Louise Weller tells a story about the wheels on the bus.
The suburb of Rowley, in Christchurch, New Zealand, has always had its challenges, but that did not stop us taking our bus ministry there three years ago. In fact, it was because of the challenges that we went. Since then we have found that families who are struggling – whether financially or in other ways – seem to be much more open and responsive to us and our message.
During the week, the Canterbury Kids Coach moves around the suburb contacting new families, building relationships and breaking down racial barriers. The families were encouraged to come to X-Site on Fridays, but many saw it as a 'kids' thing' and I realised I needed to spend more time getting to know the parents and visiting them in their homes and encouraging them to see that they too could be part of this community of faith.
As soon as two or three parents started to come, others followed. The process of moving from providing a social benefit to becoming a faith community has been bathed in prayer and involves watching for opportunities to show God's love in whatever way we can. Both are necessary and both work hand in hand.
X-Site is an exciting outreach in the centre of this community. It just buzzes with excitement every Friday afternoon, but it has only been in the past four months that parents have started coming regularly. It is so good to see them meeting together and begin to build relationships with each other in an atmosphere that encourages faith. For the families that come, this is church. Together we are learning to serve each other, pray together and grow in faith.
One of our biggest challenges is the racial disharmony that is so active in this area, even among the children. We are beginning to see some of these walls come down, but we still have a long way to go. We do have a responsibility to address social injustice and the best way to do it is at the coalface. I think that one of the reasons we have been drawn in to the community is because we accept people the way they are. We honour them and help them to see ways they can help others in their area.
Do we still subconsciously prefer to just reach out to the people like us? I grew up in the same background of those I am working with, so I guess the answer would be yes, but some of our team leaders come from very different backgrounds. At the beginning they found it very hard, but as they have got to know the families and opened their hearts to them, the difficulties evaporated.
Once a month I attend a Community Network Group that meets to look at the social issues that challenge this suburb. School principals, health professionals, social workers, police, government department and council representatives all look at how we can make a difference. Being involved in this group has been a vital link and a way of being able to address many of the problems faced in this area.