You know those Western movies where the hero or villain turns up in the middle of a street, itchy hand near to holstered gun, and dust swirls around to tell us viewers that this town is a long way from anywhere and so might is right and fastest draw is law? East Christchurch had that feel yesterday. Not the guns (of course) but the swirling dust. Blustery nor-west winds first dried the silt then blew it everywhere. Driving the streets was driving in a desert town. And that wasn't the only aspect to deserted Christchurch. Houses are empty. There aren't many cars on the streets. I think more people have left Christchurch than the media are telling us because all they give are stats from the airport. But anecdotally there are convoys of cars on the roads north, south and west. Our children are still at home, waiting for schools to restart, but many other children seem to be already enrolled in schools elsewhere.
What are on the streets of east Christchurch are trucks. Liquefaction has been greatest there so between removing silt and fixing broken roads the truck is king of the road. Despite some media impressions that nothing much is happening to the (literally) poor people of the east, impoverished through lack of water, power and sanitation, I can assure readers that a lot is happening. But the problems are so great I am sure what is happening is being experienced as not enough and not fast enough in providing solutions.
Every church I visited yesterday is broken. One is open and safe, three are not yet safe, at least one is likely to be demolished. None are on the media's radar. Yet the church in its universal sense - people, congregations, ministry units, aid agencies - is operational in the mission of God. I learned firsthand of how this great operation is going when I had the great privilege yesterday morning of participating in a meeting of church leaders at Spreydon Baptist Church, called by Murray Robertson (the most widely known and respected church leader in our city). Over one hundred people gathered to share what we are doing, what we need and what we can offer.
It was an eye-opener to me how many churches are in our city which I have never heard of. It was very impressive to hear how much well-organised and creative work is going into the churches' responses to the quake. From food parcels to making space available for other churches, even small businesses to operate; from care for elderly to running children's and youth programmes at very short notice, churches across Christchurch are pitching in with love to meet human need. Aid agencies are working together in a co-ordinated work well connected to civil defence. Overseas connections are being tapped for funds and even personnel. Churches in other cities are present in our city offering help. Soon we will see pastors and preachers from far away coming to relieve local ministers overwhelmed by needs around them.
But one clear theme emerged as stories were told. The west of Christchurch is largely untouched and has resources to share. The east of Christchurch is badly hit and has many needs. Connections between the two halves were being made before the meeting, but will increase after it.
For some time to come there will be a need for cooperation between all churches if we are to continue worshipping God corporately and serving the community. Some have safe space and others need it. Some have people queuing for food parcels and others can supply them. The city needs volunteers and churches can provide them. I imagine yesterday's meeting will not be the last of its kind in the months, if not years ahead of us as we rebuild our city and its social and ecclesial structures. The church of God is not deserting Christchurch!