It has been a few weeks since my week in Christchurch, but it has taken that long to really process what happened during that week. In short, I went down on school break to volunteer at Grace Vineyard Church in New Brighton, a suburb of Chch. I stayed with a couple from the church, people that I could (and did) listen to for ages tell stories of their lives, within and without NZ. I saw the city, the people, the damage, the hope, the heartbreak, the optimism and the beginning of a new normalcy. Here are a few passages that I wrote while staying there.
18 April 2011: I was able to see the physical damage in town today, and it is just like the TV’s have shown–liquefaction, broken fences, cracked walls, moved foundations. On the other end of the spectrum was the old man, Ken, who personified the optimism that is talked about on the news and immortalized in the best kinds of characters in books and movies. In his eighties, he had just come home from the hospital where he was visiting his wife whose leg was amputated after the quake. That part was no big deal for him. He accepted the frozen dinners we provided and then said he’d no longer be needing them, that he and his wife were getting on now, in large part because of the continued support from Grace Vineyard. He said he’d come to Grace sometime to personally thank Sam (the pastor). He wished me well in NZ and back in the US as well. He lived on 45th in New York, right off of Times Square for several years.
19 April 2011: Day two in Christchurch has passed. I’ve now felt several earthquakes. There are several aftershocks per day. I’ve felt one each of the previous nights as well as one today at the church. They’re a bit unnerving, but I’m glad to have experienced them. John, a fellow volunteer and housemate for the week, felt his first today in the supermarket, and overcame with excitement at finally feeling one, he shouted out a loud, “Yahoo!” at the checkout counter. Probably not the best response, especially since he was wearing his red, CREW t-shirt, but memorable nonetheless in the most “shake my head” kind of way. Met an old man named Bernie today-still kicking even with a limp and still no sewage/water at his house. I’d have liked to stay and chat with him, but he wasn’t the guy on our list, just a helpful neighbor. He walked us over the sidewalk and onto the heaps of silt that gave way underfoot, like the wet part of a beach nearest the water, to show us the way to the house we were looking for. His action stuck out to me for some reason.
21 April 2011: After door knocking in a pretty rough area of town, I met a guy who was in pretty rough shape. He was an ex-competitive cyclist who had neuro surgery a few years back, prohibiting him from any power rides, which he loved for the challenge, endorphins and stress-relief. He had recently broken off a nine year relationship with a drug addicted, alcoholic woman who cheated on him with another man. He is bi-polar and has been on and off of suicide watch for some time. The the September earthquake happened. Then the February earthquake. Whew! I wasn’t qualified to be doing anything for him except listen, so that is what I did. I could give no brilliant fix, for there is none, and had no life-altering words, but I could listen. So I did. I hope more people do.
We dropped leaflets in shops and mailboxes in the neighborhoods surrounding the church today and I felt like God was saying about the week and experience as a whole that people matter, places don’t. I feel like this applies to physical, emotional, and spiritual “places.” God sees past all those things and still cares. We, me, persons of God seeking to carry out his work, are called to do the same: be radical, be blind and see people’s hearts. This can only work if done through insight and provision by God since we are a people plagued by oir own sin, issues, and problems. However, we are not called to know everything, just enough, and then are empowered through acknowledgment of our own humility and brokenness to act and see what God is calling us to do in the lives of others. For me, today, that was handing out “Grace Vineyard Easter Services” flyers to local shops and mailboxes. There was a surprising number of boxes with “No Circulars/ No Junk Mail” signs on them. It got me thinking about the houses that did get the flyers. Some of them are bound to find the flyers annoying, a waste of paper and their time, and cause them to question for the millionth time why they haven’t installed their “No junk mail or I will end you” sign, hand-crafted in Russia and forged of hardened, weatherproof, bomb-proof steel. I think besides lading a person to the service, that is the best possible scenario: annoyance. I think junk mail is annoying and think most people would share this view. The fact that people might get ticked at finding this sheet in their box encourages me because it is a normal thing to do. Since the quake, people have been seeking normalcy. All have had to adopt a new normalcy, so for me to deposit a flyer in their box and have them respond with the very normal response of scoffing and souring at its sight, well good on them for ripping it to shreds, or making a grocery list on the back of it, or folding it into a beautiful paper crane. All of these are normal responses, so if I can be a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me, then I will leave junk mail.
24 April 2011: Easter. Worship was a glorious cacophony (my favorite word). New tradition: Easter fish’n’chips.
I said goodbye to my incredible hosts, a brilliant couple that I will not soon forget. Christchurch is bad, supremely so, but there is an extreme optimism on the part of the people that has not, and will not be extinguished. Five, ten, fifty years from now, what will this city be? Great, with work.