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 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.
In honor of a great two weeks with our first guests with kids, we’ve put together our list of top 10 international travel tips for parents. We’ve had so much fun over these past 12 days. We think the memories are definitely worth the jet lag, long hours on the airplane, and overcoming the apprehension of traveling with kids.
So, with no further ado, here are the Top 10 things we think parents should remember when traveling internationally with kids.
Welcome to New Zealand, sign design and wording by Q.
Get the Sky Couch.
Air New Zealand has this really cool thing where if you’re already buying three seats together, you can pay a teeny bit more to have a foot rest thing that raises and makes your seat into a bed. This is especially perfect for 2-8 year olds who are too big to be lap children, but aren’t really all that tall yet. When you’re flying overnight, it’s so worth it. At the very least, make sure your row has reclining seats and arm rests that raise. Once, ours didn’t, and it made for a verrrry long night.
Carry-on a surprise.
There are moments during long layovers or even longer flights when kids need a distraction. A small surprise—something they’ve never seen or gotten to play with before—is a great source of entertainment. Sticky window decals, a little action figure, or a new sticker book, etc. can all keep kiddos occupied in confined spaces for chunks of time. There’s something about the newness and the surprise factor that make simple things all the more fascinating.
Drink your water.
It seems so obvious, but it makes a big difference. If you fly much, you know the drill: take your empty water bottle through security and then fill it up. Jaron is especially good at making sure we all have our water handy. It’s even more important on international flights. Some people say that staying hydrated really helps reduce all the yucky side-effects like jet lag and ankle swelling. It’s probably true. Those little airplane cups don’t provide enough water to keep a flea hydrated. Plus, they’re totally not kid friendly. Everyone needs their own water bottle. Flight attendants are typically more than happy to refill them too.
“No worries. Don’t be uptight. Don’t stress. Don’t freak out over the little things.” That’s what our friends said in that order. It’s true. It’s not like you can change it anyway. Forgot to pack underwear? No worries. You can buy those. Kid spills lunch all over their clothes? Take a chill pill. Failed to pick up your passports off the kitchen counter? Now, that’s a reason to freak out. But really, the more relaxed you are, the more relaxed your kids will likely be.
Cave explorers at the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
On more than one occasion, I have pulled two suitcases while carrying a car seat on my back and pushing a kid-filled stroller with my stomach while balancing a pack-and-play on top of the stroller handle. Crazy stuff. I was happy to ditch the pack-and-play when Q outgrew it. However, on our last trip to the States, I said, “Never again.” Not “Never again will I travel,” but never again will I attempt to pack every little thing. Traveling is challenging enough. Struggling to manage your stuff sucks every last bit of joy out of the adventure, especially when you add managing a little person to the mix. It’s best to have at least one hand free at all times. We are mastering traveling very light, and my trapezius muscles are thanking me!
Oh, and our friends packed for a family of 4 for two weeks in NZ with 3 carry-ons and two checked suitcases, plus the car seat. Total. Considering they had at least 20 pounds of our stuff with them, I’d say they definitely killed it! I am so impressed and proud.
Our friends say: “Even if your kids no longer use diapers, don’t forget the wipes, water bottles, a change of clothes (in case your luggage doesn’t make it), toothbrushes, passports, food, a blanket, the essential stuffed animal, and a very few small toys and activities in your carry-on.”
A day at the beach in Raglan
Rock the routine.
There’s just something about routines that tells our brains what we’re supposed to be doing. On overnight flights, I make sure to change Q into pjs, brush his teeth, and do his normal bedtime routine to encourage the best possible sleep scenario. We carry on a small travel blanket that was gifted to us from a sweet church in Roswell, New Mexico and his stuffed dog. They are familiar and comforting. In the morning, he gets dressed and brushes his teeth, which signals that he can start his day.
Balloons over Waikato
Talk about it.
New experiences are often so abstract and even scary for kids, but the more we talk through what’s coming, the more successful their travel experience can be. Read books about travel. Show kids pictures. Talk about your routine on the airplane and let them know there might be lines at the airport. Talk about airport safety, what you’ll do when you get there.
Long before you leave, it’s great to help your kiddos get involved in the planning process. Q’s friend had heard about the glow worm caves. She thought they sounded so cool so we made sure to put that on our agenda. Today, when they were getting ready to leave, we asked the kids to help us plan what they’ll do together when we see them in America next.
These boys need alllll the snacks!
Snacks. All the snacks.
Kids (and parents) are happier humans when they’re well-fed. In order to avoid any opportunity for “hangriness” (that’s hungry and angry at the same time) to take over, pack snacks. Lots of them. Plan for the worst-case scenario: you sat on the tarmac with no flight service for 3 hours. Your child refused to eat any of the airplane food on the flight. Your flight was delayed so you didn’t have enough time to get food during the layover. And, you had to stand in a two-hour line in customs, which delayed your access to food even further. I haven’t ever had all of those happen on one trip, but flights and airports are sometimes unpredictable. Let’s be real, eating also keeps kids occupied, which is an added bonus. Take enough nutritious snack options to keep the family happy for the entire duration should you need to. We love individual packages of peanut butter and almond butter, nuts, fresh fruit (but not too much because you can’t bring it in to NZ), cheese sticks (for early on), sandwiches, rice cakes, non-sugary snack bars, pre-sliced raw veggies… you get the idea.
Tiffany family at Cathedral Cove
Ask for help.
Or simply just take the help that is offered. Sometimes you just need an extra hand, or you’re not sure where to go. Fellow travelers and airport employees alike can be so helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask, “Do I need to declare this?” or “Could you please fold this stroller for me?” or “Could you keep an eye on my kid while I just take a little nap?” Just kidding!! 😊 But really, ask for help.
The farewell picture… before the tears.
And our number one piece of advice…
Take your time.
Don’t get in a hurry. I learned this really early on in our parenting experience when flying domestically with a wee one by myself. The truth of this statement is amplified a hundred-fold when traveling internationally. The world is a better place when you’re not having to rush, when you can walk through the airport at the pace of your toddler, and when an urgent need for a potty break doesn’t derail the entire plan. Of course, there are exceptions where you have to frantically run through the airport. In that case, refer to #2. However, you can set you and your kids up for a really successful travel experience by getting to the airport plenty early, planning ahead for long enough layovers, and building in time to let the wiggles out.
In fact, “Take your time” is pretty helpful advice for traveling anywhere with kids. Here’s the truth: when traveling with small children you’re probably not going to get to cram 15 hour days full of museums or multiple beach stops. Traveling with small kids may mean you have to skip the surf lessons (unless you have a baby-sitter in tow), take more frequent breaks, or opt for the half day instead of the multi-day tour. However, you are going to get to see and enjoy things together that form deep memories and develop broad world-views. And those things pay dividends that no dollar amount can measure. We say it’s a totally worthwhile adventure!
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.
Home. What does that even mean? Q and I have traded lush rolling green hills and waterfront views for big, blue skies and wide open spaces this week. We are officially on our first trip “home” to New Mexico and Kansas since moving to New Zealand. As I not-so-deftly navigated driving on the right side of the road through familiar small-town streets this afternoon, I came to understand in an even deeper way that home is where you are with people you love and who love you. Home is where you are known for who you really are; where you know others deeply. Home is where some of the deepest and most significant parts of your story are written. Sometimes it’s where you were born. Sometimes it’s not.
Amid the constant mental refrain of, “Stay to the right, Elizabeth. Right lane. Remember, turn wide when you go left. The other right, Elizabeth!!” I again gave thanks that I have a home in a tiny town in Southeastern New Mexico and one in the suburbs of a Midwestern city and one in the middle of an island in the South Pacific. Indeed, we are blessed to have so many places to call home—to be loved by and to love so many.
The truth is that visiting isn’t all roses. Q woke up from his nap today crying for his daddy, ready to go home. Those weren’t the first tears we’ve had this week, and they won’t be the last. But an hour before and again this evening he had snuggled close to his Gigi and said, “I love you, I’m so glad I’m here with you.” So when he woke up sad this afternoon, we cuddled and I said, “I understand, Buddy, I really do. I feel the same way. This is tough. Our love for people and places on both sides of the ocean is real. No matter where we are, a piece of our heart is in the other place. We’re learning together how to navigate that.”
The grief of all we left behind 10ish months ago—the things that have changed and the things that haven’t—is running really close to the surface these days. There are vivid reminders everywhere. Truly, I think “out of site, out of mind” is a little bit easier mode of operation. Easier, maybe, but not better.
So, while we’re here, we’ll play hard, love deeply, write some important pages in our stories, and share some of what has been written there in the past months. Then, in a few weeks, we’ll make the long journey back to another home where we will live well, love deeply, write some important pages in our stories, and share some of what has been written there in the past weeks.
Jaron pulled over quickly to snap this picture while on his way to a pastor’s retreat north of Auckland last weekend. Just ahhhhh….
One week ago today, I was retelling the story of Zacchaeus with a cardboard cutout Zacchaeus for the 10th time, as one member of a diverse group of people seeking to serve alongside In-Kwon Kim and his lovely wife Jeong-Seok and the staff of Mango Tree Ministries. Mango Tree is a place and a ministry that captured my imagination when I first read about it earlier this year. Mango Tree is a place that seeks to care for the disabled and their families in the island kingdom of Tonga, where few other resources are available to those with disabilities. Mango Tree provides therapy, practical training, and a support network. It is a place where people gather to receive care, and it is an organization that goes out and engages in the broader community. It is highly respected across Tonga as well as by the Chinese, Japanese, and Australian governments. Certainly, the high-quality services provided by Mango Tree’s staff have rightfully earned that place of respect over the past decade.
We visited a residential home for adults with disabilities, sang together (their singing was amplified beautifully by the acoustics in the old building), painted finger nails, and passed out sunglasses.
Historically, Tongans have believed that disabilities of any kind were the result of a curse or a sin. This belief still permeates Tongan society today. Our Kiwi-Tongan teammate told us of a time her great uncle was having joint pain. The doctor determined it wasn’t arthritis and said his father’s bones must be crooked in his grave. So in order to treat his joint pain the family exhumed the bones from the grave, rubbed the bones with oil, straightened them in the casket, and buried them again. Similarly, disabilities or infirmities are seen as bringing shame on entire families. According to superstition, if a person is disabled it is directly linked to something someone else in the family has done. Because of this and a sheer lack of resources to provide adequate care, the disabled are often hidden in dark houses, often spending decades lying in bed, seeing only what the nearest window reveals of the world.
We visited several kids who were unable to attend the camp in their homes
As I experienced Tongan culture, I found it to be a place of stark contrasts, beauty and ashes, joy and pain, hope and despair mingled to form a complicated picture of daily life.
The hope offered by Mango Tree stands in such stark contrast to the hopelessness so many families experience. Through wheelchairs and transportation and prayer and love, the least of these are granted dignity and the hopeless are offered a cup of hope where they would otherwise experience none.
Enjoying the Bible camp
But the contrasts don’t stop there.
Incredible poverty & Incredible generosity
Our Kiwi-Tongan teammate’s family had us over for a meal that would rival Thanksgiving dinner for 50. There was a whole roasted pig standing on the table instead of a turkey. If they didn’t have cash readily available to fund the meal, they would have taken out a loan to provide it for us. Generosity at all costs.
Our Kiwi-Tongan teammates’ family spared nothing in their hospitality and generosity.
Strict religious expectations & Deep-seeded superstitions
Everything is required to be closed down for worship on Sundays, and everyone is expected to attend a worship service of some kind, but family members avoid playing at the beach below where the aunties are buried on the hillside above for fear of the aunties’ wrath.
It is a place of beautiful singing by day and raucous dealings of drugs just outside the Mango Tree gate by night. Oh the singing we heard all day on Sunday. Beautiful praises to God that make you want to throw your hands up in worship. Oh the tire screeching and negotiating over freshly grown weed we heard at night… until the salesmen packed up their stand and left, leaving behind only old church pews (The irony of it!).
Sunday morning church bells & Week night Kavas
Actually, we heard the peals of church bells calling people to worship all day on Sunday. It was a constant reminder that called our attention back to the focus of the day—Sabbath, worship, and rest. As we drove back from a cultural dinner at 11 p.m. on Wednesday night, the contrast couldn’t have been more stark. The lights were on at every corner shop. People wandered the streets. Doors to some churches and many community buildings were wide open. Groups of men sat cross-legged on the floor drinking kava and telling stories into the wee hours of the morning. Kava, a drink made from the root from the kava plant, is known to have a sedative and euphoric effect. Men who stay long enough to fill themselves with stories and drink often return to their tired wives drunk and abusive. Push repeat night after night.
Western shirts on top & Freshly starched lavas on the bottom…
Lavas are the wraps that it seems every South Pacific culture sports. It is a straight wrap tied at the waist and worn by both men and women. Secondary school boys wear them as a part of their uniforms. Men wear them to church. Women wear them around the house. They are seen everywhere.
Male teacher wearing a lava. These boys will wear them as part of their uniform when they are older and can take care of them.
Sparsely furnished homes & Email addresses and Facebook contacts written on the wall…
One of the houses we visited contained only one room. It reminded me of the kind we built in Juarez, Mexico as high schoolers. There wasn’t any sheet rock on the inside. It was furnished with two mattresses, one occupied by a young adult with severe cerebral palsy. Between the 2x4s, I caught sight of email addresses, Facebook contacts, and Gmail logins written on the back side of the siding.
Top Up signs on every dairy & No wheelchairs and limited school supplies…
Switching out our SIM cards for cards with data was easy enough. Even when we trudged through the bush one day, we saw the notorious Digicel “Top Up” sign on a random shack-like shop. However, the kids at the primary school we visited were starved for paint, colored paper, and fluffy pompoms. The week before we arrived, an OT and Orthopedic Specialist couple had spent long hours fitting more than 50 donated wheelchairs to bodies that have tightened and contorted with lack of mobility. Basic needs are often not provided for, but cell phone service and data has become readily available.
School girls with perfect braids and matching ribbons
School kids asking for more balloons that the teacher was distributing for us
The contrasts just kept coming.
Pigs in every yard & Few dogs…The pigs will become dinner soon enough. The dogs have already been eaten.
Unlimited coconuts, which have become a commodity worldwide in recent years, fresh off the tree & People limited by the age-old constraints of monarchy…
Beautiful cultural dances & Fatigue etched on tired mamas’ faces…
Silhouettes of soaring coconut trees against the backdrop of the most beautiful blue skies & Rubbish littering the ground at our feet…
School girls with two perfect pigtail braids tied with ribbons that matched their uniforms & Aunties with children of their own caring for 5 more nieces or nephews…
Stunning blue and aqua ocean views & Clothing and toiletry items sent from family members abroad for sale in front yards…
It’s just that beautiful
For me, Tonga is indeed a place of stark contrasts. A place where beauty and brokenness collide. A place that I find both humbling and encouraging, hopeless and hopeful, in desperate need and with great wealth. A place that has shaped and challenged me. A place I look forward to returning to (and taking my guys along too)! I am grateful for In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok and their humble service and leadership that remind all of us what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Back in the autumn (March to be precise), we wrote this post about our life summed up in 5 pictures. It’s a new season and we’re doing some of the same and some different things, so here goes round #2…
Sometimes pictures say it best. If we had to sum up our day-to-day life during this season in five pictures and five pictures only, they would look something like this:
Picture #1: Citrus Feast
Did you know that there are places in the world where citrus trees produce fruit year-round? No? Me either. But it’s true. We’ve enjoyed amazing oranges, lemons, and grapefruit all winter long (even when our grocery store shelves were totally bereft of salad greens). These oranges are from our District Superintendent’s tree in Auckland. Q can’t get enough of them so they sent a big bag home. They’re small but mighty with the most amazing flavor, the best juice, and the richest color.
Picture #2: Nazarene Theological College-Auckland is Taking Flight
This stack of books represents so much more than a juggling act of acquisition (life without Amazon… What?!). It represents the first class provided by Nazarene Theological College-Auckland, a satellite program of Nazarene Theological College-Brisbane, which was held last week. This class was a little like giving birth after 9 months of praying, planning, meeting, and preparing, particularly on Jaron’s part. 1 master’s student, 4 bachelor’s students, 3 course of study students, and an auditing participant worked long day jobs and then attended class for two weekends and a week’s worth of evenings, absorbing, reading, writing, reflecting, and presenting on pastoral theology. It was a first for Jaron as professor and the beginning of a new stage of Wesleyan Theological education in New Zealand. Exciting stuff.
Picture #3: Artist Q
This is the stage of the budding artist around our house. Q has many creative endeavors underway. The results are as varied as a robot and its charging station, a police headband, a letter urgently mailed to the grandparents, and a self-portrait. We’re going through sellotape (a.k.a. Scotch tape) like it’s going out of style and trying to view the endless stream of teeny scraps of paper as the celebratory confetti of 4-year-old life.
Picture#4: Spring has Sprung!
It is officially spring, and we couldn’t be happier. Just like springs we’ve experienced in the northern hemisphere, we’re being teased with warm sunny days that call for impromptu bike rides and spring cleaning the play house and then brought quickly back to reality by a rainy chill that has us huddled by the heater. Q is anxious to ditch his jerseys (jackets) and long pants for shorts and bare feet. These are the daffodils we planted back at Easter. We’re loving their vibrant colors.
Picture #5: Tonga (and Back)…or Bust
I’ve attempted to join the minimalist packing club and packed for a week in Tonga in this backpack (a consistent forecast of sunny and 78 degrees sure makes it easier). I’m looking forward to serving with and learning from our friends at Mango Tree. I am not as excited about saying, “See you later,” to my guys for a few days, although I know they’ll be perfectly fine grilling burgers every night and making Lego creations to their hearts’ content.
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.
We just put our first guests on the plane back to the States. While they were here, we stepped out of our day-to-day lives for a couple of days and played tourist. We parked our almost-minivan among tour buses and brightly painted camper vans before queuing up with throngs of Asian tour groups led by guides with tall poles topped by brightly colored pom poms, 20-something American backpackers, and 50-year-old couples on holiday from the United Kingdom.
Tourism is a big deal around here. It’s an $81.6 million per day industry in New Zealand, second only to dairy in terms of foreign export earnings. Hobbiton alone employs nearly 200 people. While the vast majority of tourists come from nearby Australia, China, the U.S., the U.K., and other Asia Pacific countries also send their fair share of scouts.
We had fun checking out a few things commonly on New Zealand vacation itineraries. We figured we were just doing our research for various groups, families, and individuals that we’ll get to host in the future. You can go ahead and bookmark this now for your own future visit. 😉 Here are a few things we learned along the way:
Make a wish list: I hope you are making a list of things to do on your dream trip. Actually, we are very well situated for day trips of all kinds—an hour and a half south of Auckland, an hour from Hobbiton, 45 minutes to one coast, an hour and a half to the other, an hour to glow worm caves, two hours to Rotorua… you get the idea. Skydiving, bungee jumping, stand up paddle boarding, surf lessons… you name it New Zealand’s probably got it.
The Hobbit Holes are just so cute!!
Pick and Choose and Plan Ahead: I’m a planner so this is perfect for me. But seriously, there is so much to do, it’s hard (read: impossible) to fit it all in. Without a strategic plan, it would be easy to miss out. Even still, I tried my best for over a week to get Trip Advisor’s highest rated glow worm cave tour booked for our family. When it came down to it, they were one seat short on the boat the day we had available for the tour so we couldn’t join. Oh well… there’s always next time. 😉 The redwood forest (planted from seeds brought as a gift from California 110 years ago), made for an excellent Plan B.
Rotorua’s redwood forest
Save your money… or not: Scratch that. Definitely save your money. New Zealand is expensive. The food, the petrol, the stuff… it’s all expensive. The really touristy stuff is no different. Hello $79.00 NZ/per person to venture into Middle Earth or $150.00 NZ/per person to swim with dolphins. It adds up. But there’s tons to do that is absolutely free, as well… amazing hikes, beautiful beaches, freezing cold swims, waterfalls abounding… Those have been some of our most favorite things of all, which brings us to #4.
Blue Springs has been one of our favorite places since we first visited in December. It probably always will be…. and it’s FREE!!
Stop at the “Scenic Lookouts”: To be truthful, there are so many scenic lookouts, you can’t always stop at every one of them. But when you do, expect something good. Oh, that looks like every other hilly pasture in New Zealand? Take a gander back in there… you might just find some of the purest water in the world… or something else altogether unexpected. We talked Jaron into stopping at one and found these fantastic waterfalls.
Enjoy the journey: The roads are often narrow, hilly, and winding. The speed limits are necessarily slow. It takes longer to get places than we’re used to, but there’s always a bit of the ever-changing landscape to admire out the car window.
Never leave home without a rain jacket and a pair of jeans: Don’t be fooled by days that dawn bright and sunny (or by the ones that start out shrouded in a dense fog), the weather changes frequently down under. I, for one, like to be prepared when things can quickly become cool and wet. I was under-prepared when we went to Tauranga on the east coast earlier this year and have learned my lesson. We had nearly perfect weather while our guests were here, but the next week-and-a-half look to be full of moisture. In New Zealand, you just never know, and neither do the meteorologists.
Talk to people: People are excited to share their stories… where they’re from, what they do, what they have planned on their adventure. At one table, the five of us in our group were seated with two different middle-aged couples from the U.K. and a young television writer from Los Angeles. Fascinating.
At times it felt really odd to be lumped in with the rest of the “foreign tourist crowd,” particularly in light of the fact that we’ve spent the past three months working so hard to assimilate into the culture. There were those awkward “I’m not really sure how to answer your question” moments when people asked the proverbial, “Where are you from?” Uhhh… The United States… the southwestern part… but we live in Hamilton. We’re not really tourists. Plus, we’re always building relationships along the way… like the tour guide from Wales who spent 6 months working in orphanages in Uganda, but is now hoping to play for a legit rugby team in New Zealand someday. At the end of the tour Jaron handed him a slip of paper with his phone number and used his newly acquired Kiwi language skills to say “Next time you’re in Hamilton give me a ring and we’ll have you over for tea or we’ll go to lunch, my shout.” To which he simply replied “Ah legend, thanks mate!”
Real life includes checking out the hot air balloons at 7 a.m. Balloons over Waikato is on this week. Hot air balloons are always fun… even on foggy mornings when they have to stay tethered.
The author grinning proudly after making it safely back to our driveway.
Libby and Janci had us over for the most amazing authentic Indian meal. Another story for another day.
Elizabeth, Jeanine, John, Q, & Jaron enjoying a little park on the edge of Napier.
There’s nothing better than a leisurely breakfast at Emporium during a rainy morning in Napier.
Bapa and Q in Napier.
Kiwis are all about their tea… and their coffee too. They claim they invented the flat white pictured here (and probably the tall black and short black as well).
Napier’s coast line.
Just followed one of dozens of little “scenic view” signs visible on any road trip and found this little gem of a view.
Afternoon neighborhood shenanigans. The neighbor kids think the American grandparents are fascinating. They’re also pretty excited about a little project we’ve been working on in the front yard.
Jaron’s parents are here visiting us for the first time. We’re having a blast showing them our stomping grounds, exploring some new places, watching the sticker shock register on their faces over the prices at the hardware store, and savoring Quentin’s delighted belly laughs as he plays with Bapa and Gigi. We’ve even snuck in a couple of dates…early morning at the Hakarimata Summit and late night at Star Wars (Yes, we are the last people on the planet to see it in the theater!). This week’s post is a guest post courtesy of Jaron’s dad, John.
by John Graham
“Does this car have cruise control?” I asked myself as I struggled behind the wheel of the 2004 Honda Fit.
I would have to wait to find out because there was no way I was going to take my eyes off the road until I reached my destination 124 kilometers away in Hamilton, New Zealand.
In fact, I was having a flashback to the summer of 1973 when I took Driver’s Ed as a 14-year-old on the Lovington High School campus. I can still remember the steely stare of Coach Bill Rippetoe as he ran me through the paces of driving a car through the streets of Lovington.
That seemed like such a piece of cake compared to what I faced now.
Jeanine and I had barely been in the island country four days before my son, Jaron, who now is the pastor of the Church of the Nazarene here in Hamilton, asked me to help him pick up a new car he had bought in the capital city, Auckland, an hour-and-a-half away.
It seemed like an easy assignment to me. In fact I kind of looked forward to the challenge.
There was one little hitch I was a little nervous about. My license back in New Mexico expired at the end of February so I made a trip to the MVD in Lovington two weeks before we left the country. I paid my fees, got my usual bad mug shot and was told the new license would arrive in 10 days as the clerk punched a hole in my old license and handed me a piece of paper that said I was legal to drive—sort of. The temporary license stated that whoever looked at the “temporary license” I possessed could make their own determination of whether I was legal to drive or not.
To compound the problem, I failed to bring my “temporary license” to New Zealand with me.
I told my son I was a legal driver, I just didn’t have the right papers to prove it. In fact, all I had to do was follow him closely and do everything he did and all would be well.
On the way to get the car, I kept replaying in my mind how I was going to explain the hole punched in the only license I had with me to a New Zealand policeman. “Yes sir, that’s right officer. In America they punch a hole in your license so you can wear it on a lanyard around your neck so you don’t lose it.”
I hoped I wouldn’t get stopped.
So there I was, behind the wheel of a car the size of a big go-cart zipping through city traffic at speeds of 100 km per hour (60 mph) and driving on the wrong (left side) of the road. Every part of driving that had been ingrained in my being since a young teenager was now being turned upside down in this 57-year-old brain.
It took all my mental power to keep the car in the middle of my lane while sitting on the right side of the vehicle. It was so unnatural. Soon I could feel my hands getting sweaty as I gripped the steering wheel with both hands. Sweat started to form on my forehead.
“I need some air,” I thought to myself. My fingers fumbled across the dash trying to find the controls to the air conditioning, but my eyes never left the road.
Every time I reached up to turn on the blinker, the wipers came on. (Like everything else in this car, they are opposite what I am used to in the USA.)
Maybe heading out in an unfamiliar car, in an unfamiliar country, in traffic in the country’s biggest city, and without a legal license was not the best idea.
After about an hour of white-knuckled driving I began to settle down and the traffic was now moving at a steady pace as rolling green hills passed by. Hey, this isn’t so bad, I thought.
By the time we pulled into the driveway of our destination in Hamilton, I was feeling like that confident 14-year-old 43 years ago. And as the wheels rolled to a stop, I finally took my eyes off the road and checked the steering column.
No, the car does not have cruise control.
Sometimes the shot through the window captures it best: the Hawke’s Bay region of New Zealand. Photo by John Graham
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.