Mark Grace

After the Drought: Bicentennial Reflections (Issue 22)

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In the summer of 2013 New Zealand experienced its worst drought for 70 seventy years. Many parts of the country were seriously affected: Southern Northland, Auckland, Waikato, the Bay of Plenty, the central North Island, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Manawatu, Wairarapa, and parts of the north and west of the South Island. Here in the Manawatu the memories of that drought are etched in people’s memories – and there was a real fear this past summer that the region was again heading for disaster.

Massive downpours don’t break droughts. Any farmer will tell you that. Huge amounts of rain over a short period will simply run off hardened and dry land and ultimately cause flooding. That’s the case, at least, until we have multiple days of drought breaking rain. Drought breaking rain is gentle and continuous. It soaks into the soil, reaching roots and renewing life.

In the same way, in 2014 the Spirit of the living God moved across our Islands in a gentle and continuous way, soaking into our hearts and opening us, the people of God, to possibilities and opportunities. The Treaty relationship – midwifed by early CMS missionaries – is moving out of a season of drought into a season of renewal, restoration and redemption. Throughout last year I spoke at almost 30 Anglican, Baptist, Brethren and Independent church services across New Zealand on behalf of NZCMS. Time and again there was a clear sense of the Spirit of Jesus at work, inviting his people to see his hand in our history and his leading for our future.

The response to God that I witnessed was truly heartening. People consistently opened up, humbly expressing how challenged and uncomfortable the message of God’s place in our history had made them. Many acknowledged that they had never known how central the Gospel was to the Treaty. At the same time, people shared the sense that God was indeed at work in and through the Bicentenary and they wanted to get on board.

It was a privilege to see churches seriously wrestling with how to express not only multi-cultural commitments but bi-cultural ones as well. For some the first step has been to sing the National Anthem in English as well as Te Reo. For others further along on the journey, prayers and creative readings have been in English and Te Reo.

It was a joy to see local churches commit to partnering with Māori movements, initiatives and churches within their own denomination. For some the Bicentenary was a catalyst to start the conversation. For others it deepened existing long-term relationships.


After the drought

After a severe drought has broken there are always critical things farmers shouldn’t do and key things farmers need to do. It’s just the same for us, the people of God, who have experienced the gentle rain of the Spirit of God this past year. This is the time we need to be asking ourselves: what must we be doing and what must we avoid doing?

Now that we’ve made it to 2015, we can’t think that the 2014 Bicentenary was ‘just a phase.’ We shouldn’t think the enthusiasm, patriotism and renewed call to biculturalism many of us experienced was merely for last year. We shouldn’t think that we can go back to ‘business as usual,’ nor should we think that the commitments and lessons from last year can be taken forward by others while we sit on the side-line.

We need to keep our commitments. For those groups, churches and institutions that committed last year to establish, renew or resource bicultural relationships, this is the year for us to follow through. For those of us who made commitments in our hearts to invite neighbours for dinner, to learn Te Reo or to build bridges with Pākehā leaders, we need to step up and do it.

We need to remain open to the ongoing work of the Spirit in this whole area. There is a clear sense across the country from many Church leaders that God is leading us – as his people in this nation – into a new season in our bicultural relationship.

One of the marks of Kiwis during and after a drought is our ability to get stuck in and do what needs to be done with a minimum of fuss. In 2014 God brought the gentle rain of his Spirit to renew and reinvigorate the relationship between Māori and Pākehā. Many of us experienced it, we celebrated it and we delighted in it. Now it’s time to do what we Kiwis do best: to dive in and make good on our bicentennial commitments. Regardless of whether these commitments are personal or professional, church wide or for your small group, it’s time to walk them out and make them reality.

May he who began a good work in us at Waitangi 1840 continue to water the work of our hands so that he can bring his purposes to completion. Amen.


For Discussion.

What commitments did you, your small group or you church make last year? Are there fresh commitments you feel God challenging you to make?

What is your next step to make those commitments a reality?


Originally published in Intermission (Issue 22, May 2015)

Weaving Together Maori and Pakeha (Issue 20)

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In 1944, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was sent to a remote Philippine Island. Unfortunately, he never received the message that the war was over – for 29 years he hide in the jungle, evading search parties he believed were enemy scouts. As I see it, many of the Maori and Pakeha who lived through the years of protest may not be aware that hostilities ended a long time ago. Like Hiroo Onoda they are fighting a battle that ended decades ago.

What marks has the story of early New Zealand left on us as Maori and Pakeha?  Native American Psychologist Eduardo Duran suggests that the colonial oppression suffered by indigenous peoples inevitably wounds the soul. I’ve been on Marae and watched that wound. I’ve seen Maori women weep and sob at the loss of their land and ancestors. They have lost their mana. I believe this wound is very real for many Maori.

Contemporary Pakeha haven’t escaped being impacted by the past. In 1947 John Mulgan spoke of the need within Pakeha Kiwi to leave our isolated corner of the world and venture out. He called us an unconventional, “lost, eccentric, pervading people who will seldom admit to the deep desire that is in all of them to go home and live quietly in New Zealand again.” Mulgan puts his finger on something deep in the Pakeha psyche – a restlessness, an uncomfortableness, a longing and uneasiness with the land they call home.


“They come from the most beautiful country in the world, but it is a small country and very remote. After a while this isolation oppresses them and they go abroad. They are [an unconventional], lost, eccentric, pervading people who will seldom admit to the deep desire that is in all of them to go home and live quietly in New Zealand again.”

John Mulgan in Report on Experience.


The 20/40 Window.

Just as the biblical story can be read in terms of creation, fall and redemption, so the journey of the Treaty of Waitangi can also be read through this lens. I believe the Treaty and the Treaty relationship is moving out of a season of breaches and brokenness, of protest and pain, into a season of renewing, redeeming, restoring and reawakening.

Earlier this year I came away from the Waitangi Day celebrations sensing that a new window of gospel opportunity was opening in Aotearoa New Zealand. The 20/40 window is the 26 years between 2014 and 2040, framed on one side by the bicentenary of the gospel’s arrival and the bicentenary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on the other. In this window a new Aotearoa will emerge. A generation of young Kiwi’s will come of age in a more bi-cultural and multi-cultural New Zealand.

What makes me say this? There is a new spirit at Waitangi, the years of grievance coming to an end.There is a new generation of Maori who with resources and education are making a social, entrepreneurial and economic impact in New Zealand. Church leaders across New Zealand tell me they are having small numbers of non-Christian Maori turn up at church because of God-given dreams and visions! In the media, academic scholarship and publishing there is a small but growing recognition of the foundational role of the gospel in early New Zealand. A new generation of believers are discovering the gospel’s history in Aotearoa and in doing so are opening up to Treaty responsibilities and fresh bi-cultural gospel opportunities.

Lastly, the Treaty settlement process is moving forward. When this process is complete the impact in the hearts of Maori and Pakeha will be significant. As more tribes settle their Treaty claims, mana will return – while scars will remain, old wounds will heal. For Pakeha, the sense of justice, restitution and most importantly reconciliation inherent within the Treaty settlement process will be a healing balm to the uneasy relationship many have with the land. Aiding this healing process will be a deepening of our understanding of the Treaties role in affirming both Maori and Pakeha on the land – the first as tangata whenua, the original people, the second as tangata Tiriti, those who belong to the land by right of that Treaty.


How can we use this 20/40 opportunity to see the gospel flourish in Aotearoa?

1. We must have the confidence that the gospel of Jesus Christ is still good news for the wounded, that in God’s forgiveness we have power to forgive others, and that in Jesus the lost can come home to the Father and truly be at home on the land where he has placed them.

2. We need to recognize as gospel people the Treaty as part of our legacy and its expression today as our responsibility. What would it look like for local churches and their people to serve and support local tribes in the Treaty settlement process?

3. So much gospel-telling comes to us in abstract language, ancient examples or language relevant only to the middle class. We need to find ways of proclaiming God’s timeless message with a kiwi accent.

4. Just as the rubble of the Christchurch red zone needs to be cleared before the inner city can be rebuilt, we have to clear away the false arguments, half-truths and smears from New Zealand’s gospel story before we have a fresh argument for its veracity today. To coin a phrase, our ‘cultural apologetics’ needs to be developed further. The land, the Treaty and the gospel are inseparable issues in engaging many Maori (and Pakeha) today.

5. Though New Zealand is becoming increasingly secular, growing prominence and preference is being given to Maori spirituality. Peek under the hood of our education and environmental systems and you’ll meet an increasing number of Maori leaders who pray at ceremonies, speak at opening events and carry out any number of spiritual duties. As New Zealand continues to secularise it will be our Treaty partner who will have the cultural capital to announce the good news of Jesus Christ in the public sphere in ways Pakeha can’t. If you want to see multi-cultural New Zealand impacted with the Gospel, and if you want to see many more Maori and Pakeha come to faith in Jesus, I suggest that you find ways to identify and resource Maori evangelists.


How can you get on board with what God is doing in New Zealand in this 20/40 window?


Originally published in Intermission (July-August 2014)