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Wilbur Thomas Clark

1930-1931 (Queen Street Campus)

Wilbur Clark has the distinction of being the 100th graduate to serve in overseas mission, fulfilling a dream of NZBTI Principal, Rev. Joseph Kemp, to see “100 students go out from our doors to foreign lands” in his lifetime.


Wilbur was converted at a Ngaruawahia Easter Camp in 1922 at age 12. After completing his secondary schooling at Auckland Boys’ Grammar School, he worked in a municipal office in Takapuna before entering NZBTI in 1930, aged 19. In his application to NZBTI he noted his desire to serve as a missionary in the Solomon Islands after completing his two-year course.


He sailed for the Solomons, a little over a week after his 23rd birthday, to serve with the South Seas Evangelical Mission (SSEM). He was initially stationed at One Pusu, on the island of Malaita, where he helped build the Afio Girls’ School in 1934. He travelled extensively by sea around the islands, usually on SSEM’s ship, Evangel, and trekked for hours from various coastal bases into villages in the mountainous rainforests where superstitious practices and spirit possession were common. One area was still known as a head-hunting community.


In a letter to his supporters in 1940 Wilbur wrote of a five-week trip to visit a village, carrying a lantern with gospel slides over a 6,000 foot mountain.[1] He later wrote of a memorable day in August 1940 where, up in the mountains of Guadalcanal, 100 people gathered at the foot of a small waterfall to witness Wilbur baptizing 20 men and women. “The majority of those present had not witnessed any such scene before. It will be the subject of conversation for days to come.” [2]


The entry of the Empire of Japan into World War 2, and the rapid advance of the Japanese military into the Pacific, saw many missionaries evacuated from the Solomons by early 1942. However, Wilbur chose to stay – writing in March 1942: “I felt that God would have me stay here, so when yesterday I was offered a berth on what may be the last vessel from here for a long, long time, for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s and from a sense of duty to the work, I declined. The 5 men who remain at present will be unable to cope fully with the work, but we will do our best, and pray that, as this skeleton staff gives help here and there, God will so establish the indigenous church that the work may prosper independently of the European missionary.” [3]


During the time the Japanese forces occupied the islands between 1942-1943, Wilbur volunteered as a ‘coast watcher’, one of a number of civilians who relayed information about Japanese movements to the Allies. It was dangerous work, with other coast watchers executed on capture. Wilbur later recalled that he experienced God’s protection and guidance throughout that time.[4]


Allied Forces had completely retaken Guadalcanal by February 1943, and later that year Wilbur returned to NZ where he remained until the end of the war. In October 1943, he married Mattie (Martha) Dawson, a NZBTI graduate of 1943. In April 1946 Wilbur was one of several missionaries to return to the Solomons without their wives to re-establish the work of SSEM. It would be over a year before Mattie and their small son Ross joined him, in August 1947. Wilbur continued to trek many miles to villages in the mountains and along the coast, working alongside indigenous Bible teachers in support of what was becoming an established church. The Clarks, now with three children, returned to settle back into New Zealand in January 1956.


Wilbur took on temporary pastorate positions in Island Bay, Miramar, and Te Awamutu. He passed away at home in Wellington on 13 February 1993 in his 83rd year.



[1] The Reaper, August 1940

[2] The Reaper, November 1940

[3] The Reaper, June 1942

[4] Article in SSEM magazine, “Not in Vain”, July 1993 ed. #289

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