubbing shoulders with people different to ourselves, with ‘others.’

In fact, in 21st Century New Zealand you’d have to make quite an effort to avoid crossing paths with Asians and Africans, Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists on an almost day to day basis. And this isn’t merely the case in a few western cities. Almost the entire world, from America to China, from New Zealand to India, is now culturally and religiously plural. And guess what: we’re at the heart of it. New Zealand is now home to more ethnicities than there are countries in the world (213 compared to 196) and by 2021 one-third of Aucklanders will identify themselves as Asian.

If we’re honest, many of us would admit that we once imagined the ‘average Kiwi’ to be white Pakeha living alongside a minority of Maori and Pacific Islanders. Maybe there was once some truth to such a perspective, but these days there simply isn’t such a thing as the ‘average Kiwi.’ New Zealand is simply too diverse to allow for such a category, and until we recognise that, we will stand in the way of what God is wanting to do in this nation.

 

A missed opportunity

Cross-cultural mission was once about going ‘over there.’ If we were to do as Jesus told us and make disciples of all peoples, then our only option was to get on a boat or a plane and actually go to them. Why? Because they were not here!

How about now? I’m married to a Norwegian. On one side of our home lives a lovely, young Korean couple. On the other side, a retired Welsh couple. So, in my small patch of New Zealand, I’m the minority as a Kiwi European. And it’s the same across the country. It’d be hard to find a classroom that didn’t capture some of this diversity: Asians, Africans, Europeans, Pacific Islanders. And while some are immigrants, many were born here – New Zealand truly is their home.

This cultural diversity is an opportunity I’m afraid the majority of the Church has missed. We’ve missed it badly. While we’ve been worrying about running our programme and sending people to the ‘others’ overseas, we haven’t noticed that world has come to us! People from some of the most unreached parts of the world – regions virtually untouched by the Gospel – are now at our doorsteps. And we don’t know what to do about it!

With cultural diversity comes religious diversity, and that can be threatening. But we can’t hide behind the walls of the church and deny this new cultural landscape. The plural world has become our plural world, and we need to learn what it means to not only confront the religions, but also coexist with them. It’s time for the western Church to grapple head-on (and with humility!) the question of “Jesus and the religions.”

 

Jesus, Gentiles and Samaritans

Christians have almost always lived along people of other faiths, yet strangely very few – almost none – have considered that Jesus himself interacted with peoples of other faiths, with Gentiles and Samaritans. It is about time that we turn to Jesus for a model of how we should relate to the ‘Gentiles and Samaritans’ of our world.

Jesus encountered people who worshiped idols, some who had an incredibly distorted view of the God of Israel, and probably some who worshiped Caesar as if he were a god. And how did Jesus respond to such people? He healed their children and servants (John 4:46-54). He praised their limited faith (Matthew 15:21-28). He pointed to them as models to emulate (Matthew 8:5-13). He accepted them despite significant cultural prejudices (John 4:4-42). He petitioned God to forgive them when they nailed him to a cross (Luke 23:34). He didn’t separate himself from them but received them, showing God’s welcome, love, justice, mercy and grace.

Jesus is our supreme example of what the human life can and should be. It’s only fitting that we see in him a model of how God would have us relate to the ‘outsiders’ of our world, the ‘strangers’ among us.

 

For discussion

What is the cultural and religious make-up of your neighbourhood? What research could you do? (A start could be the New Zealand Religion Map)

Read some of the passages mentioned above. What challenges you about how Jesus treated people with different religious and cultural beliefs? What’s one thing you can work on?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of Intermission will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. Why not take up the challenge and start using Intermission in your community? For more information or to order copies click here.

A Kenyan at Waitangi

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What’s this guy doing here? Why is an African hanging around at Waitangi? No one asked me the question but I’m sure many were pondering it.

Over the last three years I’ve gone to Waitangi on Waitangi day and I reckon it’s one of the most amazing trips I make each year. But why do I keep going? Waitangi Day is always special for me because it is here that the relational foundation for our nation was laid. We are still on a journey of understanding what that means, but this is where it all began 175 years ago.

As an emigrant to New Zealand, I believe understanding place and history are vital in connecting to the soul of a nation. It’s not just about heritage but it’s about identity.

You may wonder how Waitangi could be important to a Kenyan, to an ‘outsider’? Isn’t your sense of identity connected to your roots in Kenya? Yes I have roots in Kenya, but I’ve been planting roots here too. Over the last six years my family has been trying to understand what it means to plant our roots deep into Aotearoa soil. It has meant to visit the beautiful places in this country, building friendships with Kiwis and seeking to integrate into New Zealand society. It has meant finding a church to belong to and getting involved. I haven’t picked up the Kiwi accent yet, but my daughters have.

And this is how it’s supposed to be. As I read the Scriptures, I see God calling his people to be pilgrims, people who are on a journey. And even when God’s people had been forcibly removed from their motherland, God still told them to see the peace and prosperity of the city to which he called them into exile (Jeremiah 29:7). Part of what it means to be God’s missional people is to be prepared to sink our feet into the soil of the place God has called us to.

Over the last few years, I felt that there was something incomplete with this journey of discovering and integrating into New Zealand. It was like a tree with lovely branches and fruit but without roots. So I began a journey of planting my feet into the roots of New Zealand. Here’s three key lessons I’ve learned along my journey.

1. It’s about People

Governor Hobson’s speech to the tribal chiefs in which he said “He iwi tahi tatou” (“We are all one people)” mirrors the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:11-22. Paul speaks of Christ, “who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”. Paul knew what it was to work among two divided peoples, Jews and Gentiles, but also to see a ‘new people’ brought into being. Can we pray for a posture of unity as we explore our unique identity as kiwis?

Waitangi is special to me because it is through what happened there that this country was established. It means people like me are able to come and live here. Because of the Treaty, we have been welcomed to come and call this country our own. Without the Treaty I would not be here, I would not be welcome in this country. So I see God involved in the Treaty of Waitangi and it’s great that Waitangi day begins with a prayer meeting at dawn attended by politicians, local leaders (and anyone who is able to get there at 4.30am!). Which other country in the world begins their ‘independence day’ celebration with a prayer meeting?!

My involvement as a representative of  NZCMS at Waitangi is in some small way a ‘coming home.’ Members of CMS were among the British missionaries who contributed to the original Treaty process in 1840. I also see the key role the missionaries, especially Henry Williams, played as trusted friends of Maori in the treaty formulation and promotion of it among Maori. While some scholars have painted some of the early missionaries as colonist puppets aligned with land confiscation, a careful reading of history must recognize that these missionaries, although not angels, came to New Zealand for the Maori people, offering support, education and translation work.  This work was often carried on by Maori evangelists working among their own people.

I have many Pakeha friends after being in New Zealand for six years, but until two years ago I didn’t have many Maori friends. So I enrolled at Te Wananga o Aorearoa to study Te Reo Maori in order to communicate with Maori folk as I build friendships. I now have a number of Maori friends and I value their friendship deeply. This has been my bi-cultural  journey connecting to Tangata Whenua.

2. It’s about Place

As I studied Te Reo, I learnt that it was not just about language. Like many African cultures, the class was a community. We prayed for each other, played games and enjoyed kai together – and somewhere in the learned some Te Reo. But the most significant discovery for me was the importance of place among Maori. Its interesting that when you introduce yourself, you talk about where you comes from before you even say your name! So I decided I wanted to visit as many places of significant for Maori as I could. I’ve since been to Onuku Marae in Akoroa, there the Treaty was signed in South Island. I’ve been to Rangiatea Church in Otaki built by Te Raupaha who had been greatly impacted by the Christian message. I’ve been to many other places of significance in North Island.

But Waitangi beats them all! Why?

3. It’s about Posture

Although People and Place are important considerations in finding our roots, I’ve found that a posture of learning, of being a student of culture, is vital in helping me appreciate the beauty of culture. Although there are many things I have not yet understood about Kiwi culture, I have learned to ask questions and not assume.  I believe the Treaty of Waitangi has the potential to cultivate a unique national identity if we approach it with a learning posture. I believe the spirit of the Treaty should be one we seek to live out as we model a posture of ‘peace-making’ in this complex, multi-cultural world.

Moving forwards

I also go to Waitangi day not just to look back but to celebrate the present and look to the future. I go to celebrate a rich multi-cultural event earthed in a healthy and vibrant bi-cultural relationship.  Unfortunately what we mostly see in the media is the negative side, but a lot of great things happen at Waitangi: families on the beach, cultural groups doing variety shows, a stunning array of great kiwi food including mussel burgers and just a lovely holiday atmosphere. It’s like a big camp for the whole country where thousands of kiwis of all shapes and colours gather to celebrate. I think we need to learn the art of celebrating.

But its more than just celebrating the past. The treaty of Waitangi looks to the future too. Looking out over the Marae at the Dawn Service and seeing  representatives of iwi, government, church, and New Zealanders from up and down the country strengthened my conviction that the Treaty is still a significant factor in developing a deeper bi-culturalism and a richer multiculturalism. While we must be aware of the continuing disparity between segments of the Maori population and wider New Zealand society, I do believe there’s significant progress in social and economic development among iwi.  Asking what went wrong with the process will take us only so far. Instead we are better to focus on what is going on now. If we are to avoid criticism and conflict and embrace cooperation and consensus we must learn from our history and take the best of its strengths to build into the future. I believe God is doing something unique in New Zealand and I want to be able to listen to discern where he is at work so that I can join him!