Sunday, January 29, 2012

Why is New Zealand so beautiful?

Yes, I agree!  New Zealand is a beautiful corner of the world, with spectacular views and endless places to explore. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and reassure my brain that I am not dreaming, but do in fact live here!  :)

Yet, there is trouble in paradise.  Even amidst this breathtaking scenery there is great heart-ache and brokenness.  Domestic violence, drug abuse, and sexual promiscuity continue to be really big problems in our little country of 4 million.  As we speak, there is a dispute over whether or not an unlicensed brothel that is operating across from a primary school should be required to move.  Because prostitution is legal in NZ, these establishments are considered "entertainment facilities" and therefore are zoned in with mixed business areas of the cities, including areas where young children attend school.  They have determined that the brothel can stay near the school. Frightening, I know! 

When I see and hear these things as a pastor, and know full well that I am directly connected to people dealing with all this yuckiness, it is easy for the beauty around me to lose its luster.  But just when I get a bit down and out, God is gracious to remind me that His kingdom will one day overthrow the kingdoms of this world and that the things He created are STILL good. 
One person who has so blessed me and makes New Zealand a beautiful place for me is my friend Maurice.  Maurice, 86 years old, is my landlord.  He owns the property on which my flat (apartment) is located.  But Maurice is more than just my landlord; he has become a friend and a bit of a grandpa to me.  He loves to talk about Jesus 24-7, always invites me in for a "cuppa" and allows me to harvest veggies and fruits from the expansive gardens in the back yard.  It's quite a nice arrangement and I am grateful for this peaceful place to live, where words of godly wisdom are never far away. 

Yes, New Zealand is a beautiful place.  :)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Summer Kids Club a HUGE Success!

What a week it has been! Each day our church was FULL of children and parents from all around our neighbourhood, having fun and being loved by Jesus and his people! My eyes filled with tears of joy as I stood and watched the kids singing their hearts out one morning as if they were fully aware that Jesus was with them. . that moment I knew the Kingdom of God was breaking through the kingdom of this world.  Kids were meeting Jesus and there is no greater experience than watching that happen!

An incredible ministry team from Denver, Colorado along with our good friends Andrew and Jenna Stout from Hamilton, NZ blessed Whangarei with "COLOURS" VBS/Kids Holiday Programme.
Each day the number of children attending grew significantly. One day we had 26 kids, plus an additional 15 adult volunteers and parents roaming the premises.  For our little church that usually runs around 20 on a good Sunday, this was HUGE and such a boost to our local ministry here at New Hope! 

A contest  between the boys and the girls was established at the beginning of the week to see who could collect more canned goods for the Salvation Army Food Bank and memorize more Bible verses.  The team leader of the losing team would receive the honour of a pie in the face.  Well, as you can see. . .the boys won, but only by one point!  I got creamed. . .literally!

Please pray with us for the 26 kids and the families they represent.  Some of these kids come from very broken home situations that we would never wish on our worst enemy.  Others just need a little reminder that God does in fact love them and desires to be their Lord. Pray that our church family would follow up with our new friends and so the hard work of discipleship.  After all, Jesus didn't call us to make "converts" or to hold a cool program once a year. He called us to make disciples, those that would follow in His footsteps and experience the real and wonderful life that He offers on a daily basis.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Keep your eyes on the road!

  It is true!  I now have four wheels of my own to tootle around in here in Whangarei!  It is a blue-green 1996 Nissan Sentra 5-door hatchback, a reliable little car. Though I still prefer to walk as much as possible, I no longer have to block out hours of my day just to get my shopping done or run (literally) into town to do errands. Woo hoo!         

For you North Americans who have driven in Europe, Australia or the UK, you know that driving on the left side of the road can be a bit exhausting at first.  It's a bit discombobulating when all the natural patterns and instincts you once relied upon are no longer natural; in fact, quite the opposite. You are operating from a different mental framework, one that is upside down, inside out, and requires effort.  I'm often verbally reminding myself to stay left. ..  keep the driver in the middle of the road. . .no left turns on red. . . blinker is on the right . .. shift with the left hand . .. keep your eyes on the road, etc. Sounds silly, I know.

Perhaps this is a bit like walking with Jesus.  When he renews our mind and fills us up with Him, we begin to approach life from a different framework, a different perspective.  . .an eternal one. Yes, it requires some effort, because of course the way we lived before wasn't working, so we have to learn a new way of doing things. As we allow Him to swap out the old heart for the new one day by day, our senses are heightened. Our skills of observation increase as we look for evidences of Him and spot His footprints on the trail of daily life.

As I take to the "other" side of the road here in New Zealand, my eyes are wide open. .  . not only to see the traffic ahead of me, but to see the way of the Master.

ps- thought you'd enjoy a few more pics of the beauty of New Zealand!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rock Solid Breakaway Camp 2012!

Fun in the sun with teens from all over the world and learning about life with Jesus is a good way to spend a week! I returned yesterday from camp out at Whangarei Heads with youth and leaders from all over God's planet: Korea, China, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Tonga, Samoa, Niue, and America (me!).We had a super time kayaking, hiking, fishing, caving, swimming, painting, getting dirty and having great discussions about what it means to know God and follow His lead in life.  For many of the kids, exploring God's creation like this was a new experience and one I'm certain they will remember.

Though the forecast called for a week of rain, God mercifully spared our little corner of New Zealand and we enjoyed many days of sunshine and summer heat, with only the occasional rainy spell.  Our tents were situated in a valley nestled among beautiful hills and heaps of very vocal wildlife (well, really just cows).  The roar of the ocean could be heard on a clear silent night, as the beach was only a 5 minute walk through the forest.

As per usual when you spend a week camping with teenagers, not a lot of sleeping occurs, and my body is still recuperating.  My skin has also turned various shades of brown and red and is looking for a bit of respite from the intense New Zealand sun.  All in all it was a great camp and I look forward to seeing some of these youngsters again next year. 

 Please continue to pray for the those who attended camp.  Some of these kids have incredibly difficult home lives and the positive environment they experience at camp can sometimes be very different than their reality back home.  Pray that when the 'camp high' wears off and they soon forget about all the new friends they made (that they swore they would call everyday) that they would remember Jesus Christ and call on Him.  The new faces of friends won't be so new and exciting anymore; the new experiences will settle in the recesses of their memory.   But when everything else looses it's luster; our God remains
 After all,
8 The grass withers and the flowers fade,
      but the word of our God stands forever.”
~Isaiah 40:8


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Headed off to camp today!

Today begins our big Rock Solid Breakaway youth camp!
We will be out in tents for 6 days at the beach with dozens of intermediate students (ages 11-14).  This is a fantastic ministry opportunity and chance for heaps of young people to encounter Jesus, as most of these kids have little or no exposure to God or his ways. Please pray that this time is fruitful and that all are kept safe and healthy.  (And pray that the rain will stop!  :-)

I believe God is going to move big-time! I'll be sure to post when we get back next week.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Forget the bling-bling; do the whanau thing!

"Forget the bling-bling; do the whanau thing!" was the exhortation from the local Salvation Army this Christmas.  Whanau (pronounced, "fawn-oh") is the Maori word for family.  The encouragement this year was to lay aside the trappings of expensive gifts and earthly treasures in order to spend intentional time with family and friends. Offer the gift of presence.
So. . .as a result, I received a handmade voucher for a free afternoon at the beach from my volunteer coordinator and her husband!

Yesterday was a glorious Kiwi summer day- sunny (which hasn't happened much lately) and 85'.  Who wouldn't take advantage of such perfect weather and hit the beach for a little sun and surf?  After food bank responsibilities ceased for the day, we headed out on a spontaneous trip to Pataua, about 40 minute drive from Whangarei. Perfect weather, great company, and the endless ebb and flow of the ocean tide- FANTASTIC!

After settling under the shade of a large Puhutukawa for a picnic, we hit the water for a little boogie-boarding, swimming, and hunting for the evening's dinner.  For the first time in my life I collected fresh pipis (like little clams) and steamed them right there on the shore.  I'm not a seafood fan, but these really weren't too bad.  (Even though I look a bit frightened in the photo!)

In the 3 hours of swimming and surfing, I managed to dodge rather large stingrays. . . twice! I encountered one while swimming in the calm bay/lagoon area, but then headed out to the open sea where the surf was a bit wild for some boogie-boarding.  I assumed they liked calmer water, and had a false sense of security when heading to the ocean side, when alas another one swam by! Whew!

It really was one of those memorable days where you say, "Ahhh thanks, Lord.  I didn't expect that at all."  Sometimes the most spontaneous, unplanned excursions are the best! 

There is something very healing about a day at the beach.  I love the clean feeling of being utterly exhausted in body, yet energized in spirit,  knowing you've spent all your energy enjoying God's creation. With a few tired muscles and salty sun-kissed skin, I had the best sleep I've had in months! Thank you, Lord, for a day at the beach! 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011: A Big Year for New Zealand

New Zealand rarely makes it into the world news.  After all, how does a small island nation of 4 million people compete on the world stage with a global population that now exceeds 7 BILLION?  Yet, as was for many on the planet, 2011 was a unique year for Aotearoa, the "Land of the Long White Cloud". 
 Even in my short 4 months here (nearly), we have experienced much:

Earthquakes in Christchurch:  Beginning Feb 22, a massive earthquake killed 180+.  Dozens of large aftershocks continue to rattle the Canterbury region, including more early this morning.  (For those of you who are curious, I live on the north island, hundreds of miles from the Canterbury region and have remained largely unaffected by these quakes. )
 Please pray for those who continue to suffer terrible loss and heartache from these quakes.  Even up here in the northland, everybody knows or is related to someone down south affected by the quakes.  We have one Nazarene church in Christchurch, whose property has undergone some damage and liquefaction.

 Bay of Plenty Oil Spill in October: Hundreds of tonnes of oil spilled from the "Rena", a large ship that ran aground on a reef just off the coast of Tauranga.  It has affected wildlife and tourism in the area and continues to be a significant clean-up effort.

 Rugby World Cup 2011: I arrived here in New Zealand amid the flurry of activity surrounding the Rugby World Cup.  Everything, and yes I do mean everything, revolved around the Rugby World Cup!  The school calendars and terms were even altered to accommodate for the world-wide event.  And of course, the NZ All Blacks came out on top!

Needless to say, this was a big year for little New Zealand. Many say that there has been little peace and rest.  Well, its a good thing that our peace and rest doesn't come from the world, eh?  

 "God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. . ." ~Psalm 46:10

Even in the midst of so much "big" stuff, daily life goes on and God continues to show his love through his people.  Over the holidays I had the joy of catching up some a long-time friend from Australia and strengthening new friendships here in New Zealand.

May the peace of Christ be with you as you embark on 2012!