Pacific

Joanna the Master

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Many thanks to those of you who have been praying for me over the last two or three years that I have been working on my M.A. studies through Otago University. I submitted my thesis in October last year and a few weeks ago was pleased to learn that it has been accepted. I just scraped into the pass with distinction category (your prayers again!) and am currently making some required corrections and improvements before it is bound. In spite of the catchy title (‘Maisin: the Grammatical Description of an Oceanic Language in Papua New Guinea’), I am not expecting it to be a best-seller, but am still glad to have been able to contribute something to the documentation of this unique and beautiful language. I would also love it if it could be a resource that will be of some use to the ongoing translation of the scriptures into the Maisin language.  I am so grateful to NZCMS for the gift of the opportunity to undertake this study.

Cyclone Pam

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Please be in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Vanuatu. The small Pacific nation is being prepared for possible evacuations ahead of the arrival of a powerful cyclone that has recently been upgraded to category five. The cyclone is slowly making it’s way towards Vanuatu, it’s winds reading 215km an hour. When the storm passes near the capital of Port Villa tonight winds may reach up to 280km per hour.

Vanuatu’s government has issued cyclone warnings for Torba, Sanma, Penama, Malampa, Shefa and Tafea provinces. It warned that torrential rainfall and flooding, including flash flooding were likely over low-lying areas, river banks and near coastal areas. There is also a risk of landslides.

Cyclone Pam is also set to hit parts the North Island of New Zealand. MetService has said that the system is forecast to pass to the east of the East Cape on Monday. They added that “there is still a large degree of uncertainty in the exact path of the cyclone and although the centre may not pass over New Zealand, severe weather is likely to affect parts of the country – especially the northeast of the North Island.”

 

(Image from UNICEF showing the impact of the cyclone in the nation of Kiribati.)

Haerenga meets Middleton

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After leaving Waidradra village we got one day of debrief and rest before starting on our next adventure: joining twelve Year 13 students and two teachers from Middleton Grange High School, Christchurch for a whirlwind two week missions trip in the West (along with Jon, the awesome and ever encouraging NZCMS communications guy who doubled as one of the trip leaders).

Initially I was a bit apprehensive about the whole thing as I went from feeling like we were almost blending in with the Fijian way of life to again being a very obvious group of white foreigners. However I was quickly put at ease by the way the group approached the trip, being so keen to learn the Fijian ways, to grow and be challenged by what they experienced.

I’m still not entirely sure what our official role was with the team but I think I ended up being a kind of blend of cultural advisor/ big sister/ added volume in songs… basically extra hands for whatever came up. And my goodness plenty came up! It was a bit of a shock to go from our more marathon-like pace to the short term mission sprint. There were school classes to take, sports matches to play, assemblies to run (sometimes off the cuff, a true mission experience!), hospital visits, house visits, village visits, meals with priests, sermons, songs, testimonies, swimming, horse riding and that’s just a taster!

Some stand out moments.

Teaching at a primary school in Sigatoka. Basically our team of four was thrown in front of a group of 50+ excitable Year 5 students in a very small room and asked to entertain the kids for 50 mins. 50 minutes later we didn’t want to stop! I think we all had just as much fun as the kids singing songs, teaching actions and acting out David and Goliath (complete with marching armies).

Warm welcomes. These were had wherever we went but a particular stand out was in Lautoka where all 18 of us were welcomed into the Bishop’s own home to stay. It would have been much less of a hassle and intrusion for our hosts if we had stayed in the church building, but in true Fiji style they would have none of that. What a testimony of the Fijian hospitality and love.

Stepping out. I was challenged to step out of my happy, comfort box and preach my first sermon on Fiji soil. Took me long enough!

The team. It was a real pleasure to journey with the team and watch them go from being awkward bystanders to embracing the culture: being swamped with kids, initiating conversations with randoms and diving into new situations instead of hanging back. Please keep the team in your prayers as they settle back in New Zealand and ponder what God has for their futures.

The Happenings to Come.

I’ll spend the next week in Suva hopefully making the most of my holiday time. I think there’ll be plenty of Skype dates and emails as I assure various family members and friends that I am still alive and kicking after my leave of absence! Following that we start our final (what?!) months placement in St Christopher’s Home which is an orphanage just out of Suva run by some lovely Anglican nuns. From what I can gather we’ll spend our afternoons and weekends with the kids and during the day be involved with ministry stuff in the local Anglican Church of St Christophers or helping the nuns…we shall see what excitement pans out!

Natalie’s reflections

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I have found my way back to some internet with time to spare so I’m thinking it’s high time for an official update of our recent goings on. So much has been happening in the past few weeks it’s hard to know where to begin. Last time I left you hanging one week into my village stay so we shall start from there.

 

Village Happenings.

What an amazing experience. Four weeks of village happenings: an after school program with 50 or so kids. Daily prayer rhythms (starting at 5am!). Swims at the beach and river. Fish caught, cooked and eaten within minutes. A bonfire with kiwi style sausage and bread. Buckets of washing to pound. So much singing, a couple of funerals, multiple breakfasts in one day…

 

A few things that struck me the most.

The ‘community-ness.’ This has been such a beautiful thing to see and a privilege to be a part of. From what I gathered, community here means no one goes wanting, if you have a little you share. A catch of fish sometimes makes its way around the whole village! When I wandered through the village at a meal time there was without fail a call to ‘Mai vakasiga levu’ (come, have lunch) often from people I hadn’t even met. It’s a real testimony to how big the Fijian hearts are, how ready they are to share their food and lives. I experienced community in joyous times and in struggles, being bound together as we shared birthday celebrations and mourned the loss of someone close. It was wonderful seeing the way the youth and young adults cared for the younger village kids as brothers and sisters and how the kids were welcomed into any house for a meal.

The commitment of Father Demesi (the Anglican priest in the village) to the church. Even though often there were just two or three gathered for 5am morning prayer he still wandered across to church every day to begin thanking his Lord.

The interesting way of washing. Basically they take a huge bucket, fill it with water and clothes and then take a large pipe and pound! Apparently they were just handwashing clothes until they saw this pipe method on a Taiwanese movie (or something like that) and decided to give it a try!

 

Some musings, wise or otherwise.

Being available. I’ve been learning the importance of making yourself available – approaching houses, saying yes to offers of breakfast and a chat, moving my past fears of awkwardness and intrusion. Some of my most precious conversations have happened when I’ve done just that. A spontaneous chat with an Aunty in the village turned into a nightly family prayer with her and her five kids – where we sang ‘I’m gonna clap, clap, clap, snap, snap, snap and praise the Lord’ so enthusiastically that I think the whole village could probably hear!

Mission is messy. Coated in dust and dog poo, snotty noses and sticky hands. Late nights, heavy eyes, fuzzy brains. Dealing with multiple plans, changing plans, or no plans at all. Embracing the familiar ‘uncomfortableness’ of having no idea what you are doing, should be doing or will be doing next. Yet out of all this mess comes real beauty. Kids’ laughter. Games of duck-duck goose and tag. Beautiful drawings, a shared sunrise, spontaneous worship. Deep friendships, stomach-hurting laughter and shared sorrows. Family, community, love.

 

A few prayer needs.

Next placement. Our next placement will be with the St Christopher’s Orphanage. It would be awesome to be able to invest into the children in ways that last. They are used to having so many visitors coming into their lives one day and leaving the next and I’m not sure how we can make a real difference. Please pray for wisdom in this.

Myself. In this last month I’m aware that it would be easy to get comfortable and forget to step out and continue to be challenged. It’d be awesome to have prayer that I’ll recognise and grab hold of new opportunities (or even make some!). I’d love to grow more in sharing encouragements with people, in praying for healing and in preaching. All these things make me a bit uncomfortable so I think I’ll need that extra nudge to actually take the step when the time comes.

Fiji, Faith and Justin Bieber

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I’ve made it back from Fiji! It’s been a whirlwind little tour.

It started off with visting our three Haerenga Interns for a debrief. It was fantastic to see them in the village context that had been their home for over a month and I was amazed to hear Warena conversing in the local language – I’ve been trying to learn Norwegian for about 7 years, yet he’s already about as far along with his Fijian! We then hopped on a bus across the Island to meet the team of students from Middleton Grange School, spending the next couple of weeks traveling with them.

I’ve not been part of a short-term team for a good number of years and I wasn’t quite sure how things would turn out. As should be expected when you throw a bunch of young adults (with only a couple of months before they graduate I don’t think they can be called kids anymore!) into a foreign context, the first few days were a little rocky. But we quickly found our feet as a team.

Most of the team dove on in head first – preaching for the first time, sharing testimonies for the first time, singing in front of groups for the first time, offering personal prayer for the first time. Some were a little more hesitant, but over the trip they also warmed up and started stepping out more and more. I can honestly say that every one of this group grew in their faith considerably over this short span on time.

 

To give you some insight into the sorts of things we got up to, we spent two days visiting a school in Sigatoka. On the first day we split our team into three groups, each group taking four Religious Education classes over the course of the day – quite the ‘deep-end experience’ for students who have never taught a class in their lives! My team was the cream of the crop (sorry other teams – but I really do love my little team)!

Our first class was a great hit – it turns out  white folk dancing terribly at the front of the class is quite the amusing sight. Plus I came up with a neat trick to get the energy levels high from the start. Throughout the day you could hear the constant commotion coming from the other classrooms where our teams were sharing. In a quiet voice I commented about how every class was listening  to the noise coming from all the other classes, wondering if they were missing out on the best show. So, to make all the other classes wonder what on earth was going on – and to make them wish they were in our class – we were all going to start laughing. Quietly at first, then building into a fury of hilarity. We’d take it down for a moment, then quickly build to an overwhelming roar of laughter. And when the other classes asked what had gone on, we’d all just say “you had to be there” and leave it at that.

Needless to say, we made all the other classes very curious!

 

It wasn’t all fun and games. The students took the opportunity to share their faith. One of my team shared her testimony openly with the classes and I’m certain it struck home for many. She’d also share a song or two with the class that related to what she had to say. It therefore seemed fair that, in a Year 11 class, one of the students share a song with us. After a lot of giggling one of the girls was nominated and came up the front. I was expecting a Fijian song so was surprised to understand the words she was singing. It wasn’t until we reached the chorus that I realized I knew the song – “Baby” by Justin Bieber. Needless to say, this was my favorite rendition of the song – thanks to the drumming on desks, the 30 person backing chorus, the Fijian swag added to an originally underwhelming song, along with the fact that me and the team couldn’t stop laughing at the whole situation.

So there you have it: Faith, Fiji and Justin Bieber collided in the most unexpected way!

On the way to Fiji

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I’m now on my way to Fiji, sitting in my little seat several kilometers above the ground. Tomorrow morning I’ll see our Haerenga Interns for the first time since they left NZ a few months ago. They are excited to see me as well – and I got a call early yesterday morning just making sure everything was in order for my visit… and to make sure I hadn’t forgotten to bring them chocolate!

On Wednesday we’ll spend the day filming footage for a new Haerenga promotional video. We’ll also be documenting their experience as they take me on a tour of the village that has become there home over the past number of weeks. After that we’ll spend a couple of days doing a mid-way debrief, processing their journey in Fiji thus far.

On Friday we’ll be joined by a team of year 13 students from Middleton Grange School. We as NZCMS are assisting them with an Encounter Team short-term mission trip. I’m joining the team as the “mission consultant” (a nice title I think!) and for good measure we thought our Interns could join as well. We’ll spend almost two weeks visiting churches, schools, orphanages as well as spending time meeting people on the streets and in the markets. These students are about to be leaving school, facing the great big world for themselves. What an amazing bridge into adulthood – a time of discovering the world and serving other people.

 

Here’s a little message from Manaia, one of the team:

In the September school holidays a group of fourteen, year thirteen students from Middleton Grange School in Christchurch will be travelling over to Fiji for two weeks on a short-term missions trip. For many of us, this will be our first time on a missions trip. We will begin in Sigatoka, where will be connecting with the community through the church, schools and a hospital. After Sigtoka, we will travel up to Nadi and Lautoka, where again we will be immersed in the rich Fijian culture and actively involved in community life. This journey has the potential to be a life changing experience, so we ask for your earnest prayers for our safety and that God will use us to impact the people we encounter on this trip. We also ask that you continue to pray for the nation of Fiji, that God will continue to heal its people and bless its churches.

 

Please be praying for me and the team over the next few weeks. I’ll be doing my best to write the occasional blog post – so long as the internet will allow me!

The Way Forward – NZCMS in the Pacific (Issue 21)

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My wife Watiri and I were sitting with key Church leaders in Fiji. Archbishop Winston Halapua introduced us and then exclaimed: “What is it that Africa has that we don’t have?” As he continued to explain the taonga (gift) of the people of the South Pacific and compare it with Africa, I considered the many similarities between African and South Pacific culture: the sense of community, natural disasters like floods, squatter issues, dependence on Western funding.  And yet we may not have leveraged the potential similarities for the gospel. Watiri and I were able to bridge this gap, providing Samaritan Strategy training to those leaders, and we were amazed by the way they related with the stories we shared.

New Zealand is often seen as the gateway to the Pacific region. We’ve come to realise that, just as New Zealand has a reasonability to assist Pacific nations wherever possible, so do we as NZCMS. But what is our role in the South Pacific – in Melanesia and Polynesia? Should we be sending them more long-term missionaries? Should we be sending them more resources? While there is certainly a place for these things, we are in a position as NZCMS to offer something even deeper. The Pacific already has a well-established church – I believe what is most needed now is solid leadership training. We hope to continue providing training to leaders throughout the region, equipping them to do God’s missional work for themselves, discipling their own nations according to biblical principles.

Over the last eight months, NZCMS has delivered Samaritan Strategy training in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and New Zealand. The results have been beyond our expectations. Space only allows me to mention one story from each location. 200 leaders in Papua New Guinea (Dogura Diocese) were trained, and one group is exploring how to use alternative methods of livelihoods (e.g. agriculture instead of fishing) for the benefit of the community. 30 leaders were trained in Fiji (including clergy from the Diocese of Polynesia), and one pastor developed a vision for the unemployed youth in his community. 70 Tikanga Maori leaders were trained, and one of the groups – Mission Rohe te Tai Hauauru – developed a plan to have the gospel shared in the Te Kawau Maro Maniapoto Festival which will involve 57 Marae! Plans are underway to train leaders in Samoa this September 2014 and 150 youth leaders in Tonga in December.

We continue to receive requests for Samaritan Strategy training in South Pacific. The next step is to train up trainers and facilitators who can fulfil this demand. That is why the DNA conference in November in Manukau is crucial. Please pray and consider who you could approach to come along. This will enable us as NZCMS to fulfil our calling to disciple the South Pacific.

Footie, Food and Faith in Samoa

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Everywhere you go in Samoa you find young boys playing footie – in their front yards, backyards, streets, everywhere. The NZ Rugby Union announced last week that the All Blacks would play in Samoa next year. Woohoo!! Although the announcement was made while my wife Watiri and I were visiting Samoa, I doubt we contributed to the decision (but you never know!). And that wasn’t my greatest surprise.

Nor was was it the heat or the food – although we were lost for choice with the array of seafood and taro that was laid on the tables in the villages we visited. The strong sense of community and the hospitality of the Samoan people is evident everywhere. The way Samoans eat and live demonstrate their value of community. We were encouraged to see the commitment the people of Samoa have to family, tradition and respect for the elders. We also noticed that the connection between NZ and Samoa runs deep – most people we met had relatives in NZ.

What I was not prepared for was the Christian presence in Samoa. The number of churches we saw was staggering! Every village even has a number of churches. So the issue is not whether people go to church, but what kind of church. We sensed a deep hunger for God among the people. But we also noticed the challenge of discipleship despite the many churches and sects as well as the potential for Samoans to take their place in global mission.

On a sad note, one of our hosts lost 13 members of her family in the Tsunami that hit the Pacific Islands in September 2009. Her village was one of the ones tragically impacted by this event. It was very moving hearing stories of the devastation. However, we also heard extraordinary stories of God’s providence – like three surfers out in the ocean when the Tsunami hit who were carried by the Tsunami’s wave and landed in a Church without a scar! That was amazing! I thought in every story of brokenness is a story of redemption and God’s grace.

Already opportunities are opening up for NZCMS Encounter Teams to go to Samoa. If you know any Samoan young adults in New Zealand, please do let us know because we would love to find ways of enabling them to join this missional conversation as we equip them for God’s mission.

And encourage them to join our new initiative for young missional adults by sending them this link: nzcms.org.nz/hashtag

 

For discussion: What are the signs of God’s grace that you have experienced in your life in a time of brokenness?

 

Haerenga Happenings

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I have now officially been a Waidradra villager for one week! First impressions… Hmmm. There’s so much life! Kids running around, dogs in various states, puppies and chickens popping up in bedrooms, roosters crowing at all hours off the day and night! I love the communitiness (I have a feeling that I just made a new word!) of the place. We all eat sitting around the tablecloth which is spread on the floor. Whenever anyone comes past you call “Mai, gugu tea” (come have breakfast)! Everyone is related in someway or another and I now have many ma’s, pa’s, momo’s (uncles). We’ve been taught how to plant cassava at the farm (normally a male job but I managed to tag along!). Other new experiences include my first bush bash in a sulu, tasting a jack fruit (a big, ugly spiky thing that tastes like a strange mix of banana and pineapple), cooking everyday over a fire, oh and 5am morning prayer! I get jolted out of bed every morning by the banging of the lali, signalling the beginning of the rhythms of daily prayer which shape many of the villagers’ lives. There’s something rather cool about the first croaky words escaping from my mouth each morning being ones of praise to God.

Something that I discovered very quickly is what a luxury privacy and space is and how much I take it for granted. I’ve been really blessed to discover the beautiful beach which is within running distance of the village. It’s become my place of retreat in the morning before facing the hubbub of village life.

The interesting thing about being close to such beautiful sandy beaches is that the village is right near some rather fancy resorts. I think the mere proximity of the two makes the contrast between village living and resort life very stark. Two worlds in tension and I feel like we are hanging somewhere in between – not a particularly comfortable place to be! We’ve already been offered horse rides and boat rides to nearby islands which many locals haven’t had the chance to experience.

This first week has been the hardest yet in Fiji, though I’m not too sure why. Perhaps it’s a bit to do with what I mentioned above – language barriers and a general dip in excitement making me question why I’m here and whether we have anything to offer. Somehow though, a couple of days within the mayhem of our after school program (our main task while in the village) and I’m feeling much more alive and excited to be involved. God is good! Please pray for inspiration in how to teach the kids – that we would be able to be creative and have fun while still learning about God and their place in his plans.

We’ve all been having a go at learning Fijian with varying degrees of success! The locals are so excited to teach us which is lovely and I’ve been really enjoying connecting with people. I’ve even ended up getting ukelele lessons! My hope is that in these conversations there will be opportunities to encourage people in their faith, to share and pray. Please pray for boldness in taking these openings, for discernment and the right words (especially where English is not well understood).

Thank you for your prayers and support. May you be comforted and hopeful knowing that in God we find shelter, refuge and strength.

Cathedral Happenings

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We are now 3 weeks into our 5 week placement at the Anglican Cathedral in Suva. It’s been a real mix of experiences and paces. Our typical day goes something like this: 8 30am devotion with staff. …

Yep, that’s about all that we can be sure of!

It’s pretty organic, even if plans are made they’re bound to change so we just take things as they come!

So what has come? We’ve done a few devotions with the kids in the kindy attached to the church. This usually involves fending off about 20 kids each who all want to hold our hands, touch our hair, show us their monkey bar tricks and lament about the girl beside them who apparently doesn’t want to be their friend anymore! Eventually we do manage to do some sort of devotion – the kids are especially fond of the action song ‘I’m gonna clap, I’m gonna snap and praise the Lord.’ Somehow I’ve also ended up as a Sunday School teacher … more clap clapping and snap snapping!

Further happenings involve piling plates with food at a funeral, singing Fijian and Hindi worship songs, selling books at the church bazaar and being part of the daily church services. They’re slowly giving us more responsibility in these services – tomorrow I’m in charge of intercession (prayers for church, world etc.). Having not had a particularly Anglican upbringing, words like liturgy and Eucharist were foreign to me and the practice of saying words altogether seemed a wee bit robotic (no offence intended!) However, as I’ve actually listened to what is said I’ve come to appreciate how God focused it is – you basically spend the whole time praising him instead of just looking at the me (what he’s done for me, how much he loves me etc.). It’s beautiful. Something else that’s struck me is hearing God worshipped in another tongue. We had the privilege of visiting an elderly man at the hospital with one of the cathedral priests who conducted the communion in Hindustani. Even though I couldn’t make head nor tail of anything said it was so cool!

We’ve also had the chance to work up a sweat (not that that takes much in this temperature!) We had a spontaneous afternoon of house moving last week, helping a lady and her grandson shift a very impressive amount of boxes between houses. Saturdays are spent church cleaning where I’ve learnt that cleaning windows is not my ideal job – they’re never quite clean enough for my liking! I also got another chance to join the women who do hospital ministry. We prayed for a couple of wee kids and I was amazed at how thankful the mothers were, that something so simple could mean so much. One of the mums, a Hindu woman, shared about how she had seen a process of healing in her daughter after she had been prayed for a few months ago. This girl who just a few weeks ago had her eyes rolled back, tongue out with no ability to sit was now able to focus, had the beginnings of speech and she was sitting. Woah! It all seems rather busy when I share like this but there has also been spaces: time for personal devotions, walks and runs and also times of sitting, waiting and not knowing. To be honest I struggle with this a bit. I’m one for action and feel like we’re here to serve so we should be serving. It’s challenged me to do some rethinking. What is mission? Does it have to be doing? Or can we get so caught up in the action that we miss the moments of just sitting and listening? The other day I went to help at a bazaar at an old people’s home but there was an oversupply of helpers so I just ended up sitting with an old Indian woman for a few hours, listening to stories of her life. Is this a waste of time or just time invested differently? Is taking time to pray, journal and just soak in God’s presence mission? It doesn’t seem like that’s helping anyone but myself. But then again perhaps it’s the core of it all, the foundations of where effective mission comes from. When is it time to serve and when is it time to graciously receive? So many questions!