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Holding Grief in a Time of Celebration

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This Sunday, we begin the season of Advent. Growing up, my long-lasting memories of this season include making advent wreaths, lighting candles each Sunday, and the joyful anticipation recalling the Christmas narrative. Advent is a hope-filled time brimming with excitement as we remember God coming to dwell among us as a baby boy. It surely is a season where we party! In the year of 2017, Advent came alive in a new exciting way for me, as my husband and I had just received the news that we were pregnant after years of challenges trying to create a family. I identified with Elizabeth, I resonated with Mary, and felt the wonder and celebration of the season so profoundly. Then, on Christmas Day, we lost our baby. We were confronted not only with the heart-wrenching loss, but also faced the painful juxtaposition of this celebratory season all around us. Where were we to find ourselves in the joyous Christmas story – and not just this year, but in all the years to come? In the biblical narrative of Christmas, there’s a couple of verses in Matthew I had never noticed before. They’re not the ones we hear sermons on or write Christmas carols about (Who’s gonna write a Christmas carol about a genocide?). Herod goes on a power trip, and fearful of the news of Jesus’ birth, he orders the genocide of all baby boys under the age of two across the region (Matthew 2:16). Here in the midst of our Christmas narrative we find awful, ruthless loss. We see injustice and political powers destroying the most vulnerable in society; it’s not all ‘joy to the world’ in this moment. Quoting Jeremiah, Matthew reveals the grieving reality of those who experience these horrors. “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning,  Rachel weeping for her children  and refusing to be comfortedbecause they are no more.”– Matthew 2:18A voice is heard. A weeping. A collective of voices, mourning mothers (and fathers) who are in the gut-ripping claws of grief. This inclusion of the brutal reality of loss that first Christmas made it possible for me to feel a part of the Christmas story. I identified with Rachel, a weeping mother. At the same time that Rachel weeps for the children who are no more, there is celebration for a child born – the Saviour of the World. Here is the juxtaposition right before us. A paradox of lightness and darkness that we still see today. The birth of Jesus is the inauguration of God’s Kingdom coming on earth, yet all creation is groaning and awaiting Jesus’ final return as King, making all things new.We can see in our world today that the rule of the King and restoration of the Kingdom has not-yet reached fruition. And there are a lot of things in our world not-yet restored. There is so much loss this year. So. Much. The world feels more fragile than it ever has, a global pandemic, political upheavals, racial injustice, ruthless poverty and hunger, uncontrollable fires, devastating floods and much, much more. There will be a great mourning this year for the 1,430,000 families (to date) who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, not to mention all the ‘hidden’ losses of babies, the loss of jobs, livelihoods, or homes. There is much to grieve in our world.In the Advent narrative, like Rachel’s weeping, God’s sorrow at a broken world is the very reason God has come to dwell among us. Advent actually invites and makes welcome our tears and grief as a part of the story. We see our ‘not-yet’ realities, and we look to a future hope where all will be restored and every tear will be wiped away.Loss and grief are no longer an end, they are included as part of the way to resurrected life in Christ. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.And that really is hope for our world.So as God’s people who are sent into this world, we are invited to live into this juxtaposition. Grieving for the losses while celebrating that our Saviour is born and all that means for our future hope. NZCMS sends people to the hard places to demonstrate Kingdom reconciliation. We hold the global realities before the NZ Church that we might be stirred to pray, to give and to go. As God’s people we hold hope in the spaces of our world where it looks hopeless. We embody peace and reconciliation in a violent world tearing each other down. We practice joy by celebrating any small miracle or good news amid the sorrows. We enact radical love in a world handing out cheap love and calling some ‘unlovable’. We grow in faith as we courageously (and fearfully) say ‘yes’, like Mary does, to the arrival of God in our midst.To those of us who are carrying grief and loss into this Advent season, you are included. May we live the juxtaposition deeply this Advent. May our Advent be a joyful party and a season for grieving as we know God with us. 

Kirstin Cant, Missions Enabler

An Update from Maori Evangelist Howard Karaka

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Over these past months God has opened many doors to minister the Gospel on my marae, Te Kotahitanga in Te Kōhanga alongside the Waikato River. The word God gave me was: I have called you Te Hauoterangi to be my voice, here and now; just speak without ‘ compromise” and I will do what man cannot do.In  September, we conducted our first Karakia Rātapu (Sunday service) at Te Kotahitanga Marae. This is a HUGE and exciting breakthrough, to have the support of my elders; and permission to conduct Karakia Rātapu on a regular basis. A huge number of those that attended were people that only recently, strongly opposed our faith, the church and anything they felt opposed Maori Tikanga.The last time we had regular Sunday services was 1963…a long time ago.Our second Sunday service at the marae, on October 18, was attended by 90 local Iwi. Many of our kaumātua (elders) attended with some travelling from as far as Rotorua, a 3 hour drive! Many of these people had not attended church for over 20 years apart from funeral services.God is good. This ministry has been effective in regards to reaching the unsaved, unchurched and those who have a belief of spirituality but do not know the King of Kings. The Lord is turning the dried wasteland into flowing streams.I praise God for the response of the Gospel in Te Puaha O Waikato. Praise Him for the huge growth of the Marae ministry.

Howard Karaka, Maori Evangelist in the Manakau City area of Auckland

An Update from Margaret in Papua New Guinea

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An update while I am in “town’ this week after a three month series of Bible trainings for clergy.  Covid19 legislation meant that we are not allowed have large church gatherings. This became a blessing in disguise as we were able to think in terms of small groups of clergy coming deanery by deanery. So we’ve had over 40 attend together for a week doing three things:– Whole of bible Overview  – Anglican Studies colleagues think Old Testament and New Testaments overview materials condensed from 12 months to six days!– Theological Reflections– Build a community of men serving one another in worship through household chores such as cleaning and dish washing. Selfishly, it was great to be banned from the kitchen for three weeks.Bearing in mind that the groups were multi-cultural and multilingual, praise God we all survived peacefully. Also, praise God we were fed well. Lastly, I praise God for just enough money from supporters for dinghy fuel and for the generator so we that we had electricity for four hours each evening.”

Stories of Hope

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When God invited me to travel to India I believe it was an invitation into His heart. To see as He does and to care, because He does.I love India. It is vibrant and pungent with aroma and colour. It is ancient and earthy, communal and spiritual. It is raw and real and pulsing with life. Relationships dominate, rather than tasks. India is the people I know.I hate India because, where I have been, there is so much pain and intense suffering and every single story stands as a testament to what is true for thousands, perhaps millions of others. This, let’s be honest, can be overwhelming. But, I guess I want to say is that I’ve come to know there is more than that. Because the invitation continues! Recently I was reading from Luke 24. Jesus had just died and despair and confusion among his followers reigned. Two of his followers were talking about this when Jesus himself joined their conversation. It took some time for the truth to be opened to them. But when they finally recognised Jesus they exclaimed “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us along the road…”The risen Messiah was breathing real hope into the confusion, the despair and the aimless wanderings of these two men on their way to Emmaus. I almost cried, because I know that feeling, of my heart burning within me. The hope of His presence bringing a different future! And this is the stuff that matters to me.You see Jesus’ invitation is not to despair, and not to aimless confusion. His invitation may travel through these, but it has always been to see through His eyes. Eyes of hope. Real hope. Where there seems to be none. And then to love in action.The stories I want to share with you here are stories of transformation. Stories where hope has become real, one baby step at a time and where I see His Kingship touching down on earth which makes my heart burn within me. I’m not sure if, in a few paragraphs of print on a page you will be able grasp the full extent of what these stories mean to the people involved. But let’s see.These few stories I have chosen are from the work of the many dedicated Indian Christians we worked alongside as part of Emmanuel Hospital Association’s (EHA) community work.While these people all live many, many miles from New Zealand, my prayer is that they will encourage you and enable you to think about Jesus’ invitation to you, into His own heart, even be it though despair, that you would be enabled to see with hope and then to act in love. I know they would be excited to know of such impact!NITUNitu is a girl from Bihar in India. Two years ago, when she was 15,  Nitu was studying in 9th grade. She was good at her study and dreamed of becoming a teacher but extreme poverty forced her to leave school and  work in a neighbour’s field. Being a determined girl however, she re-enrolled herself, but failed her tenth grade exam. After this her father tried to arrange her marriage. The prospect of marrying a much older stranger devastated Nitu. She tried to convince her parents that she should not marry but they too were determined!Nitu heard about a girls group which had been started by the EHA project in her village. She joined the group and told her story to the group members and project staff.  Several of the members and project staff visited Nitu’s home and talked with her father about the risks involved in getting married at a young age and that child marriage is a punishable offence. Nitu’s father was unaware that what he was trying to do was illegal and that he could be imprisoned for up to 2 years and fined. He agreed that it would be best to cancel the wedding plans and for Nitu to return to school. The project supported Nitu by paying her tuition fees and she has since passed her tenth grade exam. She is working hard to fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher.THE ROSHNI SELF HELP GROUPIn a mainly tribal area of Champa district, the community had relied on agricultural work. With continuing poor rains and lack of land ownership, there were huge struggles. People were starting to migrate for work (with all the dangers involved in that) or were doing small local jobs. The EHA project working in the area helped 15 of the women form a ‘self help group’. Together they were able to identify some 5 acres of uncultivated land to use. They fenced it off to protect it from animals and worked hard, transforming it into a vegetable growing area. The project team supported by digging a bore well. Through this initiative the women appreciate the time they get to spend working with their friends. Most importantly, they are all now self employed and earning enough to support their families!MR. RAJUMr. Raju is from Fatehpur in the state of Uttar Pradesh. He has had a disability since birth and was totally dependent on his parents for all his needs. Through the EHA project he was supplied with a wheelchair that was customized for him. This enabled him to help with chores and he was able to go out with friends. His parents were relieved with the changes they saw. The project motivated him to take part in a skills training program and he learnt to repair mobile phones. He has since got work at a local phone repair shop and now also can stand and walk a little with a stick. 

Amanda, Returned Mission Partner from India

An Update from NZCMS Mission Partners, the Elliott Family

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For the last few months it’s felt as if we’ve been straddling two worlds. We’ve been readjusting to life in New Zealand, while still seeking to minister to the needs of the people at All Saints’ Jakarta. It has been no easy feat. But we have been sustained by God, who has shown his goodness to us again and again. We are always amazed at how God uses people to walk alongside and draw us on when we are facing new challenges.  We are so thankful for your kind messages, financial support and your prayers. We have been on quite a journey since we left ‘home’ at the end of 2018. With great sadness we wanted to write and let you know that our journey is now taking a vastly different direction to what we had hoped and dreamed. Yesterday I wrote to the Church Council to tender my resignation as Acting Vicar, and Assistant Minister of All Saints’ Anglican Church Jakarta. We have arrived at this decision through a pretty robust process of discernment with NZCMS. I’m sure you can understand that this has been an exceptionally difficult decision to make. When we left for Jakarta, we were leaving with the intention of long-term service overseas. We sold up, packed up, and shipped out. I have wrestled at length with a great desire to serve the faithful men and women of All Saints’ Jakarta in the midst of a growing sense of unease as we’ve tried to develop new ministry initiatives, by distance, in a new role (Acting Vicar rather than Associate Minister). There have been some incredible joys in the past ten months as we’ve seen God’s faithfulness to us as a family and within the parish church in a time of incredible trial. But I have also come to the realisation that my personality and style of ministry leadership is not a good fit for All Saints’ Jakarta. This reality, coupled with the uncertainty of remote ministry during a global pandemic and the pressure this places on my wife, Karen and children, William and Amelia, during this time of flux, has led us to the conclusion that the current ministry arrangement is untenable.  We’ve offered to stay on with All Saints’ until the end of this year. After that we don’t know what God has in store for us, but our sense is that basing ourselves in Nelson where we’ve got amazing support around us will be the best thing for now, God willing.  NZCMS have generously committed to supporting us until the end of March 2021 if required.  We couldn’t be more grateful for the support of Lesley our Personnel Manager who has been right there for us every step of the way, to listen, reflect and pray for and with us. The whole team at NZCMS have been absolutely stellar.  While much about this is difficult, we have not lost our heart for cross-cultural mission. It seems unlikely that we will be ‘heading out’ again any time soon, but, we want to encourage others in global mission and to be people who share the Good News of Jesus wherever we are.  In time we will be in touch with more news, but for now we would appreciate prayer in the following areas:  

Pray for All Saints’ Jakarta as they digest this tough decision. Ask God to encourage them, and prevent them from despair.  Pray that we would have wisdom about how to walk in a godly way in a time of uncertainty.  Pray that we would know God’s peace as the impact of this decision, and uncertainty about the future sinks in. Give thanks for the amazing team of supporters who walk with us (you!) and the staff of NZCMS.

Thanks you again for your partnership and support, with love Zane, Karen, William and Amelia.

Riding the Wave

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I once went surfing with some of my young people when I was a youth worker. One morning I woke up and I thought “Why not shave a handle bar moustache and go surfing with the lads?” I should have realised when I had the idea of a handle bar moustache that this was the beginning of a very bad idea. But I went ahead. The short end of the story is that I went surfing, flipped off my board and took the full force of a 10 foot long surf board straight to the face.For the weeks following, I had planned to surf waves, build relationships, and tell stories. Instead, I ended up in hospital with a bad moustache. The funny thing is, all of these things, the relationship building and storytelling, still happened! Just not how I had planned them. And I definitely wasn’t surfing any more.I recall this story because 2020 hasn’t happen as we planned either. At the start of this year we were excited for Better World 2020. This would be our second year of taking young people on radical adventures for Jesus throughout the globe and exploring the big issues of justice and faith. Then COVID19. Talk about falling off the surf board and getting smacked in the face! With all the uncertainty of the first lockdown and the unknown nature of the COVID19 pandemic Better World and the NZCMS leadership decided that the best option was to cancel Better World 2020. We spoke with our past and present participants and also made a way for them to engage in the Anglican Youth Movement here in Wellington so they could continue to engage in radical discipleship.When the thing you’re investing in or planning to roll out doesn’t go to plan it’s easy to sit there and say “Sorry folks it’s all said and done” or “Let’s just wait till the pandemic is over.” But when we decided to sit at the feet of our radical God who can overcome or use anything for Kingdom advancement, it felt only right to reimagine our program and press into the core things that Better World Gap Year stands for: adventure, growing in faith and discipleship, and going deep with young people in mission.These things are still true to what Better World is. Only now we can’t unpack these things in another country. What we can do, however, is unpack them here in Aotearoa. Being able to adjust and pivot to changing circumstances is something that we have had to rely on God for a lot in this season. Maybe if I’d done that while surfing I might not have landed in hospital. So, after two years building up this Gap Year program and with a movement of young people starting to trust and get in behind it, we asked God “What are you doing?” The fruit of this questioning is that in this season, we’ve sat at his feet and trusted in His faithfulness. We’ve also decided to pair this with enough gumption to keep going rather than throw it all away because it’s not working the way it was before.We’ve learned to be bold enough to trust in what God is doing amongst young adults here in New Zealand and continue to recognise how passionate they are about exploring the world, faith, justice and their role to play in advancing God’s Kingdom here on earth. As we’ve been riding the wave of this current environment, we continue to feel called by God to be passionate about exploring, discipling and journeying with these radically ordinary young New Zealanders as we learn what mission looks like today.  That is where Better World 2021 Aotearoa has come from. And we would love to include you in that journey.

Guy BentonNZCMS Mission Enabler

Mission Partners in Cambodia “Released” from Lockdown

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After close to six months our children are finally able to physically be back in school. Praise God!Theirs is one of the few schools in the country that is now open and this comes with some fairly strict requirements from the government. Jonathan, Aaron and Emily are still getting used to full-time mask wearing, constant hand washing, separate desks, no library and limited play time.They are into their first week back and are glad to be there but hopefully there will be an easing of the restrictions soon.Life in CambodiaSome things are open and others are still closed. All religious venues are still shut, however the malls and markets are open and most people are carrying on with life as normal. There are odd ways in which things are operating too. Karaoke bars are only allowed to open if they serve food as well (as then they are classed as restaurants, which have different rules. The big movie theaters are allowed to open but only to sell food from the snack bar, not to show movies. People have also been asked to refrain from going to beauty salons and hairdressers. All this, alongside the heavy-handed approach to schools, can lead to people being uncertain about the seriousness of the current situation.Pchum BenNo, this is not someone’s name. Rather, Pchum Ben is one of the main religious festivals in the Cambodian calendar. It is a 15 day festival where Cambodians remember their ancestors and earn merit through visiting the temples and offering food to the monks there. It’s believed that during this time, the gates of hell open, allowing tortured spirits unable to pass onto the next life to enter the land of the living. Hungry, the spirits roam the earth searching for food. If they fail to find it, it is thought they will avenge their living family members and curse them.This year the festival concludes next week and friends of ours here comment that it can feel like a spiritually dark time. Cambodian Christians are often at odds with their non-Christian families over what they should do. It can be a difficult balance between showing respect to your family but not compromising in their love for Jesus.Thank youFinally, thank you always for your thoughts and prayers. We know that even though we are far from “home” we have so many people here alongside us, supporting us. Thank you especially for the many kind messages over the last couple of months since my (Neill’s) father died. We were able to watch his funeral with no internet or power issues, and were delighted to hear the kind things said about him. We continue to miss him but thank God for his life. Please keep Mum in your prayers as she copes with life with him not in it. Blessings,Neill, Rebekah, Jonathan, Aaron and Emily. 

Neill, Rebekah and family, NZCMS Mission Partners to Cambodia

Missio Dei in the Solomon Islands

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Normally, when I get complaints about my speaking, they are of the “You spoke too long!” variety. Nearing the end of our school-year today, I delivered a short, impromptu chronicle of the year to our school community. So much has happened. I was surprised, however, to discover how difficult it was to fill my ten-minute window. How odd, I thought, walking home. And then the reason came to me this afternoon in conversation with my wife, Tess. For obvious reasons, this year has been short on big events – which usually fill school chronicles and make for interesting stories – and long on the kind of relational drama that you cannot talk about in front of everyone. “Like what happens to a family in quarantine?” Tess offered.  In past years, Trinity STM (School of Theology and Ministry) has been engaged in outward mission weekly by: – Prison visitations  – Praying for the sick in hospitals – Taking Bible studies into people’s homes – Preaching and singing in the marketplace – Reading portions of the liturgy on festival days in other villages The value of this has been unmistakable. But this year we were given something different. Stay at home. Work together daily at close quarters. See the same faces every day for weeks on end.  At the best of times this has looked like: Wake up for prayer. Go to class. Go to work session. Pray before the evening meal. Study. Sleep. Repeat.  At the worst of times it has looked like: Be annoyed by someone. Gossip about them. Be alarmed at the relational chaos that ensues. Say sorry. Repeat.  It has not been easy. But we have, like so many this year, learned some important things in the process. Outward mission, taking the Gospel to places where it has not been heard or is not yet believed, is not total mission. Outward mission can assume a dimension it should not for the Church. We can overlook the work of God that is taking place in our homes and churches among people like us who have believed the Gospel already, but who need deepening. When this happens, we pursue shoots at the expense of roots. The outward and visible replaces the subterranean. Far from preventing God’s mission this year, the coronavirus has opened up to us afresh its grandest scope. God is at work everywhere, but chiefly in the Church.    

Jonathan and Tess Hicks, NZCMS Mission Partners in the Solomon Islands

Sticking to the Mission

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Ever since the start of our nation-wide lockdown way back in March, I have often been asked two questions: “where are all the NZCMS Mission Partners currently located?” and “when is NZCMS going to start sending Mission Partners out again?” I’m writing today to provide an update, and to invite you into prayer as we look out past the shores of New Zealand. Where are our Mission Partners now?The graphic shows where our Mission Partners are currently located. Some were already in NZ in March and find themselves stuck here. Others returned to NZ for health or other reasons. Some had been accepted as Mission Partners but had not yet departed to their overseas location of service.  The majority of our Mission Partners who were overseas at the time that COVID-19 became widespread have chosen to stay on location. They face a range of difficult situations – some have very restricted lives, while others have more freedom of movement. All are seeking to be faithful in their roles and responsibilities, and discern the new opportunities that God is placing in front of them.When is NZCMS going to start sending Mission Partners again?Sending out Mission Partners globally during a pandemic requires different conversations and planning. The NZCMS staff team, with governance oversight from the NZCMS Trust Board, have put in place new processes for making decisions which take into account COVID-19 impacts on sending out Mission Partners. Recently, two Mission Partners were approved to return to location and are booked to fly out by the end of August. Godly safety For mission organisations like NZCMS, decisions around sending out Mission Partners during a global pandemic brings to the forefront questions around risk. Engaging in global mission generally requires taking on greater levels of risk in terms of personal safety. Mission Partners who serve with NZCMS accept that there is a higher chance of experiencing things like political instability, tighter finances, or lower quality of medical services on location.Furthermore, the call of Mission Partners is to live long-term in another country: to learn language, to enter another culture, and to walk alongside others in living out and proclaiming the good news of the Gospel. The loyalty to stay and serve often urges Mission Partners to be present in vulnerable situations, and to stay during difficult times alongside local partners. The reality of risk-taking in global missions is to be held in tension with the duty of care that NZCMS has for our Mission Partners. An article from the Lausanne Movement describes well the balance required between avoiding risk and embracing the inherent vulnerabilities of global mission. Both the call to leave a place of safety to serve, and the call for caution, are found within Scripture, and these values need to be held in healthy tension. The author suggests asking the following questions:1)  What is my missiology of risk? What are my deeper values and beliefs around risk-taking?2)  Am I falling into the trap of wanting to be a hero, even if, with staying, I only become a liability?3) Whose decision is it whether I leave or stay? What weight should be given to the voices of the ministry partners, the sending church, the leadership of the organisation, and the workers?4) Is it time to consider new ways of working in which the ministry is less dependent on expat presence?These are not easy questions to ask or to answer. The NZCMS staff team are committed to walking closely with our Mission Partners as we make these decisions together. I am thankful that during my time serving in Egypt, I personally faced these questions and I received invaluable support from NZCMS at that time. It is a privilege to journey alongside our Mission Partners during these times.Reminding ourselves that God is on His throne A NZ leader in global missions recently wrote his perspective on missions in this time of COVID-19. In that article he writes that as he wakes each day, he reminds himself that God is on the throne. This is a posture that I’m reminding myself to live into in these uncertain days. For an organisation with a global focus, it is challenging to continually respond to evolving global contexts, develop new policies, and support our Mission Partners who face uncertainty.  As NZCMS family, let’s keep reminding each other that God is in control. Let’s give thanks that the work of mission is not all up to us! God is conducting God’s mission. Closed borders do not stop God’s mission. The Spirit of God continues to work in the world transforming us into Christ’s likeness, and bringing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Thanks be to God!

Rosie Fyfe, NZCMS National Director

“People are practically running forward for prayer!” NZCMS Maori Evangelist Says

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NZCMS’ evangelist to Māori, Rev. Hauoterangi (Howard) Karaka, has been busy. During this year, and even during times of lockdown, God has opened up many opportunities to reach out to others with God’s love and to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Just in the last month, Howard has had the opportunity to lead and minister at five funerals and three unveilings (unveilings are a ceremony held one year after a person passed away).“Due to this wonderful ministry of evangelism,” Howard said, ” I have had the opportunity to lead five people to salvation on the marae and at their homes and also see six re-commitments of faith to God.”   From this group of people, six of these families are now attending the church that Howard leads, Hoani Tapu Anglican Church in Drury, South Auckland. The pews are filling! The worship has been powerful and large numbers are stepping forward for prayer every Sunday.   “If I was to describe the experience,” Howard says, “I would say many people are practically running forward for prayer!”  Howard shared about one couple who walked away from church a long time ago. Their marriage came under significant spiritual attack, and they separated for many years.   “The husband was suicidal not long after leaving the church,” Howard said. “He and his wife then separated as he turned back to drinking and anything else he thought would take away the pain. Now it is so encouraging to see them both reaching out for support, prayer, fellowship and rededicating their lives back to God and each other.”  Howard also shared that he led a gang member to the Lord during lockdown. This young man is now attending church regularly and attending a discipleship program. We invite you to continue praying for Howard and his wife Gladys as they pastorally care for and disciple those in their parish and continue the work of evangelism in South Auckland. Pray that God would continue to open springs of healing and transformation at Hoani Tapu Church and that God would open more and more opportunities for Māori to hear the Gospel.  To read more missions stories and NZCMS updates, subscribe to our fortnightly email newsletter.

Rev. Howard Karaka, Maori Evangelist