Letter to the editor re vouchers

It was lovely to read a letter to the editor in The Christchurch Press this morning from an L Stewart (not related!) where he quoted our little message in the card we gave with the voucher, and added: “The kindness continues.  We in the red zone are so appreciative.  Thank you.”
The pleasure is ours Mr Stewart!

voucher experience from a few people who delivered them

Various people have emailed in their experiences of going door to door and what a privilege it was:

“I found it very emotional – we saw pain and stress in people’s eyes and they were so grateful for the thoughtfulness of others – they all said it was very hard, but that they knew people cared.  We received hugs, and in one case, kisses.  It brought a tear to my eye and I felt honoured to be able to be part of this exercise.  Although I was out of my own comfort zone and initially nervous, with the very first visit it changed everything and I didn’t want to stop – the people in the East need us to help them and so much more help is still needed over there.”

“I hadn’t been over that side of town at all since the earthquakes. I found the
abandoned houses rather depressing and was saddened at the silt covering some people’s floors, as well as their gardens. The crazy angles of some floors and some walls was also amazing. However, the people we met were so incredibly grateful for our visit and so appreciative of not being forgotten. It was very humbling. Driving back to our smooth streets made me reflect on what it must be like coming home on those rough streets day after day to those broken houses.  I’m so glad we were able to spread a little joy!”

“A middle-aged woman carrying her little dog answered the door – she couldn’t believe what we were offering her – and she and the dog gave me a hug!”

“We met a man about our age fixing a new door handle on the door of a house in the red zone.”

Presbyterian Church Press Release on Vouchers


 Presbyterian churches surprise people affected by Christchurch earthquake with $70,000 of grocery vouchers

On Sunday 14 August 2011 Presbyterian church-goers gave more than $70,000 – 365 $200 New World Supermarket vouchers – to homes in part of the red zone on the east side of Christchurch.

“The vouchers were given out to homes with no strings attached”, says the Rev Martin Stewart. “The homes are all in an area perceived as not needing help, so they hadn’t received much.”

After their regular Sunday church service, 130 people from St Stephen’s Presbyterian in Bryndwr, St Giles in Papanui and St Mark’s in Avonhead, went door-to-door to share the vouchers with people whose resources have been stretched more thinly than their own.

Martin says that “going over to that side of the city was sobering. There were many sad stories of struggle and wondering what is next. Without exception those who handed out the vouchers were touched by the welcomes they received”.

The Rev Martin Stewart, the driving force behind the project and minister of St Stephen’s and moderator of the Presbyterian Church’s Presbytery of Christchurch, says,  “$70,000 was raised, some donated by people from here but most from far off places like Scotland… and Auckland! Foodstuffs offered a discount enabling us to purchase even more vouchers”.

The idea for the vouchers came in April, Martin says, when Highgate Presbyterian Church in Dunedin, (Martin was formerly the minister there) gave him and his wife Anne money to distribute in Christchurch “as we saw fit.  The next day we gave the first $1000 of that money to a young family we did not know, and that we had heard life was tough for, in the damaged Avon loop area.  I wrote about it on my blog and then someone from Wellington
sent $15,000 – it soon ballooned to $70,000.  It has been like witnessing the miracle of the loaves and the fishes right before our eyes”.

Martin says in many ways 365 vouchers to 365 homes is barely touching the need out east in Christchurch city.  “It really is like we have only got a little bit of play-lunch to share and there are 5000 people hungry.  But we sense that we are not alone in this enterprise.  We believe that Jesus’ ‘kingdom
of God’ is in this and we simply don’t know what kind of ripple of hope the vouchers will generate in the lives of the people we share them with. We are sure something good will come of it and that in a multitude of ways people who receive vouchers will pay it forward in some way.”

a comment posted from one of the voucher recipients

I received the following comment this evening – it makes it all worth while!

“I am one of the red zone recipients of a grocery voucher and I would just like to say thanks again. You lovely people have really made my day. I was absolutely stunned by the generosity of those that have been involved in this. Whilst the voucher itself is very welcome and will most certainly come in handy it is the thoughtfulness and caring involved that has touched me deeply.  We are fortunate to still be able to remain in our home whilst decisions are made, we have no idea where we will go from here at this stage but know it will ‘all come out in the wash’ so to speak.  In the end we will be where we are meant to be. To be remembered today in this way is very humbling.  A huge thanks to all.

Take care, Linda

practicing the art of generosity

In this weekend of delivering $200 supermarket vouchers out in the east of the city Anne and I have been remembering times when we have been the recipients of the generosity of others.
One time, in Dunedin, when Anne was studying and we had very little extra cash, we had planned a post-Christmas camping trip with the kids and were really struggling to make it all work financially.
We had managed to book for and pay the fees for accommodation, and had squirreled away petrol vouchers to make the trip, but with Christmas and all (the challenge of living in a part of the world where Christmas and holidays all come at once!), we couldn’t see how we would manage to get enough food.  we had a bit but not enough.
One day, just before we were due to head off, a hand-delivered envelope was found in our letterbox – a supermarket voucher for $200!  It was an absolute lifeline for us. It enabled us a worry-free holiday. It could not have come at a better time.
It was also a mystery gift – we still don’t know who gave it to us.  The interesting thing was that we were sure that we had not conveyed to anyone that we were struggling.  We are people of faith and we like to believe that there was a ‘hand’ in all that took place.  Daily in our lives we see the hand of God’s generosity – gifts that are given in uncalculated and unconditional ways.  We figure that whoever gave the $200 to us operated on the same principle we do – namely, much has been given, you do likewise.
On many occasions since then we have tried to pay it forward, not because we have to, but because we want to.  We believe that it is a way of helping the world go around a little easier.
We spend $200 on things very regularly – that is a part of basic living – we do it all the time and quickly forget what we spent it on.  But when we give $200 or some other amount of money away to help someone’s life go more smoothly for a time we also are recipients – not so much recipients of their thanks, because we usually give money away under the radar.  The mystery is far more pleasurable than doing it in the open and we feel more comfortable that our motivations are more pure in that the recipients are free of feeling obligated to make some sort of ‘payback’ to us.  We figure that people are more likely to pay forward than pay back if we keep ourselves in the background.
It has been neat to be part of a super $200 thing this week.

voucher delivery day!

Approximately 130 people headed out to a red zone area after church today and gave out three-quarters of the vouchers the rest will follow this week).  It was brightly sunny for most of the time and then a bitter hail-filled storm brushed by.  In the area we went into, as we expected, half of the homes had no people in them, thus it was logistically complicated as we redirected people with vouchers left over to other areas.

ready to go

Here are some initial observations:
1. it was great to do this as three churches together – it was a big job that we were able to pull off because of having enough people.
2. almost everyone who received the vouchers was surprised and moved by the gesture.
3. going over to that side of the city was sobering – in many parts the blue pipes with fresh water and the grey pipes pumping out sewerage were running across the footpaths and gutters.  As I was taking a photograph near a sewerage pipe it suddenly jolted as a ‘dose’ passed by – charming!  But for those people living there, a very welcome gift as up to only a week ago, they were still using portaloos or chemical toilets over 7 months after the big February quake.
4. there were many sad stories of struggle and wondering what is next.  If that wasn’t enough of a load, overnight some sad souls had siphoned off the diesel from the sewerage pump and left people thinking they could use their toilets when they couldn’t.
5. without exception, those who handed out the vouchers were touched by the welcomes they received.  Some commented that they felt that they had received much more than they gave.
Thanks to all of those who helped make this wonderful event come off so well, from donors, to organisers, to voucher walkers, but especially, the voucher receivers who we hope find things a little easier, even if just for a few days!

bumpy: earthquake stories after 22 Feb #7

Yesterday Anne and I delivered a few gifts to people – some money to give to a retired couple who had 23 days with no water and still have no sewerage, and some money to a young couple nearby who have young children and live in an area that is unlikely to make it into a rebuild phase (also with no sewerage!). 

We had been told that the land was shot but we wouldn’t have believed what that meant until we drove to the young couple’s home in the Avonside loop (pictured above) and struggled to negotiate the potholes, piles of liquefaction (still there after almost two months!) and the drains that had surfaced periodically in the middle of the road.

Most of the streets in this area had signs up – ‘residents only’.  We were there at 5.30pm – peak traffic time – but there was very little traffic – most of the houses seemed empty – there were no children – just one cat running over the road, blue portaloos every 200 metres, and an eerie silence.  It was oppressive.

Yet strangely in such an environment a lovely young woman met us at the door, and welcomed us though we had never met.  We handed over a cheque for $1000.  She was completely taken aback.  It wasn’t an everyday thing in her life!

(Let me explain the $1000: someone had gifted it asking me to convey it to someone in need who might not receive the kind of support that was being offered by the Red Cross etc – I wanted to find a stranger and bowl them over – it is the gospel way, I figure… she and her husband became the targets for this act of over-the-top grace – a king-hit from the kingdom of God – $1000 no questions asked – oh I wish I could do this every day, it is art!)

What struck Anne and I as we drove away was that this lovely woman and her family endured this oppressive environment every day – it was the landscape of their daily lives – it had become normal.  Their standard for ‘normal’ was very low.  They had no other resources to draw on to move out and find somewhere better – they were at the mercy of the people who will probably tell them that their house is fixable but the land is shot, thus they will be relocated in time to somewhere not of their choosing.

We drove through an area of at least 200 homes that will one day soon be removed from the landscape – some sort of park will replace it – there will be a lot of parks in this area – but there are people there now and our hearts go out to them.


grind: earthquake stories after 22 Feb #6

22 March 2011 (one month on)

It has been a while since my last missal – the days tend to blend into one another at the moment.  I had three nights away in Auckland and Wellington and enjoyed the simple things like, drinking tap water from the tap, sleeping without giving thought to escape routes, and hearing that there were issues other than earthquake related ones!

It meant that I missed the Hagley Park memorial service (I have only just watched it since returning home).  I have appreciated the carefulness and thoughtfulness of the words offered by friends and colleagues – for instance, what God was in and not in.  It was good to see the appreciation for the help up and down the country, the Prince’s words, the heart-felt songs, and the pastoral care of the families who were also protected from the television cameras.  Our Presbyterian representative was the big-hearted and very able Rev Lapana Faletolu – while he was only given a few words to say he did so with depth and compassion.  It was good that our denomination could be represented in the event.  It was good to shed a quiet tear.

I have been a wholehearted supporter of the concept and timing of the memorial service.  It is time to move from lament to what is next before it becomes strange to be offering lament.  The next stage is, I suspect, something prolonged and for many a grind.  The novelty of the disruptive things has worn off – the shock has dissipated, the tasks before us continue to grow in their dimensions, the struggle to get around the city remains, the roads are warped and potted, the central city remains out of reach, many of our young people are in strange and distant schools (our Josh has to get two buses to get to Halswell and it takes an hour), and the threat of more damage rears its ugly head with every aftershock.

In our church we have re-introduced the idea of developing rhythms for the long haul – simple patterns of Bible reading, reflection and prayer – in order for us all to be sustained.  Our church building is badly damaged this time – we have been meeting in our hall since the quake, but when I informed everyone the other day that we probably will not be back in the church for at least two years there was an audible groan – the disruption is going to be long-lasting this time.

I have been thinking about resources for the grind. One resource is our reflexes – breathing, taking one step and following it with another, three square meals, Sabbath rest and the company of friends and family.  These simple but vital things help us trudge through the everyday grind.  

I was talking with a colleague this evening about some of the challenges we face.  We were observing that the first reflex of people who have had their churches damaged is to rebuild or restore what was there before.  There is a lot of that kind of talk in the city.  The reflex is to bring back what was – people look to the near past and what was good in their memory and they want it back.  These memories are a comfort – thus there will be stone and brick churches based on a certain transplanted style of church that will pop up again out of the rubble (and they will attract a certain clientele – like the ones who want to get married in a pretty church!). 

However my friend and I agreed that while looking backwards is an important mechanism for walking forwards that we need to learn to look back much further than the ideas and styles of our Presbyterian and other denominational forebears.  We have to rediscover what it means to be church rather than focus on what church buildings look like.  My friend and I agreed that we need to be reminded of Isaiah 51 and the call on the exiled, displaced, and vulnerable Israel to “Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.  Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you…”  My friend put it in a nutshell: this an opportunity for us to pack up our tents and go where God leads. 

I am looking forward to what opportunities God has for us on this new terrain where our buildings have revealed their tiredness and the ground they are on along with the times we are in requires a new approach to being church.  The challenge of wooing people to think into new frameworks and possibilities mostly feels like a grind – people are tired.  But a door has been opened in this city’s devastation invites the willing to have a peek at what might now be possible.  And while it is complicated and risky it is also kind of exciting.  Exciting enough to open the door a little wider and to step across the threshold.

time: earthquake stories after 22 Feb #5

11 March 2011

I’m interested in the speed of time these days – it was like this to a degree after the September quake as well.  Back then the months of October and November are a blur I can barely remember.  This time everything is fast yet slow… fast in terms of the blur of days and weeks slipping by – sort of becoming one, and slow in that many things in the course of the day just take more time to do.  Having a drink involves boiling water for three minutes.  Some administration takes ages because of constant interruptions/opportunities and finding stuff in my makeshift office.. Driving anywhere can take hours, Anne and I decided one day to grab some fast food and just sit in someone else’s environment that is free of clutter and jobs to be done before our next commitments – the drive from Sockburn to Hornby took 45 minutes (usually 3 minutes) – by the time we got there we had run out of time and headed home hungry.  We had carpet guys here today to put the underlay back after the fish tank incident during the earthquake.  The first guy aimed for midday and got here at 1.30pm – the next guy with most of the underlay made it at 3pm and the job took them until 5.45pm.  Two other clients on the schedule missed out.

Today I set out to prepare Sunday’s service and sermon – I never even got to looking at the readings.  Here’s what I did:

7.45am – emails and end of breakfast

9am informal meeting in hall with preschool music leaders including sorting keys and preparing computer suite for sale because we have had to ditch the classes each Friday because of other demands on the space and time slot (because the lounge in the church is expected to be out of action for 12-18months)

9.30am – phone calls and emails

9.50am – prepared brief statement and prayer for preschool music & play group who had lost one of the mothers who dropped dead two days after the quake

9.52am – began interview with features reporter from The Press

10am – conducted the memorial thing

10.10am – resumed interview

10.40am – emails and organised trademe stuff that sold on behalf of the church

11am – 11.40am  – emails and phone calls I think

12.15pm – eggs on toast

12.20pm – walked with Josh to nearby school auditorium to meeting about his school’s plans as they have been shut out of city centre cordon (all 450 pupils escaped unharmed from city centre on 22nd)

1.30pm – emptied living room and half of lounge for carpet guy

2-ish – post office to send trade me items (16 days late!) and walked 5mins each way to get a petrol voucher for Josh’s youth group transport provider

3ish – emails and phone calls

3.40pm – dropped Josh as near to Hagley Park as could so that he could skate around the cordon to get to youth group – if I had gone any closer to the city I would have spent an hour in traffic

4pm – meeting with Anne and parish treasurer about a range of challenges – paying stipend, what to do about our offices being off-limits, storage for garage sale stuff, earthquake-related work for next 6 months at least, and much more

5.30pm – tried to shift some gear back into rooms while carpet guys finishing up

5.40pm – tea with parishioners who have organised to get a small group to host us every Thursday for tea for next 2 months just to give us a break (very kind of them!)

7.30pm – Parish Council at an elder’s home because we have no meeting place with the hall being hired out for every available gap because of earthquake

10.20pm – got home – we usually meet for an hour and a half max, but these are troubling times

(only 3 felt aftershocks today)

10.20 to 11.53pm – emails and trade me administration (any money helps around here and we have had to postpone our parish garage sale so Mart sells stuff for tidy profits!)

Now off to bed!  If I hadn’t written all of this down I doubt I would remember much of the day at all!