The latest data from the Ministry of Social Development indicates that over 4000 of our pepi and tamariki are growing up in motels.
Advocates working on the frontline of this crisis are beginning to call this the motel generation.
Take a moment to allow that to sink in.
We have a generation of children growing up in motels. Often in unsafe environments, often unstable with whānau constantly being required to move due to the way the system works, or motels own availability.
The negative impact on these children’s development and wellbeing will be significant.
As a follower of Jesus a question I sit with is this. In the face of the human rights crisis that is infecting our nation, how is the Church changed by this? How does this alter our priorities? Those of us who identify with the Christian Tradition follow a God who became a poor, homeless, child, are we unsettled by the reality of what is being done to the Divine’s tamariki?
Is it enough simply to see our primary role as supporting individuals to have a personal relationship with Jesus? Or does the karakia Christ gave us, that his will be done, that his Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven, does it perhaps require more from us than we have come to accept?
Before I go further, I think it is important to make a distinction between the Pākehā church and the Māori church. I think Māori get this, when we speak of this housing crisis, of growing inequality, of poverty, they get it because it’s their whānau who are suffering.
But, we pākehā? We’re so removed from what is happening in Aotearoa, it is easy for us to read a headline about kids in motels, or hear a Facebook post about how poverty is killing our children, and then turn up to worship on Sunday without it truly impacting us. And the reality is that many of us belong to pākehā run, and pākehā dominated church communities. And so it is we, pākehā who set the agenda, who decide on our theology, who name our priorities. And issues of Justice and inequality remain secondary issues to our main priorities, which is running a good Sunday morning program, and supporting individual’s in our communities to have a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior.
But, what good is a Sunday morning program to a kid in a motel? What good is a “personal relationship with Jesus” to a child living on Queen Street?
A church that is more interested in caring for the spiritual wellbeing of a person, than it is in caring for their physical needs, cares for neither.
In recent years I’ve had some challenging conversations with Māori whānau in pākehā dominated church settings. I’ve watched as their hunger for Justice, and desire for the Gospel to speak life into their experience, and provide an answer to the suffering their whānau are experiencing, has found little room for expression in the pākehā community they have sought to make their home. And I have wondered, if their voices were given space, if our communities would hear them, if we would not see a shift in the shape and priority of our communities?
If the Pākehā church in Aotearoa wants to have any relevance in this nation, than running a killer Sunday morning program, and leading people in the sinners prayer, isn’t enough.
The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus is now Lord of this world, that His Kingdom, the Divine Dream is even now breaking into our very existence. This is Good News to the poor, it is Good News to children living in motels, to young people living on our streets, to whānau suffering in poverty due to generations of inequality and marginalization.
It is Good News, whether the Pākehā church delivers it or not.
You see the Divine is not waiting for us. The Divine is not content to sit in a Sunday service while Her tamariki suffer and are abused. The Divine is out there. She is on Queen Street with our unhoused whānau , she is at WINZ with those who enter its doors seeking help they fear they won’t find, she’s with the mother cradling the body of her dead son, taken by addiction, and she is in the motels, with the kids who are unsure when they will have to move, or where their next “home” will be.
The Divine is with all those who suffer, all who experience oppression and injustice, She is the God of the poor, and She fights for Her peoples Liberation.
The real question is where is the Pākehā church? And are we willing to join Her?
A.J. Hendry is a Youth Development Worker and housing advocate, working in the Youth Housing and Homelessness space. He leads a service supporting rangatahi experiencing homelessness and is also a steering group member of Manaaki Rangatahi, a collective working to end youth homelessness in Aotearoa. He is also the curator and creator of When Lambs Are Silent.