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!

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

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!

flat: earthquake stories after 22 Feb #4

8 March 2011

It is great receiving responses from different people as different ones of us in Christchurch share our experiences.  I particularly appreciate Geoff King’s contributions as they contrast with mine as he participates in what is happening from a different angle.  I hope people don’t get bored by our writings – I think there is value in sharing things for the sake of the many who clearly feel deeply for what has happened and is happening, and there is a degree of therapy in writing about it as well.  Please tell me when to give it a rest if I rant on for too long!

Anne and I managed to scramble two nights away – it took forever to get to our friends 3 hours south – prising ourselves out of Christchurch and then catching up with family who were keen to touch the wounds and see for themselves that we were still alive.  I have been encouraging colleagues to attend to getting some rest and figured that I needed to heed my own advice.  We had a great time away – no aftershocks, no jobs to do – we were spoilt, but at this stage I feel ambivalent about whether it was worthwhile.  Neither of us slept well, the boys were still up here, and the challenges of what is ahead came to visit me both nights from 3am until dawn.

I feel kind of flat now – the first time that some despair has entered into the frame.  We have heard that people very dear to us are seriously contemplating moving away to Australia – their going will have a major impact on us.  I can hardly blame them if they take up that option – they are scared and struggling.  It has crossed my mind several times after this second earthquake that many of those who have chosen to hang on and tough it out will not handle another one.  One more big one and I hate to think what will happen.

It is still early days, but the combination of stuff here is a very heavy load to bear… here are just a few things that are a weight for me

the names of the dead being released at the rate of three a day,

parts of the CBD being closed for 6 months,

one third of the CBD buildings being trashed,

some 70,000 people having left the city (and not all of them intending to return),

3500 jobs lost (so far),

up to 100,000 of the 140,000 home in Christchurch suffering damage

around 10,000 homes to be demolished,

and the perpetual threat of more aftershocks

And this one – I struggle to see how some of our churches will keep going.  Our weakest ones have been hit the hardest and there isn’t a lot in reserve in the rest of us to carry them for very long – not many of us are all that strong.  A lot of what we were doing in the city was quite precarious before the two earthquakes… it is a real worry!

There is a lot in this city that is operating on survival mode.  It is kind of right that the churches are part of this – our rightful place is suffering alongside everyone else whose business and livelihoods are in jeopardy, weeping with those who have lost loved ones, and asking serious questions about the future.  A lot has been flattened here… so we will feel flat from time to time.

Many here are only able to take things day by day – maybe that is all that the church can do for now.  I recall Jesus having something to say about that.

One of our small parishes is New Brighton Union.  Darryl Tempero has been in contact over there and taken them some food parcels as well as spending time alongside the makeshift Parish Council and their minister Mark.  Darryl has just sent the following report of what they shared: “Many elderly, some in rest homes, have been relocated.  A number of members in places like Bexley have suffered significant damage to their homes..  Many have left town, and there was some discussion around caring for people as they return.  They felt like their ‘flock was scattered.’  There will be issues around shock as people see their houses again after being away…  They gathered on the beach on the first Sunday, and on the boulevard on the second (70 attending), with a number of people joining them that don’t usually attend church.  They have said: “we have to go back to the beginning and figure out what church is like without a building.”

dust: earthquake stories after 22 Feb #3

5 March 2011

I ventured across town today to the sea-side suburb of Redcliffs to help a woman load up stuff on a trailer – she is moving with her children to Queenstown – I had conducted her husband’s funeral late last year – the load for her is horrendous.  We have been told to avoid travelling unnecessarily and we have heeded that.  But heading over there was a real eye-opener.  The scenes of devastation across the city are one thing on TV and quite another thing seeing it with my own eyes.  What a mess and what dust!  The piles of sand/dirt on the streets become normal, as does damage to every second or third building.  I am surprised to find myself seeing these things and not reacting – it is as if this is has become normal.  It is all abnormal, but the all-consuming nature of it numbs me. Someone sent me the attached photo of the dust at the point of the earthquake – it is frightful.

The trip over was at 9am and I got there much faster than I anticipated in 20 minutes.  Heading home at 11.30am was a different story, it took an hour and a half!  The main arterial routes are all damaged.

Rev Dugald Wilson and I have been working for the last five months on earthquake matters for the Presbytery.  We met with the assessors manager working for the Presbyterians on Friday.  He was quite cut up by what he has seen and heard – he is a fine guy and because of this earthquake he will be bumped up the chain and not as available to us as he has been.  He along with the insurers manager and engineer firm manager that we have been working with are all church-goers – it has really helped – we feel that the peculiarities of our ways of working are understood.  Our assessor friend told us that this event along with September is the largest insurance event in the history of world insurance (recognising also that we are a high-level insured society).  It is also the worst earthquake to hit an urban area in the world – not in magnitude but in the nature of the forces caused by the shallowness of the quake and its proximity to a city.  With that knowledge, it is remarkable that there weren’t more fatalities.  Every day or two the police reduce the projected number of fatalities, and the news today about there being no bodies in the Anglican Cathedral reminds us again that we have escaped the kinds of horror that many other cities and regions in the world have suffered.

The 600 food boxes from the Wellington Presbyterian churches have been delivered and the team have made their way back home.