Known in New Zealand as The Garden City, Christchurch is promoted as a picturesque and vibrant metropolis situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Southern New Zealand Alps.
But a few minutes before 1 p.m. on Tuesday, February 22, 2011, a major earthquake rocked Christchurch. News sources now report that the death toll of identified bodies from the quake has reached over 160 persons. This is the second large temblor to hit Christchurch in six months. A 7.1-magnitude quake on September 4, 2010, also caused serious damage, though no loss of life.
Ron and Debra Brown, missionaries to New Zealand for Foursquare Missions International (FMI), experienced the earthquake and devastation firsthand. They currently live and work in the midst of the chaos of high-powered aftershocks and ongoing rescue efforts, ministering the hope and love of Jesus in the city they love and serve.
Communication with Ron and Debra has been intermittent, as the authorities in the city are asking residents to limit their use of phones and electricity, which is being supplied by generators through most areas.
Ron describes the city as a warzone, with sinkholes throughout the streets and hospitals filled to capacity. Water in neighborhoods is flowing intermittently, though it is not drinkable. Sewer systems are broken, and fresh food is unavailable. Dysentery is an imminent threat.
Yet Ron and Debra are thankful that their home was spared from destruction. Their home has a cracked foundation and broken kitchen tiles, but Ron is grateful to God that he and Debra have a safe place to live that remains structurally sound. Only two blocks away, many neighbors’ homes were flattened.
Ron estimates that in one week, more than 70,000 people left the city, a normally bustling place with a population of about 390,000 residents. He describes bleak and deserted neighborhoods, noting that most of the people who live close to him have left.
The Browns have been offered several different places of refuge outside the city. But they plan to stay put.
“Debra and I are committed to staying in Christchurch,” Ron tells Foursquare.org. “We are not trying to be noble. We just know that this is what God has sent us here for. We are safe, which is more than a lot of people. Our neighborhoods are our primary mission field right now.”
Christchurch is built on sand, silt and gravel over a high water table. Following the earthquake, as the water moved up, many streets literally erupted with “volcanoes” of water and sand, making the land irreparable and displacing thousands of residents.
“We are knocking on the doors of our neighbors, offering prayer and hot meals,” Ron explains. “And we have prayed for a lot of people. We are seeing some people whose hearts are softened to the gospel.”
The Foursquare church in Christchurch is Faith Life Church, pastored by Calvin Purton. The church is in a strategic location for ministry, and held its first service after the earthquake on March 6. The service was a time of great encouragement to many.
“Our message is that God’s love and grace will be extended to reflect a true image of God’s love flowing through us to our community,” Ron affirms. “We are strategizing how to best reflect Jesus and be a conduit of His love, grace and mercy to a community that is just shattered.”
How Can You Pray
- Pray for strength, as continuing violent aftershocks still interrupt sleep.
- Pray for wisdom, protection and provision.
- Pray for the family of Ron’s friend Ross, who was killed when his car was crushed; and for the family of Ron and Debra’s friend Mattie, who was also killed when the building where he worked collapsed.
- Pray for Pastor Elisha and her efforts to plant a church in Lyttelton Port, a city that was also heavily damaged.
- Pray for Pastors Titu and Priyanka and their daughter, Faith, who are Indian missionaries in the area, planting a church among the Indian population in the country.
How Can You Help
Other Foursquare churches in New Zealand are lending aid. All Nations City Foursquare Church from Auckland, for example, is sending a team to help with food distribution and a “family day” for people living in and around Faith Life Church. They are excited about the opportunities of united ministry to one of the hardest-hit suburbs.
One of the most important things we can do, Ron asserts, is to pray.
“Pray for the country, for the city, and for the whole area,” Ron implores. “We are just in survival mode. This place is barely inhabitable. Even the dust is so contaminated by the broken sewers in the city that people are walking around with dust masks on. We are just numb, and we are trying to do what we can with the people we can reach. But we need people to pray for us.”
Individuals can also help by giving financially. To donate funds toward disaster relief, visit Foursquare Missions International’s website.
By: Amy Swanson, a pastor’s wife and director of women’s ministry at New Life Church in Santa Barbara, Calif.