On February 3, 2020, I began my role as one of two Māori Evangelist for the Manukau, Auckland area in Aotearoa New Zealand. Just over six weeks later Aotearoa moved into alert level 4, putting us all into lockdown.
You might be thinking it must be hard to be grateful to God for starting a new evangelism ministry right in the middle of a pandemic. Businesses and education facilities shut down. Tangihana (funerals) were limited to small numbers. Churches were unable to gather. Fear was so present during lockdown in my community that many were tempted to lose hope. But I will show you why I have had many reasons to hope, and many reasons to be grateful for all God did in 2020.
New Initiatives of Hope
Forty-eight hours before Aotearoa moved into level 4 our team, led by the Venerable Archdeacon Lyndon Drake, decided to serve our church community online with an Anglican Eucharist service. We acted straight away and purchased all the equipment required to ensure our live streaming and pre-recorded services ran smoothly. I gave thanks to God for providing the funding needed to purchase this equipment.
I also felt that God had told me that a spirit of fear was present in my community. So we advertised our services online and through print, including Psalm 23:1 written in both Māori and English. Incredibly, we reached over a thousand people!
Over lockdown, my bubble was the worship team for these services. We recorded songs of hīmene (hymns of praise) and helped to lead some of the liturgies as well.
Many people began reaching out for prayer while watching from their homes. They also commented on the preaching, singing and liturgy being broadcast live on social media. How could we not be grateful to God for such an impact!?
The team's second initiative over lockdown was to offer pastoral care by any possible means. We used phone calls, text, e-mails, Zoom and even a couple Facebook messages! We listened to people and prayed with them through their struggles, and many relationships were formed with people who had fallen away from the church. Even in the midst of this pandemic, the Gospel was being shared.
In May, we were able to gather in small groups of 10 people. My whānau and I were part of the worship and prayer group who live-streamed our Sunday Eucharist service from our church, Te Karaiti te Pou Herenga Waka, in Mangere. This service had over 1400 views and 215 comments from people watching, showing how engaged they were. We had more attendance at this online church than we've had in quite some time in our Māori Anglican church.
On May 24, NZCMS' second Māori Evangelist, Howard Te Hauoterangi Karaka, and I were given a weekly, 30-minute slot every Sunday morning on a Māori Radio station called Waatea News. We provided a contemporary, bilingual liturgical service and reached up to 5000 people most weeks. This was made possible through our partnership with the Christian Broadcasting Association who helped us record the program we called "Karakia Rātapu". We continue to lead this service every Sunday at 9:00 am. The team at Christian Broadcasting Association has also blessed us by making Karakia Rātapu into a podcast, which we hope to reach a younger audience with the Gospel.
Finally, I also began facilitating a new discipleship program at Te Puea marae here in Auckland, alongside Reverend Mark Barnard, the priest in charge of St James Church in Mangere Bridge. This discipleship program is called Moko-a-Rangi, which translates as "a Heavenly mark of approval". We use the medium of tāmoko (cultural tattoo) to teach on the theme of identity.
We've seen the Holy Spirit move powerfully among those who have attended the program, with about ten coming regularly. Our hope is that we will be able to use this program to help people take steps towards Jesus Christ and explore faith through discussion and activities in a safe but also 'stretching' environment. We have seen real hope become tangible this year. And it has only inspired us to hope for more.
In all this, I give thanks to God for making a way through a very tough year, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I feel as though the Spirit of God is at work, and I've just been catching the wave and joining in on what he is already doing! Praise be to God.
"...I nga mea katoa me whakawhetai atu; ko ta te Atua hoki tenei i pai ai i roto i a Karaiti Ihu hei mahi ma koutou.
"...give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
- 1 Thessalonians 5:18