It is amazing to look at history and see how it often repeats itself.
Amber and I live in beautiful New Zealand. We have been fascinated by the history of this region – particularly its discovery by the Europeans.
New Zealand was first discovered by Abel Tasman (1603 – 1659), a Dutch seafarer, explorer, and merchant. His was the first known European expedition to reach the islands of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), New Zealand, and to sight the Fiji islands.
Tasman was sent on a mission by the Dutch East India Company to look for gold, a promising area for trade, and useful new shipping routes. Sailing south of Australia he found Tasmania where he planted the Dutch flag. After some exploration he set course East.
The winds were favorable and after about ten days he sighted land on the Northwest coast of South Island, New Zealand. Proceeding North and then East, he stopped to gather water. Here, one of his boats was attacked by the Māori, the original inhabitants of New Zealand. Four of his men and several Māori were killed. After this unfriendly encounter with the Māori he returned to the Dutch East India base in Batavia (Jakarta).
From the perspective of the Dutch East India Company, Tasman’s explorations were a disappointment; he had found neither a promising area for trade nor a useful new shipping route. For over a century, until the era of James Cook, Tasmania and New Zealand were not visited by Europeans; mainland Australia was visited, but usually only by accident.1
As I read this fascinating history, made by my fellow countrymen, I couldn’t help but compare my journey with the journey of Abel Tasman.
There are some striking similarities; and even more remarkable differences.
Just like Abel Tasman, my wife and I were called to explore New Zealand and search for precious goods in this new country. Not for temporal goods like silver or gold (let’s face it, even though we receive a reasonable monetary compensation for the work we do, true evangelism is not a moneymaking business).
Our search is to plant the treasures of heaven in the hearts of the people of this beautiful country.
At the outset, the prospect for this work seemed like a challenge as New Zealand is one of the most secular countries in the world. While doing some research, I discovered this article by the National Secular Society entitled, Religion Dying In New Zealand:2
April 3, 2009… There has been a sharp rise in the number of New Zealanders with no religious affiliation, new research shows. In a study of 1,000 people by Massey University, 40 percent said they had no religious affiliation compared to 29 percent seventeen years ago. Just over a third of New Zealanders described themselves as religious… “The survey shows that God is not dead, but religion may be dying…”
I also came across a fascinating observation by Pope John Paul II.
When criticizing modern secularism, he usually directs his comments toward the United States and, sometimes, Europe. Now he has set his sights on New Zealand, claiming that “unrestrained secularism” has caused the island nation to become overwhelmed with fun and games on Sundays.3
Things seemed to suggest that the ground for evangelism and “spiritual mining” was not very promising.
On top of that came news of recent earthquakes (September 2010 and February 2011) in the very city that we were called to work in.
On the first day of our honeymoon we were watching the images of desperate people crying for the loss of their loved ones; images of collapsed buildings; army tanks behind red warning tape. They seemed like an attack, telling us that this is not a visitor-friendly area.
Many New Zealanders were leaving their country for the safer shores of Australia, we were called to move here!
Still, we felt the Lord was calling us to this place “for such a time”.
Now, after several months of ministry in the slowly recovering City of Christchurch, we are grateful that the Lord encouraged us to step out in faith. We’ve witnessed the baptism of nine wonderful people after David Asscherick’s series of meetings. A few weekends ago we had another five baptisms as a result of that same series and the ongoing studies. Still others have made a commitment to get baptized.
It’s powerful to see the Lord work!
Abel Tasman’s excursions in the 1640’s were a disappointment. He was scared off by the unfriendly prospect of New Zealand and he didn’t find the trading routes or the gold and precious goods his company was looking for.
Our mission in 2011 has been far from disappointing. God has His treasures in this secular country and He is using us to reach them. The enemy has been working hard to claim this land as his own and to keep us from working here, but God calls us, as modern-day Tasmans, to plant the banner of the Cross on this enemy territory.
Samuel and his wife Amber are graduates of our ARISE program and are currently Bible working in Christchurch, New Zealand where the devastating earthquake hit back in February of this year. They are aggressively following up after the evangelistic meetings that David Asscherick recently preached there.