This week, we’re savoring this season of Christmas, the sunshine, the celebrations, and the slow-paced days between Christmas and New Year’s Day. All around us (and on our social media feeds), there are reminders that we’re deep into the season of Christmas. These are 10 signs it’s Christmastime in New Zealand. And, while some of these are slightly belated because the days leading up to Christmas are full-on in every first world country, we’re not finished with our Christmas celebrations just yet. My parents are coming next week, and we can hardly wait!
So, in the spirit of the season…
You know it’s Christmas in the Southern hemisphere when…
Santa-types are wearing fake beards, black boots, a red, red coat and matching pants rugby shorts, and a cut off t-shirt.
Also, if rugby shorts and cut off sleeves are not your thing, rest assured. They sell Santa costumes like this one with shorts and short sleeves.
Families are watching ‘The Grinch’ and ‘Frosty’ in Christmas jammies short-sleeved pjs.
Every event has mugs of hot cocoa with marshmallows water with ice.
There’s an explosion of red baubles, stockings, wreaths and heavily decorated Christmas trees strawberries, cherries, and heavily flowered Pohutakawa trees.
This picture was taken on a trip over to the Coromandel Peninsula last month when the Pohutakawa trees were just turning. Now the coastlines are filled with the vibrant red blooms of the “kiwi Christmas tree.” This one has a stunning view of the marine reserve.
The oven BBQ grill has been working non-stop in preparation for Christmas dinner. (We had a fresh caught snapper served grill-side for our Christmas dinner.)
Dining tables Picnic tables are laden with festive foods of every kind.
We celebrated Christmas with our dear friends. Precious people, great fun (and nerf wars), delectable foods, and the most stunning setting makes for a wonderful celebration. (P.S. There really is brown on those hills. Can you believe it? After an exceptionally wet start to the year, we have been unusually warm and dry for over a month.)
Worshipers gather for Christmas Eve candlelight services Christmas morning daylight services. (There’s just something odd about a candlelight service when you’ve just had the longest day of the year. That said, we still had a Christmas Eve candlelight service. We joined our friends at an Anglican/Methodist/Presbyterian Cooperating Church for Christmas morning.)
Cities Beaches are bustling.
Flipping the calendar to January means going back to work summer holiday, church camps, and 3 consecutive weeks off work for many. (We don’t have a three-week holiday coming up anytime soon, but we are making the most of summer vacation and looking forward to a few days at youth camp in a couple of weeks!
We’ve spent the rest of our holiday week hosting friends, picking strawberries, playing tennis, and catching up on a few work-related projects. Shhh… don’t tell the kiwis. They’re all in full vacation mode.
Life gets back to normal January February 2. (Actually, Q will be back to school and our mums’ groups will resume February 7. There’s a new year to ring in and plenty of fun to be had between now and then!)
Merry Christmas from the Southern Hemisphere. We hope you are warm (by the sun or the fireplace), well fed (with fresh fruit or comfort foods), and enjoying family and friends who are like family!
At a crisp 48 degrees Fahrenheit when we took these pictures, it was the coldest first day of school I’ve ever experienced. Thankfully, the sun was shining and it warmed up beautifully.
School Days, School Days
Dear old golden rule days
Our school boy and his dog, who waits for Q to return with her nose pressed to the porch railing every afternoon.
It’s official! Two weeks ago, Q started school. Real school. No longer in kindergarten (the kiwi word for preschool), we have a real school boy. That means a 9 am to 3 pm Monday through Friday kind of routine with morning tea (snack) and lunch to pack and reading homework in the afternoon. It’s all new for us.
In so many ways, it’s the most nostalgic school experience imaginable. Our neighborhood school is on the next block over—just a short walk or scooter through an ally pathway. Kids attend this school from year 1 (kindergarten) through year 8 (7th grade).
Not a cafeteria in sight, students chatter as they eat the morning tea and lunch they’ve brought with them on simple benches under awnings outside their classrooms, which open directly to the outdoors, or put on their sun hats and sit in the grass before hurrying off to play. 30 minutes for morning tea. 45 minutes for lunch.
Jaron and I both confessed to each other just yesterday morning after school drop off that we may have been known to test our own speed on Q’s scooter on the way home. Empty scooter to return home? Wouldn’t you?
The morning scooter ride is fun, but pick up times are simply the best.
As 3:00 pm nears, parents gather on those same benches outside the classrooms. Some push strollers while others share tips on strawberry picking and commiserate on yet another rainy weekend. The kids bound out of the classroom barefoot, dragging backpacks and jerseys behind them. I absolutely cannot wait to see our boy’s great big smile and hear the words, “Hi Mommy!” It’s the best part of every single day.
Then, everyone from our neighborhood walks home in a big stream of independent big kids with muddy legs from playing in the field and little kids with mums and dads in tow, all chattering about the adventures of the day.
For convenience sake, some of our friends from church who live further than walking distance park on our street for school pick up as well. It’s one big community building revelry every afternoon.
All of these things evoke a Leave It to Beaver sense that all is right in our world, but there are some unusual idiosyncrasies about our education situation as well.
Kiwi kids typically start school when they turn 5, no matter when that is in the school year. Then, everyone moves up when the new year starts in February. As it works out, some kids have more time–up to a year and a half of new entrance/year 1 (the American equivalent of kindergarten), while other kids have only 2 1/2 terms or quarters of their first year of school. It’s one of those things that can make your head spin if you didn’t grow up with this system.
Q turned 5 in May. Had he started school then, he would be starting year 2 (1st grade) in February at the ripe old age of 5 years 9 months, having had 3 quarters of year 1 (kindergarten). That’s a wee bit young and there’s no need to rush things if you ask me. This educational philosophy of mine jived perfectly with delaying his school start until we returned from the US. As it stands, he’ll have 5 quarters of year 1 (kindergarten) and start year 2 (1st grade) when he’s almost 7. Sounds like the makings of a great educational foundation if you ask me.
I’m in full on cultural translation mode when it comes to about everything else at school as well. Take these examples:
Stationary can be purchased through the school. It is generally the same price as the stationary at the store.
I think: That’s nice. They must be encouraging the practice of formal letter writing by selling fun stationary. Or maybe it’s a fundraiser? Great idea, either way. Maybe Q can use it to write a letter to some friends in America.
What it means: Stationary = school supplies. You can purchase your school supplies, which consist primarily of various notebooks (see picture), through the school so you don’t have to hunt for them at the store. Supplies like scissors, pencils, crayons, etc. are all purchased through the additional school fees and shared. This is a socialist education system, after all.
The notice in the school newsletter said, “Please make sure your child has suitable shoes and clothing for wearing on the field and/or courts for PE, as well as every other day.”
I think: Make sure your child is wearing tennis shoes (not the kind that will mark up the gym floor) and play clothes on PE days.
What it means: No shoes are necessary. Don’t bother sending your child to school with shoes. They just take them off anyway. Kids must wear shorts (not pants) on the field. The rule is “shorts for sports” (Comfort? Mobility? Holes in skin repair more easily than holes in pants?) and they must wear a hat for sun protection. Sunglasses are o.k. too as they protect the eyes.
Another notice in the newsletter said, “Whanau Hui Agenda as Follows: Karakia, Mihi, Whakawhiriwhiri, Karakia, Kai.”
I think: I would definitely benefit from Maori language school.
What it means: The Maori Curriculum Team held a meeting for families at the school. Family meeting Agenda as Follows: Opening prayer, Introductions, Discussions, Closing Prayer, Food.
The outtakes. Always so much silliness with this kid.
All in all, we’re adjusting. There have been relatively minimal tears. And, in case you’re wondering, I didn’t even cry on the first day. In fact, I was feeling quite proud of myself until an older lady in the line behind me at the post office said, “Look at this perfect card I found for my son. It says, ‘I was proud of you the day you were born and I’ve been proud of you every day since. You are a treasure.’ My son is turning 50, and this card says it all!” I smiled and nodded and tried to swallow the sudden lump in my throat and hurried to the counter for my turn. Sheesh. But truly, we are so proud and so grateful that our little guy is becoming a strong, healthy big guy and navigating this new “school days” phase of his third culture kid life so seamlessly.
When we were at the New Mexico District Family Camp in August, the kids made Koru necklaces out of clay. Q loves wearing his. These Koru (the brown swirly things), which symbolize new life, will eventually unfurl into more fern fronds.
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’ve spent a year with you now, and we must confess, we are infatuated with your beauty, captivated by your diversity, and thrilled by the adventure.
Here are 10+ things we love about you:
Blue Springs Walkway. Please visit with reverence and be respectful of others who want to do the same.
10 Greener Living
We are composting and recycling kinds of people so it’s a real treat to live in a city with curbside recycling. Somehow living in a place where nature is in many ways more pristine than we’ve experienced before has only served to make us even more conscious about our environmental footprint. When one of our favorite natural getaways became a tourist hot spot before our very eyes earlier this year, we were delighted that New Zealand quickly responded by banning swimming and educating tourists in order to protect the fragile ecosystem. Quentin is in on the game as well, he picks up every little piece of rubbish (trash) he sees when we are out for a walk, a hike, or just walking across a parking lot.
The average American and kiwi incomes are essentially the same. However, with petrol, food, utilities and housing (not to mention everything else) costing three to four times more in New Zealand than it does in the States, the living naturally becomes… simpler. Living with less is refreshing. However, there’s also a simplicity of schedule that we are appreciating. Kiwi kids go to bed between 6:30 and 8:00 pm. Plus, people start jobs with four weeks of paid holiday, and they actually take all of it.
All the Indian food!
We are not going to lie, we miss vast selections of salsa big time. However, Pavlova, sweet mince pies, curries of every kind, morning tea, Turkish kebabs, egg yolks in the deepest orange color, feijoas in the fall, lemons on our tree, golden kiwis, and the most scrumptious grass fed dairy products leave our palates satisfied and our tummies full.
Our city of Hamilton has the best parks—vast green spaces and really creative play structures. They are fun for our whole family and no two are the same!
Our Southern Nazarene University Students spent two weeks with us in June and Caleb Hoskins spent 8 weeks with us.
6 Hosting Visitors
This year we’ve been blessed with the visits of our parents. They are the best! We’ve also had the pleasure of hosting university students for varying lengths of time. We love this piece of our new role where we get to share the beauty and culture of our new home and shape the worldview of young adults. Plus, they’re just fun to have around!
Last night, we joined the Nazarene pastors from across New Zealand for our annual Christmas dinner. It was a great time. Of the 29 churches and church plants on our district, the pastors alone represent 19 different countries of origin. The people represented in our congregations make us an even more diverse group of people. On a given Sunday, we worship with 30-40 different people in our location congregation in Hamilton. Often those people represent 9 different nationalities. We love and appreciate the diverse food, worldviews, cultures, and languages we get to experience in New Zealand.
September in Tonga
4 Traveling the South Pacific
It was a short hop, skip, and a jump to other exotic South Pacific locations this year… Philippines (Jaron), Tonga (Elizabeth), Australia (Jaron). We can’t wait for more! New Zealand, you’re so exotic, and so are your neighbor islands!
New Zealand has so much to explore. And, since it’s the size of California from tip top to the very bottom, a day trip gets you to any number of beaches, hiking trails, waterfalls, native forests, hilly sheep farms, or glowworm caves. Our proximity in the middle of the North Island is especially great for this. That said, we’ve barely made a drop in the bucket.
Our D.S.’s wife, Joyce Bartle loves to quote Matthew 19:29. “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life.” As someone who left her home in Scotland to serve as a nurse in Papua New Guinea, she would know! We’re finding this to be true as well. In the past year, we have been blessed with deep and significant relationships, for which we are very thankful! Sure, they make fun of our weird words, accents, foods, and endless questions, but that’s what friends are for. Our hearts are full because of them!
1 Being a part of the work God is doing
Only 47.8% of the population of New Zealand even affiliates with Christianity. This makes it the most “secular society” in the Western world. While those statistics are heart-breaking, we are delighted to be a part of the work that God is doing, both in our local context, and across the country. We are delighted for the opportunity to be a source of hope and light in New Zealand.
It’s spring and the roses are in bloom at Hamilton Gardens.
+ Hello, Beautiful!
I mean, with something blooming in vibrant color 12 months out of the year, a green winter, and lemons on our tree year-round, what’s not to love?! Easy enough for me to say now that the sun has emerged after hiding for 6 long months. Seriously, though, New Zealand really is as beautiful as the pictures might lead you to believe.
Jaron was in Australia the night the creaking and banging woke me. The intruder, it turns out, was seismic activity that began 445 km (275 mi) away as the crow flies. Many others in our mid-sized city of Hamilton, NZ said that it was the rolling sensation and resulting sea sick feeling—as if they were on a boat—that disturbed their sleep. However, in our community on New Zealand’s North Island, sleep was about all that was disturbed by the November 14 magnitude 7.8 earthquake.
It was a different story for the South Island. The community of Kaikoura (population 2,000) and the rural areas to the north experienced complete upheaval. The seabed near Kaikoura was raised about 7 ft (2m). The earthquake changed the landscape above and below the water, crumbled houses, broke sewage systems, fractured water pipes, destroyed road beds, and shifted railroad tracks. Essentially, the infrastructure was destroyed along fault lines stretching past the rural community of Seddon, nearly 1oo miles north of Kaikoura, where the most energy was released in the multi-fault quake. Prime Minister John Key estimates rebuilding costs may exceed $2 billion.
As a result, more than 1,000 people had to be evacuated by helicopter. Over 900 chemical portaloos were brought in by ship. And dairy farmers with no way of exporting milk were forced to dump fresh milk down the drain. However, human inhabitants weren’t the only ones affected. Landslides caused by the initial quake and the continued aftershocks destroyed the popular seal pup habitat where seal pups are often spotted playing under a waterfall. In addition, many adult seals were killed. Bird colonies, such as the threatened population of Hutton’s Shearwater, were drastically affected when half of a colony was buried in landslides. Scientists suspect that the dolphins and whales that frequent the waters around Kaikoura were also affected. However, when researchers were able to get back in the boat on November 24, they spotted more than 300 dolphins off the coast, an encouraging sign that wildlife is indeed resilient.
On the Southern tip of the North island, the capital city of Wellington also experienced a shakeup. While no buildings collapsed immediately, the earthquake has compromised the stability of more than two dozen buildings, some of which are among Wellington’s largest office buildings. Buildings like a 10-story building on Molesworth street require demolition, which began this week, while others will require structural reinforcement before they can be used again. Wellington’s port also suffered significant damage.
Two weeks after the earthquake, residents of the northern Canturbury region of New Zealand remain largely isolated and are still experiencing significant aftershocks. The primary road and railway between Christchurch and Kaikoura may take a year or more to repair. Convoys of military grade vehicles are delivering food for those who cannot evacuate. Certainly, the 2011 Christchurch earthquake (magnitude 7.1) caused significantly more damage to buildings and livelihood due to its proximity to a more densely populated area. However, it will take months or even years for life to return to normal for the latest earthquake victims, most of whom rely on the dairy industry and tourism for their livelihood. Sociologists predict that as much as 18% of the population could leave the area permanently in search of housing and other employment opportunities.
It’s spring and the roses are in bloom. Photo taken at Hamilton Gardens.
Bike grease… war paint… You won’t get any details from this guy. Those eyes scream, “Who, me?!”
Our own “sand lot” or maybe “green lot”
“Bounce Bounce (the bull) and I were riding in our boat. We are looking for a floating island. My boat has a front end loader that picks up rubbish in the sea.”
“Can I type?” Q asked excitedly.
“Yes. You can type and you can tell me some things that you’d like me to type. How about that?” I responded.
“I like writing a blog,” he stated matter-of-factly.
Between now and our next blog post, our little guy will turn four. It seems completely surreal. “The days are long but the years are short so enjoy the days,” a wise friend told me before Q was born. That sentiment couldn’t seem more true at this moment.
If you know our little guy at all, you know that he is full of words and ideas expressed in the forms of constant motion, a whirlwind of imagination, and sound at high decibels. Since he has so much to say, we figured there would be no one better to write this blog post than the birthday boy himself. We took turns typing. He couldn’t have been happier about it.
To All My Friends in All of America and the World,
I like living in New Zealand. It’s kind of like different than America. Sometimes I miss my friends I am wanting to go to my green house, but I like my race track, my room that has a loft, and playing baseball with my friends at the park. Today, I went to kindy (preschool). That is my school. We cut down a tree that the caterpillars were eating and gave it to the chickens. I played with Matthew because his friend was gone today. I think his friend was off for the weekend. The other kindy day we went on a bus on a field trip to the airport. Daddy went with me. We learned how to fly the planes. When you want to go up, you pull way back. When you want to go down you push forward.
His turn to type:
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After kindy today, my friends from the neighborhood came over. They usually come by to see if I can play. We went to the park near our house to play baseball. I had the bat sometimes and I played catcher. I am teaching my friends all about baseball and the Royals.
I do a new thing at church at my New Zealand church. I have tea time every Sunday. That’s my new thing. Tea time is after church. I drink some tea and eat some cookies and sometimes chocolate cake. I like that the best. When my daddy says, “You are dismissed.” I yell, “Tea Time!”
Q typing again:
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I’m becoming kiwi now so I don’t always wear shoes. Kiwi people don’t wear shoes sometimes because they like to not wear shoes. When I do wear shoes, I wear tennis shoes or jandals. Those are flip flops. Mommy and Daddy wear shoes all the time and sometimes. That’s a joke.
I want to go in a rocket sometime. I am going to go to space. After I go to space for 5 minutes, I will get back in the rocket and fly away. I am going to get the moon. I am going to take it home and play with it. When my friends come over, I will say, “Look, I got this moon from space.” I am going to get back in the rocket and blast off and while I am still flying I am going to be really careful and open the door and throw the moon outside into space and then go back home to my house. Then, I’ll go in my house and go to sleep. We’re going to have jet packs at my birthday party when I am four. I think we’re going to have fun with jet packs.
I live in New Zealand because I have to tell people about Jesus. They might not know that Jesus loves them.
That is all of this blog post. I will type another blog post another day.
Pukekos, or New Zealand Swamp Hens, have been thriving since people have inhabited the island. Clearly, they’re strutting proudly through this pond at a neighborhood park.
“Can I come visit you at your house in Fiji,” Q asked his friend P as they played on the boat. P responded in her Guatemalan accent with an occasional kiwi lilt thrown in, “Yes! You must come to my house in Fiji!” I guess it’s a good thing it’s only a short plane ride away.
“I love going to America. It’s like anything you could ever imagine has already been invented and they have it there!” our friend Mercedes exclaimed as we ate dinner at their home one evening. Like us, Mercedes and her husband Carlos are sojourners in a foreign land. We are from the U.S. they are from Guatemala, but among other things, we are united by our common love of salsa and guacamole, which don’t really exist here, and which Mercedes makes really well.
Some of our first friends here in NZ moved to Fiji this past weekend. Carlos and Mercedes have been good friends to us. They are a fantastic Christian couple with a daughter around the same age as Q and a one-year-old son. Plus, they use the same American English lingo as we do, only in the accent of of someone who’s first language is Spanish, which makes us feel even more at home. We love discussing things with them from the perspective that can only be gained by living away from your home country. One of those things is economics.
As a whole, Americans (me included), are completely unaware of how much money we have and how accessible everything is. Case in point: on one trip to their storage unit with a trailer load full of stuff, Carlos was telling me about this cool new service that a man he knew had developed. He excitedly described to me that the man had essentially built large storage shed-like boxes that he would drop off at your house for you to pack your stuff in, after which he would pick the boxes up and store them in a warehouse until you needed your things again. He’d then have the storage box dropped off at your desired location. That sounds oddly familiar to me. Or in a conversation later that day he told me about the new car wash he had recently used that allows you to put money in a machine and use a high pressure wand to clean your car. “It’s so cool! You can even use soap, wax, tire cleaner or any number of other products while you are at it!” Seems like I may have used something like that a time or two. Some New Zealand entrepreneurs are looking at successful U.S. concepts (e.g. PODS and car washes) and introducing them here to great success.
The point is that we as Americans have everything available to us. And we consume a lot. A whole lot. For good or bad this impacts economics and innovation. Mercedes’ comment about America already having everything is in many ways true. Americans have the resources, the demand and the motivation to create any number of products. Our cost for basic necessities is also so much lower than much of the rest of the world that most individual Americans have way more disposable income than any other population group in the world.
This truth has been very apparent to us in NZ. New Zealand is a completely developed Western country. It has a high overall quality of life, relatively high average family income, and lots of things to purchase and use. Yet the amount of consumption by average Kiwis is markedly lower than that of my fellow Americans. I’m sure there are many reasons for this but one of the most noticeable is that things just cost so much. For example, food here is 3 to 4 times more expensive, low oil prices mean fuel is currently the equivalent of a mere $8 per gallon, a 2 x 4 at the hardware store costs $12, and a box of screws will set you back $200. The math is simple. People make salaries similar to the United States but things cost more, so overall they purchase less.
I’m not complaining. In fact I think it’s probably good that consumption is generally lower. It’s just that as a middle class American, my eyes have been opened somewhat to the power of our resources. Along with Western Europe we account for about 60% of the world’s overall consumption. That means that we spend a boatload of money on stuff each day of our lives. The average person in America will consume 53 times more over their lifetime than the average person in China, or 35 times more than someone from India. The bottom line is that we have more disposable income available so we spend it.
As I’ve reflected on this over the past few months I’ve been wondering what would happen if we consumed just a little bit less and redirected those resources to the mission of God? Take for example our good friends Gavin and Jill Fothergill who, with their two kids, serve as missionaries in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the poorest countries in the world. Recently while working to start a new church in Congo, Gavin had to drive for hours on unpaved roads, leave his car at the side of a river, and cross in a canoe, in the pitch black of night to reach his destination. All this so that the gospel could be spread. In Congo $12,000-$15,000 U.S. dollars can build a Nazarene school in any number of villages and could serve hundreds of kids by providing education and introducing them to Jesus. Click here to hear Gavin’s version of this story.
We have personally met missionaries from Papua New Guinea who serve in the small Island nation of Vanuatu. A few hundred dollars per month would help put food on their table and send their kids to school. We also have missionaries working knee deep in the refugee crises currently taking place in Europe. They are in desperate need of resources to provide things as simple as shoes for hurting families in search of a new, safer place to call home. Click here to read about their compelling work.
If we consumed just a little bit less, what could we do? If we passed up that new car and bought a used one instead, how many schools could we build? If we ate out just a little less, how many missionaries could we help feed? If we bought just a few less items of clothing each year, how many refugees could we help provide food, clothing and shelter for? If we bought a little bit smaller house, what difference could we make in our own communities?
What if we all just started by tithing? What if we gave 10% of our income, right off the top to our local church? If we all did that, imagine the impact it would make not only in our church but around the world? Imagine the people that would hear the gospel with their ears, and feel the gospel in the extension of the loving hands of Christians who are fully resourced and sent into the world.
What if people like Mercedes could say, “I love going to America, because every way of supporting the spreading of the Gospel you can think of has already been thought of, and they live it out there like nowhere else in the world.”
There were heavy clouds over the pond at Minogue Park as Q and I checked out the new-to-us playground and enjoyed a picnic with this view last Saturday.
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:
1. Fall leaves. The weather is definitely getting cooler. Leaves are starting to change colors. This morning it was about 15 degrees Celsius (59 F) in the house. Chilly. But the days are still warm, the sun is shining, and our lemon tree and grapefruit tree are loaded with newly ripening fruit.
Kind of makes me think of Moses and the burning bush…
2. Who doesn’t love a little fixer upper project?! This was our best yet… way more attainable that an entire house! 😉 (Been there. Done that. A couple of times.) We bought this gem of a play house off of the infamous kiwi Trade Me, though it was looking a little worse for wear at the time. For a mere $26.00… plus gas to and from Auckland, McDonalds dinner for the bunch of Samoan teenagers it took to get it out of the original backyard, Bengay for some 30-year-old guys’ backs, wood for the deck, paint, elbow grease, and some flowers, it has become the pride of the backyard, the attraction of the neighborhood, and Q’s happy place. But “We got that for $26.00” sounds so much more dramatic.
3. Hey neighbor! We have a lot of neighborhood kids. And I do mean a lot. Maybe 30, give or take a few? We love that the little ones and big ones alike stop by to play (and quiz us on American stuff). We’ve had many games of tag and hide and seek around the house and through the yard lately. On Good Friday, we had barely pulled into the driveway from a service in Auckland when these guys rode up on their scooters. They noticed the Resurrection Eggs we put together at Kids’ Club the previous Sunday. Easter eggs are such a novelty that they immediately began opening them, and thus began an impromptu conversation about Jesus, death, and resurrection. Only one of our four visitors that day had heard the Hope of Easter before.
4. Speaking of Kids’ Club… We have a small but growing number of families that join us twice a month for wild games, engaging Bible stories, songs, prayer and evening tea. It’s the church. With tons of energy.
5.So you want to be a pilot? Q’s kindy (preschool) took a field trip to the tiny Hamilton airport this week. Jaron tagged along. They needed a bunch of parents and I was committed to leading Mainly Music at the time. Jaron and Q gladly used the opportunity to fantasize about their shared dreams of becoming pilots <insert terrified mom face emoji here>. In fact, Jaron was in a three hour seminar on how NZ health and safety regulations affect churches following the field trip, when he sent me this text message: “By the way… just googled the cost of getting a pilot’s license in NZ. Gonna start saving my blow money.” Oh brother.
We attended a tenebrae service with friends of varied denominations on Thursday and then had the privilege of participating in the Auckland Telugu service on Good Friday.
We’re anticipating the a monarch butterfly from this cocoon sometime this week.
Easter is a big deal. Actually, that is quite understated. Easter is the biggest deal. Death conquered. Hope restored. Fear eliminated. Life granted. Christians around the world intentionally journey through the wilderness of Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday before we arrive at Easter Sunday.
Glorious Easter Sunday. It has long been my favorite celebration of the entire year. It’s a day of grand celebration marked by Easter lilies and the promise of spring; the church family gathered and the Christ candle lit; joyful singing and responses of “He is risen, indeed!”; bread eaten and cup offered; pastel ties and bright floral dresses; ham and deviled eggs and a table full of the most delicious desserts. The very essence of remembering Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is tied to the very rhythm of the earth, with Easter Sunday falling on the first Sunday after the northern hemisphere’s spring Equinox. All of creation seems to shout—Christ is risen! Spring is here! There’s new life in Christ! Out of the barren wilderness of winter, we experience the hope and anticipation and alive-ness of spring.
Except in the southern hemisphere.
I totally get that nearly 90% of the world’s population lives in the northern hemisphere. For 90% of the world, Easter falls in the spring time… a time when trees and flowers bloom and even the cute little bunnies and baby chicks signify new life. But for the other 10% of the world’s population, the celebration of the resurrection takes places as the leaves are changing colors, the weather is cooling, the flower blooms are fading, and living things are in the process of decaying. Where’s the hope in that?
The fact is that the majority of world’s symbols surrounding major holidays come from the western countries that colonized the likes of New Zealand and the great economic drivers of the world found in North America. The rest of the world tags along even when snow in the tropics and pastels in the fall make no sense at all. Granted, egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, and new spring dresses are obvious non-essentials (and… gasp… even distractions) to the celebration of Easter. But if we removed the Easter lilies, sprouting grass, and freshly laid eggs as well, then what would be left of our Easter celebration?
Easter (along with the significant dates tied to it) is the only holiday of the year with a date that is tied to the seasonal rhythms of the earth. Birth. Life. Death. Resurrection. Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring. But Easter after the fall equinox? It seems so wrong. The truth is, I was tempted to fall prey to a pity party of my own making. No Easter lilies. No bright colors. No anticipation of spring. True, Jesus didn’t just come to save the people of the northern hemisphere, but what about the symbols of the resurrection that tell the story year after year with their rhythms of life, death, and resurrection? Don’t they have significant places in our celebration as well?
Pity party aside. I began to look more closely for symbols of the resurrection among the leaf piles and rain drops. God is so big. Surely the God of all creation has some signs of the resurrection for me (and the 730,000,000 other people) who live on the bottom half of the globe. Baby birds chirping from their nests aren’t the only things that sing the story of Easter.
Lo and behold… I’ve found some—signs of the resurrection in the autumn. Symbols that point to the hope of Jesus even as we are pulled daily towards the wilderness of winter.
Daffodil bulbs. It’s time to plant them. We’re putting them in the ground this week, remembering that Jesus was completely buried. The Romans and the church leaders alike wanted to forget about him much like bulbs lay long-forgotten in the ground. Next spring… sometime around August or September… the daffodils will sprout their heads and bloom, and we will remember that on Good Friday, Jesus was put into the ground, but he didn’t stay there. Birth. Life. Death. Resurrection. Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring.
Monarch cocoons. Monarch butterflies love swan plants. We have five small ones planted along our back fence. We’ve been watching the caterpillars literally strip the stem as they gluttonously consume all of the leaves. On Friday, we discovered a couple of new cocoons attached to the bottom of large leaves nearby. Sometime this week—Holy Week— those cocoons will open to reveal big beautiful brand new monarch butterflies. Birth. Life. Death. Resurrection. Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring.
Hot cross buns. Ahhh… food. It’s so important. We like to feast our celebration, and after 40 long days of Lent, Easter is a feast day above all feast days. During the Easter holiday, the overwhelming majority of kiwis do two things: sneak in one last holiday (vacation) at the beach before winter and eat hot cross buns. It’s true—there is more to hot cross buns than a little ditty for instructing budding musicians. Warm buns filled with spices representing the burial of Jesus and marked with a cross on the top have a long history with many affiliated legends. They were deemed so special by Queen Elizabeth that they could only be made and eaten on Christmas, Good Friday (to break the fast from Lent), and burials. If caught baking the buns any other time, you’d have to give them up. We’ll try our own delectable hot cross buns for the first time this year as we celebrate the resurrection, grateful for a reason to feast and the freedom to feast on whatever we want.
Let leaves fall and cool winds whisper of the coming winter as they may. Creation—the very rhythm of life itself—is still telling the story of the resurrection beautifully, purposefully, rhythmically. Birth. Life. Death. Resurrection. Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring. May the hope of Christ be with you this Easter season.
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.
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.