Friday, March 5, 2021

The year was 1797. We remember Henry Nott and his mission to Tahiti. The reading is from James K. Baxter.

It is the 5th of March 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1797.

The Gospel message in the Great Commission of Jesus is not that "you have to do it" but that it is happening, and even the gates of Hell can't keep the Word from going to the ends of the earth. And on this show, we have recently been following the message of Jesus, often going to far-off lands (from my perspective in Southern California.) And we have noted that it was the 18th and 19th centuries that saw an explosion in missions with the parallel explosion in travel and international diplomacy.

About one century after our remembrance for today (so, in the late 1800s), the Post-Impressionist Paul Gaugin had had enough. Sick of the modern world, he decided to travel to the most remote location he could think. Gaugin took off for Tahiti, where he was sure there would be no trace of the European world. He was shocked to find a very curious blend of tribal, traditional, and Christian influences and a very 19th century European Baptist kind of Christianity. The missionaries had already arrived.

[Side note: check out Gaugin's paintings made in Tahiti. Brilliant, bright, evocative, and troubling. Questions about his "enlightened" depictions of so-called "savages" have hounded the artist in recent years.]

In 1797, on the 5th of March that 18 missionaries first landed on Tahiti's shore. The Island in French Polynesia known as the "Queen of the Pacific" would be forever changed on account of the 22-year-old Essex-based Missionary Henry Nott and his companions. The King, Pomare, welcomed the Westerners as he was likely seeking protection and wealth. The missionaries were more than shocked by what they experienced. Their records (which, please note, are only their records and not exempt from exaggeration) detailed a barbaric people who ritually killed their newborn, wore the corpses of their defeated foes, and worshipped a pantheon of capricious and wicked Gods. Captain James Cook wrote of the Tahitians, "There is an abyss of dissolute sensuality into which these people have sunk, wholly unknown to every other nation and which no imagination could possibly conceive."

Once Nott and his fellow Missionaries were beginning to settle in, the Napoleonic Wars began, which affected navigation on the seas. For almost five years, there were no expected supply ships: no furloughs or fresh workers. The records are understandably discreet, but many of Nott's companions deserted, died, or went mad. The former bricklayer was isolated and determined to preach to the Tahitians in their own language. Nott and King Pomare had a mutually beneficial relationship, but the king never embraced the Christian faith. In fact, after 22 years, there was not one baptism on the island.

The son of the King, Pomare II, took a different approach to the faith and was publicly baptized by Nott in 1819. The story is both political and religious as Pomare II was fixing to become the Constantine of the South Seas. It didn't work out like that for him, but the church developed a base in what would become French Polynesia.

Henry Nott spent 47 years on the island, only coming back to England twice. The last time he went home, he presented Queen Victoria with his crowning achievement, a New Testament translated into the Tahitian language. We remember his landing on the Tahitian shore for the first time on the 5th of March in 1797.

The reading for today comes from James K. Baxter, a poet from New Zealand, a Christian and defender of the Maori culture of the southwestern Pacific Ocean where Henry Nott lived some 200 years prior. This is "Satan's Battle."

'Neath shimmering pools of blackest night
That ne'er let in the noonday light,
There lay the gates of Hell:
'Twas there the devil Prince of Night
Challenged to meet in single fight
That heavenly messenger of Right,
The Angel Gabriel.

They met, but e'er they fought he saw
Those symbols of Celestial Law,
The Scales, proclaim his foe
Would victor be; He, to withdraw
Was fain; He opened wide his maw
And gave one last and fiendish roar,
Then to his lair did go.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 5th of March 2021 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by a man who dreams of Firi Firi donuts and Tahitian Noni Juice. He is Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.

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