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.
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.
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.
Paddy is such a great cook, host, and cultural guide! She expresses love through food (and sharing her wardrobe)!
Ready to go caving!
Waitomo, NZ by Brianne Morrow
Slime and “big friends” at playgroup = entertainment for hours.
A surf lesson in Raglan. What could possibly be more kiwi?
Our monthly Telugu (an Indian language) service took place last Saturday.
Once upon a time, Jaron and I were college students with stars in our eyes, dreams in our hearts, and a vast future full of possibilities ahead of us…
In those days, Jaron and a group of fellow students spent time working in Spain and led groups of high school students to serve the homeless populations in Toronto. I traveled with my family to work in Buenos Aires and cuddled babies with HIV in South Africa. In each of the places we traveled, we were welcomed and guided by people like Ronald and Shelly who eagerly shared the culture in which they lived and served. They helped open our eyes to the wide world beyond our familiar boarders and facilitated opportunities for us to hear God’s voice in fresh, new and challenging ways. We journeyed with peers like Gavin and Jill who became great friends (and matchmakers) and partners in ministry across the globe. We both found that our time spent in cross-cultural experiences across the globe was significant and formational, and would have been even if we’d never hopped the pond.
There is something rich and challenging and growing about stepping outside of our own normal to give of ourselves, and to learn from a different culture and context. Its’ the kind of experience that shapes ones worldview in tangible and intangible ways.
So when we were asked to host a group of students from Jaron’s Alma Mater, we jumped at the chance, although we were most certainly confused about how we could possibly be old enough to sit in the host/mentor seat. Once upon a time wasn’t actually that long ago, was it? We’ll chalk it up to being mature for our age. 😉 We believe in the value of cross-cultural experiences, particularly for young adults. We couldn’t wait to be a part of investing in a group of students.
Turns out, we got the awesome end of that bargain. The mums and caregivers at our music group for little ones agree. They are wondering when the next team is coming! As we put our team back on the plane on Monday, it was with hearts full of gratitude for six 20-somethings who for two weeks willingly served, explored, surfed, played, worked, prayed, and celebrated God’s good work alongside us. They ate all the food (no matter how spicy). They asked all the good questions and listened attentively. They articulated the ways they see God at work in profound ways.
One of our students wrote this in reflection:
“A few months ago, I would of never thought I would be serving God in such a beautiful country. No words can describe the beauty of God’s creation and what I saw while being on the trip. Saying this, my word for the trip was fearless. I was trusting God with all my heart with my unknown destination and there were many moments on the trip where I had to tell myself to trust God and be fearless in the conversations I had with others. One of my takeaways was just being able to see and experience a little glimpse of Heaven while being at Crossroads Church. The diversity of the Church and being able to come together and worship God from all different backgrounds and nationalities was truly remarkable. There were many times during the pop up events that I had to remind myself that we were planting seeds for God’s Kingdom, and even though we may not see the end result it is still very important. Every person has a name and every name has a story, it’s our job as Christians to know those names and find out their story. Thank you for allowing us to come and experience God in a new, awesome, and powerful way.”
In a week punctuated by horrific news in the media, these six were a source of joy, optimism and hope. Indeed a future filled with the faith, commitment, and love that these six live out daily is a very hope-filled future indeed.
It has been a whirlwind week around our house. 21 meals shared + 4 rounds of team building games with primary school classes + 47 puris eaten + 35 cups of tea + 3 mums groups + 2 neighborhood events + 2 caves explored through thigh-high water and thick mud + 1 Kids’ Club + 1 church service + 1 prayer meeting +1 intense mountain hike = tons of relational ministry. Our college students from Southern Nazarene University are still in the thick of it, with 4 more rounds of team-building games, 1 more event, two more church services, and plenty of Indian food left to eat over the next 4 days. I let them off the hook with writing today’s blog post, but I did borrow their team camera to give you a small snapshot of our week through their eyes.
We started by building some giant games that would be fun ways to engage kids all over the community.
There was lots of painting involved.
Blue Springs. Always one of our favorite places.
The whole gang on a chilly Saturday morning at Blue Springs.
The games “popped-up” in our neighborhood first. We got to meet many neighbors we hadn’t yet (and play with the ones whose scooters regularly park in our yard as well).
Creative games in action.
Age-old hand games passed down from generation to generation.
Play group friends.
Play group friends.
The most… raucous… retelling of Elijah’s encounter with God in 1 Kings 19 you’ve ever witnessed.
Scrumptious homemade puris and curry, thanks to Paddy and her amazing kitchen helpers!
These six were just crazy enough to sign up for a huge surprise!
Surprise! You’ve won an all-expense paid trip to New Zealand! That would be amazing, wouldn’t it?! This isn’t that.
However, we have been keeping a secret. It’s the kind of secret that you plan for and you pray about. We definitely couldn’t talk about it. It most definitely didn’t involve a baby.
Last fall 21 teams of students from Jaron’s Alma Mater, Southern Nazarene University, signed up to go on short term mission trips throughout the summer. One of those teams was chosen to participate in a mystery trip to a mystery destination. They would find out their destination as they prepared to leave for the airport, bags fully packed, passports in hand. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, we were plotting and planning and praying for their arrival.
On Monday, those six (4 students + two graduates) found out they would be flying from Oklahoma City to Dallas to Sydney to Auckland! Surprise! You’re going to New Zealand! A little over 24 hours later, we met them at their destination. Everything but one lowly suitcase made it. We offered its owner a toothbrush.
The next two weeks will be busy ones for them (and us). We have a lot on the agenda that will provide opportunities for getting to know kids and families all around our community. They are going to work hard. They are also going to play hard. We are on a mission to feed them as many different foods, introduce them to as many different cultures, and show them as many enticingly beautiful places as we can in just 13 days. We’re off to a great start.
Check back next week for the team’s perspectives and lots of photos. For now, we’ll let them rest. It’s 8:30 p.m. and I hear a lot of…. Silence. No surprise there!
On the way home from the airport, we stopped in the small town of Pokeno, where two ice cream shops next door to each other compete for the best ice cream at the best price. Little boy heaven.
Tonga is a small Polynesian kingdom of 110,000 people.
There are only a handful of people who call us on our house phone so when the phone rang one evening, I wasn’t surprised to hear our District Superintendent Neville Bartle’s voice on the other end of the line. “Would you be interested in having In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok from Tonga speak at your church?” I have to confess, sometimes I still get hung up on is understanding names said with a Kiwi accent. Attempt to relay Korean names in a Kiwi accent and it’s over. “Can you spell that?” I asked.
Turns out, I was already on to In-Kwon Kim and his wife Jeong-Seok and their story. After reading a couple of short articles here and here about their ministry, I had hunted down the video below via my friend Annie who works at the Nazarene Global Ministries Center to share as a sermon illustration the following Sunday. “Yes. Most definitely. We want them!” I exclaimed. These were people whose lives and stories were challenging me deeply. I most certainly wanted to meet them and hear from them first hand, and I wanted our church to have that opportunity as well.
This video is an excerpt from a longer documentary a Korean group produced several years ago.
In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok are Koreans. They’re also Kiwis. No matter where they live, they are servants. They raised their older children while serving in some of the poorest slums in Nairobi, Kenya. Currently, they’re raising their youngest son who is almost 10, while serving a marginalized group of people in Tonga.
As young a young person in Korea, In-Kwon felt called to serve the special needs population. Jeong-Seok felt called to missions. Almost a decade ago, they were living in New Zealand with two teenage children and a 6-month-old baby when they felt a very strong and specific call to serve people with special needs in Tonga.
In-Kwon Kim shares the Gospel and seeks to live it by serving those with special needs in Tonga.
When the Kim family arrived in Tonga in 2007, there were no services of any kind for people with disabilities. An untrained eye may have assumed that there were no people with disabilities at all. They were all in hiding. According to the Kims, many people in Tonga believe that a disability is a curse from the gods, a direct result of some hidden sin. Many of them couldn’t have left their houses even if they wanted to. They didn’t have wheelchairs or even doorways big enough to push a wheelchair through.
Imagine laying in a bed, unable to move yourself, attempting to catch a glimpse of the sky through the one tiny window in your home day after day, month after month, year after year, decade after decade of your whole life. That was the reality the Kim family discovered as they began to seek out the people they felt called to serve.
Jeong-Seok visits the family with a visually impaired child and delivers some basic necessities.
It took nearly two years for people to begin to trust In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok, but God had planted a big dream in their hearts for a respite center, a place of refuge and rehabilitation for people with all kinds of disabilities. It was a dream that could not be squelched. Nearly 10 years later, the ministry provided through the Mango Tree Respite Center has exploded and continues to expand as quickly as financial and human resources allow. Through rehabilitation services such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy, Braille instruction, Bible Camps for children and adults, and special education services, In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok and the staff at Mango Tree are offering hope to the hopeless in practical and tangible ways. They are the hands and feet of Jesus.
Thailand has cerebral palsy, but with the help of a walker and therapy, he is learning to walk.
Their work does not only take place at the Mango Tree facility. Regular home visits provide opportunities for in-home therapy and the formation of relationships with families. Mango Tree seeks to provide mobility equipment such as crutches, shower chairs, and wheelchairs, and at the same time improving the quality of life at home by installing ramps and making bathroom facilities suitable. While these things are basic necessities of life, they aren’t always readily available for Tongan families. Mango Tree is making a difference.
Like Jesus, In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok, show up among the untouchable and outcast of society. They have much to offer and loads of education and experience, but they take a posture of humility, offering their whole lives to people who have often been scorned and rejected by their society.
The Mango Tree Respite Center has been blessed with buildings funded by the likes of the Korean Government and the offerings of Nazarene children from around the world, but the they run things on a tight budget—managing the facilities and the ministry on about $25,000 US per year. It’s incredible, really, but they still have a significant need. For example, they could use another wheelchair accessible van to help get people to therapy, education classes, and Bible camps. However, the gift of a van would be futile without the resources to purchase insurance and petrol as well. They are always in need of wheelchairs and other devices that can be customized to fit each individual. You can be a part of the incredible work that God is doing through Mango Tree through praying and through financial support.
Therapy in the garden
But there’s a bigger narrative here. Not everyone is called to start an entire special needs respite and education program from scratch, but we are all called to offer ourselves in humble service, wherever we live. In fact, In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok have an additional purpose when they return to Tonga. They are going to begin intentionally equipping the very people they have been serving to serve as well. Their hope and prayer is that the people with disabilities and their families will begin reaching out to the homeless and addicted who live around the center, passing on their new-found love of Jesus to others who desperately need it.
Computer classes are provided at the Mango Tree Center
And so these men, women and children are not cursed, rather they are bearers of the promise of God, witnesses to the light of Christ, and the embodiment of the Kingdom in their neighborhood.
There are a lot of sheep in New Zealand, but not nearly as many as there used to be. Prior to the 1980s, the entire NZ economy was based on their sheep. Then the wool market crashed. Now the economy is based more on dairy and tourism.