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.
I reached across the aisle to slap Cam an enthusiastic high five. With his tousled red hair and matching beard, he looked like a young Scottish highlander—no doubt his roots reside in Scotland like many New Zealanders. Cam, an Otago University alum, is one of my new teammates who works with Student Life and he had just shared the big picture for the Christian student leaders at their Student Life leadership conference. His words were inspiring: “Trust God that He can do something in a person’s heart that we can’t make happen.” In his thick accent, he added, “How will your life reflect the fact that Jesus is your Lord and King?”
The staff members here in Otago are a high performing team, trusting the Lord for 50 students to accept Christ this first semester. Last year they saw 37 students surrender their lives to God, and in this year’s goal-setting session, each staff member unflinchingly planned to lead multiple action groups, disciple the 17 student leaders, share the gospel message in every appointment and doggedly pursue students to engage with Student Life activities. They are a determined and energetic bunch with big expectations of themselves and of the Lord. I am impressed with their tenacity. What could we possibly have to offer such a high-functioning team?
A couple of weeks ago at our Facilitator School we concentrated on setting an environment for growth. We helped the team clarify their norms and squeezed into a darkly lit room to experientially address walking in the light. We also focused on living in grace and truth rather than performance. The truth is that we need the redeeming and sanctifying work of a Holy Savior. Our weakness forces us to rely on God and exalt His greatness, rather than our own. And THAT is what reflects God. These concepts are crucial to spiritual growth, to avoid “good works” burnout, and to joyfully reflect Christ. More than anything, we want to help the team see the value of being real.
Our Otago teammates have great faith in the Lord, and we want to help them live even more authentically in dependence on Christ. We want to give them the gift of the freedom to fail, that they may see Christ work in their weakness. We want to encourage them to be vulnerable so that they can be truly known and loved for who they are. We also want to give them the tools to minister experientially, in the moment, rather than solely through lecturing or discussion, so that Biblical truths are put to action and practiced.
Dan and I and the Lovejoys were super encouraged to see the Otago team so quickly applying what we had discussed just days earlier. Cam did more than share a bold vision, he took a risk and expressed his humble honesty about his own fears in sharing his faith, and in doing so, the students could relate to him as a fellow human, and no longer felt shackled to an unattainable standard. They could envision themselves in the same boat, taking courage from the Lord in the same way.
Later in the day, Gracie, another staff member, incorporated experiential elements into her talk on the Holy Spirit, and had students write down what they want to be known for, along with the weaknesses that could sabotage their efforts as leaders in ministry. She told the students that “these weaknesses are opportunities to showcase God’s power.”
Our Lifelines team also had the opportunity to lead a night simulation to experientially teach the student leaders about evangelism. The activity involved students hiding in the darkness with unlit candles waiting for their peers to find them and spread the flame. Each student had a role that often happens with evangelism: people respond in various ways to the gospel, the sharers encounter obstacles like unbelief, spiritual warfare, etc. The debrief went long into the night because no one could stop talking about the experience and making connections to real life. This was important because the students were about to enter into a week of intense outreach with the beginning of the semester. The event was a huge success and the Otago ministry wants to repeat it with all of the students who are involved in Student Life.
All of us, our kids included, were excited to spend a weekend away with the student leaders. It was a double blessing to receive such a positive response to our Lifelines activities and to see the staff members incorporate so much of the training we had done with them. We pray that it will make a lasting impact.
“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21b ESV).” This has been my mantra since the flood. Our “secure” housing fell through three days before we were supposed to move in, and just twelve hours later our car drowned in the flash flood. The auto insurance agency would not cover flooding, so the incredible minivan that was such an amazing deal, ended up being a total loss. In the hopes of reviving it or selling it for parts, Dan rented a truck and towed it over the mountains to Dunedin. He and Mark Lovejoy, our teammate, were able to get it running with a loud hammering sound, but it left us debating what to do next.
Should we buy another vehicle? Fix this one for the $4,000 quoted to us? Neither seemed a good investment and both meant far more money than we had budgeted. Meanwhile we moved into a three-bedroom student apartment with the Lovejoy family at the edge of the university. The Dunedin staff team came through with mattresses, dishes, a table, and a delicious home-made meal, which was a great comfort. They also secured the apartment for us from some of their student leaders who would not be arriving for another five days.
Five days. Five days to find housing, decide what to do about the car, and prepare for the first Facilitator School that we would be leading in three days. We know that God is Sovereign, and although this did not seem the most economical route to us, we knew it was His money, and He would provide in His timing. But we couldn’t envision how or when—especially because we were only looking for a few months of housing, not a year or even a six-month lease.
Soon we bid farewell to the Lovejoys who moved into their new home and we rejoiced over God’s provision for them. Instead of eleven people in the apartment, now there was just the six of us. I sat on my sleeping bag looking at my clothes piled on the apartment floor and remembered our home in New Hampshire. Thinking of that familiar place, our loving friends and family, the comfortable furniture and ease of life that is waiting for us filled me with peace. Wow. I was struck by the realization that the hope of heaven should have that same effect on me.
That night we purchased the cheapest van we could find—brand new in 1996. We all fit inside and it runs. I have dubbed it “the Green Clunker.”
On the morning of February 8th, we were feeling stretched to the limit. It was the first day of our Facilitator School which would run from 9am to 5pm for the next three days. We also had to move out the following morning. At that point we had looked at the only house available for short term rent and the owner had yet to clean out any personal belongings. I had believed that God would provide, but time was running out. I opened my Bible and began searching for the purpose behind the waiting. Why would God choose to wait until the last minute?
God, in His grace, led me to several passages, including Deuteronomy 8:2 “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” 1 Peter 1:7 added more insight, “These [trials] have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
As we gathered the kids together that morning to pray, kneeling before the couch, our only remaining piece of furniture, I explained to the kids and myself that this was our real test of faith—it is easy to trust when things are going your way, but true faith is the assurance of things hoped for and yet unseen. God was building our faith for His glory and for our perseverance and maturity. We have been in the Lord’s school and He has been strengthening us for the task at hand here in New Zealand.
That afternoon, we received word through the church that one of the member’s father-in-laws would be willing to rent his home to us. The Lord completely cared for us through the Body of Christ: the night after the flood, in Wanaka; during our waiting period in Dunedin; and through the church providing housing both for the Lovejoys and for us. He protected and helped us through the tangible arms of His church body.
God provided above and beyond all that we could ask or imagine through this home in Mosgiel, a small town just south of Dunedin. There is even a trampoline in the back yard! And somehow during all the upheaval, the Facilitator School turned out to be a success.
In the Facilitator School, we strive to help people grow in authenticity, recognizing that the key to bonding is being vulnerable. God is very clear that it is when we are weak that we are strong, empowered by His Spirit, and dependent on Him. Mark Lovejoy led the very first activity—an experiential Bible study in which participants wore masks upon which they had written what they wanted people to think about them. The study focused on 2 Corinthians 11 and summed up with verse 30: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”
It occurred to us right away that God had brought us to the beginning of the school year in New Zealand, not as super heroes with all the answers, but in weakness and need. I had prayed for this very thing—a humble introduction—but perhaps I didn’t really mean it. I had also been praying that God would make me love the staff members here as I do our team at home, but I thought He would do it by merely super sizing the love I already had. Instead, He made me dependent on this team; it has not been through the strength of my love, but through their loving response to the depth of my weakness that He has endeared them to me.
Little has gone according to plan and there is little we can commend ourselves for, but there is so much we can praise God for. He is glorious and all His ways are right. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
It seems my time is now marked either pre-flood or post-flood these days. I am sure it was the same with Noah, and for all who have escaped a flash flood with a child strapped on their back. Here is the pre-flood story of our trip south and our first impressions of the South Island as we left the Tandem staff conference for the long drive to Dunedin.
Sunday, January 29
The ferry meanders through azure waters, navigating the labyrinth of land that reaches out like craggy fingers stretching into the sea. Dusky dolphin splash in our wake. This is the Marlborough Sound at the northern tip of the South Island. Our first glimpse of the South Island is one of mystical beauty and we are moments from jumping off the gangplank and immersing ourselves in it.
Now we have left the boat behind and are driving through the countryside, amazed by the buttercups, Queen Anne’s lace, and purple clovers that line the road—God has picked wildflowers from home and planted them here among palms, firs, and magnolias. He has evidently chosen the best of each climate and gathered them here in this bouquet named New Zealand. Sheep and vineyards stretch across the landscape, each with its own boxes of bee hives, as if to prove that this is the land of milk and honey.
At last we reach Nelson, the Kiwi’s holiday spot, and sag into a chair at the best pizzeria I can remember. The eleven of us plow through one pie after another, draining carafes of water like sunbaked ground. Each of our families had a casualty on the windy road in, and we hope the pizza stays down.
Monday, January 30
What a shock last night when we found the campground! It was a shanty town of tents and campers, cars and awnings as far as the eye could see. We barely eked out a spot for our three tents, touching one another and bumped up against a camper trailer. But, we slept like champions and rose to a gorgeous morning and made the short walk to a deserted stretch of beach. I am amazed that the shells here are much like those on the coast of Maine: clams, mussels, sea urchins, and sand dollars mixed up with shells from the Florida shoreline and coastal birds that are uniquely New Zealand.
Today we drove across the South Island over to Westport. Along the way we stopped at New Zealand’s longest swing bridge, which we had to cross, and then ran into a man with a jet boat who gave us an incredible deal on a boat ride up and down the Buller River. Wow! We were soaked and ecstatic—it was like white water rafting in a speed boat with the opportunity to do the rapids over and over! Yes! In the middle of the ride, our guide pulled over and panned for gold and actually found some gold flecks. We need to add this to our Lifelines repertoire. 🙂
It was drizzling when we made it to Westport to walk out to see the resident fur seal colony and share some fish and chips wrapped in newspaper from a local food shack.
Tuesday, January 31
Much thanks to Paul, the motel owner who told us about a fantastic hike in the area, which we followed past rushing waterfalls, through tropical forests, over an ancient swing bridge, and through old mining tunnels. We felt like true explorers!
Following our hike, we continued south with a short stop at the famous and fascinating pancake rocks, on to our next campsite just beyond Hokitika. After dark, we visited a small dell by the roadside that was filled with glow worms—an incredible New Zealand phenomena. The greenish points of light against the dense woodland were like the pinpricks of stars in the night sky. Unfortunately, glow worms in the light of day are extremely ugly.
Wednesday, February 1
This morning in Hokitika we visited the kiwi center where we watched the antics of these famous, flightless, nocturnal birds. We also got to view New Zealand’s famed Tuatara lizard and feed giant eels (though Dan was the only one crazy—I mean, brave—enough to pat them!
Our next stop was at a glass blowing studio and then on to a Jade carver’s house where we saw the process of turning native “Greenstone” into Maori-inspired jewelry. The native Maoris used the durable greenstone for weapons, decoration, and even for money.
By the time we reached Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers it was pouring so we pressed on, hoping to Catcha glacier sighting later this trip. In the evening, we tramped through growing puddles to our motel room in Haast, which is where we encountered the flash flood. For those who have not heard this story, please refer to my previous post.
Stay tuned for our upcoming post-flood adventures. We would appreciate your prayers for housing and for a new vehicle, both of which we lost on February 1st. More posting soon.
I thought I would spend much of this blog telling you about the New Zealand scenery as we traveled south, but I must begin instead with the events of last night.
Last night we stayed in a sleepy hamlet south of Haast Beach, which is barely a town itself. Rain poured all day as we drove south and we were thankful to find a motel room with a solid roof and a big bathroom where we could hang our wet tents from the night before. We watched as the puddles outside our window grew into ponds and still the rain beat down as we corralled the kids into bed. We had a hard time falling asleep due to the bellowing of cows in the field behind us, who were no doubt upset about the water.
As rain hurled against the windows I began to pray for the cows who were disturbingly boisterous; I had a growing concern that their field might be flooding. Dan assured me that they would find high ground and be fine. I must have believed him because I dozed off into a light sleep until a gurgling sound in our bathroom and kitchen startled me awake. Dan got up to investigate and I stumbled out behind him. While he was checking out the bathroom I noticed water seeping under the living room wall and into the room. Hastily, I pulled a jacket off the floor, only to turn around and find more water spilling in from the other side of the room. When I looked at the slider door I was dazed—it was like looking into an aquarium. The water was over a foot high and climbing, and now beginning to gush into the room around the cracks.
We raced to wake up the kids and yank things off the floor and onto higher surfaces. The waste basket floated by, and then the refrigerator. By now the kids were up and standing on furniture, shoving their arms into coats as Dan and I prepared them to climb onto the roof if necessary.
Aliza was crying and shaking uncontrollably, Caleb was in a stupor and had lost one of his sneakers. Micah’s jacket was in our newly purchased minivan, which was submerged up above the headlights. As I gathered up water bottles and headlamps, I had a slow-motion moment in which I realized just how vulnerable we were. We had no cell service for over twenty miles and no idea where the high ground was or who else was at the motel, it was pitch-black, and it was 3:30 in the morning.
Dan jumped out a window and searched for higher ground while I grabbed our wallets and pulled a poncho over Aliza’s head, throwing Emma her raincoat in the same motion. I opened the door and let in what little water was left to flow through. Already the couches were floating and we had put all the kids on one to hold it down.
Dan returned and propped Aliza onto his back and Micah clung to mine as Caleb and Emma and I locked arms to anchor each other down as we waded out over my waist into the dark. The wailing of desperate cows rung in our ears and logs from someone’s woodpile floated past as we stepped toward a single light in the distance. Soon we could hear voices and see cars parked on higher ground.
Dan, ever resourceful, broke into a vacant room and dropped our most precious cargo, all of whom snuggled, wet and teeth chattering, on a bed. We turned on a space heater and plunged back into the brown pool to retrieve our other valuables. Before long the kids were stripped, dried, and huddled in sleeping bags surrounded by mounds of damp luggage.
This morning we learned that the swollen river and high tide had caused the flash flood. About two hours before we awoke to the bathroom gurgling, the farmer next door herded his cattle through the motel complex and on to a higher field. Even so, many were loose and wandering. One cow passed in front of me leading seven or eight nervous calves in tow. Another neighbor destroyed his car after hitting a cow in the early morning fog. Our room buckled and the kitchen broke off from the living room. And sadly, our new car, which we so enjoyed, is nothing but a shiny lawn ornament marking the site of devastation. Water flooded the engine when Dan tried to move it and this morning the mechanic used words like “engine block” and “hydro-something” which means we need a new engine. Since that would cost more than our car did, Dan has hitched a ride to the next town (3.5 hours through the mountain pass) to try and find a rental.
Meanwhile, by God’s grace, it has turned out to be a sunny day. We waved good-bye to all our new motel friends as they departed, leaving the kids and I behind with the clean-up crew. Now we have most of the motel to ourselves thanks to other guests who happily passed their room keys on to us. We are currently occupying four dry, single rooms. We have no internet connection or cell coverage so Dan kissed me good-bye with a promise to return tonight or tomorrow at the latest. I am rationing our bread and peanut butter, so thankful that we have been shopping for breakfast and lunch each time we pass a grocery store.
Micah and Aliza are currently playing in the dirt in front of me as I write this at the picnic table. The water has receded enough to look like a pond in front of the motel, finally having dripped its way out of the last low cabin, which was ours. Emma is sharing her story on postcards and Caleb is somewhere on the premises. Now it is gorgeously sunny with a strong drying wind, much like that of Noah’s day, I assume. Palms and evergreens both are blowing in the wind and the glacial mountains that loom over Haast Pass tower in the distance.
We have not seen the Lovejoys for two days, though we have been in touch whenever cell service was available. They were somewhere on the road behind us, and we are praying for them. The road we came through is now closed due to mudslides near Fox Glacier. We are hoping they decided to stop for the night somewhere before the glacier land.
Although I know you will read this after we are back on the road and have internet service, and that will mean our situation has improved, I wanted to write this while it was fresh—and I happened to have lots of down time. I appreciate your prayers for our family, as I know many of you are praying even when you don’t hear from us. It may be those prayers that woke us up, rather than the gurgling of the sink. We are thankful for God’s goodness and our small losses—a car, a Bible and devotional that are saturated, and a word search that never made it off the floor; Micah’s camera and kindle, and a pile of travel books and brochures. We have never been more grateful for the sun, and for the helping hands of strangers who came together on a dark and stormy night. I watch the kids now hopping around and know that God is good.
Here is the rest of the story from three days later:
Dan found a large rental van in the mountain town of Wanaka and returned to pick us up at 4:00, then re-routed back to Wanaka where we spent the night with a couple who supports our Tandem teammates. We are forever grateful to Stephen and Jackie, the couple who put us up and let us scrub the flood waters off in their shower! The next day we drove straight to Dunedin, though we are sad to report that our housing fell through despite having signed a contract. Battling fatigue and despair, we spent an encouraging night with Dre and Mic, the Tandem team leaders here in Dunedin, then spent the following morning searching for a rental house.
We are pleased to report that the Lovejoys were safe and merely out of cell service and have now joined us here in Dunedin where all eleven of us are sharing a three bedroom student apartment. This morning, Dan and Mark took off in a rented truck with a dolly to make the long drive back to Haast to retrieve our swamped minivan, which they have some hope of fixing. Alicia meanwhile found an apartment which she contracted and will move into on Tuesday. We have an appointment on Monday morning to view a potential place of our own. All in all, things are looking up, and we are so grateful for the Tandem staff team here who have provided bedding, food, and invaluable help in securing housing. Thank you, too, for your ongoing prayers!!
“Everyone needs compassion
A love that’s never failing
Let mercy fall on me
Everyone needs forgiveness
A kindness of a Savior
The hope of nations”
These are the lyrics for Hillsong’s popular song, “Mighty to Save.” I couldn’t help but pause and reflect on that last verse as I listened to the chorus of voices around me. There was Bob, who arrived from South Africa ten years ago; and Timo, of Samoan descent; Chelsea, an Aussie; Roula, from Greece; some Americans who married into New Zealand; a whole group of people from Asia; and an even larger group of true Kiwi kids like Justin and Margaret. Our stories are different, yet we shared the same need for forgiveness, the same love that is never failing and the same kindness of our Savior. Looking at the faces of the staff members singing alongside me I had no doubt that Jesus is indeed “the hope of nations.”
“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV).”
We were at the Tandem national staff conference in Wellington. Tandem is the name of Cru in New Zealand and is dedicated to helping fulfill the Great Commission by connecting people with Jesus Christ. With around one hundred missionaries serving a country of four million people, Tandem reaches out to families, athletes, military personnel, and university students. Every two years these staff men and women come together for spiritual training and refreshment, realigning themselves with the mission. We flew into the country just two days before the conference and this event was the best introduction we could have had to Tandem, the new ministry we will be serving with in the next three months.
We felt at home right away, meeting Dre and Mic Niehaus, the campus directors at the University of Otago, where we we will be serving in Dunedin. They introduced us to Finn, their ten-month-old son, and the rest of the Dunedin team. Our new teammates are energetic, and playful, and young. J They seem up for anything, and they are not much older than the students, so I am certain we will learn a lot from them about how to reach the campus culture. I am looking forward to getting to know them better when we arrive in Dunedin and begin planning for the new semester.
Ultimately, we would like to launch a Lifelines ministry in New Zealand, led by Kiwis and adapted to the NZ culture. Our first step in that effort is to offer our gift of experiential learning and to share our passion for using the outdoors to draw people into deeper relationship with God. We are trusting that God will use us at Otago, by helping our team grow and by offering students abundant and eternal life through Christ. Beyond that, we are searching for people who will catch the Lifelines vision and will be excited to carry it forward in New Zealand.
We are too small for this task, but God is not. I am grateful that He reminds me of that! He used this staff conference to affirm His calling to us to come here. Every morning, Tandem staff members took one of three classes geared toward their ongoing training. We joined the leadership class offered by Marc Rutter, Cru’s Leadership Development Director for North America and Oceania, who focused on the character of a leader. It was as though he was at the head of our marching band, beating the drum of character growth, something Lifelines is all about. We use a lot of the same models and methods that Marc demonstrated in class. I felt like he was teaching at our Facilitator Guide School. What an encouragement!
We were also greatly encouraged by our Tandem classmates, who shared their lives with us and readily befriended the Lovejoys and ourselves. Their kids also befriended our own kids, who seemed unaware that we were in a different hemisphere, but just pleased to be at a staff conference like usual. Emma did notice a change in accent and Aliza thought the desserts to be sub-par, but otherwise the kids felt were in their element. J
Except for the afternoon rugby match and the morning tea times, it felt quite natural to us, too. We loved the sense of camaraderie and were thankful for the corporate worship, the focus on the Word, and the shared mission, which set this entire trip on the right course. We are eager to get to Dunedin and put to practice what we have learned alongside our new Kiwi “mates.”
We will take almost a week to cross over to the South Island and then drive down its length to the southeast corner where we will make our new home in Dunedin. We hope to see the sights along the way, effectively being “on holiday” as it is referred to here. I will take pictures and send them in my next post so you can join us vicariously!