Every American knows about the Mayflower making landfall in 1620, in what is now called Provincetown, Massachusetts. By contrast, few New Zealanders know what happened in a small inlet in the Northern Bay of Islands 200 years ago. Yet in every sense it was the day that New Zealand came into being.
First, a group of newcomers arrived, as a result of an agreement between the British missionary Samuel Marsden and Ruatara, the local chief whose pa (a Maori fortress) occupied the hill above the bay. The story was told in the December edition of Evangelical Times.
Then the first Christian message in New Zealand since the creation of the world (as Mr Marsden put it) was preached on Christmas Day 1814. Two hundred years later, more than 1000 people from all over the country, gathered in the same spot for a commemorative service.
The ‘congregation’ sang the Kiwi Carol, Te Harinui (‘Glad tidings’), which retells the coming of the gospel:
Not on a snowy night
By star or candlelight,
Nor by an angel band
There came to our dear land.
But on a summer day
Within a quiet bay,
The Maori people heard
The great and glorious Word.
The people gathered round
Upon the grassy ground,
And heard the preacher say
I bring to you this day.
Glad tidings of great joy.
The beautiful bay is an apt setting for gospel presentation. Today, there stands the large commemorative Marsden cross, made out of stone.
Although the formalities were led from near the cross and televised across the nation, sadly, there was no mention of the message of the cross.
Carols were sung, prayers were prayed, and Scriptures read. Many leaders referred to Marsden’s text of 200 years ago, ‘I bring you glad tidings of great joy’, but there was no proclamation of the gospel, or a challenge to believe, as Marsden would have preached.
However, a tract telling Marsden’s life and message, written by Faith Cook, and a beautiful commemorative edition of Luke’s Gospel, called Rongopai (‘Good news’), was produced by the Tertiary Students’ Christian Fellowship (TSCF) with others.
This was distributed to the people who had gathered, including the leaders of many denominations across the islands.
New Zealand, native Maoris and ‘newcomers’, is again in need of a clear proclamation of the gospel. TSCF, which is working among students, is aiming to distribute the Rongopai Gospels widely this coming year. (More details from www.tscf.org.nz.)