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Feast of the Martyrs of Melanesia, 1864-2003 (September 27)   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of New Zealand and Melanesia, 1958

Image Scanned and Cropped from Hammond’s World Atlas–Classics Edition (1958)

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INTRODUCTION

The Feast of the Martyrs of Melanesia comes to this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.  This feast overlaps with two other commemorations from various provinces of the Anglican Communion–that of John Coleridge Patteson and His Companions (September 20) and that of the Martyrs of the Melanesian Brotherhood (April 24).

1864-1871

The first Anglican martyrs in Melanesia were Frederick Lorenzo Fisher Young (usually known as Fisher Young) and Edwin Nobbs, who died in 1864.  Young and Nobbs were descendants of H.M.S. Bounty mutineers; Young was a great-great-grandson of Fletcher Christian (1792-1842).  Young, born on January 27, 1846, was a native of Pitcairn Island.  Nobbs was a son of an Anglican priest stationed on Norfolk Island, the headquarters of the Melanesian Mission.  In 1864 Young, Nobbs, and Bishop John Coleridge Patteson were on Santa Cruz Island when natives shot them with arrows.  Young and Nobbs contracted tetanus and lockjaw.  Young died on August 24, after having forgiven his assailants.

I have already written about the martyrdoms of Joseph Atkin, Stephen Taroniara, and Bishop Patteson in 1871.

1904-1926

Others came to wear the crown of martyrdom, also.

  1. Arthur Ako died in his garden in 1904.  In 1898 he and fifteen converts from Fiji founded a Christian village at Kwara’ae, Fiu.  Within two years, with the addition of non-Fijian Christians, the village’s population had increased to about 100.  Hostile neighbors harassed the villagers.  The village remained after Ako’s murder and became the center of the spread of the faith in the area.
  2. James Ivo, a teacher from Nggela, died (by shooting) at Ngorefou in 1906.
  3. James Sili, falsely accused of sorcery, was standing on the veranda of the mission-house when someone fatally shot him in 1910.
  4. Charles Christopher Godden, born in Violet Town, Victoria, Australia, in 1876, was a poet, as well as the first Australian missionary to die in Melanesia.  He, ordained to the Anglican diaconate in 1899 and the priesthood the following year, was briefly the Curate of St. Michael’s Church, Surry Hills.  He volunteered for missionary work.  On September 3, 1900, Godden left for Norfolk Island, headquarters of the Melanesian Mission.  He arrived in Omba, New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) in April 1901.  There Godden supervised the construction of a church building and some schools.  On December 12, 1905, while on leave in Sydney, Australia, he married Eva Dearin (d. 1964).  They returned to Omba the following April.  On October 16, 1906, an angry, vengeful Melanesian man, released from an Australian prison after serving his sentence for attempted murder, killed Godden, who had never done anything to him, but was of European ancestry.  Our saint’s murderer was angry at people of European ancestry, due to his incarceration.  Eva gave birth to a daughter, Ruth, in July 1907.
  5. Ben Teilo, from Matema, was the first native Reef Islander ordained to the Anglican priesthood, in 1919.  He met his martyrdom via an axe attack in 1926.

2003

1998-2003 was a time of crisis in the Solomon Islands.  Two rival militias, the Isatubu Freedom Movement and the Malaitan Eagle Force, fought over competition between ethnic groups for land and jobs.  Government instability ensued, the economy suffered, and natural disasters made bad manners worse.  Military forces from Australia and New Zealand helped to stabilize the situation and end the crisis by the end of 2003, three years after the signing of the peace treaty.

Nathaniel Sado was a novice in the Melanesian Brotherhood.  He, in charge of the piggery, liked the pigs very much and fed them sweet potatoes he had picked from his garden then cooked.  Sado and animals got along well; he was one of the few novices the donkey liked.  Our saint, a native of the volcanic island of Savo, enjoyed taking expatriates to the hot springs there.  Sado, who was naïve, had befriended Harold Keke, notorious leader of the Isatubu Freedom Movement, and a man responsible for the murder of two priests, one of them a Member of Parliament in 2002.  Sado thought he really knew Keke; he was terribly mistaken.  Sado, accused of being a government spy, sang hymns as guerrillas beat him death at Easter (April 20) 2003.

Six Melanesian Brothers went to ask for Sado’s corpse.  They paid with their lives on or about April 23, 2003.

  1. Robin Lindsay was the Assistant Head Brother.  He, a longterm member of the Melanesian Brotherhood, was, according to the Father Richard Carter, a chaplain to the Brotherhood, “the encourager,” and a man who had a gift for helping people build on their strengths.
  2. Francis Tofi worked for peace in the strife-torn Solomon Islands.  He organized an effort, in conjugation with police, to sink all the ammunition, explosives, and high-powered weapons they could find into the sea, beyond reach.  Tofi, an expert in peaceful conflict resolution and an advocate for disarmament, fearlessly spoke out against Keke.  Tofi had received an offer from the World Council of Churches to accept a place at the Bossey Institute in Geneva and to assist with a course on conflict resolution.  He, according to his own words, had no fear of dying for the sake of peace and in the service of God.
  3. Alfred Hilly, stationed for two years at a the Chester Resthouse in Honiara, was the epitome of hospitality, teaching an abandoned child to read, tending to visiting children, and reading blood slides at the local malaria clinic.
  4. Ini Partabatu was an actor and a courageous opponent of injustice.  He acted in dramas about development and health issues.  Partabatu also condemned brutal police tactics that disrespected the rights of the accused.
  5. Patteson Gatu, admitted to the Melanesian Brotherhood in October 2002, was usually quick to smile.  His sense of humor, combined with his faith, made him an agent of grace.
  6. Tony Sirihi, having lost his father at an early age, found a family in the Melanesian Brotherhood.  He grew into a bold Brother, a courageous man, and a good friend who participated in the process of disarmament.

In March 2005 Harold Keke and two former guerrillas received life sentences for the murder of Father Augustine Geve, M.P., in 2002.

CONCLUSION

These are sobering stories that remind one of the command of Jesus to take up one’s cross and follow him.  Some follow Christ all the way to their own Golgotha.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PETER OF CHELCIC, BOHEMIAN HUSSITE REFORMER; AND GREGORY THE PATRIARCH, FOUNDER OF THE MORAVIAN CHURCH

THE FEAST OF GODFREY THRING, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JANE CREWDSON, ENGLISH QUAKER POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF NARAYAN SESHADRI OF JALNI, INDIAN PRESBYTERIAN EVANGELIST AND “APOSTLE TO THE MANGS”

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Creator God, whose majesty is in the storms as well as in the calm,

we thank you for those of every race who gave their lives in Melanesia for the sake of Christ;

may we your church always proclaim your gospel, live your commandments,

and overcome the powers of darkness; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer.  Amen.

or

God, you call us, your missionaries, to carry our lives in our hands;

we praise you for many servants in Melanesia whose lives

were taken by those for whom they would gladly have given them.  Amen.

Isaiah 26:1-4

Psalm 97 or 149

Colossians 1:9-14

John 12:20-26

–The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia

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