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New Zealanders tell stories of narrow escapes

March 2, 2011 No Comment

By James Morgan

Rescue workers from around the world observe a two minute silence at 12.51 p.m. to mark the moment a week ago when an earthquake hit the city, at Cathedral Square in Christchurch on March 1, 2011. — Reuters pic

Five days after the magnitude 6.3 earthquake rocked the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, about 20 people from the local Lutheran congregation met on February 27 for Sunday worship in their darkened church. Pastor David Lipsys appropriately chose Psalm 46 for the basis of the simple service; “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake.”

The pastor gave worshippers time to share their experiences during and after the quake. Aftershocks have caused considerable anxiety, up to one third of Christchurch’s population has fled for refuge with friends or family in other parts of New Zealand or Australia, and much of the city is still without power, water, or sanitation, including the home of Pastor Lipsys and his wife Janine.

Lutheran Church of New Zealand Council Chair Judy Calder’s severely damaged home is less than one kilometre from the quake’s epicenter. She and her husband Bernie are staying 100 kilometres away with family while they decide what to do next.

“We’re not sure when we’ll be allowed to go back to our house. I ran out of there with just the clothes I was wearing. That’s all I have,” she says.

Brian Thompson was on the sixth floor of a downtown building when the quake hit and recalls the frightening moments after. “People were running and bleeding and screaming. You didn’t know which way to run, where was safe.”

A few blocks away, Mr. Thompson’s son’s girlfriend made a chilling escape from the her office building. “She climbed down over a café roof that had caved in. People were still sitting there in chairs where they’d been having lunch. They were dead,” he notes.

Merv and Marie Scherer, a retired Lutheran couple visiting from Australia, narrowly escaped being killed. They were about to climb the stairs of the tower of Christchurch’s historic Anglican cathedral but instead decided to go and buy new batteries for their camera. Minutes later, the earthquake hit, toppling the cathedral tower to the ground, and killing everyone who was inside.

The earthquake has shaken the Lutheran community in Christchurch, both literally and figuratively. While no one lost loved ones, uncertainty remains about lost homes and livelihoods. “The Bible warns us not to build on sandy ground,” says Janine Lipsys, noting the city is built on sandy soil. “Disasters like this remind us to build our lives on Christ. He is the only one whom we can ultimately depend on,” she adds.

“We have felt most supported by our friends and church families everywhere,” says Judy Calder, adding “It is so comforting to know that people across the Lutheran world are praying for us. We are going to need those prayers for a very long time.” Currently, the estimated cost of repairing the heavily damaged city is 20 billion New Zealand dollars.

The Lutheran Church of New Zealand is a district of the Lutheran Church of Australia.

With files from Linda MacQueen, editor of The Lutheran

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