Giving our all

Mavis Parkinson

Pentecost 14, 2012

New Guinea Martyrs

Marian Free

 In the name of God in whose service we are asked to give our all. Amen.

 There were many speeches made during the second World War to inspire the troops, to give courage to those experiencing the bombing raids and so on. On the 31st of January 1942, Bishop Philip Strong made his regular radio broadcast to the missionaries in New Guinea.  It is  a war time speech worth repeating almost in full. He said:

“Now I would like a heart-to-heart talk with you. As far as I know, you are all at your posts and I am very glad and thankful about this. I have from the first felt that we must endeavour to carry on our work in all circumstances no matter what the cost may ultimately be to any of us individually. God expects this of us. The Church at home, which sent us out, will surely expect it of us. The Universal Church expects it. The tradition and history of missions requires it of us. Missionaries who have been faithful to the uttermost and are now at rest are surely expecting it of us. The people whom we serve expect it of us. We could never hold up our faces again, if, for our own safety, we all forsook Him and fled when the shadows of the Passion began to gather around Him in His Spiritual Body, the Church in Papua. Our life in the future would be burdened with shame and we could not come back here and face our people again; and we would be conscious always of rejected opportunities. The history of the Church tells us that missionaries do not think of themselves in the hour of danger and crisis, but of the Master who called them to give their all, and of the people they have been trusted to serve and love to the uttermost. His watchword is none the less true today, as it was when he gave it to the first disciples–“Whosoever will save his life will lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for My sake and the Gospel’s shall find it.

No one requires us to leave. No one has required us to leave. The reports some of you have heard of orders to this effect did not emanate from official or authoritative sources. But even if anyone had required us to leave, we should then have had to obey God rather then men.“

No, my bothers and sisters, fellow workers in Christ, whatever others my do, we cannot leave. We shall not leave. We shall stand by our trust. We shall stand by our vocation.

We do not know what it may mean to us. Many think us fools and mad. What does that matter? If we are fools, “we are fools for Christ’s sake”. I cannot foretell the future. I cannot guarantee that all will be well–that we shall all come through unscathed. One thing only I can guarantee is that if we do not forsake Christ here in Papua in His Body, the Church, He will not forsake us. He will uphold us; He will strengthen us and He will guide us and keep us though the days that lie ahead. If we all left, it would take years for the Church to recover from our betrayal of our trust. If we remain–and even if the worst came to the worst and we were all to perish in remaining–the Church would not perish, for there would have been no breach of trust in its walls, but its foundations and structure would have received added strength for the future building by our faithfulness unto death.”[1]

As a result of this message and as a consequence of the commitment and courage of the missionaries all but a few remained at their posts. During the course of the war that ensued twelve Anglicans, men and women, were executed as the Japanese advanced from the north eastern coast towards the Kokoda trail and Port Moresby. Of those twelve, two represented the Queensland Diocese – Mavis Parkinson (a young teacher from Ipswich) and Vivian Redlich (an English priest who had served as a Bush Brother before volunteering to serve in New Guinea).  Mavis is commemorated in our Te Deum window (as are two other New Guinea martyrs – May Hayman and The Rev’d John Barge). Seventy years ago, on September 1, 1942, Mavis and another woman May Hayman – a nurse – who had been captured by the Japanese, were taken by their captors to pre-dug graves where they were repeatedly bayoneted and then buried.

It is impossible to give you a full account, but I recommend that you read further (see below).

According to an unfinished letter from Mavis, the two women and a priest fled their mission station when they saw several Japanese boats off the coast. The crews began to shell the station and to disembark soldiers. When they realised that they were at risk, the three gathered a few belongings and some food and set off (as they had been instructed) to a neighbouring mission. They reached a  nearby village in safety but decided that they posed a risk to the locals. and so determined to move on.  In a letter home Mavis describes the events in detail. She tells how they left the path and struck off through the jungle in order to avoid the enemy. She relates the experience of sleeping rough with the cacophony of the jungle ringing in their ears and of struggling to find a way around a swamp before coming again to a recognizable path.

After a time, Mavis, May and the priest from the mission joined some Australian and Papuan servicemen who offered to escort them to Popondetta. However, before they reached safety,  their whereabouts was betrayed. The group were ambushed and separated. The women were captured, imprisoned and interrogated. When they refused to cooperate they were taken out and killed.

Saints and martyrs do not belong to a long forgotten age, but live and die for God even in our own time. In the twentieth century, there were more martyrs than in all the centuries before that. The lives and witness of such people challenge us to be true to our faith, strong in the face of difficulty and courageous in the presence of danger.  As today we remember the example of Mavis Parkinson, may we be challenged and encouraged to strengthen our own faith so that in the unlikely event that we will be called to stand firm, we will not be found wanting.

Further reading:

Faithful unto Death by E.C. Rowland (available in full on the web).

Vivian Redlich’s brother David has written an account of his life.

A google search will reveal other references/sermons.


Advertisements

Tags: , , , , ,


%d bloggers like this: