A Pohutakawa (a kiwi Christmas tree) had just a few remaining blooms.
Dr. Neville Bartle
Small group seminars
Every camp needs great cooks! We were so thankful for ours!!
The parents jumped in to cook some new-to-NZ meals and served them up as well.
Camp may be the coolest for the young ones who get to tag along with their parents.
Q and Papu
Watching schools of fish swim below the wharf
Baptism in the bay
You can’t see it very well in the picture, but this captures Pastor Filipo baptizing 7-year-old Z while his newly baptized parents look on proudly. Nothing better.
Answering the call to ministry
Samoan representatives at the talent show
Ending the camp with the sacrament of communion. The girls in the foreground are a part of our local church.
The best group of volunteers ever!
I just clicked submit on the final reports for our NZ District youth camp. Thanks to a grant for school holiday programs and camps for at risk 11-17-year-olds, one of the most liberal governments in the world funds our Nazarene district youth camp every summer. Our kids literally attend for FREE. It’s the kind of thing only God can orchestrate so perfectly!
Actually, the entire youth camp was filled with moments that only God could orchestrate so perfectly. Jaron and I have been a part of a lot of camps through the years. This one will certainly be remembered as one of the most spirit-filled, incredibly transformational, and fun camps we’ve experienced.
There were about 117 of us gathered at Parua Bay near Whangarei near the northern part of the North Island the week of January 8-11. While the vast majority of our students are Pacific Islanders, we also had Pakeha (white kiwi), Maori, Singaporean Chinese, Zambian, Sudanese, and Filipino participants.
One of our volunteers who recently moved to New Zealand from the US said, “I felt like I was in a foreign country (different from the foreign country that I already live in).” And there’s truth to that. I think the Pakeha and Singaporean kids from our church felt the same at times. There’s no doubt that Pacific Islanders grow quick and they grow big. They’re practically born singing and dancing and chanting in ways that our straight-laced Western cultures simply don’t. And it makes it all so fun.
Really significant God-orchestrated things happened. Jaron preached on the four types of soil from Matthew 13 the first evening. It provided some important vocabulary and set the tone for the week. Throughout the week, the narratives of Joseph, David, and Jonah challenged us and gave us hope for the ways God might want to use us.
Sparked by a request from one of our young adult worship leaders, we had a baptism service in the bay on Thursday afternoon. We’ve never had a baptism at camp before! Three young adult volunteers, two teenagers, and the 7-year-old son of two of the volunteers were baptized in the bay while everyone cheered them on. Check out the video! The body of Christ responded by saying, “We affirm God at work in you! We celebrate with you! We welcome you into the family of God!” It was a fantastic celebration where Heaven came very near.
Then, that evening, at the close of the service, 12 students and young adults answered the call to full-time pastoral ministry. Ranging in age from 8 to 26, we can’t wait to see what God has in store for these guys and gals. It’s particularly fun for us to help our young adults get started on ministerial preparation right away!
And, on a personal note, it was especially special for us to have my parents at camp. They were the Grammy (and Papu) nannies playing on the beach and watching the fish at the wharf while Jaron and I were helping to coordinate the details of camp. At the request of their opinionated and ideating 5-year-old grandson, they slept in a tent all week. They also cooked two of the camp meals, rescued the faulty sound system (what else would one expect from my dad?!), and helped tackle the mounds of post-camp laundry!
Of course, Q has many youth camp celebrations as well like sleeping in a tent. And the dessert. And running barefoot all week. And easy access to the beach. And kayaking. And everything.
Before we headed home, we took my parents to one of our favorite beaches, Matapouri. We hiked over the big hill to the Mermaid Pools were the view is breathtaking.
Here we are (or were last week) enjoying a bit of sunshine on New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula.
Things have been especially quiet around Adventure Graham of late because life has been especially full. As we wrap up the last of the Christmas parties and end-of-the-school-year activities over the next week (think northern hemisphere May + December all rolled into one), but here we are! We’re jumping back on the blog for a #throwbackthursday post.
We’re throwing it back to this time last month when we were gathering in Auckland for District Assembly, the annual gathering of all of the Nazarene churches in New Zealand. It’s a highlight of every year, but this year was especially fantastic—an experience I won’t soon forget.
With no further ado, here are 5 things I love about NZ District Assembly.
Our district has it’s own Parade of Nations. A huge thank you to Cathy Detalo, Pam Kili, and David Tonga Harris for taking the best pictures of district Assembly. I didn’t take a single one, but I am thankful for those who capture special moments like this on camera!
1. We are a multicultural snapshot of the Kingdom!
Our district is made up of about 900 Nazarenes, which is a relatively small group of people, but we represent at least 30 different countries, and even more cultures if you account for language variations, religious backgrounds, and food preferences. For example, someone who grew up Hindu, speaks Hindi as a first language and is from Northern India is culturally quite different from someone who grew up Christian, speaks Telugu and is from Southern India. Our district does a great job of celebrating, sharing, and inviting others in to each of our diverse cultures. We affirm our differences, celebrate our strengths, acknowledge our own cultural weaknesses, and laugh all along the way!
2. Our kids play hard!
Kids are the best at effortlessly bridging cultural gaps. Q loves any excuse to spend time with his friends from across the district. District Assembly was no different. In a matter of minutes, he was part of a circle of kids, mostly four to seven-year-old boys (which there seemed to be a lot of), all playing with the superheroes he’d brought along. I wish I had a picture of this. Little blond, black, brown, curly, straight, long, and short-haired kiddos crouched over Superman, Spider-Man, Captain America, and Iron Man. Their parents come from Samoa, India, America, and New Zealand, but these kids are far more concerned about what brings them together (defeating imaginary bad guys with outlandish super powers) than what makes them different. It’s the best sort of life-formation for a kid.
3. We have the best music!
Our worship is led by representatives of all of those cultures and a variety of ages—people whose foremost desire is to worship God. It makes for a rich worship experience—one that reflects the relaxed, un-stuffy vibe of island life.
4. There might be a bit of dancing!
With the mishmash of Pacific Island, African, South American, and Indian influences, there comes a bit of movement with one’s worship. Some might call it dancing. It’s good for us white westerners who lack the cultural formation of rhythm and movement that is ingrained from birth in many other cultures. It’s also very joy-filled and worshipful.
5. We know how to celebrate!
This year, we were celebrating the retirement of our district leaders, Neville and Joyce Bartle. They have served and led faithfully for 13 years. As a result of their deep and intentional investment, they are extremely well-loved. As a district, we got to work together to celebrate Joyce and Neville, their years of service, and all that God is doing on our district. It was one of a kind.
Check out this clip taken from a Facebook Live video of the celebration. I’m guessing that the last retirement party you attended didn’t exactly look like this!
Cathedral Cove, NZ. Doesn’t this look an awful lot like that standard screen image on Windows?
P.S. Did you know that we just celebrated our two-year anniversary of life in New Zealand last week? You can take a look back at our one-year anniversary post and our very first arrival post here and here.
We’re back! Finally. It has taken us a long time to get here. A month to be precise. Well, actually, it only took us one extra day to get home, thanks to this fuel crisis, but it has taken us a month to work our way back into some sort of normal. However, the world of our little family is changing drastically again this week as Q starts school at our neighborhood school. He’s going to love spending so much time with his neighborhood friends and some friends from church too.
Since pictures say it best, every now and then we sum up our day-to-day life during this season in five pictures and five pictures only. Right now, it looks something like this. You can see our previous picture summaries here, here, and here.
I was home in New Zealand for 7 days, and then jumped on a plane for Singapore, where our regional offices are located. We spent our days visioning for the future of theological education, so I didn’t get to see much except through taxi or bus windows or walking back to the hotel at night. Even so, it was fascinating to engage in this English-speaking Asian culture!
These three held down the fort at home, and even hosted out-of-town guests while I was away in Singapore. Aren’t they the cutest?!
It’s VISA time again! A massive amount of Jaron’s time has been spent collecting, filling out, and organizing all of the necessary elements for our VISA renewal, which, once approved, will allow us to live and work in New Zealand for two more years.
We’re savoring Q’s time with us during the days. We’ve squeezed in some time for art, lots of reading (We’re on book #14 of The Boxcar Children!), hosted a Play Cafe, and took a trip to the zoo. On Thursday, this kid will officially become a school kid!
It’s springtime in New Zealand, and I am 100% sure we have the most stunning tree on the block. This beauty greets us as we round the corner of our street to pull into our driveway, but don’t be fooled by that snippit of blue sky you see. Saturday was just a teaser. We’re back to chilly, windy days!
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.
We’ve wrapped up our second week of Home Assignment—a six-ish week period that we’re spending with family and friends (old and new) in the US. You can check out the first week’s reflection here. Home Assignment is an important part of the rhythm of our life for practical reasons like sharing the story of what God is doing in New Zealand and on the Asia-Pacific Region, getting finger-printed for an updated FBI background check, and reconnecting with people we love.
We spent last Sunday, August 6 with two awesome churches. One of the churches has been a part of the work God has called us to in New Zealand from the very beginning. The other church was brand new to us. While they were only a 30-minute drive apart, they had very different but equally wonderful flavors. It’s so fun for us to see how God works through different groups of people in different contexts.
Our days during this past week have been spent with extended family and at the 82nd Lea County Fair and Rodeo in Lovington, NM. The Lea County Fair and Rodeo is a big, week-long event that is quintessentially small town America and a significant part of Jaron’s heritage. In many ways, it’s a throw back to days gone by when America was primarily populated by farmers and ranchers. Jaron grew up raising animals (chickens, sheep, and steers) to show and sell. He also grew up eating all the fair food (caramel apples and funnel cakes), riding the rides, cheering on the bona fide cowboys and cowgirls at the rodeo, and listening to the late-night concerts.
Q has been captivated by the rodeo since he was a tiny boy (he attended his first rodeo at 3 months old) watching riders get bucked and steers get roped. Decked out in his hat, pearl snap shirt, jeans, and boots, he stays up late, enthralled by the music, the clowns, and the horses, and the carnival rides. It was extra-fun for him to get to share the joy with his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins from both sides of the family.
The view on the way home from Denver City, TX last Sunday.
At the end of the second week, our Home Assignment stats look at bit like this:
On the Odometer: 436 miles (702 km)
The running total on the odometer only crept up this week. It was pretty nice to stay put, especially since we have some long drives in store for the weeks to come.
On the Road: 8 hours
(Kiwi friends–check out a map of the US. You’ll notice that the states we’re visiting all boarder each other, but they’re also really big. We’ll end up driving the equivalent of Auckland to Invercargill several times over by the time we get on the plane to return to NZ.)
On our Plates: Juicy red watermelon, green chilis, & ice cream sandwiches (Thanks to our brother-in-law turning 30 and my mom’s excellent ice cream sandwich skills! YUM!)
On our Minds: All the Fair and Rodeo must-dos—the extreme bull riding show, see all the show animals, ride all the rides, watch all the rodeo.
Cowboys on a Tuesday night at the rodeo ready for Extreme Bull Riding. No filter needed.
Q and Gigi sharing moment at the Fair and Rodeo
Playtime with Grammy.
And the cutest nephew award goes to this one!!
Happy 30th birthday, brother-in-law. We appreciate that you thoughtfully chose the tastiest birthday treats!
A few weeks before we left for the US, Q got the idea that he wanted to build a castle fort with his friends and cousins in the US. He held several FaceTime meetings, encouraging everyone to collect big boxes. This week, his dream became a reality, complete with a list of Safety Rules dictated by Q and written by sweet Ellie. They’re my favorite part of the fort.
These two cousins were rodeo-ready. Q has been captivated by the Lea County Fair and Rodeo since he was smaller than little BB here.
5-year-olds are so sweet. Q got to spend the week with his second cousin M and her little sister.
Fair bunnies are so cute!
Fair food includes turkey legs, giant lemonades, funnel cakes, and Texas taters (pictured here).
Carnival rides are serious business!
Cousins at the carnival! Q said his favorite part of the whole week were the carnival rides. Alllll the carnival rides.
The view from the Ferris Wheel.
So many rounds of Settlers of Catan!
This, folks, is the beauty of a red, ripe watermelon grown in Plains, TX.
We’re switching things up for seven weeks! We’re writing from the US where we are on Home Assignment. Home assignment can be a confusing concept. Is it work? Is it holiday?
In fact, when one of our friends in New Zealand asked that very question (as many have), Q quickly piped up, “I’ll be holiday-ing. My parents will be working.” In reality, it’s some of both. This is a great time for us to see our families and friends in the States. We are looking forward to lots of grandparent cuddles, cousin play, and family fun.
However, we’re also looking forward to getting to make new friends and rekindle relationships with old ones as we visit churches in New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Their love, support, and participation in what God is doing make our time in New Zealand possible. We’ll get to share lots of stories about what God is doing in New Zealand and across the Asia-Pacific region.
For people like us who live and serve in a place that is not our country of origin, it’s an important part of the rhythm of our ministry that allows us to serve elsewhere in the world, in our case, New Zealand.
We’ve been preparing our congregation and district for this for weeks and connecting with churches and family members that we’ll visit for months. In fact, we emailed a relatively complete schedule to our family way back in February!
We want to bring the people we love in New Zealand along with us, so I’m pledging to do my best to see this part of our world through kiwi eyes. While we’re on home assignment, we’re going to track the number of miles we drive, the places we go, and the very un-kiwi things we see.
Currently, we’re at one of our favorite places—Bonita Park Nazarene Camp and Conference Center, located just outside Ruidoso, NM. Located in the Sierra Blanca mountains, Bonita Park is a place near and dear to Jaron’s heart. Like his mom before him, Jaron grew up coming to camp here every year of his life. But it’s also special, sacred space to us as a family. Q made his first trip to Bonita Park at just a couple of months old.
We’re here to participate in the New Mexico District Church of the Nazarene family camp. It’s like a big ol’ family reunion complete with a rock wall, giant slide, zip line, creek, cool kids’ activities, giant cinnamon rolls, plenty of sunshine, an occasional thunderstorm, and really good worship services.
As we near the end of the first week, our Home Assignment stats look at bit like this:
On the Odometer: 372 miles (598 km)
On the Road: 7 hours
(Kiwi friends–check out a map of the US. You’ll notice that the states we’re visiting all boarder each other, but they’re also really big. We’ll end up driving the equivalent of Auckland to Invercargill several times over by the time we get on the plane to return to NZ.)
On our Plates: fresh cherries, salsa, and bacon cheese burgers
On our Minds: Sunscreen! Hello, sunshine! It’s good to see you!
When you leave Lovington and head Northwest toward the mountains, you’re greeted by big blue skies and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever.
But a couple of hours into the drive, the high planes give way to the foot hills, which are looking surprisingly green right now.
We’ve gotten to hang out with these cool kids. Ellie (in the red) and Maxwell (in the yellow) visited us in NZ earlier this year. B (in the pink) is Q’s cousin, and the two big kids are amazing brand-new friends for Q!
This chimney was a part of one of the original buildings on the Bonita Park grounds. While the building itself has been gone for quite a while, the chimney even survived the Little Bear fire of 2012 that burned the majority of the upper half of the camp.
Dr. Fred Huff, the District Superintendent of the NM District (and former missionary to NZ), has been doing his best to make an Alabama fan out of Q since Q was a baby. Q knows to say, “Roll Tide,” whenever Dr. Huff is around. This week, Dr. Huff thoughtfully gifted Q an Alabama cap.
These three crosses by the prayer pond near the entrance of Bonita Park mark a sense of welcome and sacred space.
The kids at Family Camp were learning about cultures all across the Asia-Pacific region, including New Zealand. Here, they’re using clay to make Koru-shaped necklaces.
So much climbing, jumping, and sliding!!
The view from John and Jeanine’s Bonita Park cabin often includes wildflowers and deer.
Q, B, and I walked town the hill from the cabin to the events center one evening with our giant blow-up globe, perfect for impressing kids with New Zealand’s proximity to Antarctica.
These kiddos had so much fun learning about New Zealand. Some of these kids have also lived and served in some really cool places like India and France.
Last week I got to share a post on the Junia Project blog. It was really fun and a great honor, but I couldn’t help but chuckle as I responded to the various social media threads. My Facebook profile picture gave the illusion that I was picking blueberries with my son on a sunny summer day. Instead, I was up to my elbows in cleaning supplies and paint on a shivery winter day in Christchurch. I responded to various comments in between coats of paint on kitchen cabinets and making decisions about carpet. “This,” I thought, “Is the glamorous behind-the-scenes life of a missionary.”
At one point, it looked a bit like this:
With a little bit of superhero action like this:
But have no fear! The house will be a fresh, clean place for John and Abigail Carr and their boys to call home when they arrive in NZ in a couple of weeks.
We returned home Saturday night, just in time to welcome another pastoral family from Wellington for an overnight visit. They have three kids. Two of their kids are boys who like to wrestle, so Q was in heaven. He shouted, “Come again!” at least 100 times when they were getting ready to go.
Jaron Graham, Neville Bartle, Joyce Bartle, Alice Yenas, Regina Kintak, Wallace White Kintak, Elizabeth and Q (in front of Neville) in front of our house in New Zealand. The Bartles served in Papua New Guinea for about 40 years, where Wallace White performed their wedding ceremony and paved the way for Joyce to start a nurses college. Today, Wallace Kintak runs the nurses college.
Then, on Monday, we got to catch a glimpse of the broader Kingdom of God and how our lives in New Zealand are so intertwined with LovingtonNaz in New Mexico and the work of the church in Papua New Guinea. We’re all wrapped up together in the great big story of God. You can read the whole story here. It’s pretty amazing!
The short version is that Wallace White Kintak, is named after Wallace White, who was one of the pioneer missionaries to Papua New Guinea. The original Wallace White and his wife Ramona came to know Jesus through the ministry of Lovington Church of the Nazarene in the little town of Lovington, NM (this is the church Jaron grew up in and the church we pastored for seven years before God’s call led us to New Zealand). They felt called to the mission field and were sent to Papua New Guinea in 1959, just four years after the first Nazarene missionaries arrived.
Wallace White had great vision. It included a vision for a hospital in PNG. Not too long after the dream of a hospital was realized, Joyce Bartle, our current District Superintendent’s wife, moved from Scotland to PNG to serve as a nurse at the hospital. Just a few years later, she started a nurse’s college to train local nurses for the hospital. Today, Wallace Kintak is the principal of that college because a man named Wallace White from Lovington, NM led Kintak’s father to Jesus.
In the midst of all of the painting and hosting and celebrating the work of God in the world, we are in the final stages of preparation for Home Assignment. Very shortly, we’ll depart from winter on our lovely island for the last bits of summer in America. There, we’ll spend time with our families and share other stories of the ways we see God at work in the world. We’re excited to hang out with long-time friends and make lots of new ones. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to invite others to join us with the mission of God in the world!
In the meantime, we’ll get back to the behind-the-scenes preparation that is our To DO list. It is double-sided, 3 columns per page, single spaced, size 11 font.
There’s actually a river down there. The notorious Waikato fog was so dense on our evening walk that it felt like snow. Through low visibility and muffled sounds and a world shrouded in white, we walked in our own sort of Winter Wonderland.
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!
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.
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.
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.