Healing and Revival
"Spiritual, Physical, and Political Healing for the Maori People"
Tahupotiki Wiremu (Bill) Ratana was born January 25, 1873 in the district of Rangitikei. Ratana was raised by his foster mother Ria Te Ra I Kokiritia Ai Hamuera and was baptised into the Methodist Church. His aunt, Mere Rikiriki, ran the "Holy Ghost Mission" and had a reputation for faith healing. There was also a strong prophetic tradition within the Maori culture. In 1881 a local Christian leader, Te Potangaroa, prophesied that a church would be raised up that would be just for the Maori people. People recognized as having a prophetic gift were called "the mouthpice of God" by the Maori. Ratana's aunt prophesied several times that Ratana would receive a sign from God and become a Maori spiritual leader. Ratana struggled in his early life with "hearing voices" which some people thought was mental illness and others the hand of God. He only attended school for a short time, reaching the fourth standard (grade). He left school and went to a family farm where he led a rather wild life. He soon began drinking and eventually became an alcoholic. He married Urumanao Ngapaki in 1900 and his life began to stabilize. His wife was a Methodist and brought Ratana back to thinking about spiritual things.
During Ratan's developing years the Maori people of New Zealand were struggling with identity and loss. Much of Maori land had been seized by European settlers. The Maori people had died from European diseases, the introduction of liquor, and several wars fought to try and hold their tribal lands. Although many Maori had accepted Christ, due to missionary influence, they rejected the European face of Christianity because of the abuse and deception carried out by those claiming to follow Christ. In 1918 the worldwide influenza attack struck the Maori particularly hard. Over 2% of the entire Maori population died, most of them within a three-week period. It was a time of staggering sorrow and some Maori believed that it was a judgment on them for becoming Christians and leaving their tribal Gods.
Then on March 17, 1918 a significant event occurred in Ratana's life. He was camping on a beach, with two of his sons, when large ocean waves rose up and threw two whales upon the beach. This would have been considered a sacred sign in the culture. Ratana called his family and they processed the whales producing enough meat and oil to support the family for the next two years. Later this sign was to be defined as two missions that Ratana would have in his life. October 1918 brought the terrible influenza plague. Ratana's family was particularly hard hit. He came down with the flu but recovered. From 21 of his cousins only he and two sisters remained alive after the attack.
On November 8, 1918 Ratana was sitting on his porch when he saw a cloud rise from the sea and rapidly approach him. He stood up and the cloud enfolded him. He heard the following words. "Fear not, I am the Holy Ghost. I have traveled around the world to find the people upon who I can stand. I have come back to Aotearoa to choose you, the Maori people. Repent! Cleanse yourself and your family as white as snow, as sinless as the wood pigeon. Ratana, I appoint you as the Mouthpiece of God for the multitude of the land. Unite the Maori people, turning them to Jehovah of the Thousands, for this is His compassion to all of you." When Ratana went inside and told his family what had happened they thought that he was crazy at first. Later he saw an angel appear to him and repeat that he was called to turn the Maori people all over New Zealand away from spiritualistic and superstitious beliefs back to God. He was told he was called to heal the spirits and bodies of his people. Ratana threw all alcohol out of his house and immediately ended his business as the local bookie. He began reading and meditating on the Bible. He also felt tested in his faith and began praying for the sick. He often struggled under the pressure and walked the plains at night crying out to God.
The next few years were a whirlwind for Ratana. People began arriving at his house with tents, and even building small wooden shanties on his land. Eventually the crowds became hundreds and thousands. Everyone he prayed for was required to give up superstitions and believe in the Trinity. One distinction of Ratana was also the additional emphasis on the "Faithful Angels" who were God's ministers to man, possibly from his own angelic experiences. He would not pray for non-Maori people in person as he felt called to his own people but he would pray for those who sent letters to him. Healings became so common he was known as the "Maori Miracle Man" as newspaper articles about him began to appear. A non-denominational church was built on his land so that services could be held there. The first services included both Protestant and Catholic leaders. The Christmas 1920 service had over 3000 attendees and over 100 healings were recorded.
1921 and 1922 were years of dramatic increase. Ratana traveled throughout the North and South Islands. Everywhere he went he called the Maori people to give up the old superstitions and convert to Christianity. Thousands came to his meetings where he regularly prophesied and healed the sick. Ratana was supportive of doctors and medicine. He asked people to seek God first but encouraged people to seek medical help if they did not improve. Although Ratana was initially supported by regular denominations concern was beginning to be raised on three fronts. Firstly Ratana kept a distance from European people and he believed that Maori people should have Maori leadership. He would not meet with the press because he had endured extreme criticism and antagonism. His secretary handled all questions suggesting to some that there was secrecy involved in the movement. Secondly many of the people converted under Ratana were seeing him as their spiritual leader and not the denominational churches, which hoped to disciple the new converts. Finally Ratana's emphasis on the "Faithful Angels" was considered out of the mainstream and somewhat suspect. By 1922 Ratana had received over 70,000 letters from all over New Zealand and from other countries, reflecting how far his fame had grown.
By 1924 Ratana's ministry of physical healing was fading. He said later that it was because people were looking to him rather than to God. It appeared that he was drinking again, even though he had emphatically preached against the effects of alcohol on the Maori. On March 18, 1924 Ratana and his family visited Mt Taranaki and Parihaka where he heard a voice reminding him to take care of the land of his people . He felt called to a new mission, creating political equality for the Maori people. In 1840 The Treaty of Waitangi was written between the Government of England and the Maori people. It recognized the prior occupation by Maori people of New Zealand and extended them the status and rights of British citizens. This treaty was largely ineffective, however. In 1924 Ratana took a group of Maori from his church and went to England with a copy of the Treaty to petition the King for his support. He was not allowed to meet with the King or the Prince but held concerts and meetings in London, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Japan speaking out for the rights of the Maori people. Still Ratana knew he been ignored and mistreated in Britain.
In 1925 a new Maori church was created, called the Ratana church. Most of the denominational churches distanced themselves, except for the Methodists who continued to work closely with the developing group. Ratana himself removed himself from the daily spiritual leadership of the church and handed the reins to other leaders who were more interested in the administrative tasks of the ministry. In August 1925 Ratana took a group of Maroi people on a tour of the United States. The trip seemed to have a bad influence on Ratana. He came into contact with Morman teachings and took a second wife. When he returned from the United States he was caught driving drunk. Ratana called for the building of a central Temple for the Ratana church. It was built and opened on January 28, 1928. Ratana declared his spiritual leadership was over and his new goal was political freedom for the Maori people. Superstition returned to parts of the church, with Ratana being deified by some of his followers and the "Faithful Angels" being prayed to. There was also direction from Ratana to be careful in using the name of Jesus because he believed that the Europeans misused the name. Several leaders of the church who had come from traditional backgrounds resigned over the next few years.
Ratana's political aims were his main focus from that time on. He selected men to run for political offices and began to mobilize the Maori to claim their rights through the vote and political means. The Ratana church grew in political sophistication, eventually having a direct influence on the election of the Labour Party. After the 1935 election Ratana went to see Prime Minister Savage. He placed four items on the table in front of him. These were a potato, a broken watch, a tiki, and a huia feather. Ratana was asked to explain what they meant. The potato was the ordinary Maori who needed his land because "a potato cannot grow without soil". The watch was broken, like the law, which protected Maori land; the law of the new government must repair the broken law of the old one. The tiki stood for the spirit of the Maori. If Savage protected the Maori people he would earn the right to wear the huia feather, which was the sign of a chief. Since Ratana's visit to Savage most Maoris have supported the Labour Party. The votes of Maori members twice kept Labour Governments in power in the years 1946-49 and 1957-60.
In the spring of 1939 Ratana became very ill and bedridden. His family surrounded him and he called a secretary to make notes on his last statement of faith. He died in September 19, 1939. He was a man who struggled with a spiritual calling outside of the context of most of his brethren. He heard the voice of God but struggled with fleshly sins. His work between 1918 and 1922 was primarily as a revivalist to the Maori, calling them to a saving knowledge of Christ, spiritual and physical healing, and a unity for the people. He interpreted his experiences in physical healing as a sign of God's special hand on the Maori in particular, when in reality, there was a major inter-denominational move of God across much of the world to restore physical healing to the Church. The reports of healing and miracles, however, prepared the country for many of the healing evangelists that would shortly follow him in impacting New Zealand including; James Moore Hickson, Smith Wigglesworth, Dr. Mina Ross Brawner, A. C. Valdez, Stephen Jeffries, and Aimee Semple McPherson. Ratana was not a theologian and some of his beliefs, and of those surrounding him, mixed Maori culture with traditional Christian teachings. His second work of uniting the Maori politically, giving them a voice and equality in the political process, is probably better remembered than the first part of his work. Although the healing and visions are seen as giving spiritual validity to the second part. He is highly respected for what he accomplished for his people and the Ratana Church still has a large following today. A book was written in 1963 by J. McLeod Henderson, called "Ratana The origins and the Story of the Movement", with the support of the President of the Ratana Church. It covered Ratana's life in a fair and open manner.
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