Dealing with archives daily one can’t help but recognise how cyclical our history and events are. ‘Nothing is new’ comes to mind as I watched the gold prices going up and up recently. It reminded me of a debate on the need to pay the missionaries in ‘gold’. On searching it out I found a huge crisis confronted the Foreign Missions Committee as a consequence of the ‘hourly’ fluctuations in the exchange rate between the pound sterling and the Hong Kong dollar during the 1919/20 recession.
By September 1919 the amount of money being sent over for missionaries salaries to India and China had halved in value so that the Committee funds had become ‘exhausted’.
An appeal through the Outlook informed the readers that humanly speaking to maintain the Church’s Missions in China and Inda was impossible but, it stressed, so was the idea of withdrawing their work. Everyone was encouraged “to pray, pray, pray, that under inspiration of the spirit of God a way out may be found”.
Inspirational suggestions came thick and fast from selling items of old silver and donating the money, purchasing items through Australia, asking travellers to India and China to carry gold, buy up gold and ship to China, and raising loans in China on the Church’s properties.
The General Treasurer looked into all the sensible suggestions offered. The potential of using gold came unstuck very quickly. Firstly, the Banks in NZ had no gold as the mines were sending it to America and Britain. Then they learned that the Government had restrictions on individuals sending gold out of the country and even if it could be sent there was no market in Hong Kong or India for bar gold and no Government Institution to handle gold shipments. The National Bank of New |Zealand suggested that sovereigns in amounts £5000 could be shipped to London which could equal the value of imported gold in London but this proved not to be the case. So the idea of using gold as a rate of exchange failed.
Other suggestions included selling old silver and sending over the funds; that proved to achieve nothing as the fluctuating exchange rate was the root cause of the problem. A further possibility was raising money in China and India against the properties held by the Mission, this had no appeal to either the Committee or associated Missionaries partly due to the instability in both of these countries and the corruption that existed in financial institutions.
Finally the prayer was answered as the Committee realised that the burden could be carried by them all and called on the members at large to find means to raise the shortfall. Every group within the Church came to the party and in all raised £20 000, far more than required. The Committee were delighted and as the recession subsided not only was the debt repaid but new work could be undertaken.
NB I was curious as to what this amount would equal today and to my amazement the conversion was something around NZ$1 000 000. It says a lot about the commitment of people to raise funds when they believe in the project.