LoadingLoading ...

The History of Wanaka New Life Church


The story of Wanaka New Life Church goes back to 1971. It does not begin with a “church planting” vision but rather with a story of adventure and faith. The Wanaka Christian Fellowship, as it was formerly called, began with a family’s desire for fellowship around the Word of God.

Tony and Kay Wiltshire, originally from England, had been happily settled in Timaru for 5 years when God seemed to uproot them to take them to a new place. For Tony, it was a major move. He had a comfortable position in the Timaru harbour board as a ship pilot and tug master. Through the nudging of the Holy Spirit, he obeyed God and resigned from his position not knowing what was next on God’s agenda. After intense and desperate prayer ( knowing he was the provider for a family of four children ) God seemed to impress on his heart to move to Central Otago.

As soon as they arrived in Wanaka, Tony and Kay checked out the local churches to find out where they could find Christian fellowship. They did not find what they were looking for; the preaching of the Word of God. Consequently they decided to rent the local Plunket rooms. It was not a dramatic start, just small beginnings, with determination and the desire to honour the Lord with worship, prayer and the Word of God. Tony was prepared to feed the flock however small it was.

While Sunday meetings continued each week and midweek Bible studies at their home At 48 Beech St there were other things happening. Tony and Kay had developed Christian hospitality in Timaru, always willing to share their home and food with invited guests, travelers and whoever just came along.

Though Beech St is not close to the centre of town, people seemed to find the address. In the 70’s there were hippies and Jesus freaks, some who had travelled the world before they reached Wanaka. Tony’s vision was forming and growing; it was a dream that people who came to Wanaka would meet God there. People coming from different parts of New Zealand or other parts of the world, from many walks of life, would find God in some special way in Wanaka.

As time went on the house became too small. One year, YWAM wanted to send an outreach group to Wanaka and accommodation was needed. Within a very short time, a 12 bed sleep-out was erected in the back yard (later to be moved next door). Tony felt challenged to enlarge, and was interested in the neighbouring section at 42 Beech St. Even though he did not have money to buy it, he believed God for the land. For three years, he walked daily around the empty section (and seven times on Sunday) claiming it for the Lord’s work. When the section finally came on the market, a cheque arrived from friends in Australia “for the Lord’s work in Wanaka”, just the right amount to buy the property. The timing and amount was perfect. But what was God’s purpose for this extra land? More accommodation. God provided all the way. By 1981 there was a 7 bedroom house with plenty of space for people to enjoy community and life together as they stayed in Wanaka or passed through it. Between the two houses and sleep out, there were 35 beds and sometimes in the summer they were all occupied!

After the house was completed, the fellowship meetings could now be held in the large living room of the main house. Numbers always swelled in the summer season and it was a joyous time meeting believers from many different countries, backgrounds and Christian denominations. In the early years, Tony and Kay felt isolated spiritually in Wanaka. To strengthen themselves in the task they took a the better part of a year (1974) to attend a Bible School program in Christchurch run by Pastor Peter Morrow and his team. Through this fellowship they built some close relationships with mature people of God and this continued as Tony became part of the fellowship of New Life pastors in the South Island.

Tony and Kay’s lives were busy as they continually cared for people whom God brought into their lives. Life was not all easy, and there were many tests along the way. There was great sadness the time when their young adopted son, Paul, died of head injuries at the age of 6 after a fall at school. Tony struggled with health issues for one long year until a medical diagnosis was found for his condition and medication gave him relief. The greatest shock came in 1983 when it was discovered that Tony had cancer of the pancreas. Though there were many Christians praying for a complete healing, it did not happen that way. Tony continued encourage people to the end but went on to be with His Lord later in the same year.

The vision was much bigger than the man. Over the years, many people passed through the Beech St homes and many would go away changed. The fruit of that ministry is scattered all over the world. Kay stayed on in Wanaka for two years after Tony’s death and things continued as before for a short period. When Kay left, she sold the original house (48 Beech St) and this enabled her to start a new life in Napier. The flow of people coming in to the “big” house seemed to stop quite suddenly as if that season had come to an end.

When Tony passed away in 1983 a number of interim ministries followed with the Websters and then Peter and Eleanor Davis, the latter being a prophet ministry. It was about this stage that the church was renamed Wanaka New Life.

Towards the end of 1986 Reg and Marie Highsted arrived for what was to be a couple of years. Their ministry was pastoral and blossomed and they ended up staying for 8 years until 1994. Then arrived David and Faye Carnie with a keen Holy Spirit ministry and move of the spirit and they also lived in the large Beech Street house with their four children.

Our present Pastors, Wayne and Judy Ward, arrived in Wanaka from Riverton with two of their children in May 2006. Their ministry is very much pastoral and for the first time in 40 years Wanaka New Life Church has their own building.