Invercargill’s Asian population grew by 170% between 2001 and 2013. People are drawn to Southland because of its low unemployment rates, affordable housing and education opportunities.1 Jordy Jordan tells us how Invercargill Intercultural Baptist Church is ministering to Chinese migrants and the city’s born-and-bred residents alike.
Looking back, God is always good. If we ourselves had not struggled, it would be hard to truly understand what new arrivals to New Zealand face.
It is tough being separated from family and friends. Furthermore it can feel like a whole part of your identity is stripped away when in midlife you are forced to retrain and start a new career in a culture you hardly understand. Then add to that the ‘jail sentence’ of waiting on the granting of permanent residency. These factors can make the first few years of life in New Zealand truly difficult.
The church came about kind of accidentally. We had moved to Christchurch so I could study full-time at Laidlaw College. People we had known in Invercargill kept stopping in, asking us to move back to Invercargill and start a church.
None of us wanted to leave Christchurch, especially my wife Peihua. She loved Christchurch. She had a job and her own money. She loved the Chinese community and the great shopping with all things Chinese. Then there was Christchurch Chinese Church, whose members are mainly Chinese from different nations. For the first time she really felt like she belonged in New Zealand.
Nearing the end of my study, our pastor from Invercargill, Chris Lee, suggested we return to Invercargill to plant a church. We had lots of other plans we had been praying over. However, one by one they evaporated as God closed doors. After much prayer and buckets of tears, we moved for the fourth time in six years. We had our third child on the way when we started planting a cross-cultural church in Invercargill.
The vision – a traditional Chinese church with a Kiwi twist
The vision Christ gave us was a mixture of traditional Chinese with a good dose of Kiwi-ness thrown in. This was partly due to the two big influences in our spiritual life, from both Eastside Baptist in Invercargill and Christchurch Chinese Church.
We did not want to open another traditional church as there are plenty of them in Invercargill already. And because we didn’t want to start a new church with people who weren’t happy with their present church/Christian experience, we started with pre-Christians and people new to Invercargill.
Consequently, when we held our first Sunday service we had one person come, apart from the lady we had asked to play the piano. One person might sound like a disaster to most, but we never worried about who didn’t come through the door. We instead concentrated on who Christ sent to us to minister to—and, praise God, the church has grown from there.
The first years
What Peihua and I had learnt at our time at Eastside was that many people first need to belong, before they believe. Thus the first year in particular was spent listening to the community we sought to minister to.
The idea behind the church plant was to create a community for people to belong to and to help Chinese people from many different countries to be in the middle of Kiwi culture, not on the outside. But it was also to help born-and-bred locals open up to new cultural perspectives and experiences that these new people to our city have to offer.
To do this we had to learn to be hands-off, allowing people the freedom to grow and learn, and for ministries to start and stop as people come and go. It also meant allowing people to make mistakes and learn from them.
One of the reasons Peihua and I put a lot of focus on our family ministry came from the painful experience of loss. We had families struggling to get the level of care the rest of us would expect from our local health service providers. In the first years of our ministry there were some terrible losses that I don’t know if you ever ‘get over’. As a minority group, nothing makes you feel more isolated than needlessly losing your loved ones, while the system that is meant to help seems not to care.
God sent us to care and, with the wonderful help of philanthropic organisations, we have been able to impact the community by running camps that see immigrant families go away for weekends with other Kiwi families. There they learn about nature, fishing, collecting paua and conservation of resources. The overall focus is strengthening families through connecting with community.
Today and beyond
To sum up our church experience, it is not about attendance, or the quality of music, or even the number of baptisms. As we are a small minority group, these are all out of our control. Life for us is about depth of community.
Faith cannot live outside culture, and culture outside of community has no life meaning. For us, faith has to be ready to interact with the challenge of community, so we have helped with usual things churches do: emergency housing, translation at the local hospital and police station, and English and Chinese language classes. But I think the most enjoyable outreach for me was coaching touch rugby to help some of our Chinese boys integrate with Kiwi culture. To see them get out on the field, smile and have fun was all the thanks I needed.
Living inside community has been a struggle because there is so much outside of my control. In learning to live inside community I have had to challenge everything I held as normal. One of the biggest struggles for me personally was having people come into our home life all hours of the day and night. But if you want to make a difference to community you need to become part of it first.
Our future goal is to have the church grow less dependent on Peihua and myself. We need to learn to let go of core responsibilities more, making room for others to grow and take on more leadership roles.
For me personally the last three years have been crazy busy. In that busyness my alone time with Christ has suffered. So this year there will be more time spent sitting on my favourite rock, fishing and waiting on God!
Story: Dean (Jordy) Jordan
Jordy is father of three, self-employed, an ardent conservationist and active community builder, and the unpaid pastor of Invercargill Intercultural Church.
- “Asian migrants head for Invercargill,” Nick Butcher: Radio NZ, radionz.co.nz/news/national/288179/asian-migrants-head-for-invercargill.
Photo credit: Weifang Liao