On November 14th, 2016, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Kaikoura. Given the strength of the earthquake it was a miracle that only two people lost their lives. A holiday weekend with lots of tourists visiting here had just ended, and most people were at home instead of the hotels or other common areas that were among the most damaged. Nevertheless there was a lot of damage: particularly in the commercial district that was gearing up for what would usually be a peak tourist season. But the road northward was blocked, and few tourists came.
This was the setting that my cohort of CCSP entered. I, for one, was largely naïve of the impact of the earthquake. Our program was relocated, but it was to a beautiful spot overlooking the ocean and close to town. I had nothing to compare it to, and thus no sense of the loss that occurred. The loss first began to hit me when I biked out to see the old convent with Kelly, one of my friends from the program. As we carefully walked around the outside of the building, I saw what a beautiful place it was. It was large with balconies and porches, and surrounded by flowers and fields. Sanctuary seems like the only word to describe it: it was a place set aside for the work of God, a place of peace, healing, and contemplation. Even in its brokenness it was beautiful; there were still vegetables growing in the garden and at a distance through the windows we could see artwork on the walls and a bowl of fruit sitting in the living room. But now there was glass on the ground and caution tape surrounding the parameter. Like the pictures you see on TV, I saw a perfect place frozen in time by a natural disaster. I started to understand the deep impact of this event on those around me, and saw how deep the hurt ran.
I see God in the eyes of the Christians of Kaikoura. Their eyes sparkle and glow as they talk about the work of God in this town and in their lives. They talk about how fear tried to enter their lives with the earthquake, but how they know that God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power. Therefore, they refuse to let fear enter their lives.
This past break I had the opportunity to stay local for a part of it and get to know the people here. One woman, Fiona, learned that we were staying out of town and welcomed us to stay at her home since it was closer to church and town. I’ve seen a lot of homes and businesses that are still in disarray, but her home was filled with peace. For a while she didn’t put back up the fragile decorations hanging on the wall in case an aftershock knocked them off again. But she decided that she wanted her home to be a place of healing and of peace, so she decided to hang up her decorations anyways. Her warm welcome to us and the peace of her home was such a blessing. As she talked her eyes glowed about God’s provision during the earthquake, the Holy Spirit’s work in her family, and how God has brought her beautiful, full household together. There is life here, and new beginnings despite the pain.
You know that feeling of excitement you get when someone’s eyes light up when they talk about their passions? I’ve never met a group of people so alive that they bring Jesus into every conversation, and found so many people with sparkling eyes. So if you ask me where I see God here: He’s so clearly living in people who see hope amid chaos, and the Sprit working within pain. I see a people who are passionate about how God has redeemed their lives and their pasts, and who desire for others to find the same joy that they have discovered. It’s contagious really, and so far beyond what would be expected given the circumstances. This contagious joy and peace might just be the most beautiful thing I have experienced in New Zealand so far.
Me with Lisa, one of my favorite faith-filled Kiwis! This post is dedicated to Lisa, Fiona, and Dawn.