This is our first installment in a series you may periodically see pop up on the blog over the next several months. We’re calling it “Meet New Zealand.” The goal is to intentionally gather and share some stories of the people who make up our church and New Zealand as a whole. If you’re academic, you’d call it Appreciative Inquiry. If you’re not, you might call it story sharing. Either way it’s important. One thing we’ve learned in these past few months is that our newer people and our long-timers know very little of each others stories. We’re just learning all of them for the first time. These individual stories shape our collective identity as a church and will in many ways propel us into the future. Plus, they give some of the most fascinating insights into the culture in which we live. It seems fitting that the first installment is an energetic gal who has been around the Church of the Nazarene in New Zealand since some of its very earliest days.
We had been waiting in the car for nearly half an hour and were about to drive off when Joan Ranger (cue the Lone Ranger jokes… they’re unavoidable) sauntered around the house wearing a long apron and smelling of oil paints. “I thought… Surely, they must be here by now,” Joan exclaimed as she dried the bristles on her paintbrush. “No one ever comes to the front door and no one ever knocks,” she said. Now we know. Joan replaced her apron and paintbrush in the garage studio filled with paintings reminiscent of the one hanging in the dining room at our house before leading us inside.
Actually, it wouldn’t have surprised us one bit if Joan had been held up at her morning engagement. Her days are filled with visits with friends, speaking engagements about her army experiences that open doors for her to share the ways God has worked in her life, pulpit supply at various churches of many different denominations, children’s Bible classes, prayer meetings, and gospel singing groups. We were glad she had been able to work us in.
“My friends and I all go to functions at each other’s churches. They’re mostly Anglican and Methodist. One time about four years ago a new vicar had just come to the Anglican church. I went to the 8:00 service so I could meet him before driving down to Hamilton for our 10:30 service. They served communion. I took it and then I looked up at the vicar sputtering and coughing and said, ‘I wasn’t expecting real wine,’” Joan recalled with laughter.
We had made the drive to Joan’s house in just under an hour and now it was time for afternoon tea. It was a warm day and the autumn sun was streaming through the window as Joan served us steaming hot tea—black at our request, though Kiwis find it strange for us to drink it without milk and sugar—and date scones she’d made fresh that morning. Quentin played with a basket of army figures and blocks on the floor of the nearby living room.
We hadn’t been to Joan’s house before, and the view of the mountain at Te Aroha was breathtaking. We were there to take in the view and to dip our feet in the hot soda water that comes up from the ground, but mostly we were there to hear pieces of Joan’s story. For Joan’s story holds some pieces of the past; some tales of our own story as part of the Church of the Nazarene in New Zealand.
Joan moved to New Zealand as a single young English woman enlisted in the New Zealand Women’s Army Corps in 1952. She’d come to know Jesus as a 15-year-old as a part of the International Holiness Mission in England, but army life and the death of a fiancé later, she felt far from God and any faith she had claimed as a teenager by the time she moved to New Zealand. She just wanted to get away and live it up.
But God hadn’t forgotten Joan. In one of those strange and winding ways, pastor friends in England knew missionary friends in Africa who had heard that the work of the Church of the Nazarene was just being begun in New Zealand by Reverend Roland Griffith. Along with his wife and his young daughter, Connie, Griffith had moved to New Zealand in 1951. When he learned of the English woman named Joan in the military, he didn’t miss a beat. Joan’s base was a 12 hour drive from Griffith’s home in Auckland, but when Griffith passed through Wellington on his way to look into planting a church in Christchurch, he stopped in to visit Joan.
“He didn’t know me from Adam,” Joan said. “He must have gone through the military to find me, and there he was showing up at my work. He said, ‘You were a part of the International Holiness Mission in England, weren’t you? We are starting the Church of the Nazarene in New Zealand, and we want you to be a part of it.’ The rest is another story, but that’s how I gave my life back to God.”
Within months, Joan was transferred to a base near Auckland where she could ride her bike 35 kilometers (23 miles) each way to the site of the new Dominion Road Church of the Nazarene (now known as All Nations Church). She helped with the back-breaking labor of removing rock to dig the church’s basement and began worshiping with the budding congregation.
Frank Ranger was a handsome military man who had his eye on Joan. As a young man in 1955, Frank didn’t think church or faith held much value at all. The only problem was, Joan wouldn’t go out with him unless he was a church going man. Frank decided to trade some church attendance for a date and ended up experiencing the hope of Jesus for himself. Three months later, they were married.
Frank and Joan were active members of the Dominion Road church. Their lives together were wrapped up in the church and the community that it provided. Once they were married, they began saving diligently for a trip to England so Joan’s parents could meet her husband and the baby that was soon on the way. Their first son was about one year old when they finally sailed off. They returned to New Zealand seven years and two more kids later. God was not finished using Frank and Joan in New Zealand. In the years that followed, they had three more kids, studied theology through Nazarene Theological College in Brisbane, Australia and became church planters—planting five churches around New Zealand’s North Island.
It wasn’t until after their church planting years were winding down in the 1990s that Frank and Joan began driving to Hamilton Crossroads Church, first from the south end of Auckland and then from the scenic town of Te Aroha. After 54 years of marriage, Frank went to be with Jesus. Joan lives in the little gray cottage at the foot of the mountains by herself now, but God is not finished with her yet.
Joan’s waiting on back surgery. She’s hoping they’ll call sometime soon because she can’t play golf with her back in its current condition. It doesn’t appear to be slowing her down at all otherwise. John called to make sure she’ll be stopping in for her weekly visit on Wednesday and she has an engagement at the Anglican church at 1 p.m. the same day. Anzac Day is coming up, which is a big deal for the former military gal. She’ll share the fruit that is ripening on her trees with her neighbors and squeeze in time to bake a cake for tea after church on Sunday.
“Take a whole bunch. There are bags in the mailbox,” Joan hollered to two teenage girls stopping to take a couple of feijoas from the bowl she has set out near the sidewalk. She loaded our car up too—with fresh red apples and green feijoas, as if the tea and the scones, and the conversation weren’t enough of a gift.
“We’re so glad we didn’t miss you!” we exclaimed.
“Next time you’ll know. Just come around back and don’t bother knocking. Only salesmen use the front door around here.”