For her Hui address, our new President, Beulah Wood, drew messages from the remarkable biblical symbol of the yoke. This is an abbreviated version of her speech.
Bullocks with yokes were integral to our New Zealand pioneering days, and I saw them often in India where I worked for more than 25 years.
The yoke for one
Single person yokes can be made of timber, carved to suit the human wearer, like those that once enabled milkmaids to carry two full buckets of milk. Or they can be like the carefully selected bamboo ones still used in Kathmandu, West Bengal and East Asia.
A yoke is valuable. It enables an otherwise impossible task. It may even make a task easy. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). That verse has meant much to me. The tasks God has given me—writing, teaching on family in India, committees, teaching preaching—can be stressful. At times I struggle or fail. Yet I know they fit right for me. I like them, while some friends would hate them. Well, I would hate many of theirs.
The yoke for two
I imagine Jesus in the carpenter’s shop, making balanced, fitted yokes for his neighbours’ oxen. Jesus thought a yoke such a blessing that he offered a yoke to his best friends. Perhaps he would pull with them in the task. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). And Paul saw achievement, comradeship and trust pictured in a yoke. He called one of his companions in Christian work “my true yoke-fellow” (Philippians 4:3 KJV). When people work together like that, they achieve much more than they could separately.
We may apply this to both our work for God and our marriages. The gift of marriage can empower a couple to cling to each other at the depth of their being with complete two-way respect and two-way love, enabling deep mutuality in all of life and leisure. For that kind of partnering, Paul told the Ephesians, “Submit to one another” (Ephesians 5:21 NIV). That is a blessed yoke.
And in this nation, another meaning of two pulling together can be that we recognise that coming through the portal of the bicultural journey, we will find a strength that is right for greater justice and manaakitanga. We would be lacking without it.
The yoke for a team
Then I also see a broader application. This land of ours was cleared for roads and brought in for farming with the aid of bullock and horse teams ploughing, carting and logging. Jesus knew about bullock teams. In one parable, a man who refused to attend a feast said he was trying out five yoke of oxen—ten animals who pulled together. Paul’s “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14 NIV) has in view a yoke as a commitment to another, a covenant, and this is how we are, as members in our local church, in our associations and in our union of churches.
Paul wrote of a team of men and women pulling together in Christian work, and he loved that joint effort and companionship. “I ask you, my true yokefellow, to help these women who have labored with me for the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers…” (Philippians 4:3 BSB).
If we are yoked together as members of Baptist churches, what does that yoke do? With it we can do more than we ever could separately, while appreciating that companionship. We have a covenant. Let us use it to inspire us to pull together as Baptists in New Zealand.
Story: Dr Beulah Wood
Beulah is the President of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand and the New Zealand Baptist Missionary Society. After missionary service in India and the death of her husband when they served in Nepal in 1980, she raised her four daughters in New Zealand. Beulah later returned to South India as a writer and teacher in a theological college seconded by Interserve and NZBMS, focusing on preaching, women and family issues.
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