by Jayna Richardson

When Cyclone Gabrielle hit New Zealand in February of 2023, the devastation was vast and heartbreaking. The damage displaced thousands of people, destroyed numerous homes, caused over $8 billion (USD) in damage, and took the lives of 11 people. But the challenges in the Hawkes Bay region also opened doors for the FamilyLife team to minister to struggling families.

The FamilyLife team organized a one-day relationship seminar in Napier with the main purpose of bringing hope and encouragement to those who had been affected by the flooding (although anyone was welcome to attend). Even though the seminar was six months after the cyclone, the destruction in the area was still evident.

“Driving along Highway 5 through Esk Valley into Napier was heartbreaking,” said Steve Hooper, a FamilyLife New Zealand staff member. “The devastation is immense with the majority of houses uninhabitable.  A sign on one property read ‘This section has lost 120,000 fruit trees.’”

The seminar ended up being the largest one-day event the New Zealand team has seen in many years with over sixty couples. “It was also one of the most interactive audiences we’ve experienced,” said Steve. “People just wanted to talk!”

Steve and his wife, Leanne, met one couple who had been swept from the roof of their car as they were attempting to evacuate during the cyclone. “They were separated for eight hours in the water, neither of them knowing if the other had survived,” said Steve. Other couples expressed their grief at having lost their livelihoods due to their orchards being destroyed.

“The corresponding challenges of cleanup, loss, and grief were heavily impacting many couples’ relationships at home. Increased stress, anxiety, and uncertainty were evident. Our heart was to bring some much-needed inspiration and encouragement and an opportunity for couples to take a day out and focus on their relationship.”

There are still many ongoing needs in the Hawkes Bay region as families navigate the long process of getting their homes and lives back on track. The FamilyLife seminar was a bright spot for many couples who are still working through the trauma of what they’ve been through.

“It was a privilege to offer our small contribution of help,” said Steve. “We may not be able to assist in rebuilding houses, but we were able to offer some practical tools to encourage couples in rebuilding their homes.”