Friday, April 18, 2008

New Zealand mourns.

On the night of Tuesday 15th April the bodies of 6 school students (aged 16) and one teacher were pulled from the Mangatepopo River in the central North Island. They had been part of a group of 40 students who were spending the week at an outdoor pursuits centre. All attended the Elim Christian College, just down the road from our house.

To say that the country was shocked and stunned is an understatement. Each one of us have been impacted by this horrific loss. The Christian community in NZ is so small that many of us have links into the school, community or families of those that died. For us, personally, we have been supporting a close family friend of the teacher, missionaries who serve overseas who also know the family well, a teacher at the school and our eldest son who remembers the teacher from his own school last year. We have spent hours watching television coverage, reading newspaper articles, looking at photos and talking lots all trying to process our own feelings. It is hard to grieve such a huge loss. These were wonderful young people who loved life and loved God. Their loss has hit the school and associated church community hard.

I have to say that the school has been amazing! They have opened their doors to the public so that they have a place to express their pain. They have dedicated a whole room to be a place where people can write messages, house photos, bring flowers, gifts, balloons etc. The walls are completely full of messages of hope, love, care and grief. There are counsellors and pastoral care staff there round the clock to support those who visit. There is food, drink and tissues provided. Peaceful worship music plays in the background as people cry, sit quietly and reflect on the enormity of it all.

Last night we went to the school as a family. It was important for us to be a part of the community's outpouring of love and grief. We wept and smiled as we read messages from kids to their friends saying "Welcome to heaven guys! We love you". There were messages from parents of lost children, from their school friends, from complete strangers who have been touched by it all.

I am so proud to be a Christian today. This school has handled this tragedy with dignity, compassion, great wisdom and a strong, unwavering faith. On the day that the news broke the principal said the following:

If our faith means anything
it must mean everything now

They haven't taken the approach of "God has a plan for everything and it's all for good" which often becomes glib and unrealistic. They are asking the hard questions. They do wonder why. They do have questions as to how it all happened but they know that God is with them in the midst of it and that He will sustain them as they face the long days, weeks, months, even years ahead. Such godly examples to a world that has no faith.

The impact of this tragedy is far reaching. Pray that the faith of the students, staff and families will be more far reaching.