We had never been to the Bay of Islands (about three hours drive north of Auckland) so we made a plan to move on from a wedding in Auckland to spend a few days in this unknown but famously beautiful region. Here is a beautiful Bay of Islands place to stay.
It will cost you $13000 per night. That is not fake news. I tracked this place down on the internet.
We stayed more modestly at Paihia which, for me, is one of those heaven on earth places where bushy hills meet the sea and the view over the sea is full of interest - boats, hills, islands, more boats. Oh, and golden sand on the beach, and it is a long beach.
The Bay of Islands was where much of our first missionary work was established and then developed. We took this history in as we noted plaques dotted along the main road through Paihia, strolled around Russell, explored the Pompallier Mission House (i.e. printery where thousands of devotional books were printed and bound) and visited the Stone Store and Kemp House at Kerikeri.
We could imagine the missionaries working hard while enjoying a climate considerably more pleasant than the one they left behind in Europe. As we visited the extraordinary Treaty grounds at Waitangi - a "must" for every Kiwi before they die, IMHO - my mind was taken back to Darwin visiting in 1835 and seeing cricket played there or thereabouts.
And, of course, there was Oihi Bay to visit, the site of the first sermon in these islands, Christmas Day 1814 and the first mission settlement. Getting there is slightly more challenging than wandering around Paihia and Russell. We needed our rental car to trek some 45 minutes from Kerikeri to a carpark at the top of a hill from whence a kilometre track descends to the bay. What a great walk down it was, with recently installed displays explaining all kinds of interesting details about the endeavours of the missionaries and the local Maori inhabitants.
But here is the thing about Oihi Bay that struck me that afternoon. It is surrounded by hills with only a narrow platform of flat land for the missionaries to build a settlement. The following photo gives a sense of this (but the platform extends to the left of the photo). There was room for half a dozen houses, a chapel and a school room and not much area for developing flocks and crops.
Moreover, Oihi Bay is on the edge of the Bay of Islands. It was not the best location for growing the mission. While away I read one historian who imputed that Marsden insisted the missionaries stay there, even when they wanted to move. Eventually they did, and Paihia and Russell were better locations, both in area for building homes and growing crops and in centrality to the Bay of Islands.
Of course Oihi Bay's great value was that it was the site to which Marsden and his fellow missioners were invited. They needed to make the most of what they were blessed with.
It is not missiological rocket science to see that two hundred years later the church is kind of back at Oihi Bay. We have been given a place in Aotearoa NZ society. We are welcome here. But the "land" we now occupy is poor, small and a long way from the centre where we once were and to which we often voice a wish to return.
There is no Marsden in Sydney writing letters to us, telling us what to do. Nevertheless we feel constrained. And we may be in for quite a lean time. It was nearly two decades before Maori converted to Christianity in significant numbers.
We do not know how long our current marginal state will be for. If it is for twenty years that is more or less the rest of my life :) It could well be longer.
Will we be faithful? Will we lay ground work for the future? Among those first missionaries were those who learned the Maori language (Te Reo), who wrote it down, composed grammars and began translating the Scriptures.
If the 21st century has taught us any one lesson so far, it is that the world outside of Christianity is developing, changing, moving forward at a rapid pace and in the process is evolving a new language to adapt. Who is understanding that language? Who is learning its grammar? Who, most importantly, is translating the Scriptures into this new language?
Added for, I hope, clarity: I am talking to a small degree about the (comparatively) simple exercise of maintaining Bible translations in the language of the day (so we rightly as English speakers have seen a move from KJV to RSV to (e.g.) NRSV/NIV/GNB/NJB/NLT) but to a greater degree about our communicating the gospel in a variety of means (including preaching) which connect the gospel with the way people today think and engage current society in thought forms and with imagery that likely will move them to rationally and emotionally embrace Jesus Christ and his message, and follow him.