It is New Year’s Eve, but we are not counting down the hours until midnight. We are not waiting for the ball to drop. No, this year we are counting the hours until 8am when we leave for the airport and our mission trip to Patagonia. I turn to Emma, my thirteen year-old daughter who is joining me on this trip and ask if she is ready. “Yes! I can’t believe it!” she squeals.
Tomorrow our team of students and Cru staff will converge in Miami, gathering together for the first time for an orientation and dinner in the airport before setting off for a two-week expedition in the Andes Mountains of Argentina. We intend to spend five days trekking near El Bolson and a day white water rafting. For the bulk of the expedition, though, we will be serving at a lodge in Bariloche. Throughout the trip we will have two objectives: to help our students develop in Christ-like character, faith, and love for the Lord, and to share the love and hope of the Gospel to the travelers we encounter from all over the world.
Our partnership with the lodge is new this year. Last year visitors from over 60 different countries stayed at the lodge, and interestingly 70% of these were vacationers from Israel who had just finished their years of military service. Our hope is to build relationships with these visitors, offer them hospitality, and invite them on outdoor day trips, engaging in spiritual conversations and demonstrating the love of Christ.
In reality, as I sit here typing this, I am filled with apprehension, eager expectation, nervous energy and, I hope, more than a touch of faith. Already God has met all our financial needs for every member of this trip, and He has brought us together for His purposes. He has had a plan for this time from the beginning of creation and He has cleared our schedules that we might be centered on and available to Him. I just don’t happen to know what that will look like.
This morning I was reflecting on Matthew 6:10, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Author Paul Tripp says, “We quickly forget that God rules over every situation, location, and relationship for his glory and our good. And when we forget, we want control over things we will never control.” As one of the trip leaders, I want to ensure success, fruitfulness, and great growth. However, none of that is up to me. I cannot force growth in the students or in those we meet, nor even in myself. I am utterly dependent on God. Please pray that I would choose daily to submit, surrender, and sacrifice my will to His, and that I would live for the glory of Christ and the joy of being His. It is crazy that on a mission trip I still wrestle with this fear of failing. Yet how can I fail in doing something that God himself will either do or not do?
So, do I have a New Year’s resolution? Hmmm… I think it is more like a two-week resolution that I hope will continue for a lifetime—that is, to remember that God rules and to let Him do it. Thanks for your prayers!
We wanted to be sure and share with you this thank you video that our Kiwi teammates sent us. This way you can meet the team and see some of Dunedin, the University of Otago, and the surrounding countryside. You can also hear their cool accents! We love to hear the voices of this “family” down under—all our kids come running whenever we play this video.
We are eagerly looking forward to a visit from directors, Dre and Mic this December!
We are home! After weeks of camping and traveling, the freshly laundered sleeping bags are hanging on the line to dry and we are now sleeping in our own beds!
Our final flight landed in Boston at 8:30pm where we were greeted by the wide smile and warm arms of “Miss Alice,” our dear extended family member who rents the apartment in our house. She even brought a bag full of fresh fruit and granola bars to compliment our all-day diet of airplane peanuts and mini cracker packages.
For the ensuing two-hour drive north, we talked over each other about all that we had missed and experienced in the last three months. Despite the late hour, the energy in the car grew as the kids began to recognize the landscape, and by the time we pulled into the driveway, the air was electric. Doors were flung open and kids had launched themselves from the car even before it rolled to a stop. Our headlights on the garage door lit up a celebratory welcome home sign, and another was draped over our front door where bags of groceries humped like welcoming gnomes.
Inside, the house smelled of lemons and glittered from the attentions of other friends who had even gone so far as to mop the floor in my bedroom and closet! What’s more, our Lifelines teammates had come in and cleaned out, then restocked, our refrigerator and lined the shelves of our pantry. I couldn’t stop beaming, and although they weren’t present at 11pm to welcome us, the love and administrations of so many dear friends lingered in the house—right down to the potted pansies on the front stoop. What a welcome!
Our home has seemed strangely normal, yet new. I was surprised to have forgotten which drawer the silverware was in, and to see how lovely our kitchen looked. And although the daffodils in the yard clearly mark spring, our “Joy to the World” door mat was a strange remnant of the Christmas season that reigned when we left.
Some adjustments have caught us off-guard. Our sleeping schedule has been in complete upheaval—the kids have not been ready for bed before 10:30 and we are on a streak of retiring at 1 am and not stirring until after 8:00. Both Dan and I are at a loss as to which side of the steering wheel one might find our blinkers, though we have yet to drive on the wrong side of the road. And it is odd to be so spread out around our big house. There are signs of the mama bear and her two cubs who have lumbered through our yard, which is a bit of a shock after living in a predator-free environment.
But, it is SO good to be home. On Sunday as I sat in the pew, rumpled and content from the hugs of our church family, I thought of the NZ family we recently left, and where they would have been sitting in church in Dunedin the day before, and what our Student Life teammates would be discussing in their staff meeting later that day as dawn leaked across the Otago peninsula. It is fascinating that a heart can be in so many places at once.
We have changed nationalities again—oozing back into the American lifestyle, while trying to hang onto the simple purity of New Zealand. Our days here are more full, the responsibilities heavier, and the schedule faster paced. But, we delight in the commodities of America, the accessibility and quality of goods—like my commercial sized washing machine and our heated floors. We have resumed the traditions of backyard baseball and hamburgers on the grill. In addition, we have traded rolling pastures for filtered sunlight through dense woods and the scent of pine. But both our New Zealand home and our New Hampshire home reflect the stunning beauty and majesty of God.
What is it that makes a place home? High above the Pacific, I had many hours to consider this question. Always, I come back to one thing. People. Relationships. Fellowship. It is through the Body of Christ that we experience God. He uses the hands and voices of others to demonstrate His love, His kindness, His pleasure, His forgiveness, His encouragement. I am grateful to have lived as a Kiwi, and I am grateful to be an American. But I am especially grateful to be a child of the living God, a servant in His royal priesthood, and a citizen of a holy nation belonging to Him (1 Peter 2:9.) That citizenship crosses all other borders and encompasses all other nations. Because of our adoption into that family, we are at home.
We spent our last week and a half in New Zealand “on holiday” driving north toward the Aukland airport, trying to soak up as much of the country and culture as possible. It is too beautiful to miss, so I want to share this final leg of our journey in the land that the Maori call Aotearoa.
The first leg of our journey took us from a sad farewell in Dunedin to a joyful reunion with come of the Christchurch Student Life staff members. Much thanks to Regan, who took us on a nighttime tour of the city and a romp around the most amazing playground we have ever seen, and even put us up for the night in her flat.
Heading west from Christchurch, we swung through the Southern Alps via Arthur’s Pass. The adventures of this day will be forever burned in our memories. First, we stopped to climb on the massive rocks at Castle Hill.
Then we wound our way up the road to Cave Stream—an under-ground stream that combines spelunking with wading. At times the ice water was up to my chest, but we plunged on for an hour through the cave with our headlamps casting circular light on the narrow limestone walls. At the end, we fought our way up over a waterfall and climbed metal rungs embedded in the wall to a narrow shelf which we scrambled across toward the yawning light of day. That final precarious climb into the warm sunshine was like coming up out of the grave. We were clod, wet, and numb, but deliriously happy—some for having the adventure and some for having finished it!
We rolled in late that night to Motueka and awoke to rain. The girls’ tent floor was a shallow pool of water. A cyclone had hit the northern island and was working its way down the country dumping water as it spun out. Our hope of hiking the famed Abel Tasman Track was dashed. It was going to be a five day hike; the forecast called for five full days of rain. Following a tip from the campground attendant, we spent the morning at the aquatic center splashing in the pool. The van had begun to leak oil so Dan spent the afternoon at a garage while I took the kids to a movie in Nelson. That night, rain drove us into a motel room where we hung the tents to dry.
The following morning, windshield wipers flailing, we boarded the ferry and waved good-bye to the soggy, but majestic, South Island. In Wellington we visited the Te Papa Museum with its stunning, larger-than-life wax figures of the battle of Galipoli.
We also sought out some dear friends who direct Tandem’s Military Ministry. In their dry and welcoming home we had the joy of learning from their life and parenting, as well as sharing our own spiritual insight with the young adult Bible study group that Al usually leads. It was with regret that we finally stopped “yarning” days later and headed to the east coast town of Napier in an effort to dodge the rain.
The free campsite was out of town on a beautiful, but drizzly, lake. 🙂 We sadly misjudged the sunset, which was getting earlier and earlier in the southern hemisphere, and ended up trudging our clan through the dark, in the rain, to a massive waterfall that we could barely see. I am so impressed by the kids’ good spirits—not one complaint! They remained undaunted even when we served peanut butter and jelly for dinner and ate by the light of our car’s headlights. I thought perhaps after all that we would be rewarded with the rare viewing of a Kiwi, but apparently they were avoiding the rain. Smarter than we are, I guess!
On Saturday we happened upon a giant easter egg hunt in the town square. The kids joined the throngs in pursuit of 750 hidden eggs. Collectively we found three. Next, we rented bikes and toured the long beach-side trail for about 18 kilometers. Before the day ended we wandered a bit in town, visited the Arataki Honey shop, and caught a gorgeous sunset overlooking the world atop Te Mata Peak.
On Easter Sunday we roused the kids in the dark morning hours to hike up through the sheep pasture by our tent site following our tradition of celebrating the risen Christ with a sunrise service. This year we led the service ourselves, reading Luke’s account of the resurrection and praying together before the kids led us in a round of songs.
Although we didn’t follow our normal Easter Sunday routine, and we sadly missed our church family at home, we spent the day in our New Zealand fashion, driving and belting praise songs. In exchange for our common big breakfast, we ate carrots and sat in hot springs that we discovered along the route.
And, although we did not feast on a roast with family, we did share a table with Tandem staff friends in Hamilton, where we enjoyed sweet fellowship late into the night.
Our final days were spent north of Aukland and were tainted by continued car trouble, but we are grateful to God to have sold the van less than 24 hours before boarding the plane home. Despite drama over the van, we were blessed to camp multiple nights on the beach and awaken to miles of white sand flecked in sand dollars.
We relished the sunny days and exclaimed over the common double rainbows which colored the northland sky like a banner over waves of green pastureland.
We marveled over Rainbow Falls, Haruru Falls, and Whangerei Falls, raging with the effects of Cyclone Cook.
In the Bay of Islands, we explored the famous Waitangi treaty grounds where the Maori made their much disputed pact with the British crown. There we saw the world’s longest war canoe and were treated to a cultural performance which ended with the famed “Hakka.”
We also stopped in to see the first missionary house and church in New Zealand. How odd it seemed to stand in the footsteps of our brothers in Christ, knowing that we were somehow linked through time by a common purpose.
Those first missionaries had a longer voyage and more barriers to cross than we did in sharing the love and hope of Christ, but their long-ago efforts provided a church home for us in Dunedin, a flourishing ministry to be part of at the University of Otago, and the right hand of fellowship from young and old throughout the country. They could not have known of the lasting impact they made, but no doubt they hoped and prayed for it. We pray that our efforts would also produce lasting fruit.
With that thought, and the words of the risen Christ still ringing in our ears, “feed my sheep,” we zipped our lives into six large duffles and boarded a plane that would take us back to the waiting sheep pastures of New England.
Three months ago we made the leap across the Pacific in answer to God’s call to take Lifelines to New Zealand. Now that we are about to leap back, many of you are probably wondering, “Was the mission accomplished?”
Our whole team, and our Kiwi comrades, would give an emphatic “Yes.” We have taken spiritual territory and have laid Lifelines tracks in Kiwi soil. From Cru’s Chief of Staff over the Americas and Oceania to the hesitant first year student, we have done our best to love well and build relationships here in New Zealand.
In the gaps between conferences—five of them in three months—we hosted dozens of trips and learning activities outdoors and in. In response, both staff members and students have begun using experiential learning in ministry, revitalizing their Bible studies and personal discipleship, and offering new tools to make a deeper spiritual impact in believers and non-believers. Our staff team in Dunedin, and the student leaders as well, have adopted Lifelines’ Grace and Truth methods and we have passed on the Biblical culture of walking in the light and living authentically as the Body of Christ. As Cam, our Dunedin co-worker put it, “I don’t know how I have done five years of ministry without knowing this stuff!”
God has also blessed our ranks with Austin, a Vermonter and recent graduate, who volunteered with us for two weeks in Dunedin. We are pleased to report that he has decided to intern with Lifelines back in the States this fall and just weeks ago he was accepted. Lizzie, our Student Life teammate, is creating a video about our impact on the team in New Zealand so that we can share the vision and recruit others to join the effort across the Pacific.
We were pleased to spend some valuable time at the feet of Mark Rutter, Leadership Development Director for North America and Oceania, who taught the class we took in Wellington during the Tandem Staff Conference. His advice on our branding and next steps for Lifelines was insightful, and his passion for ongoing spiritual growth matches our own. We invited him to be the keynote speaker at our Lifelines Base Camp this summer in Colorado, and to our delight, he has agreed.
God’s plan for us to be here was certainly for our own growth as well. As a Lifelines team, God has taught us to walk more humbly, to follow different leadership, to be more watchful and discerning, to adapt to a new culture, and to adapt our own ministry style to the needs and ways of New Zealand. We have a collection of new ideas to employ in our own ministry back home, and a bigger view of God’s grandeur. Our kids have learned to lean into God during loneliness and discomfort, and to love and accept other cultures rather than competing and comparing. Like us, they have begun to adopt Kiwi ways and delight in this beautiful land and its people.
I would like to think that we are all coming back changed for the better, wiser, and more faith-filled. I hope the lessons here will stick in our hearts and guide our steps in the future. One future step is to stay in touch with the staff friends we have met here, and to continue developing the staff in Dunedin through distance coaching. It is our hope that within a year some of them will come here for further training and we will send a second short-term Lifelines team back to New Zealand. We also continue to pray for Brodie, a Student Life intern, and other Kiwis like him, to carry the torch for Lifelines in New Zealand in the future.
The mission was accomplished, yet it has only just begun. God has swung open the door for international partnership and we have begun the generational process of passing on the Lifelines DNA in New Zealand. We are eager to see the concepts that we have birthed here in the past three months grow and, by God’s grace, one day, become a Lifelines Kiwi ministry.
“Did you get pictures of the backyard, too?” I asked Emma as she toured the house, camera in hand. We were moments from leaving forever the house that had been our home for the past three months. As we said good-bye to the trampoline, the clothesline that we put to use every sunny day, the yard full of purple flowers, the tree out front with the Tui nests, and the house itself still echoing memories, we heaved a collective sigh. Somehow, in the past few weeks, our longing for New Hampshire had turned into mourning over all that we were leaving.
In a valiant attempt to fit in all our “lasts,” we stuffed our duffle bags, and our days, to bursting. We got in a team jump at Leap, the trampoline park, and had dinner with our Kiwi loved ones every night.
Jeremy, one of the student leaders, taught our kids and the Lovejoy boys how to build lightsabers, and we snuck in a final game night with the student women whose flat we occupied when we first arrived in Dunedin. We even stalled our packing long enough to accompany Mic and Dre to the Farmer’s Market for homemade hummus and honey.
Finally, on Sunday, we locked the door and folded ourselves into the van for our last church service. The elders invited us up front for an interview and a prayer over our family and then we were hugging everyone good-bye. On the way out of town we stopped in for lunch at Dre and Mic’s, the campus director and his wife, which was the very place that our Dunedin adventures began. Lounging in their back yard and chatting over chips and sandwiches felt so natural that I could tease myself into believing we were staying. It was only when we were calling and waving out the van windows at their shrinking forms, that it hit me. We were leaving.
Cam and Gracie, Terena, Lauren, Peter, Stuart—are all just names to you, but to us they represent the faces and heart of New Zealand and the part of our hearts that we are leaving behind. I cannot bear to think that we may never see these beloved people again. Dan and I agree that it would be easy to return if God were to call us back to New Zealand.
For now we have a week and a half of “holiday” as we make our back toward Aukland and the plane that will carry us away.
I have developed a new appreciation for sheep. I suppose it has something to do with being surrounded by them all the time. There are about 30 million sheep in New Zealand. In our new home town we have our favorites—the one ram with the super curly horns and the two that like to stand on the giant tree stump—they are far more adorable than I ever realized. The only drawback is that they are too skittish to stand long for a picture, so most of my sheep photographs are of their posterior end.
My wooly neighbors are teaching me about myself in relation to God. I see that sheep are indeed defenseless, which works here in predator-free New Zealand. They are terrified of sheep dogs and are putty in the hands of a shearer. I have seen sheep trap themselves behind gates and blatt piteously to the rest of the flock, completely incapable of backtracking to rescue themselves. We are more like sheep than I want to admit.
Among the flocks of students at Otago University, God has been calling his own and they have heard his voice and responded. Over fifty students—a third more than last year—caravanned to Queenstown for the Student Life Otago fall conference. A handful of the students were not yet believers and there was a huge group of students who received Christ in the past few weeks or have just gotten involved with Student Life this year.
The name of the conference was “Whole-hearted” and the main speaker encouraged everyone to wholeheartedly listen to the promises of God and trust our Shepherd’s voice. We led a Lifelines version of dodgeball that focused on sacrifice, and the evangelistic outreach portion of the conference centered on digitally sharing the Gospel. One student, David, ended up in eight different text message conversations that lasted his whole trip home as he shared the Gospel message with his “mates” back on campus.
My highlight of the weekend was the men’s and women’s night. Terena, one of the student leaders shared her story of her ongoing struggle with purity and the victories she has experienced. Her vulnerability set the tone for the night. Next, we invited the women to anonymously fill out a survey with questions regarding sexual purity, thought life, eating disorders, and a variety of other common and often never addressed sins. Then we shuffled all the papers and handed them out randomly and read through the list asking the women to stand if the question read was checked “yes” on the survey they were randomly given.
My heart was wrung out as I watched those women stand on behalf of their sisters in Christ. The abundance of women who stood for having same-sex relations, eating disorders, alcohol or drug addictions, having been abused, etc. was staggering. I looked at those beautiful, talented young women and just wanted to weep for us all.
Later in small groups, the student leaders facilitated a discussion which led to more confession and open tears. “They would act so nice and I would want to please them, so I would have sex with the guys in my hall and the next morning they would treat me like trash” admitted one student. My eyes blurred as I thought about this tremendous woman trying to fill an empty space in her life and consequently being treated like trash. It was all wrong. Unless the Lord is our shepherd, we will want and not be satisfied. We will follow the crowd, mindless of the dangers. We will be at the mercy of an unmerciful world.
Confession is the road to healing, and you could feel the shift in the group the next morning. Relationships were fathoms deeper, students laughed and encouraged one another, and the non-believers in the group were interested in learning more—asking for Bibles, exchanging contact information with new friends, and seeking out action groups to take part in.
When I see lumbering double-wagoned trucks studded with protruding white noses swaying down the road, I understand the Biblical description of being led like a sheep to the slaughter. If not for our Good Shepherd, we would be the ones on that truck. I thank God for his promise in John 10:27-28: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
One of the greatest joys of being in Dunedin has been the opportunity to befriend and build into the student leaders that represent Student Life. Their love for God and commitment to ministry is inspiring. We have been blessed to be part of their lives.
In recent weeks we have had the joy of pairing up with the students during Student Life’s “Hour of Faith” to share the Gospel on campus. It is so encouraging to see the students so capably witnessing to their peers on this half of the globe while our own students are doing the same thing back home. Just two days ago, one of the student leaders paired up with a first year student that she is discipling and they shared the Gospel with a woman in the student center who prayed to receive Christ as her Lord and Savior. What an exciting display of God’s goodness and of the process of spiritual multiplication!
Many of these same students have been joining us in the evenings for extra training sessions so that they can learn to create experiential programs of their own to engage students in Biblical application. Jasmine is one of the students who has taken these ideas and run with them. On Tuesday she called me up after her Action Group, giddy with excitement over the activity she had created for her girls to better understand the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice. She has been thrilled about the response from the women in her group—they are eager to attend and more invested in the topics—and Jasmine herself is more passionate about leading.
Jim Rayburn, founder of Young Life, wrote: “We believe it is sinful to bore kids with the Gospel. Christ is the strongest, grandest, most attractive personality to ever grace the earth. But a careless messenger with the wrong method can reduce all this magnificence to the level of boredom… It is a crime to bore anyone with the Gospel.”
It has been a delight to watch these students move from delivering a message, to creating opportunities to practice The Message. Jasmine didn’t bore her peers with a lesson on sin. She had them actually write down their sins and tape them to a heavy water bottle that they had to “bear” above their heads while they read about Jesus’ grace and redemptive work on the cross. Then the women took the sins they had written down and tacked them onto Jasmine’s bulletin board that she had covered in white paper. The women prayed in repentance and then took off their sins, tore them up, and threw them away. Finally, Jasmine took off the white paper covering to reveal a picture of Jesus, now filled with piercings from the ladies’ tacked-up sins. The discussion that followed was much more somber and significant and gratitude-filled than any Jasmine had experienced in the past. Jesus’ salvation and forgiveness are nothing to yawn over—they are deeply moving, compelling us to live lives worthy of the Gospel.
The same day of Jasmine’s Action Group, our Dunedin staff women invited us to teach the content for the weekly student leaders’ meeting. The topic was “Consecration.” To teach the concept of being set apart for holiness and service to God, we brought in a pile of scrub brushes and my toothbrush. The women all laughed when I pulled out my neatly capped toothbrush, and they were quick to point out the differences between it and the other brushes—not just in how it looked, but also in it’s purpose, and in how differently it was treated. The message was clear—God has set them apart to glorify Him alone. These student leaders are doing just that. They truly are living as a light on campus.
A few weeks ago, my American teammate, Alicia, and I led a hike for the female student leaders. It was the best kind of hike because we started at the top and hiked to the bottom. 🙂 The theme for the day was “What God sees.”
From the top of Three Mile Hill, we overlooked the mountains, the patchwork of farmlands, the town of Mosgiel nestled in the valley, and the ocean beyond. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters” (Psalm 24:1,2.) We started by reading this verse and parts of Job, and then discussed the big picture things that God sees and how He feels about His Creation.
Next, we hiked down into town and wandered through the streets of Mosgiel, comparing them to the streets of campus and the things that God sees–both good and bad—in each. We read Luke 19:41 and talked about why Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem and wondered what He might weep over in Dunedin. Finally, we walked straight to our house and went inside so they could see the personal aspects of my life, connecting that to the the things God sees and cares about in each of their personal lives. The women seemed to really love the hike and some still have a small note posted reminding themselves that God sees and cares about them.
The day was remarkable for me, too, because God demonstrated His care for the details of my life in a powerful way. The forecast for the day was dreary and wet. That morning, as I turned on the windshield wipers and the heater and drove to campus to pick up the women, I could see dark clouds piled up over the trailhead. Inspired by stories of other missionaries, I decided to pray for God to open the skies and give us a dry corridor for our hike, knowing that a clear view was essential to really communicate the message of “What God Sees.”
I prayed fervently in faith all the way to campus and by the time we returned with our car load, the sun was streaming down over the trail. It was gorgeous for the views and then clouded up when we reached town, as you can see in the photos. By then I was confident that God would hold the rain off until the whole program had ended. Sure enough, we were all snug indoors talking about how the Lord cares about the details of our lives when the drizzle began again. What a tremendous demonstration of the day’s lesson. Glory to God!!
Pose like a cover shot? I tried to imagine what that might be and how to screw my face into such a position. Before the photo shoot was over I had dissolved into laughter. Meanwhile, the Student Life trio from Christchurch had disappeared into the Hub and were now bouncing over with wrapped gifts. “Just wanted to say a huge thank you for the last three days!!! This is like a light at the end of the tunnel. We so appreciate the training…thanks for supplying us with the tools that we can use in ministry and life,” the card read.
We hugged good-bye to our young peers as they headed back to Christchurch, and heaved a contented sigh. Our second Facilitator School was over and had been a success. Although the Facilitator School was created to help people in ministry develop skills in facilitating groups, we have discovered a common concern—many of us in ministry are operating in performance, rather than living in grace and truth. In the Facilitator School we teach staff members, like the Christchurch team, how to create an environment of grace and truth, and give them the chance to experience it for themselves which leads to tremendous personal growth.
This fresh team is operating without a director this year, which has thrown them into upheaval as the school year has made its racing start. Walking in the Light, living by healthy team norms, communicating and working through conflict, and creating an environment of grace and truth were not just concepts we modeled and taught, but were avenues by which the team began to do the real work of connecting, growing together, and trusting each other.
“Oh, you mean we all have to go?” Regan gasped, eyes round. Jacinda and Josh laughed at Regan’s flustered question as she crept to the center of the circle for her seven minutes of sharing. Although it was a simple lesson in listening, the staff members had chosen to talk about a very real issue that was effecting their whole team, and now it was Regan’s turn to weigh in. It was obvious that God had carved out this training school as the space they needed to reconcile and grow personally.
The Christian life is not about doing it right. It is about depending on Christ because we can’t do it right. As missionaries we want to teach and model to students how to do life right, but the only way to do that is to expose our weaknesses and demonstrate repentance, reconciliation, and dependence on God alone. Yet none of us really want to do that. In fact, we live most of our lives in an effort to prove our goodness, and end up being hypocritical at best, and hiding from each other and God at worst.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9). The Facilitator School offers a place and permission to practice walking in the light—to expose and confess what is truly in our hearts so that we might be reconciled to each other and to God—then God will cleanse us and make us righteous, which is what we have been trying to achieve in our own effort all along.
Although they had straggled in the first day one at a time, and quietly slipped into a seat, after days of interactive programs—some of which they led—and lots of practice in building Christ-centered community, they left chatting affectionately, arm in arm down the street. Like many of us in ministry, they did not need to learn how to share the gospel. They needed instead to learn how to apply the grace and truth of the gospel to their lives.
“We have all kinds of tools for sharing the gospel but when it comes to character building we don’t have a common language and tools,” Dre, the Student Life Director here at the University of Otago, explained to the Christchurch team. “These guys really challenged the heart behind what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.” I silently thanked God for Dre’s endorsement and for the eagerness and open hearts of the Christchurch team. Through these two teams God has given us the opportunity to build into all the staff on the South Island.
“How do you envision your life and ministry changing as a result of this training?” we asked on our end of training survey. This answer was written in bold: “Freedom. Freedom to move from performance to grace and truth; freedom in evangelism to look at the whole person; freedom to make choices; freedom to communicate well.”
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
I have no idea how this large teenager appeared in our house, but he bears a small resemblance to the son I birthed fourteen years ago. On closer inspection I can see that he IS, in fact, a bigger version of that same child. Caleb is now fourteen. Despite his persuasive argument that he should get two parties since his birthday would reoccur the following day in the U.S., we had one birthday party and one cake. Caleb is now the proud owner of a rugby ball and the New Zealand edition of Monopoly, and I am the proud mom.
The staff members here in New Zealand have been doing their best to teach our kids how to play rugby. After watching a bloodied and battered game here in Otago, I am less inclined to having them pursue this sport competitively, but it is great fun to watch them learn. This weekend Mic and Dre, the Student Life campus directors in Otago, invited the Lovejoys and Litchfields to join them on a get-away in Te Anau, where Dre continued his rugby lessons amidst much racing and squealing (from my girls, not Dre.)
This past weekend became one of our highlights of our time in New Zealand. Leaving a day early, we drove to Milford Sound—in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places on earth. Steep, towering mountains rise straight out of the water, enclosing the sound and dividing the Tasman Sea in the west from the valley and lakes to the east. A single cruise ship lingered in the sound like a toy boat surrounded by the walls of a tub. The mountains silence the earth, offering only enough space for a tiny landing and cluster of low buildings. We stood on the bank of the sound, alone in the grandeur of a mystical world as if it belonged only to us, yet sensing that we belonged to it. God alone could create such a scene.
The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is 144 miles of breathtaking scenery. Along the way we visited tranquil Mirror Lakes and the turbulent falls of the Cleddau River as it rushed through “The Chasm.” We also waded our way through the clouds to reach Key Summit. Stopping to wait our turn outside the Homer Tunnel, carved 129 meters through the mountain wall, we were greeted by some “cheeky” Keas. The Kea is an inquisitive, endangered, native mountain parrot. Dre says they are the smartest birds in the world; he has watched them unscrew screws with their beaks. We were enthralled by their antics but wary enough to shut the door when they tried to climb in!
The first night we camped out in the valley beside Cascade Creek. We camped, but didn’t sleep. The wind howling through the valley tore at our tent all night, and though we were warm enough, the noise of our tents flapping, and the occasional collapsing nylon walls, were too distracting for sleep–at least for the adults.
Back in Te Anau, we biked, boated, and ate our way through the weekend. Thanks to some generous ministry partners of Dre’s, we had the use of a gorgeous summer house with plush beds for everyone. I even read an entire novel! The kids enjoyed endless rounds of pool and long zip-lines on the nearby playground. We also visited the local aviary and saw the fascinating, flightless Takahe, of which there are only 300 in the world.
On our way back to Dunedin, we took the southeast coastal route through the Catlins, stopping at Curio Bay to inspect the fossil forest, then hiking in to McLean Falls, and out the craggy arm of Nugget Point for the sunset. “The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters” (Psalm 24:1). I am constantly struck by the vastness and beauty of Creation. The unspoiled splendor of New Zealand is evidence of the touch of God.
“Woah. That guy would never have come to a Student Life event,” Dre said of one of the non-Christian students who came rock climbing last Saturday. The Student Life director in Dunedin, Dre was elated to see non-believers, new believers, and strong believers enjoying each other and talking seriously about faith.
“This is fun; it doesn’t even feel like work—but I get five hours to build relationships with these guys.” Although five hours may not seem like much, it is extensive compared to the common hour-long appointments squeezed in between students’ classes. More importantly, these students have the chance to experience the nature of Christ, becoming the recipients of His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness—all His attributes—displayed through the community of believers as we serve them and engage in meaningful conversations.
There is a desperate need for authentic Christ-centered community across the globe. Here on the party campus of Otago University in Dunedin, students face an intense culture of binge drinking and raging sexual promiscuity. The student guys will commonly drink 30 beers in an evening. Women, too, struggle with binge drinking on a smaller scale, but it is the inhibition that accompanies drinking that poses the bigger issues; our staff women told us that the average woman at Otago University has 19 sexual partners each year. The rate for men is likely higher.
We are created for community. The need to be in relationship sometimes drives us to pursue community through sports or book clubs, or through drinking buddies and one-night stands. Apart from Christ and the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit, every community will fall short of what it is designed to be. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15,16). Through outdoor programs, we encourage Christian students to live together in authentic community which reflects Christ, and we strive to give non-Christian students the opportunity to experience a Christ-centered community for perhaps the first time ever so that they may “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
Twelve Otago students have accepted Christ in the past few weeks. Seventy students attended the Student Life opening barbecue, and fifty showed up the following week for the first Action Group. The Body of Christ is compelling.
Darren is one of the students who accepted Christ a week ago. On Saturday, he and several new and not-yet believers joined us at Sandfly Beach for a program about community. More than twenty people took part in a giant sand-castle building effort, followed by sand-dune jumping and a pick-up game of rugby. “What will you do to invest in this community back on campus?” We asked when wrapping up the event. In response, Darren invited Patrick, a new student with a mixed religious background, to join him at church the following day.
Both men biked through the rain to attend our church service. There, they heard again the message of salvation, and they were welcomed by a new group of believers who were different in make-up—mostly working adults, retirees, and families—but similar in the love of Christ to the students they have met in Student Life. They experienced the diverse Body of Christ that is truly united through the One God who is at work in each of us.