The first Mission Council meeting of 2020 included a historic and poignant moment as we met with Te Kapa Rautaki, (the Māori Baptist Strat Team) to apologise for the historic abandoning of mission to Māori by the Baptist Churches of New Zealand, and specifically NZBMS, for sixty years from 1888 to 1948.
Tears flowed as David Allen, chairman of NZBMS Mission Council and Baptist Union President, read the official letter of apology. Everyone in the room was deeply aware of this emotionally significant moment. The letter said, in part:
Council wishes to acknowledge a decision made at our AGM in 1888 that was to take no immediate action with regards to Māori and instead to focus on India. We also acknowledge the consequences that resulted in no significant engagement with Māori by our movement for over 60 years and until the establishment of the Māori Committee in 1948. We also regret and disagree with a number of statements made by the then General Secretary H H Driver, that reinforced the attitude of neglect and exclusion and a legacy that has continued.
The fact is, even prior to this time, from 1840s–1880, there is no evidence of any significant Baptist initiative to engage with Māori. The first Baptist Māori Mission, a lone endeavour, began in 1882. It was focused on the sale of alcohol to Māori in the Rotorua area and saw the establishing of a Māori temperance movement. New Zealand Baptists supported this through prayer and through Mission Boxes, a new financial initiative.
This mission was short-lived, scuttled by the death of the initiator and a complaint from Māori that the remaining missioner’s “attitude and actions were disrespectful and insulting to Māori”.1 This complaint was never followed up and, when the lead missioner resigned, no replacement was sought.
With the beginnings of NZBMS, the focus of churches moved to concern for evangelism in India. The hope of Indian evangelistic success and the perspective of the time that Māori were a dying race, meant even this meagre support moved. The first secretary of NZBMS, H H Driver contrasted the 40,000 “vanishing” Māori with the growing influence of the millions across India. In May 1885, Mission Box money was to be split 50:50 between Māori mission and Indian mission. By July the same year, 100% of the money raised was designated to Indian mission. While a few advocated for work with Māori, the 1888 Annual Meeting recommended that, with the prior commitment and cost of the work in India, no action be taken in the establishment of a Māori mission.
NZBMS’s tragic neglect of Māori mission is something we must ask forgiveness for as we work to reengage with Māori as genuine partners. Over recent years, NZBMS and our movement of Baptist churches have taken steps to name and apologise for past neglect, to learn from our Māori leaders, to uphold biblical and treaty principles, and to realise the gospel message we have to share in the world is enriched through biculturalism, the unique gifts of Māori in mission and the humility of learning from and grieving our past errors, and choosing to partner with Māori in new ways.
This is the journey we are on. If you want to know more, a good place to start is to read, Baptist Māori Speak: Ko Ngā Kōrero o Ngāi Māori Iriiri by Mission Council member, Rāwiri Auty.
Te Iwi Kaikawe Rongopai o Ngā Hāhi Iriiri o Aotearoa
It was at the 2016 Baptist Hui in Dunedin, that Rewai Te Kahu, then a member of the NZBMS Mission Council, met with members of the Strategic team of Manatū Iriiri Māori as together they discussed Te Iwi Kaikawe Rongopai o ngā Hāhi Iriiri o Aotearoa as a Maori translation of the New Zealand Baptist Missionary Society. The name was formally adopted by Mission Council at their December 2016 meeting.
The Māori name has two parts to it: ‘te Iwi Kaikawe Rongopai’ (Society/people that carry the good news), and ‘o Ngā Hāhi Iriiri o Aotearoa’ (of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand).
So, Te Iwi Kaikawe Rongopai o Ngā Hāhi Iriiri o Aotearoa translates to “The people who carry the Good News from the Baptist Churches of New Zealand.”
Rewai commented, “When I think of this Māori name, Matthew 28 comes to mind. Jesus has commissioned the church to make disciples of all nations. As a people we are called into the world, here in Aotearoa and overseas, to carry the Good News as we are directed by the Holy Spirit. Together we are called to grow and go.”
Rāwiri Auty, “Baptist Māori Speak: Ko Ngā Kōrero o Ngāi Māori Iriiri” (Master of Applied Theology. diss., Carey, 2018), 22.