Greg Motu is the recipient of the Lionel Stewart scholarship for 2019. The scholarship supports Baptist leaders in the pursuit of bicultural reconciliation. He shares his thoughts on biculturalism and the church.

I am defining biculturalism as being between Māori and Pākehā as the founding peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand. Other peoples who have settled in this land are now a part of our national family, but when there is discord amongst siblings (Māori and Pākehā) it impacts the whole family.  

Two worlds meet 

My father is from the tribes of Ngā Puhi, north of Auckland, and also the Waikato tribes in Auckland and to the south. My mother’s Swiss ancestors settled in New Plymouth, South Taranaki and Whanganui. Her Irish family initially settled in the Waikato.  

Dad’s grandmother raised him. She had adopted and raised several grandchildren and extended family members. Theirs was a subsistence life, living off her small widow’s pension and gathering wild food. 

Dad was strapped for speaking Māori at school and consequently did not speak it at home. I didn’t realise he could speak Māori until some relatives came up to him at a rugby game and started talking with him. 

Mum’s upbringing was worlds apart. Her Irish Catholic mother sent her and her siblings to convent school in Freemans Bay. My grandfather, the son of Swiss immigrants, had moved from Taranaki and worked for the Crown Lynn pottery factory in New Lynn.

These two worlds met in our household in Manurewa, South Auckland. My mother set the direction and culture of our household. My father would defer to her because, being Pākehā, she knew how things worked in this ‘Pākehā world’. 

Dad’s culture was always enigmatic; we lived urban lives and visited most often with my mother’s family in West Auckland. We never really fully engaged with Dad’s wider whānau. So we grew up knowing we were Māori but disconnected from the culture and language from that side of our family.

What am I?

When I was in my teens I actively began to explore what it was to be Māori. I was looked at as a Māori and was uncomfortable not even knowing what that meant. So I threw myself into learning what it was to be Māori. And for me that was through kapa haka. It was a world where being Māori was normal and was full of positive role models. It was encouraging and supportive and modelled the best of what it was to be Māori. I learned to speak te reo and started connecting with my wider whānau. It was all strange and new but exciting. 

It also meant being exposed to a different story about New Zealand. It was a history of deceit, greed and broken promises by a government and society that was geared up to dismantle Māori culture, economy and social structures. I was angry, hurt and frustrated at the injustice of it all. I was so ashamed of being Pākehā and I didn’t want anything to do with it. I immersed myself further into the Māori world and was happy to be Māori.  

Making peace 

It wasn’t until my late 20s when I started working in a team that was made up of white New Zealanders that I was confronted with the need to be able to operate in a non-Māori world again. 

I learnt to overcome my own sense of discomfort in an unfamiliar culture and accept that Pākehā people operate in a different way. I also needed to address my own prejudices and racism that I carried. Coming to terms with our own prejudice is more important than looking at the differences in others—we all tend to see the faults in others before we look at our own.

As the founding cultures of modern Aotearoa New Zealand, Māori and Pākehā are connected to one another in this land through history and, in my case, through families. We owe it to future generations to make the bicultural relationship work. We need each other to prosper and flourish. I believe that is God’s design and plan. We have to continue to respect and honour one another and any others who have come to call New Zealand home. 

Baptist biculturalism

The first Baptist Assembly I attended was at Bethlehem in Tauranga in 2000. Assembly was strenuously debating the Treaty Affirmation Statement, which was eventually accepted. As a fairly new Christian, I was disappointed that acknowledging inequity and injustice was an issue even amongst God’s people. There was a spirit of division along with ignorance, racism and oppression that was present amongst Baptists. Spiritually, this has afflicted our country, our churches and our relationships since earliest contact.

But I am hopeful for the future. A review of Baptist history (Auty, 2018)1 shows a faltering relationship with Māori up until the 1950s. However, since then the relationship has been growing and gathering momentum. I am grateful to the Pākehā pioneers of Baptist Māori Mission for the aroha they have given to Māori and Māori mission. And to the many people of faith, both Pākehā and Māori, who have contributed in many ways to building Māori capability within the Baptist family of churches. 

Honouring Christ and each other

So how do we sit together in Christ, with this often difficult and uncomfortable history? We cannot continue to point out the speck in each other’s eyes. Satan is the accuser of the brethren and has divided the body of Christ for 2000 years.  

We need to consider one another continuously, be aware of our own prejudices and heart towards one another, accept the past for what it was, guard against division, and ensure tomorrow is better. Part of my own journey of reconciliation was coming to terms with the blood on our hands, both Māori and Pākehā, which has defiled our land before God.  

Praise God for the blood of Christ that is able to wash away our collective guilt. Praise him for the spirit of reconciliation where, in Christ, the land can be cleansed and we can be reconciled to one another as we are reconciled to our Father in heaven.

Prayer is needed; the enemy will try to sabotage what the Holy Spirit is wanting to build. We are living in a time of restoration and Peter said that heaven will keep Jesus “until the time comes for God to restore everything” (Acts 3:21, NIV). This is the challenge that lies ahead of us. I don’t have all the answers but I am willing and I know that there are many more amongst us who are willing too. 

Me whawhai tonu tātou i te whawhai pai, mō ake tonu atu. Let us keep fighting the good fight.

Story: Greg Motu

Greg and his wife Leonnie pastor Hosanna Dannevirke Baptist Church. Greg belongs to the Ngā Puhi and Waikato iwi and also has Swiss and Irish ancestry. He was raised in a mixed ethnicity household in South Auckland in the 70s and 80s.  


  1. Auty, Rawiri. “Baptist Māori Speak: Ko Ngā Kōrero o Ngai Māori Iriiri.” MAppTheol thesis. Carey Baptist College, 2018.

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978 1984 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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