Today Westport marked one week since the atrocities committed at 2 Christchurch mosques. Many of us gathered at the NBS Theatre outdoor stage to pay our respects, to listen and reflect through music, to join hands during the broadcast Muslim call to prayer and 2 minute silence. Then at 8pm, we released 50 paper lanterns from Victoria Square (Well not quite 50 - some were tricky to light - see photo). St John’s Anglican Church has been open for people to drop by and we are asking people to “stand in solidarity” with those who lost their lives, by leaving a pair of shoes on the mat at the front of church.
People will be feeling all kinds of emotions in the aftermath of the attacks: tears, anger, disbelief, fear, emptiness. That is part of the grieving process. Even if we don’t know anyone personally involved in the tragedy, we feel keenly that our complacency has been shattered and that evil can be closer to home than we realised. One thing I learnt from living through the Christchurch earthquakes is that it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. If you need help with anxiety or stress there are many sources of help: doctors to give medical help, churches to pray with you, or just a well-chosen friend to hang out with.
Today, a week after the attacks, is an important day to mark. But how should we respond in the weeks and months ahead? How can we make sure that #LoveNotHate is more than just a slogan?
Well we need to show love practically, to those who are different to us. And I don’t just mean to our Muslim neighbours, there are lots of minorities in New Zealand who are feeling fearful right now. It could be dropping off plate of cookies or garden produce to a neighbour. Taking time to talk with the new family who have joined the school. Showing someone new to town where the different facilities are. A lift to a hospital appointment. Or calling someone out when they make a racist or unwelcoming remark.
Jesus summarised our responsibility to others as “love your neighbour as yourself”. When pressed for what that meant, he told his most famous story, the parable of the “Good Samaritan”. It’s a story of 3 travellers walking down a dangerous road. When they come across a man who has been attacked and injured by robbers, 2 ignore him and walk past, and only one stops to help.
Samaritans were the “ethnic minority” in Jesus’ day. They were looked down on, misunderstood and berated. And yet Jesus places one of them as the hero of this story. It is the Samaritan who stops to look after the wounded man at the roadside, to take him on his donkey to the inn, and to show him love, compassion and hospitality. (Luke 10:30-37).
Interestingly, my experience of moving to New Zealand 10 years ago has been that it is the immigrants and ethnic minorities who have given us the warmest welcome. People originally from Zimbabwe, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Malaysia opened their lives and their homes to us and have become our best friends. What’s the connection between Jesus’ famous story and my experience? It’s that those who are considered the outsider sometimes have the deepest reservoir of love to share. #LoveNotHate is not just about expressing our love to those different to us, it is about being willing to receive it from them as well.
Last night I attended the public meeting in Ngakawau about health provision for the communities north of Westport. The meeting was well organised, and there was plenty of passion shown around the importance of maintaining staffing levels. Representatives of the West Coast District Health Board, St John’s Ambulance and Buller Health answered questions from the floor. I’ll leave it to the locals to assess the responses received.
But I do want to comment on a concern that was shared by all: The importance of looking after our nurses. In a rural area it is the nurses who get to know the patients, they are the primary responders in emergencies, they are the ones on the ground, and often give of themselves beyond the call of duty. New Zealand is facing a national shortage of nursing staff. One of the worrying statistics shared at the meeting was that the average age of nurses is 50 – much higher than many other professions. How we look after our nurses will be a crucial factor for the future of healthcare. That applies to the DHB as employer, as well as to us as the receivers of nursing care.
It got me thinking about one of the early nurse pioneers in New Zealand. Sibylla Emily Maude was born in Christchurch in 1862. Known to many simply as “Nurse Maude” she dedicated herself to improving patient care from the age of 30. First, she advocated for reforms in Christchurch hospital. Later she pioneered district nursing, visiting patients in their homes, with a particular concern for the elderly, the poor and those who found it difficult to access healthcare provision.
Te Ara, the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, describes her like this:
“Dressed in a light-blue uniform and white apron with dark-blue cape and bonnet, Nurse Maude walked many miles every day in all weathers, carrying not only nursing equipment but often the pans for cooking, cleaning and washing which many people lacked. She tried to teach her patients the importance of cleanliness and fresh air, and as a woman of prayer she invariably prayed with them. Her short, sturdy figure and large, regular features were known throughout Christchurch. Although her manner was grave and almost forbidding, and she was often outspoken, she was loved for her selfless work for the poor.”
Nurse Maude’s approach was inspired by her Christian faith. She saw her work as a vocation, as a calling, something that God had placed on her heart. And for many nurses I know today, they feel a similar way. There are many questions to be asked in how we provide quality medical care on the Coast. But here are 2 key ones: How do we inspire a new generation of New Zealanders to choose nursing as a vocation? And for those who have chosen nursing, how do we support them to live out their calling in the rural areas as well as in the big cities?
Photo credit: Te Ara
This post first appeared as a church and community article in the Westport News on 15th March 2019
No we're not talking rappers from Oakland or Los Angeles. Aaron Intermann (AI) is from the Westport, New Zealand, and is producing his own hip hop with a West Coast flavour. I've loved getting to know Aaron over the last few weeks, and listening to his recent album "The Compassion Scrolls vol. 3". He's also a youthworker and recently was featured on TVNZ's Seven Sharp accompanying one of the young people he has worked with to the Eminem gig in Wellington. The story is definitely worth watching!
Aaron's own music blends together deft vocals, emotive bass, melodic mastery and spiritual insight. He tells his own story and speaks into the lives of young people who are seeking direction. Worth a listen on spotify or check out the download at
“So do you like it here?”
The question is asked in various ways. Sometimes to ask how we’re settling in. Sometimes to fill a gap in the conversation. Sometimes I detect another question behind it: “Are you going to stick around?”
I’m ready with my answer: “Yes, we love it here.”
Our family moved to Westport a month ago. We’re “new Coasters”, moved over from Christchurch. Our older kids attend South School, our youngest is at Westport Kindergarten. We’re loving the space, the sense of adventure, the quiet streets to cycle on, the friendliness of the locals, and living only 100m from the West Coast Brewery. It’s all a lot calmer than earthquake-ravaged Christchurch.
Of course, not everything is perfect here. The length of time it took to get parts for our broken washing machine, for instance. A family of 5 creates a lot of laundry in 2 weeks! And for those of you who have been around longer than I have, you know Westport has had its ups and downs: the uncertainty of industry here, the closure of the cement works, the provision of healthcare and the saga around the replacement of the Buller Hospital.
One word stands out though, as I think about our first month here in Buller. Contentment. I’m content with how life has worked out. A guy called Paul wrote in the Bible: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in need.” That’s how I try to live my life.
I’m a Christian Pastor, so it’s second nature that I turn to the Bible to give me perspective on life. But there’s wisdom in these words for all of us. Learning the secret of being content – that’s a project worth undertaking.
So yes, I do love living in Westport. And whilst I don’t know what the future will bring – I’m content with where God has placed me.
This post first appeared as a Church and Community Article in the Westport News on 1st March 2019
NZ Maori identify themselves by their local mountain and river, but I grew up in the south of England where the land is flat, and our local river - the Blackwater - lived up to its name as being one of the most polluted streams in the UK. So now I'm claiming the Buller River, or in te reo Maori the Kawatiri, as my own.