We’ve wrapped up our second week of Home Assignment—a six-ish week period that we’re spending with family and friends (old and new) in the US. You can check out the first week’s reflection here. Home Assignment is an important part of the rhythm of our life for practical reasons like sharing the story of what God is doing in New Zealand and on the Asia-Pacific Region, getting finger-printed for an updated FBI background check, and reconnecting with people we love.
We spent last Sunday, August 6 with two awesome churches. One of the churches has been a part of the work God has called us to in New Zealand from the very beginning. The other church was brand new to us. While they were only a 30-minute drive apart, they had very different but equally wonderful flavors. It’s so fun for us to see how God works through different groups of people in different contexts.
Our days during this past week have been spent with extended family and at the 82nd Lea County Fair and Rodeo in Lovington, NM. The Lea County Fair and Rodeo is a big, week-long event that is quintessentially small town America and a significant part of Jaron’s heritage. In many ways, it’s a throw back to days gone by when America was primarily populated by farmers and ranchers. Jaron grew up raising animals (chickens, sheep, and steers) to show and sell. He also grew up eating all the fair food (caramel apples and funnel cakes), riding the rides, cheering on the bona fide cowboys and cowgirls at the rodeo, and listening to the late-night concerts.
Q has been captivated by the rodeo since he was a tiny boy (he attended his first rodeo at 3 months old) watching riders get bucked and steers get roped. Decked out in his hat, pearl snap shirt, jeans, and boots, he stays up late, enthralled by the music, the clowns, and the horses, and the carnival rides. It was extra-fun for him to get to share the joy with his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins from both sides of the family.
The view on the way home from Denver City, TX last Sunday.
At the end of the second week, our Home Assignment stats look at bit like this:
On the Odometer: 436 miles (702 km)
The running total on the odometer only crept up this week. It was pretty nice to stay put, especially since we have some long drives in store for the weeks to come.
On the Road: 8 hours
(Kiwi friends–check out a map of the US. You’ll notice that the states we’re visiting all boarder each other, but they’re also really big. We’ll end up driving the equivalent of Auckland to Invercargill several times over by the time we get on the plane to return to NZ.)
On our Plates: Juicy red watermelon, green chilis, & ice cream sandwiches (Thanks to our brother-in-law turning 30 and my mom’s excellent ice cream sandwich skills! YUM!)
On our Minds: All the Fair and Rodeo must-dos—the extreme bull riding show, see all the show animals, ride all the rides, watch all the rodeo.
Cowboys on a Tuesday night at the rodeo ready for Extreme Bull Riding. No filter needed.
Q and Gigi sharing moment at the Fair and Rodeo
Playtime with Grammy.
And the cutest nephew award goes to this one!!
Happy 30th birthday, brother-in-law. We appreciate that you thoughtfully chose the tastiest birthday treats!
A few weeks before we left for the US, Q got the idea that he wanted to build a castle fort with his friends and cousins in the US. He held several FaceTime meetings, encouraging everyone to collect big boxes. This week, his dream became a reality, complete with a list of Safety Rules dictated by Q and written by sweet Ellie. They’re my favorite part of the fort.
These two cousins were rodeo-ready. Q has been captivated by the Lea County Fair and Rodeo since he was smaller than little BB here.
5-year-olds are so sweet. Q got to spend the week with his second cousin M and her little sister.
Fair bunnies are so cute!
Fair food includes turkey legs, giant lemonades, funnel cakes, and Texas taters (pictured here).
Carnival rides are serious business!
Cousins at the carnival! Q said his favorite part of the whole week were the carnival rides. Alllll the carnival rides.
The view from the Ferris Wheel.
So many rounds of Settlers of Catan!
This, folks, is the beauty of a red, ripe watermelon grown in Plains, TX.
We’re switching things up for seven weeks! We’re writing from the US where we are on Home Assignment. Home assignment can be a confusing concept. Is it work? Is it holiday?
In fact, when one of our friends in New Zealand asked that very question (as many have), Q quickly piped up, “I’ll be holiday-ing. My parents will be working.” In reality, it’s some of both. This is a great time for us to see our families and friends in the States. We are looking forward to lots of grandparent cuddles, cousin play, and family fun.
However, we’re also looking forward to getting to make new friends and rekindle relationships with old ones as we visit churches in New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Their love, support, and participation in what God is doing make our time in New Zealand possible. We’ll get to share lots of stories about what God is doing in New Zealand and across the Asia-Pacific region.
For people like us who live and serve in a place that is not our country of origin, it’s an important part of the rhythm of our ministry that allows us to serve elsewhere in the world, in our case, New Zealand.
We’ve been preparing our congregation and district for this for weeks and connecting with churches and family members that we’ll visit for months. In fact, we emailed a relatively complete schedule to our family way back in February!
We want to bring the people we love in New Zealand along with us, so I’m pledging to do my best to see this part of our world through kiwi eyes. While we’re on home assignment, we’re going to track the number of miles we drive, the places we go, and the very un-kiwi things we see.
Currently, we’re at one of our favorite places—Bonita Park Nazarene Camp and Conference Center, located just outside Ruidoso, NM. Located in the Sierra Blanca mountains, Bonita Park is a place near and dear to Jaron’s heart. Like his mom before him, Jaron grew up coming to camp here every year of his life. But it’s also special, sacred space to us as a family. Q made his first trip to Bonita Park at just a couple of months old.
We’re here to participate in the New Mexico District Church of the Nazarene family camp. It’s like a big ol’ family reunion complete with a rock wall, giant slide, zip line, creek, cool kids’ activities, giant cinnamon rolls, plenty of sunshine, an occasional thunderstorm, and really good worship services.
As we near the end of the first week, our Home Assignment stats look at bit like this:
On the Odometer: 372 miles (598 km)
On the Road: 7 hours
(Kiwi friends–check out a map of the US. You’ll notice that the states we’re visiting all boarder each other, but they’re also really big. We’ll end up driving the equivalent of Auckland to Invercargill several times over by the time we get on the plane to return to NZ.)
On our Plates: fresh cherries, salsa, and bacon cheese burgers
On our Minds: Sunscreen! Hello, sunshine! It’s good to see you!
When you leave Lovington and head Northwest toward the mountains, you’re greeted by big blue skies and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever.
But a couple of hours into the drive, the high planes give way to the foot hills, which are looking surprisingly green right now.
We’ve gotten to hang out with these cool kids. Ellie (in the red) and Maxwell (in the yellow) visited us in NZ earlier this year. B (in the pink) is Q’s cousin, and the two big kids are amazing brand-new friends for Q!
This chimney was a part of one of the original buildings on the Bonita Park grounds. While the building itself has been gone for quite a while, the chimney even survived the Little Bear fire of 2012 that burned the majority of the upper half of the camp.
Dr. Fred Huff, the District Superintendent of the NM District (and former missionary to NZ), has been doing his best to make an Alabama fan out of Q since Q was a baby. Q knows to say, “Roll Tide,” whenever Dr. Huff is around. This week, Dr. Huff thoughtfully gifted Q an Alabama cap.
These three crosses by the prayer pond near the entrance of Bonita Park mark a sense of welcome and sacred space.
The kids at Family Camp were learning about cultures all across the Asia-Pacific region, including New Zealand. Here, they’re using clay to make Koru-shaped necklaces.
So much climbing, jumping, and sliding!!
The view from John and Jeanine’s Bonita Park cabin often includes wildflowers and deer.
Q, B, and I walked town the hill from the cabin to the events center one evening with our giant blow-up globe, perfect for impressing kids with New Zealand’s proximity to Antarctica.
These kiddos had so much fun learning about New Zealand. Some of these kids have also lived and served in some really cool places like India and France.
Last week I got to share a post on the Junia Project blog. It was really fun and a great honor, but I couldn’t help but chuckle as I responded to the various social media threads. My Facebook profile picture gave the illusion that I was picking blueberries with my son on a sunny summer day. Instead, I was up to my elbows in cleaning supplies and paint on a shivery winter day in Christchurch. I responded to various comments in between coats of paint on kitchen cabinets and making decisions about carpet. “This,” I thought, “Is the glamorous behind-the-scenes life of a missionary.”
At one point, it looked a bit like this:
With a little bit of superhero action like this:
But have no fear! The house will be a fresh, clean place for John and Abigail Carr and their boys to call home when they arrive in NZ in a couple of weeks.
We returned home Saturday night, just in time to welcome another pastoral family from Wellington for an overnight visit. They have three kids. Two of their kids are boys who like to wrestle, so Q was in heaven. He shouted, “Come again!” at least 100 times when they were getting ready to go.
Jaron Graham, Neville Bartle, Joyce Bartle, Alice Yenas, Regina Kintak, Wallace White Kintak, Elizabeth and Q (in front of Neville) in front of our house in New Zealand. The Bartles served in Papua New Guinea for about 40 years, where Wallace White performed their wedding ceremony and paved the way for Joyce to start a nurses college. Today, Wallace Kintak runs the nurses college.
Then, on Monday, we got to catch a glimpse of the broader Kingdom of God and how our lives in New Zealand are so intertwined with LovingtonNaz in New Mexico and the work of the church in Papua New Guinea. We’re all wrapped up together in the great big story of God. You can read the whole story here. It’s pretty amazing!
The short version is that Wallace White Kintak, is named after Wallace White, who was one of the pioneer missionaries to Papua New Guinea. The original Wallace White and his wife Ramona came to know Jesus through the ministry of Lovington Church of the Nazarene in the little town of Lovington, NM (this is the church Jaron grew up in and the church we pastored for seven years before God’s call led us to New Zealand). They felt called to the mission field and were sent to Papua New Guinea in 1959, just four years after the first Nazarene missionaries arrived.
Wallace White had great vision. It included a vision for a hospital in PNG. Not too long after the dream of a hospital was realized, Joyce Bartle, our current District Superintendent’s wife, moved from Scotland to PNG to serve as a nurse at the hospital. Just a few years later, she started a nurse’s college to train local nurses for the hospital. Today, Wallace Kintak is the principal of that college because a man named Wallace White from Lovington, NM led Kintak’s father to Jesus.
In the midst of all of the painting and hosting and celebrating the work of God in the world, we are in the final stages of preparation for Home Assignment. Very shortly, we’ll depart from winter on our lovely island for the last bits of summer in America. There, we’ll spend time with our families and share other stories of the ways we see God at work in the world. We’re excited to hang out with long-time friends and make lots of new ones. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to invite others to join us with the mission of God in the world!
In the meantime, we’ll get back to the behind-the-scenes preparation that is our To DO list. It is double-sided, 3 columns per page, single spaced, size 11 font.
There’s actually a river down there. The notorious Waikato fog was so dense on our evening walk that it felt like snow. Through low visibility and muffled sounds and a world shrouded in white, we walked in our own sort of Winter Wonderland.
We ended our time with our university students a few weeks ago with a few hours at one of our favorite places, Blue Spring Walkway. If you’ve read this blog much at all, you’ve probably seen pictures of Blue Spring. It’s a place that lends itself to getting quiet, making space, and sensing the Holy Spirit. In the words of NT Wright, it’s a place where the veil between heaven and earth is thin. We told our students to spread out, take some time to reflect, and listen to what the Spirit might be saying as they prepared to go home. During that experience, one of our students, Nathan, wrote the following. It was significant for all of us. He kindly agreed to let us share it.
The Pure River
By Nathan Cummings
The water was roaring, because everything else was silent.
The delicate green plants swung with rhythm, tugged by the rushing water.
The water is pure, blue and clean. What feeds on The Pure River, also is pure.
The greenest life is closest to the river.
What is the river in my life, if I were a tree. Is that river pure?
Am I a river to other people?
Can I be both a river and a tree?
Without The Pure River, my tree could not survive.
Without the Pure Source, my river is corrupt.
Are the trees on my river feeding on pure water?
The birds have arrived, here to keep my company.
Perhaps I am a bird.
I can fly away, but The Pure River always welcomes me back.
But The Pure River provides all I need.
Why would I fly away?
About the Author
The author, Nathan Cummings, is a sophomore history major at Southern Nazarene University. He’s into all things marching band. Nathan is a part of the fourth generation in his family to attend SNU. Here, he is pictured at Bridal Veil Falls near Raglan, NZ.
Yesterday, we bid Kia Ora (be well) to the six Southern Nazarene University students and two adult sponsors who had spent every waking hour of the past three weeks with us. What adventures we had! Over the past three weeks (technically 19 days on the ground, though 20 makes for a better blog post title 😉 ), our volunteers built intentional relationships with people who represent approximately 20 different cultures. I am not even exaggerating! It was truly an amazing (and sometimes exhausting) feat for them.
Our “uni team,” as we fondly call them, spent their weekdays volunteering at three drastically different primary schools, helping out with our playgroups, and tutoring and playing with refugee children at a couple of area after school programs. They also got to experience the many flavors of the Nazarene church in New Zealand through a culture night complete with a haka and the traditional dances of the Samoan and Cook Islands, as well a young adult retreat (think touch rugby in the church at 2 am and a full-fledged Samoan lunch). They wrapped up their time in New Zealand by hosting an amazing mid-winter Christmas party for our Kids’ Club. It included all of the traditional American festivities and all of the traditional kiwi foods. There was so much merry making!! In each of these places, the uni team encountered an array of different cultures.
However, it wouldn’t be a truly kiwi experience if their time with us had been all work and no play. They surfed with our favorite instructor, Surfer Steve (click on the hyper link to see their awesome surfing photos), hiked the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, wandered through the Redwoods, visited Hamilton Gardens, and made space to reflect at the Blue Spring Walkway. Along the way, a couple of them got special nick names like “Pillows” and “Squash Bug” from Q, dubbed “Wiggle Worm,” and all of them were loved by the small one who proudly claimed his role as a member of the team and his new nick name.
The entire experience was one that is much better told with pictures and videos than words, and we certainly have lots of them. Enjoy!
While most of the world is heating up… we’re definitely not. We’ve enjoyed a spectacular autumn!
We’re getting ready to host another group of American university students and sponsors in just over a week. The eight of them will be with us for three weeks, volunteering in local schools, playing with little people at our mums groups, and spending time at an after school program for refugee children. They’ll also get a feel of some of New Zealand’s diverse culture as they hang out with a group of teenagers from all over Auckland and then a group of young adults later in their trip.
With their arrival just around the corner, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to compile a list of a few of the things that make New Zealand unlike anywhere else in the world. Don’t get me wrong… some countries have one or two of these things, but when you put them all together, you get a country and a culture all its own.
Let’s start with the obvious. With 8,700 miles (14,000 km) of coastline (10th in the world), New Zealand is guaranteed to have a significant amount of beaches. I’ve heard people joke that if you feel a little too crowded at a beach (as in there are more than 20 people), just drive down to the next one. They’re a dime a dozen. However, it’s not just the quantity that makes New Zealand’s beaches so amazing. It’s the vast variety as well. Black sand. White sand. Large rocks. Small rocks. Driftwood. Calm, protected waters. Big surfing waves. Whatever you want in a beach, you can find in New Zealand… unless it’s warm water. That’s one request New Zealand simply can’t fulfill.
#2 Just a Few (Million) Folks
With a boom pushing the population up to 4.7 million people, New Zealand still ranks as the 127th country in the world in terms of population. It’s not the smallest in the world by any means, but it’s definitely towards the bottom in comparison to other first world Western countries. That translates to daily life in some interesting ways. Often, seemingly common things are a lot harder to come by. Those craft supplies you saw in a Pinterest project? There’s a good chance they’re not available. Things cost more. There’s not as much variety to choose from. It’s a much, much smaller market than the US or the UK or Canada or Australia. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
#3 East Meets West in Polynesia
Those 4.7 million people are really what make New Zealand unlike anywhere else in the world. I could write an entire book about it. It’s a case of Eastern culture meets Western culture on a Pacific Island. The Maori people first settled in New Zealand hundreds of years ago. The Europeans came next. However, most immigrants to New Zealand today come from India, China, and the Philippines. Toss in a large number of immigrants from other Pacific Islands like Samoa and the Cook Islands and you have a people group that is unparalleled anywhere in the world. It’s Western, but with an Eastern flair, and strong Pacific Island roots.
New Zealand has two national languages—not all that unusual. English is the obvious one to outsiders, but Maori, or Te Reo, is also a national language. It’s a Polynesian language not spoken anywhere else in the world. In New Zealand, it’s used on a daily basis for common items like kumara (sweet potato), names of places, greetings, karakia (prayers), and more. A beautiful language, it is known for its extensive use of vowels. Just take for example Aotearoa, the name for New Zealand, meaning land of the long white cloud.
#5 Treaty of Waitangi
When the Europeans were busy colonizing the rest of the world, they were notorious for taking over indigenous people groups by force, running them out, or killing them off, and most certainly subjecting them to the prowess of the white man. It’s a gruesome reality in the history of the Western word. Things went a little differently in New Zealand. Instead of being run off or killed off, the Maori demanded a treaty. I think they were just intimidating enough to get it. The treaty was written in Maori and in English and hundreds of Maori chiefs signed the treaty, known as the Treaty of Waitangi declaring British sovereignty in 1840. However, since the Maori chiefs couldn’t read English, they didn’t know that there was a disparity between the two versions. It wasn’t until more than 100 years later that the Maori people began holding the New Zealand government accountable to the version that their people had signed. As a result, the Maori culture has a much more significant impact on the lives of kiwis from every heritage than the culture of indigenous people does in many other places, such as the United States.
Did you catch that in number 5? The British were just colonizing NZ in 1840. While there had been a handful of explorers and settlers in New Zealand for quite a while, New Zealand as we know it is a very young country—practically making the US look matronly.
Have you looked at New Zealand on a globe? It’s really one of my favorite things to do. New Zealand is practically on the bottom of the earth—the last stop before Antarctica. Auckland, the most populous city in NZ, is located at a latitude of 37 degrees south. There are only three other countries in the world that can claim that location! Australia, Argentina, and Chile all have narrow bits of land on the 37th parallel south, but if you account for New Zealand’s South Island, you will find it is only rivaled by Chile and Argentina in proximity to the South Pole.
#8 Holiday Destinations
New Zealand’s location in the South Pacific makes for some interesting and exotic holiday/vacation destinations. Life is pretty grand when your nearest neighbor is Australia and a trip over is roughly the equivalent of a US domestic flight. Other nearby destinations include Fiji, French Polynesia (including Bora Bora and Tahiti), and Rarotonga (a favorite wedding destination among kiwis). Such exotic neighbors, I tell ya! That said, many kiwis make an annual pilgrimage to the UK. By pilgrimage, I mean more than 30 hours of actual flight time, not including layovers. Yikes! Others opt for a 6-week tour of US hot spots like California and New York.
#9 No Native Land Predators
You can’t mention New Zealand without mentioning it’s flora and fauna. It’s truly stunning and one of a kind. The climate lends itself to rampant and varied plant growth and animal life. Home to a wide variety of unusual birds, New Zealand has (or had) many flightless species that thrived with no natural land predators. That’s right, not a lion, a tiger, or a bear to be found. Not even a fox or a snake. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for domesticated cats and dogs to take advantage of the wee birds roosting on the ground. Many flightless birds are endangered or extinct due in part to our pets!
#10 Direct Bank Transfers
I’ll confess. I don’t really know if other countries have this or not, but it was so foreign to me when we moved to New Zealand, I’d like to say only New Zealand could make it work. New Zealand banking is such that when you want to pay an individual (for, say, a used table they are selling), you acquire their bank details (as in, they give you their actual bank account number). You then enter their account number and the amount of the transaction into your phone app and click confirm. Nearly instantaneously, your money shows up in their account, and apparently, nothing is ever stolen this way. 4.7 million people participate in transactions like this all the time, and I haven’t read one news story about it going awry. It’s strange. It seems so risky, but it’s also awfully convenient.
This birthday boy loves treats–particularly chocolate ones. He also loves making silly faces and being goofy any chance he gets!
We’ve reached a big milestone in our family this week. Mr. Q turned 5! From Baby Q to Big Kid Q in a flash, it seems. Over the years, we’ve celebrated with Little Man Q, Construction Man Q, Cowboy Q, and Astronaut Q. This year, after much deliberation on the part of the birthday boy, we celebrated Paleontologist Q. Dinosaurs and fossils galore! I know these sweet days of themed celebrations won’t last forever, but they have served as really fun markers of our little guy’s ever-developing interests and inquisitive nature.
Turning 5 is a BIG deal in our neck of the woods. Typical kiwi kids head off to school on their fifth birthday, whenever that is in the year, or shortly thereafter. This mama is a little bit thankful that our travel schedule dictates that Q won’t start until fourth term in October. (Whew!) However, I did deliver all of his school enrollment papers to our neighborhood school this week, and it’s all feeling quite real!
Meanwhile, Q is jumping at the chance to give you his two cents on turning 5 and boy life in general. We took turns typing, with Q dictating the part that I typed. You can check out his blog post from last year here. Reading through it reminded me again how much he has grown up over the past year!
I am five. I am actually five. Turning 5 is cool because I will get to ride horses. I am not that excited to turn five though because things won’t be the same. I won’t get to ride in my stroller. (Yes, we have tested the limits on that jogging stroller.) I also won’t get to be with Mommy and Daddy as much because school will be every day and last longer than kindy. I won’t go to my kindy any more. I will go to my neighborhood school. I will have to do homework, and I am nervous about having to do a lot of things at school. I have friends that go to my new school already. They are from our neighborhood. Their names are Luke, Cadyn, Corbin, Hunter, Lucas, and Marshall. Plus, some friends from our church go there.
Celebrating as “King for the day” at kindy.
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Since I turned four last year, I have learned to ride my bike without training wheels, been skiing, learned about dinosaurs, and seen hundreds of dolphins in the ocean. I have been swimming like a fish! I like to swim, especially diving under the water and doing water twirls. That’s where I jump in and twirl around under water. One of my favorite things about this past year was that I had spoil days with Bapa and Gigi and my friends Ellie and Maxwell came to visit me. It was Ellie and Maxwell’s first time. I really hope they come again.
[Here Q entered a gazillion emojis, basically every emoji that illustrates something he likes (many of them multiple times). They, of course, don’t translate well to the computer, but it’s rather fitting because since he discovered the beauty of emojis a few months ago, he insists on adding his own personal touch to every text message we send to the grandparents. The conversation usually sounds like, “O.k. That’s all I want to say now. Can you take me to the part where I can choose my pictures?” If it’s something cool, you’ll likely get a rocket in his response, though he has a particular fondness for all of the vehicle, party, and food emojis. Typical.]
Laylee is my pup pup. She steals my furry friends, even though she has her own furry friend. She is the vacuum cleaner of food under my chair. She climbs up on the chairs and puts two paws on the table acting like she is a human. She gets in trouble for that.
You Will Never Run by Rend Collective is one of Q’s favorite Songs to play on the cajon (a box drum). Here, he decided to spontaneously demonstrate his musical skills for one of his teachers at kindy (April 2017).
I am really excited that later this year I get to go to America to see all my American friends. I made a bucket list of things I plan to do there. I am also excited that when I am five I am going to learn to tie shoelaces. I will learn how to ride a bigger bike, read more of my own books, and play some more songs on the cajon (that’s a box drum that I sit on). I play it at church sometimes. Oh yeah!!
I’m still nervous, but it sounds like 5 might be pretty cool.
Newly emerged Monarch butterfly on a grapevine in our backyard (March 2017). Q loves watching nature unfold in our yard. While there is still a butterfly or two around, We are currently watching the leaves turn and feeling the weather cool significantly. We brought the heaters inside this week.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery, so they say. I am certainly not above it. After all, why reinvent the wheel when someone else has a good thing going? Case in point: Play Café. A few months ago, missionaries Ted and Sarah Voigt described their school holiday Play Café in their weekly “Newsyletter,” a fun way they keep people informed of their goings-on. (You can find out more about Ted and Sarah’s ministry at wicklownazarene.com ). I immediately replied with an e-mail that said, “Tell me more.”
New Zealand and Ireland are in some ways similar ministry contexts. We have a strong café culture. I don’t mean a sit-alone-and-work-on-your-laptop-while-drinking-coffee type of café culture. I mean, a strong, “Let’s meet up at a café for a tea or coffee or lunch or any old reason and chat” café culture. Our cafés are more likely to have a play area (indoor or out) for children than wifi or extensive outlets.
New Zealand also has a strong mums group culture. As in, if you are a mum (or a caregiver) responsible for little people during the day, you will most certainly go to at least one play group or music group or mum meet-up every week. You’ll let the kiddos play while you chat with other adults and eat your caramel slice. If you can, you’ll participate in said groups 2 or 3 mornings a week. Through various formats, we have little people with mums or caregivers in our church building four mornings a week.
The exception is school holidays. Right now, our kiddos are on a two week break from school following the end of the first term of the year. The mums’ groups are on break too, but mums and caregivers everywhere are looking for things to keep their school kids and little ones occupied.
That’s where the Play Café comes in. Just like Ted and Sarah suggested, we’re using the school holiday time to switch things up a bit. We set up play areas for kids of all ages and recruited people to make and serve yummy morning tea items. (Note: Morning tea is the snack time that transpires sometime between 9:30 and 10:30 every morning. It typically involves a hot drink such as tea, coffee, or drinking chocolate, along with some type if delectable slice, scone, or snack to get you through to lunch time. Nearly every casual and professional establishment respects the need for morning tea. School kids drink milk and nibble something from their lunch boxes for morning tea.)
Today, more than 50 people played and sipped and nibbled and colored at our first ever Play Café. For us, it was a great time to connect with people we see every week and meet some new ones. For the mums and caregivers, it was a great, free excuse to leave the house and interact with other adults while letting the kids burn off some energy. We’ll do it all again tomorrow, and we can’t wait.
Thanks for sharing your great idea, Ted and Sarah.
In honor of a great two weeks with our first guests with kids, we’ve put together our list of top 10 international travel tips for parents. We’ve had so much fun over these past 12 days. We think the memories are definitely worth the jet lag, long hours on the airplane, and overcoming the apprehension of traveling with kids.
So, with no further ado, here are the Top 10 things we think parents should remember when traveling internationally with kids.
Welcome to New Zealand, sign design and wording by Q.
Get the Sky Couch.
Air New Zealand has this really cool thing where if you’re already buying three seats together, you can pay a teeny bit more to have a foot rest thing that raises and makes your seat into a bed. This is especially perfect for 2-8 year olds who are too big to be lap children, but aren’t really all that tall yet. When you’re flying overnight, it’s so worth it. At the very least, make sure your row has reclining seats and arm rests that raise. Once, ours didn’t, and it made for a verrrry long night.
Carry-on a surprise.
There are moments during long layovers or even longer flights when kids need a distraction. A small surprise—something they’ve never seen or gotten to play with before—is a great source of entertainment. Sticky window decals, a little action figure, or a new sticker book, etc. can all keep kiddos occupied in confined spaces for chunks of time. There’s something about the newness and the surprise factor that make simple things all the more fascinating.
Drink your water.
It seems so obvious, but it makes a big difference. If you fly much, you know the drill: take your empty water bottle through security and then fill it up. Jaron is especially good at making sure we all have our water handy. It’s even more important on international flights. Some people say that staying hydrated really helps reduce all the yucky side-effects like jet lag and ankle swelling. It’s probably true. Those little airplane cups don’t provide enough water to keep a flea hydrated. Plus, they’re totally not kid friendly. Everyone needs their own water bottle. Flight attendants are typically more than happy to refill them too.
“No worries. Don’t be uptight. Don’t stress. Don’t freak out over the little things.” That’s what our friends said in that order. It’s true. It’s not like you can change it anyway. Forgot to pack underwear? No worries. You can buy those. Kid spills lunch all over their clothes? Take a chill pill. Failed to pick up your passports off the kitchen counter? Now, that’s a reason to freak out. But really, the more relaxed you are, the more relaxed your kids will likely be.
Cave explorers at the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
On more than one occasion, I have pulled two suitcases while carrying a car seat on my back and pushing a kid-filled stroller with my stomach while balancing a pack-and-play on top of the stroller handle. Crazy stuff. I was happy to ditch the pack-and-play when Q outgrew it. However, on our last trip to the States, I said, “Never again.” Not “Never again will I travel,” but never again will I attempt to pack every little thing. Traveling is challenging enough. Struggling to manage your stuff sucks every last bit of joy out of the adventure, especially when you add managing a little person to the mix. It’s best to have at least one hand free at all times. We are mastering traveling very light, and my trapezius muscles are thanking me!
Oh, and our friends packed for a family of 4 for two weeks in NZ with 3 carry-ons and two checked suitcases, plus the car seat. Total. Considering they had at least 20 pounds of our stuff with them, I’d say they definitely killed it! I am so impressed and proud.
Our friends say: “Even if your kids no longer use diapers, don’t forget the wipes, water bottles, a change of clothes (in case your luggage doesn’t make it), toothbrushes, passports, food, a blanket, the essential stuffed animal, and a very few small toys and activities in your carry-on.”
A day at the beach in Raglan
Rock the routine.
There’s just something about routines that tells our brains what we’re supposed to be doing. On overnight flights, I make sure to change Q into pjs, brush his teeth, and do his normal bedtime routine to encourage the best possible sleep scenario. We carry on a small travel blanket that was gifted to us from a sweet church in Roswell, New Mexico and his stuffed dog. They are familiar and comforting. In the morning, he gets dressed and brushes his teeth, which signals that he can start his day.
Balloons over Waikato
Talk about it.
New experiences are often so abstract and even scary for kids, but the more we talk through what’s coming, the more successful their travel experience can be. Read books about travel. Show kids pictures. Talk about your routine on the airplane and let them know there might be lines at the airport. Talk about airport safety, what you’ll do when you get there.
Long before you leave, it’s great to help your kiddos get involved in the planning process. Q’s friend had heard about the glow worm caves. She thought they sounded so cool so we made sure to put that on our agenda. Today, when they were getting ready to leave, we asked the kids to help us plan what they’ll do together when we see them in America next.
These boys need alllll the snacks!
Snacks. All the snacks.
Kids (and parents) are happier humans when they’re well-fed. In order to avoid any opportunity for “hangriness” (that’s hungry and angry at the same time) to take over, pack snacks. Lots of them. Plan for the worst-case scenario: you sat on the tarmac with no flight service for 3 hours. Your child refused to eat any of the airplane food on the flight. Your flight was delayed so you didn’t have enough time to get food during the layover. And, you had to stand in a two-hour line in customs, which delayed your access to food even further. I haven’t ever had all of those happen on one trip, but flights and airports are sometimes unpredictable. Let’s be real, eating also keeps kids occupied, which is an added bonus. Take enough nutritious snack options to keep the family happy for the entire duration should you need to. We love individual packages of peanut butter and almond butter, nuts, fresh fruit (but not too much because you can’t bring it in to NZ), cheese sticks (for early on), sandwiches, rice cakes, non-sugary snack bars, pre-sliced raw veggies… you get the idea.
Tiffany family at Cathedral Cove
Ask for help.
Or simply just take the help that is offered. Sometimes you just need an extra hand, or you’re not sure where to go. Fellow travelers and airport employees alike can be so helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask, “Do I need to declare this?” or “Could you please fold this stroller for me?” or “Could you keep an eye on my kid while I just take a little nap?” Just kidding!! 😊 But really, ask for help.
The farewell picture… before the tears.
And our number one piece of advice…
Take your time.
Don’t get in a hurry. I learned this really early on in our parenting experience when flying domestically with a wee one by myself. The truth of this statement is amplified a hundred-fold when traveling internationally. The world is a better place when you’re not having to rush, when you can walk through the airport at the pace of your toddler, and when an urgent need for a potty break doesn’t derail the entire plan. Of course, there are exceptions where you have to frantically run through the airport. In that case, refer to #2. However, you can set you and your kids up for a really successful travel experience by getting to the airport plenty early, planning ahead for long enough layovers, and building in time to let the wiggles out.
In fact, “Take your time” is pretty helpful advice for traveling anywhere with kids. Here’s the truth: when traveling with small children you’re probably not going to get to cram 15 hour days full of museums or multiple beach stops. Traveling with small kids may mean you have to skip the surf lessons (unless you have a baby-sitter in tow), take more frequent breaks, or opt for the half day instead of the multi-day tour. However, you are going to get to see and enjoy things together that form deep memories and develop broad world-views. And those things pay dividends that no dollar amount can measure. We say it’s a totally worthwhile adventure!
Teamwork makes the dream work. It’s so cliché and so true. Over the past year, we’ve been a part of developing education for pastors in New Zealand. If you haven’t already, you can read more about it here. The simple truth is, that we couldn’t make it happen on our own. We definitely sense that God has brought together a great team for just such a time as this. One of the people that we’ve gotten to work closely with is Rob Fringer, the principal of Nazarene Theological College in Brisbane, Australia.
When we met Rob for the first time less than a year ago, we had no idea if he’d be on board, if he’d want to work with us, or if he’d think we were totally crazy and blow us off. Thankfully, we came to the table for the very first time with a common vision and a big piece of the puzzle in each of our hands.
Now, a year later, Rob has just spent eight days teaching an Intro to Old Testament intensive to one master’s student, six bachelor’s students, five certificate level students, and two auditing participants. Over the course of the class, we got numerous text messages like, “This is so great! We need more time with him!” and “This is opening up a whole new world for me. Thanks for making this possible.” Now, the real grind for the students begins as they work on their post-work while maintaining full time jobs and pastoral responsibilities. We have the utmost confidence that they will rise to the occasion.
While we were with Rob, I asked him a few questions to help us get to know what motivates the person who has been charged to lead NTC and is helping to provide feet to a dream God has given us.
The Fringer Family from left to right: Vanessa, Sierra, Brenden, and Rob.
Elizabeth: You’re a lecturer and principal at Nazarene Theological College (NTC) in Brisbane, Australia. How did you get there?
Rob: NTC needed a lecturer in biblical studies. I was working on my PhD in Manchester while living and pastoring in New Hampshire at the time. When they called Manchester looking for recommendations, Kent Brower gave them my name. Through that process and a lot of prayer, we accepted the call and moved to Australia. We will have been here 4 years in June.
Tell us a little about NTC.
NTC was started sometime around 1953 in Sydney. It moved to Brisbane in the 70s. We have about 50 students with our on-campus and extension programs across the Asia Pacific Region. The demographic varies widely. We have lots of islanders, some Aussies, a couple of Brazilians, and some Americans, plus Fijian and Papua New Guinean students at our extension sites in those countries.
NTC is accredited through the Sydney College of Divinity (SCD) and internationally recognized. We offer two bachelor’s degrees, three master’s degrees, and through our SCD partnership, we offer a PhD and a Doctor of Ministry.
What other ministry experience do you have?
I was involved in youth ministry for 10 years, followed by an associate pastor of discipleship and outreach for 6 ½ years. I have taught as an adjunct for four different schools. I also served for one year as a Nazarene In Volunteer Service (NIVS) in Swaziland teaching at what is now Southern Africa Nazarene University.
How did you go from being a lecturer at NTC to being the principal?
God has a sense of humor. I thought I might become an academic dean at some point. That seemed to suit my skillset. Then, the current principal stepped down after being there for 17 years. The position was open. They asked me twice to apply. I said no the first time. Later, they gathered more resumes and asked a second time if I would let my name run. Long story short, my wife and I prayed about and decided to let my name move forward. Then, big surprise, the Board of Trusties voted unanimously to offer me the job and we accepted the position.
Speaking of your wife… You have a family—a wife and two kids. How are they adjusting to life in AU?
Vanessa is my wife. She handles the college finances and serves as the bookkeeper. Sierra is nine. Brenden is six. They love life in Australia. They love their friends, the wild animals they see, the freedom of running all over campus (where they live). They miss the snow.
What does your family like to do for fun?
We like to go on family holidays to the beach. We like to go to the Sunshine Coast. We like to go to the Australian Zoo. There are lots of beaches closer to our house that we like too. We also like to go to parks.
How often to do you see your family in the States?
We go home about once every two years.
What is your vision for NTC moving forward?
Truly, to see it grow. My vision is for NTC is to continue to train many more pastors and lay leaders, and through that training see the church grow, not only numerically but also in maturity.
I also have a vision that we would be a help and a resource for the church in this region (Asia Pacific Regional Church of the Nazarene).
We’ve gotten to know you through our work developing the NTC-Auckland extension program. Why are you excited about NTC-AKL?
I think it has so much potential. There are a couple of things I am really excited about.
I am excited because it is strengthening relationships between Australia and New Zealand. On this field, it is strengthening relationships, and that’s really important.
I think it’s exciting because it has been a real need for New Zealand, and now we’re getting to meet that need. I think NTC-AKL has the potential to be bigger in terms of enrollment than the main campus in Brisbane.
What about this program is innovative? What makes it work?
I think the things that make this program work are the contextual aspect of this program, as well as the leadership and the mentor concept that has been developed for this program.
How can other people be a part of what God is doing through NTC?
It would be great to sponsor a student. We have several students who have financial need. You can do that by clicking here.
People with master’s degrees in theology or ministry can serve as mentors to our undergraduate and graduate students. You can live anywhere in the world and become a mentor. People can volunteer their time if they are qualified to be a lecturer. People can pray for us and for our students.
Principal Rob Fringer teaching Intro to Old Testament in New Zealand.
We are the Graham family–Jaron, Elizabeth, the little guy Q. The three of us are on an adventure in faithfulness, currently serving in Hamilton, New Zealand. Being faithful requires much sacrifice and brings great joy. Adventure Graham is the place we chronicle our journey.