Sunday, April 26, 2009
It's all about the story
I sit thinking of the last two weeks or so and wonder how to tell the story. So many different things have happened but I want to try to make sense of the different events and encounters within a bigger whole.
This story begins at Easter. Easter is the key event in understanding God's story. Part of my passion in coming to New Zealand is that people would glimpse more of the story that God has written in His word, is writing in the world today and will write through to its final finale in the future.
Maori have a concept called Whakapapa. "Papa" is something flat and hard like a slab or a rock and whakapapa is the layering of stories and geneologies from the past to the present and on into the future. It is more than a family tree, it speaks of the connectedness of living things and the connections back to creation and into the spiritual world today. It helps people place themselves within a bigger story and see how they relate to the whole.
Perhaps this whakapapa is the key to the story of this Easter. Layers being laid and connections formed building on what has gone before. Paul writing in 1 Corinthians 3 puts it like this: "By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ." Many events and encounters but all part of what God has been doing in these islands, is doing now and will do in the days ahead.
Easter Weekend took me to the Kapiti Coast. This is part of my whakapapa in NZ, a place layered with memories. The first time we came to NZ I spoke at a conference there and the second time, and the third time when I also had my interview and met Paul Windsor for the first time. I think I have now been to 15 camps or conferences on the Kapiti Coast.
The Presbyterian Youth Camp took place at Palm Grove. I spoke 5 times in 3 days just covering some of the basics of the Easter story and looking at a few people Jesus met. There were groups of 13-18 year olds there from about 9 or 10 churches in the Greater Wellington area.
It was especially good to have groups there from a number of Pacific Island congregations. The Samoan and Tokelaun young people made a great contribution and it was very good seeing different ethnic groups worshipping and learning together. Often in NZ congregations divide on ethnic grounds. There may well be a time and place for this but I would love to see more times when there is greater collaboration and more unity.
There was a good group of around 30 from Knox. This included Luke and Jamie who stayed in the camp with friends. Craig and Ailsa came to visit at different points. This was the first time I had spoken at something like this when our boys were there as campers in their own right. I don't think they found it too embarrassing that their dad was the speaker (but you can ask them yourself if you like!). The feedback was very encouraging both from the young people and the youth leaders.
We drove North to Auckand on the Monday and discovered that everyone was quite tired after the weekend. We stopped at Waiouru to visit the Army Museum as we did a couple of years ago. The boys like going back to places and it is only something we are really starting to see happen in NZ now. We also stopped in Hamilton for dinner so the journey took pretty much 12 hours.
Our friend Jodi flew in from Sydney and met up with us in Auckland. I first met Jodi a few years ago and she first posted on this blog in November 2006. This was the first time that she had spent time with Ailsa and the boys and it was great how quickly they all started getting along. We went to Kelly Tarltons Aquarium (which we went to in 2001) and to the Savage Memorial at Bastion Point. Both are testaments in different ways to men with vision.
The rest of New Zealand has a bit of a love hate relationship with Auckland. (well mostly hate hate actually!) but it is a great city. I always enjoy Auckland and it really showed itself at its best. We had fantastic weather the whole week that we were there.
There were a couple of main reasons for being in Auckland. The first was the TSCF North Regional Camp at Eastern Beach. I gave 3 talks in 3 days and was impressed by the attitude of the students and their desire to engage with big issues.
I did an experiment at the end of each talk where three people gave an off the cuff response using a framework of: HEAD (what they had been thinking and learning) HEART (what they were challenged about and how they felt about it) HANDS (What they were going to do as a response in terms of attitude, relationships or actions and FEET (what they thought the first step should be for them). I thought this went very well. Jodi especially was a huge help in showing the way and many students commented on finding her responses particularly helpful and practical. Elliot and Sarah also did a great job.
Auckland continues to be a struggle for student work. It is a huge city and very multi cultural. Only 38% of Aucklanders were born in New Zealand and there are also big numbers of international students and a lot of commuters. I was encouraged to meet and talk to some students of real quality and have been thinking what more we could do to encourage them going forward.
The boys had fun playing with the Pelz children and joining in with the student sport. I am not thinking of turning professional with my trampolining ANYTIME SOON! Luke flew down to Wellington to join the Church Youth Group Mission Trip to Nelson while the rest of us stayed to the end of the camp.
The other main reason for being in Auckland was to take part in "Kiwi Made Preaching". Paul Windsor, who is on the TSCF board and has been a real encourager of me in NZ has just left his role as Principle of Carey College for a new role with Langham Partnership International working alongside Jonathan Lamb developing preaching. This is an exciting development with huge potential. The day conference was effectively the Langham Launch Event in NZ and it was great having Jonathan there from Oxford. All the other presenters are engaged in the Kiwi context and it was a privilege to be involved.
My session was on "Being true to the text, yourself and your culture". I really enjoyed it and had quite a bit of positive feedback. I was thrilled to see that a significant proportion of the younger people there and of the women present had strong TSCF connections. Three of the students that we took to the World Assembly in Canada were there. Again a reminder of how layers, build on layers.
We then meandered south taking Jodi on a wee trip to Rotorua and Napier. We visited Te Puia which the Saunders first took us to in 2001 and the boys delighted in showing our Australian guest her first geyser and first kiwi.
In fact Jamie and Craig were absolutely delightful on the whole trip. I don't know if it was the novelty of having an extra girl or that they were missing Luke but we had a lovely time with them and some great chats in the car.
Ailsa enjoyed wearing her new Kathmandu top and receiving the occassional text from Luke in Nelson reassuring us that he was having fun, was enjoying helping run the kids camp programme and was at least still alive.
We visited the carving school and saw a number of carvings. It is extraordinary the work it takes to fashion these Maori carvings. I was struck by the patience of the carver, how little seems to be happening while he is working, how much wood needs to be chipped away and how the image is built up over time. Many of these carvings tell stories, stories of whakapapa, meaning and memories crafted into the grain of the wood. Creativity and content.
We also visited Wai-O-Tapu thermal wonderland. I had wanted to go here a couple of times before but had never managed it. It was amazing. From steam blowing hot and cold over a lake with a mineral terrace in bright orange, to deep holes of seething mud, to a crystaline river frozen in time, to a vast green lake. We all loved it, walked all of all of the tracks and would go back.
Maori whakapapa traces back to the waka their ancestors arrived on. Having arrived on a 747 this does not quite work for me. But maybe on reflection much of my whakapapa is about the air as well as the sea. Many of my friends and family have come to Aotearoa from the air and I still spend a lot of my time there!
Ben, Val, Jodi and I went to the Wairarapa for the day. The four of us had spent some time together at Sprite in Canberra and it was fun to hang out together again. It was an absolutely glorious autumnal day.
We visited a few vineyards which the area is famous for. I was reminded again that it takes a while to get from grape to wine and is a fairly labour intensive process. Each of the vineyards has its own story and interaction with the soil.
This was Jodi's first time in New Zealand but I suspect it will not be her last. Despite the caption in the paper I know that she was! She is heading off to a new challenge in cross cultural mission in a couple of months and it was great to be able to spend time with her as a family and as a group of friends. Sometimes my life feels a little disconnected and I like it when the fabric of relationships is strengthened and new layers of memory are laid down.
Which takes me back to where I started with another Maori word. Whanua means extended family. I feel that through all these Easter interactions in different places and in different ways that our extended family has been extended. I hope that lives have been enriched and that for some their concept of home has been enlarged. It really has been a great couple of weeks.