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So began our journey into the unknown. On reflection it felt rather like being pushed off the map into uncharted territory where we had never been before, with no u turns possible.kaiapoi

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The Kaiapoi Story – by Paul Askin

Walking around Kaiapoi on the morning of Saturday 4th September 2010 was an unforgettable experience. Cracked and broken roads, toppled buildings in the main street, hundreds of seriously damaged houses, liquefaction all over the place, stunned and shocked people wandering around. I knew my world, our world, had changed for ever. Quite how it had changed I wasn’t too sure, but there was no doubt that what we’d known, enjoyed, taken for granted in so many ways, was gone and wouldn’t be returning any time soon, probably never.

I visited numbers of people to see how they were doing. They had stories from the middle of the night of their own, and their neighbours. No power, confusion, damage, fear; but no- one had been injured.

The next morning we canned the Sunday service programme and instead served tea and coffee as people arrived and allowed time for connecting and chatting, the sharing of experiences. We gathered informally in the auditorium, prayed together, and one of our number reflected on Jesus’ comments about the tower of Siloam which fell down killing 18 people.

Then we made another round of tea and coffee, chatted some more, and people slowly drifted away when they were ready.

So began our journey into the unknown. On reflection it felt rather like being pushed off the map into uncharted territory where we had never been before, with no u turns possible.

We didn’t know it would get much worse with lots more quakes, particularly the pain, loss of life and trauma associated with the 6.3 shockwave on February 22nd, 2011. We didn’t know that 4 years later we’d still be pulling down broken homes, arguing over insurance, and rebuilding all at the same time. We didn’t know how the adrenaline and heroism of the initial response would fade, leaving just extreme tiredness and deep weariness.

But what we did know was that we’re God’s people, called to love one another and to love others. We know that ‘the Gospel should destroy the natural selfishness of the human heart and lead Christians to sacrificial service that benefits the whole city” to quote Tim Keller (Centre Church p172).

And that’s what we got on with. Our existing community ministries, like our two Early Learning Centres, the Mainly Music group, and a fortnightly community meal, took on greater significance. We worked to use these in new ways to relate to people and share their journey.

We also initiated lots of new things in response to the ever shifting situation. Some were one-off’s like free picnic days for families, and distributing free blankets and heaters to those who needed them. We subsidized coffee evenings at a local café, ran movies for Mums and babies, also for senior citizens. During the Rugby World Cup we turned our auditorium into the Fuller Street Grandstand, complete with bleachers, coke and chips, flags and banners, and thankfully the right team won!

Our Friday lunch-time community meal became a weekly event, then in the winter of 2011 we started a weekly Thursday evening meal. In 2012 we served over 4,000 sit down meals, asking for a $2 donation. No-one was starving, but people came for a warm welcome, hot food and the chance to enjoy being with others. Now we have cut back to one meal a month and 70 to 80 people attend each time.

In 2012 we hosted a conference in Kaiapoi, ‘Restore and Rebuild’ with international speakers led by Peter Kenyon from Australia (BANK of I.D.E.A.S). It was attended by a wide variety of people from around the region and the country, including local government leaders and staff, and church and trust leaders.

A very tangible expression of confidence in the future of our community was our Trusts purchase of the Rivertown Café in Kaiapoi in 2013. At the time it was the only café in our community, the rest had been quaked out. Our aim is to provide a valuable community asset and gathering place. It’s also an excellent venue for events like ‘The Marriage Course’.

An exciting partnership this year with Vision West Trust, associated with Glen Eden Baptist in Auckland, the Ministry of Social Development and Mike Greer homes, has resulted in 14 new homes becoming available for long term rentals, for families in serious need of housing here in Kaiapoi.

Through all these changes and developments we had to deal with our own pain. Many church families lost their homes, and some lost their jobs. All of us lost friends who moved away as a result of the quakes. We were very fortunate that our church facilities came through the quakes incredibly well. This has been an enormous blessing for us.

Friends from around the country, some we knew and others we didn’t know to start with, have supported us wonderfully in prayer, with visiting teams of workers and with financial gifts, enabling us to employ a part-time ‘Strengthening Communities Co-ordinator’.

Volunteers gave hours and hours of sacrificial service, helping us in many ways, for example cooking meals and running Mainly Music. A significant number of these volunteers aren’t part of our church, some aren’t part of any church, but they were glad to help and we value them and their input greatly.

After the September 2010 quake I gave away my series from Romans, and instead we looked at lots of different disaster storiers found in scripture, eg. The storm in Matt 14, the earthquake described in Acts 16 and Paul’s shipwreck experience. We also looked into scripture at topics like fear, anger and lament, since tears had new significance for us.

Now we have arrived at the fourth anniversary of that first quake. So much has changed, we’ve all changed. We’ve lost sleep and naivety; we’ve gained new experience and depth. We’ve walked with God down roads we never expected to travel. We’ve done well in some areas, got some things right and made mistakes too.

Right now our priority is to refocus on our core business, the Gospel. Local theologian Steve Graham writes: “The focus of ministry is seeing Christ formed in people, not growing a church or meeting needs, but seeing Christ formed in them”. There’s no future in becoming a “donut” church, strong on the fringes, empty in the centre.

At the same time the community needs and opportunities are not diminishing. Kaiapoi is in the throes of massive change. While almost 1500 house are being demolished in our wider area, many new homes are being built. There are three new subdivisions; 1115 homes in Silverstream, somewhere between 900 and 1000 in Sovereign Palms and 500 in Beach Grove.

This means we are a community in transition; people have left, and many people are arriving. The face of the community is undergoing major change.   We see a very significant need for community building locally among all the people who are arriving. A significant proportion of these people have had change forced on them, making their adjustments more difficult and drawn out.

Our hope is that we can provide skilled community workers to be available for people we already have contact with, and the new people we get to know through our activities, to support them through the situations that may arise, and to help connect them into their community. We believe that this kind of work will be of genuine benefit to the well being of the whole community as we go forward.

Most of all our prayer is that we will be more and more a community of life in Jesus, a centre of hope and transformation, like a light house shining in the dark.