When missionaries first arrived in New Zealand in the 1850's, they came with a message for all. It was one of God's love for all of His children, of restored New Testament Christianity, of revelation, and of additional scripture testifying of Jesus Christ.
After some years of mixed success among the general population, the early Mormon missionaries began to dedicate more of their time to reaching out specifically to Māori individuals and communities. As many Māori believed in modern-day prophecy and were open to Mormon teachings, wards were established in several parts of the country throughout the second half of the 19th Century. Mormon missionaries lived in Māori communities, learned the language and became intimately acquainted with Māoritanga (culture).
Paul Mendenhall, now 86-years old, served a mission in New Zealand from 1947 to 1950.
As a young 19-year-old fresh from America, learning te reo wasn’t easy.
“What helped is that I loved the Māori people,” he said.
“You couldn’t get on the marae unless you could speak or say certain things. You didn’t have to be articulate but I learnt that even if you’re a Pakeha, just go for it!”
Paul lived among the Ngāpuhi community and now resides on his ranch in Alpine, Utah. He has four children and “many” grandchildren.
“It was the best thing in the world to know and learn the language,” he said.
“The Māori are wonderful people, I love them. I would do anything for them.”
Even though strong connections between Mormons and Māori continued into the 20th Century, the ethnic diversification of New Zealand over recent decades and the Mormon desire to reach out to all people resulted in the Church becoming more multicultural.
Mormonism in New Zealand has been enriched in significant ways over the past century and a half by its Māori members. Tens of thousands have unified and edified wards with their faith, energy, dedication and many other talents and contributions.
To view photographs, journal entries, letters and other historical treasures about the history of the Maori Saints and the language, visit The Matthew Cowley Pacific Church History Centre in Temple View, Hamilton.