The Power of the Gospel to Bring Peace in ‘The Convert’

Jun 18, 2024 | Entertainment and Arts

By: Michael Walsh

When Thomas Munro (Guy Pearce) arrives in Epworth, New Zealand’s tiny coastal settlement in 1830, he finds discontent, suspicion and friction.

After saving the life of a chief’s daughter, Rangimai (Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne), Munro is thrust into political intrigue during the devastating Musket Wars between Māori tribes. Seeing his ministry not limited to the colonial settlers in this harsh frontier, Munro sets out to spread a message of mercy and unity.

Famous NZ director Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors; Die Another Day) masterfully weaves a unique blend of historical fiction and cross-cultural narratives in The Convert. The film, set in a brutal period, tells the story of two warring tribes and an English lay minister, himself a former soldier, who is thrust into the tensions and conflicts in this colonial frontier. The performances of Guy Pearce, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, and Jacqueline McKenzie bring deep tragedy, empathy, pain, and hope to the film’s core. Each of their characters has losses that drive them towards seeking reconciliation over revenge, creating a powerful story about cross-cultural contextualisation, inculturation, and respect.

The title serves a double meaning as Munro comes to convert to local cultural traditions, including language and tattoos, whilst the tribe of Mananui comes to embrace the gospel of mercy and grace. The film also features brutal tribal warfare and stark frontier conditions, making it a raw and robust experience. However, the deep emotional core set against the harsh yet striking landscape of beautiful Aotearoa makes this a film worth watching and engaging with, historically and thematically.

Reel Dialogue: The power of mercy

The Convert is a compelling narrative about a tribal war between opposing Māori tribes. This cyclical war, fuelled by revenge killings and vengeance, is devoid of the concept of grace and mercy. The tribal chiefs assert that only blood can repay blood. In this context, Thomas Munro, a lay preacher, emerges as a beacon of hope, sharing a message of mercy that slowly takes root within one tribe. While he never explicitly explains the Gospel on screen, it is historically known that the teaching of Jesus’s blood having paid for all of mankind’s sins, led to many Māori putting down their weapons, and pursuing peace and harmony. This portrayal of the power of mercy in the film adds to its historical authenticity and underscores its thematic depth, making it a compelling watch for all.

One of the most famous stories is that of a young woman named Tarore. She was the daughter of Ngakuku, the Ngati Haua chief. She attended a local mission station at Matamata and learned to read. Tragically, at the age of twelve, she was killed during a raid by another tribe. Her father preached forgiveness at her funeral, saying there had been too much bloodshed already and that the people should trust in the justice of God. The Gospel of Luke, which was with her in a small pouch around her neck, was taken by Uita, thinking it might be of value. However, he could not read, and it lay unused in his home. Sometime later, a slave named Ripahau, who could read, was brought to the home. He read to the people from the Gospel. This led to the eventual reconciliation of Uita and Ngakuku and the sending of Ripahau to read the Gospel to other tribes, eventually leading to the widespread Māori missionary movement.

More can be read here: Tarore Story

Have you experienced this overwhelming mercy and forgiveness?

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” – 1 John 1:7

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