Several Adventist congregations in South Auckland, New Zealand, recently combined efforts to “be the church” in Clendon, a suburb in Auckland stricken with poverty, unemployment, gangs, and crime.
The initiative, called “iCAN58″—a reference to “cans of food” and “Isaiah 58″—is in its third year. In previous years, the outreach included a food drive of generous food parcels, where members donated thousands of cans of food and packets of rice over several months that were hand delivered to every household in Clendon.
This year iCAN58 looked a little different: a large-scale community fun day was run in the heart of Clendon at their local shopping center. The event included live music, performances, testimonies, and praise and worship. Food parcels, on-the-spot health checks, face-painting, balloons, and doughnuts were provided for free.
“We’re hoping that we can be a presence in the community,” said Paul Siope, senior pastor of Calvary Community Seventh-day Adventist Church. “A lot of people in this area are suffering in terms of poverty and housing and homelessness, so we’re showing solidarity.”
TV reporters from national news program Tagata Pasifika were there to document the event, which also featured local artists “Resonate,” a group of young Adventist singers and musicians from Papatoetoe Seventh-day Adventist Community Church.
While hundreds of Clendon residents attended and expressed appreciation for the fun day, the event had its fair share of setbacks.
“We had to scale down the event, originally planned for the month of March, which was hugely disappointing,” said Papatoetoe Church Communications Coordinator Jacinda Turnbull-Harman. “The week before the event was to take place, the Tasman Tempest dumped copious amounts of water on the park grounds we had originally hired. We had a call from the Auckland Council several days before the event to let us know that due to the soggy grounds, the stage truck would not be able to drive onto the field.
“We had two or three days to come up with a new plan, advise the community and the hundreds of volunteers of the postponement, and lock-in a new date and venue that suited all involved,” said Turnbull-Harman. “In what can only be described as an Only-God meeting with the organizers and Clendon Shopping Centre Administration, we were put right in the heart of the community, on the busiest day of the week, and perfect weather to boot. In retrospect, we were able to connect with more people because of the change of venue.”
Response from the community has been positive, and Turnbull-Harman says it’s all about relationships. “I can’t speak for the other Adventist churches that were involved in the initiative, but the Papatoetoe Church has seen a steady increase in community people coming to church and sticking around,” she said, as she explained that they have baptized a few this year already.
“Relationships are the key. It’s one thing to divvy out food parcels once a year, but the building of friendships and sharing stories one-on-one—that is where it’s at.”