20 April 2016

Bringing History to Life

The early Christian history of New Zealand was brought to life for a group of students and staff in April. Lectures, powerpoints and books were set aside for a weekend’s tour of historical sites in Northland. Led by Church Historian and Laidlaw lecturer, Dr Stuart Lange, the group of 14 did a whirlwind tour of Marsden Cross (Rangihoua), Kerikeri, Waimate North, Pakaraka (Henry and Marianne Williams’ graves), Paihia, Russell, and the shores of the Hokianga harbour, visiting early mission sites and finishing with a visit to Ruapekapeka Pa (by this stage the group braving pouring rain).

This was about the seventh time Stuart has taken his NZ Church history class on this biennial trip, and it remains a highlight of the course. His stories brought history to life as the group visited places of early missionary endeavour. Climbing the Rangihoua Pa site, they looked down on the beach where Samuel Marsden preached his first sermon and visualised what the scene must have been like 200 years before. Graveyards were a reminder of the sacrifices made by missionaries as they sought to bring the Good News to Maori.

One student commented that the word that stuck in her mind at the end of the trip was ‘bravery’ – she was struck by the sheer bravery of the missionaries and Maori who made the first attempts to cross the cultural divide.

A Maori student reflected that “a fire has been ignited” and she’s excited about delving deeper into her history and finding out more about the Maori chiefs who came to Christ. Her attitude towards the missionaries has completely changed. Prior to starting this course, “I thought like many still do today – those guys just wanted all that they could get and they took it all! I was so wrong”. She has a new respect for the missionaries, and “I now see them as driven men of God who stepped out in faith to take the Word of God into the darkness that was New Zealand”.

Another student loved the visit to the Mangungu Mission House on the spectacular Hokianga Harbour where the third and largest signing of the Treaty of Waitangi took place and notes, “this site made my class material come alive”.

The opportunity to swim at the site of Marsden’s Cross was a highlight for another student, along with a greater appreciation of the struggle early missionaries faced living at the Kerikeri Mission House under Hongi Hika’s “protection”.

It was a weekend full of laughter, fun and great discussions about all kinds of topics. The students now head into the next term of NZ Church History classes with a greater understanding of the challenges both missionary and Maori faced in those early years of Christian mission endeavour in Northland.

An excellent and very informative DVD documenting the story of the Gospel in New Zealand from Samuel Marsden forwards was produced by Dr Stuart Lange in 2014 and can be purchased from Laidlaw College’s e-store for $25 for $25 (postage included), or at Laidlaw Reception (Henderson campus) for $20. Proceeds go to the NZ Christian Network.