With an open mind I visited the anti-mandate protest camp at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand in February. I had some empathy for the protestors plight. Many of my friends are not vaccinated and are paying a price for their stance.
The protestors had come from the far north and deep south. Farmers, policewoman, nurses, firemen, airline pilots, hairdressers, teachers, tradesmen, soccer mums and many more. All they asked for was to be heard.
Many had lost their jobs because they did not take the vaccine and others had felt coerced into taking the vaccine.
Most had safety concerns about the vaccine. When asked during a poll at the protest, a quarter of them had raised their hands claiming they knew somebody who had died from the vaccine. Over 60% knew of someone who had a serious reaction to the vaccine.
Many also had concerns over the effectiveness of the vaccine to counter the omicron threat and thought the mandates were an example of governmental overreach. They felt it was time to take a stand. To prevent this type of government control becoming normalised.
As I walked through the camp on the Sunday night and Tuesday, I saw children scooting, people talking politely to policemen, Christians praying and Hare Krishna’s chanting. The atmosphere was much more peaceful and inviting than I had imagined.
Continuing through the camp I witnessed an amazing amount of organisation. I saw leaders planning, security wardens, cleaning teams, food tents, mobile phone charging stations, a blues bar and a hairdressing saloon.
I listened to stories from people who had lost their jobs and livelihoods due to the vaccine mandate. I heard from people who had adverse reactions to the vaccine and from mums whose children could no longer play competitive sport. These people were angry and frustrated.
The government was not listening to them.
And I also heard amusing stories of government plans being thwarted. When the Speaker of the NZ House of Representatives, the Rt Hon Trevor Mallard, had turned on the sprinklers to soak the protest campsite, a fireman and some tradesmen had solved this intrusion by diverting the water away from the protest camp back into the Parliament basement.
I spoke to a Taranaki woman sleeping in a car with her two children who was devastated that her children could no longer attend their local Catholic school, because the school had mandated that all children had to be vaccinated. They were offered attendance at another Catholic school in Stratford 40kms away.
These were people who felt alienated and discriminated against, and found their only hope parked on the corner of Molesworth Street and Lambton Quay. I sensed a fierce determination to stay, to not give up until the mandates were ended.
And as the numbers swelled, the government watched and continued to dismiss the crowd as a small minority.
When a sample poll was taken revealing that 28% of New Zealanders supported ending the mandates, our elected representatives continued to dismiss the protestors as a minority.
As the protest continued, new people came into the protest camp. Protest leaders had concerns that some of these people were plants, determined to stir up trouble and paint the protestors in a bad light.
And the government refused to listen to the protestors because some bad things started happening.
And the bad things were well reported by the mainstream media and more trouble makers filled the camp.
And the government felt increased justification to use riot police to evict the protestors because of the trouble makers.
What started as an honest and genuine protest turned into ugly scenes of destruction as the government refused to engage with the protest camp and left it to the police to remove the small minority.
A Biblical view
The failure of our leaders in government to listen to the initial protestors reminded me of two things in scripture.
Firstly, how Pharaoh’s heart was hardened by God when Moses asked for the Israelites to be able to return to Israel.
Exodus chapter 9, verse 12
“But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses.”
God used Pharoah’s hard heart to pave the way for the ultimate sacrifice of our sins, through the blood of the Passover lamb.
Could it be that God is hardening the hearts of our leaders to bring about much more significant and worthwhile change?
Secondly, the example of servant leadership in the kingdom of God.
Jesus set the prime example of servant leadership when He washed the disciples’ feet.
John chapter 13, verses 14-16
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”
Perhaps God is going to use the current bad example of leadership to raise up leaders with more of a heart as a servant for the people?
Wayne Graham worked in the media for more than 30 years before leaving to follow a call to set up The Daily Encourager, a values based media showcasing the best of New Zealand society. He has a passion for Jesus, enjoys walking, ball sports, the arts and song writing.