Monday, February 28, 2011

Christchurch Day 5

I enjoy being in the presence of experts - people who genuinely know what they are talking about, who speak with a quiet authority that comes from having acquired great wisdom not in the classroom nor lecture hall nor library. I joyfully soak up their wisdom, truth and expertise.

So it was today, as I listened attentively to the Canterbury Kids Coach team, as they discussed the immediate (this week) and medium term (this year) response of Church Army to the situation here in Christchurch. These folk knew their stuff, their community, their limitations and their responsibilities. They quickly identified the priorities - a highly visible presence on the streets, with the Bus out every day; a concentrated door-knocking campaign, to care for those who are too vulnerable, afraid or isolated and are likely to fall between the cracks of normal provision and after-care; and manageable events to bring fun, laughter and community back to local life - with a Fun Day on the local park this Friday. Then, sensibly, a debrief next week to assess how this week has gone - no grand long term schemes here.

One outcome for me was that as the CANZ Board meets this week to see how we can support the ministry here in the medium to long term, the focus has to be on strengthening the workers and work already in place. I hope we will coordinate volunteers to come for specific needs and programmes, and bring team members and carefully selected families to Auckland for desperately needed holidays, but the focus must be on resourcing the amazing folk here.

But then I did the maths. If the Board takes the financially foolhardy decision to use $20,000 out of our reserves this year, we could employ one person, already volunteering many hours each week and taking increasing responsibility, for 20 hours each week at minimum pay. Which is better than nothing, far better. But those who push pens, design buildings, plan new infra-structures and make great pronouncements will be richly rewarded, while we scratch around for a few thousand dollars to reward those whose ground-level worth is inestimable. At a Christian Leaders' Congress I attended for the early part of last week, one person questioned "why does the church starve its evangelists?" And no adequate response was forthcoming.

I hope the cashflow in Christchurch will be different, but I fear it will not be.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Christchurch day 4

It was good to meet with fellow followers of Jesus this morning. We shared stories, and grief; heard of friends and relatives, and one church member, all who were lost or missing; poured out our hearts to God, and drew on His endless strength.

Let me tell you about the lady I sat next to. The Canterbury Kids' Coach happened to pull up outside her home one day. Her children hopped on board, and soon Mum too was drawn to these caring folk. Her life was a bit of a mess, but she was encouraged to discover for herself life as a Jesus-follower. She knows the love and grace of Jesus in her life - and is starting to memorise songs as she can't read, this summer has successfully grown a few vegetables for the first time in her life, and has secured a part time job. Complete life transformation, so 'text book' she sounds like a made up case study. But this is 100% genuine, and like all of heaven I share the sense of celebration having met one sinner who chose to repent.

Tomorrow we head out on the bus once more, praying for those divine appointments and fresh opportunities to pave the way for Jesus-centred transformation to lighten the silt and despair covered streets of this amazing City.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Christchurch day 3

Worthwhile futility. At one level many of the activities that Christchurch people are engaged in are pretty futile! Today's major task was sweeping the drive which is covered in fine dust - leftovers of the silt produced by liquefaction. The fact that friends who arrived to help couldn't actually tell which parts of the drive I'd already done was a little discouraging! The dust is so fine that you can literally sweep the same spot 5 times and remove a thin layer each time. It felt futile - but the end product was a drive which LOOKED much cleaner. Little things matter in situations like this, because little things are holy, and filled with the stuff of God.

My friends swept and cooked. They could have gone to church to pray, or prepared a sermon, or done some other such worthy act, but instead they swept and cooked. The outcome - a shocked "I can't believe a Vicar is sweeping my drive!" - and another vicar is cooking your dinner. As I said, little things are holy and filled with the stuff of God.

Christchurch will need countless such little holy things to happen, because the road to recovery will be seemingly endless. The people here will need to be reminded and reassured time and time again that they are remembered and loved. So please tell them and show them. Send love parcels of chocolates and other goodies, be extravagant and waste money on postage because they are worth it! Send stuff to me if you like and I will make sure it reaches worthy recipients!

I missed a wedding today - Ryan and Stacey I wish you endless joy and love in your years together, filled with fun and meaning and impact on the world around you.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Christchurch day two

A dull grey drizzly morning welcomes us after a decent night's sleep, disrupted only four or five times by aftershocks. We have been unable to contact Sister Elsie Close, a CANZ veteran and legend, so decide to make the hazardous trek across Christchurch to find her.

The results of liquefaction, an occurrence I had never heard of until September last year, are everywhere to be seen. Grey, heavy silt, up to 30cm deep in places, now lies in massive heaps at the roadside, having been dumped there by householders keen to get it off their property. The roads themselves are in places like crumpled bedsheets, in other places deep holes have appeared - all making the trip an arduous one.

Arriving at Elsie's Carehome, we find considerable destruction - and thankfully we find Elsie too, one of a handful of remaining residents. "I wasn't really afraid, the Lord was with me - and if it is my time, well I'll go to be with Him - but it was horrible." The staff are doing an amazing job - coping with few resources - yet more unsung heroes. Elsie is flying up to Auckland tomorrow to stay with the other CANZ legend, Sister Kath King.

Then off to Hornby for a Community lunch arranged by one of the students on our Certificate in Evangelism and Local Mission. Around 40 people enjoy food, company and friendship. The earthquake has brought a sense of urgency, so the usual talk is Jesus focussed and to the point - get yourself right with God, His friendship will see you through.

The Canterbury Kids' Coach heads out once more, the Community centre cannot be used as we have no water, but it is vital to maintain a presence on the streets. Many people have left Christchurch already, but others cannot - so friendly familiar faces are needed and appreciated.

A large aftershock causes more fear just before the evening meal - they go on and on, each one bringing memories of the "big one" and renewed threats of more to come. The only thing I can liken an aftershock to is when a large ship judders - but here we are on dry land, and these last longer and are louder. The whole house shakes, windows rattle, and we hold our breath, hoping it will soon subside.

The student army has been awesome - cleaning up endless tonnes of silt and helping in any and every way. Farmers came round at 10pm last night offering water to everyone. If only we could keep hold of the community mindedness when things settle down, and the sense of perspective - it is about people not possessions - life would be so much better.

Fear lingers - some people choose to sleep in tents as they worry that their houses may not survive the next aftershock. As adrenalin levels inevitably fall, and exhaustion increases, frayed nerves and quick tempers come into play. This City will take months if not years to rebuild, and its people at least as long to begin the road to recovery. It will be a long painful road, and I thank God that i have met some amazing people who are in place to make that journey possible.

Christchurch blog Day 1

It is nearly 19 hours since I awoke, ready to catch the first public flight into Christchurch since the earthquake - so I won't at this stage go onto details of aftershocks and what life is like here, with no water etc

We are here for the people - we set off in the Canterbury Kids' Coach soon after 9am and as soon as we pulled up at the side of the road the kids came running, each eager to tell their earthquake story. Some offered scientific explanations of why earthquakes happened, others gave advice on what to do should another big one happen - all had a tale to tell. They were each encouraged to offer prayers of 'thanks' and 'please', and nearly all did so.

Louise spotted a lady walking by, and at the first gentle question the tears flowed freely. Prayers were offered and gladly received on the roadside. Another Mum sat on the bus and stared into space - seemingly overwhelmed by it all and grateful for a place to pause and rest.

Another team member arrived, having called in on a lady to find she had tried to take her life with an overdose - the police and paramedics arrived in time to save her life. Thank you Lord. Another distressed lady explains that her home has been condemned, and she has no idea where she will live in the coming months. No answers at this stage, but sympathy and the promise of ongoing support.

I could go on - but you get the picture. These stories are all real, and from today. This is work at the coal face, at ground level, with desperate folk. This is an authentic, powerful expression of God's love, and I am fiercely proud of our team here.

Tomorrow - life without water, aftershocks and students.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

At the coal face

I received an email which I want to share. It comes from one of the ministries we support at a distance, and inadequately, but for which I have enormous respect and love. In an understated way, the email reads,

"On Friday we had news of two couples separating - hopefully temporarily, one collapse requiring ambulance (fortunately nothing serious) and almost all our kitchen help away! We were very aware of prayer cover and despite all that the night went well and was not particularly stresssful! Thanks Lord!"

What strikes me, and moves me, is that here we have a group of people genuinely living in community. In the vast majority of churches I visit I see little of this - we are too busy showing how spiritual and how together we are to admit that we are broken, fragile, sin-battered humans on a painful journey of transformation in Christ. I can pretty well guarantee that in the majority of churches in NZ this weekend there were couples whose marriages were hollow shells, or worse; husbands and wives who were overwhelmed with despair, fear, anger and guilt because the key relationship in their life was failing. But we don't talk about that, no thank you.

If we do not create genuine, authentic community then our Christian gatherings become impotent and ultimately pointless. If we cannot cope with pain, failure and sin, then we are nothing like Jesus.

At the coal face, the margins of ministry and society, we find Christ, welcoming, offering grace, and bringing healing. "Thanks Lord!" indeed/

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ministry - where?

I was impressed recently by the contributions made by young adults (under 25!) in a church service. It was not a "Youth service", yet they welcomed, led worship, played in the band, read the Bible lesson, preached, administered communion and even took the collection. But I was also slightly concerned that this might give the impression that real ministry can only happen in a church building.

This fear was reinforced by a conversation I had with a 17 year old this past week, who is entering her final year at school. It is a massive mission-field, with over 2,500 pupils, plus staff - and this particular girl was explaining that she was on the leadership team of the Christian group in the College, was trying to arrange for a concert to be held, had a speaking engagement coming up, and was aware that for some of her non-yet Christian friends this school year may be the last realistic chance for them to experience Jesus.

The conversation was prompted by a decision she has to make - having been invited to help lead a small group in her church for younger kids, which she would enjoy and would do really well - she found herself struggling to prioritise her time and energy.

So - pour yourself into a tough mission field with literally thousands of lost souls to invite into the kingdom; or engage with a small lovely group of kids already surrounded by Christianity? Genuinely a difficult decision. And I fear that 'church' will praise, support and encourage her if she chooses one way, and be totally unaware of the significant leadership role she will be carrying if she chooses the less trodden path.