Story: Missions and missionaries

Page 7. Overseas missions

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Missions in Melanesia

New Zealand sent missionaries to other countries, as well as receiving them. The Anglican diocese (region) of Waiapu, on the East Coast, voted at its first synod in 1859 to support overseas missions. Bishop Selwyn developed a mission to the islands of Melanesia. He travelled there in 1847 and brought back Melanesian boys for training in mission work at a station in Kohimārama (afterwards named Mission Bay). John Coleridge Patteson became missioner in Melanesia in 1855, and was killed by local people in Nukapu, Vanuatu, in 1871.

Not a blackbirder

John Patteson was an Anglican missionary who became the first Bishop of Melanesia. He travelled around the islands of the South Pacific, encouraging boys to train as missionaries at his college on Norfolk Island. In 1871 the bishop went ashore at Nukapu in Vanuatu and was killed by local people armed with bows and arrows. They may have mistaken him for a slave trader – a ‘blackbirder’ – who kidnapped locals to work on plantations in Australia and South America. A party of blackbirders had recently raided this island and killed five of its men.

Wesleyan Methodists in New Zealand inherited responsibility for missions in Polynesia and, in 1855, in the Solomons. Local Presbyterians supported work in the New Hebrides (later Vanuatu). In 1886 Motueka-born Florence Young began the Queensland Kanak Mission (later the South Seas Evangelical Mission) in Australia, as a non-denominational mission to ‘blackbirded’ (kidnapped) Solomon Islands labourers in the sugar-cane plantations.

Missions in Asia and South America

By the late 19th century many settlers were inspired by the vision of world mission. Alexander Don’s outreach to Chinese gold miners in Otago led the Presbyterian Church to establish the Canton Villages Mission in China, while the Bolivian Indian Mission was founded by people from Dunedin. Popular missions like the China Inland Mission and missions in India were supported by many Protestants, while some Catholic men and women joined religious orders with a missionary focus.

Missionaries overseas

Missions after 1850 placed a strong emphasis on a personal missionary call, and single women were welcomed as recruits. Rosalie McGeorge, a Baptist, left for East Bengal (Bangladesh) in 1887, and died of typhoid in India in 1891. Jean Begg attended the Presbyterian Missionary Training School in Dunedin and in 1910 was sent to a tiny island off American Samoa. There she taught at Atauloma Girls’ School and ran a daily health clinic. She remained there for nine years, developing a keen understanding of local culture.

In the 1970s New Zealand boasted the highest rate of sending missionaries in the world. Some made a significant mark in the countries they went to, among them Garfield Todd, who became prime minister of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the mid 1950s.

Many Christian missionary organistations are very active in New Zealand. For example the New Zealand branch of the original Church Missionary Society has worked in many countries, translating the Bible in Papua New Guinea, teaching in Tanzania, doing medical work in Zambia and community development in Pakistan. Māori people are now among these missionaries.

Some overseas churches, sects and other religions continue to send missionaries to New Zealand to promote their religious approach, especially among new migrants from their own countries. The New Zealand emphasis on religious freedom makes this possible.

How to cite this page:

Peter J. Lineham, 'Missions and missionaries - Overseas missions', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/missions-and-missionaries/page-7 (accessed 18 August 2018)

Story by Peter J. Lineham, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 8 Aug 2018