• Canon Paul Black, Rector

New Guinea Martyrs refused to abandon their posts

Sunday is the Feast of the New Guinea Martyrs who died as a consequence of the Japanese invasion of 1942. It is often said that the Church in Papua New Guinea grew out of the “blood of the martyrs.”

Growing up in my home parish of St Barnabas, North Rockhampton, I was well aware of the eleven Anglican martyrs, priests, nurses, teachers and an indigenous lay catechist who refused to leave – even after most civilians had been evacuated – because they were convinced that they were called by God to stay with their people.

Martyr, Vivian Redlich, served as a priest at St Barnabas before going to New Guinea. As a little boy, I was intrigued by Vivian’s photograph on the wall of my home church with a copy of a letter that he wrote from “Somewhere in the Papua bush July 27 1942.” The letter reads:

My dear Dad, The war has busted up here. I got back from Dogura and ran right into it – and am now somewhere in my parish trying to carry on, though my people are horribly scared. No news of May (May Hayman his fiancée) and I’m cut off from contacting her – my staff ok so far but in another spot. I’m trying to stick whatever happens. If I don’t come out of it just rest content that I’ve tried to do my job faithfully. Rush chance of getting word out, so forgive brevity. God bless you all, Vivian

That letter is held in the library at St Paul's Cathedral, London. It was very moving to hold his letter in my hands in 2007 while on a UK study tour.

As a St John’s community we have our own connection to martyrdom through the powerful witness of May Hayman. She was a parishioner and sat on a pew here before going to New Guinea in 1937 as a missionary nurse.

As the hostilities of war moved closer and closer to New Guinea she could have fled back to the safety of Australia. However, she had no desire to abandon her work and stayed at her post in Gona. She was engaged to Vivian Redlich who worked further inland at the Sangria mission.

During September 1942, St John’s parishioners were saddened as news filtered through of Sister May’s martyrdom at the hands of the Japanese invaders.

In a very real sense the whole New Testament was written in the shadow of persecution and martyrdom and it continues to this day.

The story of the New Guinea Martyrs has had a powerful influence on me when it has come to my own sense of vocation, the cost of discipleship and the call of God on my life.

Photo: May Hayman window at St John's Canberra


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