Völkner was sent to New Zealand in 1849 by the North German Missionary Society with a fellow German missionary Johann Riemenschneider. But in 1861, he joined the Church Missionary Society and began a work among the Te Whakatohea tribe, who warmly welcomed him. He built a church and a school for them in the village of Opotiki, which is on the northern part of New Zealand.
The works started in other parts of the island soon demanded Carl’s attention, and he would often be traveling from village to village to strengthen the works there. But his heart always belonged in Opotiki. As he traveled the Northern part of the island, he heard many reports about the the violent unrest that exist among the different tribal groups over control of the land. Some were pro-government, while others wanted independence. The largest anti-government group was Pai Marire. This was a violent, political group that cloaked itself in the robes of being a religious group. Their teachings including a loose unity of traditional Māori beliefs and Christianity.
In February of 1865, Carl received news that “evangelist” of Pai Marire had descended upon Opotiki with their teachings and ideas. But the shocking news to Carl was that several members of the church there had become caught up in this new religion and had left the church. Scared and angry for his precious flock, Carl determined to return to Opotiki immediately. Several friends tried to dissuade him, knowing that the trip would be very dangerous. The Pai Marire would perceive any white missionary as a spy for the government and kill them instantly. But Carl was determined to try to help his flock.
Upon arrival in Opotiki, Carl was captured by the soldiers of Pai Marire. He was quickly tried and condemned to death. Before the entire tribe, he was marched out to a large willow tree. It was reported that Carl ‘knelt down and prayed, and, having shaken hands with his murderers said “I am ready”, and, while they continued to shake hands with him, they hoisted him up.’ After he was hanged, they decapitated him and the leader of Pai Marire marched into Carl’s church and gave a speech from the pulpit of the church, with Carl’s head in front of him. At the climax of his speech, he mutilated Carl’s head to show absolute contempt and insult.
Like the Master he faithfully served, Carl suffered for the truths he sought to teach. The principles of Matthew 10 were clearly seen in his life:
The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? … And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
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