IF presently you look up the 13th chapter of S. Matthew's Gospel, you will see there--collected together--quite a number of our Lord's parables.
"The Kingdom of heaven is like to 'A man who sowed his seed in his field'", "A grain of mustard seed", "Yeast which a woman placed in the flour", and other similes. This was, as you know, Our Lord's great method in teaching people.
Now, there is one of these similes to which I want specially to call your attention this evening. You will find it in verse 47 of that chapter--the 13th of the Gospel of S. Matthew--"Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea".
I think it quite likely that Our Lord used these words one day when he was walking by the Sea of Galilee and fishermen were out in their boats, trawling for fish. I expect many of you have seen fishermen at work in this way. When I was a boy I often did. I lived on the Sussex coast in the old country. We boys used to go down to the beach after school or in the holidays and there we'd see the fishermen standing in groups along the shore; their boats all ready at the water's edge, nets piled in the stern, oars in rowlocks; the fishermen standing, shading their eyes, looking out to sea, searching for the signs of a shoal of fish approaching. Then suddenly the cry would go up: the men rushed their boats down into the sea, jumped in, and then, as some rowed their hardest, others would pay out the net. The boat would make a big semi-circular sweep so that the shoal was enclosed within the net. We used to stand on the beach and watch. As the net was paid out, on the top of the water there gradually appeared a line of corks which were fastened along one side of the net to keep it afloat, perpendicular in [2/3] in the water. Then we boys would give a hand as the net was hauled in, both ends at the same time, and if the catch was a good one we would get two or three mackerel apiece--a very jolly supper on a cold evening.
Now I want you to think of a net of that kind, paid out and then dragged through the water, held in position by big lumps of cork--set at intervals along the sides of the net--(with smaller ones in between the bigger ones) in the way in which Bishop Selwyn, the founder of the Melanesian Mission, used to think of it.
Bishop Selwyn came out from England in the 30's of the last century as the first Bishop of New Zealand. By a mistake, so it is said, in the instructions given him, not only the two big islands which form New Zealand itself, but many other groups of smaller islands away to the north--the New Hebrides, the Solomon Islands and Santa Cruz, the islands of the so-called Mandated Territory of New Guinea (many of you have probably a son or brother or husband this very day on Bougainville or New Britain), were included in his cure or diocese. This did not perturb that great, lion-hearted pioneer missionary. As soon as he had been able to arrange for the spiritual care of the garrisons of English soldiers and the increasing number of newly arriving colonists, and to make preliminary arrangements for missionary work among the native (Maori) population in New Zealand itself, he set out northward to see what could be done in the way of missionary enterprise among the thousands of Melanesians living in these island away to the north and north-westward.
It was only a very small schooner of just over twenty tons-- UNDINE
by name--in which he made his first great missionary journey to Melanesia. Not at all like the jolly Southern Cross, the mission ship we use in these days. But the Bishop was a born sailor. It is said that on one occasion as he brought his ship along the wharf at Auckland, an old salt burst out, "About makes a man want to be a Christian to see the Bishop handle his ship."
In the Undine then (that was in 1849), he visited the New Hebrides and other island groups. It was a wonderful experience (and a dangerous one!), moving [3/4] from island to island, from group to group--islands peopled by thousands of dark-skinned, frizzy-haired Melanesians with customs and languages differing, not only from island to island, but even from district to district; peoples who were mostly still primitive savages, always at war with one another and indulging in the most barbaric customs--
headhunting and cannibalism.
However, could he hope to begin missionary work among them? Certainly he could not look for a sufficient number of white missionaries to evangelise so many different peoples with so many different tongues.
As he thought and prayed about it all two great thoughts came into his mind.
He remembered first those words of Our Lord which I am using as my text--"The Kingdom of Heaven is like to a net cast into the sea." He saw the Christian Church--in the form of the Melanesian Mission--like a great net cast into the waters of the South-west Pacific to gather in the harvest of God's Kingdom; a great net held up in the early days by big white corks--the white missionary bishop and clergy, the white teachers, doctors, nurses. But presently other corks--black ones--would be brought into use; to begin with small ones (Melanesian catechists and teachers). Later these would become bigger ones to supplement (indeed, in God's good time, increasingly to replace) the big white ones.
Then, secondly, he remembered how Our Lord set to work. You will remember that, at the beginning of His Ministry, multitudes pressed upon Him to hear the word of God. They were attracted by His way of speaking--He spoke differently from the Jewish teachers ("as one with authority'); they were excited, too, by the wonderful things He did. But our Lord was not deceived. "He knew what was in Man." He knew full well that this first interest and excitement would pass. He did, however, use the opportunity which so presented itself to call out, to choose from among the crowds some
"whom He would have to be with Him.
So He called Simon and Andrew, James and John from their fishing, Levi from his seat in the Customs' Office, and others, too. He wanted to have them with Him that [4/6] He might teach then--privately, on the hill-side, in the quiet of the evening; that they should be His disciples (learners at His feet) until the time should come when He would be taken from them. Then, filled with the Holy Spirit of God, He would send them forth as His Apostles--Ambassadors for Christ--Evangelists of the Gospel--to build up His Kingdom among their fellow men and women.
THE BISHOP OF MELANESIA
So would the good Bishop make the 'black corks."
At first he, and then other Bishops of Melanesia--of whom, in this first hundred years of the Mission's history there have been seven--would move about among the islands making friends with the people here, there and everywhere; and then, as they won their confidence, they would ask of them their lands and girls--one from this village, two from that district, half a dozen from that larger island.
These lads and girls were then (indeed, still are) taken away to some central training establishment or school where, as "disciples" they learned the Christian Faith to live
the Christian life--a life based upon that Faith.
Later they would return to their own people (or sometimes to other islands) as teachers, witnesses--having been "disciples" they now become "apostles"--back corks helping to hold up "the net cast into the sea."
On these lines missionary work in Melanesia has gone on now for nearly a hundred years. Year by year more "black corks" are being trained and sent out to hold up the net. So it was that when war came to our islands at the end of 1941, even if the white missionaries had all withdrawn (which, of course, they never thought for a moment of doing), the net would still have carried on its work. At that time there were some 63 Melanesians commissioned as Priests or Deacons working in the islands; well over 700 as teachers and catechists; 100 young men as Brothers, doing definitely missionary work among the heathen; two Melanesian doctors (or N.M.Ps., as we call them), are now also at work in the
MINISTRY of HEALING--
for Christ's command is not merely to preach, but "to heal the sick and cleanse the lepers"; others are in the medical school in Fiji in training; many have been trained [6/7] for village dispensary work; girls are learning Mothercraft and Maternity nursing; others are schooling to become teachers or agriculturists.
So you see, the Church in Melanesia is a truly Melanesian Church, and "the net" is increasingly being held up by black corks--both small and large.
True, for many years to come, the assistance of big white corks will be needed--largely as teachers in the schools and colleges were our Melanesian are being trained to become leaders and servants of their own people. Certainly for years to come Melanesia will need the support of your alms--and always your prayers--for the maintenance of these schools and colleges and hospitals were the black corks are in training. At present, too, we need your help (and I need it badly) to rebuild those centres which have been destroyed during the heaving fighting in the Islands.
No doubt you have met people who tell you they don't believe in Missions; some who say they think it is wrong to send men and women overseas when there's so much to be done at home; others who assert that the native is much happier when left untouched in his primitive Garden of Eden happiness--the missionary spoils him and makes him discontented--and so on.
Yes, the devil's Ministry of Propaganda is well organized! But for most of us it is enough that we have received our marching orders from Our Lord. He said, "Go," even to the uttermost parts of the earth. And with that we are content.
And that this work is all so well worth while you need not take just my word--the word of a missionary Bishop, thrilled to have been sent as the chief overseer of the fishing in Melanesia; you have now the testimony of
thousands of your own men--New Zealanders
Americans--who, in the words of one of them, had had "the bottom of all his old prejudices completely knocked out" by what he has seen of the Church's work in these islands of the Pacific.
So go on giving, go on praying for us, God's fishermen, that we may have strength and courage and vision to "cast the net on the right side of the ship" and that, in the power of the Risen, Ascended, Glorified Christ we may at length "draw the net to land, enclosing the great multitude of fishes."
THE LANGLEA PRINTERY PTY, LTD., 432 KENT ST., SYDNEY