New Zealand was in the middle of a financial crisis. Wool prices were falling; gold returns had begun their steady decline in 1868. The New Zealand Government decided the best way to continue the colony's development was through immigration and the development of a network of roads, railways and ports. Scandinavia, it was decided, would provide exactly the right sort of immigrants for the bush communities. They had the right pedigree, came from democratic countries, assimilated easily into new communities and possessed the requisite forestry and farming skills.
Soon Germans, Norwegians, Swedes, and Scots arrived and founded Dannevirke, Norsewood and neighbouring districts. Many of these settlers had a church background, but were generally quite godless. One of the pioneers wrote, "The Luthern church is just about dead. If they have six at the service it is a good congregation!"
Edna, a widow, and her two daughters began a very successful Sunday School in their tiny home in 1885. Soon the mothers of the children asked if they could attend. When the fathers and other men asked if they too could attend, Edna sensed the impropriety of the proposal. Her home was small, but she promised an answer by the following Sunday.
Edna spent the next week in urgent prayer. On Saturday an evangelist, James Chrystall arrived unexpectedly. The next day all were invited to hear James Chrystall preach. Two adults became Christians. This was the beginning of the greatest revival in New Zealand among what was to become known as Christian Brethren Churches.
Soon another evangelist, James Dickie, joined Chrystall. Together, they began to zealously visit the district. One man was cutting a hedge when Chrystall invited him to become a Christian with the words, "No amount of trimming will do you-you'll have to come down root and branch." A few days later the man was converted as he listened to the Gospel preaching through a half-opened door after refusing to attend the meeting. Bert recalls that seeing Chrystall coming along the road, he and his teenage friends disappeared over a fence and hid. 'Suddenly Chrystall appeared and began to preach to us.' Bert became a Christian.
People were being almost irresistibly drawn to attend meetings to hear the strange new message of the forgiveness of sins through repentance and trust in Jesus Christ. A turning point came when a number of 'larrikins' rode past the school on horseback where a meeting was in progress, whistling and shouting in order to disturb the meeting. Suddenly the horse of the ringleader, a young girl, bolted up the road and threw her to her death. The resultant shock became the catalyst for many becoming Christians.
In this tiny district of Maharahara, just outside of Dannevirke, New Zealand, in the space of about nine months, more than fifty people put their faith in Christ. It was the larger part of the community and included whole families including my grandfather Walter Graham and his brothers. These were not shallow conversions; for the obituaries published many years later tell the stories of lifetimes of faithful service for God.
Dr Keith Graham