Do Wilderness Experiences Foster Resilience? | A Lesson from Kiwis

Living with Aftershocks | What Wilderness Experiences & New Zealand’s Recent Earthquakes Have in Common

Last week my wife Becky and I spent time with some of our close friends and ministry partners in Christchurch, New Zealand. Since September 2010, the city of Christchurch has experienced two extremely large earthquakes and almost 9,000 aftershocks. I was there the morning of the first quake in September of 2010 and it was so powerful it knocked me off my feet into a bathtub.


Being in Christchurch last week reminded me once again of the resilience of the Kiwi people in the midst of trials. One of the most profound moments I remember from our recent visit was walking around the City Centre with one of our old Young Life students, Cathryn, (who is now a sea kayaking guide in Marlborough Sounds). The city is fenced off, hundreds of buildings are abandoned, and the only “life” in the City Centre is wrecking crews who are dismantling blocks and blocks of buildings. I’ve never seen anything like it. Below is a short video of the fences around Christchurch City Centre and the Crown Plaza Hotel beginning to come down as a result of the February 2011 earthquake.

Two Parallels to Christchurch’s Dilemma, and How God Uses the Wilderness in People’s Lives… 

#1 Life is Going to Have its Quakes…

We shouldn’t be surprised by trials, we need to expect them. Trials can be a catalyst for creativity and ingenuity.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

The reality is that if you or I are not going through a trial, someone else is. The question is, what do I do with others around me are going through trials? God calls us to get our hands dirty and die to ourselves to bring the life and joy of Christ to others in their hardships.

Wilderness Experiences Build Resilience through Trials

Wilderness trips are the perfect place to instill this attitude in people… when the going gets a little rough, remind those who are strong that they are there “for such a time as this”, like Esther was in the Old Testament. When those who have much step up to help those who have little or are hurting, Christ-centered community becomes a living, breathing reality that is truly a light to the world.

#2  Make Lemonade out of Lemons

On the very edge of Christchurch’s City Centre, just outside of the quarantined area, some really creative people decided to start rebuilding the heart of the city. They brought a bunch of shipping containers in and with the help of some blow torches and hard work, they have started to re-create the Cashel Street Mall with container shops.


Cashel Street Mall “Container Mall” | Christchurch, NZ (March 2012)

The wilderness is a perfect environment for this kind of ingenuity and improvisation to occur. When problems arise, natural leaders step up and start to unify the group and offer practical solutions. The Cashel Street Mall is a case study in leadership… the city had a problem of hurt and broken morale, and natural leaders stepped up to move forward. Here is a picture of a coffee shop in the “Container City at Cashel Street Mall.”

Call to Action

  • How has hardship taught you the meaning of “community”?
  • In what ways have trials sparked ingenuity in your life?
  • Short outings into the wilderness are like micro-training events that foster resilience in your life or the people you are leading in the wilderness. On a scale from 1 to 10, how important is it to you to regularly get out of your comfort zone to gain deeper resilience to life’s normal trials? Why is this important or not important to you?

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