By Lavinia Ngatoko in Challenge Weekly, New Zealand, Special to ASSIST News Service
AUCKLAND, NZ (ANS) -- A member of a Canadian evangelical group says efforts by New Zealand churches to find groundbreaking ways to reach out to their communities has in some ways put them ahead of churches in his own country.
DAVID MACFARLANE: "We wanted to increase the profile of the local church and we wanted their neighbours to say 'if this is Christianity, then I want to be a part of it'.
David Macfarlane made the comment while visiting a number of churches to talk about Celebration - a nationwide outreach initiative that has taken off in Canada since it was launched in 2005.
Mr Macfarlane, director of national initiatives with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, came at his own expense after he was invited by Vision Network NZ.
He met ministers and church leaders in Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland, Rotorua and Tauranga to discuss the idea of Celebration being launched in New Zealand.
He was impressed to find how involved our churches are already in looking at different ways to connect with their communities.
"I was encouraged ... you are obviously further ahead then we are on this concept," he said. "In a way, spiritually you are further ahead than we are, too. This is more of a new concept in Canada."
But NZ churches now have the chance, if they decide to try out the Canadian initiative, to do something they have rarely done before - go into their communities to do acts of kindness, and all at the same time.
Mr Macfarlane said that since Celebration started in Canada, more and more churches were beginning to get involved in outreach activities, many of which had long-lasting effects.
The idea for the event, which runs over about three weekends, is to get Canadian church people out of their pews and serving their neighbours.
"We wanted to increase the profile of the local church and we wanted their neighbours to say 'if this is Christianity, then I want to be a part of it'."
Mr Macfarlane says the stories from various churches around Canada which have participated in Celebration are encouraging.
One church, which sent in teams to do odd jobs such as mowing lawns, changing light bulbs, cleaning drains and other simple tasks in a low-cost housing project of 58 units over four weekends, has become an integral part of that community.
They found a woman whose husband was dying of multiple sclerosis and when they asked if they could pray for him they let the church members in. They noticed the couple had children and had no washing machine or drier.
"Neither of them worked so the church went back and bought a second-hand washer and drier and installed it.
"If our people had just gone the one time it would have been okay, sure, but they kept going back to help and as a consequence it opened up the community to the church."
Church members now run home groups for the residents and have begun providing transportation for their children to attend various programmes. They cancelled their usual Christmas cantata last year to sing carols for the project's residents instead.
"The pastor told me that his church, which had plateaued until that moment, had a new energy - his people felt like they were doing something for the community and that God was using them."
Mr Macfarlane emphasised that one thing they were also sure to do was to ask the local leaders first what they needed.
Churches in Winnipeg, known as the "murder capital of Canada" and with huge gang problems, went to the police to see how they could help. They were asked to help to clean up graffiti.
"The churches mobilised 1000 Christians over about four weeks and they cleaned up all the graffiti. I'm talking bridges and underpasses, not just little areas - it was huge. The mayor went on TV to thank the evangelical
Christians for putting their faith into action."
Celebration 2007 will be timed to kick off on the Global Day of Prayer on Pentecost Sunday, May 27.
Glynn Carpenter, executive director of Vision Network NZ, said he had received a positive response from churches around the country so far and that Vision Network was continuing to gather feedback.
Mr Carpenter said the scheme might start this year, even if there were only a small number of churches to start with. The website is www.celebration2007.ca
Lavinia Ngatoko reports for Challenge Weekly, New Zealand's independent and non-denominational Christian newspaper
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