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.
It was an overcast day in Hamilton… the kind that starts with rain and clears just enough to tempt you to go outside without rain gear, but then catches you off guard with sudden and short-lived downpours.
But in my mind, I was here. Matapouri, a beach 4 hours north of us. In reality , we were here a few weeks ago, as a family with friends and our puppy on an adventure to see the Mermaid Pools. But today, it was quieter. Just me and the sand and the waves and the sun… and Jesus.
I have a new year’s resolution. It may be my only serious resolution ever. My resolution is to create space for uninterrupted quiet. I marked it off on my calendar is a recurring event. Tuesday mornings at 9 a.m. Quentin is at kindy. Jaron is at the office. I am hanging out with my journal, Bible, and cup of tea at some undisclosed location.
And on this particular Tuesday, my mind, with all of its rushing thoughts and deep prayers, went here.
To a spot on the beach where the sand begins to rise from the shore, creating a berm before it gives way to pampas grass and the parking lot beyond. A place where the view is a stunning combination of land and sea. Where small, lush, green islands rise steeply out of the ocean. Where the water forms a distinct line between turquoise green and cobalt blue. Here, I sat on the berm with Jesus.
The sun warmed my arms and legs and a gentle breeze blew as I dug my toes into the fine white sand.
My breathing took on the rhythm of the tide. In and out. Slowly. Rhythmically.
And then these words mingled with the in and out rhythm of breath and flow of water.
In… I am… Out… With you
Inhale…I am… Exhale…with you…
See those islands? I called them into being from under the sea.
I am… with you…
See that line in the water? It is I who paint the cobalt and the turquoise and draw a line between the two.
I am… with you…
See those waves lapping up on the shore and slipping out again? It’s is I who beckon them in and nudge them back out again.
I am… with you…
Feel that breeze rustling your hair, whispering against your cheek? It is I who give breath to the breeze.
I am… with you…
Feel the sun’s warm rays on your arms and legs? It is I who infuse them with light and heat.
I am… with you…
I see you.
I hear you.
I am with you.
So wherever you are… whether it’s a soggy northern California or a refugee camp in Lebanon or a beach in New Zealand or just your living room couch… whether your days are feeling hard or hurried or hopeful… breath in and breath out. He is with you.
One week ago today, I was retelling the story of Zacchaeus with a cardboard cutout Zacchaeus for the 10th time, as one member of a diverse group of people seeking to serve alongside In-Kwon Kim and his lovely wife Jeong-Seok and the staff of Mango Tree Ministries. Mango Tree is a place and a ministry that captured my imagination when I first read about it earlier this year. Mango Tree is a place that seeks to care for the disabled and their families in the island kingdom of Tonga, where few other resources are available to those with disabilities. Mango Tree provides therapy, practical training, and a support network. It is a place where people gather to receive care, and it is an organization that goes out and engages in the broader community. It is highly respected across Tonga as well as by the Chinese, Japanese, and Australian governments. Certainly, the high-quality services provided by Mango Tree’s staff have rightfully earned that place of respect over the past decade.
We visited a residential home for adults with disabilities, sang together (their singing was amplified beautifully by the acoustics in the old building), painted finger nails, and passed out sunglasses.
Historically, Tongans have believed that disabilities of any kind were the result of a curse or a sin. This belief still permeates Tongan society today. Our Kiwi-Tongan teammate told us of a time her great uncle was having joint pain. The doctor determined it wasn’t arthritis and said his father’s bones must be crooked in his grave. So in order to treat his joint pain the family exhumed the bones from the grave, rubbed the bones with oil, straightened them in the casket, and buried them again. Similarly, disabilities or infirmities are seen as bringing shame on entire families. According to superstition, if a person is disabled it is directly linked to something someone else in the family has done. Because of this and a sheer lack of resources to provide adequate care, the disabled are often hidden in dark houses, often spending decades lying in bed, seeing only what the nearest window reveals of the world.
We visited several kids who were unable to attend the camp in their homes
As I experienced Tongan culture, I found it to be a place of stark contrasts, beauty and ashes, joy and pain, hope and despair mingled to form a complicated picture of daily life.
The hope offered by Mango Tree stands in such stark contrast to the hopelessness so many families experience. Through wheelchairs and transportation and prayer and love, the least of these are granted dignity and the hopeless are offered a cup of hope where they would otherwise experience none.
Enjoying the Bible camp
But the contrasts don’t stop there.
Incredible poverty & Incredible generosity
Our Kiwi-Tongan teammate’s family had us over for a meal that would rival Thanksgiving dinner for 50. There was a whole roasted pig standing on the table instead of a turkey. If they didn’t have cash readily available to fund the meal, they would have taken out a loan to provide it for us. Generosity at all costs.
Our Kiwi-Tongan teammates’ family spared nothing in their hospitality and generosity.
Strict religious expectations & Deep-seeded superstitions
Everything is required to be closed down for worship on Sundays, and everyone is expected to attend a worship service of some kind, but family members avoid playing at the beach below where the aunties are buried on the hillside above for fear of the aunties’ wrath.
It is a place of beautiful singing by day and raucous dealings of drugs just outside the Mango Tree gate by night. Oh the singing we heard all day on Sunday. Beautiful praises to God that make you want to throw your hands up in worship. Oh the tire screeching and negotiating over freshly grown weed we heard at night… until the salesmen packed up their stand and left, leaving behind only old church pews (The irony of it!).
Sunday morning church bells & Week night Kavas
Actually, we heard the peals of church bells calling people to worship all day on Sunday. It was a constant reminder that called our attention back to the focus of the day—Sabbath, worship, and rest. As we drove back from a cultural dinner at 11 p.m. on Wednesday night, the contrast couldn’t have been more stark. The lights were on at every corner shop. People wandered the streets. Doors to some churches and many community buildings were wide open. Groups of men sat cross-legged on the floor drinking kava and telling stories into the wee hours of the morning. Kava, a drink made from the root from the kava plant, is known to have a sedative and euphoric effect. Men who stay long enough to fill themselves with stories and drink often return to their tired wives drunk and abusive. Push repeat night after night.
Western shirts on top & Freshly starched lavas on the bottom…
Lavas are the wraps that it seems every South Pacific culture sports. It is a straight wrap tied at the waist and worn by both men and women. Secondary school boys wear them as a part of their uniforms. Men wear them to church. Women wear them around the house. They are seen everywhere.
Male teacher wearing a lava. These boys will wear them as part of their uniform when they are older and can take care of them.
Sparsely furnished homes & Email addresses and Facebook contacts written on the wall…
One of the houses we visited contained only one room. It reminded me of the kind we built in Juarez, Mexico as high schoolers. There wasn’t any sheet rock on the inside. It was furnished with two mattresses, one occupied by a young adult with severe cerebral palsy. Between the 2x4s, I caught sight of email addresses, Facebook contacts, and Gmail logins written on the back side of the siding.
Top Up signs on every dairy & No wheelchairs and limited school supplies…
Switching out our SIM cards for cards with data was easy enough. Even when we trudged through the bush one day, we saw the notorious Digicel “Top Up” sign on a random shack-like shop. However, the kids at the primary school we visited were starved for paint, colored paper, and fluffy pompoms. The week before we arrived, an OT and Orthopedic Specialist couple had spent long hours fitting more than 50 donated wheelchairs to bodies that have tightened and contorted with lack of mobility. Basic needs are often not provided for, but cell phone service and data has become readily available.
School girls with perfect braids and matching ribbons
School kids asking for more balloons that the teacher was distributing for us
The contrasts just kept coming.
Pigs in every yard & Few dogs…The pigs will become dinner soon enough. The dogs have already been eaten.
Unlimited coconuts, which have become a commodity worldwide in recent years, fresh off the tree & People limited by the age-old constraints of monarchy…
Beautiful cultural dances & Fatigue etched on tired mamas’ faces…
Silhouettes of soaring coconut trees against the backdrop of the most beautiful blue skies & Rubbish littering the ground at our feet…
School girls with two perfect pigtail braids tied with ribbons that matched their uniforms & Aunties with children of their own caring for 5 more nieces or nephews…
Stunning blue and aqua ocean views & Clothing and toiletry items sent from family members abroad for sale in front yards…
It’s just that beautiful
For me, Tonga is indeed a place of stark contrasts. A place where beauty and brokenness collide. A place that I find both humbling and encouraging, hopeless and hopeful, in desperate need and with great wealth. A place that has shaped and challenged me. A place I look forward to returning to (and taking my guys along too)! I am grateful for In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok and their humble service and leadership that remind all of us what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Back in the autumn (March to be precise), we wrote this post about our life summed up in 5 pictures. It’s a new season and we’re doing some of the same and some different things, so here goes round #2…
Sometimes pictures say it best. If we had to sum up our day-to-day life during this season in five pictures and five pictures only, they would look something like this:
Picture #1: Citrus Feast
Did you know that there are places in the world where citrus trees produce fruit year-round? No? Me either. But it’s true. We’ve enjoyed amazing oranges, lemons, and grapefruit all winter long (even when our grocery store shelves were totally bereft of salad greens). These oranges are from our District Superintendent’s tree in Auckland. Q can’t get enough of them so they sent a big bag home. They’re small but mighty with the most amazing flavor, the best juice, and the richest color.
Picture #2: Nazarene Theological College-Auckland is Taking Flight
This stack of books represents so much more than a juggling act of acquisition (life without Amazon… What?!). It represents the first class provided by Nazarene Theological College-Auckland, a satellite program of Nazarene Theological College-Brisbane, which was held last week. This class was a little like giving birth after 9 months of praying, planning, meeting, and preparing, particularly on Jaron’s part. 1 master’s student, 4 bachelor’s students, 3 course of study students, and an auditing participant worked long day jobs and then attended class for two weekends and a week’s worth of evenings, absorbing, reading, writing, reflecting, and presenting on pastoral theology. It was a first for Jaron as professor and the beginning of a new stage of Wesleyan Theological education in New Zealand. Exciting stuff.
Picture #3: Artist Q
This is the stage of the budding artist around our house. Q has many creative endeavors underway. The results are as varied as a robot and its charging station, a police headband, a letter urgently mailed to the grandparents, and a self-portrait. We’re going through sellotape (a.k.a. Scotch tape) like it’s going out of style and trying to view the endless stream of teeny scraps of paper as the celebratory confetti of 4-year-old life.
Picture#4: Spring has Sprung!
It is officially spring, and we couldn’t be happier. Just like springs we’ve experienced in the northern hemisphere, we’re being teased with warm sunny days that call for impromptu bike rides and spring cleaning the play house and then brought quickly back to reality by a rainy chill that has us huddled by the heater. Q is anxious to ditch his jerseys (jackets) and long pants for shorts and bare feet. These are the daffodils we planted back at Easter. We’re loving their vibrant colors.
Picture #5: Tonga (and Back)…or Bust
I’ve attempted to join the minimalist packing club and packed for a week in Tonga in this backpack (a consistent forecast of sunny and 78 degrees sure makes it easier). I’m looking forward to serving with and learning from our friends at Mango Tree. I am not as excited about saying, “See you later,” to my guys for a few days, although I know they’ll be perfectly fine grilling burgers every night and making Lego creations to their hearts’ content.
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.
Perspective. It’s a funny thing. It’s one of those things that comes by way of experience, impacted by relationships and circumstances. Last week, I wrote about some of the ways living in New Zealand has given me perspective on how much disposable income many Americans and New Zealanders have—and how much is available for the average person’s disposal, but I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t take it one step further.
One of the things I love about living in NZ is that it is such a diverse place. In our small congregation we typically worship with people from 7 or more different countries. Because of this incredible diversity we have had the opportunity to build wonderful friendships with people from around the world. What I have learned from some of these relationships is that often those who have the least are the least concerned with getting more. In fact, we have witnessed and experienced incredible acts of generosity from people who understand that stewardship is the responsibility of all who would call themselves Christian whether rich or poor.
One of those people is a friend from a small island country. She has never owned a car and had never buckled a seat belt in a car before buckling up in our passenger seat. Our friend is a single mom studying in New Zealand, far from her young boys, so she can provide a better life for her family. She is (probably unknowingly) helping us gain some much-needed perspective.
Did you know that if you live in the United States, are married with two kids and make $100,000 per year that you are in the top 2.5% of income earners in the entire world? If you are that same family and you make $50,000 per year (just under the national average) you are in the top 8.7% of income earners in the world. Click here to enter your income and see where you stand in terms of world incomes. Did you do it? Kind of puts things into perspective, huh?!
The point is that rarely do we as Americans or Kiwis have any reason to call ourselves poor or act like we don’t have enough. Perhaps our finances are tight because of decisions we have made about what kind of cars we will drive, and how nice our house has to be, or any number of other things. But in truth, these are decisions only the wealthy have the privilege of making.
In fact, Americans and New Zealanders alike are richer than they have ever been, and for the most part give less to charitable causes than they ever have. Even the majority of Christians are unlikely to financially support the ministry of their church in an ongoing way, much less give to other ministries or organizations.
As I meet people from around the world, as I work alongside pastors who have immigrated to NZ who work all day in the secular world in order to support their ministry and then sign up to take bachelors courses at night so they can better serve the church, and as I am confronted with the generosity of those who perhaps steward much smaller storehouses, my perspective continues to grow.
Take our friend from that small island country, for example. She lives on a small stipend meant to cover her living expenses. Out of that, each month she sends as much money as she possibly can to her parents in order to provide for her boys. Yet, before she does any of those things, she gives a tithe of her meager income, and then she gives above and beyond that to help support the work of the church. Every. Single. Month.
My hope and prayer is that we, both from America and New Zealand, will come to terms with the incredible wealth with which we have been blessed. I pray that our perspective would be shaped by the knowledge that we are stewards of significant resources and that stewards carry a heavy responsibility. For that which we have been granted is not for the building of our own kingdom, but instead for investment in the Kingdom that will never spoil or fade. Let us be one in the spirit of generosity and may our faithfulness in this area grow and bear much fruit.
Mt. Ruapehu and its reflection in the bogs on the Waitonga Falls Track.
I’m in search of a New Zealand-sold product to get some crayon drawings off of the folding tables in our church worship space these days. A two-year-old worshiper left them there, and I couldn’t be more delighted about it. She was exactly where she was supposed to be and fully engaged in the task at hand. Worship.
A few weeks ago, I spent some time scraping blue play-doh remnants out of our lovely mauve carpet. Apparently a rock-slide occurred when the earthquake shook the cave Elijah was hiding in and some blue rocks crashed to the ground. No worries. It was a certain boy’s first time to hear the story, and it was playing out in 4D play-doh as it sunk into his mind and heart.
You see, we don’t parade our kids out of the sanctuary every week for an age level worship experience. Rather, we worship together as a family. In the sanctuary. Every Sunday. We’re all there. The mums and dads and grandparents and widows and widowers and wiggly tots and bitty babies and boisterous big kids. All of us together. Every Sunday. We call it family worship. And we do it on purpose.
Oh, it’s not glamorous. Sometimes we have marker on our clothes, early note-taking attempts in crayon on the tables, and play-doh in the carpet to show for it. But it’s meaningful and it’s formational.
Born out of both practical need (hello small church with a tiny volunteer base, noisy plywood floors, and an unconducive floor plan) and an ecclesiastical and theological understanding of the roles of family and church in a child’s spiritual formation, we made a conscious decision to figure out family worship as a significant component of our church’s identity. We believe that parents are the first primary spiritual instructors for their children. In one way or another, they model it (whether they want to or not). They shape it through questions and conversations. They encourage it through priorities, family structures, and daily routines.
Loaves and (gold)fish kind of worship
When we gather for corporate worship, we’re all being shaped, from the youngest among us to the oldest, into a collective reflection of the Kingdom of God. We’re not a full reflection of the Kingdom of God if kids are not a part of it. We’re also not a full reflection unless some more seasoned folks are there too. There’s something really valuable that happens when we’re formed together.
We’ve had some great children’s worship experiences both as children and as pastors. We’re not discounting that by any means, but this is where we are right now, in our current context, as parents and as pastors and as people who desperately long to see the children walk out a solid faith of their own from the time they take their very first wobbly steps.
Before you write us off as idealists with a quiet, angelic missionary kid who sings all of the songs and hangs attentively on every word of his pastor parents, let me reassure you. I am quite sure our child ranks on the 71st percentile for strong will, the 86th percentile for energy, and the 100th percentile for volume. Translation: he’s loud, he’s active, and he has a mind of his own. Yes, I have engaged in a full on wrestling match in the midst of “Amazing Grace.” I’ve marched a certain wriggling child across an endlessly echoing plywood floor to the back of the sanctuary for a come to Jesus moment all his own. I’ve said, “Use your whisper voice!” more times than I can count, only to be met with a 130 decibel response of, “WHAT!? I can’t hear you!!” I’ve handed out a hobbit’s feast worth of snacks before the third song. I’m that mom. I’ve been there.
Loaf-making and listening
But I’ve also had real and significant conversations with my four-year-old about the scripture text for the day. I’ve helped make play-doh loaves and fish and related peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the Story of God. I’ve sung worship songs into his ear and helped him fill out his tithe envelope.
And then, we’ve revisited those conversations both intentionally and spontaneously when we’re reading his Bible, when a song comes on the radio, when we’re on a bike ride, and at the most random of moments. Q’s little mind and heart are being shaped by corporate worship AND by our life together. What happens in family worship shapes our life together and our life together shapes what happens in family worship. It’s a beautiful symbiotic relationship that makes the more *ahem* challenging moments all the more worthwhile and the “aha” moments all the more precious.
There are lots of benefits to family worship done well!
Our parents are being formed spiritually AND they’re learning how to engage their children on a spiritual level. At the same time.
Our preaching is better. Who doesn’t benefit from a multi-sensory experience that draws us deeper into the story of God?
Our kids have a sense of belonging in the broader family of God.
Everyone in our family has a common experience that we can talk about and engage with.
New families don’t have to worry about shipping their kids off to unfamiliar places.
The whole church family gets to worship together.
Don’t worry! We’re not asking kids to sit still and listen quietly for an hour. Believe me. Been there. Done that. Wrestling a four-year-old monkey is not my favorite activity.
For us, family worship doesn’t look like:
Kids sitting quietly in pews with folded hands and still feet.
Children’s church for the grown-ups too.
Watered down theology or avoiding the tough stuff.
Parents getting the side eye for their little person’s noises or wiggles.
For us, family worship DOES look like:
The option of sitting in a row of chairs or at a table (the flexibility of our space allows for this).
Hands-on materials to keep little (or not so little) hands busy while ears and minds are working, imagining, and absorbing.
Pulling a wandering tot on my lap now and again.
Quietly guiding my own child (and others who may be around me) through the words and practices of the worship service.
Offering an extra snack to another mum’s kiddo.
Celebrating engagement through picture-taking and quiet high-fives mid-service.
Opportunities for age-level teaching geared specifically towards kids at other times.
Big hands like to be busy too
And then, the one component that took our family worship experience from harried and chaotic to rich and enjoyable…. Never mind that it took 20 Sundays to figure it out. In our context, family worship includes thoughtfully posed questions for discussion and ideas for ways to use the available materials to engage with that week’s text. We realize that parents don’t automatically know how to engage their kids in worship. Kids don’t always automatically know how to reflect on what they’re hearing. We’re here to figure it out together. It seems giving kids and families (ours included) some specific and meaningful tasks, greatly increased the level of engagement and decreased the amount of effort spent removing a certain child from under the folding table where he insisted on kicking the noisy metal sliders.
I don’t know what ministry with kids and families will look like in our context down the road. Ministries and structures will come and go. Trends and needs change. However, at Crossroads Church we’re learning together how to live out a Wesleyan-Holiness theology, and no matter what ministries come and go we are committed to the spiritual formation of entire families. Even if it means a little play-doh in the carpet.
Any breaks from the rain lend themselves to rainbows… often full, frequently double, and always beautiful. Photo courtesy of Caleb Hoskins.
Paddy is such a great cook, host, and cultural guide! She expresses love through food (and sharing her wardrobe)!
Ready to go caving!
Waitomo, NZ by Brianne Morrow
Slime and “big friends” at playgroup = entertainment for hours.
A surf lesson in Raglan. What could possibly be more kiwi?
Our monthly Telugu (an Indian language) service took place last Saturday.
Once upon a time, Jaron and I were college students with stars in our eyes, dreams in our hearts, and a vast future full of possibilities ahead of us…
In those days, Jaron and a group of fellow students spent time working in Spain and led groups of high school students to serve the homeless populations in Toronto. I traveled with my family to work in Buenos Aires and cuddled babies with HIV in South Africa. In each of the places we traveled, we were welcomed and guided by people like Ronald and Shelly who eagerly shared the culture in which they lived and served. They helped open our eyes to the wide world beyond our familiar boarders and facilitated opportunities for us to hear God’s voice in fresh, new and challenging ways. We journeyed with peers like Gavin and Jill who became great friends (and matchmakers) and partners in ministry across the globe. We both found that our time spent in cross-cultural experiences across the globe was significant and formational, and would have been even if we’d never hopped the pond.
There is something rich and challenging and growing about stepping outside of our own normal to give of ourselves, and to learn from a different culture and context. Its’ the kind of experience that shapes ones worldview in tangible and intangible ways.
So when we were asked to host a group of students from Jaron’s Alma Mater, we jumped at the chance, although we were most certainly confused about how we could possibly be old enough to sit in the host/mentor seat. Once upon a time wasn’t actually that long ago, was it? We’ll chalk it up to being mature for our age. 😉 We believe in the value of cross-cultural experiences, particularly for young adults. We couldn’t wait to be a part of investing in a group of students.
Turns out, we got the awesome end of that bargain. The mums and caregivers at our music group for little ones agree. They are wondering when the next team is coming! As we put our team back on the plane on Monday, it was with hearts full of gratitude for six 20-somethings who for two weeks willingly served, explored, surfed, played, worked, prayed, and celebrated God’s good work alongside us. They ate all the food (no matter how spicy). They asked all the good questions and listened attentively. They articulated the ways they see God at work in profound ways.
One of our students wrote this in reflection:
“A few months ago, I would of never thought I would be serving God in such a beautiful country. No words can describe the beauty of God’s creation and what I saw while being on the trip. Saying this, my word for the trip was fearless. I was trusting God with all my heart with my unknown destination and there were many moments on the trip where I had to tell myself to trust God and be fearless in the conversations I had with others. One of my takeaways was just being able to see and experience a little glimpse of Heaven while being at Crossroads Church. The diversity of the Church and being able to come together and worship God from all different backgrounds and nationalities was truly remarkable. There were many times during the pop up events that I had to remind myself that we were planting seeds for God’s Kingdom, and even though we may not see the end result it is still very important. Every person has a name and every name has a story, it’s our job as Christians to know those names and find out their story. Thank you for allowing us to come and experience God in a new, awesome, and powerful way.”
In a week punctuated by horrific news in the media, these six were a source of joy, optimism and hope. Indeed a future filled with the faith, commitment, and love that these six live out daily is a very hope-filled future indeed.
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.
Tonga is a small Polynesian kingdom of 110,000 people.
There are only a handful of people who call us on our house phone so when the phone rang one evening, I wasn’t surprised to hear our District Superintendent Neville Bartle’s voice on the other end of the line. “Would you be interested in having In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok from Tonga speak at your church?” I have to confess, sometimes I still get hung up on is understanding names said with a Kiwi accent. Attempt to relay Korean names in a Kiwi accent and it’s over. “Can you spell that?” I asked.
Turns out, I was already on to In-Kwon Kim and his wife Jeong-Seok and their story. After reading a couple of short articles here and here about their ministry, I had hunted down the video below via my friend Annie who works at the Nazarene Global Ministries Center to share as a sermon illustration the following Sunday. “Yes. Most definitely. We want them!” I exclaimed. These were people whose lives and stories were challenging me deeply. I most certainly wanted to meet them and hear from them first hand, and I wanted our church to have that opportunity as well.
This video is an excerpt from a longer documentary a Korean group produced several years ago.
In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok are Koreans. They’re also Kiwis. No matter where they live, they are servants. They raised their older children while serving in some of the poorest slums in Nairobi, Kenya. Currently, they’re raising their youngest son who is almost 10, while serving a marginalized group of people in Tonga.
As young a young person in Korea, In-Kwon felt called to serve the special needs population. Jeong-Seok felt called to missions. Almost a decade ago, they were living in New Zealand with two teenage children and a 6-month-old baby when they felt a very strong and specific call to serve people with special needs in Tonga.
In-Kwon Kim shares the Gospel and seeks to live it by serving those with special needs in Tonga.
When the Kim family arrived in Tonga in 2007, there were no services of any kind for people with disabilities. An untrained eye may have assumed that there were no people with disabilities at all. They were all in hiding. According to the Kims, many people in Tonga believe that a disability is a curse from the gods, a direct result of some hidden sin. Many of them couldn’t have left their houses even if they wanted to. They didn’t have wheelchairs or even doorways big enough to push a wheelchair through.
Imagine laying in a bed, unable to move yourself, attempting to catch a glimpse of the sky through the one tiny window in your home day after day, month after month, year after year, decade after decade of your whole life. That was the reality the Kim family discovered as they began to seek out the people they felt called to serve.
Jeong-Seok visits the family with a visually impaired child and delivers some basic necessities.
It took nearly two years for people to begin to trust In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok, but God had planted a big dream in their hearts for a respite center, a place of refuge and rehabilitation for people with all kinds of disabilities. It was a dream that could not be squelched. Nearly 10 years later, the ministry provided through the Mango Tree Respite Center has exploded and continues to expand as quickly as financial and human resources allow. Through rehabilitation services such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy, Braille instruction, Bible Camps for children and adults, and special education services, In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok and the staff at Mango Tree are offering hope to the hopeless in practical and tangible ways. They are the hands and feet of Jesus.
Thailand has cerebral palsy, but with the help of a walker and therapy, he is learning to walk.
Their work does not only take place at the Mango Tree facility. Regular home visits provide opportunities for in-home therapy and the formation of relationships with families. Mango Tree seeks to provide mobility equipment such as crutches, shower chairs, and wheelchairs, and at the same time improving the quality of life at home by installing ramps and making bathroom facilities suitable. While these things are basic necessities of life, they aren’t always readily available for Tongan families. Mango Tree is making a difference.
Like Jesus, In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok, show up among the untouchable and outcast of society. They have much to offer and loads of education and experience, but they take a posture of humility, offering their whole lives to people who have often been scorned and rejected by their society.
The Mango Tree Respite Center has been blessed with buildings funded by the likes of the Korean Government and the offerings of Nazarene children from around the world, but the they run things on a tight budget—managing the facilities and the ministry on about $25,000 US per year. It’s incredible, really, but they still have a significant need. For example, they could use another wheelchair accessible van to help get people to therapy, education classes, and Bible camps. However, the gift of a van would be futile without the resources to purchase insurance and petrol as well. They are always in need of wheelchairs and other devices that can be customized to fit each individual. You can be a part of the incredible work that God is doing through Mango Tree through praying and through financial support.
Therapy in the garden
But there’s a bigger narrative here. Not everyone is called to start an entire special needs respite and education program from scratch, but we are all called to offer ourselves in humble service, wherever we live. In fact, In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok have an additional purpose when they return to Tonga. They are going to begin intentionally equipping the very people they have been serving to serve as well. Their hope and prayer is that the people with disabilities and their families will begin reaching out to the homeless and addicted who live around the center, passing on their new-found love of Jesus to others who desperately need it.
Computer classes are provided at the Mango Tree Center
And so these men, women and children are not cursed, rather they are bearers of the promise of God, witnesses to the light of Christ, and the embodiment of the Kingdom in their neighborhood.
There are a lot of sheep in New Zealand, but not nearly as many as there used to be. Prior to the 1980s, the entire NZ economy was based on their sheep. Then the wool market crashed. Now the economy is based more on dairy and tourism.
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.