On Monday this week, a volcano erupted in New Zealand just off the east coast. Several people were killed as a result of the eruption, and many more were injured. While all of us are affected by devastating events like this, I had only just returned from the country last Thursday, so could immediately picture the place and people who will be most deeply impacted by this tragedy.

From my experience, New Zealand was an incredibly welcoming and inclusive country. Everywhere we went – despite the vast number of other tourists – we were received with warmth and kindness. I was shocked, therefore, when I learnt more about the country’s history and the journey that they’ve been on to create the culture they carefully foster today.

For the first few days of our trip, we stayed in the North Island, just a few minutes’ drive from Waitangi Treaty Ground. In my naivety, I had no idea what colossal importance this site has on the identity and heritage of the country. As I learnt, the Waitangi Treaty was a document signed by the Maori tribe leaders and the British colonials in 1840 in order to bring peace and restore order. This sounded like a good idea, and is viewed as New Zealand’s founding document, however, because of fundamental miscommunication and differing traditions, the document has caused far more unrest than it sought to alleviate.

From what I understood, the key issue came down to the translation of one word. The Maori believed that the word meant governance’, signifying that the British would be required to crack down on the lawlessness of their own settlers who were disturbing the peace that the Maori had previously enjoyed. Conversely, the English version of the treaty used the word sovereignty’, suggesting that the Maori were granting the British authority to govern over everyone in the land, including the Maori people themselves. In both cases, the leaders of each group felt they were representing the needs of their people and negotiating a deal that brought about their best interests.

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Without the same core principles on which to base the nation, unity was not possible. Unity that is not centred on truth simply cannot last.

As you can imagine, the ensuing years of misunderstanding and conflict were painful for all those involved, especially as it was not immediately clear from where the confusion arose. Both groups were hurt and upset that the other party had not kept to what had been agreed and both people groups felt their leaders had made promises that they couldn’t keep.

Through years of grappling with these issues, reconciling different people groups, and working hard to restore political and cultural unity, New Zealand is now able to actively celebrate the diversity of those living in its land. From my visit, I was given the strong impression that Maori culture is both protected and celebrated throughout New Zealand today. Not only that, but the nation is able to appreciate the plethora of other cultures also represented across the country through immigration.

As I’ve reflected on this journey towards unity, I couldn’t help but feel that there was so much for us, as both a nation and the church, to admire and learn from New Zealand’s example.

It is only natural that many of us seek to put our trust in our leaders and the promises that they make to us. Whether those are leaders in our communities, churches or governments, we want to believe the best about them and have faith that they have our best interests at heart.

But where do we go when we are disappointed by our leaders? What do we do when we feel our needs or opinions have been misrepresented? What if the party we voted for can’t deliver on the promises we thought they made?

Well, I’d like to reassure you that wherever we look, in politics, in our communities or in our churches, our leaders will disappoint us. That might not sound reassuring, but knowing that truth now, means we can prepare for where to take our disappointment when it comes. Understanding that our leaders won’t do things perfectly reminds us that, ultimately, there is only One who can. In the Kingdom of God, we don’t have to worry that our leader will disappoint us or break His promises to us, and it’s in Him that we ultimately trust.

Being part of God’s kingdom means that we also have a calling to reconciliation. God has given all of us the ability to restore relationships and renew trust through the power of His healing love. So when disappointment arrives and conflict is hot on its heels, we should be the first to offer forgiveness and the hand of unity. God calls us to seek justice for those who have been wronged, but this is always to be done with His grace.

My time in New Zealand restored my sense of hope for our nation. Hope that we can overcome past hurts. Hope that we can be reconciled. Hope that unity is not just a dream.

I am even more hopeful, however, when I look at the Prince of Peace: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

This month, as we celebrate His birth, we remember that there is only One who can rule perfectly – so we can’t expect others to. Let’s pledge to pray for our leaders, those who rule our nation and advocate on our behalf, extending grace when needed. And let’s commit to being God’s advocates for unity and peace, praying for the ability to love without division or discrimination.

Because we know that the Prince of Peace still reigns regardless of who is prime minister.