Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Kiwi Christmas!

Meri Kirihimete from New Zealand! 

     For those of you in the northern hemisphere shivering in the cold and snow, here is a little something to make you smile (or jealous)!  I had the wonderful gift of spending Christmas with the Careys at One Tree Point, about 35 minutes from Whangarei. Nigel and Jae Carey are fellow Nazarene pastors in Dargaville and good friends of mine who invited me to spend Christmas with the whole Carey clan  at their parents' beach house.

    The day was sunny and warm, with the Puhutukawas in full bloom, and children's giggles echoing through the house. Though I am 10,000 miles away from home and family for my favorite holiday, this was not  a bad way to celebrate!  :-) I was absorbed into their family, even getting me presents including a new couch for my new flat back in Whangarei.  Yes, a couch!

 You know, "It takes a long time to grow an old friend."  I've no idea who coined this phrase, but they were right on, and their words have passed through my mind many times since the big move to New Zealand 3.5 months ago.  Before moving to New Zealand, I was living and ministering among "old friends", those whom I really knew and who really knew and understood me.  I was a bit spoiled to be honest. We spoke the common language of shared experience and life together over a number of years.

Now I find myself blessed immensely by friends who may not be "old", but have a similar bond because we are siblings in the global family of God.  There really is a special unity and bond among believers worldwide, and it is all because we have the same Father; we all carry some of our Father's family traits.  In some of my friends I see my Father's eyes, that look that says, "Don't worry;  I see the bigger picture."  At other times I see His mouth in the warm smiles that seem to speak of acceptance and grace.  Even the wrinkles in the foreheads of some reminds  me of my Father God, as if they sing the melody of age-old faithfulness and loyalty.  Whatever it might be, I see the Lord in my brothers and sisters here in New Zealand and know.  .. I am not far from home.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Raindrops on Roses and. . .

I can almost hear it now, Julie Andrews singing the classic song from The Sound of Music, "Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens; bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens. . .these are a few of my favorite things."  Here are a few of my favorite things about life in Whangarei:

-- Kids Club Sunday Nights
-- Fresh avocados
-- Puhutukawa Trees  (The "Kiwi Christmas Tree" full of rich red blooms against deep green foliage.)
-- Laid back nature of the people here
-- Meat pies
-- Waking up to mountains towering above and flowers blooming below.
-- Dedicated Christ followers at New Hope Church
-- The beach
-- The childlike faith and growth of new Christians with whom I get to meet every week.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lessons from a kina. . .sore foot part 2

As you may remember, last weekend I had the privilege of enjoying a leisurely afternoon with a new friend out at the Tutukaka coast.  While there, I managed to step on a kina ( NZ sea urchin) and get a bunch of sharp spikes lodged in my foot.  Many of you have probably done the same thing at one point or another, but seeing as how I grew up in landlocked Kansas, I have never encountered sea urchins before.

Well, I was able to get most of the spikes out, but it soon became evident that a small piece broke off and worked its way a bit deeper into the center of the sole of my foot.  Ugh! I wasn’t able to get it out on my own and as the hours passed, my foot grew swollen and inflamed;  every step was very painful.  If you’ve ever had a thorn in your foot you know how much impact one tiny foreign object can have on the rest of your body.

Consider this:  with the kina spike still in my foot, it was too painful to walk, so I had to limp.  After a while limping, my other leg was getting weary and began hurting.  Then because my hip was also bearing extra weight, my spine was out of whack, making my back hurt.  And when my back hurts I get tired . . . and when I’m tired I get grumpy more easily. . . and so on and so forth.  See how one thing leads to another, all because of something that seemed so small and insignificant at the beginning?

Thankfully Donna came over the next day to a little "surgery" on my foot and was able to dig it out with a needle and some elbow grease.  (All the while I am wincing, gripping anything I can get my hands on, and trying not to cry.  J  Once the thorn was out, relief came and healing could begin.  While that silly thing was still making it home inside my body, I could not go on. It could have become infected and led to yet another more serious issue.  Whew! Its remarkable how something so small can have such a big and lasting impact!

 This thorn is like a sin, a dark spot in our life that festers and keeps us from ultimate healing and relief.  It may be small and hidden to others, but like everything else in life, it affects more than just us, and the longer it is left unattended, the distress grows.  Healing and wholeness, mending and repairing cannot come until the sin is confessed, removed, and dealt with.  Sin affects our relationship with God, with others, with family, with . . . everything. Sins, even “small” ones, affect everything. 

God knows this. And he has an equally "small" remedy to match it. . .and its wrapped up in the baby Jesus Christ, whom we celebrate during this blessed season of Advent.  God, in Christ, is “small” enough to go in where others cannot.  We couldn’t understand a God so big, we couldn’t go to a God so big. .. so God came to us, and continues to come to us in our current context, in our messy situations, in a way that is tangible.

God, who is so big we cannot measure him, so strong we cannot beat him, so wise we cannot trick him. .. became a tiny baby, helpless and vulnerable, born into a specific time and space in history.  He became small enough to fit into the tiny hidden places of our heart to remove those seemingly small ‘thorns’ in our life so that healing can begin.

Is it time for a little surgery?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Tutukaka Coast, Jelly Fish . .. and a sore foot?

Wherever you find yourself in New Zealand, you are never far from the ocean, mountains, and nearly every form of breathtaking scenery. Today I enjoyed a leisurely Saturday afternoon with my new friend Tanya on the Tutukaka coast, about 30 minute drive from Whangarei.  Believe it or not, I've been here in NZ for 3 months, yet have had very little exposure to the beach, due to my lack of transportation.  Today was different.

Though it was a fairly cool and cloudy day, we enjoyed chatting, watching surfers, and playing with jellyfish.  Yes, I said playing with jellyfish!  Apparently there are varieties of jellyfish that are not poisonous and today hundreds of them washed up on shore, making the sand look more like bubble wrap than a beachhead. See photo.
I also managed to step on what might have been some type of sea urchin, filling the sole of my right foot with little spikes.  Ouch!  Still recovering from that one! Other than that, it was a wonderful day and I am thankful for the treasures of  sea that God gave us to enjoy.  :-)

Monday, December 5, 2011

My new home!

For nearly 3 months Adrienne has so graciously welcomed me into her home and made me feel like part of the family! Thank you, Adrienne!  Now, I find myself in a new home, an adorable little flat just walking distance from the church.  The flat (apartment) is one bedroom, with a little kitchenette and bathroom, attached to an old Victorian house owned by Maurice, a wonderful elderly Christian man.   Thought you might enjoy a few photos from inside.
My flat is the left side of the house, shrowded by trees.  It used to be the the wrap-around porch of the house, but now is my entry-way.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Pleasant Surprise

To my surprise and delight I received a massive package this week from my church back home in Olathe (Faith Journey)!  In it were items such as sewing supplies, handmade Christmas decorations and photos, evidence that this package was well thought-out and packed with love just for me! To my Faith Journey family I say, "THANK YOU!".

As I sat marveling at all the wonderful goodies in this box, I felt so loved.  It got me thinking about all that went into ensuring that this parcel would reach me in time for Christmas. . .humor me for a moment.

  1) An announcement was probably made at church to put items in the box. 2) A generous friend probably offered to pay for the postage. 3) Dozens of families signed a card; 4) Time was spent knitting the stocking inside. 5) A lesson was planned and followed through with the preschool kids where they created the lovely  handmade ornaments;  6) All these things were packed in a box and my friend made the trek to the post office, paid the fee, and sent them on their way.  7)  Then the box went through two weeks of sorting and traveling by plane and truck over 10,000 miles until it arrived at our local Kiwi Post across the street two weeks later. 

Whew!  What a journey this package has been on!  And all just to bless me for Christmas; to make me smile and let me know I was not forgotten.  I didn’t expect it, nor do I deserve it!  But alas it is here and it is mine.  J

 You know, this is the season of Advent, meaning the "coming".  It is the expectant waiting for Jesus Christ, the Hope of the World, to come.  For Christians, the season of Advent serves as a reminder both of the original waiting that was done by the Hebrews for the birth of their Messiah , as well as the waiting of for Christ's return again.

It’s like waiting for that special package to arrive, but not even knowing that it is on its way.  Imagine the hours just prior to Christ’s birth. The world was totally unaware that the greatest gift, the One they had been longing for, was already on His way! Like the wonderful package that I received, God wrapped his package up in the form of a baby, paid the postage, and used Mary as the courier if you will. (For lack of a better analogy.)

God had all the processes and plans in place from the foundation of the world, so that at just the right time in history Jesus Christ would be born to bring healing to the World and make a way for us to finally be close to the Father God. We didn’t expect it, nor did we deserve it.  But ahhh, the relief now that we know Christ the Saviour  is here.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The waiting is over. . .

Advent, a season of "waiting". 
 Waiting for hope.
 Waiting for light. 
 Waiting for resurrection.
 Waiting for God.
 Wait no longer, for the Hope of the World is here.  The Light of the World is here. The Resurrection and the Life is here.  God is with us!  As you enter this season of Advent, preparing to celebrate the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ, know that your waiting will not go unfulfilled.  God is here.  God is now.  God is with us.

I had the privilege of being American for a few days, visiting Whangarei Falls and heading south to Hamilton for Thanksgiving with Andrew and Jenna Stout, and Jenna's parents, Roy and Jenny, who are here visiting from Washington state. Look at these gorgeous cascading waterfalls! Imagine each droplet as it joyfully runs over the edge, eagerly free- falling to the lowest place, and be thankful.  Be thankful that Christ, because of " the joy set before him [he] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2) Like the water, without abandon, Christ took himself to the lowest place, came as a vulnerable baby and endured the cross of suffering for us.
 While down in Hamilton we celebrated Thanksgiving with a whole houseful of friends from all over the world.  Thanks to Jenna's mom's handiwork, we had all the fixins: turkey (though extremely expensive here!), cornbread dressing, cranberry stuffing, pumpkin pie, and all the yummy extras.  :-)

I also had the great joy of joining in on a Bible in Schools class at one of the local schools. Interestingly enough, as secular as Kiwi culture is, they still allow the Bible to actually taught in the public schools! What an open door for ministry!  Not all schools allow this, as it is at the mercy of the opinions of each school's board of trustees and principal, but for those that do, we are thankful! Oh to be in the classroom again- I miss it!

Lastly, yours truly finally got behind the wheel and drove a little bit here in New Zealand!  Next task- actually getting a car of my own!

Thanksgiving has passed, but my thankfulness has not.  Advent is here, but I am no longer waiting.  God is with me, with you, wherever you find yourself on this planet.  Be thankful.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

For those of you in America, I say, "Happy Thanksgiving!"  For those not in America, I still say "Happy Thanksgiving!"  :-)

If you are reading this, you must be alive, so let's begin there.  Be thankful!  I have many reasons to be thankful after 2.5 months here in Whangarei, but below I'm going to highlight only two:
1) The lovely and lively kiddos we minister to at Kids Club each week here at New Hope. 

2) The dedicated, hardworking, volunteers and staff at the Salvation Army.:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Good without God?

Read carefully the frightening words on this billboard:
"Good without God?
 Over one million Kiwis are.
There's probably no God.
 Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Neville shared this with us at district assembly last week, reminding us of the social and religious climate of our day and the urgency with which we need to be sharing God's good news.

Just think, someone spent big money to display these billboards all over New Zealand! I checked out the websites listed, and the sign above is one out of many from the official NZ Atheist Bus Campaign and NZ Humanist Society, whose goal is to have these signs and other atheist slogans on public buses and streets all over New Zealand.  They raise money from donors who believe in their cause, while constantly battling the government for increasing rights and privileges.  Scary isn't it?

David wrote in Psalm 14, "1 Only fools say in their hearts,“There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good!"  Without God, we have no definition of good, no way to measure righteousness.  There is no benchmark, no standard, no goal.  How would we even know what is "good" or "bad" were it not for a loving God who gives us loving laws to keep us safe, who gives us his Holy Spirit to guide us?  It is impossible to be good without God.

The Apostle Paul says in Romans 3:9-11:  "Well then, should we conclude that we Jews are better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles,[a] are under the power of sin. 10 As the Scriptures say,  "No one is righteous— not even one. 11 No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God.

We cannot be good without God.  But thanks be to God that he has given us righteousness (a right and clean standing before God) through Jesus Christ! What a relief!  Now the questions is, how do we love people in such a way that they want that righteousness too. . . that they want freedom from all that enslaves them here. . . that they want Jesus for themselves?  That, my friends, is our job.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New Zealand District Assembly 2011

This weekend I had the blessing of joining over 100+ Nazarenes from around New Zealand for our annual District assembly.  This is a yearly gathering for all our Nazarene churches on the district to reconnect with old friends, make new ones,worship together, receive reports of God's transformative power in the lives of those in our spheres of influence, and rekindle the fire for the upcoming year.  It was a much-needed time of refreshment for me personally, and allowed me to get a better feel of what unique challenges we face as pastors and laypersons in New Zealand.

I have to say I am so impressed with our leaders, especially our district superintendent, Neville and Joyce Bartle.  It is evident that a deep love for Jesus and years of ministry across our region have given them priceless wisdom and foresight.  This incredible couple seems to have the energy level of those half their age!  :-) 

Personal highlights include:
-- Receiving my first New Zealand District Minister's License
-- Hosting a children's ministry workshop
-- Meeting up with old friends
-- Making new friends
-- Learning about "Celebrate Recovery", a program that can help many of our people struggling with addictions and abuse here in Whangarei
-- Cultural dances
-- Real-life testimonies of miracles and changed lives
--  Just being together

This was by far the most diverse district assembly of which I have ever been a part!  In attendance were those from Korea, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, America, Cook Islands, South Africa. .. and I'm sure I am forgetting some.  It was quite a sight; a little glimpse of heaven!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dirt Bike Night at Rock Solid

A highlight for me each week is Tuesday, when I head out to Dargaville to join our fun-loving leaders and teens for Rock Solid, a youth outreach program for 11-13 year olds.  Our leadership team consists of adults and older teens from 4 churches of all different denominations, adding such flavor to this ministry! The large majority of these kids do not attend any church at all and have very little knowledge of the Lord, His love, and His ways.  This is a vital ministry to "tweens" in Dargaville.
Last night we loaded the buses and took the kids out to the beach for a little 4-wheeling action as we watched the sun set over the west coast of northern New Zealand. Enjoy some great pics!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Kiwi 101 and Other Randomness

Being an American in New Zealand has its challenges, some of them harder than others.  Some of seemingly insignificant obstacles I face everyday involve basic Kiwi lingo. As soon as I open my mouth I give myself away as a foreigner, though more often than not I don't get the question, "Are you American?", but rather, "Are you Canadian?"  Apparently there are quite a few Canadians here in Whangarei.  "Yachties" they call them, folks who sail the seas on their yachts and end up here in NZ for some of the most spectacular marine life and sites in the world.
Just for fun, I'll  let you in on a few secrets.  (It's amazing how educational grocery shopping can be!)

Kiwi                           American
kumura                       sweet potato
coriander                    cilantro
capsicum                    bell peppers
jandals                        sandals/flip flops
jelly                            Jell-o
jam                             jam
petrol                          gasoline (which is $2.09/litre= $8US /gallon!)
toilet                           bathroom
carpark                       parking lot
footpath                      sidewalk
chips                           french fries

Additional Randomness
-- New Zealand is the youngest society on earth and yet one of the most progressive.  It was the last spot on earth to be populated.
-- NZ has the highest teenage suicide rate in the world.
-- Prostitution is legal.
-- NZ is considered the most secular English-speaking nation in the world.
-- They were the first to give women the right to vote and have a female prime minister.
-- No additional sales tax added on to goods.  The price that is listed is actually what you pay-imagine that!
-- No pennies or one cent pieces exist. Every price is rounded to the nearest 10 cents.
-- Kiwis are VERY proud of this little country, especially when it comes to the All Blacks. (NZ National Rugby team, which won the Rugby World Cup two weeks ago!)
-- Shoes are not required in public places.  I can't tell you how many people (adults and kids) stroll around town barefoot, even in the grocery store.
-- Ginger and Coconut are very common flavors.
-- Kiwis love their fish, especially the Maori and Pacific Islanders!
-- The Metric method of measurement is used.
-- Though they are one of the world's largest dairy producers, it is still crazy expensive!
-- You'll find McDonalds here in Whangarei, but it is quite expensive, considering a basic value meal will cost you $11-12.  No dollar menu here!
--Hell Pizza is a poular pizza chain that uses everything anti-Christian as a marketing tool.

 Thanks to the generosity of folks back home, these two youngins got their very own brand new Bibles last week!

Friday, October 28, 2011

The beauty of paradise and the filthiness of sin. . .

Though often disguised in pleasure, prosperity, and "prettiness", sin is outright filthy.  There is nothing beautiful about it. It is sin that sent Christ to the cross. In a 3 hour period today I experienced both the wonder and beauty of God's mysterious creation, and the ugly, make-you-feel-sick nature of sin. 

I had the opportunity to hike up to Whangarei Falls today with a friend.  (I was kicking myself that I didn't bring my camera, but I'll go again soon and post some photos for you! The photo to the left is an old one.)  The one hour hike just to get there was completely worth it- massive roaring falls cascading down into a huge green lagoon surrounded by lush rain forest and everything pure "New Zealand".  It was as if we had stepped into a corner of heaven. (Not that heaven has corners, but I think you know what I mean. he he!) The streams fed by the falls lead us to numerous swimming holes with make-shift rope swings and ample places to splash and play. We even waded in the frigid water to sooth our aching knees and feet.  It was truly incredible. .. and I will go again soon and give you photos!

Neighbor's wisteria- gorgeous

With memories of paradise fresh in my mind, we made the trek back home. On our walk back through the streets of Whangarei I was deeply troubled by two things.  We stopped in to say hello to one of her nephews, who greeted us at the door very clearly "high" on who knows what, with an additional cigarette in hand and liquor bottle not far away.  There were three small children roaming around outside half-clothed, completely unaware of the situation they were truly in. This relative is only 19-20yrs old and his young girlfriend was there to accompany him and the children. Ugh. . stomach ache #1.

Then, within minutes we came across a group of teenagers standing outside a house chanting at each other, taunting their friends to "booze" with them, chugging alcohol through a hose and funnel contraption.  It took everything within me not to go right up to them and stand in the middle to keep them from continuing.  (Maybe I should have!)  Ugh.  Stomach ache #2.

Unfortunately, what I experienced today is not uncommon in our neck of the woods.  So many hurting people deceived into thinking that reality = alcohol, drugs, smoking, and sex.  The filthiness of sin- I hate it!  Please pray that we who are children of the King would be a bright beacon of hope and light here in Whangarei, exposing the ugly nature of sin and inviting people into real life with Christ.