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.
During this hectic fall start-up, my mom has crossed the Pacific to visit us, along with Alicia Lovejoy’s parents. It has been a joy for all of us to see familiar faces from home. It has been a tremendous comfort to our kids, who miss having playmates, pets, and familiar comforts. Yesterday three of my kids came up at different points to tell me they wanted to go home. As New Zealand begins to feel more permanent and we are back on a regular homeschool routine, they are more aware of what they are missing. I guess field trips to see wild penguins can’t compete with their pets at home—a giant hyper dog and an over-fed orange cat. :).
Mom’s visit and our children’s education have provided the perfect excuse for us to explore Dunedin. We have hit museums, parks, historic buildings, and fascinating geographical features. This place is truly a wonder. If you want to learn more, you can read the kids’ reports when they finish them (grin). For now, enjoy this pictorial tour of our new home.
Blue penguins live along the coast of Dunedin. They fish during the day and return to their homes at night. During the day you can hear the peeping of baby penguins and often spot them in the craggy, coastal hillside, waiting for their parents to return. These tiny penguins have a large colony on the Otago Peninsula, but we have seen them on many of the beaches in Dunedin. The boxes below are penguin houses, built to protect these tiny birds.
Sheep outnumber people seven to one in New Zealand. Merino sheep like this one are less numerous than those bred for meat, but their wool is of great value.
The Otago Settler’s Museum is a fantastic introduction to the history of this area. It pays wonderful tribute to the Maori and traces the roots of this region from the earliest inhabitants to today. As you can see, Emma and Micah made the most of the hands-on exhibits!
Long, sandy beaches line the east coast of the southern island. Some of our favorites are pictured above: St. Clair’s attracts a surfing crowd (and our sand-castle builders), Sand Fly Beach boasts giant sand dunes, and Brighton Beach has spectacular white sand that is so fine it squeaks when you walk on it. The seaweed here is thick and rubbery and looks like long noodles. Below, you can see Tunnel Beach, which is accessed by a tunnel carved through the cliff.
And here are the flowers I’ve promised! Dunedin has a gorgeous, vast, Botanic Garden on the north end of town. Although there are “heaps” of flowers (New Zealanders use the term “heaps” all the time,) I’ve chosen this picture because these Agapanthus and Red Hot Poker plants are everywhere in Otago. In addition to flowers, the Botanic Gardens have a cafe, playground, and—our favorite—a duck pond.Despite the kids’ homesickness, we feel blessed to be here on mission and on adventure in New Zealand. We are so grateful for the Student Life staff members who, for us, are the greatest treasures of Dunedin.
It is currently Saturday and Emma is baking whoopee pies while the other kids read or jump on the trampoline. Dan and Mark are leading students on a rock climbing trip at Long Beach (not pictured.) This afternoon we will have a visit from a homeschool family that we were just introduced to; I am hoping new friends will help alleviate the kids’ sadness over being away from old friends. The perfect world would be to have all of you and our pets here with us to explore God’s handiwork together!
Before we left New Hampshire everyone kept telling us how lucky we were to be leaving the snow piles of winter for the warmth of a New Zealand summer. It has been refreshing to play outside after dinner, enjoying long days and birdsong. I will send pictures soon of the flowers here so that my loved ones in the frozen north can enjoy some color! But in terms of ministry, it is a bit shocking to adjust to another crazy fall semester, having just come off one of our own in the U.S. The start of the new school year is always the busiest time on campus, so we’ve been shifting gears back into overdrive to stay ahead of the landslide of nearly 20,000 students returning from summer break. At the same time, we are trying to determine how best to give away the unique aspects of the Lifelines ministry to staff and students who are already feeling the pressure of the fall semester.
A week ago our Lifelines team helped out with a massive Student Life outreach, handing out free “jandals” (flip-flops) on campus to all the students walking by. The goal was to get 3,000 contacts in three days, and I believe we reached it. Students would come by and fill out a brief survey then get fitted for a pair of jandals. A few upperclassmen even came by sporting their jandals from the year before. We had the joy of meeting students from parts of the world I have never even heard of, and more familiar places, like Colby College in Maine, and Susquehanna University, which is my tiny alma mater in Pennsylvania.
The survey card read, “We at Student Life are a relevant group of Christians at universities around New Zealand, who are on the journey toward Jesus.” The tagline was followed by four questions related to a student’s spiritual journey and his or her desire to know Jesus Christ. Several women that I spoke with made a special point of asking to be contacted because they want to get involved with Student Life.
The first occasion for such involvement took place just a few nights later, as students were invited to join another one of Student Life’s main outreaches on campus, which involves handing out sausages and treats to party-going students on the street. This huge outreach afforded more opportunities to hang out and engage in casual spiritual discussions with students.
This Sunday ushered in a host of new opportunities for spiritual growth as world-renown Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias came to the Otago campus. Ravi spoke Sunday at the university’s giant rugby stadium, and has been here with his team throughout the week engaging with students, professors, and community members. His thought-provoking topics have included relativism, violence, suffering, sexual identity, and truth. At Sunday’s main event, Ravi asserted that “the average person today doesn’t care about facts, but feelings.” According to Ravi, a new word has been introduced to the dictionary in 2017: “post-truth”. He said of our culture, “we are even willing to use falsehood and spread lies saying the end we have in mind is a noble end.” Why? This is an indication of the total depravity of the human heart. “Either we live by His law or we become a law unto ourselves,” he warned.
I have read of the challenges for missionaries to unreached people groups who have tried to explain concepts, like sin, that have no translation in that foreign language. We are facing similar challenges today as we try to introduce the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life to a world that has no real concept of truth. The very definition of truth has changed.
Lifelines staff members use experiential activities to produce specific emotions and then help students connect those emotions to Biblical truths. We have found that when students experience the Word and connect with God and the Body of Christ on an emotional level, then it becomes real to them. As I write this, Dan and Mark Lovejoy are rock climbing with a handful of the student leaders and some of their “mates,” leading an experiential program on faith as the students climb and practice some faith and trust on the wall. Before the week is out we will lead two more outings. In a world that places such a high value on feelings, one’s personal experience becomes truth for him or her. We want these students’ experiences to be encounters with Jesus Christ.
With thousands of students to follow up and Lifelines trips scheduled on the weekends, it is all hands on deck. We are excited to have Austin, a recent graduate who is vacationing here in New Zealand, volunteer with us for the next couple of weeks. Jack, the Lovejoy’s oldest son, was recruited to help hand out jandals, and our Micah and Emma spent hours preparing for and serving students at today’s Student Life barbecue while Caleb and Aliza joined in for the clean up.