On Friday I had the privilege of joining Archbishop Philip Richardson who made a special visit to Hawke's Bay for the day, as we made our way up Eskdale valley to Hukarere Girls' College. We were missing Archbishop Don Tamihere, Ven Hirini Kaa and others who had planned to be with us, but were unavoidably prevented from coming to Hawke's Bay due to cancelled flights. However we joined with Hori, Matua Matiu and staff from Hukarere along with Rev'd Zhane Tāhau Whelan, Chaplain to Hukarere Rev'd Erice Fairbrother and Rev'd Isaac Beach, for a blessing of the school site following the cyclone.
The school sits about 5km into Eskdale valley from the Napier-Taupo Rd intersection. It is close to the river and right in the path of the tsunami of flood waters that hit this beautiful valley. I stand in awe of the hostel staff who by their own initiative and observance of the river which they were very familiar with, made the decision to evacuate the boarding students early, certainly preventing a further tragedy. Their knowledge of their local environment, commitment to the protection of the students and common sense are truly something to honour and celebrate.
The site is too dangerous for anyone to enter at the moment, so the blessing of the land and school was held just at the entrance of the school. The landscape there is now difficult to recognise with buildings swamped with metres of silt, and any number of large tanks, trees, vehicles and small buildings tossed around the landscape. It is a deeply confronting sight.
I think for most there it was the first time to visit the school site since the cyclone, a sign of the respect that people are offering to residents of the valley who are working so hard to respond to homes, farms, vineyards and orchards - the last thing they need is unnecessary spectators.
The blessing was important at the school, to bless the land the school and the people, to acknowledge the destruction of buildings and the grief that comes with the cyclone, and the uncertainty about the present and the future. However, it was also a time for consolation and support, for community, encouragement and recognising that no one is doing any of this alone.
Our work as a church is to gather around this kura, its students, staff and families and support them and the school governors, Atipihopa Don and others, as they look to the future of teaching and learning for Hukarere.
The motto of Hukarere is "Ko te aroha te mauri o te oranga ake o te iwi", which speaks of love being at the centre of a flourishing life. To enable the lives and education of the students of Hukarere to continue to flourish we must as a church act in love ... in all its incarnations of generosity, wisdom, encouragement, support, empathy, compassion, vision, and hope, to work together to re-establish the kura in a new learning environment.
We continue to appreciate your prayerful support and understanding of our need across Eastland, Gisborne, Wairoa and Hawke's Bay to be solely focused on supporting response and recovery from the cyclone. In the past few weeks, I've met and spoken with individuals and small groups of people who have come to Hawke's Bay since the cyclone and their response has been universally one of deep distress as they encounter the sights and smells of the landscape and experience the practical difficulties that our communities are facing on a daily basis. They all say something along the lines of ... 'We knew it was bad, but nothing on TV or photographs truly prepared us for seeing the devastation in person.'
We know it's hard to fully comprehend the realities on the ground here. Even so, your support, encouragement and prayerfulness mean the world to us. Please also know that your grace in accepting that this space we live in is taking a lot more emotional, mental and spiritual energy to cope with for most people here than many have had to encounter before, so please be patient and know that we will re-engage in wider issues when we have the space to do so.
For now, I continue to give thanks for the people who are giving so much of their own time and energy to support those in need ... they are saintly.
I give thanks for the teams of engineers, linespeople, and technicians who are continuing to reconnect our communities to power and communication.
I give thanks for the staff at Hukarere, for their common sense, initiative, and decisive action in evacuating the students ... and all done with peace and quiet resolve.
I give thanks for those who are able to be here, in Eastland and Gisborne and Wairoa, to offer encouragement and support and to share something of this experience with us. It means so much to know that you have come to be present with us for a time.
In all this, I continue to give thanks for God's life in our midst as we seek wisdom, and discernment in response and recovery.