You can’t tell from the thoroughly modern buildings on the site now, but St Saviours has been serving Kaitaia for a very long time. This roughly 100-strong congregation remains committed to serving the least and the lost in a community with great needs.
Following a tip-off I interviewed Tina Bibb-Kirtlan who heads up their Feed My Lambs project.
Feed My Lambs was begun three years ago by two young Maori women who were a part of the church and had been shocked to discover that there were young mums in the community who were feeding their babies flour and water, or even Coke because infant formula was too expensive.
Through a fruitful partnership with St Pauls church in Auckland the church was able to begin providing sponsored nappies and formula powder to those in greatest need. “Our previous vicar had served at St Pauls and our present vicar came from there as well, so that helped!” laughs Tina.
Tina was asked to lead the programme two years ago and was initially fearful that being ‘middle-aged, middle-class and European’ would impact her effectiveness but she has found that ‘it made no difference at all – you just need to love them, that’s all.’
To kick off the programme they got in touch with a few social service agencies and let them know they were wanting to reach out to those most in need and could they refer a couple of girls? Things have just snowballed from there.
Once a week the girls gather for a shared lunch, followed by the programme for the day. At the end they get their nappies and formula for the week. The programme could be anything of interest to the group. They have had speakers on topics ranging from immunisation to the Five Love languages. Some of the women attending have themselves taken the session to share a recipe or teach flax-weaving.
“It’s all about building relationships and a support system for these girls,” says Tina. “We talk through situations and how to handle them, using the wisdom in the room. And we always say ‘Come on, we’re going to pray for you. Is that OK?’ Really we’re just being Jesus with skin on and we drop a programme in the middle.”
The team have seen participants grow and begin to stand up and take on leaderships roles, with support. Some help in the kitchen, and some have taken charge of the distribution of the nappies and formula from the storeroom. Rules around clean up and smoking have been initiated by the mothers themselves.
Other ministries have arisen in support of the Feed My Lambs programme. 22 mothers are now coming and most bring their children with them, so they have established a playgroup to take care of the children on meeting days.
Tina admits that the lunchtime sessions are ‘organised chaos’ with so much going on that it’s hard to spend a lot of one-on-one quality time. To meet this need they have started an evening group for those wanting to go deeper and 9 young moms and a grandmother are now part of that.
And they are seeing folk come to faith! Tina can point to a couple with five boys and to a solo mum with three kids who have shown up at church, given their hearts to the Lord and are continuing in their faith because of the relationships built through Feed My Lambs. “We have the kind of church service that makes it easy,” says Tina. “At the end of the service we always open it up for prayer and we encourage those that need prayer to come forward.”
There are other hopeful stirrings also. The men are starting to turn up at the men’s group and grandmothers who have had to take responsibility for grandchildren are also turning to the church for assistance and encouragement.
I ask Tina: don’t you think the government should be meeting this need? Surely no-one in this country needs to be feeding their baby flour and water?
She tells me that reality is somewhat different. With little money to go round, once your allowances have run out assistance can be difficult to find. “These folk are often isolated due to poverty, and transportation is a huge issue for them. The Feed My Lambs project is bringing them out of isolation and giving them a place where they can form friendships and be loved and cared for unconditionally.”