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Letter from New Zealand

June 2001 | by Stephen Turner

New Zealanders are very conscious of their smallness relative to the rest of the world, in population, economy and land mass. That condition is perhaps seen as having its attractions and advantages. But that has not always been the case.

We’ve just been reminded through an agreement made recently between the New Zealand and Australian governments, that it will henceforth be more difficult to just ‘up-anchor’ and go and live in Australia.

In most things, New Zealand finds it hard to match its larger friend across the Tasman Sea. Last year, 31,000 New Zealanders evidently felt that the comparison went in Australia’s favour and left these shores. A third were recent immigrants.

Population matters

Mrs Shipley, the Leader of the Opposition, got a surprising amount of attention when she went on record as saying that the country needed more children to be born to its citizens.

The world’s burgeoning population is not a problem here, where the population is not replacing itself. What an irony the whole issue must seem to any thinking New Zealander who sees virtually no restrictions placed on abortions — nearly 16,000 last year.

The political voices, of course, merely mirror society’s mores, which are completely garbled when it comes to children and the family. There are noisy attempts from time to time to outlaw the smacking of children, yet fatal violence to the unborn is justified by general consensus.

Thousands turn out for the Hero Parade, which honours sex, generally of the perverse kind. And when an overseas Christian couple recently visited and advocated sexual abstinence in the young, they were lampooned by the raucous crowd for allegedly pressurising youth and failing to consult parents before giving their advice.

Everyone in the country knows that teenage pregnancies may be terminated without parental consultation.What are the politicians saying to the country? And what is the country saying to itself?

Small things

Our local church is small, I guess. We have recently become aware of how smallness impinges on youth work. There are not the synergies in a small church to allow for a viable work among youth.

We recently lost several young people to larger congregations where youth numbers are large and music is the thing. How is a church like ours to keep its youth?

The answer in the end probably lies with their families. Not all, of course, will come from church families but for those who do, their parents’ relationship with the church will almost certainly be the determining factor.

Young people will be reluctant to leave the congregation of their childhood when their parents love it deeply, believe in its reason for existence, and are given to talking about those reasons in the light of current thinking. (This does not mean that any church can afford to neglect the fellowship and training of its youth.)

But above all, the spiritual vitality of a church must come back finally to the power of the gospel and the work of God’s Spirit, in both young and old.

Tonight is our national census. New Zealand has an enviable response rate. In this at least, being small is good — it makes people feel they belong!

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