Monthly Archives: January 2022

‘In Search of the Lost’ 5

One of the interesting outcomes of reading ‘In Search of the Lost’ by Richard Carter is the impression of the very vivid way of life in the Solomon Islands and how this contrasts with life in the UK. One reason, Richard writes, is that in a way it’s easier to confront life’s mysteries there where you are constantly in touch with them. There are no modern conveniences to shield you from the elements, and death is not hidden but present – the fragility of life is taken for granted. In the Solomon Islands everyone gets everything whilst it is available, and when it isn’t then they do without.

When the Melanesian Brothers came on a mission to the UK, Richard Carter is reminded how endless choices can clutter us – there is so much distraction with less and less space for God. God seems to get pushed out being seen:

‘As one of the least seemingly exciting choices in a busy schedule. Yet we are lost without that centre, and how quickly we become forgetful of the reality of our faith. Again and again, I realise that more is less.’

Visiting Anglican churches with the group of Brothers, Richard Carter also becomes aware of how silence seems a thing to be ashamed of. He notices that there is seemingly a weighing-up happening through endless small talk in the church groups with pressure to make a good impression, or be coherent, or interesting, or amusing. By contrast in the Solomon Islands, it seemed that time belonged to people not people to time.

As he looks back on the events linked to the martyrdom of the seven Brothers, Richard Carter muses that the whole event was like entering into a great drama, but the drama was real although he kept hoping that it wasn’t.

‘And it went on day after day, so that you were inside it and outside it and longing for it to find a reconciliation. And then like a tragedy, I suddenly realised that all was changed unalterably and nothing would ever be the same, and there was no possible way of ever going back or bringing back, but that in the place you expected to find bitterness and dread, instead there was alongside the loss, a deeper humanity … You are face to face with what you are – naked as it were, without pride or delusions, but human, and present – and you are not aloe but there are others there with you, and strangely you are no longer afraid.’

The graves and memorials to the seven martyrs

In Search of the Lost 4

Richard Carter in his book ‘In Search for the Lost’ includes these extracts from his correspondence with Charles Montgomery about ‘miracles of love’, where he writes about faith stories – some of which mean more to one person that to another. Richard Carter sees that a true revelation of God’s love inevitably has to lead us the same way that it led Christ – a way that leads us to humility, to a sense that we are part of God’s mystery rather than creating out own. In this way signs and stories of faith are in the end redemptive, leading people free to love rather than imprisoning them in fear or by superstition.

He writes that the martyred Brothers showed people what it means to be of God – pointing beyond themselves to a better way, to God’s way. The danger is always in religion that a practice becomes cultish or the symbol becomes itself an idol rather than looking beyond toward God. This is not freeing but rather a narrowing. ‘People love to create such idols for they become ways of controlling our own destiny, creating our own controllable gods’.

‘As C. S. Lewis said, prayer should not be about how we change God but letting God change us. The humbling effect of our seven Brothers’ deaths has been very profound. It allows for a true Christology to emerge, A Christology that has always been there but is not always what people either want to hear or want for themselves. The incarnation was about healing and forgiveness and life in all its fullness, but it was never about the manipulation of people and events for personal power. Christ never offered an escape or divine immunity. In fact quite the opposite he said they must carry the cross and pass through pain and suffering …’

Charles Montgomery asks Richard Carter why he had teased him about his search for proof of supernatural power, and Richard responds that you cannot be detached from faith or analyse it the way a scientist tests the purity of the water – rather you have to swim in it and then try and make sense of the experience you have. The temptation for Charles is that he is lured out of the water by the society he lives in to get back on the bank and abandon the discovery that those on the bank perhaps have never had.

When asked about the forces of good and evil Richard Carter comments on the sense of evil evoked by the war against Iraq when he felt the most profound experience of darkness exacerbated by the UK’s participation and the part played as the perpetrator of evil.

‘Evil has a power and momentum of its own which sucks others, often innocent, into its whirlpool. But God’s love has an even greater power for it cannot be defeated. Even the cyclone can take us to the top of the mountain where we stand in the brilliance of the light. St Paul says that sin flows, but that grace overflows.’

Richard Carter – now at St Martin’s in the Field, London

‘In Search of the Lost’ 3

Towards the end of ‘In Search of the Lost’ Richard Carter includes an interesting section based on his correspondence with Charles Montgomery, a Canadian writer who was at the time researching the effect of Victorian missionaries in Melanesia – this included his great grandfather.  ‘The Last Heathen: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in Melanesia’ was published in 2004 to much acclaim. Unlike Revd Richard Carter, Charles Montgomery is a proclaimed atheist but he corresponded with Richard Carter about faith. Richard Carter writes that although Charles Montgomery came to the islands as ‘the sceptical dilletante’ it seemed rather that ‘he came in search of faith’ and was profoundly moved by the story of the Brothers.

In the book Charles asks Richard about the literalness of the Bible. ‘Was Jesus just the greatest teacher of teachers or did he walk on the water?’

Richard replies:

‘Did Jesus actually walk on water? My answer would be yes he did in their memory of him; he did in their faith experience … it was profoundly true for those who witnessed it. The event in their minds became a drama of an even greater truth that Christ, a flesh and blood Christ, not a spirit, was there with them, crossing the water (water the symbol of chaos, the home of Leviathan the devilish monster of the deep), reaching out to them in their fear and calling them to trust him and come to him, even when fear and doubt were undermining that call. They too could do what was impossible if they truly believed in him. And they did do what was impossible: this group of fishermen have profoundly changed the world with their lives and proclamation, until this very day. And their story lives on in the waves and fears we too face, with Christ bringing life out of chaos. Do such things really happen? I believe they do if we are receptive to them’.

Richard Carter then writes of an experience he had in 1985 during a time of personal crisis. He was on a beach in Java lost and alone and feeling very disturbed by events in his life and praying for help he saw three crosses shining in front of him: ‘literally burning with light in the dark’. Many years later he remembered the crosses when directing a passion play in the Solomon Islands where they enacted the Calvary scene where three crosses have been erected on a hill.

‘It is dark and we move toward that hill with flaming torches and there in front of me are the same three crosses. And in my memory something speaks so profoundly. This is the cross I have been following which has led me from Java and has somehow provided the meaning and shape to my life, the underlying thread which has pulled me and led me here through apparent confusion. It has made sense of things. You may ask was the cross real when I saw it in Java? And I can only answer yes, it was for me profoundly real, for in the following years it became the sign of Christ’s love, which gave meaning to my journey.’


In Search of the Lost 2

Richard Carter in his account of the martyrdom of the seven Melanesian Brothers recounts how one of them, Brother Robin Lindsay who was the assistant head brother, had come to see Richard Carter to ask him about a dream that he had had three times. This was about a month before Brother Robin was murdered.

‘He told me that he dreamt he was on a beach, and that he looked up and saw the most terrible storm clouds and cyclone approaching and huge waves mounting. He was full of fear and dreamt that the storms engulfed him. He said he drowned, and that everything was swept away by the waves. He dreamt that the waves carried him to the top of a mountain and that as the water receded he was in warm sunshine and that he could see for miles, the world flooded with light. He said that he believed that God was saying to him that he must not be afraid and that all, would be well, all would be made good. I told him he had a lot on his plate at the moment with a coming conference and not to worry …

How could I know all that he was about to face? I did not know the tragedy that awaited him on a beach …’

Richard Carter describes this dream at Brother Robin’s requiem and the new meaning and truth that the dream took on following the murder. The dream imparts the truth of eternal life ‘far more vividly and miraculously, for in my memory it was a revelation of immortality and God’s love being greater than his coming death, a spiritual truth he left with me.’

Why did the men go knowing the danger? What was the sacrifice about? Richard Carter says that they went because they believed the gospel as action not just in word. ‘They believed that the Good Shepherd must go in search of the one who is lost’.

‘In Search of the Lost’ 1

Over the Christmas break I read ‘In Search of the Lost’ by Richard Carter who is associate vicar for mission at St Martin’s in the Field. The book published in 2006 is in part a diary kept by Richard Carter over the period of the kidnapping and eventual murders of seven of the Melanesian Brothers. The Melanesian Brotherhood is an Anglican religious community of men in simple vows based primarily in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea, and Richard Carter was for many years part of the Brotherhood community and involved in teaching and chaplaincy work.

Between 1999 and 2003 when ethnic tension developed in the Solomon Islands, the Brotherhood were involved in peace-making efforts gathering armaments and establishing a ceasefire. One rebel leader refused to comply and when Brother Nathaniel Sado, who knew the warlord, went to reason with him, he did not return. On 23 April 2003, six brothers went to investigate what had happened and they were held hostage. On 8 August 2003, the Police Commissioner was able to inform the Brotherhood that all seven were dead. Br. Nathaniel had been tortured for several days before dying, three of the others had been shot on arrival and the remaining three had been tortured and shot the next day. The bodies were interred at Tabalia, the motherhouse of the Brotherhood in October 2003.

In this extract Richard Carter writes after the news of the confirmation of the deaths:

It will always be a miracle of faith that, at the very bottom, at the point when I really did not know how we could go on, God took over. When I look back I am so thankful at the way there were those who were present like aspects of Christ, making those following weeks possible. I did not realize it at the time, but this tragedy was to become the saving event, a place I would revisit again and again in my memory, not to relive the pain but to discover it had become a place of hope and of courage. The mystery of these events will never go away and three years later I am still unravelling everything that happened and discovering a little more of the truth of our gospels. Suddenly I find I am touched by a memory so strong, and I find myself grieving for these seven Brothers again, or being blessed by them, or given courage by them. I remember a dream I had: I was drowning and each time I tried to reach the surface I was pushed back under the water, and then I saw Christ swimming towards me, brave and free, and he breathed into me and he said “Do not be afraid, you can breathe underwater”.



Icon of the Melanesian Brotherhood martyrs at Canterbury Cathedral

“Goodness is stronger than evil

Love is stronger than hate

Light is stronger than darkness

Life is stronger than death

Victory is ours through him who loves us”

(Desmond Tutu)