ALL FRIENDS OF MELANESIA will sympathize with and share in the consternation with which the English Executive Committee heard of the following Resolutions, which were passed unanimously by the Melanesian Mission Finance Board in Auckland on 24th March:—
(1) "That it be a recommendation to the Bishop that a reduction in the number of Native Pupils at each of the Mission Colleges and Schools be effected by not less than one third."
(2) " That the Bishop might see his way to inviting the Staff of the Mission to accede to a suggestion of a reduction in stipends of ten per cent."
In addition to this, news was received to the effect that the amount that the Australian Board of Missions would be able to contribute to the cost of the proposed visit of the Southern Cross to the new sphere of work in the Mandated Territory was £250 less than the estimated cost of that, most necessary, visit.
It must be clearly understood that these reductions are not prompted by any idea of economy, or intended to limit the extravagances of the missionaries, but are a counsel of despair caused by the fact that the churches of Australia and New Zealand are unable to provide the money necessary for the upkeep of the present work of the Mission.
It is not our business to criticize the action of the Board in Auckland; they have enough worries and anxieties without our adding to them, and are, as I know personally, all most loyal and zealous friends of Melanesia: but, it is our business and our bounden duty (1) to realize what these [83/84] suggested reductions mean and (2) to see to it that it does not become necessary to put them into effect.
All through the History of the Melanesian Mission it has been the native converts who have been the evangelizers of Melanesia. The reduction of Scholars in our schools and colleges will not be merely a temporary economy, but will mean that the supply of agents for the evangelization of Melanesia will, in a few years, be far short of the necessary numbers for the spread of Christianity in the Islands.
Again, if the Southern Cross is unable to visit the Mandated Territories, it will mean that the work and workers there will be left without the very necessary Episcopal help and oversight which is already overdue; while the suggested reduction in stipends will mean to the already underpaid missionaries just the difference between possible poverty and impossible!
With a full sense of the meaning of my words, I do not hesitate in saying that it will be a sin if the work of the Training of the future Clergy and Teachers is hindered or the visit of the Bishop to the Mandated Territory prevented; and that it will be a crime if the missionaries are asked to accept a reduction in their stipends or the Bishop allowed to pay for necessary work out of his own stipend.
It has always been the glory of the Mission that it has accepted its call to service as a great adventure for Christ. It has never hitherto admitted the possibility of reducing its work, even during the difficult times of the Great War and the years immediately succeeding. On the contrary, it has even accepted new responsibilities, as in the Mandated Territories, confident of the fact that it was taking up a challenge on behalf of the Church and doing no more than obeying the command of its Lord and Master, and, therefore, convinced that it could not be allowed to fail.
Now the challenge has been thrown down, with an even louder and more insistent call for reduction, and, in that same Spirit of confident faith in the Church of Christ, I, on behalf of the English Executive Committee, call on you, at whatever sacrifice, to take up that challenge, gladly, willingly, happily, and see to it that neither shall the work be reduced nor shall the missionaries be asked to undertake a burden heavier than they can bear.
+JOHN M. STEWARD.
Formerly Bishop of Melanesia.
P.S.—I should, perhaps, say that this letter is written at the request of the Executive Committee and on their behalf, though I alone am responsible for the wording of it.