1930-1931, NZBTI Diploma (Queen Street campus)
Hessell William Forster Troughton was born in Thames in 1907 and grew up on dairy farms in Wharepoa and Matamata. While a student at the Ruakura Farm of Instruction, he gave his life to Christ through an open air on the main street of Hamilton. As a teenager Hessell stood with others at a Ngaruawahia Easter convention and declared his willingness to serve God as a missionary. Not long after this Bishop Nakada of the Japan Holiness Church visited NZ. In his memoirs, Hessell later wrote, “I was interested in what he said, but without feeling personally drawn to Japan.” Not long after, while having his evening devotions, the word “Japan” rang in his ears and that call was confirmed in his Scripture reading of Jeremiah 3:12, “Go and proclaim these words towards the north”.
He entered the NZ Bible Training Institute in 1930 and later wrote that three things stood out in his studies: (1) a much better understanding of the Bible, (2) a development in his devotional life, and (3) the realization of the oneness of all believers in Jesus Christ.
In 1933 he married Alison Cumming (a 1933 NZBTI student), and in 1934 they sailed for Japan. After studying language and culture in Kobe, they went to live in Maebashi in Central Japan, joining the Central Japan Pioneer Mission (CJPM), and then to Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture, to help plant a church. With war clouds looming in the late 1930s Hessell was continually shadowed by the military police and his attaché case searched. All they found was a Bible and Gospel tracts.
After five and a half years, they returned to NZ for furlough in December 1939. The onset of World War 2 prevented a return to Japan. For a short while Hessell returned to farming, and was then appointed as temporary minister to the Tirau-Putaruru parish for a year.
In February 1943, in an ugly confrontation at the Japanese Prisoner of War (POW) camp in Featherston, 48 Japanese POWs were killed, along with a guard. Hessell was invited by the NZ Army to become the camp chaplain, ordained as a Home Missionary of the Presbyterian Church. That opened a remarkable new ministry opportunity to 800 Japanese POWs and around 500 NZ forces.
His sensitivity and cultural awareness made a significant contribution in bringing about a change in relationships between the prisoners and the guards. It is written in Presbyterian records: “One event stands out in this period, he walked unescorted, at his insistence, into the compound at Featherston where a large complement of dispirited, angry Japanese prisoners of war were confined. His ability to listen with real sympathy to grievances stemming from cultural differences was a vital factor in defusing potentially dangerous situations.”
A number of the POWs found Christ; one convert, Michiharu Shinya, later became the Principal of the Japanese Biblical Seminary in Tokyo.1
After the War, in 1946 Hessell was inducted to the Greytown parish. From 1949 to 1951 while he studied at the Theological Hall in Dunedin, he was Minister of West Harbour Ravensbourne-St Leonards Parish until 1967. During that time he was very involved with the Pounawea Convention, Riverton Rocks CSSM (Children’s Special Service Mission), Christian Endeavour, and the formation of the Westminster Fellowship. He then ministered at Orewa until his retirement in 1972.
Although pressed to do so, Hessell and Alison never returned to Japan. However, their youngest daughter Doreen carried on their legacy, as she and her husband, Warren Payne (both BCNZ graduates of 1972), worked in Japan for over twenty years.
Alison died in 1981, and Hessell married Thyra Dixon. He passed peacefully at Orewa in November 1985, aged 78.
1 Michiharu Shinya later wrote his story in the book, The Path from Guadalcanal, translated into English. In 2001 his story was revised and published as Beyond Death and Dishonour: One Japanese at War in New Zealand (Castle Publishing, 2001)