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Chatham Islands heralds Reformation anniversary

by Pauline Simonsen

'To the ends of the earth ...'

Chatham Islands, 4.00am New Years Day, 2017

The Southern Cross has never shone so clearly. Forty or so Lutherans from Germany, Australia and New Zealand are in a bus on a rough gravel track, driving east where the night sky is beginning to lighten. I wouldn't be anywhere else.

In 1843 five young men from the Gossner Mission in Berlin arrived in the Chatham Islands, 650 kilometres east of mainland New Zealand. This was the first Lutheran mission in AotearoaNew Zealand, bringing the gospel to the Maori inhabitants.

At the beginning of 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a group of Lutherans make a return pilgrimage to this first place in the world to see the light of the new year. The pilgrims include the present chairman of the Gossner Mission, Harald Lehmann, and Dr Margot Kaessmann, the Special Envoy for the Anniversary of the Reformation for the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany. Also present are LCA Bishop John Henderson and LCNZ Bishop Mark Whitfield, and other members and friends of the LCNZ and LCA.

5.00am, Te Whakaru

A cold wind is blowing here at the northeastern-most point of the island, where the five young missionaries originally settled and built. We light candles in the pre-dawn dark and sing 'How brightly shines the Morning Star' as Venus shines above us. We hear the gospel in the four languages of this place  Moriori, Maori, German and English and we sing 'Christ, be our light'. Missionary Muller is buried here and his gravestone has been uncovered from beneath a huge box thorn. We plant an ake ake tree here as the sun comes up.

11.00am New Years Day, St Augustines church, Te One

The tiny wooden Anglican church on the island is packed with Lutherans and local families. Bishop John reminds us that while the mission here was short; the name of Jesus was spoken and shared and passed on. We sing 'How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear!' At the grave of deaconess Maria Baucke, a wonderful missionary herself, her great-grandson Roy, now a 92-year old Chatham Islander, digs a hole with the help of his grandson and plants a second tree, remembering, giving thanks. 

The missionaries’ time in the Chathams was difficult and by the end of the 1860s only one was left on the island. Nevertheless, everywhere we go we are warmly welcomed by the local people, and we find whanau (family). We eat paua and whitebait fritters and share stories and laugh.

We have come to this faraway place from other faraway places, and we find that Jesus is here among us, graciously making us one, breathing his aroha (love). Te Harinui great news: Immanuel is come, even to the ends of the earth!