Samoan Henry was on a Norwich mission
2006: Rugby-playing Samoan Henry Iputua
travelled right across the globe to be a Christian missionary in Norwich
. Kevin Gotts
Imagine that you are in the midst of your wedding ceremony, when the minister during his talk, tells you and your new wife that you will become missionaries? This is just what happened to Henry, a laboratory technician at a cola factory, when he married Maressa in 1993 in Auckland, New Zealand.
Four years later this calling “sunk in” and Henry sat the exam and was selected from 130 candidates from around the world to train with the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa.
Three years ago, naturally outgoing Henry and his wife arrived in Norwich from New Zealand, where he has taken on the post of Community Chaplain at Princes Street United Reformed Church, paid for in part by The Council for World Mission.
“I feel I am called to be a missionary, and to be vulnerable and to do God’s will,” says Henry, . “Just after arriving in the city I was asked by the Rev John Minns and the Bishop of Thetford if I was interested in a second role, that of the Norwich School of Art & Design College Chaplain.”
Henry decided to give the NSAD Chaplaincy a go, spending each Thursday at the St George’s building. With over 1,000 students, it is not surprising that those from out of Norfolk can feel lonely and isolated. Henry recalls befriending one, who also needed a part-time job to fund his studies. This coincided with a need for a warden at the URC church, and the interview was successful.
The Bishop of Norwich’s Art Prize with a substantial cash prize is a high profile opportunity at the College with an exhibition held in Norwich cathedral, open to all students. Susan Gunn, wife of Bryan, the former Norwich City goalkeeper has been a past winner. Henry has been asked for input in artwork projects, particularly when the subject is based around spirituality.
On Tuesday lunch times the Art School’s Christian Union meets at Princes St URC for prayer, fellowship and listening to their own invited speakers. Henry takes an encouraging role.
As Community Chaplain, much of Henry’s work is helping the church connect with over 30 groups and organisations which use the building regularly. Full time users include Christian Aid and Age Concern, with part time use by Big Sky choir, Norwich Cricket Society and Adult Education English classes. An attendee of one of the support groups told Henry that he regards Princes Street as his “second home.”
“Opening up our doors for these groups is based on lots of mutual trust, and enables us to offer the ministry of welcome, presence and hospitality,” said Henry.
While his interests include piano playing he is well known at Norwich Rugby Club where he plays from time to time as a Number 8 for his “Maori sidestep” when scoring. Known also as a man who often dons a minister’s collar, his fellow players have used the team bus journey to ask questions about faith, suffering and other concerns.
Henry, Maressa and their adopted daughter, Dorothea’s, future is sure to have another God-given direction as they will be returning to New Zealand next January, after celebrating a farewell thanksgiving service on January 7, 2007.
He will leave something of a legacy, as Henry the people’s man, able to engage with anyone, encouraging his congregation to be creative in their thinking and attitudes and looking outwards in building relationships with friends and neighbours to share God’s good news.