John Catmur believes that mission starts with asking, “How can we follow God as he transforms this community?” He tells us about the journey he and Māngere Baptist Church have been on in this regard.
The 20th September 2014 was a special day for me, not because it was the day of the general election, but because it was the first day I made contact with Makaurau marae, Ihumātao, Māngere.
There were several places to go and vote in Māngere but I chose the one that was the absolute farthest from my house—that marae. God had already put on our hearts at Māngere Baptist the kaupapa for all our marae to experience revival and become self-sustaining faith communities. We were just about to see the first fruits of that as Val Teraitua, manager of Papatūānuku Kokiri marae, became a Christian in a dream and went on to exert the ministry she continues to this day. So, I was in the mood for making contact with marae!
At the polling booth, I met Qiane, a wahine toa (strong, accomplished woman) with a vivacious personality and a happening career in photography and journalism. We hit it off so well that I went around for a cuppa a week or two later. The relationship continued between Qiane and our church, as a few months later we invited her to present stories and pictures from her whenua as the main part of our church service. In response, we prayed for her, although she did not profess a Christian faith.
A year or so later I was looking for someone with whom to practice my conversation skills in Māori, so I asked Qiane to point me to anyone she knew who could help. Through this I met matua Ike, who acts as a kaumātua on the marae, speaking regularly on the pae at pōwhiri. This is how the deal unfolded:
“Matua, I came today to ask you whether you could help me with some regular conversation practice, like weekly?”
Matua Ike paused, then said, “Okay, do you believe in reciprocity?”
“Āe,” I replied, planning to offer him money.
“Okay,” he said. “Then you will come to the kōhanga reo at our marae every Friday at 11am and you will teach our tamariki about Jesus Christ from the Bible, in te reo Māori. In return, I’ll speak to you in Māori. I’m on my own journey, but once you’ve spoken to our tamariki for a while, maybe I’ll come to your church and hear what you have to say.”
What had God done? I left on cloud nine and spent the following few months growing ever closer to Ike, the kids, and various adults at the marae.
Eight months later on a Tuesday night at our church, in walked Pauline. I had met Pauline once or twice at the marae but today she came to us; Val from Papatūānuku marae had invited her along. Pauline had been a Christian for around four years. During the evening, she explained that God had given her a vision of seeing whakamoemiti (praise and worship) happening on her marae but didn’t know what to do about it.
Gobsmacked, I told her that this is also what we had been praying for over the last couple of years. As we figured out what to do, I went to see matua Ike and asked him what his thoughts were and whether a hui where this could happen might be allowed.
He said, “I think it’s a wonderful idea and I’ll tell you what to do. Go to our marae secretary with Pauline and ask her to put it on the agenda for the marae committee. Then go along and ask their permission. I’ve no doubt they’ll say yes, and you could start a gathering in the New Year.”
They did say yes, and on Sunday 3rd December last year we gathered for the first time with the vision of seeing healing come to the community. The first principle of the hui was whakawhanaungatanga, where people could come and share freely about their lives, get prayer, and be touched by the God who answers prayer.
The second principle was wānanga, where not only is the Word of God preached but there is opportunity to share thoughts and questions, right or wrong, on the kaupapa—perhaps a bit like Alpha.
Pānia was one of the first to share. “I’ve come here today because I’m searching. I have a difficult relationship with Christianity because of colonisation. But at the same time there is something spiritual happening inside of me and I’ve come to find out what it is,” she said.
We’ve now met four times—it’s a monthly thing at the moment—and each has been a small delight in its own way. It’s not as if we’ve seen hundreds come to Christ. Mostly it’s been a gathering of about 10-12, and half of that is our team. (A big mihi to Pauline, Caleb, Maanaakinui, Louise and Puti!) But I think it’s the start of something wonderful and I look forward to seeing what God will do in the coming times from this bit of mission that started from the community.
Story: John Catmur
John is Pastor of Māngere Baptist Church. He grew up in the UK and has lived in Aotearoa for 10 years. After a previous pastorate at Auckland Baptist Tabernacle, God did some serious re‑wiring of John’s brain to prepare him for a radically missional approach to church. You can view a short Loading Docs documentary about John and his journey of learning te reo Māori.
Starting with the community
When it comes to mission, if we start with the community we have different questions and different priorities to when we start from the church. When we start from the church we tend to end with the church; that is, the growth of our church tends to be our goal. Thankfully this is not incompatible with the interests of the kingdom of God, although sometimes it can be.
When we start with the community, however, the question becomes not, “How can I grow my church?” but “How can we transform the community?” In fact, taking another step back again, we realise that mission really starts with God, so we ask, “How can we follow God as he transforms this community?” I hope that our work with Makaurau marae is a small expression of that.
~ John Catmur