I've been in Christchurch for the last five or six days (arrived there last Tuesday, around tea-time, and left Sunday lunchtime). Christchurch, site of New Zealand's most famous earthquakes, considerably outranking the huge ones that flattened the smaller city of Napier back in the thirties.
I didn't go into central Christchurch, an area I previously knew better than anywhere else in the city, because I couldn't bear to see live what I'd already seen on television: the devastation of fine heritage buildings would have been more than I wanted to handle, I think. Apart from that, I didn't have any real time to go exploring, or sightseeing. The area I was working in had enough of its own visual demonstration of the effects of the earthquake: a suburban area on the East side of the city where much of the worst damage happened. Houses here have been demolished completely, are due to be demolished, are boarded up, have boards up to protect them until they're repaired, have wonky paths and driveways, and are situated on streets where your car's suspension is likely to get a hammering. In fact, the roads are one of the most obvious factors in terms of gauging the city's overall damage: everywhere you go there are roadworks, and changes being made to the layout of roads, and this constant feeling that you're going over a lot more bumps than you're used to.
When you go inside the houses, even the ones that look okay, you see the cracks in the plaster, the corners where wallpaper and plaster has pulled away, the gaps between ceilings and walls, the floors that aren't quite flat. We were in St Ambrose's Anglican Church yesterday for a service: the building itself doesn't seem too bad - at least not to look at - but the floor is all over the place. Our base during the week was Parklands Baptist Church, and again, while the building seems pretty much okay, there's a fair amount of taping up of large cracks in the flooring.
To my great relief, we didn't have any tremors while we were there. People are still on edge, however; they've more than once got to the point where they've thought quakes and tremors had come to a standstill, only to have another large quake, the sort that's big enough to upset you all over again, bring back all the tensions and fears.
I went up to ChCh with a team of 12 other people from our church, Dunedin City Baptist. The church has done these local mission trips before in a variety of places, including our home town, and while the leader has remained the same for all of them (they happen once or twice a year), the remainder of the team varies considerably from trip to trip. They almost always stay in a hall connected to the local church they're working with, and they cook meals together and have prayer times together and 'debriefings.' They go out in pairs, usually, knocking on doors and asking if the people would be willing to answer a few questions on a survey. Being a Christian group, the survey naturally leads onto discussing what people feel about church, and about Jesus. But that's only part of it: they're also looking out for people in need within the area, and once these needs are identified, the local church follows up and does their best to alleviate the situation. In the process, of course, it makes contact with the people and hopefully they feel comfortable enough with these church people to want to get to know them better.
Of course it has an evangelistic bent; there are enough plain social workers out there without us primarily doing social work as well (although it was the church that began 'social work' to a great extent, two millennia ago.
This trip, however, had a number of differences: firstly we were going to a church that had already done a great deal of door-knocking. Secondly the door-knocking in question was primarily to find out how people were doing as a result of the ongoing earthquakes, and to put them in touch with people and organisations who could assist them further. The group overseeing our visit, CCR (Christchurch Community Response) has been up and running for some time, and has a good relationship with groups like the Red Cross. It has a number of volunteers who are able to assist more quickly than some of the bigger, more official organisations, as well.
Thirdly we were there to help out CCR (it doesn't stand for Creedence Clearwater Revival, or Revisited, by the way) in any way we could. So, on and off for two days we did door-knocking, and completed some of the streets that CCR wanted covered. We also assisted at St Ambrose's in such tasks as dropping off free firewood, or taking round care packs and such. On top of this two of our team got themselves into Bake-a-thon mode, and not only gave away a good deal of the baking we'd brought up from Dunedin, baking that was intended to be part of our in-house food, they made a great deal more and gave that away too.
In fact giving things away was a delight: the leader and I, on Friday morning, went round one long street giving away some sixty fleecy blankets, the sort that you wrap around yourself if you're watching TV, or reading a book in your chair. The Warehouse used to sell them a great deal, and may still do so. The sixty blankets we gave away had been donated to the CCR people, but no one had had time to dispose of them. So we walked from house to the next, and wherever people were home, gave the blankets a new home. There's nothing quite like someone knocking at your door and asking if you want something free, something which is obviously of use to you. It's warmed up in ChCh, but it's still not the hottest, so I suspect those blankets will already be coming in handy. To be continued....