Encounters outside the mainstream


At one of the 1pm media conferences at the Beehive, reference was made to a comment by an Auckland public health physician – “We couldn’t get back to zero cases because Covid took hold in communities that mainstream society forgot. Our current situation is entirely due to poverty, housing and colonisation.” 

On the same day, it emerged that two Mongrel Mob leaders had been granted status to cross the Auckland/Waikato border to assist in getting cooperation from members regarding vaccination, testing and contact-tracing. There was a degree of public outrage. But many commentators came to the same conclusion – while in no way approving of the criminal activity of gangs and the great harm they do, the best pandemic response strategy is to do everything possible to get members co-operating. 

It took me back my own small experience of gangs. My initial impressions, like those of most in my social and religious circles, were negative. My sister had been punched by a gang member in a Palmerston North pub in the 1980s. The horrific pack rape of a woman at Ambury Park, Mangere in 1988 outraged the nation, myself included. 

Eventually, I came to work at a community newspaper in south Auckland. In my first few months there, my editor told me he had written a story about gang crime in south Auckland. One day, shortly afterwards, two gang members had come into the newsroom through the back door and stood over him at his desk. They asked him if he had written the article. He said he had. They just looked at him for a minute or so . . . and then they walked out. The message had been sent. That incident led to the installation of locks and keypads on all doors to the newsroom, my editor told me. 

On another occasion, a different editor wanted a photo of a gang headquarters. I knew where such a building was in Manurewa. But the photographer refused to use her car to go there and take a photo from the street. So I took her in my car, pulled up briefly outside the gang property and she took her photos. Later that night, someone punched out the rear windows in my car in my own driveway in a different suburb. Maybe it was a coincidence, but I suspect not. A message had been sent. 

A few years later, a patched member of the Mongrel Mob turned up at the newspaper reception wanting to talk with someone. I was nominated. I spoke to this man, who was in his mid-forties. He had been in a tenancy dispute and was homeless, living in a van. He had a child with him, he said. The child was not in the van at the time, being looked after by someone else for the day, he added. 

The main thing that struck me about this man was how out of touch with mainstream society he was. I asked him what he was doing for food. He said he was getting it out of the Manukau Harbour – for him and the child. So I told him where he could likely get a food parcel – at a nearby Salvation Army centre in Manukau, which had a Work and Income office in its church complex. I told the man that he might have to remove his gang patch there.  

But he still looked puzzled. It turned out the gang member could not read – so even if I had told him the street name, he would likely not have recognised the sign. So I walked him down to a corner about 800 metres away and pointed out the building he should approach. He thanked me, went back, picked up the van and drove off. I did a generalised story about his tenancy issue. I always wondered what became of him.  

How do we encounter people like him, both as a church and as a society? Who is Lazarus, outside our gates today? 

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Michael Otto

Reader Interactions


  1. Tertia Sanderson says

    Lazarus can be a family member who has not
    Lazarus could be unwanted youth who are seeking a
    more intense life of Christ at mass.
    Lazarus could be a substance abuser, alcohol.
    Lazarus could be recently released from mental
    health psychiatric ward.
    Lazarus could be the unborn about to be aborted.
    Lazarus could be an aged nursing home member.
    Lazarus could be a widow or widower.
    Lazarus could be a childless couple.
    All need to be raised up by those who are
    more able. All need to be seen as worthy of
    heaven. All need Forgiveness
    All need Compassion. All need peace.
    All need LOVE.

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