Even in Mosgiel, the earthquake woke me. I was just deciding to wake the twins and make sure they got to a safe space, when the quake stopped. Returning to bed I prayed for Sophie in Wellington (thinking the quake might have been near there) and for anyone affected by it. Little did I know that my wife Sue (who was on the 8th floor hotel room for a GP conference) was being shaken around along with the rest of the Christchurch region (including my brother and sister there). Later that day Tessa and I drove to ChCh to bring Sue and another GP home. My reflections from what I saw and heard are:
Isn't it interesting that the first response of people in a disaster is to phone loved ones and tell them... they are OK...that they love them... The cellphone has made this immediate communication possible. Sue was able to phone me at around 5.30am to tell me she was OK. Until that point I hadn't been worried about her! When day broke, I found myself phoning my Christchurch family to see how they were faring.
An earthquake (along with other disasters) reminds us that we aren't as "in control" of our lives as we often think. It exposes the hubris of our age.
Both Prime Minister John Key and Mayor Bob Parker used the word "miraculous" to describe the fact that there had been no loss of life. In this they seemed to be pointing beyond themselves to a "miracle worker." In contrast to these two, news media and residents seemed to be looking to local and national government to provide the fix that would make everything better.
Although Jesus taught that wars and rumours of wars, famines and earthquakes would be signs of the beginning of the end (and the return of Jesus) (Matthew 24:6-8), he did not equate them with God's judgement. On the contrary, I see more of God's mercy in this earthquake (no one died) than God's judgement on Christchurch. I'm sure Christchurch has it's share of sins, but no more so than Dunedin, or Mosgiel.
Arriving in Christchurch on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I was struck by the large areas of the city that were not damaged. It reminded me that the news media had focused on the damaged areas. This is understandabe and reflects the serious extent of this disaster, but if we only consider the media coverage, we can be left with a biased view.
One of the lasting impressions from driving through the streets was the sight of people queuing for water at a water tanker. Not a common in New Zealand. People knew their need and they knew where to go. I would love people to realise their deep need of God and that they need to go to the Saviour. We don't need to queue!
I have also been reminded again of the opportunity for good even in the midst of disaster. People have spoken of a feeling of "being given a second chance", of experiencing a miracle, of discovering their place in the community... Without wanting to be simplistic or flippant, I honestly believe God can use even these traumatic experiences for good, such as bringing people to know Him. (Rom 8:28)
Finally, as a church leader I reflect on how we can best help the people of Christchurch. We will connect with a Christchurch church and find appropriate ways we can serve them. This also challenges me about how we can better respond to wider needs such as the floods in Pakistan.
I continue to pray for those in Christchurch and elsewhere who must live through such events.