In the summer of 2013 New Zealand experienced its worst drought for 70 seventy years. Many parts of the country were seriously affected: Southern Northland, Auckland, Waikato, the Bay of Plenty, the central North Island, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Manawatu, Wairarapa, and parts of the north and west of the South Island. Here in the Manawatu the memories of that drought are etched in people’s memories – and there was a real fear this past summer that the region was again heading for disaster.
Massive downpours don’t break droughts. Any farmer will tell you that. Huge amounts of rain over a short period will simply run off hardened and dry land and ultimately cause flooding. That’s the case, at least, until we have multiple days of drought breaking rain. Drought breaking rain is gentle and continuous. It soaks into the soil, reaching roots and renewing life.
In the same way, in 2014 the Spirit of the living God moved across our Islands in a gentle and continuous way, soaking into our hearts and opening us, the people of God, to possibilities and opportunities. The Treaty relationship – midwifed by early CMS missionaries – is moving out of a season of drought into a season of renewal, restoration and redemption. Throughout last year I spoke at almost 30 Anglican, Baptist, Brethren and Independent church services across New Zealand on behalf of NZCMS. Time and again there was a clear sense of the Spirit of Jesus at work, inviting his people to see his hand in our history and his leading for our future.
The response to God that I witnessed was truly heartening. People consistently opened up, humbly expressing how challenged and uncomfortable the message of God’s place in our history had made them. Many acknowledged that they had never known how central the Gospel was to the Treaty. At the same time, people shared the sense that God was indeed at work in and through the Bicentenary and they wanted to get on board.
It was a privilege to see churches seriously wrestling with how to express not only multi-cultural commitments but bi-cultural ones as well. For some the first step has been to sing the National Anthem in English as well as Te Reo. For others further along on the journey, prayers and creative readings have been in English and Te Reo.
It was a joy to see local churches commit to partnering with Māori movements, initiatives and churches within their own denomination. For some the Bicentenary was a catalyst to start the conversation. For others it deepened existing long-term relationships.
After the drought
After a severe drought has broken there are always critical things farmers shouldn’t do and key things farmers need to do. It’s just the same for us, the people of God, who have experienced the gentle rain of the Spirit of God this past year. This is the time we need to be asking ourselves: what must we be doing and what must we avoid doing?
Now that we’ve made it to 2015, we can’t think that the 2014 Bicentenary was ‘just a phase.’ We shouldn’t think the enthusiasm, patriotism and renewed call to biculturalism many of us experienced was merely for last year. We shouldn’t think that we can go back to ‘business as usual,’ nor should we think that the commitments and lessons from last year can be taken forward by others while we sit on the side-line.
We need to keep our commitments. For those groups, churches and institutions that committed last year to establish, renew or resource bicultural relationships, this is the year for us to follow through. For those of us who made commitments in our hearts to invite neighbours for dinner, to learn Te Reo or to build bridges with Pākehā leaders, we need to step up and do it.
We need to remain open to the ongoing work of the Spirit in this whole area. There is a clear sense across the country from many Church leaders that God is leading us – as his people in this nation – into a new season in our bicultural relationship.
One of the marks of Kiwis during and after a drought is our ability to get stuck in and do what needs to be done with a minimum of fuss. In 2014 God brought the gentle rain of his Spirit to renew and reinvigorate the relationship between Māori and Pākehā. Many of us experienced it, we celebrated it and we delighted in it. Now it’s time to do what we Kiwis do best: to dive in and make good on our bicentennial commitments. Regardless of whether these commitments are personal or professional, church wide or for your small group, it’s time to walk them out and make them reality.
May he who began a good work in us at Waitangi 1840 continue to water the work of our hands so that he can bring his purposes to completion. Amen.
What commitments did you, your small group or you church make last year? Are there fresh commitments you feel God challenging you to make?
What is your next step to make those commitments a reality?
Originally published in Intermission (Issue 22, May 2015)