Monday, June 13, 2016

"But you will receive power when the 
Holy Spirit comes upon you.  And you 
will be my witnesses, telling people about me 
everywhere -- in Jerusalem, throughout
Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends
of the earth."
                                        --Acts 1:8

     This will be my last post from Aotearoa (New Zealand).  We have been busy packing up our belongings and trying to get rid of furniture, cars, a tv, and other things that are not coming back to America with us.  Luckily we have managed to get rid of almost all of our big items and the rest will go to a local op shop (second hand store) for them to sell.  I am sad to leave New Zealand and excited to go home but, either way, I am not enjoying packing up everything!
     We had a nice farewell luncheon at church yesterday where we shared stories, got lots of hugs and shed a few tears (or, for Lori, lots of tears).  God has truly blessed us in our experiences here in New Zealand and I wouldn't trade them for anything.  We came to try to help people and the church but we feel like we have been helped and blessed so much!  In the middle of our packing time a friend we have made here shared a story with us of how their child had been greatly moved by experiences with our children and our church youth group.  This young person questioned God's existence in the past but now not only believe in Him, but they have begun to feel His presence in prayers!  It was such a blessing to hear this.  We know that we did not make this difference in this young person but rather God using us as tools to make the difference.  It's things like this that we believe God had in mind when He asked us to come to New Zealand.
     I need to keep this post short as I still have more packing to do (yuck!).  However, let me leave you with this thought.  If you ever have a time when you know God is calling you to do something, listen to Him and act on it.  It doesn't have to be a move around the world either.  It might be to join the choir at church or to speak to neighbor or co-worker in an effort to invite them to church.  Maybe it's God telling you to get back in church.  Maybe He's telling you to mend broken relationships.  Maybe He's just asking for more of your time.  Whatever God is calling you to do, do it.  It might be scary or you might think you are not qualified, but I promise that it will be worth it.  He will equip you to do whatever it is He is asking you to do.  Who knows, He might even call you to move halfway around the world.  If He does, just remember that Northland in New Zealand has some pretty great people and some pretty great beaches!  ;o)

"If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me."
                            --Psalm 139:9-10

Monday, June 6, 2016

15 If you love me, you will obey what I command.  
16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another
Counselor to be with you forever -- 17 the Spirit of truth.
The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees
him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives
with you and will be in you.
                                 John 14: 15-17

     Almost 13 months ago I made the journey from Shelbyville, Tennesse, to Whangarei, New Zealand, while Lori and the kids came a month after me.  Now we have eight days left in the country and we make the trip back to America.  What a journey it has been!  We didn't know how long we would be here but wanted to leave that up to God's guiding for us and He is calling us to come back to Tennessee after one amazing year here!  Looking back on our time here it is easy now to see the many times where God had planned out for us the things we have been through and experienced.  He has been with us every step of the way which has made this whole experience that much more rewarding.  It has helped us to deepen our faith and to have a better understanding of people after living in a different culture.  It has also helped us to appreciate a lot of things in life that we before took for granted.  Our time here in New Zealand will always live on with us and has changed all of us for the better.  
     As our time here draws to a close it is only natural that we have begun to think about and reminisce about our friends and experiences here as well as thinking about returning to Tennessee.  Therefore, we have had a lot of mixed emotions lately.  We will most certainly miss the friends we have made here.  We have had many opportunities to meet people through church, friends of friends, work, school, etc.  This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of this journey.  It has also forced me to become more outgoing which has been good for me.  We will miss other things about NZ as well such as living close to beautiful beaches, having citrus fruit growing in our back yard, being able to drive across the country from east to west in an hour, visiting Hobbiton, and the roundabouts on the roads.  
      However, there are plenty of things we are looking forward to returning to in Tennessee as well such as family and friends, familiar food (yay!), straighter roads (but we need roundabouts in America), well insulated houses, icemakers in refrigerators, cheaper food, and central heat/air.  With this being said, Lori and I have had many discussions about how familiar things will be nice but we don't think we will come back to our same ways, at least not exactly.  I have a feeling that we will hang our clothes out to dry a lot more and probably run our air conditioning a lot less.  We, hopefully, won't take things for granted around us like the beauty of the area and the importance of friendships.  We will think about the world as a whole a bit more and not focus just on our little town.  We will still be the same people for the most part, but I think a little bit of New Zealand will come back with us in how we live our lives.  
     A few things will have to change pretty quickly like remembering how to drive on the other side of the road.  I can go back to spelling words like "color" instead of "colour".  However, it will be fun to use a few Kiwi words and phrases so people can look at us like we're crazy.  So don't be surprised if you see us in Tennessee talking about something is sweet as or if I ask you for twink at school.  You may have no idea what I mean when you ask me something and I say "yeah nah, bro" in my best (but still not good) Kiwi accent.  And of course, don't be surprised if we invite you over for afternoon tea!
 Rainbows and double rainbows are very common this time of year.
 Heidi doing charades at youth group.
 Jasmine doing charades at youth group.
 A mural at Dargaville High School.
 In the town basin in the evening.
 Hollister with his new harmonicas.
 Our high school rugby team performing a haka.
 Some of our fellow Nazarenes. Front row, Neville and Joyce Bartle, District Superintendents; Back row, left to right: In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok Kim with their son David (they are from the Mango Tree Respite Center in Tonga), and Leitu and Filipo Lesatele from our Takanini Church in Auckland.
 Stopped for this photo near Tangiteroria on my way home from work.
 It's nice having an orange tree in our back yard.
 Harrison is way taller than Lori now!
 Going for a short tramp in the bush with Noel and Anita.
 A farewell lunch with the Almeidas was great!
Hadley warming his feet by the fire.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

13Therefore, prepare your minds for action; 
be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace
to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
14As obedient children, do not conform to the 
evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.
15But just as he who called you is holy,
so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written:
"Be holy, because I am holy."

     In this great big world we live in, everyone has a purpose.  That purpose for your life has been designed especially for YOU by God himself!  Unfortunately, most people never find themselves in a relationship with God where they can hear from Him what that specific purpose is.  However, once you decide to live for God you can find your purpose in Him.  But...people have to understand that living for God is not simply believing in God...even Satan believes in God.  Living for God is also not just attending church services, although this is an important part of it.  Living for God means that you are fully living for God, all the time, in all that you do.  As you might have guessed, this is not easy but, nonetheless, it should be our goal.  This should be our goal for each day, week, month, year, and entire life.  
     So what does living for God actually look like?  This can take on so many appearances but let me try to share a few with you.  Living for God means that you are spending time in prayer with God each and every day.  Living for God means that you are spending time reading God's word AND believing in it!  Living for God means that you are actively part of a church family where you are able to help others in their spiritual walk while also receiving the help you need.  Living for God means you are no longer conforming "to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance."  Living for God means that you are willing to share your faith and the gospel of Christ with others because you know how it has changed your life for the better.  Living for God means that when others ask you why you are different (in a good way), you can't wait to tell them that you are the way you are because Jesus Christ lives in your heart!
     So when we choose to live for God our lives change for the better.  Sometimes these changes are difficult but they are always worth it.  Sometimes it means we give up some of the things we thought we were going to do with our's worth it.  Sometimes it means we allow ourselves to go outside of our comfort's worth it.  Sometimes it means we help at church events when we would rather be relaxing at's worth it.  Sometimes it means serving food at a homeless shelter when we would rather be fishing or golfing or's worth it.  It's ALWAYS worth it to live for God!

 In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok Kim visited us from the Mango Tree Respite Center in Tonga.
 Our Kapa Haka group from school (Dargaville High School).
 We have been infested with praying mantises this fall!
 Hadley on the playhouse.
 Our house in Tikipunga, Whangarei, New Zealand.
 Rev. Nigel Carey of Dargaville shared a special message with us recently.
 Guavas growing in our yard.
Feijoas growing in our yard.
Lori and our co-pastor, Donna Williams, recently had the honor of baptizing Jasmine!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

"Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: 
'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up
their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life 
will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will
save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world,
yet forfeit their soul?'"
Mark 8:34-36

     Sometimes life throws us a curveball that we were not expecting.  It seems to happen when we are comfortable with life...job is good, life is good, people are happy, etc.  That is how I felt in preparing to come to New Zealand and the feeling only intensified when the move actually happened.  However, I believe that God uses these times to help us grow stronger in our faith and to rely more fully on Him.  Our experiences here in New Zealand have been good for the most part, but there have been a few rough patches that have tested our faith.  Satan has tried us and we have chosen to press on.  Our time here has not been perfect but it has been blessed!  
     This past week one of my students invited me to her baptism over the weekend.  Unfortunately, I am not going to be able to make it due to time constraints.  However, I told her that I was excited for her and that this is a big decision in her life.  I also feel excited that she felt comfortable in talking to me about it.  We have had people in our church and youth group recently who have never been to church in their life!  What an exciting opportunity for God to make a difference in their lives!  I feel blessed to be a part of things happening here!  With only about 8 weeks left here in New Zealand I hope that God will allow us to see other things that are happening that He has orchestrated.  Even if we don't see many things happening I believe that seeds are being planted for Him that will be harvested long after we are gone.  Friendships have been formed that will strengthen the faith of believers and possibly help to begin the faith-filled lives of others.  What an amazing opportunity God has given us to be here and carry on with our lives in New Zealand these past 11 months.  
 Trying out a new game at youth group!

 Sometimes the youth group games get a little weird...
 "The Gang"

View between Whangarei (where we live) and Dargaville (where I work)

We have had some really unexpected and exciting opportunities to witness to people such as school and work.  These have often led to new friendships which, again, lead to opportunities to witness to people.  I am glad to have been part of starting a men's group through our church as well.  Dean, one of the newer attendees of our church, has taken on the role of being in charge of our men's group and has done quite well with it.  I have full faith that this group will continue to grow and minister for a long time under his guidance.  

 Our men's group went skeet shooting.  That's me shooting and Dean watching.
 Harrison did really well for his first time skeet shooting!
 Our pastor, Rob, getting in a few shots!
 John, who owns the farm where we were shooting, taking his turn.
 The town is widening the road in front of our church.  We are losing a few parking spaces because of this.
 One of our assemblies at school.
 Don't worry, our kids are still as weird as ever.
Church service.

     Last Sunday I had a really neat experience in that In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok Kim were speaking at our church.  They are the Korean family that runs the Mango Tree Respite Center in the country of Tonga.  This is a facility that I have spoken about a couple of times at our church in Tennessee during the mission education services.  They are a lovely couple/family and truly have a heart for God in doing what they do in Tonga.  They have truly taken up the cross that God has called them to and left everything else behind.  
 In-Kwon sharing his message with us.
The son of a Korean family that attends our church kept visiting me as I ran the powerpoint during In-Kwon's message.

In March we were blessed to have Lori's sister, Mindi, visit us for about 10 days.  It was really nice to have family here with us to talk to and laugh with.  We revisited Hobbiton as Mindi wanted to see it as well as took her to Rotorua and a few beaches.  We even had an afternoon to try our hands at waka ama (a traditional style of Maori canoe).  We had a great time while she was here and can't wait to see the rest of our family soon!

 Lori and Mindi at Whale Bay beach.
 Hadley "driving" in the sand.
 Hollister stopped for a photo along the trail to Whale Bay.
 As a science geek I love the trees and landscape of New Zealand!
 Family photo at the beach.  Wow, the kids are getting so tall!
 Trying out the waka ama.  That's me in the hat with Hollister behind me.  Harrison is second from right and his friend, Tiare, behind him.
 Lori, Mindi, and Heidi going out in the waka ama.
 Selfie at Hobbiton.  That's Bilbo's house in the background with the smaller tree on top of it.
 Panorama inside the Green Dragon at Hobbiton.

 Maori wood carving at the Millenium Hotel where we stayed in Rotorua.
 It poured down rain while we were in the redwood forest.

 We had to take Mindi to our favourite beach at Smuggler's bay (she was taking the picture).

May God bless you all!