Flood Tide in the Pacific: Church and Community Cascade into a New Age
By Frank William Coaldrake
Stanmore, New South Wales: Australian Board of Missions of the Church of England in Australia, no date.
As Japanese warships drove down on Guadalcanal in 1942 the Bishop of Melanesia put fifteen schoolboys on a schooner and sent them to Sydney with the idea that they should train in Australia during the war years and be ready to return after the war. As their schooner left Guadalcanal it was strafed by Japanese planes. They arrived in Sydney. Three went on immediately by ship to New Zealand to the Theological College; the other twelve went to Melbourne. These young men from the tropics found Melbourne's winter cold so we bought overcoats for them. Owing to clothes rationing we had to take what the shops would give us and we finished with good overcoats but of a bright pinkish purple colour.
With this band of young men 1 travelled into the city in a tram. At the city stop I called to the men and stepped out. They were slow to understand but started to follow me just as the tram began moving forward. One by one they came to the door and stepped out on to the ground facing backwards to where I was standing. As each touched the ground from the moving tram he was bowled over in a backward somersault. One by one twelve purple coated black skinned islanders turned a backward somersault up the city street and came on to his feet with a look of amazement. No harm was done and everyone had a laugh.
The picture of twelve Melanesians turning backward somersaults in the main street of Melbourne comes to my mind now as the best illustration of what is happening in the islands today. The swift movement of [7/8] change which we have brought has sent the whole island world rolling over backwards and it comes to its feet wondering what has happened to it.
However fast the changes have been in recent years they are likely to come faster still. If the Australian Board of Missions of the Church of England is to serve the Church in those areas faithfully it must do all it can to understand what the changes are and what they do to the Church and its members. With understanding, prayer. Then the Australian Church must be brought into the new situation in the new ways required.
One obvious change is the new balance between Church and Government as administration assumes responsibility for more and more of the developing life. Dr. Fox, after sixty years in Melanesia, describes what he has seen: "Up to 1910 there was very little Government influence, merely a Resident Commissioner and a few native police. From 1910 to 1940 was a period of `co-existence'. The Government did not try to take any part in education and little in medical work. Their. object was to keep law and order. All else they left to the missionaries. The third period up to the present has been very different, starting with the war and its great shaking up. The Government has given the people a great deal of self-government. Island councils tax their people and spend the taxes on their own island. Missions give their leaders more responsibility. As African peoples became independent a number of European officials who had been working among the Africans were set free and a number came to the Pacific Colonies. These were well trained men, well fitted to lead and guide the people towards the goal of self-government. They fully realise the value of missions and the need to co-operate with them. Also a far more friendly spirit has developed among the different missions."
 All mission boards with interests in the Pacific Island World are facing the same problems as the churches develop in the rapidly changing Pacific world. Just some of the matters which claim attention now in quite new ways are:--
1. The rapid social change going on in the islands is bringing the people out of their traditional village life with the rule of elders and dependence on the "garden". They are coming into an organised "National community life" with the rule of the elected and dependence on cash as a means of exchange and with a growing number of landless urban workers. These changes are happening among Christian islanders so their churches are having to face new demands and rethink questions of loyalty and ethics. Mission strategies of the stable period will often not help the people caught in the currents of change. This is particularly noticeable in four matters:
(a) Political Involvement: The election of village or district councils to manage an increasing area of local government puts new authority in the hands of men who may not be leaders in the Church community of that area. Management of most things has been in the hands of the mission but now passes to men who have "caught" the vote. If local church leaders are not encouraged to participate in local politics the affairs of the region will often pass into the control of inactive churchmen or even those who have lost faith. Members of the church participating in local politics will eventually be caught in the growing circle of "national politics". The day of political activity (and soon it will include trade union activity) brings the Church out of the traditional authoritarian structure of the village into the arena of national [9/10] development. If nothing is done to keep up with the growing political consciousness of the villagers the Church will be on the side of the backward, by default rather than by choice. The Church at home must expect to see the young churchmen in the islands playing an active part in the developing leadership of the new nation.
(b) Occupational Evangelism: While all the people lived in villages doing traditional things the ministry of the Church reached them through the village church. The development of new industry; the recruiting of labour for urban work; the training of increasing numbers for semi-skilled or professional occupations; all these are creating a growing body of specialised workers cut off from the old village solidarity and security. To reach these the ministry of the Church must become specialised according to occupation. The catechist or priest trained for the village ministry will be out of touch with the new urban specialists. The home churches must expect to be asked for specialists to train specialists.
(c) Population Control: Improved health and hygiene and better living conditions will mean longer life in the islands as elsewhere. The population explosion has already occurred among the Indians in Fiji. The churches will find their members being taught by Government agencies to practise birth control and family planning. Already one medical evangelist is known to be openly teaching birth control in an endeavour to reduce the number of unwanted babies who will be deserted. The Church at home must expect the Island Church to become involved in the counselling of family planning and the support of agricultural development programmes of government. Some of our best leaders [10/11] of the island churches might have to be encouraged to leave the ranks of church workers and take their places in agricultural development and in population control services.
(d) The demand for new foodstuffs with the new way of life cannot always be met by the economy of the island. The supply of food for large and growing urban settlements is often beyond the resources of the area where the township has grown up.
(e) Theological Education: The loss of the static village community brings to an end the relevance of theological education on the old lines. With the coming of changed ways of life the training in Theology needs to be aimed not only at the ministry but at the people. New ways need new understanding in the people, and this is a new sector of theological education.
The training of the ministry to meet the needs of the people in their new situations calls for a fluid and variable course in the theological colleges. The students might well have to break their courses in order to go back into touch with their people. The first need for new training of lay leaders in theology might be met by bringing some of them into short courses in the theological colleges, and this in turn could serve to keep the students in touch with their world.
The teaching of theology in relevant terms without losing the foundations of truth and tradition requires a high degree of discipline in the teachers. The home Church should expect to supply the teachers and funds which will be needed in theological education in the changing world of the islands.
2. The Growth of Island Nationalism. Two island nations are independent sovereignties--Tonga and [11/12] Western Samoa, both in the diocese of Polynesia. Solomon Islanders attempted to achieve independence with "Marching Rule" after the war but failed. They are now being prepared for it by the Colonial Office. Papua and New Guinea and most other areas already know the word "independence", whatever their reactions to it. Gradually the old tribal loyalties are being organised into "national loyalties". In March, 1962, Mr. Hasluck, Minister for Territories in the Australian Government, said he was pleased to see the first signs of an emergent Papuan and New Guinea nationalism.
With development being forced ahead the people will need to discard old tribal loyalties for a wider community and the island "nation" seems to be the first answer. The Church in that nation becomes the servant of the nation. The Anglican Church in Western Samoa prays in its daily offices, not "O Lord save the Queen", but "O Lord save this nation".
The Church at home must expect the island churches to become very conscious of their place in the new nations. If tension develops between new nations and old the churches in the new nations are likely to be found on the side of the new. If new "nationalist" leaders come from within and continue to receive the ministry of the churches there can be hope that the new nations will be imbued with Christian principles. If the churches restrain their leaders from participation in the emerging nationalism, or fail to prepare their members for responsible nationhood, they will have failed God and the people.
The home churches might have to give public utterance to the right of her island members to take part in the struggle for nation building.
3. Remnants of Animism. The practice of witchcraft and sorcery and the rule of fear and superstition do not disappear with the coming of "civilisation". Rather [12/13] it seems to become easier to practise and easier to demonstrate "magical" results. Mau Mau and Cargo Cult are two examples of the terrible power that is achieved by linking the mystiques of animism with the suppressed desires of a subject or destitute people.
The home churches should expect to play their part in the eradication of animism by supporting effective theological education and in the calling forth of healthy national or personal aspirations by the encouragement of island churchmen who are capable of leadership in public affairs. The visits of island leaders to Australia should be assisted by the churches. During such visits the "shock" of contact will need special attention.
4. Changing techniques of life in family and group, particularly in urban situations. Women particularly need the special understanding and care of the Church as they leave the traditional village society and take up life as urban housewives. Not only the obvious social problems of buying food instead of growing it and budgeting a weekly wage instead of living off the land, but more subtle changes affect her. She has ä "life of her own" in the urban community and new responsibilities of motherhood for her children in the new setting. The dependence of husband and wife on each other more than on the village community will be a fact before it is understood.
The men will also have new morals and loyalties to learn. The ordering of time and pleasure and the inclusion of active church membership in the new life all require new disciplines. A new urban ethic replaces the old village ethic.
The home churches will understand the demands of a christian urban ethic and should expect to supply specialised workers to assist the island churches as the need for this ministry grows. Marriage guidance counselling, family planning, youth club leadership, community centre leadership and adult christian education [13/14] are all ministries which have not been needed in the static village life of the old Pacific, but they are needed now.
5. Tourism. The Pacific Islands have been romanticised and are a growing attraction on world tourist handbills as access becomes easy. The mud and the mangroves are overprinted with coral sand and coconut palms. The virtuous Christian mother of the islands does not appear on travel posters. Tourists come seeking the wrong things, ready to pay for them. The islanders soon learn to produce what the tourist will buy.
Tourists to Tahiti have increased from 500 to 10,000 in six years but the target is 50,000 by 1965. To cater for one element in this tourist army there comes sexual or other vice on an organised basis. Inordinate spending displayed before the eyes of a poor people creates discontent.
In Fiji the tourist traffic increased by 12% in 1960 and more rapidly since and this figure ignores cruise ships. Tourism will soon provide one-third of the economy, and for this reason it is said to be a necessity.
On the other hand, Fijians are a dignified and churchgoing people. The tourist offends and disrupts by scant dress, by requiring entertainment in hotels on Sundays, by an attitude of superiority to the "natives".
The long term effect on honest work and moral virtue must be a concern of the churches from which many of the tourists come. The right preparation of a tourist for his visit can be an "at home" service of the Church here to the island church. The making of "beggars" and "circuses" by tourists must be actively opposed by the churches.
6. New Wants--but how to pay? The situation will be aggravated not only by political emotion but by frustrated personal desires as the island people "raise their sights". They will want foodstuffs, clothing, [14/15] gadgets, machinery and public services. They will not be able to produce these things. They will not have island resources to develop to pay for such imports. The lack of natural resources other than primary in most islands dooms them to financial dependence, even if they get political independence. But these "great expectations" are in the hearts and minds of our Church men.
The history of development in other parts of the world shows that it must always begin with the building of roads and railways, the increase of food production and the export of goods produced from natural resources. The natural limitations of the island world are a handicap to development which will not easily be overcome. Nevertheless the islanders have learned of the "better" things in life and are setting their hearts on them--motor cars, radios, drapery, imported foodstuffs, cigarettes, to mention only some of the biggest items on a long list. But alas, these "rising expectations" are considerably in excess of the territory's ability to meet the bill by its present export earnings.
7. The Role of the Mission in Education and Medicine. In other areas the picture of development shows governments first taking control of all education, then rapidly taking responsibility for raising the standards and extending the range of schools. The missions are quickly outstripped and the government is soon ready to take over the extensive mission school programme. Because mission schools are so extensive, covering such a large proportion of the total school programme, two factors appear: The Government cannot agree to let such a large sector of children lag behind the improvement which it is able to bring about in education and must if development is to continue; at the same time the missions cannot afford the cost of supplying the higher trained staff to bring all the schools up to the rising government [15/16] standard. The more extensive the mission school programme the weaker it is in the currents of change. A restricted and specialised programme of education can be maintained by a mission with increasing standards and governments may welcome education in specialised or difficult fields. These are normally associated with the training of specialist community leaders and may therefore be the more significant for the future of the Church and the nation.
Medical programmes are similar to education programmes as described in the previous paragraph.
The home churches should be asking the island churches to review the rate of growth of government education programmes in relation to their own potential. The island churches may be so involved in the headlong race to claim villages for church schools that they may not yet see the end of the process. The home churches may feel bound to deflect their funds and personnel away from farflung weakening general. education and medical programmes into more specialised fields with an assured future of strength and influence in the life of Church and nation. The potential ability of the island church to maintain its educational and medical commitments out of its own strength in the future will also concern the home churches. An island church in a newly independent nation will almost certainly expect to be an independent church, but autonomy of rule is meaningless for a church caught in heavy financial dependence on outside sources. The relations between the two churches then become strained. The future of educational and medical programmes should be discussed between home church and island church.
8. Disunity, its evils and opportunities. In the two independent nations of Tonga and Western Samoa it is to be observed that the unity of the people is broken by the churches. The opening of divisions on other fronts [16/17] within these nations will be facilitated by the church divisions and will undoubtedly exploit the disunity of the churches. It is not too much to say that the island world, as it changes, is presenting a demand for the churches to overcome their divisions.
This demand comes back to the home churches as something which must not be ignored even though the urgency of it cannot be understood.
Even in the growing urban areas the divisions of the churches are a divisive factor in the new community.
Governments could be pardoned if they were to request the churches not to spoil by their divisions the new unity in community which the government is promoting at social and cultural levels.
Opportunities of ecumenical development will not be sought out by some churches but they are there in a new way. Many new kinds of ministry and service are needed, and for churches willing to try there might be new ways of co-operation and new avenues opening towards reunion. The Anglican Church by its very nature comes reluctantly to questions of co-operation and union, but in the Pacific world it will not be able to ignore these demands and opportunities.
The home church, with its experience in ecumenical matters, should be ready to give help wherever it is asked.
9. Preparing the Church to administer its own order and finance. Experiments in responsibility will be necessary within the island churches both because of the need of practice and because government is giving increased responsibility which the Church will be expected at least to match.
Probably the greatest obstacle to the devolution of responsibility is the natural politeness of island people. In courtesy (and probably also by training) they say what they think is expected of them. In courtesy they want to avoid hurting the sensitiveness of their old [17/18] teachers by doing things differently. In courtesy they refrain from forcing the issue among their own people when they do have authority and responsibility. If they are in a new community they will be free of the ropes of old courtesies. Preparation is required not only of future leaders but also of future followers. These things must be practised, and the busy, efficient missionary is the last person to provide the training.
Finance is drawn so largely from the home churches that it becomes, in effect, an instrument of policy. This prevents the growth of resourceful self-support and fails to train the new church for the stewardship it must soon be exercising.
The home churches can help by restraint in the control of funds once committed and could help in training by bringing islanders to work in church finance in the home church for short periods.
10. Pastoral care of missionaries by the island church. Long term, experienced missionaries are decreasing so that few new missionaries can serve an apprenticeship under an old master.
The demands which the church in a changing society makes on its expatriate missionaries become more difficult to meet.
The first term missionary must be recognised as a pastoral responsibility. He is not likely to run on into a second, and more effective, term if he does not receive oversight and training during his first term. It is difficult enough to provide this while expatriates are in charge and available. The difficulties of the young expatriate missionary in an island church will increase as change goes on.
The home church might seek conferences on this problem with expatriate and island leaders but it must be recognised that island leaders will be reluctant even to appear to be criticising former missionaries.
 11. Lay service overseas. The development of organised programmes for short term service in the islands has already taken place in England. Several young men have been engaged in this way from Australia. The home churches might be able to develop this short term service but a central fund to pay fares would be needed.
Long term service for lay people abroad, not only in missions but in government, commercial or academic circles, should be brought to the attention of members of the churches at home. The participation of practising christian laymen in the development programmes of the Pacific would be a great inspiration and example to the island churches.
The home churches are working together in the Council of Churches and the National Missionary Council; the World Council of Churches is working outwards from Geneva to develop this programme. Participation should bring great benefit to the island churches. More and more "development specialists" will be brought from overseas by government agencies as the speed and scope of change increases. It is a good thing to work for the inclusion among their specialists of a high proportion of practising churchmen.
12. Imminent independence. All the above matters should now be viewed by the home churches in the light of imminent independence. A mission board is bound to range wider and deeper in its thinking than the working missionary and an Australian board must take note of the new status of West New Guinea and the likely effect of this on other islanders.
The Board should also take note of the fact that by the end of 1963 virtually the whole of Africa will consist of independent sovereign States. With that interest gone the United Nations can be expected to turn its attention in the direction of the Pacific. It will almost [19/20] certainly increase the pressure for political advance in the Pacific where most of the still dependent territories will be found.
The Pacific is also, significantly, the great "missionary receiving" area of the world now, with expatriate missionaries of the old mode still dominant. A Mission Board should be trying to think ahead of the preliminary skirmishes and see the lines of future responsibility. This is the time to ask whether a programme which was right in relation to a static village world is right in relation to a changing island nation.