In seeking to become all things to all men, Ernest Holdaway actively engaged in ministry to the Maori people in New Zealand. At the Army’s fifth anniversary celebrations held in Christchurch in May 1888, it was announced that he would lead an expedition to start work among the Maori people of the Whanganui River District.
Relating his calling to ‘the Maori work’, Ernest Holdaway wrote: ‘When I had been an officer for about two years I received a call direct from God to carry the Gospel to the Maoris. I immediately started to work to learn the language, and as soon as the way was opened up I secured a tent. With my wife, I went to live in a pa where the Maoris belonged to the Church of England and consequently were fairly friendly to us. After three months of close study spent there, I sent my wife home to my relatives in Nelson while I started out in search of some sort of building where we could start operations. The story of these wanderings is a story of hardship and suffering but eventually the Lord gave us a great chance at Wanganui. The up-river natives were all down for a land-court and for two or three months they were camped on the river bank in the town. An old coach factory or paint shop was hired and we started preaching to them. Conversions followed.’
The pioneer of The Salvation Army’s work among Maori was one of the most able and dedicated characters in the history of The Salvation Army in New Zealand.