New Zealand is found in the south-west Pacific. Our country consists of two large islands, one smaller island, and numerous very much smaller islands. It is usual to refer to the main islands as the “North Island” and the “South Island“. We are not too far from Australia. We sometimes refer jokingly to Australia as the “West Island“, but to say we are Australian would be like suggesting that Canadians come from the USA!
New Zealand is a land of spectacular scenery. Vast mountain chains, steaming volcanoes, sweeping coastlines, deeply indented fiords and lush rainforests are all squeezed into an area comparable in size and/or shape to Great Britain, Colorado or Japan. With a population of only just over 4 million (80% are of British/European descent and New Zealand’s indigenous Maori make up around 14% of the population) it is one of the world’s least crowded countries. The climate is mild and the scenery beautiful year round. God has truly blessed us. Why not come and see for yourself?
Kiwis and “Kiwis”
You will sometimes hear New Zealanders refer to themselves as “Kiwis”. The Kiwi bird is about the size of a domestic hen. It has an extremely long beak and plumage that is more like hair than feathers. New Zealanders have adopted this odd looking, nocturnal, flightless creature as a national emblem. Go figure!
New Zealanders have probably been referred to as Kiwis since the First World War, when New Zealand soldiers acquired this nickname. In the international financial markets the NZ dollar is frequently called “the Kiwi”. Our dollar coin features a kiwi bird on one side. Perhaps the best-known kiwi is the Kiwifruit. This small green fruit has won worldwide recognition for the name “Kiwi”.
The Maori were first to settle New Zealand. They made an epic voyage from the legendary Hawaiki, probably in Polynesia to the north of New Zealand, about 1000 years ago. Legend says their great explorer Kupe, first discovered New Zealand and named it Aotearoa – Land of the Long White Cloud.
The first documented European to discover New Zealand was the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman. He came here in 1642 in search of the fabled great southern continent. Over 125 years later, in 1769, Captain James Cook claimed Aotearoa for Britain and produced the first known map of the country.
The Treaty of Waitangi is seen as the founding document which established New Zealand as a nation. It was signed in 1840 between leading Maori chiefs and representatives of the British Crown at Waitangi, in theÂ Bay of Islands. The signing of the treaty took place on 6 February, which has become New Zealand’s national day, known as‘Waitangi Day’.
Though the scenery is wild, we have grown into a mature, “civilised” country. We have historic ties to Britain through New Zealand’s membership of the British Commonwealth and we follow a British parliamentary style of government, but New Zealand itself is a sovereign nation in its own right. We have a fully developed, modern western-style economy. We have cell phones, lap tops and everything that whizzes and bangs. There is poverty in New Zealand, but unlike many of the world’s cities there are no slums. Materially, most lack for nothing. Spiritually, though, it is a different story!
The largest concentration of people in New Zealand is in the greater Auckland area. Sprawling from coast to coast on the North Island, Auckland’s many harbours and the love of many of its 1.2+ million inhabitants for the sea has earned it the name, “The City of Sails“.
Christianity In New Zealand
New Zealand, once known as “God’s Own“, is disowning God. That’s how it looks to a born and bred “Kiwi” like me. The 1996 Census showed that only57% of the population consider themselves Christian in any sense whatsoever (Remember, New Zealand is a so-called “Christian country“). This was a 7% drop over the previous five years. At this rate, less than half of New Zealanders will be even nominally Christian in a few years time.
The census figures for “Christianity” do not distinguish nominal Christians from those people who are truly born again. In my own city of Auckland for example, If all the churches were filled to bursting on a Sunday morning we could not seat more than 20% of the population. The churches are not filled to bursting and probably no more than 10% of the population are in church most weeks. There are literally thousands of people in Auckland who would even call themselves “evangelical Christians” but attend no church.
Of those under 30 only 47% are in any way affiliated to Christianity, compared with 57% of the middle age group and 75% of the 60+ age group. The church is falling further behind as a percentage of the population in the future. The church as a whole is failing to reach or appeal to young people, despite the fact that tremendous efforts are being made to minister to them.
Those who say they have “no religion”, now make up almost 4 out of 10 people according to the 2001 Census.
Other Religions In New Zealand
Though pretty much everyone speaks English, New Zealand is a country of increasing ethnic and cultural diversity. Traditionally a country of Maori, Europeans and Pacific Islanders, the most recent census counted more people of Asian ethnicity than Pacific ethnicity. Almost 1 in 5 New Zealand residents were born overseas! The number of New Zealand residents born in Europe has declined since 1996, while there have been large increases in numbers from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
All this has lead to a staggering increase in the practice of non-Christian religions (mainly among the immigrant population). The non-Christian religions are growing apace, both through immigration and birth rate. Hindus now outnumber Brethren. And if the trend continues it will not be many years hence that Buddhists will outnumber Baptists. The number of Muslims too is increasing!
There has also been an increase in occult groups such as Spiritualism and Satanism, over the last ten to fifteen years. The numbers of official, ‘fully paid-up, card carrying members’ of the “New Age Movement” are always difficult to pin down, but responses to the Dalai Lama‘s visit suggests interest is high. Many people read the stars (astrology), use feng shui in their homes, carry a crystal, or practise “Eastern-style” yoga and meditation. Those who consider themselves of “no religion” are the “baby boomers”. The young have not so much abandoned spiritual things as they have abandoned the church and the God of the Bible.
Families In Strife
The new “secular” New Zealand is not working. New Zealand has falling educational standards and increasing crime and unemployment. Much of this can be traced to the breakdown of families. New Zealand has the highest number of families headed by single females in the western world. We have one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world. As a society we are not very good when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable. There were 17,400 abortions last year, a thousand more than the previous year. We have recently passed into law (by one vote)The Prostitution Reform Bill. The prostitution trade (soliciting, pimping and brothel keeping) will now be legal here. International evidence suggests this law will increase the size of the sex trade and all it’s inherent abuses. This can only serve to further undermine families.
The Advent Christian Conference of New Zealand
In the midst of all of this spiritual turmoil the Advent Christian Conference of New Zealand is committed to a vision of making disciples, not just converts; people who will follow Christ, not just go to Church. No one would claim that the Advent Christian Church is unique in this but it is exciting to see how Advent Christian churches around the world are making this vision a reality. As a group of churches and as individuals we in New Zealand want to disciple our nation, the nations around about us, and the nations of the world. As part of the worldwide Advent Christian movement, committed to the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16-20), we want to invest our lives in something that will count for eternity.