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.
This birthday boy loves treats–particularly chocolate ones. He also loves making silly faces and being goofy any chance he gets!
We’ve reached a big milestone in our family this week. Mr. Q turned 5! From Baby Q to Big Kid Q in a flash, it seems. Over the years, we’ve celebrated with Little Man Q, Construction Man Q, Cowboy Q, and Astronaut Q. This year, after much deliberation on the part of the birthday boy, we celebrated Paleontologist Q. Dinosaurs and fossils galore! I know these sweet days of themed celebrations won’t last forever, but they have served as really fun markers of our little guy’s ever-developing interests and inquisitive nature.
Turning 5 is a BIG deal in our neck of the woods. Typical kiwi kids head off to school on their fifth birthday, whenever that is in the year, or shortly thereafter. This mama is a little bit thankful that our travel schedule dictates that Q won’t start until fourth term in October. (Whew!) However, I did deliver all of his school enrollment papers to our neighborhood school this week, and it’s all feeling quite real!
Meanwhile, Q is jumping at the chance to give you his two cents on turning 5 and boy life in general. We took turns typing, with Q dictating the part that I typed. You can check out his blog post from last year here. Reading through it reminded me again how much he has grown up over the past year!
I am five. I am actually five. Turning 5 is cool because I will get to ride horses. I am not that excited to turn five though because things won’t be the same. I won’t get to ride in my stroller. (Yes, we have tested the limits on that jogging stroller.) I also won’t get to be with Mommy and Daddy as much because school will be every day and last longer than kindy. I won’t go to my kindy any more. I will go to my neighborhood school. I will have to do homework, and I am nervous about having to do a lot of things at school. I have friends that go to my new school already. They are from our neighborhood. Their names are Luke, Cadyn, Corbin, Hunter, Lucas, and Marshall. Plus, some friends from our church go there.
Celebrating as “King for the day” at kindy.
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Since I turned four last year, I have learned to ride my bike without training wheels, been skiing, learned about dinosaurs, and seen hundreds of dolphins in the ocean. I have been swimming like a fish! I like to swim, especially diving under the water and doing water twirls. That’s where I jump in and twirl around under water. One of my favorite things about this past year was that I had spoil days with Bapa and Gigi and my friends Ellie and Maxwell came to visit me. It was Ellie and Maxwell’s first time. I really hope they come again.
[Here Q entered a gazillion emojis, basically every emoji that illustrates something he likes (many of them multiple times). They, of course, don’t translate well to the computer, but it’s rather fitting because since he discovered the beauty of emojis a few months ago, he insists on adding his own personal touch to every text message we send to the grandparents. The conversation usually sounds like, “O.k. That’s all I want to say now. Can you take me to the part where I can choose my pictures?” If it’s something cool, you’ll likely get a rocket in his response, though he has a particular fondness for all of the vehicle, party, and food emojis. Typical.]
Laylee is my pup pup. She steals my furry friends, even though she has her own furry friend. She is the vacuum cleaner of food under my chair. She climbs up on the chairs and puts two paws on the table acting like she is a human. She gets in trouble for that.
You Will Never Run by Rend Collective is one of Q’s favorite Songs to play on the cajon (a box drum). Here, he decided to spontaneously demonstrate his musical skills for one of his teachers at kindy (April 2017).
I am really excited that later this year I get to go to America to see all my American friends. I made a bucket list of things I plan to do there. I am also excited that when I am five I am going to learn to tie shoelaces. I will learn how to ride a bigger bike, read more of my own books, and play some more songs on the cajon (that’s a box drum that I sit on). I play it at church sometimes. Oh yeah!!
I’m still nervous, but it sounds like 5 might be pretty cool.
Newly emerged Monarch butterfly on a grapevine in our backyard (March 2017). Q loves watching nature unfold in our yard. While there is still a butterfly or two around, We are currently watching the leaves turn and feeling the weather cool significantly. We brought the heaters inside this week.
In honor of a great two weeks with our first guests with kids, we’ve put together our list of top 10 international travel tips for parents. We’ve had so much fun over these past 12 days. We think the memories are definitely worth the jet lag, long hours on the airplane, and overcoming the apprehension of traveling with kids.
So, with no further ado, here are the Top 10 things we think parents should remember when traveling internationally with kids.
Welcome to New Zealand, sign design and wording by Q.
Get the Sky Couch.
Air New Zealand has this really cool thing where if you’re already buying three seats together, you can pay a teeny bit more to have a foot rest thing that raises and makes your seat into a bed. This is especially perfect for 2-8 year olds who are too big to be lap children, but aren’t really all that tall yet. When you’re flying overnight, it’s so worth it. At the very least, make sure your row has reclining seats and arm rests that raise. Once, ours didn’t, and it made for a verrrry long night.
Carry-on a surprise.
There are moments during long layovers or even longer flights when kids need a distraction. A small surprise—something they’ve never seen or gotten to play with before—is a great source of entertainment. Sticky window decals, a little action figure, or a new sticker book, etc. can all keep kiddos occupied in confined spaces for chunks of time. There’s something about the newness and the surprise factor that make simple things all the more fascinating.
Drink your water.
It seems so obvious, but it makes a big difference. If you fly much, you know the drill: take your empty water bottle through security and then fill it up. Jaron is especially good at making sure we all have our water handy. It’s even more important on international flights. Some people say that staying hydrated really helps reduce all the yucky side-effects like jet lag and ankle swelling. It’s probably true. Those little airplane cups don’t provide enough water to keep a flea hydrated. Plus, they’re totally not kid friendly. Everyone needs their own water bottle. Flight attendants are typically more than happy to refill them too.
“No worries. Don’t be uptight. Don’t stress. Don’t freak out over the little things.” That’s what our friends said in that order. It’s true. It’s not like you can change it anyway. Forgot to pack underwear? No worries. You can buy those. Kid spills lunch all over their clothes? Take a chill pill. Failed to pick up your passports off the kitchen counter? Now, that’s a reason to freak out. But really, the more relaxed you are, the more relaxed your kids will likely be.
Cave explorers at the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
On more than one occasion, I have pulled two suitcases while carrying a car seat on my back and pushing a kid-filled stroller with my stomach while balancing a pack-and-play on top of the stroller handle. Crazy stuff. I was happy to ditch the pack-and-play when Q outgrew it. However, on our last trip to the States, I said, “Never again.” Not “Never again will I travel,” but never again will I attempt to pack every little thing. Traveling is challenging enough. Struggling to manage your stuff sucks every last bit of joy out of the adventure, especially when you add managing a little person to the mix. It’s best to have at least one hand free at all times. We are mastering traveling very light, and my trapezius muscles are thanking me!
Oh, and our friends packed for a family of 4 for two weeks in NZ with 3 carry-ons and two checked suitcases, plus the car seat. Total. Considering they had at least 20 pounds of our stuff with them, I’d say they definitely killed it! I am so impressed and proud.
Our friends say: “Even if your kids no longer use diapers, don’t forget the wipes, water bottles, a change of clothes (in case your luggage doesn’t make it), toothbrushes, passports, food, a blanket, the essential stuffed animal, and a very few small toys and activities in your carry-on.”
A day at the beach in Raglan
Rock the routine.
There’s just something about routines that tells our brains what we’re supposed to be doing. On overnight flights, I make sure to change Q into pjs, brush his teeth, and do his normal bedtime routine to encourage the best possible sleep scenario. We carry on a small travel blanket that was gifted to us from a sweet church in Roswell, New Mexico and his stuffed dog. They are familiar and comforting. In the morning, he gets dressed and brushes his teeth, which signals that he can start his day.
Balloons over Waikato
Talk about it.
New experiences are often so abstract and even scary for kids, but the more we talk through what’s coming, the more successful their travel experience can be. Read books about travel. Show kids pictures. Talk about your routine on the airplane and let them know there might be lines at the airport. Talk about airport safety, what you’ll do when you get there.
Long before you leave, it’s great to help your kiddos get involved in the planning process. Q’s friend had heard about the glow worm caves. She thought they sounded so cool so we made sure to put that on our agenda. Today, when they were getting ready to leave, we asked the kids to help us plan what they’ll do together when we see them in America next.
These boys need alllll the snacks!
Snacks. All the snacks.
Kids (and parents) are happier humans when they’re well-fed. In order to avoid any opportunity for “hangriness” (that’s hungry and angry at the same time) to take over, pack snacks. Lots of them. Plan for the worst-case scenario: you sat on the tarmac with no flight service for 3 hours. Your child refused to eat any of the airplane food on the flight. Your flight was delayed so you didn’t have enough time to get food during the layover. And, you had to stand in a two-hour line in customs, which delayed your access to food even further. I haven’t ever had all of those happen on one trip, but flights and airports are sometimes unpredictable. Let’s be real, eating also keeps kids occupied, which is an added bonus. Take enough nutritious snack options to keep the family happy for the entire duration should you need to. We love individual packages of peanut butter and almond butter, nuts, fresh fruit (but not too much because you can’t bring it in to NZ), cheese sticks (for early on), sandwiches, rice cakes, non-sugary snack bars, pre-sliced raw veggies… you get the idea.
Tiffany family at Cathedral Cove
Ask for help.
Or simply just take the help that is offered. Sometimes you just need an extra hand, or you’re not sure where to go. Fellow travelers and airport employees alike can be so helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask, “Do I need to declare this?” or “Could you please fold this stroller for me?” or “Could you keep an eye on my kid while I just take a little nap?” Just kidding!! 😊 But really, ask for help.
The farewell picture… before the tears.
And our number one piece of advice…
Take your time.
Don’t get in a hurry. I learned this really early on in our parenting experience when flying domestically with a wee one by myself. The truth of this statement is amplified a hundred-fold when traveling internationally. The world is a better place when you’re not having to rush, when you can walk through the airport at the pace of your toddler, and when an urgent need for a potty break doesn’t derail the entire plan. Of course, there are exceptions where you have to frantically run through the airport. In that case, refer to #2. However, you can set you and your kids up for a really successful travel experience by getting to the airport plenty early, planning ahead for long enough layovers, and building in time to let the wiggles out.
In fact, “Take your time” is pretty helpful advice for traveling anywhere with kids. Here’s the truth: when traveling with small children you’re probably not going to get to cram 15 hour days full of museums or multiple beach stops. Traveling with small kids may mean you have to skip the surf lessons (unless you have a baby-sitter in tow), take more frequent breaks, or opt for the half day instead of the multi-day tour. However, you are going to get to see and enjoy things together that form deep memories and develop broad world-views. And those things pay dividends that no dollar amount can measure. We say it’s a totally worthwhile adventure!
Home. What does that even mean? Q and I have traded lush rolling green hills and waterfront views for big, blue skies and wide open spaces this week. We are officially on our first trip “home” to New Mexico and Kansas since moving to New Zealand. As I not-so-deftly navigated driving on the right side of the road through familiar small-town streets this afternoon, I came to understand in an even deeper way that home is where you are with people you love and who love you. Home is where you are known for who you really are; where you know others deeply. Home is where some of the deepest and most significant parts of your story are written. Sometimes it’s where you were born. Sometimes it’s not.
Amid the constant mental refrain of, “Stay to the right, Elizabeth. Right lane. Remember, turn wide when you go left. The other right, Elizabeth!!” I again gave thanks that I have a home in a tiny town in Southeastern New Mexico and one in the suburbs of a Midwestern city and one in the middle of an island in the South Pacific. Indeed, we are blessed to have so many places to call home—to be loved by and to love so many.
The truth is that visiting isn’t all roses. Q woke up from his nap today crying for his daddy, ready to go home. Those weren’t the first tears we’ve had this week, and they won’t be the last. But an hour before and again this evening he had snuggled close to his Gigi and said, “I love you, I’m so glad I’m here with you.” So when he woke up sad this afternoon, we cuddled and I said, “I understand, Buddy, I really do. I feel the same way. This is tough. Our love for people and places on both sides of the ocean is real. No matter where we are, a piece of our heart is in the other place. We’re learning together how to navigate that.”
The grief of all we left behind 10ish months ago—the things that have changed and the things that haven’t—is running really close to the surface these days. There are vivid reminders everywhere. Truly, I think “out of site, out of mind” is a little bit easier mode of operation. Easier, maybe, but not better.
So, while we’re here, we’ll play hard, love deeply, write some important pages in our stories, and share some of what has been written there in the past months. Then, in a few weeks, we’ll make the long journey back to another home where we will live well, love deeply, write some important pages in our stories, and share some of what has been written there in the past weeks.
Jaron pulled over quickly to snap this picture while on his way to a pastor’s retreat north of Auckland last weekend. Just ahhhhh….
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.
Perspective. It’s a funny thing. It’s one of those things that comes by way of experience, impacted by relationships and circumstances. For a long time, I have said I wanted to have a broad worldview, and living in a different country is helping me do just that, which means my perspective is being shaped.
We often find ourselves grappling with conversations and experiences that challenge and shape our perspectives. This happens in so many ways, from the grocery store clerks asking me about the U.S. presidential race almost every week, to having to order books 3 weeks before I want to read them (no Amazon Prime here), to finally looking up the statistics for how many Americans have concealed carry permits (its 3%) so I can tell my Kiwi friends that “No, not everyone in America carries a handgun, and no, contrary to what you see on the news and in movies you are definitely not in major danger of getting shot there.”
I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the American perspective on money. Whether we realize it or not we were raised in a land of plenty. Not only do most Americans have opportunity for high household income ($51,949/year on average), we enjoy a relatively cheap cost of living, freeing up more disposable income than much of the world’s population. New Zealand is also a fully developed western society. It too is wealthy by world standards. Healthcare and schools are good, and at $51,000/year, the medium income is essentially the same as the U.S.
On paper, the good ole US of A and NZ look about the same. But when the cost of living is taken into account, it doesn’t take long to see that the Kiwi dollar doesn’t go nearly as far. Here are a few perspective shaping examples.
United States Cost
New Zealand Cost
1 capsicum (bell pepper)
Hot water heater
8’ 2×4 board
Paslode Nails (2,000 ct)
Postcard stamp (domestic)
In the day in and day out, this boils down to living with less—smaller cars, a less updated house, fewer clothes…. It’s changing my perspective about what I need and want in what I think are really positive ways. But let’s face it, no matter how you slice it, the United States and New Zealand are both wealthy countries by the world’s standards, with plenty of resources and opportunities. I wonder how living with less, in both countries would allow our perspectives to shift from focusing on how much our dollars can buy for us to how much of an impact our dollars can have in the world around us for the building of the Kingdom of God?
We’ve enjoyed a few days of rest and winter as a family, skiing on Mt Ruapehu and hiking the Waitonga Falls Track.
* Note that U.S. prices are in US dollars and NZ prices are in NZ dollars. Just remember that the average income for the U.S. and NZ are about the same in their respective dollars, so this gives a pretty clear picture in terms of what the felt cost would be for a normal family. These are all things that we have actually purchased in both places.
Waitonga Fall Track… cold enough for bits of snow, warm enough for a hike and picnic, absolutely beautiful either way.
A couple of sunny days in a row have lent themselves to two-wheeled bike rides on the neighborhood sidewalks.
“Why is it so quiet in our house?” Q asked while sitting at the table for breakfast one morning last week. He didn’t wait for a response. Instead, he burst out with a loud, “Lalalalala!” that expertly filled the empty space with noise. Q’s question wasn’t so off base though. We’ve returned to The Normal around here. After nearly 12 solid weeks of visitors, including these, these, these, and these incredible people, our house and our caravan (vintage camper) are empty. The sheets are washed (though perhaps still waiting to be put back on the extra beds). The fridge is significantly less full. And the house is much quieter. It’s just so Normal.
It’s The Normal that looks like laundry drying on racks in the dining room. A mom, a dad, and a talkative boy at the table for dinner. Leftovers frequently. It’s Sunday mornings at church that start early and go through lunch time. And it’s Sunday afternoons filled with raucous Kids’ Clubs where whole families play, sing, learn, and eat together. It looks like swimming lessons on Mondays and three mornings of kindy for Q. The Normal looks like lots of reading and writing, hours/days of doctoral project work and sermon prep and conference attending for Jaron. It looks like Mainly Music and Happy Feet mums’ groups in the mornings, corporate prayer time on Wednesday nights, and preparing to host a group of Nazarene leaders from all over the world for a dinner of Indian food and pavlova dessert next week.
The Normal looks like teaching Q to ride his bike without training wheels inside the church when the rain just won’t stop and around the loop of our cul-de-sac when the sun peeks out. Noticing the flowering bushes and trees that have taken turns flaunting their beauty all winter long. Planning for a few days of R&R in the snow on Mt. Ruapehu a few hours south of us.
After all of the excitement of the past months, The Normal—as full as it is—might be leaving us feeling just a bit ho-hum. North American summer is coming to a close. Our friends and family are going back to school. Kiwi winter is still going strong. The season of a full house and a calendar full of anticipation is over for now. We aren’t expecting any more guests until after the new year. That doesn’t mean The Normal is the least bit boring. Jaron is preparing to teach a pilot class for a satellite program he is developing that will bring Wesleyan theological education to New Zealand for the first time. I am getting ready for a trip to Tonga. We’re excited to share more about both of those later. Q is swimming under water like a fish, making increasingly developed Lego creations, and arranging afternoon play times with his neighborhood buddies.
We know we can’t survive in the crazy all the time. In fact, The Normal is important. We need The Normal to push reset, to rest, to care for some relationships that have been neglected in the crazy, and to tackle the projects that are demanding attention (yes, I see you class curriculum that was supposed to be written weeks ago), and to plan for the next time visitors come en-masse and the house is noisy, the fridge is full, and the calendar is crammed with a new event every day.
Flowering bushes year round seem anything but Normal, but you won’t find us complaining.
My parents were here with us for the past few weeks. We had a great time with them. Truly, we are so grateful that both sets of our parents are willing and able to travel so far to spend time with us. We don’t take it for granted. Several months ago, my mom (Mary) and my dad (Lon) had put together their short list of what they wanted do in New Zealand, including Hobbiton, the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, and the Zealong Tea Estate. We had a few other ideas as well, but a few weeks before their scheduled departure, we had a phone conversation that went kind of like this:
Me: Hi Mom, We’re so excited for you to come, but I just want you and dad to know that your New Zealand vacation is actually going to be more of a Work and Witness trip.
Mom: O.k. We know how to do that.
Me: Great! Can you lead the art station at our school holiday program? Can Dad build bunk beds for a missionary family? Can you both help remodel a manse (parsonage) in Auckland to get it ready for a new family?
Mom: Well, the mantra of Work and Witness is, “Be Flexible!” so we’ll do whatever we need to do.
My parents have lots of Work and Witness experience under their belts so I knew I could count on them to roll with what stacked up to be a pretty crazy schedule.
Here’s their take on Work and Witness and why it has been so significant for them.
High Tea at the Zealong Tea Estate
From Once in a Lifetime to a Lifestyle
“My first trip was to the Dominican Republic in 1999. Our team worked on building a church that had been devastated by a hurricane and showed the Jesus Film,” said my dad, Lon Dagley. “I thought, I’d like to do something like that again someday, but I didn’t think I’d ever have the chance. At that point, it was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
However, eleven months later, he was on a plane to Buenos Aires, Argentina for Work and Witness trip number two. It was this trip that would pave the way for many others.
“The trip that set the tone for everything was the 2000 trip to Argentina because that was the first time that anyone had taken computers into the field,” Lon remembers. “We took computers in and took them to the seminary and moved them from typewriters to computers in one jump. We realized what a big impact new technology—not hand-me-down technology—could make on the field.
Dad realized his library and technology skill sets were needed elsewhere in the world as much or more than they were at home and he had a responsibility.
It proved to be a great time to spot several koru at Hamilton Gardens.
My mom, Mary, isn’t one to be left out of the action. She wanted to be obedient as well, but her first Work and Witness trip, in 2001, didn’t fall into the niche of her skill set. Rather, it was really far out of her comfort zone. She participated in a team that traveled to several Guatemalan villages where they shared the hope of Jesus through the evangecube during the day and then showed the Jesus film in the evenings.
“I didn’t think I’d ever go again. Ever.” Mary said. “It was a such a big deal for me to get to go. Plus, being more of a doer type person and not so much a sharer type person, it was a hard mission trip for me. It was out of my comfort zone.”
But God had other plans. Over the past 17 years, they’ve taken a sum total of 12 trips as a part of Work and Witness teams. Their trips have varied in length from one week to two months (Busingen, Germany, 2008). We think they can probably go ahead and add New Zealand to that list.
We spent several days working in Auckland, but we did manage to catch downtown Auckland from the Sky Tower.
Take-a-Ways to Talk About
They’ve both found the experiences extremely valuable and formational.
“The take-a-way from every trip I have been on is that I have so much,” reflects Lon. “God has given us the ability to give so much if we let Him to use us to give. American culture puts so much emphasis on things to make us happy. You look around the rest of the world and that’s not the case. Everywhere else I have been, when the people have so much less stuff, they often have so much more joy.”
“It—for me–has broadened my understanding of God’s grace so much more,” Mary said, “It has given me such a better understanding of how vast God’s work is—whether the people speak German or English or Spanish or something else altogether. It’s amazing to see how others worship. I think about Heaven and what that will be like with everyone worshiping in different languages or maybe in one language. I don’t know. The church is not America. The church is God’s people. It makes my heart sing to worship with other believers who may be singing or praying in a different language and to worship the same God together. It doesn’t matter if I understand, God does.”
They quickly realized that participating in Work and Witness trips is not solely about having something to offer. It is as much about having something to learn.
“Everybody has something, not only to give to work and witness, but to gain from it,” Lon says. “Work and Witness is the place—because we’re out of our American comfort zone—that we can hear God in ways that we can’t even begin to hear him in the US because we’re home, we’re comfortable, we’re busy. First of all, we will have prayed for the trip, which means we will begin to open ourselves up before we even leave. When we get there, we get to see God in action in a way that we can’t even imagine in our home contexts. Sometimes you’re participating in instruction, but often you learn so much more than you could ever teach.”
Mary quickly jumps in, “Oh more—You gain and learn so much more than you could ever give.”
Dollars and Sense
Some may wonder how normal people afford to regularly participate in Work and Witness. For my parents at least, it isn’t impressive salaries that have made these trips possible. It has a lot more to do with planning on a regular basis. As my mom explains, “it’s a matter of living below your means so you can be available to do whatever God calls you to.”
“I used to have extra teaching assignments that I set aside for work and witness,” Lon explained. “Now, we literally set aside money every month to a missions account. We don’t know when a trip will come up that we need to do. Two years ago, I went to Swaziland. It wasn’t a trip I was planning to do, but I got a call asking for my expertise at Southern Africa Nazarene University. I had the skill set they needed, and I felt like I should go. If we hadn’t had the money set aside, I wouldn’t have been able to go, but when I got the invitation, I said yes.”
Mary agrees with that line of thinking. “For the church in America—for any Christian, but especially for the church in America— it is important to remember that the money that we earn is not ours. It’s God’s first,” Mary says. “We need to remember that we don’t always need the latest and greatest. God provides for our needs and God provides abundantly.”
Hobbiton, of course!
Work and Witness isn’t all work and no play. While they worked right up until the minute they needed to leave for the airport yesterday (literally), they also got to see everything on their New Zealand short list. They have both loved their time in New Zealand, I hope, as much as we have loved having them.
“It’s an amazingly beautiful country and so diverse in population,” Mary said. “It is truly blended. Very few people that we’ve met were actually born in New Zealand. Over the past few weeks, we’ve gone to India without ever stepping foot in India. As always, we’ve met some amazing people. Our church and our friendships have grown. We still are friends with people we met in Argentina or Germany. That will be true of New Zealand. We’ll look forward to visiting our friends in New Zealand too.”
There’s one simple truth that compels them to serve wherever they are in the world, whether it’s Kansas or New Zealand or somewhere in between.
“There are hurting people and lost people no matter where you are,” Mary said, “We want to be a part of serving and bringing hope.”
Blue Springs Walkway, one of our favorite places, never ceases to amaze.
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.
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.
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.