After the death of NZBTI Principal Joseph Kemp in 1933, the Board decided that the most fitting memorial to a man passionate about evangelism would be to establish evangelistic work in country areas within New Zealand. A Chevrolet Classic was purchased, and the “Kemp Memorial Caravan” and its first workers were commissioned in 1935. Had he known it, Rev. Kemp would have been delighted to know that it was his daughter Mary, and her husband, John Miller, who were the first of the “Caravangelists” as they became known. They commenced work in Taranaki, connecting with local churches to conduct public campaigns, visitation and tract distribution. One report of a campaign stated, “The church was full to overflowing and people were standing outside. The presence and power of the Holy Spirit was with us, and many precious souls were won to the Master”.1 The Millers ran campaigns from as north as Waihi to as south as Wellington before relinquishing the work in 1937 for health reasons. The caravan was then staffed by a succession of NZBTI graduates on short-term appointments. Missions to children became a major feature of the work.
With the enlistment of the Caravangelists for military service in World War 2, the ministry lapsed for a decade from 1942-1952. In mid-1952 the NZBTI Directors decided to fundraise for a new caravan and a big Fordson van, painted yellow, became the Kemp Memorial Caravan Mark 2. NZBTI graduates of 1952, Terry Williams and Lawrie Pink, were the first workers to be appointed; both men had become Christians through the children’s missions of previous Caravangelists. At a special ceremony on Easter Saturday 1953, during the Ngaruawahia Easter Convention, NZBTI Principal John Deane dedicated its use to “the saving of men, women, and children, and to the glory of God”. Again, a succession of the Institute’s graduates served as Caravangelists, with work almost exclusively among children. Each year about 2,000 children in mostly isolated areas were reached, with the Caravangelists running “Happy Hours” after school, a “Keenites” club before school (teaching the keen children the Scripture Union method of Bible readings), Parents’ Nights, Bible in Schools classes, holiday programmes, and Sunday School ministry in churches. Each group was revisited after about six months. The caravan also made its way regularly to the Ngaruawahia Easter Convention where the Caravangelists were involved in running the children’s programme, and to CYC children’s camps.
In 1965 a 16 foot dual-wheeled caravan towed by a Landrover replaced the Fordson van. Ruth and Roy Woods (NZBTI graduates of 1965) took the caravan south. In their regular report “Caravan Corner” in The Reaper (March 1967), the Woods’ reflected on their final mission in Ōtemātātā, a small town in Central Otago:
“We had been warned by the Public Relations Officer not to expect too much, in fact if 40 children came we’d be lucky. The little Baptist Fellowship distributed pamphlets to all the houses and on the first day 120 children came, on the second there were 220 and from then on the number remained consistently around 200. Contrary to all predictions the children listened attentively and showed an evident hunger for Christian things, although many were from homes with no religious standards. Several children were counselled and I’m sure many others faced up to the claims of Christ.”
They passed the ministry on to the last of the Institute’s Caravangelists, Ross and Iris Abernethy (NZBTI graduates of 1966), who took the caravan around schools in Canterbury. Their service concluded in May 1968 and this branch of the evangelistic outreach of the Institute was passed over to the Child Evangelism Fellowship.
Mr & Mrs J & M Miller
Mr & Mrs D & E Golding
Mr & Mrs R & R Woods
Mr & Mrs R & I Abernethy
J. Oswald Sanders, Expanding Horizons, Institute Press: Auckland, pg 74