Wednesday, April 20, 2011

For the Kingdom of God Belongs to Such as These...

At parents at cession, one of the ways we all help staff Kid’s Encounter (our children’s ministry) is by serving as helpers once a month. Last weekend was our family’s turn and I was class helper Sunday night. One thing I learned is that the perceptions, comments and questions are radically different from adult focused ministry (and a tad more entertaining). While Brett was teaching out of Psalms 51 and talking about confession and transformation, I was exploring scripture from a different perspective.

As a pastor, one thing I look for is people’s personal expression and embodiment of what I taught because it helps to understand someone’s faith perspective and what really came out of my mouth. With that in mind, I want to introduce you to
Jedi-Jesus, the personal expression and embodiment from Aedan’s perspective. Apparently, he feels Jesus used his skills with the force to make us right with God. Although I’m not sure what Bible story he found his inspiration, I must admit that the light sabers and Jedi belt seem to fit right in with the drawing he was given…

I process comments people share. I love to hear about the thought process that a message can birth. Of all the comments shared with me in class, my favorite was, “If you eat too many chips, you’ll die.” This was said with a matter-of-fact earnestness only a five-year old could have – there was no question in his voice whether this was true or not. I'm sure it had some connection with the story being shared.

I also encourage questions and processing what I teach. I work hard at not being surprised by any question and ready to work through an answer. My favorite question this weekend came after the teacher asked, “Why did Jesus come to us here on Earth?” Someone in the class answered, “To save us” which prompted another question by another five-year old – “What about Mars?”

So, with that said, if you feel like you’re not engaged in your worship service and have fallen into a rut or, if you feel like you’ve been in church long enough to hear it all, see if you can help out in children’s ministries. There’s a whole new perspective on faith that adds meaning to Luke 18:16-17 …

Friday, April 8, 2011

Mana and Resiliency

Most of you know I spent last week in Christchurch working with the Salvation Army as they respond to the earthquake aftermath. I’ve spent much of this week thinking through my time and trying to process all I experienced. It was a blessing to be there with them but also very challenging to come back to normalcy – more so than I expected. I’m in a healthy spot – I just didn’t put much credence into the need to debrief the experience until I was flying home. I’m blessed with good relationships that helped and listened as I shared.

While there, I was a member of a team of 13 people from all over New Zealand and Australia. About half were Sallies (that’s what they call Salvation Army members here) and half were people like me who just wanted to help. We’d meet every morning at 6:30 AM and head to our home base for breakfast before being disbursed to area communities. We would go door to door checking on people until 4:30, return for a debrief time and dinner, and be back to our rooms around 7:30 PM. Each day, my partner and I checked on 60 – 100+ homes. In a sense, we were doing triage – spending up to a half-hour with people listening and assessing needs and referring them to other teams if they needed more time.

During the week, we visited Ferrymead (a new development hit hard but still liveable), Bexley (one of the hardest hit areas – at least 5 out of 6 homes were unoccupied, most of which were red-stickered/damaged beyond repair), Lyttleton (close to the epicenter and just recently opened to aid workers), and New South Brighton (the 5% of homes that had to wait weeks for services to be restored). Our goal was to connect with the residents still there and offer any help we could – often it was just offering a listening ear and time for a cup of tea. I was amazed at the power in the combination of those two things. It’s worth sharing some of the connections here. We talked with:

• An elderly couple who were looking after their neighborhood and trying to hold it together. The husband was pretty chipper and said they were fine, but his wife was struggling to hold it together. We prayed for a natural opportunity for someone on our team to connect with her at a later time. Later, she met us in the driveway of one of their neighbors and shared for 20 minutes how difficult the last 5 weeks have been. They suspect their house will be red-stickered – there are so many cracks in the foundation slab that the house shakes every time a truck drives by. This was to be their retirement home. She just wants answers but knows they won’t know details for 4-6 months. Just being able to talk was a relief for her.

• Another gentleman said he was fine but invited us in for tea and shared his story. He was in the CBD (central city) when the quake hit – his wife was 5 km away. When he couldn’t reach her, he ran to her location only to be turned away due to the damage. He started working up the evacuation route and found his wife in the crowd. It then took them 2 hours to travel a 15 minute drive to collect their boys from school. Even though out of work, they were getting on with life but he just wanted to talk.

• A single mom in one of the harder hit communities. All the homes around her were red-stickered or abandoned. Her kids were relocated to schools across town. For a shower, they had to travel 3 km to portable facilities set up by the government. She shared how looters pulled into her driveway on Feb 22 – the night of the quake – and only left when they saw her son walk around from the back of the house. She wanted so much to talk that she followed us to the road when it was time for us to leave.

It’s almost impossible to really empathize with the people living in the effects of a disaster like this and know the importance of crisis support until you see it firsthand. Think of life right now as you know it. Now take away all the things you take for granted as being there – clean water coming out of your pipes, sewage going where it is supposed to when you drain or flush, power and phone service being available, roads being safe enough to drive on, the store down the street being open for business, your neighbors still living next to you, your house being weatherproof, contractors being available on a moment’s notice when you call with an emergency, , being able to easily get answers so you can act on the damage you see, being able to easily brush your teeth. This begins to give an idea of what the people are struggling through. I can still hear one young guy sharing, “Hey, we’re doing ok, I guess. We feel overlooked. You hear of how power and services are restored for 95% of Christchurch – well, this community was in the 5%. We just had services restored (5 weeks after the earthquake).” One doesn’t realize how much your daily and emotional wellbeing is built on what we take for granted. Now, add to this the daily aftershocks as reminders of how this started and you begin to sense what it could be like. In the midst of this, the Sallies play a giant role. Their mana is huge!

Mana is a Maori term for respect, prestige, and honor. It can be sourced in one’s family lines, in one’s actions, or in the actions of a group. The Sallie’s mana comes from the last two. The Sallies have mana in the community because, time and time again, they’ve been the group to help pick up the pieces. People would toot and cheer when they drove by and thank us for being in their community. In the entire week we were there, we only had one person shut his door on us (and even he did it politely). Wearing the Red Shield vest (our vests with the Sallie emblem) gave us access where we normally wouldn’t have it. I would work with them again in an instant!

When we first arrived, it was obvious that the Sallies wanted faith to be lived out in actions right now. The faith conversations can happen but, at this point in the crisis, the loudest faith voice you could have is responding to their immediate needs. They accepted people where they were and just focused on their needs at this moment. And this, they do very well. They didn’t just help with physical needs, they had the capacity and things in place to help with emotional needs as well. If someone needed food, fuel, or clothes, we could help. If someone needed help making ends meet or needed help getting out of Christchurch for a break, we could help. If they didn’t know who to call (which agency), we could help. If they just wanted a visit, we could do that too. Even government officials recognized their mana. One said, “I’m glad the Sallies are working with us. We know they are Christians but they’re not forcing the Bible down our throats.” They recognized that the Sallies work to live out their faith and let their actions be their voice. What would it be like if every church in every community had mana like this?

The other key impact the week had on me was the resiliency of the people in Christchurch. They can’t return to the old normal of life. They’re stuck in a rebuilding time where every decision is measured in months and years. Yet, the majority of people we connected with were doing their best to get on with life. Time and time again, we saw how people were looking after their neighbors. One elderly woman had a zoo of sorts – she was caring for all the abandoned pets on her road. Several others were looking out for elderly residents next door or down the road. Because Lyttleton was cut off for days after the quake, we heard of how the community organized itself to check on its residents and make sure people were safe and fed. We heard story after story of how people congregated together after the earthquake and cared for each other. Their road to getting back to a new normal is pretty long but they’re making it happen. As one there, you begin to see how bounce-back-ability is encouraged just by knowing you are not alone.

Thank you so much for your prayers while I was there. I felt them each time we entered a house and shared time with people. I felt them as we tried to discern real needs from fake ones (yes, people were trying to scam the system too. Not many, but they were there). I’ve felt them since coming home as I’ve processed the experience. They were the fuel that kept me healthy and going all last week. Please continue to pray for the residents of Christchurch, the teams that are there each week, and the role the church plays in the future:

• For the people because, as a whole, this is typically the lowest part of the process as people respond to crisis and disaster. Pray that they practically know people are there for them.

• For the Sallie teams – they are the first line of relational support right now. Pray that people wouldn’t continue to volunteer to serve and that the Sallies can continue to staff the teams they need. Pray that the right people would be drawn to this – good listeners with empathetic, caring, and discerning hearts. Pray for these individuals as they head home and adjust back to life (the Sallies even help with this if needed – they have a handle on the whole process).

• For the church down the road. The Sallies have a long term commitment to Christchurch. They told us that there will be a time to share their faith (it’s just not now). Pray for them down the road when they begin to share what drives their concern for recovery there. Pray for the Wesleyan church as well. In 2012, Christchurch is the next strategic church plant for the New Zealand Wesleyan Church (this was in place well before the Earthquakes). Pray for Clint Usher (the planting pastor) and the leadership here as they discern what that plant will look like.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Rob in Christchurch

Hi Everyone, so many have asked about Rob going to christchurch and many of you are praying. Thank you so much. We wanted to get a note out to everyone because I'm sure there are some that do not know the opportunity Rob had. It has been hard to watch NZ go through the aftermath of such a disaster as the one in Christchurch nearly 6 weeks ago. Both our church and our family were left with this sense of "how can we help". Soon after that the salvation army put out a call for urgent need for pastors and councilors to help with their earthquake relief efforts. Rob put his name in and he got a call last week to be on a plane this week to go down. When it was time it happened pretty fast but we were blessed that he could help in this way. We have had good phone coverage so we have been able to talk and he is doing really well. Exhausted, but good. Their days start around 5:30am and end at 7:30pm. As he has said "there is a reason the salvation army does what they do". He feels very well taken care of, their operation is very well organized and he feels fully equipped for what ever he may come across. There are still several neighborhoods that have not been assessed yet, so it has been a lot of going from door to door, checking in on families to make sure they are ok and find out their needs. The last few days they were in Littleton, which is where the epicenter was of the quake (not the massive massive damage that you see in the central business district) because of this location they are dealing with a lot of damaged homes and some that have already been marked with red paint to signal these one are beyond repair. As Rob has said he is encouraged and blown away by the resilience of the people of CHCH and he is also broken by the level of emotional hurt. There are so many different scenarios, stories and needs he has come across, and all the while feeling Gods hand and that some how in a little way he is making a difference.
The boys and I are doing well during the separation, but there is just something about being separated in a different country, its like its more "heightened" or something. The church family has been awesome looking after us, and the big news of the week is that I actually started driving!!! Look out Auckland! I have been holding down the fort here between family, working hard on our fund raising efforts and the church ministry needs as we are approaching the Easter season and there are several community outreach events we organize. Please continue to pray for Rob, he will be home soon,his safety and that God would equip him with everything he needs and his processing time once he is home. Pray for the people of CHCH, this is going to be a long journey for sooo many of them.
Thank you for your love and prayers!!