On May 30 and 31, several of us who have Baptist Union roles visited Christchurch for two very contrasting days.
The first was spent with national denominational heads and their respective regional and social service leaders. The denominational heads have regular meetings with political leaders such as the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. A reason for the Christchurch meeting was to gather information that we as denominational leaders could take into our meeting with, in particular, the Deputy Prime Minister and Gerry Brownlee – the minister delegated to help chart the way ahead for Canterbury in the wake of the earthquake.
We spent much of the day listening to those who are involved through their agencies in bringing help to the people of Christchurch, hearing of the positive initiatives and responses and also of some of the frustrations and pain.
The second day was spent with our Canterbury Baptist pastors and leaders. Again, for those of us who were the guests it was a time of listening and trying to discern what our best response could be.
It’s inspiring being in Christchurch and hearing of the tremendous response of so many from our churches to the people of “their villages.” I’ve written before of the fact that there is a new welcome and acceptance of our churches and their ministries, and of the fact that we now have “parishes” where there is both new relationship and a new sense of role in the community.
The Canterbury people prefer to talk of the new “villages.” More than 90 of these villages have been identified and are characterised by people having new relationships and care for each other. In this village environment it’s a time of new opportunity for our churches and, in the midst of the struggle and frustration, there are some great stories.
For example, Oxford Terrace, our most devastated church that, for a number of weeks following both quakes, had no main meeting venue, has seen numerical growth and a recent newcomers’ event with 30 people present.
I came away with a number of thoughts:
• God is doing something very special in Christchurch.
• A number of the Christchurch leaders are determined that this should be a time of opportunity to do something that is new and Spirit-led.
• People who are desperately tired and frustrated are longing for the aftershocks to cease, for planning and rebuilding to begin, and to know what is going on.
• I’m so glad that as Baptist churches we are a grass roots movement that affirms the role of the local church. It’s always important that those of us who work nationally understand that our role is to resource and encourage the mission of the local church rather than seek to organise and dictate to the local church.
I’ll expand a bit on this in several ways:
1. One of the great encouragements has been to see the response of local churches and individuals who, following the earthquakes, have wanted to partner with and bless the churches and people of Canterbury. People have taken initiatives and felt free to respond as God has guided them.
2. Other denominations told of the work of their social services agencies – we told of the work of our churches. That is significant because in our churches we have a much greater resource than you can have through the good work of a social service agency.
3. One of our keys spokespersons at the Monday meeting was William Drury-Turnbull, who we have employed to act as a coordinator of the aid effort working with the local churches.
4. When we met together on the Tuesday it was essentially to affirm that God has chosen the Church to be God’s mission partner in the redemption of the world. We acknowledged that may mean the shape of Church for the future could be very different, but the mission will be as it always has been – to share the gospel to the people of the world, to the villages we inhabit. We met to sense what God is saying and how we can be equipped and encouraged for the way ahead.
Finally, I believe God has been preparing the way for us nationally, not just in Christchurch, to be effective witnesses to his saving power. The preparation has involved sacrifice and pain but through that is being forged a new understanding of what it means to be true followers of Jesus, who gave everything for us and calls us to join with him in God’s mission.
• Rodney Macann, National Leader