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!
Tonga is a small Polynesian kingdom of 110,000 people.
There are only a handful of people who call us on our house phone so when the phone rang one evening, I wasn’t surprised to hear our District Superintendent Neville Bartle’s voice on the other end of the line. “Would you be interested in having In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok from Tonga speak at your church?” I have to confess, sometimes I still get hung up on is understanding names said with a Kiwi accent. Attempt to relay Korean names in a Kiwi accent and it’s over. “Can you spell that?” I asked.
Turns out, I was already on to In-Kwon Kim and his wife Jeong-Seok and their story. After reading a couple of short articles here and here about their ministry, I had hunted down the video below via my friend Annie who works at the Nazarene Global Ministries Center to share as a sermon illustration the following Sunday. “Yes. Most definitely. We want them!” I exclaimed. These were people whose lives and stories were challenging me deeply. I most certainly wanted to meet them and hear from them first hand, and I wanted our church to have that opportunity as well.
This video is an excerpt from a longer documentary a Korean group produced several years ago.
In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok are Koreans. They’re also Kiwis. No matter where they live, they are servants. They raised their older children while serving in some of the poorest slums in Nairobi, Kenya. Currently, they’re raising their youngest son who is almost 10, while serving a marginalized group of people in Tonga.
As young a young person in Korea, In-Kwon felt called to serve the special needs population. Jeong-Seok felt called to missions. Almost a decade ago, they were living in New Zealand with two teenage children and a 6-month-old baby when they felt a very strong and specific call to serve people with special needs in Tonga.
In-Kwon Kim shares the Gospel and seeks to live it by serving those with special needs in Tonga.
When the Kim family arrived in Tonga in 2007, there were no services of any kind for people with disabilities. An untrained eye may have assumed that there were no people with disabilities at all. They were all in hiding. According to the Kims, many people in Tonga believe that a disability is a curse from the gods, a direct result of some hidden sin. Many of them couldn’t have left their houses even if they wanted to. They didn’t have wheelchairs or even doorways big enough to push a wheelchair through.
Imagine laying in a bed, unable to move yourself, attempting to catch a glimpse of the sky through the one tiny window in your home day after day, month after month, year after year, decade after decade of your whole life. That was the reality the Kim family discovered as they began to seek out the people they felt called to serve.
Jeong-Seok visits the family with a visually impaired child and delivers some basic necessities.
It took nearly two years for people to begin to trust In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok, but God had planted a big dream in their hearts for a respite center, a place of refuge and rehabilitation for people with all kinds of disabilities. It was a dream that could not be squelched. Nearly 10 years later, the ministry provided through the Mango Tree Respite Center has exploded and continues to expand as quickly as financial and human resources allow. Through rehabilitation services such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy, Braille instruction, Bible Camps for children and adults, and special education services, In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok and the staff at Mango Tree are offering hope to the hopeless in practical and tangible ways. They are the hands and feet of Jesus.
Thailand has cerebral palsy, but with the help of a walker and therapy, he is learning to walk.
Their work does not only take place at the Mango Tree facility. Regular home visits provide opportunities for in-home therapy and the formation of relationships with families. Mango Tree seeks to provide mobility equipment such as crutches, shower chairs, and wheelchairs, and at the same time improving the quality of life at home by installing ramps and making bathroom facilities suitable. While these things are basic necessities of life, they aren’t always readily available for Tongan families. Mango Tree is making a difference.
Like Jesus, In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok, show up among the untouchable and outcast of society. They have much to offer and loads of education and experience, but they take a posture of humility, offering their whole lives to people who have often been scorned and rejected by their society.
The Mango Tree Respite Center has been blessed with buildings funded by the likes of the Korean Government and the offerings of Nazarene children from around the world, but the they run things on a tight budget—managing the facilities and the ministry on about $25,000 US per year. It’s incredible, really, but they still have a significant need. For example, they could use another wheelchair accessible van to help get people to therapy, education classes, and Bible camps. However, the gift of a van would be futile without the resources to purchase insurance and petrol as well. They are always in need of wheelchairs and other devices that can be customized to fit each individual. You can be a part of the incredible work that God is doing through Mango Tree through praying and through financial support.
Therapy in the garden
But there’s a bigger narrative here. Not everyone is called to start an entire special needs respite and education program from scratch, but we are all called to offer ourselves in humble service, wherever we live. In fact, In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok have an additional purpose when they return to Tonga. They are going to begin intentionally equipping the very people they have been serving to serve as well. Their hope and prayer is that the people with disabilities and their families will begin reaching out to the homeless and addicted who live around the center, passing on their new-found love of Jesus to others who desperately need it.
Computer classes are provided at the Mango Tree Center
And so these men, women and children are not cursed, rather they are bearers of the promise of God, witnesses to the light of Christ, and the embodiment of the Kingdom in their neighborhood.
There are a lot of sheep in New Zealand, but not nearly as many as there used to be. Prior to the 1980s, the entire NZ economy was based on their sheep. Then the wool market crashed. Now the economy is based more on dairy and tourism.
We enjoyed a Christmas party with Happy Feet, a group for mums and little ones (bubs) that meets at the church.
Jaron’s mom made this precious (and sturdy) nativity last year. It joined us in NZ where sees a lot of narrative “action”–retelling the story of Jesus’ birth and otherwise.
Jaron and Q at Blue Springs in Waikato last weekend
It’s picnic season.
‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house
Not much looked very festive, just the tiniest ounce (oh wait…that’s not metric)
Three stockings were hung on the wood walls with care
On oddly spaced nails that had already been there
A hand-made nativity perched near the TV stand
Awaiting numerous retellings oft reenacted unplanned
And mama in her workout capris, and I in my shorts
Relaxed as the warm breeze blew in from the north
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
I sprang from my couch to see what was the matter
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the curtains and pushed open the glass.
The sun on the breast of the fresh-mown grass
Revealed lush green and a hydrangea deep purple at last
When what to my wondering eyes did appear
But a passel of small children heading to the pool that’s near.
With little bike riders so lively and quick
I knew in a moment this wasn’t a trick
More rapid than eagles the vacationers came,
Others whistled, and shouted, and hopped on a plane
To Brittan! To Aussie! Now a beach or a mount!
On a trip! On holiday! We’re off! School’s out!
To the islands up north! They’ve been planning since fall…
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!
Last week, school let out for the summer holiday. Kids are running around in shorts and bare feet. The breeze is ruffling the curtains as it provides some cool relief from the afternoon sun. Businesses are shutting down. “I’ll be back mid-January” automated e-mail responses have been set. The beaches are filling up and every flight off the island is packed. It’s Christmas-time in New Zealand.
We’re experiencing a very kiwi Christmas, indeed. We live very near one of the biggest shopping districts in the country where a giant Christmas tree graces the lawn where the children play while parents shop. Garland with gold and red ornaments are draped across the store fronts. But it’s just not quite the same. For one thing, there are very few Christmas lights. After all, what’s the point, when it’s still light outside at 9:30 p.m.? No one is rushing in out of the cold. Santa costumes lack fur and padding (who can blame them?). But there are other things that seem slightly amiss too—we haven’t seen one Salvation Army bell ringer, despite the fact that the Salvation Army has a significant presence in New Zealand. Very few houses have wreaths on their doors and we haven’t spotted any lawn decorations—tacky or otherwise. There’s no Christmas music station on the radio.
When I mentioned these differences to a kiwi friend, he pointed out that most of the traditions associated with secular Christmas celebrations apply to the Northern Hemisphere where candles and Christmas lights distract from cold, dark nights and greenery gives life to barren landscapes. Then he quickly said, “The biggest culture shock I ever experienced was walking into an American mall at Christmas time. I just said… ‘Let’s get out of here!’ The displays piled high. The music. The decorations. The people. It was just too much.”
That’s not to say that kiwis aren’t as easily distracted. They’ve had graduations and Christmas parties and end-of-the-school-year celebrations on top of each other for back-to-back weekends. Not to mention plans to holiday abroad, trips to the beach, days on the lake, and two weeks to a month off of work for almost everyone!
We’re not gallivanting off of the island we’re just getting settled on, but we do have a very kiwi Christmas planned. (Disclaimer in case you’re feeling sorry for us: We celebrated Christmas all-out, tradition-packed Northern-hemisphere-style with our families in November.) We’ll celebrate with our new church family on Christmas Eve—though many kiwi churches opt for a Christmas morning service. Our tremendously gracious neighbors down the street have invited us to join their family for Christmas brunch that is sure to include sausages, sweet mince pies, and tea. Then, we’ll load the car with a camp-stove we discovered in our garage and cookout foods and drive about 45 minutes to Raglan, a beach town with black volcanic beaches and a big reputation among surfers. We’ll dip our toes in the cold surf and fly a kite per Q’s request months before we moved. “When we live in Moo Zealand, can I get a kite and fly it really, really high?” Your wish is our command, Buddy.
And in the midst of it all…big moves and new cultural norms to navigate or gifts to wrap and food to bake, Christmas lights or no Christmas lights, shorts or sweaters, ski slopes or beaches, the Kingdom is breaking in as surely and as quietly as it did all of those years ago when in the middle of the night a special star appeared in the sky, angels made a fantastic announcement to a bunch of unsuspecting, rag tag shepherds and a young girl gave birth to a baby in a barn. I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to be so caught up in the differences (or the sameness), the decorations (or lack thereof), the holiday hoopla (or the relaxation of a summer vacation day) that I miss what this Advent season has been preparing us for. All the expectation and waiting and anticipation will culminate in the profound truth that the Light has come. Christ has come.
Parting Shots (1 just doesn’t do it justice this week)
Blue Springs is the location of some of the purest water in New Zealand. The water spends up to 100 years filtering through rocks to this spring. The blue tint to the water denotes it’s purity.
The Graham Family
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.