We’re wrapping up–Home Assignment, that is. I was prepared to write a Home Assignment update post last week, but in the face of massive fires in the Western US, hurricane recovery in Texas, hurricane Irma in the Caribbean and Florida, and a massive earthquake in Mexico, I felt like there were more important things in people’s news feeds. All this, plus equally difficult climate and political situations across the globe certainly puts many things into perspective.
So, this Home Assignment update comes with a sense of immense gratitude. Life is good. Our loved ones are safe and dry and warm and calm. In just a week, we’ll be en-route to New Zealand, so we’re soaking up the last few days of State-side adventures and sunshine. Can you believe it? There’s a certain slow-fastness, or perhaps a speedy-length, to a season when you’re totally out of your normal routine. Our lives have been so full in some of the best possible ways—full of story-telling and neck-hugging and grandparent-spoiling and friend-making and road-tripping and blessing-celebrating.
In the midst of all of that, we’re hoping our kiwi people and our dog haven’t forgotten us. We know their lives have been just as full as ours (dog included)—just in the completely different ways of the normal life of the end of winter on the Southern Hemisphere. On the other hand, we’re positive it has only been a minute since we said, “See ya later.”
This past week, we got to spend some of the sweetest moments with my home church, Shawnee Church of the Nazarene. It’s the church responsible for my formation as a baby, child, teenager, and young adult. It’s also just the kind of church that understands the importance of engaging intentionally in the global mission of the church. It’s really beautiful to be a part of a body—even if you’ve been serving elsewhere for many years— and to feel sent and affirmed and supported and loved and championed by that body. Together, we got to celebrate a long history and a beautiful future of supporting, nurturing, shaping, and engaging in the work of missionaries from around the world. Indeed, we are a blessed people to be a part of something so much bigger than any one church, one culture, or one country.
We’ll get to hang out with one last super-awesome church this coming weekend. In the meantime, the pictures are worth 1,000 words.
The end of Home Assignment stats look at bit like this:
On the Odometer: 5,095 miles (8,200 km)
Note: This already includes the 13 hour drive from Kansas City to New Mexico that we’re anticipating on Monday, but HOLY MOLY… We will have accumulated over 5,000 miles, folks! It’s the length of New Zealand about four times over.
On the Road: 75 hours
On our Plates: More Mexican food, and we’re anticipating Kansas City BBQ tomorrow night!! Hooray!! In our bowls: Blue Bunny Ice Cream (it’s simply the best) with chocolate chips sprinkled on top.
On our Minds: New Zealand, you’re on our minds! We’ll see you very soon.
As summer ends, a stop by giant fields of sunflowers is a must, especially in Kansas, the sunflower state.
Q has taken every possible opportunity to cuddle his big dog, Bailey, who is enjoying her sunset years at a “retirement home” (as we joke) with Grammy and Papu.
Another adventure involved lunch at the iconic Fritz’s restaurant, where a train delivers your order to the table.
It’s not a trip to Grammy and Papu’s house if it doesn’t involve at least one bowl of Blue Bunny vanilla ice cream with a few chocolate chips sprinkled on top.
Adventures with Grammy have been numerous. This one took us to the Moon Marble Factory, where we watched marbles being made by hand.
We loved getting to worship with the people at Shawnee this past weekend.
The Royals didn’t win, but we still had a great time at Q’s first Major League Baseball game. This kid has always loved baseball.
Folks, this is the breakfast food aisle at Super Walmart. Both sides, From one end to the other. Be overwhelmed.
Q has long been fascinated with fishing. His uncle, David, took him a few weeks ago, but Q only caught a tree. This week, our special family friends, the Edgar family, met us at a new-to-us park for a picnic and some very successful fishing.
Q caught a fish!
Meanwhile, at Camp Cresswell: Laylee (the second pup in this picture) has loved every minute with our friends, the Cresswells. We’ve gotten regular updates throughout her time with them, and we’re not quite sure she’s going to be keen to return to her life without cows.
Another day. Another trip to feed the cows. Another bath is in order.
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.
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.
This is the face of my friend. She’s a Christian, a wife, and a mom. She’s also a make-up artist who loves to sing as a part of church worship teams.
This is the face of her husband. He’s a husband and a dad who delights in his daughter. He’s a hair stylist who can cut, color, and style with the best of them.
They met at a salon where they both worked.
This is the face of their energetic two-year-old, who thinks Q is hilarious, especially when he pretends to fall. She’s learning a new word nearly every minute and is an actress in the making, practicing her most dramatic expressions on her parents. She calls Jaron khal–uncle.
These are the faces of a dad who is struggling to learn English so he can get a job to support his family; a mom so homesick she feels that God has surely forsaken her in this foreign land; and a little girl who may never see a blood relative again.
This is the face of my friend who said, “I was afraid to meet you because they always told me Americans want to control everything. They said Americans are causing war. But I love you. You are not what I expected.”
These are the faces of George, Katia, and Christelle.
They escaped Damascus 3 ½ years ago, a young newlywed couple, seeking safety in Lebanon with her family when the violence became too much. Their government was favorable to Christians, but everyone was caught in the crossfire when the conflict between Muslim groups escalated. They begged UNHCR to let them travel to a new home. But they said no. They begged again and again. Finally, the response came, “You can go, George and Katia, with your young daughter, but your mother, brothers and sister-in-law cannot go with you. You cannot return here until you have your New Zealand passport in five years. Maybe then you can visit.”
“I don’t know why the passed us over so many times, why they wouldn’t let us travel,” Katia still wonders with anguish.
But there are 65 million people in George and Katia and Christelle’s shoes. 65 million displaced people longing for a safe country to call home. The US accepted just over 72,000 this year. New Zealand accepted about 700.
And so, George and Katia are thankful. They’re thankful to live in a peaceful country where bombs are not being dropped daily. They are thankful they are not surrounded by the rubble of destroyed buildings that only serve as constant reminders of crushed dreams. They’re thankful that one day they will be able to get jobs in New Zealand and support themselves. They’re thankful to live in a city with an Arabic-speaking church. They know there is much to be thankful for.
Katia’s mom and brother
Just recently, Katia found out that her brothers would be able to start their new lives in Canada. But not her mom. No, she is a 52-year-old widowed breast cancer survivor. They say she cannot travel to a new homeland. Governments need people who can work, who can contribute to the economy. She will have no one to care for her once her two sons are relocated to Canada.
Katia with her family
And so, Katia cries. She cries for the homeland she misses, for the mom she left behind, for the loss of all that is familiar, for the language of her heart that few can understand, for a war that has torn everything apart, for the loneliness she feels on a daily basis, for media that paints misleading pictures of people on both sides of the camera and fosters fear of the other side.
And I cry with her because she is my friend. Because the media in my homeland says I should be afraid of this family, that our children should never play together, that these people belong in refugee camps or back in their war-torn countries. Because these people with gentle eyes and kind spirits are victims of one of the worst humanitarian crises since the Holocaust.
These faces are the faces of my friends. Their faces might just shock you. They might not fit the image painted by your evening news. These are the faces of Syrian refugees.
Out of curiosity, I posed a question on Facebook this we week. Posing questions on Facebook can be a dangerous endeavor, I know. But this question didn’t involve the names of any US presidential candidates so I felt relatively safe. The results evoked feelings I didn’t expect.
Me: Kiwi friends—I am curious. Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on this day [September 11] 15 years ago?
A few of their responses went like this…
PC(India) I was in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, India – when we got a news that my uncle was flying to London from India and he was stopped somewhere, don’t know in which country he was..No Msgs no phone calls- saw the attack on the news channels and was praying to listen to a good news about my uncle. Can’t forget that moment 😞
PW (New Zealand) I remember I was at the dress makers with my nana when we saw it on TV. Couldn’t believe what was happening. I was thinking of all the people who lost their lives and thinking of their families. Such a sad time. That was before i had so many American friends.
PW (England) I had just got home from High School and saw the news
BB (New Zealand) I couldn’t sleep so got up and watched TV. It was about 2am when I surfed through the chanels and saw the plane hit the building and sat watching thinking how did they manage to make that look so real (thinking it was a movie) after a moment or two I realised it was real so went and woke Adrian saying America has been attacked. We sat watching until 5am when we knew we had to get some sleep before going to work. I still find I get riveted to the TV when programs come on about it, like last night there were some on the History chanel.
AP (New Zealand) Yes, absolutely. We were living in London at the time. So I was at work, word got around as to the terrifying drama that was occurring, so we were all watching it on TV (saw the collaspe live on TV). Horrible, scary stuff.
SW(New Zealand) I was living in Auckland and my sister was staying with me. I remember just watching TV continuously in a complete daze with tears running dwn my face. I felt so helpless.
JM (New Zealand) I was pregnant with Paul and was in a shop that had s TV on and we all stood there saying is this real footage, not a movie??? We couldnt believe it. I worried for the people I met while living in Baltimore if they were safe 😢😢 just stared at all the news reports in complete horror and sadness x
FR (New Zealand) I had got up to go and milk cows. An A.B technician had arrived (if you don’t know what that is we’ll discuss it over a family meal together sometime 🙂 ). It was really early so I hadn’t seen the news. She told me the US had been attacked so as I began the milking I flicked the radio on to listen to the news. I spent the day following it and feeling devastated for those who lost their lives, the families, and worrying about the fear that would grip the nation, and what that fear might lead to. 9/11 holds horror for much of the Americas – also thinking of Chile and their remembrance of the horrible military coupe on 9/11 1973 that saw the death of their democratically elected leader and put the violent leadership of Pinochet in power.
As I read those, I felt a lot of things, but the one thing that has really stuck with me is a sense of solidarity. A sense of unity over something held in common. Intentionally shared experience. Though I call these people friends now, I didn’t know one of them back then. 15 years ago, many of them didn’t know a single American personally. Yet, in these responses, I hear them saying, “We stood with you. We hurt with you. We felt your pain. We remember with you.” 9/11 holds for them a significant place of horror in their lives as well. And, while I wish we could erase the atrocities surrounding these memories, the sense of solidarity that those shared memories provide, feels really good. They cared. They felt deeply. That matters.
The more I think about it, the more I can’t help but think of the gift of solidarity that we have to offer to those currently escaping the violence of similar extremist groups. To those whose homes have been reduced to rubble much like the Twin Towers. To those who don’t have the resources to fight back. To those who are desperate to help their families feel safe again. Thousands and thousands of those people will go to sleep in refugee camps tonight, not knowing what tomorrow holds. They’ve had that September 11 feeling every night for months, even years now, with no end in sight.
No matter how helpless we feel, we can certainly offer our solidarity, saying, “On some small level, we know what it is to feel the uncertainty and grief and violation in the face of terrorists, and we stand with you. We remember how painful that feels, and we hurt with you. We remember our own grief and we grieve with you. Even if we never have the opportunity to learn your name, or meet you personally, we stand with you.”
I hope and pray that if anything could come out of those events 15 years ago, it would be hearts of empathy and compassion for those who continue to suffer. It would be eyes that see our own children sitting in shock on the back of an ambulance or lying on the edge of a body of water. It would be hands that offer a cup of cold water and warm blankets. It would be spirits that desire peace and refuge for all. It would be solidarity. Let’s stand together.
The calm, peaceful waters of Blue Springs (as seen in the picture above) pick up speed and force further down stream.
We took advantage of warm weather and sunshine and took a family field trip to the nearby Pukemokemoke Reserve on Monday.
Caleb, the winter intern
Lemons in winter… it’s a thing.
Watching all of our guests lately has me thinking about culture shock. In the case of moving to New Zealand, culture shock is sometimes so subtle you have to look carefully to identify it. We’ve become better about naming it at our house, but it still sneaks in and catches us off guard from time to time.
Obviously, we live in a highly developed, westernized country. It’s not a country or a culture where everything is drastically different from our birth country. Instead, we make our home in a place that, in so many ways, allows us to rock along like we have our whole lives… until it doesn’t. It’s that whole similar… but different thing we talk about so often.
So many things seem the same, but it would be ignorant to assume that this is business as usual and that we know exactly what to expect in any given situation. And we’ve found it takes a lot of energy at some of the most surprising times. It’s an input thing.
Most of us function as full participants in most situations in our daily lives, meaning we’re in our jam, naturally tuning out all of the details that are irrelevant at a given moment. It’s what we do instinctively to avoid going into input overload. However, when we choose to intentionally engage in a new culture or situation, we become participant observers. James Spradley talks about this in much of his writing including, Participant Observation. As participant observers, all of a sudden, we’re having to pay attention to everything. Those words, that voice inflection (Did I miss a joke?), those signs, this traffic pattern, these daily routines… and the list goes on. We are part of the scene and observing every detail of the situation at the same time. It’s input to the max.
Take Caleb our winter intern, for example. One afternoon last week, he wandered into the kitchen and said, “I’m totally beat, and I can’t figure out why. I haven’t done that much.”
Right. Except that he had gotten dumped out of the car (by me) downtown in a city he was completely unfamiliar with, hunted for a seemingly obscure coffee shop he had not been to, had coffee with someone he had never met before, navigated conversation with someone from a culture he is brand new to, and ridden his bike back across that brand new city on his own (on the left side of the road no less).
Then there was the day this week that Caleb set out on the simple mission of finding a coffee shop nearby to work from. He expected to type “coffee shop” into Google Maps, hop on his bike, and find a hip little joint with Wi-Fi and a plethora of electrical outlets and hot beverages to choose from. Everything he saw around him, his access to technology, and the prior experience he brought with him told his brain that’s what should happen. What he found instead was super outdated geo caching that led him from one mistaken location to another (some closed, others without coffee, and still others without outlets) until he was many kilometers down the river. When he returned home a few hours later, he ravenously consumed six meatballs and a load of pasta and then retired to “Mabel” (his camper/caravan/refuge) at promptly 7:32 p.m., not to emerge for a solid 12 hours. True story!
It’s culture shock making its appearance in the sneakiest and most subtle of ways. We can totally relate. Research says there are other symptoms besides fatigue (our primary symptom), such as family conflict, frequent illness, sadness, mental fogginess, etc.
This isn’t a bad thing. It’s normal. And it’s important to name it. As things have become more familiar over the past seven months, we’ve experienced input overload less and less, but it still happens and will as long as we make it a point to be participant observers of the culture in which we live.
It’s a cycle that kind of goes like this over and over again:
Honeymoon (This is the best place in the world!)
Confusion (I totally don’t get this! What was I thinking?!)
Disillusionment (This is the worst place in the world!)
Determination (I can and will do this!)
Success (I am totally rocking this!)
At any point it can start all over again, marked by those sneaky symptoms that creep in when we least expect it.
So when Caleb described his time at a prayer group he really enjoyed yesterday morning with this little tidbit, “I was talking to people and feeling pretty good about understanding what they were saying, and then someone else would say a complete sentence, and I would just think, “I have absolutely no idea what you just said!” I wasn’t the least bit surprised that he followed up by saying, “I took a power nap when I got home” … at 8:30 a.m.!
It has been a whirlwind week around our house. 21 meals shared + 4 rounds of team building games with primary school classes + 47 puris eaten + 35 cups of tea + 3 mums groups + 2 neighborhood events + 2 caves explored through thigh-high water and thick mud + 1 Kids’ Club + 1 church service + 1 prayer meeting +1 intense mountain hike = tons of relational ministry. Our college students from Southern Nazarene University are still in the thick of it, with 4 more rounds of team-building games, 1 more event, two more church services, and plenty of Indian food left to eat over the next 4 days. I let them off the hook with writing today’s blog post, but I did borrow their team camera to give you a small snapshot of our week through their eyes.
We started by building some giant games that would be fun ways to engage kids all over the community.
There was lots of painting involved.
Blue Springs. Always one of our favorite places.
The whole gang on a chilly Saturday morning at Blue Springs.
The games “popped-up” in our neighborhood first. We got to meet many neighbors we hadn’t yet (and play with the ones whose scooters regularly park in our yard as well).
Creative games in action.
Age-old hand games passed down from generation to generation.
Play group friends.
Play group friends.
The most… raucous… retelling of Elijah’s encounter with God in 1 Kings 19 you’ve ever witnessed.
Scrumptious homemade puris and curry, thanks to Paddy and her amazing kitchen helpers!
I wish I had a better memory. Really, I do. Q can remember the tiniest details from random experiences from months or even years ago. When I am trying to remember something, I often ask him. He’ll usually say something like, “Oh yeah. I remember,” and spout off the details. Maybe it’s because he’s four and he doesn’t have as many things to fill his mind as his much older mother. Maybe it’s because he’s really engaged in his world and pays better attention than I do. Maybe it’s because life experiences are still really new and fresh and significant for him so he’s always making connections. Whatever the reason, he has a really good memory, of which I am jealous sometimes.
Just the other night, Jaron was singing to Q before bed. As Jaron started singing, Q blurted, “Oh, I know that song. Mommy used to sing it to me when I was little, but I could talk like I do now, and I slept in my crib at our green house.” He hasn’t had a crib for well over a year! I have a hard time remembering the login for our online banking.
Jaron’s parents were here for their second visit (yes, we’re all just that crazy) recently. They made several comparisons from their first visit that got me thinking about my memory. We’ve only lived in New Zealand for 6 ½ months, give or take, but already God has done some really cool things. How quickly I forget. I barely remember the beads of sweat on my forehead as I attempted to drive on the left side of the road. Now that I think about it, I barely remember how to drive on the right side of the road. But there are lots of other things from our first weeks here that I was reminded of as well. We have journeyed through the seasons of Lent and Easter. Now, it is the season of Pentecost and the Spirit is moving. There’s a stirring. We see it in the form of relationships being formed. Bridges being built. Collective dreams taking shape. Clarity of vision. Answered prayers. Anticipation for the days ahead. When I exercise my memory, I realize that quite a bit has changed in these six months.
I have quite a bit of company among God’s followers when it comes to memory problems. Take the Israelites, for example. God freed them from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh in a mighty and miraculous way, but they too had serious seemingly hereditary memory problems that plagued them. Moses was still on Mount Sinai getting instructions for how God’s newly freed people should operate in the world when the Israelites made a golden calf to worship. I mean, really? They had just been witness to one of the most dramatic miracles in all of history. It wasn’t all that much longer before they forgot what back-breaking labor felt like at the hand of the Egyptians.
“If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:2-4)
Shoot! They hadn’t even heard yet that their forgetfulness was earning them 40 more years of wandering in the desert. They just couldn’t (or didn’t) believe that the God who had rescued them from the mighty pharaoh and provided manna and quail in the desert could conquer the peoples that were already established in the Promised Land. Oh the troubles these memory problems can cause!
One of the best memory tools around is story-telling. The more we tell a story, the better we remember. It becomes ingrained in our minds. Much of Scripture is a compilation of the once oral stories of God at work in They are the stories that, while so easily forgotten, need to be told and retold, read and reread, passed down from generation to generation as reminders of who God is, what God has done, what God is doing, and what God is going to do. Because otherwise, we—just like the Israelites— just forget. We get too bogged down in the day-to-day and our 30+ year old memories don’t work like a four-year-old’s. At first the details escape us and then the events are long forgotten all together.
This week, I was praying for a precious friend and letting my mind wander again over the years that I have known her, remembering the pain we’ve journeyed through, the joys we’ve celebrated, and the ways God has worked. Some of it is fuzzy now, and I have to think really hard to remember some of the details, but I shouldn’t have to remember on my own. I am reminded that we have a responsibility to help each other remember—to remind each other of where we’ve been and where we’re headed. You remember some of the details, and I remember others. Together, we have a lot to say about what God has been up to in our lives. God is indeed at work in our world. Between us, we have countless stories to tell that will help us remember. We just can’t let dementia set in.
We’re in the season of rain showers, on and off, day and night. It makes for incredible clouds and the greenest greens.
Important s’more preparation: marshmallow roasting. Photo by Pam Wullems
The scene was one of ordered chaos. Marshmallows were on fire, kids were running everywhere, and handfuls of leaves were being thrown into the hair of unsuspecting victims. There was a steady din of noise infused with laughter. The atmosphere was crackling with life.
I was standing on the church steps looking out over our Kids’ Club event that takes place twice each month. This week had a bit of novelty. My parents are here visiting for Quentin’s birthday and we asked them to bring the necessary ingredients for s’mores. This idea all started from a conversation we had with our friends Paul and Hope. After describing what s’mores are, Hope insisted that we help her experience this very American campfire food. So this Sunday we made s’mores at Kid’s Club, with ingredients lovingly supplied from my parents’ suitcases. The word had gotten out and over 40 adults and children turned up for the fun.
As I smelled the smoke from the fire, led the group in a rowdy rendition of “Spring Up O Well,” and listened to Elizabeth tell the story of Paul’s Damascus Road Experience, I was struck by the story that God is weaving here. In many ways it felt like a beginning. Like a huge breath has just been taken in and is now ready to exhale flowing forth into the world around us. God is up to something, something big, something transformational, something redeeming.
On May 5 (Thursday) we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord. We remember that Christ has not only risen but has ascended into heaven. But wait there’s more! The Good News is not yet all told. In Luke 24:49 Jesus’ last words to his disciples before ascending are “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
That’s right, Jesus told his disciples to wait, and in waiting to anticipate the power of the Holy Spirit that would come from on high and cloth them. It would be this outpouring of the Holy Spirit that would send the disciples pouring into the world at Pentecost. It’s as if the story of redemption has been breathed in, Jesus has returned to His rightful place, and the disciples, along with all of creation, anticipate the exhale, the outpoured breath that must surely come. The breath of God that will light the fires of salvation and redemption and send them raging throughout the world.
This passage resonates with me today. It feels familiar, real, true, alive. I feel like the disciples must have felt. Christ is clearly on the throne. Christ has all power and authority. Christ has set the stage. The inhale has taken place, and so we anticipate the exhale. The outpouring is coming and it is coming soon. God is at work here. I see it in the faces of the families at Kids’ Club. I hear it in the voices of those not sure what to think of the church. I see it in the colors of the Mongrel Mob down the street. I hear it in the questions of those honestly seeking the face of Christ.
And so I anticipate the incredible outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I look forward to the exhale, to living the story that will be woven. We have glimpsed a new beginning and we look forward with great anticipation to the life that is to come. We are excited to see women and men experience the love of Christ and be caught up in the flow of the Holy Spirit as it flows across our city and beyond.
Super Mario mushrooms really do exist and they are growing in our yard!
That ax is real. This is Paul Windle’s amazing second place shot.
We’re well into the season of Easter these days. If what we as Christians proclaim is true, we’re living in a post resurrection, new life in Christ, conquered hell, sting-less death world. And it’s beautiful. Except when week four of Easter is a whole lot more reminiscent of Lent than a glorious free-spirited worship service and the Easter lilies are wilting and the chocolate has all been eaten. What then? Where is Easter when we’re back to the grind of school and work and there is still a refugee crisis and the world is holding its breath while American politics are in an uproar? Where is Easter when people are still being diagnosed with cancer and marriages are still falling apart?
N.T. Wright says it best. We live in the already-not-yet where the Kingdom of God has broken in, but it’s not yet fully realized. But where is it breaking in? Where is the resurrected Christ in a world that still screams of the chaos of brokenness?
We saw snapshots of the Resurrection in our community this past Saturday. I arrived at the church early, though not as early as I intended due to the pajama-clad three-year-old hanging around my neck as I attempted to walk out the door. Last minute preparations for a garage sale fundraiser for one of our mum’s groups were underway. We worked and laughed and sorted alongside each other. People came. They shopped. We raised money. They asked questions about the church and the play group. We answered them. We were present in the community.
Just down the road, Jaron volunteered at a neighborhood primary school gala. When I popped down, I got to meet some of his Thursday night tennis buddies and some parents of the neighborhood kids who frequent our driveway. We worked and laughed and watched our kids play alongside each other. We were getting to know the community.
Immediately following, a crew of young and ambitious volunteers joined us for some much needed pruning of the church gardens. The thing about New Zealand is that everything grows. A lot. Electric hedge trimmers in hand, we talked and laughed and bagged up overgrown vines. The kids giggled and shared bananas and rode recklessly on plastic tricycles. We were building community.
The last load of weeds was barely in route the compost when our Telugu Indian congregation began arriving for a monthly worship service. We sang, we prayed, we heard the Word, and we broke bread (in the form of spicy chicken curry and rice). We were a worshiping community.
Oh sure. You could say we had a garage sale, Jaron manned the axe throwing station (Yep. New Zealand keeps things exciting.), we worked in the church gardens and then showed up dirty and under dressed for a worship service. Or, you could see—as we do—that these are signs of life where things had gone dormant, the body of Christ being formed among people who didn’t know each other six months ago, little shoots beginning to sprout up and giving evidence to the Resurrection.
As people who are privileged to live on this side of the resurrection, we have the responsibility of identifying and sharing the places we see signs of life—signs of Resurrection breaking through like little shoots springing forth from the ground. And then we have the responsibility of partnering with God in those places—to nurture them and help them grow and create space for more sprouts. Sometimes Resurrection life takes place in the form of dramatic healing and radical forgiveness. Other times, it looks like garage sales and gardening and curry on a Saturday.
If you’re keen on (like that little kiwi phrase there?) thinking about Resurrection and where it might be happening in your corner world and how God might desire to use you to partner with him in that resurrection life, take a few minutes to check out this episode of The Practice Podcast. A weekly resource from Willow Creek, this particular episode provides a helpful framework for seeing Resurrection stories all around us. In the meantime, may God give us eyes to see Resurrection life happening all around us and the courage to join in. We are anticipating many more signs of life around Crossroads church and Hamilton—evidence that we do indeed live on this side of Easter—in the days to come.
Dog-sitting last week lent itself to some early morning runs as a family and breath-taking views of the fog hovering just above the river.
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.