Mike Gibbs is a force for change in his community—helping out at Linwood Community Ministries during the Christchurch earthquakes, sitting on school boards and supporting families in need. He shares with us the work that he does and his heart for advocacy amidst his own difficulties.

I have been attending Linwood Corps since 2007, after St Albans Corps closed. I had been asking God where he wanted me, and wasn’t sure whether God was leading me to another church or corps. I was actually first saved at Linwood Corps as a 17-year-old, so it has a history for me. 

I was an immigration consultant between 2003 and 2007, but I began to get less work than I would have liked and hit a bit of a low patch for a couple of years. At the time I attended Linwood Corps, but had also been worshipping at Grace Vineyard, where I met my wife, Amy, in 2009. But God firmly said to me on a number of occasions that I needed to stay at Linwood.

Staying put

We had planned to have an autumn wedding in 2011, but in September of 2010 we had the first big earthquake in Canterbury, followed by the second one in February. We were living down the road from the corps and it felt like I was at Linwood Corps every day, helping however I could. God puts you in a place for a reason, and at the time the reason was the earthquakes.

Amy and I were married in January of 2012, and we’ve been married for 10 years. I helped out at Linwood in different roles for over eight years in Community Ministries, picking up a lot of skills that I have since been able to use in the community. I spent about a year working for a community group called Just Dirt Trust, which helps to build community gardens. We put together about four gardens in my time, including the Richmond Community Garden, which is now a huge outfit, with orchards and programmes for school kids to come in and work in the garden. 

I also was elected to the Board of Trustees at our children’s school. I didn’t think I would be elected as there were 16 people running for five positions, but I have just been re-elected for the third time—now into my seventh year on the board. I’ve been on two other boards since. In my time at the school we’ve employed two principals and done a major rebuild on the school worth $4.2 million. 

Becoming an advocate

One of the great things about being on these boards is that I’ve got to know a lot of the parents as well. In 2016, I ended up chatting with a mother who had just lost one of her children to Oranga Tamariki )child social welfare). She asked me if I could come with her to the meeting with them, as she was scared. I hadn’t had much experience with Oranga Tamariki, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I went along to the meeting, and the Oranga Tamariki support worker, who is now a good friend of mine, asked if I could help in the situation by working as a mentor for the woman and her family. 

I’m still helping this family out six years on; the child was able to return home and is currently at a local high school in our area. I’ve even come to be her guardian at the school, as she’s had a few hassles here and there. The Oranga Tamariki worker must have noticed something in me to have me be the point person for the family so that they can have continuity of care.

Since then I’ve had other families in our school and community come to me for support. One woman, for example, wasn’t able to complete her course of study as she couldn’t get a few things correct with her paperwork. I made a couple of phone calls and was able to get that sorted for her so she was able to graduate. 

This year I also stood for the community board in our local body elections. Although I did not win either position out of the two elected roles, I participated and received about 2000 votes, showing I am well-liked and well-known in my communities. I’ll give it another go in three years, as communities matter and we need community-minded people elected to these roles.

A different kind of work

This has all spurred me on to think about going back next year to finish off my social work degree. In early 2010 I was working through a diploma in social work and mental health. I am also enrolled in a Community Chaplains course in March. There’s no funding for this sort of community advocacy; if I was qualified as an independent social worker I could be making oodles of money, but it’s not about that as far as I’m concerned. It’s all about what effect I can have on my community. 

In all of this I have my own difficulties; I have a physical disability called cerebral palsy. My body thinks I’m about 75 and I have paralysis down my left side. I can use it because I’ve had operations, but I don’t have as much movement as I used to. My brain tells my body it’s older, so my organs are actually deteriorating a lot quicker than anybody else my age. It’s a real struggle to actually do stuff in a day. In the past 10 years I’ve had to change my whole lifestyle. I still live with the pain, but I’ve done a lot to live as I can, so I can still raise my kids to be productive members of society.

God has put me in a place where he wants me. I’m busy but I’m also thankful that I’m not doing an eight-to-five job. God has got everything worked out for me. My son said a few years ago that his dad doesn’t work. And I asked, ‘what do I do?’ He said, ‘you do everything Dad.’ He knows that I work differently to other people, and I want to show him that you don’t actually have to be paid to work within your community.