The last 3 days have passed like a blur. I arrived in Christchurch on Tuesday, a week after the city was devastated by the second major earthquake in the past 6 months. The latest quake has crippled the city: over 150 are dead, and the damage is estimated to be around $15 billion. Not many people are coming to Christchurch right now. Indeed, many people have simply left everything behind and fled. Despite the earthquake and the uncertainty surrounding it, I made the decision to continue with my travel plans and try to come and help out with earthquake relief.
I was able to get connected right away with a church called Grace Vineyard. They’re operating a distribution center in one of the suburbs of the city, offering basic food and survival items for free to distressed people. I just showed up and they put me to work for 8 hours a day for the past 3 days. Wow. Just wow.
Frantic. Exciting. Saddening. Inspiring. Exhausting. These words describe my experience over the last 3 days. What has impacted me the most are the stories. I stayed pretty busy stacking boxes and coordinating volunteers, but every once in a while I’d get the chance to help people out to their cars with their boxes full of essentials. I didn’t even have to ask them, they would just start telling me their stories. My heart broke over and over again. Many of them have had their houses ruined. Many are without power and water and haven’t been able to take a shower in over a week. These people are tough. Most of them drove decent cars, and it was obvious that they don’t normally need to depend on anyone for survival. But behind their dignity I could sense the desperation.
One lady came with her young daughter and son, and it was clear that she was exhausted from dealing with her son’s energy. While we were talking, she got a phone call and found out that she’d been released from $500 in student loans because of the quake. She broke down and started crying right in front of me. I told her about a free kids club where she could take her children and have just a few hours of solitude. She gave me a huge hug before she left.
Another woman told me a story about her friends who lost their son in the earthquake. He had turned 14 the day before the quake and took a bus in town to spend his birthday money. Apparently his dad had offered to give him a ride, but he chose to take the bus instead. The bus was crushed by debris and no one survived. He was their only son.
What do you say to these people?
They were so thankful, each and every one of them. As I’d walk back, I found myself trying to imagine what it must be like for them. I struggled to do that. These people have had their lives broken right before their eyes. The earthquake lasted for just 60 seconds, but the pain and destruction it caused will take years to recover from. However, through the chaos and the crying out, I’ve witnessed something remarkable. I’ve seen love in action. I’ve seen people lean on each other for help in the most difficult of times. Dozens of volunteers have showed up every day to offer their services. I’ve watched as truckload after truckload of donated goods came rolling in from all over the country. I saw a box of liquid sanitizer bottles with a hand-written sticker saying “Stay Strong, Kia Kaha” on each and every bottle.
I am moved by what I have witnessed here in Christchurch. Simply put, this has been an incredibly humbling experience.