On the 1st February 2011, Cindy Ruakere released her sixth album Karakia. A sprawling, concept piece, the album was an extended prayer in six parts, featuring accompaniment from Kiwi legend Richard Nunns. A renowned master of taonga puoro (Māori musical instruments), Nunns weaved an array of native woodwind, string and brass amongst guitar, bass and drums to create a stunning bilingual experience.
In many ways, it was the most significant moment of Ruakere’s journey; an amalgamation of European and Indigenous expression.
But the most significant moment was still to come. In an in-studio afterthought, Cindy decided to include a pared-back version of the New Zealand national anthem to close out the album.
21 days after the album’s release, a devastating earthquake struck Christchurch, killing 185 people, breaking the city’s iconic Cathedral open and shaking Cantabrians to the core. In the aftermath of the disaster, Kiwis searched for a unifying theme, and found it in Ruakere’s version of the anthem.
There’s a divine kind of timing that has always been at play with Ruakere. She’s acutely aware of the invisible threads of divine plans – a knowledge that, as Charles Spurgeon said, we are all ‘unconscious prophets’, guided and placed by a simple obedience and bravery.
Ruakere’s simple obedience began on a factory floor in her hometown of Taranaki in 1986. An industrial forklift driver, Cindy was entrenched in a cycle of self-loathing and relational abuse. At her lowest point and in her early twenties, a co-worker shared the gospel with her, reigniting her childhood fascination with the Jesus she had once learned about in local Sunday school sessions.
Never one for half measures, Cindy threw herself into church life, but what she found when she arrived was a monocultural community at odds with the indigenous. It wasn’t until she was mentored by a local kuia (a female Maori elder) that Cindy discovered a passion to address the identity crisis befalling the church of Aotearoa. Through the early 90’s she hit the road, leading a team with Trevor Yaxley’s Rise Up movement and travelling with well-known prophetic speaker Jill Austin. Ruakere eventually returned home to take a role as worship director at CityLife New Plymouth.
The desire to explore indigenous worship remained with Cindy, amplified further by her discovery of prophetic musician Kevin Prosch. A Māori woman fronting a worship team in a predominantly white church, she looked out from the then, New Life Church (now CityLife New Plymouth) stage and dreamed of the true sound of Aotearoa – no easy task in a global environment where the drums were only just recently no longer the devil’s tools.
Eventually, Ruakere was introduced to taonga puoro, falling in love with the beauty and heritage of traditional Maori instruments like the Kōauau (bone flute) and Pūtātara (a conch shell). One morning during a Church service, she raised the Pūtātara to her lips and blew it – the call that echoed summoned a spontaneous haka from the core of the predominantly white congregation. The sound itself was a clarion call to Ruakere; the embodiment of the Scripture’s assertion that “every tribe and tongue will praise Him”.
In an act of simple obedience, Ruakere had begun a journey of indigenous worship that would last over two decades and introduce New Zealand and the world to the sound that resided within the bones of Aotearoa. Early albums like The Treaty and Tara would reconcile European and Maori aesthetics, providing a long-overdue voice that proudly rallied the once disenfranchised Maori people in worship – they were more than songs, they were acts of reconciliation. Armed with this message, Ruakere travelled the world, taking the song of Aotearoa to the far corners, from Europe to South America and Russia.
What is most remarkable about Ruakere’s trailblazing ministry is not its spiritual grandeur or accomplishments, but rather the humble simplicity that lies at its core. For Cindy, the years have unfolded as results of the unconscious prophetic; the obedience required to pursue the unknown, to blow the conch, to sound the cry. The divine timing took care of the rest.
It was this simple obedience that led Cindy to move to Christchuch in 2012, a seemingly counterintuitive shift in the light of the city’s exodus during years of aftershocks and impacts from the 2011 quake. It was a move that Ruakere never questioned, hearing the divine pull and reacting accordingly.
In 2013, Cindy was diagnosed with cancer. Her ministry was suspended as the realities of a sudden illness arose. This reality propelled her into a new way of communing with God that would forever change her relationship with Him and those around her.
The invisible threads of the divine remained. Due to early treatment and Christchurch having one of the best cancer treatment teams in the country, Cindy celebrated a full recovery, using the experience to throw herself into the healthcare sector and working closely with the local Māori community to combat their alarming statistics of late detection.
It’s fitting that she would find herself here among the cracks of Christchurch City; a voice for an anthem and a prophetess who’s song could rebuild a nation. There are more songs to be sung by Ruakere, and you can be sure you’ll find that same simple obedience and bravery within its verses.