Hope Community Church (HCC) Lead Pastor Daryl Bay reflects on the way God has been at work in their church and in their community over the past two months—since a major bushfire in the Nelson-Tasman region swept over 2343 hectares to become one of the country's biggest blazes.
“After the Nelson fire, the firefighters were concerned about ‘hotspots’—unseen embers buried deep in the ground which were at risk of being fanned into flames and then a blaze. When you think about it, this is a powerful spiritual image. We started praying for ‘gospel hotspots’—for the deep embers of relational work and mission to be brought to life in the gospel and fanned into flame by God’s Spirit.”
At the height of the emergency HCC became a place of refuge and respite for their community, as evacuees and civil defence began using their building as a community meeting place. A local primary school moved their classrooms to the church after the fire forced them to evacuate the school building.
Through simple acts of hospitality and friendship, the community turned to HCC during the fire: “We already had a good relationship with our local schools and wider community, and this meant we were in a position to naturally offer support when things got tough,” says Daryl. “We love our community and we’ve always considered it a privilege to serve them, it was no different during the fire.”
God used the situation to spiritually stir many, says Daryl: “We had a number of people come in seeking God’s help and pastoral care. Many people felt like it was an opportunity to come back to God, to reconnect and seek him.”
For others, it was a time of spiritual growth: “In the weeks after the fire, we had people come forward to ask about being baptised, and in the past three weeks we had the joy of baptising eight people.”
It has also been a significant time for HCC as a church community: “We had been planning to launch a second Sunday service for some time, and then the fire had a unique impact—our church was full in the weeks following.” And so, on March 10, that was all part of HCC launching a second Sunday service.
There has also been a time of leadership transition following the fire, with Donald Irvine stepping back from the role of Senior Pastor, and Daryl stepping into the role of Lead Pastor after previously serving as Teaching Pastor.
A faithful God at work
“God has been really faithful during this phase of change and transition. The fire certainly changed the circumstances, but thanks to God’s grace we’ve been able to love and serve our community amongst it all, in fact we’ve seen him at work in powerful ways we couldn’t have even imagined—we’ve seen those gospel hotspots develop into flames.”
God has used the past couple of months to develop and grow the team at HCC in many ways, but there were a few things that have stood out for Daryl: “We were struck by the sense of generosity and connection from around our movement during this time. We were contacted personally by a number of pastors and leaders from around New Zealand to say ‘we’re praying for you’ and ‘how can we help?’ This was humbling as we saw our movement express ‘we’re with you’ by giving generously and praying boldly for us.”
“Secondly, it’s important to point out that the way things worked out—the positive response in the media, the warmness from the community, the openness to spiritual things—was not due to our cleverness, it was a work of the Spirit. We are still thinking carefully about and wrestling with how we, as a church, engage our community, and praying for God to guide us.”
As a movement we’ve seen God at work during hard times, particularly recently as churches are dealing with the reality of natural disasters and recovery, or changes in society and culture, and in response to acts of evil—like the Christchurch mosque shootings.
How are you and your leadership team preparing for changing times?
Have you put in the relational groundwork to be trusted as a place and a people of refuge in a disaster?
Have you thought through how you might love and serve your community in a time of crisis?
Where are you investing in deep embers, gospel hotspots, which the Spirit can fan into flame?