An ‘updraft’ in meteorology characterises a storm’s early development as warm air rises, eventually bringing the rains that offer sustenance and life. Rick’s hope for this monthly updraft column is for it to be a catalyst for change, ultimately contributing to the transformation of our faith communities. This regular column first appears in the Northern Baptist Association monthly newsletter, ‘Northern Lights’.

We've previously acknowledged how tough the past three years have been as we've faced the challenges of COVID and the resulting disruption to our lives. Lockdowns, crisis leadership, vaccine mandates, and mask-wearing have all contributed to a society experiencing high anxiety, fear, and anger. People are weary from processing grief and loss, patience wears thin, and many carry the weight of the world upon them.

2023 is going to be different. A summer in which we had come to a place of living with COVID in the community, and the hope of some glorious sunny summer days filled with laughter and fun was all we needed. Surely that would help rejuvenate and re-energise for a year in which we could all hope for easier and happier times...right? Then comes the crazy start to the year with a summer in which Auckland averaged between 5 and 7 hours of sunshine per day for the first month. At the end of January, the ongoing impact of constant rain hit, and hit hard, causing extensive flooding and significant damage to various pockets of our largest city. Worse was yet to come as a cyclone brought significant wind and rains, particularly to Northland, Auckland, Coromandel, Gisborne, and Hawkes Bay, resulting in waterways and rivers bursting banks, more extensive flooding and many many landslides that have destroyed properties, stolen lives and left heart-breaking scenes and experiences of utter devastation. 

The physical clean-up and renewal will take years, and the processing and impact of such devastation on mental health and well-being, far longer. The destruction and loss resulting from events beyond our control can leave us with an overwhelming sense of helplessness and hopelessness. What do we do? Where do we turn? 

As we look for answers, we can perhaps learn from the words and actions of the prophet Joel as he addressed a country in crisis. A plague of locusts had swept across Judah. Crops had been devastated, and the people were left with nothing to eat. Growing despair and helplessness ensued. It was in that situation Joel spoke, connecting the catastrophic experience to the purposes of God. He called on the people to humble themselves before God in lament and repentance. In prayer, he then laid the situation before God, recognising God alone is able to fulfil their need and transform their circumstances. 

As we see so often in the Psalms, Joel grounds his appeal for intervention in the very character of God. Confidence comes from the fact they are his people; he is their God; they are hurting and in need. He is their provider and protector, as indeed he is ours. God is a God who is present with his people, a God who knows the hurts and pain they carry, and a God who hears and acts. He responds with compassion and mercy, promising to send them enough grain and new wine to fully satisfy their need. Not only that, but he also promises to repay them for the years the locusts have eaten. God is able to bring restoration, renewal, and redemption to the most devastating of situations. 

We may be struggling to see where God is at work amid these challenging times, but it has been so heartening to see how our Baptist churches have responded. Across our nation, many in our collective of Baptist faith communities have reached out to provide help and resources for those in their local community. Others have generously provided financial resources to individuals and church communities in different parts of the country where huge loss has occurred. Others still have been vigilant in prayer and pastoral care for affected churches and communities. God is active in his church, drawing us together as other parts of the body find themselves with particular needs at this time. 

May the prophet Joel's response remind us to continue humbling ourselves before God, trusting in his protection and provision. While God's promises to the people of Judah may be different from how he chooses to be present and actively involved in providing for his people today, his character remains the same. He is the same yesterday, today and forever! Our hope lies in Him! We serve a God who is compassionate and merciful. We serve a God who is present and active. We serve a God who intervenes, provides for, and protects us. The ultimate revelation of this came through Jesus Christ, who became like us, entering his own creation. May we have the confidence to humbly approach him, placing our trust in him. God alone can satisfy us, providing more than we realise we need. God alone can transform our circumstances, enabling us to journey through loss and despair and overcome a sense of helplessness to discover the power of gospel renewal, helping us thrive as his people. May that be our story as we journey through these challenging times together - then we'll discover 2023 will definitely be different!

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