Update and thanks!
Well! It certainly is time we gave you all a proper update – it has now been 1 whole year since we returned home from our travels on the big yellow bus. A lot has happened so thought we would share some of that but also we really just want to express our gratitude for your help in making this possible. Feel free to skim to the bits you are interested in!
For those who don’t know us – we are doing a film project called Stop the Bus. The Stop The Bus film project is intent on addressing child abuse in New Zealand in a way that switches the discussion from one that leaves us feeling hopeless to one that leaves us feeling hopeful. It encapsulates the idea that ‘small acts of kindness can be as powerful as big systems’. But more than that: Thousands of New Zealanders creating these acts of kindness for the benefit of children -could transform a nation. To create this our family travelled NZ for a bit over a year and met the doers, the victims, the leaders – people from all walks of life in order to discover what is at the heart of the problem and what ordinary people can do to bring change and hope for children and their families.
We, together with our trustees (Campbell Stewart, Katie Donovan & Jo Rusling) hold a core belief that to make a difference, it will take us all. Child Abuse is not an easy or a trendy topic to talk about in the open and for this reason, there is a lack of awareness and understanding around the issue and how ordinary people can be a part of the solution. For this reason, we have taken a creative approach to elevate the conversation about child abuse and solutions that ordinary people can all be apart of.
Our key outputs from the project are:-
– Bus journey of New Zealand (real-life engagement)
– Sharing stories on social media (ongoing)
– Link Arms Aotearoa (bold stand to value our children)
– Feature Documentary (featuring all of the above)
Link Arms Aotearoa
Many of you will have taken part in the Link Arms Aotearoa Campaign that we ran in March this year. This was the visual that Erinna saw a few years ago that created the spark to get this whole project underway. She had a picture of people linking together across the length of New Zealand as a means to create a public display of commitment to be a part of the solution, but also as a means to create a powerful image to draw attention to the issue and create conversation around it. To make a difference, it takes us all. It wasn’t to be an angry ritual but a stand of solidarity, commitment and hope. To be honest, we never really knew how to make this part of it happen and it was often scary as we didn’t know how people would receive it. We are forever grateful to our church family at the Bible Chapel for backing us on this and turning up and linking arms with us at the different local events. Although we had already done one in Te Awamutu previously, the real challenge was how to get the rest of NZ to take part. After we returned from our travels, we were secretly hoping that some big person from some big organisation would magically come on board and make it happen for us or enable the funds to do it – but that door was not opened. It was eventually decided that we just needed to get on with it and do whatever we could with the contacts we had already made on the road and do a massive push for people to link together on Children’s Day this year. Rather than us trying to physically get to all the events around the country – people could just do their own, whether that was 2 people or 200 people. They could send us all their photos and videos and we would use those as a part of our film and future campaigns. We launched a website (thanks to Dean Miller), with branding and info about Link Arms Aotearoa and used our time contacting whoever would listen.
We do not have an official count up of all who took part in Link Arms Aotearoa as some of the videos sent to us used drones and made it hard to count and we are also yet to even go through some of the videos – however, there were at least a few thousand which is pretty overwhelming considering the small resources we had to make it happen. During that first week of March, we also took the big yellow bus for one final ‘Stop the Bus’ trip to Wellington where we met various MPs from each political party in Government as well as representatives from the NZ Police head office. We all linked arms together in front of Parliament as a representation of working together for the wellbeing of children (despite our many other differences).
Following these initial events, we continued to be sent photos/videos from people throughout the country and it was our intention to continue driving the campaign throughout all of March. As people shared their photos and videos it would encourage others to participate as well. Very sadly, on March 15th the mosque attacks happened and so at that point, it was only right that we halted our campaign out of respect to that whole situation and those who were affected. We realised that our messaging would be cluttered with the other various events that then unfolded to pay tribute to the victims and so we pulled back from social media at that time. Whilst we have not yet been able to share all the videos/photos that we received up until that point we look forward to including them as part of the film and we also plan to use them in a gallery setting during film release as a powerful statement of the fact that we can each play an important role for children.
For now, we thought we would share just a teeny snippet of some of the photos/videos from that were sent in:
Completing the Link Arms Aotearoa part of the project felt like a large chunk of the pressure had been lifted off and it meant Chris could then focus his energies on the actual feature film itself. The feature film has been quite the task for Chris with 400 hours of footage to cull which is, of course, a very complex, layered topic to narrow down in a way that people can digest and relate to. Normally you would have a team of editors and specialists to create a film but in this instance, it is just Chris. This isn’t a bad thing as some of the footage is very personal and we feel very connected to these stories, and so it is important to us that we don’t misrepresent those brave people who shared with us. The process of encoding and transferring by itself took several weeks and the rewatching of the many hours of interviews was emotional and at times mundane. That process was important for us to be able to see the full picture again, connect all the dots, and establish the parts that are most important to communicate. Erinna admits that patience is not a strength and so, there have been many times of frustration and tension as you can imagine. It is therefore very exciting to now see the actual film taking shape and have greater clarity on the direction. We are also very blessed to have the support and mentorship of a couple of very clever filmmakers who have helped with advice with the storytelling process. Sometimes this feedback is hard for us to hear but also necessary to have those eyes from someone who is not as close as we are to the story to ensure that we actually reach the audience in the way we hope.
Chris is working to have the film draft completed by the end of September and from there we will work with others to get the finishing of it done (tidy ups, sound engineering, colours, titles etc). Whilst we have no funding for this part of it, we are hopeful that once the draft is completed we may then gain further buy-in to pay for it’s ‘polishing’ which requires expertise outside of our skillset. There are a few charity organisations who are keeping in touch with us about being a part of its release so we remain hopeful that they will have access to this part of the funding. Chris is working full time on the film, however, he has also been doing 2-4 days work per month elsewhere in order for us to maintain our personal and business operational expenses.
Erinna continues to help drive the Stop the Bus creative direction and share stories on social media however, she has also been able to apply her learnings from this project to other roles within our community. For each of these roles, her heart is for vulnerable children and so she sees them as an opportunity to remain connected in the community and be one of the voices for these children. Locally she is a part of the Te Awamutu Youth Development Trust that has seen the launch the Te Awamutu Boxing Academy. Erinna recently began working 2 days/wk as the Academy Manager. Erinna’s Dad, Chris Graham was keen to get this up and running in Te Awamutu as a means to empower young people in our community and so it is a privilege to be a part of the team who each have this same heart. This initiative was originally started by Billy Graham (Erinna’s uncle) in Naenae and now sees 7 academies throughout NZ using this model (TA being the 7th). While we traveled NZ with Stop the Bus we were privileged to spend time and hear the stories of transformation through the various academies. Whoever thought we would be coming back to Te Awamutu to be a part of one here! The NZ police had communicated the want to see more academies start throughout NZ using this same model and so a National Board (Billy Graham Youth Foundation) was created and Erinna has been asked by the team in Wellington to be a part of this also (voluntarily). The purpose of the board is to provide governance, accountability and direction to the various NZ Academies and those to come which has the overall vision for ‘vibrant & responsible youth contributing to their communities’. While these roles all work together with the same heart for children, Erinna is conscious that she is also a mother of 4 boys herself and so this can be a balancing act and we need to be purposeful in the way we do that.
Although we were only away from Te Awamutu for 14 months – it must be said that we were pretty burnt out both physically & emotionally on our return at the end of July 2018 and it took a good 5 months before we started to feel ourselves again (which has probably shifted quite a bit from who we were before). Although we had researched and planned as much as we could before we went on the road – nothing could really have prepared us for how hearing all the stories in real life would impact us. The only way we can describe it is that it was like being stuck in a bubble where we suddenly saw the world in a very different way and yet everything else around us continued as normal. It meant that it became a little bit hard for us to have normal conversations with others and so it kind of became easier for us to isolate ourselves from stuff that didn’t directly relate to what we were doing which in hindsight was probably not a healthy thing. Other stuff is obviously still very important, we just forgot how to talk about those things or became very singularly focused. We are still figuring that one out, but we really do feel in a much better place and it has been good to have some space, refocus, and remember why we started.
After having lived in a small bus space we are now extremely blessed to be living in a beautiful home which has ample space thanks to some generous support. Our lease for our shared business office (in town) finishes in September and Chris really needed a quiet place to be able to edit, and so we are thankful that this place is set up perfectly so we can both work from home. The kids, seem to be in a much more settled place now – the transition back into school, and being in one place for more than a few nights was actually quite challenging for them. It really is nice to regain some routine and our joy this year after the challenges from the first few months back home last year. Another wee note for prayer – when we started this we did not think a lot beyond Stop the Bus and so we often wonder what next for Chris. Do we try to rebuild our own film business (which is mostly sitting dormant) or is there another path for him? There isn’t a lot of time to think ahead to that at the moment but prayers that those doors will open would be great.
There is quite a lot more we could share and once the film is finished we would love to host a supper as a means to thank you for all the incredible support and give you the opportunity to ask any questions. Ultimately we really want to acknowledge you guys as our church family and the tremendous way that you have supported us – financially, prayers, encouragement. When we first shared the vision we could never have anticipated how much you all got behind us. This support was truly humbling, has held us accountable and kept us going through those ugly times of doubt. We wish we could individually thank you all – but in truth, we don’t even know who many of you generous people are! We are grateful for any support that may come through people over the next couple of months as we complete the film. This enables us to limit other work that Chris has to take on for us to cover our other expenses and focus on the task. However, we also understand that we have been generously supported for some time now and we just really appreciate and honour that.
We really pray and ask you to pray that all of this support is fruitful and influences actual change for children in New Zealand. That is what matters.
Chris, Erinna, Joshua, Noah, Lachie and Theodore.