Kevin Robertson writes of his ‘bicultural journey with a twist’ and how he has found his tūrangawaewae.

Most of my life I have struggled with a problem that… well let me explain my journey.

From way back when I was young I had a sense that Māori in this country were not on an equal footing. Somehow, from when I was a nipper, there was a deep understanding that there was inequality and racism in our country and in our churches.

Speaking te reo

Although I have had a desire to be involved somehow in the Baptist bicultural journey, there has been a secret problem that I have faced—an inability to speak te reo Māori correctly.

I have always had a desire to learn to speak te reo. I was raised in a white family, in a white church and in a white district. Where I was brought up there were no Māori due to the whenua being tapu. Whether this has a bearing on my ‘problem’ I am not sure, but I confess that I struggle with pronunciation.

I have tried and in that trying I have been ridiculed, corrected and laughed at—to the point that because of shame and not wanting to be judged I don’t try anymore; it hurts.

I can hear the pronunciation in my head but there is a disconnect between head and tongue. Something is wrong with my brain! I can hear the word in my head but my pronunciation is far from being adequate. So much advice: “Just roll your Rs” or “Just learn your vowels”—but it all gets ‘munted’ when it gets formed into sound.

My bicultural journey

I was delighted when the Baptists embarked on a bicultural journey, except that my ‘disability’ was going to get harder to protect and kept hidden. But God is gracious and kind. He has taken me on my own bicultural journey; it’s been a deep journey of understanding and personal significance.

It started a few years back when I was sent on sabbatical. The elders of the day wanted me to take ‘Sabbath rest’ and made no demands of my time during the three months off.

Inspired by former Baptist National Leader Craig Vernall’s pilgrimage along the Camino De Santiago, I decided to do a lesser, homegrown version that matched my budget. So up north I did go and while hiking from Spirit’s Bay and ending in Kaitaia I had a three-day encounter with Jesus. That in itself is a story but one for another day.

My tūrangawaewa

When returning back to work I was restless, feeling a bit lost. I knew I was in the right church and I knew I hadn’t gone past my expiry date, but I was disoriented. So it was off to my spiritual director/supervisor/guru. I told him nothing of my northern encounter but rather expressed where I was at and answered the ineffable ‘how was I feeling?’ question.

Jeff doesn’t muck around; at times he speaks prophetically and this time was no exception. He said “I believe that somewhere you have met with Jesus and He has given you a new tūrangawaewae. You have a new place and it has to do with prayer. You don’t realise it, but you have been given a new authority and a new foundation.”

Unsure of the full meaning of tūrangawaewae, I googled and came up with the following:

Tūrangawaewae is one of the most well-known and powerful Māori concepts. Literally tūranga (standing place), waewae (feet), it is often translated as ‘a place to stand’. Tūrangawaewae are places where we feel especially empowered and connected. They are our foundation, our place in the world, our home.1

My summary of this was: I have a NEW place to stand. It is in prayer and with that new place, found before God in prayer, comes a new authority! My lost/empty/disoriented feelings were because God had shifted me and I didn’t know, thus causing me to look for safety and solid ground (familiar ground) which wasn’t mine to stand on anymore. I didn’t belong in that old place anymore, which was causing me to be fragile and displaced.

A vision

As I drove home to the mighty Waikato, pondering this revelation, I saw a vision of my granddad. (A bit freaky hurtling along seeing the road ahead and my grandfather ‘floating’ in space in front of the car!)

He held a tokotoko across his outstretched hands and he offered it to me with these words: “This is meant to be yours. It always was for you. It was only given to me so that I could hold it in safety to pass on to you. I was a custodian but I now give it to the one who it was made for. It does not give you blanket speaking rights on the marae like I had, but rather it is a sign of your authority, honour and mana in prayer before God.”

Wow. My granddad had been given several tokotoko years ago. Grandad had been given tokotoko while he was Chief Inspector of Native Schools. One was given by the Māori tribes of the Far North. It was given to him as a sign of respect and mana. In the 50s he was a strong advocate at government level for the retention of te reo and te tikanga in Māori schools—a spokesperson against the current trend of the day.

My tokotoko

Soon after I received the vision I found an amazing tohunga whakairo who is working in the North. After listening to my story Jay Simmonds carved a tokotoko for me. It is my taonga—given to me by Jay, my Grandfather (who is with Jesus) and by the Spirit of God. It is beautifully carved and illustrates my personal journey and my whānau.

I now weekly stand in my tūrangawaewae, the new place of prayer in my life. I go to pray. I go to meet Jesus. I go to gaze upon his beauty. I go to worship. I go to petition the King. I stand with my tokotoko in hand; it is leant on, raised and shaken…depending on how I’m led. It accompanies me; it grounds me in my tūrangawaewae, my place of prayer. A part of my bicultural journey.

Story: Kevin Robertson

Kevin is on staff at Hillcrest Baptist, is married to one wife, and has three kids (all married), seven grandchildren, two cats, three chickens and four sheep. He loves all of these – and his chainsaw.

References

  1. “Page 5. Tūrangawaewae – a place to stand,” Te Ara, https://teara.govt.nz/en/papatuanuku-the-land/page-5.