This article by Dave Tims is reproduced with permission from UNOH Finding Life Newsletter, June 2022.

Urban neighbours of hope (UNOH) is an international missional order who in New Zealand are affiliated with NZBMS as ORBIT. Their workers’ mission is to immerse themselves “in the life of neighbourhoods facing urban poverty, joining the risen Jesus to seek transformation from the bottom up”. Dave Tims, Director of UNOH New Zealand, shares how change begins in our relationships with the people around us…


From the book Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed, the authors state:

“We are living at a point in history when the need and desire for change is profound. Our current trajectory is no longer sustainable. We cannot ignore the compelling environmental and social challenges that vex today’s world because they will undermine us all. We cannot dismiss the fractures in our own communities, or the fissures between those of us fortunate to live in comfort and the massive number of our fellow human beings who live under the crush of poverty around the world. It is a pivotal time. We need to be change-makers – and very capable ones at that”.[1]


Becoming ‘change-makers’ is one of the essential and profound grassroots tasks of UNOH. Acceptance of the status quo is not an option. We dream of seeing the church and our neighbours become key players in re-imagining how we can organise our lives. Lives that reflect a radical lifestyle like that of the early church in Acts, where disciples determined to live simply and willingly share their lives with the poor. Jim Reiher says, “the principle behind the story of Acts 2:41-47 and 4:32-37 …is that we radically look after those in need, even if it costs us personally”.[2] The pursuit of wealth loses its spark when we live close to the poor.

 

COVID-19 forced us to rethink our priorities and revealed the importance of connection and relationships. We had to learn to adapt to the ‘new normal’ and change how we lived in our neighbourhood. 

It has forced us to refocus upon the sincere words of our Prime Minister, 

“Be kind, stay safe, stay local.” “I have vivid memories of the first day of ‘lockdown’ – the quiet street, the birdsong.” [3]

For us, the quiet replaced the noise of the police helicopters hovering above. The parks where I walked the dog were empty, silent of children’s laughter or the annoying dirt bikes screaming through them.

“Time passed and we adapted to the upheaval of our regular daily activities (work, social, recreational and cultural) and developed new routines as our ‘bubble’ negotiated working from home. We were in touch with our friends [and neighbours] to share coping strategies, set up contact lists [and Facebook pages], and checked on our older relatives and friends to ensure they would be able to access essential supplies during ‘lockdown’.” [4] 

 

The experience of COVID-19 reinforced UNOH’s deep value of staying connected to the grassroots, working with neighbours for transformational change, through the living Jesus, from the bottom up. A recent working partnership with the Ministry of Health found us labelled as ‘hyper-local’. We refused to take our successful model of neighbourhood engagement into another neighbourhood that was ‘unknown’ to us. The term ‘hyper-local’ relates to those who focus on matters concerning a small community or geographical area.[5] Our approach is not a project that can be ‘copied, uplifted and then imported’ into a new neighbourhood. The key to our success is relationships with each other. This approach takes years of work, leadership development and the concept of citizenship – ‘being responsible for our own neighbourhood well-being’. This model can’t be ‘cookie-cut’ and reproduced without the foundation of ‘neighbourhood building’.

 

We constantly face the challenge of change and are learning to be flexible, people-focused, rather than project-focused. This process requires us to adapt to who people are and what they bring. It does not allow projects to dictate what we can and can’t do. We are not brilliant at this, but we try. Our park contract, which involves picking up rubbish from all our parks and changing rubbish bags, would usually be given to someone with a driver’s license. However, no one was available to do this job except Franco, who wanted more work hours. We were able to think creatively and provided a mountain bike with a trailer attached so he could ride to all of our parks to complete the work. Franco got more work hours, and we fulfilled our contract – problem solved. Another project involved creatively working with Manurewa Local Board (City Council) on plans to increase the tree coverage in our neighbourhood and city.

 

Change can also be painful. It’s hard saying goodbye to neighbours who have been central to many expressions of community love over the years. We have shared laughter, tears, heartache and dreams many times together. However, as one season finishes, we find ourselves standing by a new door with a choice – do we open and walk through, or do we stay? The door may offer the possibilities of a new season, with new friendships and a new journey. We walk “backwards into the future” through that door. “Ka mua, ka muri” is a Māori proverb that expresses the idea that we look to the past to inform the future. 



[1] Frances Westley, Michael Quinn Patton, and Brenda Zimmerman, Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed (Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2007).

[2] Jim Reiher, The Book of Acts: A Social Justice Devotional Commentary, 2014, 32.

[3] Robyn Munford, “Reflections from Aotearoa New Zealand: Stay Home, Stay Safe, Stay Strong and Be Kind,” Qualitative Social Work 20.1–2 (2021): 110–15, https://doi.org/10.1177/1473325020973203.

[4] Munford, “Reflections from Aotearoa New Zealand.”

[5] “Word on the Street,” January 2022, http://unoh.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Word-on-the-Street-2022.pdf.



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