Mission In, To and From the Pacific

One of the great blessings of living in Aotearoa NZ is being home to the colour and vibrancy, not to mention sporting talent(!), of our Pacific neighbours.  At the end of last year we were privileged to host Eliki and Lavenia Drodrolagi, our WEC Pasifika Directors.  They shared not only their stories, of 16 years living amongst an African Muslim community, but also their reflections on mission “in, to and from” the Pacific.  Laced with humour, their talks were woven with mission history and contemporary challenges.


Looking Back

As we celebrated 200 years of the gospel in NZ, I was struck that the peoples of the Pacific had in fact had the gospel for even longer. Beginning in Tahiti, then Tonga, the gospel soon spread across Polynesia and into Melanesia.  Unlike NZ however, it was not primarily European missionaries who were the conduits of the good news.  Instead the first hearers became the first messengers, sharing the good news from island to island.


The next several decades followed a wider historical pattern.  Initial enthusiasm became tempered by the familiar. Just as the Church of Ephesus “lost their first love,” the Pacific church lost her fervour.  The arrival of colonial traders seeking to develop their businesses, and the vices of alcohol, tobacco, sexual immorality and general godlessness took their toll on the church.  Despite this God remained faithful. In mercy he raised up a new wave of Holy Spirit empowered, gospel centred missionaries.  These came from a variety of church backgrounds including Brethren, AOG and Baptist groups.  This also helped to ignite the established churches.  The embers were once again fanned into flame and the peoples of the Pacific reignited their passion for the Kingdom of God.


Exiting the Roundabout

Today however, we stand at a crossroads, or as Eliki put it, “the church of the Pacific peoples, whether in NZ or on various islands of the South Pacific, is on a roundabout, continually circling around the same places.” Just as previous generations got “stuck” before discovering the way forward, today’s church must find a way forward.  The path, Eliki maintains, is “mission.”  Traditionally the church has read the Great Commission progress as, “Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria,” or “Samoa, then the rest of the Pacific, then the rest of the world.” These should instead be seen as concurrent activities.  The areas of greatest need are in fact where the church should be focussing on. Namely, where the church is least established and the gospel least accessible. The Pacific church must see itself as a sending church. It cannot be content to just be a spectator or a recipient of palagi people or funds.


A great need also exists for local cross-cultural outreach, particularly to their Muslim, Hindu and secularly influenced neighbours. Eliki spoke of fresh initiatives to reach Muslims in Fiji which are bearing fruit.  Yet Islam continues to spread in the Pacific. This local mission challenge requires ongoing emphasis, strategic partnerships and cross-cultural training.


We were encouraged by stories of new cross-cultural workers from the Pacific.  Newly trained missionaries who are primarily sent and supported by their home churches in the islands.  At WEC NZ we have helped train and pastorally support new workers from Fiji, Nauru and Vanuatu, with others in the pipeline.  The potential remains though for many more Pacific workers to be sent from the region.  Yes, the challenges are plentiful.


A Word to NZ Churches

Is there still a need for missionaries in the Pacific?  “Yes,” says Eliki.  “But with a different ministry focus.  They are needed to reach Chinese, Hindu and Muslim, as well as other immigrant communities in partnership with the local church.”  Specialist help is also needed for reaching youth, addicts and disabled peoples, as well as offering deeper training to local leaders. He cautioned that we have to be wary of continuing practises beyond their usefulness.  We must ensure that our inter-church and agency relationships empower, rather than perpetuate a paternal approach or dependency.


In New Zealand there is the challenge of engaging 2nd generation Pacific Kiwis. However, there remain nearly 2 billion people who have no local church and little to no access to the gospel.  It will take the whole church to reach these largely forgotten peoples. We agree with Eliki that the people of the Pacific are uniquely endowed to play their part in taking the Good News to the ends of the earth. His challenge, and invitation, is to love these “least-reached peoples” enough to share the living waters of Jesus Christ with their parched souls. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we have more missionaries from the Pacific stirring our churches. In the meantime, let us take up the challenges Eliki has presented, and continue to pray for the Lord of the harvest to send out workers.

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