Friday, June 24, 2011


With some ups and downs through these past months my immediate family, like most families in Christchurch, have survived the earthquakes in a reasonable state: jobs, houses, schools intact. But among my extended family and circle of friends and colleagues, there are some who have fared badly: in particular with damaged houses on damaged land worsening with each major quake. Left to their own resources, their future had a certain bleakness. Likely negative equity and all that. But yesterday their future received the certainty and hope they have looked for. Our government will buy 5100 homes in the worst affected areas of Christchurch. (It may yet buy more, but that requires more investigations before coming to a decision). I am relieved for those I know. They have quite a journey to go on yet - securing a section, building a home, settling into a new area - but in the long run they will not be destitute. I imagine the relief and joy they feel will be tempered by the challenges that journey will bring.

Since the announcement at 1.30 pm yesterday, that feeling of relief has been a great reminder that good news is possible in the midst of a bad time such as we have been having. From outside of the immediate context, a generous intervention has come which makes and will make a material change to life. The good news here is not words of kindness and support but material kindness and physical support which lifts people (literally) out of the mud. When the just desserts of life suggests that one has to take what life throws up, whether triumph or disaster, here is an act of sheer generosity, of undeserved kindness.*

What is the gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of disaster? A few posts earlier I pointed to the good news that God is in charge of the world or "Jesus is Lord". Here can be emphasized the good news is that God is generous, offering us riches in Christ beyond our dessert, forgiving our wrongdoing and giving us right status before him, and blessing us materially (not, I hasten to add, in the sense that prosperity is our kingdom inheritance (cf. 'the prosperity gospel'), but in the sense that when Jesus comes into our lives, as we read in the gospel, people are healed and fed as a sign that God is in charge and God is generous).

I think it is important to welcome yesterday's news for what it is: good news. But it is important to acknowledge that yesterday's news also brought other news: many homeowners living in 'orange zones' who have to await an announcement whether they will be bought out or have to undertake repairs themselves. Then there are those in 'munted' houses who are renting them and face uncertainty about where they can move to, lacking the financial power unleashed yesterday to make decisions to buy a new property.

From a diocesan perspective it is difficult to assess at first glance the full impact on our parishes of the announcement. No single parish will lose all its houses; some parishes in the 'red zones' will lose more homes than others. The new housing areas to which people will move are spread around other parishes so (again, at first glance) it is not immediately clear that a whole new parish will need to be planted. Over time I imagine that ministry resources will be redistributed and redeployed across our city.

We have a long way to go in the full recovery of our city and region. In other news yesterday I detect our geological scientists more overtly acknowledging that we may be in the midst of an unprecedented geological event within recorded human history.

*Two notes: (1) For Kiwi readers tempted to think our government has to do what it had done, let's remember the people over the years whose homes have been flooded away or have fallen off a cliff who have not been helped in this manner. (2) I believe the NZ government, whether Labour-led or National-led, would do what it has done, so my eulogising this decision is not - repeat 'not' for my left-leaning readers :) - a promotion of the National Party.

1 comment:

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, I think that the 5.100 people whose house and land have been 'munted' by the quakes are mostly thankful that 'the government' has actually given them some certainty about their future.

With a catastrophe on this scale, I think N.Z. has done remarkably well in getting things running relatively speedily so that people can simply 'get on with life'.

To expect to please everyone might just not be possible. Regardless of the Party in Power, so much needs to be remediated. With such a small GDP, to have to commit even 8% of it to this - on behalf of a single city - is an enormous responsbility

In the meantime, Prayers on behalf of the still-disheartened are being offered - on a daily basis.