Project Canterbury

Barge Memorial Address

From The Southern Cross Log, June, 1947

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2008

[28] Barge Memorial Address

(Given by the Bishop of Melanesia--Toowoomba, Queensland, 9th March, 1947.

For my part I am very grateful both to Canon Perry and the Dean of Brisbane who have made it possible for me to make this promised visit to Toowoomba before I return to England. The position of transport has not been very easy during these last three years, and there is hardly any way of getting in and out of the Solomon Islands either by plane or ship. I doubt if I should have been here at all if I had not had my own ship Southern Cross to take me up to Rabaul. But to come here is a long-standing promise, not only to Canon Perry, but to all you good people who so generously contributed to the "John Barge Memorial Fund" for the erection of a dispensary at Pomedi on the South Coast of New Britain, when there is both labour and material available. But not only did I want to come here and fulfil that promise and to say, "thank you" for what you have done, but I wanted also to pay my tribute to one who was a real friend.

One of the greatest characteristics of John Barge was, I think, apart from his humility, his wonderful, capacity for friendship--not only with the white staff, but with "the boys". It is extraordinary that there are some people, who, from the moment they put their feet on the beach of the Islands, seem almost at once to radiate friendship amongst those with whom they come to work; and he was one. There was nothing soft, sloppy or sentimental about him. His heart just went out to those people, and immediately came their response. It was not only his friendship for them; it was his sense of vocation and the sense of his apostleship, that made both his witness and his work so real amongst those people. I think that we have rather lost that in the Church these days. In the early days the Apostles were men who were "sent out" and they had a purpose when they went forth. I wonder what proportion of those who profess and call themselves Christians now have any sense of Apostleship.

With a man like John Barge, it was the guiding idea of his life. "I am not my own--I cannot do as I like--I cannot do what I like, because I am not my own--I was sent. I did not choose Him; but He chose me, called me and sent me." These were words the Lord used to His Apostles 1900 years ago, and we have got to catch again that sense of Apostleship--you and I, Bishops, Priests and Laity alike. We are not our own, but we are sent. It was that sense of [28/29] Apostleship, I am sure, that kept him there, alone, during the two years' occupation of New Britain by the Japanese. Those who take the Southern Cross Log will have seen in this quarter's edition not merely a picture of his grave, but the accounts that I was able to gather when I was with his people in December.

When the first evacuation took place, well, it just left him at his work, and he carried on faithfully week after week, month after month. He had told me earlier not to worry, whatever happened, because he had supplies in hand for two years and these would be considerably supplemented by native vegetables and fruit. He carried on through all those months of 1942 and the greater part of 1943. Then it would seem that the Japanese Commander in Rabaul, realising that the advancing tide of American, Australian and New Zealand Forces must soon involve New Britain, sent down a ship (a destroyer, it would seem, from the boy's description) to Pomedi. They lowered a boat, came ashore and collected him, and John was taken round on the destroyer into Moewe Harbour. Then I imagine there was a mock trial on board; but there was nothing for which he could be tried, except for his faithfulness to his Lord: They took him ashore and murdered him in the village garden near Pugi. There his body was found by the brother of our teacher, Peter, by the side of the path "as though he was asleep", with grass turned back over him. After the destroyer had gone the people came and buried him, marking the spot with lumps of coral. They took me there in December. We landed in the mangrove swamp and went up the track, which was all overgrown; and there was the grave. We tidied it up and cleared the bush all around. One of the ship's carpenters made the cross, and John's name was painted on it, and there the cross stands. At first I thought we would remove his body and take it to the station, where for two years he carried on; but afterwards I decided it would be best to leave him there where he fell. On that site eventually there will be built the Dispensary in his memory. The people promised to make the land available at any time when we wanted to build; and through your generosity I hope that in due course the building of this memorial will be made possible. It will be something he would love to give his people. Although he was primarily a Priest and primarily concerned with the spiritual welfare of these people, he had also to care for their bodies, and his dispensary was always well stocked. No matter what the time of day or night, any boy who needed attention had only to say, "Father Barge, I am sick", and anything he could do he would do. I often told him he should not work so hard, otherwise he would exhaust his own strength and would not last long. But he was the type of man who would not stop. All he had to give he gave. I do not know that he was much of a speaker; I never heard him preach; but the one thing he certainly contributed to his people was the witness of his daily life. It is not so easy to live hard in the Islands, although some people exaggerate [29/30] and make life there sound worse than it is. (I have had 14 years in the Islands and have yet to have my first dose of fever, although I shall probably get it whilst in England if these snowstorms continue! I do not look as though I have had 14 years in the tropical jungle and mosquito-infested Islands, do I? ) It depends very much upon how a person looks after himself. If you eat too much tinned food and are foolish about your mosquito net, you are asking for trouble. If you look after yourself you may last some considerable time. Our Dr. Fox has just completed 45 years work in the Islands! And John lived hard.

It was the witness of everything for which a Christian stands that was manifested in the daily life of John Barge.

Sometimes he would get hold of a boy who was in trouble, put his arm around his shoulder, and lead him away for a quiet talk. I do not know what he said, and I do not think that what he said mattered so much. It was the fact that they must have known that he was in effect not merely their friend, but their father.

As he went about love just came out of him with no effort on his part. His patience, his courage, his unfailing good temper, his readiness to forgive any little misunderstanding that would normally rankle with other people, he would think no more of it. This was his simplicity.

Our people in Melanesia are often spoken of as "infant races"--as in a way they are. But I am always fearful when they speak of them in a sloppy, sentimental sort of way--the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel sort of way. I fear the reaction later. But if they are an infant race, they are loveable like children. I have had fourteen years amongst them, and these last six weeks of parting from them have been some of the hardest in my life. They have a marvellous religion, and if I tried to account for it, I should say, "Well, they are really children". And that is about the most wonderful thing that can be said of them! Can it be said of you and me? Our Blessed Lord said: "Except ye repent and become as little children, ye can in no wise enter into the Kingdom of Heaven". As we grow up we put on an outside veneer and assume an artificiality; we put away the simplicity of childhood, and so get further away from the Kingdom of God. But our people of these infant races are still children in their faith, and they are still children in the simplicity of their lives. Some of the extraordinary answers they gave to Americans, Australians and. New Zealanders who questioned them about their religion are the same sort of answer that you would get from any small child of five or six years, sometimes so outspoken and pointed they take your breath away. It is the [30/31] simplicity of the Christian, of the Child of God. That simplicity was the witness of John Barge's daily life. His friendship, his sense of apostleship, his witness to all the simplicity of the great things of the Christian life--these are the things that we remember about him. I do not think we need lay a great deal of stress on the fact that he died at his post. He might have saved himself; he could have gone bush for awhile, and then gone back to save his people.

But what would you expect of a man in whose life the sense of apostleship was as marked as it was in the life of John Barge? That he should weigh up the chances of his own safety against what he knew to be, not only desertion of his own people, but denial of his God! He had been sent. His orders were to go and work amongst these people, and he remained, and in the remaining he gave his life.

Jesus said, "I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd giveth his life for his sheep. The hireling fleeth because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep". He, too, was a good shepherd; he knew his people each by name; and caring for them he witnessed even unto death. I said this morning, speaking in another place, that there are some people who will say, "What a waste". Men have said it right down the ages. To the woman who poured the ointment over our Lord's feet, even the apostles protested, "What a waste". But whether it was waste in their eyes or not, what this woman did will be spoken of as a memorial of her for all time throughout the world. Such offerings are not waste in the eyes of God. Whatever men are prepared to give Him, if it be signed with a sign of the Cross, given for His service, he will break it (and maybe will break the giver), but in breaking He blesses and makes it sufficient for His purposes and to meet all needs. There is no waste when men give themselves to the service of God, for they then rise above earthly values. There is no waste in the realms of eternity when things are viewed with the eyes of God.

Having spoken of the man, let me now, before I conclude, speak of the work he had been called to do. There has been an amazing change in the attitude of many men concerning missionary work, for they have seen it for themselves. They have seen the goods delivered; they have seen our schools and they have seen our hospitals. Over and over again Catalinas landed in Selwyn Bay, Ugi, in the Solomons. Servicemen going there saw the nurses at their work in the Mission hospital--its work uninterrupted throughout the war years. Then up the hill to Pawa school to see about 100 boys from some 27 different islands in the New Hebrides and Solomons at their school work, some training as medical orderlies; some as agricultural advisors, others as wireless operators; some as schoolmasters, and some as future clergy, and they have come away and said, "I would never believe you people [31/32] did this sort of thing". No, they had the old idea of the missionary, with a black hat and frock-coat, his hands clasped, the old family Bible tucked under his arm, going to teach a Gospel in which there was no joy! That caricature is one of the great mistakes that people make; that missionaries go out and disturb the simple, happy primitive life of these people who would be much better off if left alone; so much happier than if the missionary went to them. But I am not only concerned with the practical side of our work. I would like men to realise the fruits of the spiritual work. It is perfectly true that you can see, after a while, the change in the boys' faces after they come in from the bush villages, where heathendom reigned, into a mission station. Believe me, it is absolutely true. We have at the moment at my headquarters in the Solomons a temporary school of more than 60 youths, boys of 16 to 17, who, because of the isolation of their islands during the war years, our movements much restricted, being compelled to move by night by schooner, with enemy planes and shipping all around, were out of touch for several years. All had missed their chance of "school", and I have collected then brought them in as soon as possible when the Southern Cross returned to us last April.

If you had seen some of these boys when they first came in, you would have thought they looked pretty hopeless, and would have said, "What are you going to do with them?" Well, we first had to clean them up, for their bodies were covered with sores and ulcers, and we had to teach them cleanliness, because many came from bush villages where there was no water. (The springs are often a long way away; and the women and girls have a pretty heavy job every day bringing in water for drinking and cooking purposes, let alone for a wash.) We are now teaching them the value of an ordered life. They are getting up every morning at 6.30 a.m. to prayers in simple English. To begin with, not a single boy will know what they are about, for they speak some 16 or 17 different languages. But they come into the Chapel and there is an atmosphere about the place, for it is, indeed, a House of Prayer. They come in and kneel down and learn to say, "Our Father" before they have been there a few days. But although they won't understand much about it, they will be thinking, "Father". Why? "Father John! Father John Barge! Is that what Father means?" So they learn of the Fatherhood of God. You can see the change that comes over them as gradually they leave behind their villages and all that heathenism means; darkness, dirt, disease, devils; and they come down into the free and peaceful and loving atmosphere of the family of God.

The cold piercing look in the eyes of men who are always living in fear. Have you ever seen it? Have you seen the look in men's faces when they .are really frightened? I have seen it at times in white [32/33] men; now for 14 years I have seen it over and over again, particularly in the case of boys from the bush. If you have seen it you will never forget it. But at school it goes; and as time goes on, as they meet you on the path on the way to classrooms or to the dispensary, a smile comes over their faces. A few months ago they hardly knew how to smile. So they gradually move forward out of the bondage of darkness into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

This is not just verbiage from a missionary Bishop paid to say that kind of thing! This is the truth; the truth to which many men will testify, that there in the Islands, not merely by the work in the dispensaries and schools, not only by the salvation of men's bodies and the cleansing and the education of their minds, all of which bound up with the Gospel; but by the acceptance of the Gospel of the love of God these people are being redeemed from bondage, are being given new life and given a new liberty that can only be given to them, as it was given to men in the first place, by the giving of Life. He died that all men might be drawn unto Him; and men and women in His name are being called on now in this century to live, to give their lives not as John Barge did--in death--but to give their life day by day to his people for His sake. There may be some here, perhaps among you boys, who later on will be prepared to give themselves to Christ for His service, and give that service to Him by working for His children in the Islands of the South West Pacific. You good people of Australia have New Guinea, and you have the Mandated Territory; you have Bougainville and you have New Britain as your special care. Maybe, for political reasons, in the near future you may have the Solomons, the New Hebrides and other Islands which form a great front line of defence around your shores. If you assume political responsibility for these Islands, then surely you must assume the spiritual responsibility as well; and may there always be from this great land a stream of men and women prepared to go out and give themselves for Christ's sake in the service of these people.

Governments will provide schools and hospitals, it is true, but all they can do will be but a drop in the bucket compared with the need. We can give what these others do not necessarily give. They may give the milk of human kindness, but we give these people the knowledge of the eternal love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, who uttered these challenging words; "I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly." He gladly gave His Life that we should live. Down through the years men have given their lives for His people, in His name, for Him; even as our beloved brother, John Barge. "Who follows in their train?"

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