Yesterday, we bid Kia Ora (be well) to the six Southern Nazarene University students and two adult sponsors who had spent every waking hour of the past three weeks with us. What adventures we had! Over the past three weeks (technically 19 days on the ground, though 20 makes for a better blog post title 😉 ), our volunteers built intentional relationships with people who represent approximately 20 different cultures. I am not even exaggerating! It was truly an amazing (and sometimes exhausting) feat for them.
Our “uni team,” as we fondly call them, spent their weekdays volunteering at three drastically different primary schools, helping out with our playgroups, and tutoring and playing with refugee children at a couple of area after school programs. They also got to experience the many flavors of the Nazarene church in New Zealand through a culture night complete with a haka and the traditional dances of the Samoan and Cook Islands, as well a young adult retreat (think touch rugby in the church at 2 am and a full-fledged Samoan lunch). They wrapped up their time in New Zealand by hosting an amazing mid-winter Christmas party for our Kids’ Club. It included all of the traditional American festivities and all of the traditional kiwi foods. There was so much merry making!! In each of these places, the uni team encountered an array of different cultures.
However, it wouldn’t be a truly kiwi experience if their time with us had been all work and no play. They surfed with our favorite instructor, Surfer Steve (click on the hyper link to see their awesome surfing photos), hiked the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, wandered through the Redwoods, visited Hamilton Gardens, and made space to reflect at the Blue Spring Walkway. Along the way, a couple of them got special nick names like “Pillows” and “Squash Bug” from Q, dubbed “Wiggle Worm,” and all of them were loved by the small one who proudly claimed his role as a member of the team and his new nick name.
The entire experience was one that is much better told with pictures and videos than words, and we certainly have lots of them. Enjoy!
While most of the world is heating up… we’re definitely not. We’ve enjoyed a spectacular autumn!
We’re getting ready to host another group of American university students and sponsors in just over a week. The eight of them will be with us for three weeks, volunteering in local schools, playing with little people at our mums groups, and spending time at an after school program for refugee children. They’ll also get a feel of some of New Zealand’s diverse culture as they hang out with a group of teenagers from all over Auckland and then a group of young adults later in their trip.
With their arrival just around the corner, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to compile a list of a few of the things that make New Zealand unlike anywhere else in the world. Don’t get me wrong… some countries have one or two of these things, but when you put them all together, you get a country and a culture all its own.
Let’s start with the obvious. With 8,700 miles (14,000 km) of coastline (10th in the world), New Zealand is guaranteed to have a significant amount of beaches. I’ve heard people joke that if you feel a little too crowded at a beach (as in there are more than 20 people), just drive down to the next one. They’re a dime a dozen. However, it’s not just the quantity that makes New Zealand’s beaches so amazing. It’s the vast variety as well. Black sand. White sand. Large rocks. Small rocks. Driftwood. Calm, protected waters. Big surfing waves. Whatever you want in a beach, you can find in New Zealand… unless it’s warm water. That’s one request New Zealand simply can’t fulfill.
#2 Just a Few (Million) Folks
With a boom pushing the population up to 4.7 million people, New Zealand still ranks as the 127th country in the world in terms of population. It’s not the smallest in the world by any means, but it’s definitely towards the bottom in comparison to other first world Western countries. That translates to daily life in some interesting ways. Often, seemingly common things are a lot harder to come by. Those craft supplies you saw in a Pinterest project? There’s a good chance they’re not available. Things cost more. There’s not as much variety to choose from. It’s a much, much smaller market than the US or the UK or Canada or Australia. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
#3 East Meets West in Polynesia
Those 4.7 million people are really what make New Zealand unlike anywhere else in the world. I could write an entire book about it. It’s a case of Eastern culture meets Western culture on a Pacific Island. The Maori people first settled in New Zealand hundreds of years ago. The Europeans came next. However, most immigrants to New Zealand today come from India, China, and the Philippines. Toss in a large number of immigrants from other Pacific Islands like Samoa and the Cook Islands and you have a people group that is unparalleled anywhere in the world. It’s Western, but with an Eastern flair, and strong Pacific Island roots.
New Zealand has two national languages—not all that unusual. English is the obvious one to outsiders, but Maori, or Te Reo, is also a national language. It’s a Polynesian language not spoken anywhere else in the world. In New Zealand, it’s used on a daily basis for common items like kumara (sweet potato), names of places, greetings, karakia (prayers), and more. A beautiful language, it is known for its extensive use of vowels. Just take for example Aotearoa, the name for New Zealand, meaning land of the long white cloud.
#5 Treaty of Waitangi
When the Europeans were busy colonizing the rest of the world, they were notorious for taking over indigenous people groups by force, running them out, or killing them off, and most certainly subjecting them to the prowess of the white man. It’s a gruesome reality in the history of the Western word. Things went a little differently in New Zealand. Instead of being run off or killed off, the Maori demanded a treaty. I think they were just intimidating enough to get it. The treaty was written in Maori and in English and hundreds of Maori chiefs signed the treaty, known as the Treaty of Waitangi declaring British sovereignty in 1840. However, since the Maori chiefs couldn’t read English, they didn’t know that there was a disparity between the two versions. It wasn’t until more than 100 years later that the Maori people began holding the New Zealand government accountable to the version that their people had signed. As a result, the Maori culture has a much more significant impact on the lives of kiwis from every heritage than the culture of indigenous people does in many other places, such as the United States.
Did you catch that in number 5? The British were just colonizing NZ in 1840. While there had been a handful of explorers and settlers in New Zealand for quite a while, New Zealand as we know it is a very young country—practically making the US look matronly.
Have you looked at New Zealand on a globe? It’s really one of my favorite things to do. New Zealand is practically on the bottom of the earth—the last stop before Antarctica. Auckland, the most populous city in NZ, is located at a latitude of 37 degrees south. There are only three other countries in the world that can claim that location! Australia, Argentina, and Chile all have narrow bits of land on the 37th parallel south, but if you account for New Zealand’s South Island, you will find it is only rivaled by Chile and Argentina in proximity to the South Pole.
#8 Holiday Destinations
New Zealand’s location in the South Pacific makes for some interesting and exotic holiday/vacation destinations. Life is pretty grand when your nearest neighbor is Australia and a trip over is roughly the equivalent of a US domestic flight. Other nearby destinations include Fiji, French Polynesia (including Bora Bora and Tahiti), and Rarotonga (a favorite wedding destination among kiwis). Such exotic neighbors, I tell ya! That said, many kiwis make an annual pilgrimage to the UK. By pilgrimage, I mean more than 30 hours of actual flight time, not including layovers. Yikes! Others opt for a 6-week tour of US hot spots like California and New York.
#9 No Native Land Predators
You can’t mention New Zealand without mentioning it’s flora and fauna. It’s truly stunning and one of a kind. The climate lends itself to rampant and varied plant growth and animal life. Home to a wide variety of unusual birds, New Zealand has (or had) many flightless species that thrived with no natural land predators. That’s right, not a lion, a tiger, or a bear to be found. Not even a fox or a snake. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for domesticated cats and dogs to take advantage of the wee birds roosting on the ground. Many flightless birds are endangered or extinct due in part to our pets!
#10 Direct Bank Transfers
I’ll confess. I don’t really know if other countries have this or not, but it was so foreign to me when we moved to New Zealand, I’d like to say only New Zealand could make it work. New Zealand banking is such that when you want to pay an individual (for, say, a used table they are selling), you acquire their bank details (as in, they give you their actual bank account number). You then enter their account number and the amount of the transaction into your phone app and click confirm. Nearly instantaneously, your money shows up in their account, and apparently, nothing is ever stolen this way. 4.7 million people participate in transactions like this all the time, and I haven’t read one news story about it going awry. It’s strange. It seems so risky, but it’s also awfully convenient.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery, so they say. I am certainly not above it. After all, why reinvent the wheel when someone else has a good thing going? Case in point: Play Café. A few months ago, missionaries Ted and Sarah Voigt described their school holiday Play Café in their weekly “Newsyletter,” a fun way they keep people informed of their goings-on. (You can find out more about Ted and Sarah’s ministry at wicklownazarene.com ). I immediately replied with an e-mail that said, “Tell me more.”
New Zealand and Ireland are in some ways similar ministry contexts. We have a strong café culture. I don’t mean a sit-alone-and-work-on-your-laptop-while-drinking-coffee type of café culture. I mean, a strong, “Let’s meet up at a café for a tea or coffee or lunch or any old reason and chat” café culture. Our cafés are more likely to have a play area (indoor or out) for children than wifi or extensive outlets.
New Zealand also has a strong mums group culture. As in, if you are a mum (or a caregiver) responsible for little people during the day, you will most certainly go to at least one play group or music group or mum meet-up every week. You’ll let the kiddos play while you chat with other adults and eat your caramel slice. If you can, you’ll participate in said groups 2 or 3 mornings a week. Through various formats, we have little people with mums or caregivers in our church building four mornings a week.
The exception is school holidays. Right now, our kiddos are on a two week break from school following the end of the first term of the year. The mums’ groups are on break too, but mums and caregivers everywhere are looking for things to keep their school kids and little ones occupied.
That’s where the Play Café comes in. Just like Ted and Sarah suggested, we’re using the school holiday time to switch things up a bit. We set up play areas for kids of all ages and recruited people to make and serve yummy morning tea items. (Note: Morning tea is the snack time that transpires sometime between 9:30 and 10:30 every morning. It typically involves a hot drink such as tea, coffee, or drinking chocolate, along with some type if delectable slice, scone, or snack to get you through to lunch time. Nearly every casual and professional establishment respects the need for morning tea. School kids drink milk and nibble something from their lunch boxes for morning tea.)
Today, more than 50 people played and sipped and nibbled and colored at our first ever Play Café. For us, it was a great time to connect with people we see every week and meet some new ones. For the mums and caregivers, it was a great, free excuse to leave the house and interact with other adults while letting the kids burn off some energy. We’ll do it all again tomorrow, and we can’t wait.
Thanks for sharing your great idea, Ted and Sarah.
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.
This is the face of my friend. She’s a Christian, a wife, and a mom. She’s also a make-up artist who loves to sing as a part of church worship teams.
This is the face of her husband. He’s a husband and a dad who delights in his daughter. He’s a hair stylist who can cut, color, and style with the best of them.
They met at a salon where they both worked.
This is the face of their energetic two-year-old, who thinks Q is hilarious, especially when he pretends to fall. She’s learning a new word nearly every minute and is an actress in the making, practicing her most dramatic expressions on her parents. She calls Jaron khal–uncle.
These are the faces of a dad who is struggling to learn English so he can get a job to support his family; a mom so homesick she feels that God has surely forsaken her in this foreign land; and a little girl who may never see a blood relative again.
This is the face of my friend who said, “I was afraid to meet you because they always told me Americans want to control everything. They said Americans are causing war. But I love you. You are not what I expected.”
These are the faces of George, Katia, and Christelle.
They escaped Damascus 3 ½ years ago, a young newlywed couple, seeking safety in Lebanon with her family when the violence became too much. Their government was favorable to Christians, but everyone was caught in the crossfire when the conflict between Muslim groups escalated. They begged UNHCR to let them travel to a new home. But they said no. They begged again and again. Finally, the response came, “You can go, George and Katia, with your young daughter, but your mother, brothers and sister-in-law cannot go with you. You cannot return here until you have your New Zealand passport in five years. Maybe then you can visit.”
“I don’t know why the passed us over so many times, why they wouldn’t let us travel,” Katia still wonders with anguish.
But there are 65 million people in George and Katia and Christelle’s shoes. 65 million displaced people longing for a safe country to call home. The US accepted just over 72,000 this year. New Zealand accepted about 700.
And so, George and Katia are thankful. They’re thankful to live in a peaceful country where bombs are not being dropped daily. They are thankful they are not surrounded by the rubble of destroyed buildings that only serve as constant reminders of crushed dreams. They’re thankful that one day they will be able to get jobs in New Zealand and support themselves. They’re thankful to live in a city with an Arabic-speaking church. They know there is much to be thankful for.
Katia’s mom and brother
Just recently, Katia found out that her brothers would be able to start their new lives in Canada. But not her mom. No, she is a 52-year-old widowed breast cancer survivor. They say she cannot travel to a new homeland. Governments need people who can work, who can contribute to the economy. She will have no one to care for her once her two sons are relocated to Canada.
Katia with her family
And so, Katia cries. She cries for the homeland she misses, for the mom she left behind, for the loss of all that is familiar, for the language of her heart that few can understand, for a war that has torn everything apart, for the loneliness she feels on a daily basis, for media that paints misleading pictures of people on both sides of the camera and fosters fear of the other side.
And I cry with her because she is my friend. Because the media in my homeland says I should be afraid of this family, that our children should never play together, that these people belong in refugee camps or back in their war-torn countries. Because these people with gentle eyes and kind spirits are victims of one of the worst humanitarian crises since the Holocaust.
These faces are the faces of my friends. Their faces might just shock you. They might not fit the image painted by your evening news. These are the faces of Syrian refugees.
We’ve spent a year with you now, and we must confess, we are infatuated with your beauty, captivated by your diversity, and thrilled by the adventure.
Here are 10+ things we love about you:
Blue Springs Walkway. Please visit with reverence and be respectful of others who want to do the same.
10 Greener Living
We are composting and recycling kinds of people so it’s a real treat to live in a city with curbside recycling. Somehow living in a place where nature is in many ways more pristine than we’ve experienced before has only served to make us even more conscious about our environmental footprint. When one of our favorite natural getaways became a tourist hot spot before our very eyes earlier this year, we were delighted that New Zealand quickly responded by banning swimming and educating tourists in order to protect the fragile ecosystem. Quentin is in on the game as well, he picks up every little piece of rubbish (trash) he sees when we are out for a walk, a hike, or just walking across a parking lot.
The average American and kiwi incomes are essentially the same. However, with petrol, food, utilities and housing (not to mention everything else) costing three to four times more in New Zealand than it does in the States, the living naturally becomes… simpler. Living with less is refreshing. However, there’s also a simplicity of schedule that we are appreciating. Kiwi kids go to bed between 6:30 and 8:00 pm. Plus, people start jobs with four weeks of paid holiday, and they actually take all of it.
All the Indian food!
We are not going to lie, we miss vast selections of salsa big time. However, Pavlova, sweet mince pies, curries of every kind, morning tea, Turkish kebabs, egg yolks in the deepest orange color, feijoas in the fall, lemons on our tree, golden kiwis, and the most scrumptious grass fed dairy products leave our palates satisfied and our tummies full.
Our city of Hamilton has the best parks—vast green spaces and really creative play structures. They are fun for our whole family and no two are the same!
Our Southern Nazarene University Students spent two weeks with us in June and Caleb Hoskins spent 8 weeks with us.
6 Hosting Visitors
This year we’ve been blessed with the visits of our parents. They are the best! We’ve also had the pleasure of hosting university students for varying lengths of time. We love this piece of our new role where we get to share the beauty and culture of our new home and shape the worldview of young adults. Plus, they’re just fun to have around!
Last night, we joined the Nazarene pastors from across New Zealand for our annual Christmas dinner. It was a great time. Of the 29 churches and church plants on our district, the pastors alone represent 19 different countries of origin. The people represented in our congregations make us an even more diverse group of people. On a given Sunday, we worship with 30-40 different people in our location congregation in Hamilton. Often those people represent 9 different nationalities. We love and appreciate the diverse food, worldviews, cultures, and languages we get to experience in New Zealand.
September in Tonga
4 Traveling the South Pacific
It was a short hop, skip, and a jump to other exotic South Pacific locations this year… Philippines (Jaron), Tonga (Elizabeth), Australia (Jaron). We can’t wait for more! New Zealand, you’re so exotic, and so are your neighbor islands!
New Zealand has so much to explore. And, since it’s the size of California from tip top to the very bottom, a day trip gets you to any number of beaches, hiking trails, waterfalls, native forests, hilly sheep farms, or glowworm caves. Our proximity in the middle of the North Island is especially great for this. That said, we’ve barely made a drop in the bucket.
Our D.S.’s wife, Joyce Bartle loves to quote Matthew 19:29. “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life.” As someone who left her home in Scotland to serve as a nurse in Papua New Guinea, she would know! We’re finding this to be true as well. In the past year, we have been blessed with deep and significant relationships, for which we are very thankful! Sure, they make fun of our weird words, accents, foods, and endless questions, but that’s what friends are for. Our hearts are full because of them!
1 Being a part of the work God is doing
Only 47.8% of the population of New Zealand even affiliates with Christianity. This makes it the most “secular society” in the Western world. While those statistics are heart-breaking, we are delighted to be a part of the work that God is doing, both in our local context, and across the country. We are delighted for the opportunity to be a source of hope and light in New Zealand.
It’s spring and the roses are in bloom at Hamilton Gardens.
+ Hello, Beautiful!
I mean, with something blooming in vibrant color 12 months out of the year, a green winter, and lemons on our tree year-round, what’s not to love?! Easy enough for me to say now that the sun has emerged after hiding for 6 long months. Seriously, though, New Zealand really is as beautiful as the pictures might lead you to believe.
Jaron was in Australia the night the creaking and banging woke me. The intruder, it turns out, was seismic activity that began 445 km (275 mi) away as the crow flies. Many others in our mid-sized city of Hamilton, NZ said that it was the rolling sensation and resulting sea sick feeling—as if they were on a boat—that disturbed their sleep. However, in our community on New Zealand’s North Island, sleep was about all that was disturbed by the November 14 magnitude 7.8 earthquake.
It was a different story for the South Island. The community of Kaikoura (population 2,000) and the rural areas to the north experienced complete upheaval. The seabed near Kaikoura was raised about 7 ft (2m). The earthquake changed the landscape above and below the water, crumbled houses, broke sewage systems, fractured water pipes, destroyed road beds, and shifted railroad tracks. Essentially, the infrastructure was destroyed along fault lines stretching past the rural community of Seddon, nearly 1oo miles north of Kaikoura, where the most energy was released in the multi-fault quake. Prime Minister John Key estimates rebuilding costs may exceed $2 billion.
As a result, more than 1,000 people had to be evacuated by helicopter. Over 900 chemical portaloos were brought in by ship. And dairy farmers with no way of exporting milk were forced to dump fresh milk down the drain. However, human inhabitants weren’t the only ones affected. Landslides caused by the initial quake and the continued aftershocks destroyed the popular seal pup habitat where seal pups are often spotted playing under a waterfall. In addition, many adult seals were killed. Bird colonies, such as the threatened population of Hutton’s Shearwater, were drastically affected when half of a colony was buried in landslides. Scientists suspect that the dolphins and whales that frequent the waters around Kaikoura were also affected. However, when researchers were able to get back in the boat on November 24, they spotted more than 300 dolphins off the coast, an encouraging sign that wildlife is indeed resilient.
On the Southern tip of the North island, the capital city of Wellington also experienced a shakeup. While no buildings collapsed immediately, the earthquake has compromised the stability of more than two dozen buildings, some of which are among Wellington’s largest office buildings. Buildings like a 10-story building on Molesworth street require demolition, which began this week, while others will require structural reinforcement before they can be used again. Wellington’s port also suffered significant damage.
Two weeks after the earthquake, residents of the northern Canturbury region of New Zealand remain largely isolated and are still experiencing significant aftershocks. The primary road and railway between Christchurch and Kaikoura may take a year or more to repair. Convoys of military grade vehicles are delivering food for those who cannot evacuate. Certainly, the 2011 Christchurch earthquake (magnitude 7.1) caused significantly more damage to buildings and livelihood due to its proximity to a more densely populated area. However, it will take months or even years for life to return to normal for the latest earthquake victims, most of whom rely on the dairy industry and tourism for their livelihood. Sociologists predict that as much as 18% of the population could leave the area permanently in search of housing and other employment opportunities.
It’s spring and the roses are in bloom. Photo taken at Hamilton Gardens.
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. 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.
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.