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Brian and a youth explore a cave.

Cave exploring with a young Kiwi.

This past January, I had the opportunity to travel to New Zealand to lead a short-term summer household of young men ages 15–25 from The Lamb of God Community. In the land of “down under,” their summer is during our winter in Lansing, Michigan, so the timing for me could not have been better.

Many New Zealand youth are facing a severe loss of faith. One study suggests that religion there will die out within this generation. This is what was on my mind as I asked the Lord how I could serve the young men living there. I decided that the opportunity to take such a trip was a total gift from God, but I knew I’d need to receive more from him in order to be a servant down under.

After the long travel and a mandatory session with my host family where we covered the rules of cricket and rugby (you have to get over jet-lag somehow!), I was ready to see some young people. My main purpose of the trip was to lead a household of young men in the city of Christchurch. Household move-in was Saturday, and we were immediately thrown into a big event together called “Summer Oasis” on Sunday. Can you imagine being thrown in to lead a group of eight young guys from four New Zealand cities, without ever having met any of them? Questions hit me, like, “Where’s the grocery store?” “Have they even heard of Jesus?” “Are these guys going to be bored?” I prayed, “Lord Jesus, I need your help!”

Brian and Dom overlook the valleys.

Brian and one of the young men look over valleys near Mount Arthur in the Nelson area.

By the grace of God, I was able to deliver some meaningful material to the 75 youth at the Oasis event. One presentation was on the Christian martyrs. To introduce these heroes from history, I used some multimedia profiles that I helped make for a previous youth conference. Not only did the students learn what a martyr is, but each student learned about a particular figure through a creative activity. Each group had to use only newspapers, tape, and sticky notes to transform a group member into a famous martyr of old. The best costume was one of a martyr from the Boxer Rebellion in China. Of course, according to local custom, that team was rewarded with a big bag of “lollies.” (From what I can tell, all candy isn’t “candy” there, but “lollies.”) The Summer Oasis for me overall? It “went off a treat!” as they say.

 

New Zealand Youth dressed as martyrs.

New Zealand Youth dressed as martyrs during an activity for the “Summer Oasis” retreat.

My personal highlight of the whole trip was the second-to-last day in our household. I gave the men the story of the prodigal son along with a frank discussion about sin. We considered James 5:16: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” We did just that, taking a time of confession and prayer for one another. For most of the men, it was the first time they’d ever opened up like that. Later that night, we visited two fathers in the community, Darren Humphries and Mark Challies, both of whom had spent time living with us in The Servants of the Word. We did an evening of “ask anything,” and the young men received some great advice for living out a Christ-centered life. That was “Sweet as!” (Everything is “something-as” down there, so I always asked them, “Sweet-as what?” “Funny-as what?”)

 

Sadly, after I left New Zealand, a devastating earthquake hit Christchurch in February. Another brother in The Servants of the Word, Bruce Yocum, arrived in New Zealand the day I left and was there during the quake. He described the experience:

On Tuesday 22 February at 1pm we were in the midst of a planning meeting when a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the Christchurch area. This earthquake was not as strong on the Richter scale as the September earthquake, but was far more violent and far more devastating. The September earthquake caused no loss of life, in part because it hit in the very early hours of the morning when people were at home. This time many people were on the streets or at work in the city center, and there were many deaths and injuries as a result. But also the nature of this earthquake made it far more destructive than the first.

Thanks be to God none of the brothers and sisters in The Lamb of God Community were harmed in the quake. A number of them were at work in the center of the city, where several large buildings collapsed, and a number of children were at school in the center, but all returned home safely. We quickly made a round of the cluster area to see how the brothers and sisters were doing. (There was no availability of mobile phone or internet communication at that moment, and only some land-line contact.) All were safe, but several of the homes have had to be abandoned as unsafe, and a few families are now camping out in temporary locations: by my reckoning at least seven homes are uninhabitable. The community center is badly damaged and probably unusable. Normal life will not resume for quite some time. In addition, there is the great uncertainty that results from the nature of this earthquake activity, including almost 5,000 aftershocks.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ living in and around Christchurch remain in my prayers. My personal connection with them has continued and so, when I heard of the quake, I built a website to connect our network of Christians here in North America with those in Christchurch. If you’d like to read more about their reactions to this earthquake, visit http://christchurchquake.posterous.com.

Brian LaLonde

This article is from our 2011 Easter Servants of the Word Newsletter [1.1MB PDF].

Brian LaLonde
Brian, originally from Essexville, Michigan and a University of Michigan graduate, made his lifelong commitment to The Servants of the Word in September, 2009. He served as mission director for University Christian Outreach in Lansing, MI from 2006-2012. Currently, he does computer programming with Servant Systems. You'll find him on wilderness adventures in the summer while leading the middle-school ministry Kairos Fellowship. He's also Webmaster for a number of websites, including http://servantsoftheword.org.
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