Project Canterbury

A Missionary Vocation.

By C.E. Fox

From Southern Cross Log, New Series, No. 6, Sydney, July 1, 1938, pp. 32-34.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2012


The following is a portion of an article written by the well-known New Zealander, the Reverend C. E. Fox, M.A., Litt.D., for a N.Z. Diocesan paper. It is pleasing to remember that Dr. Fox has completed thirty-five years' service in Melanesia.

No one can read the life of Edward Wilson, Scott's companion in the Antarctic, without seeing clearly that here was vocation, a leading to this work through natural likes and dislikes, bent of mind and circumstances. The vocation becomes clear in the retrospect. It only became clear to St. Paul as he looked back, but then he realised there was vocation "from his mother's womb." So it must be with many a missionary. There is a desire to pass on the things that seem to the man the greatest things in the world; and then the natural turn of his mind and the circumstances of his life, the Vocation, call him to some particular place.

I look back at my own boyhood—a boy in Gisborne. We played all the games that children love, made houses in trees, played shop, buying with white pebbles bits of broken crockery (my father had a valuable set of dark green plates, and what a joy it was when one got broken); having a circus of our own after seeing Worth's Wild West Show (we made the old grey mare canter slowly round a ring, and I nearly choked a Canon of the Church in my laudible attempts to improve my knowledge of the art of lassooing—the rope settled beautifully round his neck to my surprise and his indignation) and so on; but my own special delight was the study of strange languages—I did not mind what, they all fascinated me. After every Synod my father bought me a fresh English dictionary. He was pleased I think that I preferred this present to any other. It was because I was making a collection of works beginning with x; I know them still very well; and also I was trying to find the longest word in English (I decided for supervacaneousness, the longest I could find, even now I count the letters subconsciously when I see a very long word and feel pleased when it passes that limit of 18 letters). Then I invented a boys' secret society. We built underground rooms, and stored sand balls on the roof of the vicarage, which blocked the gutters after rain and led to investigations. And we had a secret language invented by myself, [32/33] which perhaps I spoke better than the other "Dynamistai" (as we called ourselves) but of course the author of the language, who can always add new words, has a certain advantage in speaking it.

Then in my last year at Napier High School, when I was wicketkeeper for the XI, intensely fond of cricket and football (as I have remained ever since), came the Melanesians from Norfolk Island playing cricket against New Zealand schools. They were at an early communion in Napier Cathedral and I followed them up the hill. Here were languages and strange sounds beyond my dreams. I went up and asked them if they would play us at cricket; they would and did, and I kept wickets and distinguished myself by failing to stump at the beginning of his first innings the batsman (Joe Leo), who made top score for them. As I explained to the umpire (E. H. Williams} I was gazing rapt in admiration at his mop of fuzzy hair, not at his feet. After being bowled for four I went and sat by their scorer (Arthur Britain), and talked of Melanesia. I knew where I was going. First came five years while I took my degree (and became a "Student Volunteer" on John Mott's first visit), and then a year of waiting, rejected by the doctor as not strong enough to last in Melanesia, and then the arrival, and the finding the Melanesians ever more likeable than I expected, and then the knowledge that there was no other place on earth where I would rather be.

So it was that vocation to Melanesia came through a natural fascination for queer languages and a love of cricket; and when I saw Melanesians it was a case of love at first sight and ever after. It does not seem to me much use if a man goes to a people whom he finds he can't like. There have been such in Melanesia, and it is best for them to go—lack of vocation surely.

But after you get to your field of work comes the test of your vocation, and there is one hill of difficulty which everyone seems to come up against from one to three years after they arrive. There comes a time when the first attractiveness wears off a bit, work is humdrum; at the same time the man has a lot of fever which makes him feel like a worm and no man (never write a letter when you have malaria); at the same time he seems to struggle hopelessly at the language; only a genius like Patteson can "pick up" a language, the rest of us can only learn it by sheer hard work, and for a time it seems to defy all efforts; at the same time perhaps he is feeling more lonely away from all white people, because the Melanesians round him are not really his friends yet, as his white friends were, so he is more lonely than he ever will be again; all these things come together and make the hill he has to get over; more than half who came to Melanesia never get over it and go back; to those who cross it the reward is rich.

And there is one—shall we call it annoyance—when he goes on holiday. People seem to think it is rather fine of him to be a missionary in Melanesia—women are more unbalanced than men in this, fortunately most of the men think him rather a fool. He is neither a fool nor a fine fellow. He is living in the place he likes best and among the people he likes best in the world and doing the work for which he has a vocation. What more could he desire? Nor does it seem to be any use to sympathise with New Zealanders for having to live in New Zealand, and to express admiration for their self-sacrifice. They don't believe you. Perhaps they also are where they wish to be.

[34] There is one sine qua non for the missionary. He must have a sense of humour. Should he not be tested? Could he not appear before the Bishops or the Missionary Board, who would make prepared jokes to one another and watch his reaction? Something should be done, for he will need a sense of humour.

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