They arrived aboard six buses, complete with police escort, "sneaking" (to quote principal Mark Tan) up the long drive in silence, as instructed, to gather on the front lawn on Tuesday afternoon.

Every last one of Abundant Life School's 230 students was there, from strapping teenagers to tiny beginners, to sing for their teacher Terry Swart, starting with a traditional South African song, followed by waiata and ending with a haka.

Mr Swart, the longest-serving teacher at Abundant Life (in IT and physical education), who arrived there in 1996, and now in the final stages of a terminal illness, was clearly moved and delighted.

"It is so good to see you all," he said. "What a surprise. What a blessing.

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"We have an amazing God. Don't ever forget that. I was told that I had one week. That was a month ago, and every day I give thanks that I am here. My body is working 100 per cent.

Alright, I'm as skinny as, but I needed to lose a bit of weight. I thank God for every day that he makes it possible for me to be here.

"I miss you guys, and I pray for the Lord's blessing for each and every one of you," he added.

"Trust in Him no matter what, and He will always be with you."

Meanwhile Mr Tan said if Mr Swart was missing his students, the emotion was mutual.

"He is a very special man," he said.

"He always has a smile. He is really servant-hearted. He's the sort of person who never complains.

"He just gets in there and does what needs to be done."

He said Mr Swart was a man of integrity, a man who did all he could and who put others first.

"He loves his students," he added.

"He coached volleyball for all those years, having coached in South Africa too, often taking Northland area schools teams to the South Island for tournaments.

"He always has a twinkle in his eye.

"He is an emotional man who never fails to bring us to tears when he speaks.

"He loves God with a passion, and his faith in God seems even stronger and deeper now.

"A lovely, lovely man."