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Term 3 2015 - William Wilberforce

This term our core value is perseverance and diligence. As a staff we are trying to develop this in our students as it is one of the most effective values we can develop in ourselves and not always something New Zealanders are good at. In the last edition of the newsletter I told you the incredible story of George and what perseverance did for him. This week let me tell you about the incredible life of William Wilberforce and what he went through to abolish slavery in the British Empire:

William Wilberforce was born a privileged man in 1859. He came from a wealthy family and was set up well financially when his father died when he was aged only nine. William was not a hard worker but had excellent people skills. He loved partying and was popular. He decided not to pursue the family business and went into politics. He won an important seat and was famous for his stunning speeches. However it was not until he went on a trip taking his mother and sister at age 25 that William became a Christian and realised he had been squandering his life. He became determined to change that and be a man of real purpose.

Wilberforce quickly became a man of integrity and principle and it was during this time that he was presented with the issue of the slave trade. People were being stolen from Northern Africa and were being shipped to different parts of the British Empire and forced into slavery to help British trade. Often over half of a shipment of slaves would die during the journey as a result of the appalling conditions and rampant disease on the ships. Wilberforce decided to tackle the issue of slave trade first rather than banning slavery outright as he thought this would be easier.

The anti-slavery campaign ended up consuming the rest of his life. It took 19 years of fighting people in parliament, failing in the passing of different bills and petitions, fighting the people who really stood to benefit from slavery, and fighting his own ailing health before he finally made some progress in 1804. The movie 'Amazing Grace' chronicles much of this journey and the events such as the French Revolution which effectively sidelined the anti-slavery campaigns. Yet though often very despondent, William Wilberforce knew that this fight was a part of his life's mission before God. He knew he had to persevere because he had the best chance of anyone at being successful with this.

That was just the start however. The abolition of slavery through the colonies continued to take furious campaigning. As his health weakened he had to get others to help lead the cause. Finally in 1833, after 48 years of fighting, Parliament passed the bill to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire. Three days later William Wilberforce died aged 74.

While Wilberforce did many other great things in his days to feed the poor, help pay the debts of those who could not pay for them themselves, and improve people's views on good Christian behaviour, the anti-slavery campaign was what stood out as his legacy. He fought to abolish slavery because this was something he believed stood between man and God. In 1831 he said to the Anti-Slavery Society, "Our motto must continue to be perseverance. And ultimately I trust the Almighty will crown our efforts with success."

So here lived a man who persevered for right and for a legacy that made him stand out as one of God's great men. May this help challenge each of us as well so that we persevere to do the right thing at the right time for the right reason.


God bless

Alistair Paterson