Whakatane's Heart to Heart Expo

A focus on connection and relationships made this event a cut above the rest

Howard Webb

24 April 2017

The brainchild of Presbyterian minister Chris Barnard, the Heart to Heart Expo is a gathering of all the community groups and agencies in town to let the townsfolk know about all that is available to them. Combine it with food, fun and connection and you have the making of a wonderful, feel-good event!

The 5th Expo was held on 4 March 2017 and for the first time was not done under the umbrella of the Presbyterian Church but rather the Have a Heart Trust.

“Everyone has the same dreams for their community, Christians and non-Christians alike”, Chris tells me. “But having the Expo under the banner of a church created a level of resistance and suspicion. By running the Expo under the banner of the Trust we saw our biggest crowds ever and we were still able to accomplish everything we as a church wanted to.”

The number one goal was to promote neighbourliness in Whakatane. “This wasn’t about handing out a free sausage or providing free fun – the main goal was to provide a place where folk could connect meaningfully and form relationships. And it really worked – we had people from very different walks of life sitting down and talking together.”

For Chris, opportunities such as Whakatane’s Expo are not only for those in need, but also for those who are not; “It helps us pay attention to what is going on around us and see our neighbourhoods through God’s eyes”. Also, says Chris, just knowing what is available means we can be connectors, connecting people to the resources they need even when we ourselves are powerless to help.

Key to the success of the event was the card-collecting system. There was a carrot – several bicycles could be won. The church provided cards for every agency participating in the expo – each got 1000 cards with their logo on it. Stall-holders only gave away cards after having a conversation. With a whole set of cards, folk could register for the bicycles draw.

On the one side of the card was the name of the agency and a contact person and on the other were words of encouragement, such as ‘You are fearfully and wonderfully made’ or ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’.

So what was in it for the church? The event had absolutely no strings attached, but the win for the church was the opportunity to make connections, make friends and have important conversations.

For the full story and plenty of pictures, read the report of the Have a Heart Trust here.