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United Māori Mission

UMM Peterson, Gwyn, Perry_edited.jpg

“One is forced to say that while many of our Māori people have passed into darkness, we have slept indifferent to the vast need and open doors into this harvest field. I have often felt, whilst many New Zealanders have gone forth to other lands with the glorious message, that right here at our very door is a nation almost entirely neglected. In fact a charge could be brought against us at the Judgement seat of Christ: you had a race of people in your midst and what did you bring them?”1

These impassioned words were written to the NZBTI Directors in 1936 by Sister Jessie Alexander, who had worked among Māori as a Presbyterian Deaconess since 1913.  Now retired, Sister Jessie was burdened by the lack of evangelism amongst Māori in some areas of Aotearoa. Her plea that the Directors do something was sympathetically received, and on 26 June 1936 the Board resolved to establish The United Māori Mission (UMM). William Mains, the Honorary Principal of NZBTI became Honorary Director of the UMM Council, with Sister Jessie a Council member. After a time, Mr J.O. Sanders, the Institute’s Superintendent, became Director of the Mission.2

The first four missionaries were commissioned on 8 February 1937; three were graduates of the Institute (pictured above) and for many years NZBTI graduates made up the majority of UMM workers. Jock Peterson (1935 grad) and Norman Perry (1936 grad) set up a station at Omaio near ōpōtiki where working conditions were very poor. They travelled everywhere on foot or horseback, helping in kumara patches and sharing the Gospel. Caroline Gwyn (1935 grad) and Jean Wyatt went to ōhaeawai, a small village in the far north, where they took school classes, Sunday School classes and adult meetings in the area. A steady stream of NZBTI graduates joined the work of UMM, with 16 mission stations started around Northland, Auckland and the Waikato between 1937 and 1969. Over time some of the stations were closed, and others handed on the work to local churches or other denominational groups.  The Māori Evangelical Fellowship, an indigenous church, developed out of the UMM work.

In 1943 UMM established a hostel for young Māori women in Auckland. Again, this was in answer to an urgent plea from Sister Jessie, concerned that these women were coming to Auckland to train or work and “are cast into slum areas in the city”, with “limited money and small experience of the temptations of city life”.3 In 1944 a boy’s hostel opened in the existing women’s hostel, with the women moving to larger premises in Ponsonby. Later, hostels were opened in Gillies Ave and Shelley Beach. In these hostels young people were taught the gospel message, and many came to Christ. Converts led fellowship meetings within the hostels, and reached out into the community through visitation, Sunday School and Bible classes. The Annual Festival of UMM became one of the religious events of the year, with camps, conferences and retreats also held. NZBTI graduates served in the hostels, and some of the hostel converts went on to train at NZBTI and returned to work with UMM. Molly Waenga, a hostel convert, graduated from NZBTI in 1953 and became a UMM worker. Another hostel convert, Bob Joyce, graduated from Bible College of NZ in 1970 and spent 12 years with OMF in Thailand. He became director of UMM in 1983 and was also a founding member of the BCNZ Te Rūnanga.

The leadership of the United Māori Mission was not so closely linked with NZBTI after Mr Sanders’ resignation from the Institute in 1945. In 2011 the InZone Project  started under the umbrella of the United Māori Mission, establishing accommodation for Māori and Pasifika boys selected to attend Auckland Grammar at UMM’s property in Lovelock Avenue. The InZone Education Foundation  is now a separate entity from the United Māori Mission and runs two hostels for girls and boys in the Auckland Grammar and Epsom Girls Grammar zones.

The United Māori Mission story is one full of quiet heroes of the faith who served in mission stations and hostels, in answer to that plea of Sister Jessie’s, to reach the indigenous people of Aotearoa with the good news of the Gospel.

Top Row L-R

Peter Cossey (1953 grad), Emma Kake (1947) & May Garnett (1947), Molly Waenga (1953, on left)

Middle Row L-R

Phyllis Conway (1936), Shirley Arbuckle (1947), Warren Foster (1951)

Bottom Row L-R

Christina Sinclair (1954), Christina Warner (1952), Ben Dickson (1951)

1 United Māori Mission 1936-1986 Jubilee Book, United Māori Mission, 1987, p.5

2 J. Oswald Sanders, Expanding Horizons: the story of the NZ Bible Training Institute (Institute Press: Auckland), p.116

3 United Māori Mission 1936-1986 Jubilee Book, United Māori Mission, 1987, p.18

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