Natalie Downes

God is Ordinary

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I don’t know if you’ve ever been lucky enough to experience one of those crazy vortex machines. You know, the ones that spin round and round while you’re trapped inside. As they spin you find gravity having less and less of a hold on you until you’re climbing up walls, chilling upside down… But as the vortex starts to slow you’re aware that your time of freedom is coming to an end. If you don’t get off the wall you’ll end up crashing down on your head as the normal rules of life (and gravity) come back into play. You’re forced to become grounded again.

As I begin a new stage of my journey it’s hard not to see some comparisons. 2014, my year as a Haerenga Intern, was full of new experiences and fruitfulness in terms of growth in my self, my knowledge and my relationship with God and others. It was in no way an easy, ‘gravity-free’ ride but I could see God working through the challenges, shaping me as I was forced to rely on him.

And then there’s this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really enjoying my transition back into medical studies but… there is that element of heaviness, as gravity takes hold and everything slows down. As I settle back into Kiwi life, with my clothes snug in drawers not a suitcase, surrounded by people who look and speak like me, I’m rather terrified of getting too comfortable and becoming stagnant in my faith. I’m afraid of routine and apathy. Overseas in the unfamiliar, away from normal support, it’s relatively easy to see a need for dependence on God. Here … well, I could go a whole day without giving God a second thought. It’s a bit like that feeling – I’m sure you’ve all experienced it in one way or another – after a church camp or a timely sermon, when you leave pumped about God and ready to change the world. You cling onto this for a week or so before life gets in the way. What was that camp about again?

God, I don’t want a bar of this. I don’t want to sideline the things I’ve learnt for a rainy day. I want to still be hungry, to have that restlessness in my heart, a longing to be a part of your mission. But how?

I think often we’re caught in this waiting zone. Waiting to finish study and start a ‘real’ job. Waiting for more responsibility in the job we’ve got. Waiting for the next step in a relationship. Whatever we’re waiting for, perhaps that’s when life will really start. That’s where I’ll be able to do big things for God

I’m waiting for the time when I might actually have useful skills to offer, to perhaps fulfil some fantasy of clambering, khaki clad across mountains to deliver medical aid. For now I am the ‘curtain puller,’ drawing curtains around a patient’s bed to at least give a vague impression of privacy while the medical team discuss their medical problems. At best I am a smiling face in the corner, at worst a plain annoyance. It’s a rather humbling place, knowing that no one will notice if I’m not present – the cogs will keep turning, the curtains will still get drawn. It’d be very easy to treat this time as a gap filler, a wee blip before my ‘proper work’ and ‘real mission’ begins. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my year out it’s that mission isn’t something you can step in and out of. Mission is always here and now. In our transitions, in our routines and norms there are always opportunities to step out. It’s just a matter of looking.

I know that our God is a God of the ordinary. Often it seems like he’s intentionally picked the most plain, unremarkable, unqualified people to partner with him in his plans. So we have every reason to expect God to be moving in our ordinary. Today I’m going to draw the curtain with purpose and flare, knowing that God has put me in this hospital at this time, for a reason.



What aspect of your ‘ordinary’ does God want to transform?



Be intentional to look for God in your ordinary today and for the next week.

God of my Journey

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This week’s blog comes from Natalie Downes – one of our recently graduated Haerenga Interns from 2014. This year has been one of many experiences, challenges, and growth.

You learn many things while living in a new culture – sometimes unexpected things. Learning how to weave a traditional Fijian mat wasn’t on the list of things I expected to learn, but I’ve discovered the process captures something of my journey through the Haerenga Internship.

To prepare a mat, the process involves cutting down the plant, stripping the thorns, and putting in a process that changes the nature of the plant till it’s ready to be woven together… The journey is not an easy one. From comfort to discomfort, undergoing change is painful at times – this year has been a great life changing process. When I think of a mat as my journey I know there’s the Master Weaver who has been faithfully weaving together the strands of my journey, taking the highs and lows, the struggles, learning and joys and weaving it into something beautiful.

My journey is nowhere near complete. One thing I’ve learnt this year is that mission isn’t something we step in and out of. It’s a lifestyle, a lifestyle of open hands, open eyes and ready feet. A readiness to serve when you see a need, to step out onto shaky waters when He nudges.

One of my daily happenings during my final placement at St Christopher’s home in Fiji was to wander with the kids to school, sometimes with two on each hand and one clinging to my sulu! After a week or so of doing this I started to recognise the people we passed every day and began to make some ‘road friends.’ There was the Indian lady on her front porch, an older woman raking, Aunty Va selling veges. One time I met a lady selling milk which somehow led to me running off on a spontaneous fishing trip with her family! You never know where a hello may lead!

I still struggle with the whole conversation/sharing thing. Is it enough to just make friends, to listen to their stories or should I be more ‘evangelistic’, trying to get God in there in some kinda obvious way. Perhaps God speaks anyway whether or not I actually say his name – in the smiles, in taking the time to stop. These encounters allow me to ‘see Jesus’ in the people on my journey. People on the side of the road become ‘road friends’ when we take the time to notice them, and listen to their story. I thank God for weaving these precious people into my story, even if our encounter is momentary.

Engaging in mission like this is not something I’ll leave in Fiji but a way of life I hope to continue. An orientation towards community and sharing, a readiness to invite people home, to chat, to listen. An awareness that I am blessed to share, I am given things so that I can be generous.

My mat still has holes and loose ends, struggles and unanswered questions, but I’ve seen God’s faithfulness throughout this year (often in hindsight!) and I know that something’s taking shape even though often it just looks like a big mess of flax. My mat will probably never be finished but I look forward to the weaving process and I trust my Master Weaver.



Sometimes we are caught in the little details of life and can’t see or trust a bigger picture – the Master Weaver is at work even when we cannot see it. What part of your story do you need to trust the Weaver with this week?


Spend some time with these words and prayerfully enter into the response and trust this prayer invites.

God of our journey remind us that you are near by Joyce Rupp.


As we journey through life, we often face fear of the unknown, doubts, hesitations, anxieties and insecurities.

      God of our journey remind us that you are near…

Life is an unfolding mystery, sometimes a painful search and sometimes a wonderful discovery

      God of our journey remind us that you are near…

Our hearts are restless, because we are pilgrim hearts whose Home is not here

      God of our journey remind us that you are near…

When our footsteps grow weary, when we stumble along the way, discouraged, and doubt so easily comes forth to meet us

      God of our journey remind us that you are near…

We are always learning what to leave behind and what to take with us as we move along the road of life

      God of our journey remind us that you are near…

We encounter God continually in the constant cycle of ‘setting out’ and ‘coming Home’. Sometimes we allow life to be so busy as we travel, that we miss this Special Presence

      God of our journey remind us that you are near…

Expectancy, anticipation and courage rise up in our beings when we are open to the ways of God in the wilderness

      God of our journey remind us that you are near…

In our journey we need a strong conviction about the beauty and goodness of life, a vision of hope that endures the pain and the struggle, and a thread of love that weaves through all our dreams…

      God of our journey remind us that you are near…

God of our journey, we need a burning bush to set our hearts aflame with deep love of you. When the road of life seems long and tedious; when the dying and rising gets to be too much, be that pillar of fire by night. Be that comforting cloud by day, so that we cannot only see the way but can be confident of your gracious presence which is our strength and our hope. Thank you for your nearness.

      God of our journey remind us that you are near…

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.

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!

Fiji update

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Bula all!

Well I don’t quite understand how this has happened but I’m writing this having just spent a month on Fijian soil. Wow time has flown! We’re now two weeks into our first placement at Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral and have been extra blessed to be hosted by the Dean and his family. Change is in the air however with Kristy and I moving to new pastures this afternoon. We are still in the dark as to who our new host families actually are – what an adventure! I’m not quite sure how I feel about the move. On the one hand I’m really excited to experience Fiji from a new angle with the potential of gleaning some Solomon island or Indian perspectives on life. I’m looking forward to making more attempts at cooking Fijian style and hearing some life stories. Connecting and sharing life is such an important part of the culture here – it’s rather special.

So yes, there’s much to look forward to but at the same time it’ll be sad to leave. It’s amazing how much a part of a family you can feel in two weeks! I think it’s definitely a tribute to how welcoming and inclusive the family is as opposed to anything we’ve done on our part. We’ve joined family devotion, learned the art of roti rolling, played multiple games of catch and I’ve had my hair done/pulled in multiple directions by the wee girl! It just dawned on us today that this is almost the first time for the whole year that us interns won’t be living together. In fact I could probably count the nights not spent sharing a room with my Siamese twin (Kristy) on my fingers! I think we’re all going to feel a bit lost without our intern buddies!

Something I’ve been learning is that God has a knack for leading us into the unfamiliar – new environments, unfamiliar worship styles, different ways of putting faith into action, strange names for the familiar (the other day I discovered that a baked bean toasted sandwich is actually a jaffle). I guess it’s in the unfamiliar where we begin to realise that we don’t have all the answers and there’s a need to rely on something (or rather someone) other than ourselves. An uncomfortable thought! So as we go this afternoon, deeper into unfamiliar territory, I’m looking forward (if somewhat apprehensively) to the controls being once again wrenched from my grasp and surrendering this next stage to my God who sees things from a way bigger perspective than little old me. A God whose purposes are eternal and who can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.

Perhaps surrendering control isn’t such a bad idea after all!

Orientation to a new culture

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It feels like we’ve been here forever, so much has happened the first 2 weeks even though we are taking it ‘slow’! My feet are enjoying their release from the confines of sneakers and I haven’t had to wear a jersey once! We had a great transitioning couple of days with Kirstin’s aunty, a kiwi who married a Fijian, and she had some really good tips for how to become a part of their culture. As far as cities go Suva is quite beautiful with heaps of green, lovely bushy bits to walk and hills. The locals we’ve met from the churches we’ll be having quite a lot to do with are lovely, so warm and welcoming and … they are incredible cooks! Curries, traditional lovo (like our hangi), tropical fruit, freshly baked bread – we’ve been utterly spoilt!

So far we’ve just been doing orientation – getting our bearings, learning how to use buses, meeting heaps of people, going to various church services and worship nights. We spent three days with an Aussie team who’ve come to train people in how to share their faith. That’s been a bit scary with on the job training involving wandering into town and talking to real-live people!

We said good-bye to Kirstin on Friday so are now officially ‘on our own’ in the depths of Fiji. Our grief over her departure was slightly lessened by being joined by a youth team from Shirley in Christchurch. We tagged along on trips to villages, a childrens home, serving breakfast to people on the streets. All these experiences have challenged me quite deeply. As we visited the villages I was shocked by how people who had so little honoured us with so much. It didn’t sit very well with me that they potentially used a good chunk of their resources – fish caught that day, chickens, veges – to feed us. How do I graciously receive what they offer when I know it comes at such a sacrifice? These are people who live everyday with the question: will I catch enough to survive today? Yet they were so gracious and thankful for what they had. Pretty convicting!

I love how community orientated people are over here. How people are so ready to have a good time together, to get up and dance and sing. One person starts dancing and suddenly the whole village is up and boogieing – a good experience for us reserved kiwis!

We’ve just started our first six week placement at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Suva. I’m still a bit unsure about what we’ll be doing. I think we’ll have a bit to do with the kindy and school which the church oversees, lead some devotions, run the book stall at the church bazaar on Friday. Basically we’re up for anything! The priest in charge is great, a real hard case with heaps of experience and wisdom too. He’s almost like a Dad to us, and in fact will be for at least a week as we are all being hosted by him and his family. Which brings me to a prayer request. At this stage we were all meant to be hosted by different families but Kristy is a bit under the weather so we’ve all been taken in under the priests wing. Please pray for recovery of energy for Kristy and for healing – that her cold won’t transition into something more serious.

A Blemheimite on the East Cape

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Natalie, one of this year’s Haerenga Interns who comes from Blenheim, shares about their recent trip to the East Cape. 

Our most recent adventure involved a two week trip to the East Cape – we did the whole circuit of the Cape starting from Gisborne and then heading North, ending with a rest day in Waihi. This was our cross cultural mission experience to give us a heads up before Fiji. I’m not sure if mission is quite the right word for it as I feel like we gave very little and in return got blessed with incredible hospitality and by the way in which people opened up their lives and stories to share with us.

Something that challenged me throughout this time was the issue of belonging. As one of the only Pakehas I initially felt unsure of what the cultural norms were. I was a bit uncomfortable as we went to a local Gisborne marae with a youth group. However as we were welcomed into communities and families in Ruatoria and Te Araroa, I ended up feeling more connected  than back at home!

A few of the many fantastic experiences: making cardboard swords and shields as part of a school holiday program, watching the sun rise at the most eastern point of NZ, listening to stories of the history of the land and the Maori people and watching God at work through ordinary people. It was also a really valuable time for building us interns into a team.

So now it’s back to the studies for a wee bit. On the horizon we have a weekend in Timaru participating in what is yet undisclosed business! I’m back at home for Queen’s birthday and then it seems we are getting a bit short on weekends before the big day, June 23rd, when we head off towards warmer shores! Flights are booked – Fiji, here we come!

To hear more from our Interns visit  their blog at