Adventure Graham

Snippets of Graham family adventures in faithfulness

Month: February 2016

The Mob Next Door

By Elizabeth

 

Unnerved. That’s the best word I can come up with to describe how I felt the day my new friend told us where the mob chapter headquarters was located. No, this isn’t Chicago or New York. It’s New Zealand, a largely peaceful country. With a rather large gang presence. In my neighborhood.

After church that day, we drove by the headquarters house on our way to drop something at the friend’s house. For the first time, I was seeing with eyes wide open what I had blindly walked and driven by dozens of times.

There they were. Around the corner from our bakery and bike store. Across the street from a primary school. A couple of blocks from our church. Half a mile from our house. The Mongrel Mob. Guys standing and sitting out front, apparently keeping guard. Other guys milling around dressed in the tell-tale red and black color-scheme with the Mongrel Mob bulldog logo on their t-shirts and leather jackets. A tall gated fence surrounding the property. Bulldog head statues perched on the top of the fence. MM Waikato stenciled on the gate. Cars coming and going.

There is some discrepancy surrounding the start of the Mongrel Mob. One urban legend says in the early 1960s a judge told a group of men standing in front of him that they “were a bunch of mongrels.” Some say the group was Pakeha (white, European descent). Others say a couple of Maori guys were standing before the judge that day. Either way, the name stuck. By 1962, a group of men in the Hawke’s Bay region on the north island’s central east coast were calling themselves mongrels. By 1970, other loosely affiliated chapters had developed that included many Maori and Polynesian members, all using the name Mongrel Mob or some variation.

New Zealand has several gangs and reputably the highest per capita gang population in the world—as many as 4,000 members with a national population of 4.5 million people. The Mongrel Mob is the largest and quite possibly the most famous with a reputation that has spread far beyond the South Pacific, thanks in part to a portrait project by photographer Jono Rotman. My brother-in-law thoughtfully showed us these pictures before we left for New Zealand. I doubt he actually believed we’d ever cross paths with members of the mob. The images are striking… to say the least.

Mongrel Mob portraits by Jono Rotman

I haven’t seen mob members down the street from us with extensive face tattoos (although Ta Moko here and here are facial tattoos historically made with a bone chisel  and are common in the Maori culture). I also haven’t heard them barking like bulldogs or flashing their gang sign. I am fine with that.

Nearly 10% of all prisoners in New Zealand consider themselves to be members of the Mongrel Mob, but the gang didn’t start out with a penchant for organized crime. The mob was a place of belonging for people who didn’t have a place, people who lived in the margins of society, people who experienced both cultural alienation and economic deprivation. It is not coincidental that rise of the Mongrel Mob paralleled the urbanization of the Maori tribal culture, which caused entire generations of Maori people to struggle with their identity, lose touch with their tribal roots, and flounder in the Westernized mainstream culture.

I have watched the daily routines of the Mongrels play out during my own comings and goings. They have a trampoline and balls in the yard for their kids who also like to ride their scooters in the bakery parking lot. They frequent the corner dairy (convenience store). Their property appears to be well-maintained. There’s always at least two people sitting out front, but sometimes a dozen or more are gathered around in plastic lawn chairs. No one is ever alone.

I’ve asked other people in the community about the mob next door. They respond with comments like… “Oh yeah. They’ve lived there forever. They kind of protect the area—look out for it, you know.”

Kiwis are quick to point out that New Zealand does not have the gun culture that the United States’ reputation carries around the world. Knives are more the mob’s style. Even so, people who mind their own business as they push their tot in a stroller up and down the sidewalk aren’t really in danger. In fact, they could find themselves benefiting from the watchful eyes of the mob members sitting guard on the corner.

I have so many questions. At the most basic level, my questions start with, “What kind of world is this?! How is this playing out so openly in a suburban neighborhood in city of a mere 200,000 people?!?

What in the world really goes on as people come and go from that house? Is it as bad as my imagination could make it out to be? Or is it more like a clubhouse… a big family gathering… every single day?

But then, I realize those are the wrong questions. Those answers don’t really matter. When I stop my fretting, I begin to see them as people whose kids’ heads pop above the fence-line as they jump on the trampoline.

And I wonder… What would have happened if 50+ years ago, the founding mongrels had found belonging in a church community instead of in organized crime?

Where was the church when these young men felt so ostracized from society that they claimed the name ‘Mongrels’ as the only thing they identified with?

What about my neighbors? What extreme levels of marginalization, loneliness, and pain have they experienced that has driven them to find belonging and safety in a gang?

What does it look like for our church—that meets two blocks away— to reach into this community and neighborhood? What does it look like to carry the light of hope to the mob?

And I wonder… what does it mean for all of us to touch the untouchable? To love the unlovable? To refuse to put up walls? To take the gospel to the most broken of situations, the ones deemed hopeless and irredeemable by society?

Maybe the mob lives in your neighborhood. Maybe you haven’t noticed yet. Or maybe they don’t. Either way, there’s still someone who needs the hope of Jesus—someone longing for community, someone crying out for love, someone begging for a place of belonging. Maybe they don’t look like you or talk like you or dress like you or act like you. Maybe they’re dirty or handicapped or just plain frightening looking.

And I wonder… what does it mean for us to be the church in those places, to those people?

 

We’d love for you to pray with us that the members of our local chapter of the Mongrel Mob will come to know Jesus through the intentional ministry of Crossroads Church.

 

Parting Shot

Swan plants mean caterpillars and caterpillars mean monarch butterflies... we hope!

Swan plants mean caterpillars and caterpillars mean monarch butterflies… we hope!

The Day the Picture Came to Life (by Jaron)

Jaron overlooking the Manila skyline

Jaron overlooking the Manila skyline

I remember well the black and white picture on the wall and the questions that ran through my young mind as I studied it. Who are those people? Why do we have their picture hanging in our church fellowship hall? How old is it? How old are they?!

The picture of “our missionaries” Wallace and Mona White was a mainstay in my home church in Lovington, NM. We held children’s church and VBS, ate at numerous potlucks, and ran wild while our parents practiced for worship team, all under their watchful eyes. The story goes something like this: Sometime in the 1950s Wallace and Mona White became a part of Lovington Church of the Nazarene where they experienced the saving grace of Jesus. As they began living out their salvation, they eventually answered God’s call to missions and soon became pioneer missionaries for the Church of the Nazarene in Papua New Guinea (PNG). While in PNG, they planted many churches and started a Nazarene hospital that is widely respected and still in operation today.

The picture.... Wallace and Mona White and their family.

The picture…. Wallace and Mona White and their family.

As a young child, I heard these stories, but they seemed as distant as the colorless people in the picture on the wall. They were stories of work that began long before I was born and that was continuing in far off places that I knew very little about. And yet, somehow it was a part of our church’s story. I really didn’t catch the significance, but I knew there must be something to it because there the picture hung year after year.

People at LovingtonNaz have always proudly claimed that “we are a sending church,” and the facts back up that claim. While cleaning out my desk after pastoring there for 7 years, I found a letter from one of our long-time members that listed all of the women and men who had been called to full time ministry from our church. The list of pastors and missionaries was long. I had grown up in the church myself and was packing for New Zealand, so my name now fell in both categories.

So what about Wallace and Mona and that black and white picture? Last week I had the privilege of attending a meeting of Nazarene educators from around the Asia Pacific region of the world. On the first day, I was introduced to the man across the table from me. He is from PNG, and serves as the President of our Nazarene College of nursing there. His name…Wallace White Kintak. He was named after Wallace White. Our Wallace White. The Wallace White whose black and white likeness hanging on the wall captured my curiosity and raised so many questions in my mind.

Jaron with Wallace and Regina Kintak of Papua New Guinea.

Jaron with Wallace and Regina Kintak of Papua New Guinea.

All of the sudden the story came alive. No longer is Wallace White just a name. No longer does Papua New Guinea seem far away and the stuff of dreams. For sitting before me was a man who is a follower of Jesus Christ, the president of a college, and new dear friend because a family from my home church answered the call of God to serve in a far off land. Wallace White Kintak proudly carries the name of the man who changed his family–and his country–by introducing them to the love of Jesus.

The implications are incredible. First it speaks to the faithfulness or our church—a small church in rural New Mexico—who carried the love of Christ to its community so that Wallace and Mona could experience the transforming grace of God in their salvation. It speaks to the faithfulness of a local church who discipled, shaped, and ultimately sent them with prayer and support to the mission field. At least in part because one little church took seriously the call of Christ to “go and make disciples of all nations,” there are 11 Nazarene Districts in Papua New Guinea. The church is on fire there, and is growing rapidly. Women and men are being called to ministry and are being educated and trained by people like Wallace Kintak, who like his namesake, is following the call of God to make disciples.

Watch as Wallace and Regina tell Jaron a bit of their story here.

There are families like the one who is a part of our congregation here in Hamilton who are getting to study abroad in first-world university settings because of the Nazarene missionaries’ commitment to high-quality education. There are babies born in clean, safe environments and medical needs being met 24 hours a day 7 days a week at a highly respected hospital because a missionary couple saw the need for easily accessible high-quality healthcare.

In a world where Christians are tempted to get hung up on which communion bread to use, where flashy lights and professional-sounding bands are touted as essential, and where pastors (and laymen) spend way too much time one-upping each other on Facebook, I am convinced that these are non-essentials that can easily distract us from the important work of the Kingdom. Over 60 years ago a little church, in a small town few have ever heard of welcomed a new couple into their fellowship. The church didn’t have a fancy worship team or flashy lights or much in the way of bragging rights, but they did know how to love. What they didn’t know was that their love and care for this couple would someday extend to thousands upon thousands on the other side of the planet who had not yet heard the name of Jesus. It’s a legacy that is thriving today.

I think my ancestors at Lovington Church of the Nazarene might say; “Son, we are not a fancy church. It’s not about being fancy. A sending church though…yes, that is what we are. So by all means, go, love well, and tell them about Jesus. That’s what will change the world.”

Parting Shot

While Daddy was away, Mommy and Q explored a new park.

While Daddy was away, Mommy and Q explored Parana Park, a beautifully hidden little children’s play area in Hamilton.

 

Getting Schooled

Q rode his bike to the post office box to mail a few Valentines earlier this week. Then, we had to race back home to avoid getting caught in the rain. P.S. Valentine's Day is totally NOT a thing here!

Q rode his bike to the post office box to mail a few Valentines earlier this week. Then, we had to race back home to avoid getting caught in the rain. P.S. Valentine’s Day is totally NOT a thing here!

I made the mistake of walking into the Warehouse Stationary store last Tuesday. Q and I were in search of envelopes for Valentines he was planning to mail. Everyone else clutched school supply lists in one hand and juggled piles of notebooks and pencils in the other. The Warehouse is the kiwi equivalent to Walmart. Their office supplies are housed in neighboring Warehouse Stationary stores (re: Office Depot with 1/3 the square footage). Apparently, that’s the place to do the compulsory back to school shopping.

It’s the start of a new school year—the North American equivalent to August–when the weather is still warm and the days are still long, but the freedom of summer has come to an end. Kids all across the city have met their new teachers, covered their exercise books with glittery contact paper, and taken back to school pictures with their hair slicked down.

The compulsory first day of school picture. Left the small backpack for the grandparents to bring later. Sorry, kid, you'll have to use one as big as you for a while.

The compulsory first day of school picture. Left the small backpack for the grandparents to bring later. Sorry, kid, you’ll have to use one as big as you for a while.

The neighborhood bike brigade that welcomed us barefoot and dripping from a water fight upon our arrival in December now rides off to school in the mornings rather than beginning laps around the cul-de-sac. Parents push toddlers in prams down the sidewalk as they walk their uniform-clad older children to school. Even Q joined the masses of little people climbing, painting, and singing at kindy (preschool) this afternoon.

Kindy

Kindy

For us, that means the mums’ groups geared toward toddlers and mums or caregivers that meet at the church 3 days a week are in full swing. Twice a week, an outside play group called Happy Feet utilizes the building for art and play and good company. Once a week, I get to facilitate a music group for little people called Mainly Music. Tots and adults alike bang sticks on the floor, rattle shakers, march around the room, and play with a parachute to the tunes of catchy kid music. After which, everyone enjoys morning tea, but usually only the adults drink the tea. The kiddies munch the snacks and then run outside to dig in the sandbox.

Happy Feet playgroup

Happy Feet playgroup

We’re trying diligently to navigate this aspect of Similar…But Different by asking tons of questions.

What does karakia mean on the class schedule? What kind of prayer is it? Who are you praying to? What does it mean?

Are shoes not mandatory?

But sun hats are?

Why is this school so different from the one a few blocks away?

How do you know where your child goes next when schools extend to different grade levels?

Where are the school buses?

Who wears a uniform and who doesn’t?

Why do the children always seem to be outside?

If kindy isn’t American kindergarten, then what do they do there? What should they know when they start Year 1?

The list goes on and on. As a part of New Zealand’s socialized effort to encourage early education, every 3 to 5-year-old can attend preschool for 20 hours a week free (a.k.a. paid for by the general public’s tax dollars). Often kindys (kindergartens) have extended days, allowing parents who work full time to pay for the additional time their child spends at the school/child care center. Nearly every kiwi kid attends kindy by the time he or she turns 4.

Each kindy is privately run with a loose association that gives them accreditation and reviews their academic performance. Primary schools, middle schools, and high schools operate in a similar fashion. Each is completely independent from the other. Our neighborhood school doesn’t require uniforms, but the one a few blocks away does. They charge different fees and receive different funding. They do operate under a general New Zealand-approved curriculum and are given a decile rating that denotes both educational performance and demographics. Even start times vary from 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Our neighborhood school runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a 30-minute break for morning tea and an hour break for lunch. Sounds like a pretty good schedule to me. As for school buses—you’ll rarely see them here in Hamilton. Kids who live too far to walk to school hop on one of the many city buses.

The truth is, our learning is just beginning. We’re just scratching the surface of the cultural norms. We’re finding ourselves checking our American presuppositions often and trying not to “get schooled” while we’re at it.

We found a statue of a dog that resembled our dog Bailey remarkably while in Tauranga this past weekend.

We found a statue of a dog that resembled our dog Bailey remarkably while in Tauranga this past weekend.

Parting Shot

Lots of rain and heavy cloud cover meant we just guessed at the layers of green and the views from Mount Maunganui.

Lots of rain and heavy cloud cover in Tauranga meant we just guessed at the layers of green and the views from Mount Maunganui. Good thing it’s only a couple of hours away.

 

Death and Worship (by Jaron)

The Spirit there was unmistakable. It was the type of place where all of my senses were pricked the moment I walked into the door. I heard worship music in the sanctuary, saw hundreds of people gathered, exalting in praise. I felt the strong hands of fellow pastors as they welcomed me into the gathering, the place smelled of anticipation and at the same time tasted of grief. I was entering a funeral where hundreds had gathered to celebrate the life of Rev. Vipul Kharat who died unexpectedly at the age of 51.

Most funerals begin with soft music playing in the background while the family of the deceased processes into the sanctuary. Once the family arrives at their seats the congregation is seated and the funeral begins. Everything is calm and orderly, songs are sung, remembrances read sermons preached. These are wonderful funerals, wonderful tributes, wonderful sermons calling us to faithfulness. But most funerals spend their time looking to the past.

In contrast, Vipul’s funeral was focused on what God is presently doing and what God desires to do in days that are yet to come. This was obvious from the beginning. As we gathered, we worshiped in song inviting God’s presence among us. When the time came to begin we all stood and Vipul’s body was brought into the sanctuary in a procession of pallbearers and family. Like the rest of us Vipul’s body was being carried into the sanctuary, the place where God dwells among God’s people, he was being brought into the presence of Christ. He was being welcomed into the body of Christ, into the all-embracing arms of the resurrected Christ alongside of whom Vipul will stand resurrected in the coming Kingdom. Yes, this was a day for grief, but it was also a day for celebration, a day for hope, a day to shout our victory in Christ from the mountaintops. For in this sanctuary of Christ, death has no voice, death has no power.

As a new pastor on the NZ District I had only met Vipul once, and as I walked into his memorial service I was immediately struck by the type of man he must have been. There was grief in the room, there were those asking why, there was the ever-present sense of loss that inevitably comes when we lose those we love. Those here had lost a husband, a father, a pastor, a friend, a district leader, and by all accounts a man who believed that God is at work in the world. He was a man who did not shy away from participating in that redeeming work no matter what the cost to himself.

But what struck me most about the gathering was the attitude of worship. I came to a funeral, and found myself at a worship service. Not fake or fancy worship. True worship. We sang and we prayed and we remembered not only the man Vipul, but the call that God had placed on his life and the call that God was continuing to place on the life of those in the room that day.

A number of people spoke, stories were told and tears were shed, but the common theme that day was a call to God’s people to be inspired by a man who followed God with all that he had to give. The call was to say yes to God so that many more could experience the grace of God through us, in the same way that those in the room had experienced that grace as Vipul poured out his life into them.

About halfway through the service, one of Vipul’s ministry partners shared how stunned he was to hear about Vipul’s untimely death. His immediate reaction was to ask God why. How could they continue their ministry without Vipul? Vipul was their key man. His shoes would be impossible to fill. In that moment the Spirit whispered to him that God’s desire was not to replace Vipul with one person but with ten, and that those people would be at Vipul’s funeral. So as he concluded his remembrance he simply asked those in the room to stand if they felt God calling them to be one of those ten. The Spirit of God was moving and one by one men and women from around the room began to stand in silent testimony to the call that God was placing on their lives. From among those who grieve, God has begun to call out those who will carry God’s kingdom forward in Vipul’s stead.

As the service drew to a close I was struck by what had happened. This had been like no funeral I had ever experienced before. It was a time of very real pain and grief, and there will be many days, months and years of grief to come. Yet the Spirit of God was so heavy in that sanctuary that even in grief we exalted in our Creator and in the comfort we are offered because of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Even in grief God’s kingdom is coming. Even at a funeral the Spirit of God moves and calls people to ministry. Even in the face of tragic death we can celebrate life, both the life that we have been given now and the life that is to come.

Last Saturday more than ever I understood the words of Paul from 1 Corinthians 15: “Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death, is your sting?” It is not here, not among God’s people, for he has risen. And so we will grieve, but we will also worship and be called and revel in the knowledge that the day will come when the dead are raised and we will stand at the feet of our Lord in the glorious Kingdom that is to come. May we serve well. May we stand up and proclaim the Kingdom that is coming so that all we meet will know and believe and stand in worship alongside us on that day when there is no longer death, only wonderful, healing, transforming worship.

 

Parting Shot

Elizabeth and Q love the way the succulents in our garden hold water after it rains. That looks like ice," Q says, before poking every droplet.

Elizabeth and Q love the way the succulents in our garden hold water after it rains. That looks like ice,” Q says, before poking every droplet.

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