Thursday, February 27, 2014

No Place Too Dark

"Is there any place too dark that you would not go for me and with me?"

This was the question with which that Pastor Vipul (pronounced "We-pull") wrestled as he walked the streets of Auckland in the midnight hour, responding to a rather strange phone call asking for prayer.  Vipul is a powerful prayer warrior and very influential in the lives of many here in New Zealand; he has been a big help to me on various occasions.

God used Vipul to bring light into a very dark corner of Auckland.  PLEASE watch the brief video that tells his story.   It is only 4 minutes long and I am absolutely positive you will be amazed and encouraged!


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Camp Reunion : Follow Jesus

"Don't follow Twitter. Don't follow Facebook. Follow Jesus."  
Great words of wisdom for our teens from one of our youth leaders, John Tautua.

 Our camp reunion last night was blessed of God and reassured me that our next generation is not doomed to be lost.  God has not misplaced them; they are not out of sight, nor out of mind.  In fact, the One True God has them on his mind night and day and watches them closely, finding endless ways to show them his love and his way of holiness.

I was so proud as I listened to 13, 14, and 15 year olds boldly testifying to a genuine change in life because of their choice to submit to Jesus last month at camp.  One boy said, "I used to be so shy and afraid.  Now I look at me; I'm confident and I know who I am.  I just can't describe with words what God has done for me!"  

On the 3 hour van ride home from the reunion in the late hours of the night, some deep theological questions emerged, ponderings like "How do I know that what I believe is really real?" and  "Is God Spirit?  Then why did he come to earth to be human as Jesus Christ?"    Our discussions on these and other serious issues were genuine and honest and I am grateful for the uninterrupted time in the car to explore such things.  God is indeed working in the hearts of our young people and that is a direct result of your prayers.  Please keep up the great work!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Running out of space?

What do you do when you've got more people than you have space?  Create a room out of a shipping container, of course!  This is exactly what one of our youth leaders down in Auckland did when faced with growing numbers of youth. Brilliant!  Now the teens have their own creative space in which to meet, and it draws attention to those in the neighbourhood.

While we're on the topic, please pray for our upcoming youth camp reunion in Auckland this Saturday. As many of you may know, last month's camp was a transformational time in the lives of many of our teens and we only want to see that momentum continue! I will be taking a group down from Whangarei for the day and returning late at night to be prepared for worship on Sunday.

We are truly anticipating great things from God.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Tutukaka Lighthouse

Photos courtesy my friend Jes!
 I am privy to some pretty spectacular views here in New Zealand, and am blessed to see the ingenuity and creativity of our God on a daily basis.  Sometimes I giggle at the utter ridiculousness of the things I see.   Seriously, what was God thinking when he designed a sting-ray, or a tea tree, an octopus, or a spider that spins webs?  Even more outrageous is the fact that he would dream up a human being with ten fingers and toes, elbows and eye-balls. . .with a brain that learns and a heart that loves.  God must be mad.

Or madly in love.

The Tutukaka lighthouse is a functioning solar-powered beacon located on the Kukutauwhao Island, just a 30 minute drive from my home in the Whangarei city centre.  This landmark can only be reached on foot at low-tide, because the 1 hour hike takes you through the Tutukaka headland and eventually across to Kukutauwhao Island. The views are gorgeous. . .and here I am 10,000 miles from what I call "home" enjoying them, taking them in, and locking them in my memory bank.

What is even more remarkable is that while I stand and breathe in the salty sea air, allowing these images to be etched into my brain, the lighthouse continues to do it's job, guiding seafarers safely to shore.  Curious pedestrians come and go day after day, trekking the hills for a brief visit to the lighthouse.  No matter.  It shines on, doing what it was designed to do.

"The Lord is my light and my salvation.  Whom shall I fear?" ~  Psalm 27:1

The Creator of the octopus and the maker of the hills I climb is my Lighthouse. He is madly in love . .with me.  He faithfully and consistently guides my life. His words illuminate my path, showing me the way to live and love. And as he guides me he allows me the delight of enjoying views along the way.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Back in Action

Summer holidays have come to an end and school is back in session, as is every other activity that accompanies life for Kiwi kids this time of year.

We've resumed our weekly Kids Club at church on Sunday nights and all the new bright-eyed gymnasts have turned up at gymnastics, convinced that we will turn them into Olympic athletes by year's end.

It is not just the young kids who will be learning new things.  I too will be joining the ranks of students all across the globe seeking education, but my classroom will be a bit less traditional.  I am finally taking another step towards completing my MAICS (Master of Arts Intercultural Studies), a degree programme  that I began over six years ago to further my theological education and broaden my understanding of how God is working in the cultures of our world.  Living in New Zealand has made it challenging to continue my studies, but thankfully our closest Nazarene Theological College (NTC) in Brisbane,  Australia now offers graduate level courses through real-time video conferencing!
As I hit the books and take on the role of being a student again, I am confident that the Lord will help me to apply what I learn in class to the real-world classroom of life. It is a blessing and privilege to be able to study again, alongside students from literally all over the world!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

That was then. This is now.

This blog post is an invitation to step into the emotional journey of a missionary for a brief moment.

   I will soon celebrate the 2.5 year milestone of living here in New Zealand.  With each hardship overcome and each victory celebrated in daily experience, I am finding that I become more deeply attached to the people of New Zealand, especially to those within my sphere of influence in Whangarei.   That means that with every heart connection comes a responsibility, and to even conceive of leaving feels like a betrayal. (Don’t worry, I’m not thinking of leaving, just sharing some inner thoughts with you.) The Lord has widened my circles, expanded my ministry in ways I never could have dreamed up on my own, and blessed me greatly.

There are even times when I dare to use the word “home” in association with this funny coastal town at the top of the bottom of the world.  Nothing could ever replace where my foundations were first laid in Olathe, Kansas, but I am grateful for the sense of familiarity that I now feel here in Whangarei. 

I stand in awe of what God has done. 

Vivid memories of my first weeks here still linger in the corners of my mind. Oh how I longed for that “someday down the track” when I would feel connected, when I would actually have friends and feel settled. The hard chairs of the airport were more comfortable for me than the soft bed in this new foreign place with foreign people.  At least at the airport, there existed it a vain hope that I was not far from a vessel capable of returning me to my hometown, back to familiarity and friendship.  But .   . . the call of God was stronger and I knew that those options could not continue to reside in my thoughts.  A hard lump clogged my throat and my heart ached as I acknowledged the fact that my new “hometown” would become a no-fly zone; there was no turning back.  
 I ached for the day when things wouldn’t be so difficult and loneliness wouldn’t be my constant companion. All I wanted to do those first few weeks was to find ways to keep myself busy so that I could pass the time and get more days, weeks, and months “under my belt”.  I struggled to consider the needs of others, because quite frankly, at that point just feeling a sense of personal normalcy was my goal.  Selfish I know, but that’s the truth.   I needed milestones to celebrate, things to validate my purpose for being here.  These milestones would also serve as concrete evidence that God had indeed taken me through . . . and could be trusted to do so in the future.

I can remember calling on the name of Jesus with each breath in and out, relying on Him to complete every cycle of respiration.  I was that desperate. Walking the streets of Whangarei, I was on a mission to discover what this town was made of. I spent hours each day scouring the city, locating the staples like supermarkets and shops, parks and safe walking tracks.  I befriended op shop owners and store clerks, volunteered at the Salvation Army and did whatever I could to fill my need for friendship. I also looked for employment outside the church, of which there was none at the time.  Time.  All things would take time.  I wanted to feel settled, normal, productive and competent NOW (then). . .but that would take time.  I wanted to not feel lonely NOW.. . but that would take time.  I wanted to know my way around town NOW. ..  but that would take time.

At night, my prayers were like S.O.S signals to God, requests that he’d somehow relay the message to my family back home that I was distraught and needed prayer. And he did.  Time and again I would receive e-mails that someone had awakened in the middle of the night with a sense that my heart was in need. What a kind and gracious God.

 That was then.

This is now.

Now I’m 2.5 years “down the track”.  In the grand scheme of eternity’s timeline, this is but a blip, barely noticeable.  But like I said before, I need milestones to celebrate.  Now my life is so full, so fulfilling.  Doing life here feels normal and familiar.  I do know how to navigate the city, and much of the north island for that matter.  Good friends are aplenty and the work I do as a pastor, coach, and youth worker is important. Homesickness visits less frequently these days and when it does, I quickly say good-bye and send it on it’s way.
This is not to say that life is perfect here or that I do not continue to face new challenges and struggles.  That would be a lie.  But this IS a tribute to the God whose mercies have been new for me every morning thus far, and whom I can trust to do the same in the future.