Friday, June 08, 2007

New Zealand

NEW ZEALAND may be a little island nation located next door to antartica but my visit their yielded big opportunities and even larger adventures. I departed from LAX on Thursday May 24th and arrive in Auckland on Saturday May 26th. You lose a day traveling west over the international date line so even though my flight only lasted 12 hours it still took two ‘days’ to get there.
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest and most metropolitan city where over a quarter the nations population lives. I had an eight hour lay over in Auckland so after checking my bags for the next flight I hit the town for breakfast and a look around. Besides being very reminiscent of San Francisco Auckland also held another attraction, the Sky Tower. I paid the fare for a ride to the top of the three hundred foot tall building. From the observation deck unimpeded panoramic views were available of the whole city. As an added adventure you could pay $50- and they would throw you off the top of the building for a free fall of over 200 feet! I didn’t have the money on me for that but spent a bit of time there watching people plunge to earth. (I should mention that these people were hooked up to harnesses and a arrest system so their free fall didn’t end in a sudden stop.
AFTER a morning in Auckland a returned to the airport to board a DeHaviland Dash twin turbo prop for the hour long flight to Napier airport. These little airplanes offer quite a contrast to a wide body airliner like a 747. We bounced an jostled over beautiful country side and mountain scenery and with a 20 knot wide blowing, made an very steep and dramatic cross wind landing.
I was met at the airport by Denys and Elvira Tomeselli who would be my hosts during my stay in New Zealand.

I met Denys through the bookstore where he buys large quantities of books to stock his own store in New Zealand. Denys and Elvira originally came to New Zealand from South Africa looking to make a new start after growing up, marring and raising a family in South Africa. In due time Denys became the director of Grace To You New Zealand and an elder at Hastings Bible Church. Both of my hosts were great people and made me feel right at home.

I SPENT a day with Denys getting familiar with his operation. Christianity in New Zealand far and wide is very nominal. There is not a large healthy church in either island and so the believers that are in New Zealand usually congregate in small meetings, attend churches that are not very sound or if fortunate to live in one of the few cities were there is a strong church gather there for worshipping our Lord. That being the case the appetite for good books is small but growing. That appetite is fed primarily through the ministry that Denys oversees. It was amazing to walk in his smallish shop and realize that in his store there was probably not another like it around for thousands of miles. It is not an understatement to say that Deny’s bookshop has been individually responsible for introducing hundreds of people to good Christian literature and dozens of churches to valuable resources. It was a great privilage of mine to see this first hand.

I ALSO got to spend a day with Doug Whitfield, the Potato King as he’s known in New Zealand. Doug is an elder at Hastings Bible Church and also a third generation potato farmer with fields all over New Zealand. Denys, knowing I wanted to see the “real New Zealand” arranged for me to spend a day touring the countryside with Doug who proved to be a wealth of knowledge about the history of NZ, its people, culture and the Christian church. Over the course of my day with him I saw so much, the highlights include seeing thousands of sheep, some of which blocked the roads we were traveling as they were being herded about. I also spent about 2 hours crammed in the cab of John Deere tractor, helping Doug spray herbicide over his potato fields. I also had an opportunity to drive about 20 km on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. This day was truly a highlight to my trip since I not only had an extremely knowledgable guide but also a very wise Christian man to talk with. Doug turned 70 about 30 years ago (as he put it) and during his Christian life has managed to keep one foot in the world as a highly respected farmer and the other foot deeply in the church as a leader and elder. I pray that God would gift the church I serve someday with men capable of doing both. By way of example, we had dinner at a roadside truck top named ‘Stag Park’. When we walked into this dimly light truck slop house the conversations were full of coarse jesting and foul language. Doug’s presence in that room was enough to change the topics of conversation and I can witness that the language pretty much cleaned up. All of this without Doug casting a disapproving glance or speaking a word of rebuke. He was just plainly known as a Christian and a man of the book. His testimony was so powerful that his presence was light in the midst of darkness and salt in a world of decay.

AFTER these days of fun and touring it was time to get down to work. The Impact conference started on Friday and ran through Tuesday. This is 5 full days of sermons and workshops, compared to the 3 and a half days of the Shepherds’ Conference. This was an absolutely amazing time with Steve Lawson and Jerry Wragg leading the main sessions. Close to 400 people attended the conference and of this number were represented possibly the vast majority of bible believing and teaching pastors in New Zealand, indicative of the spiritual climate in NZ, there were probable not more than a two dozen pastors present at the conference. Lay leaders and people attending weak churches flock to the conference because it has become known as the event where great biblical preaching will be heard.
Steve Lawson gave 5 very powerful messages on the Beatitudes and the most powerful sermon on 1 Corinthians 15 and the return of the Lord. I do not feel it is an overstatement to say the Sunday morning message on Corinthians must have been what listening to George Whitfield would have been like. I am not charismatic by any stretch of the imagination but if you read about the responses that men and women responded with to the powerful preaching of the Word of God by Jonathan Edwards you would not be all too far from what was experienced that Sunday morning in New Zealand. If you would like a copy of the message please email me and I’ll get one forwarded to you.

AS THE conference winded down I learned that Steve Lawson, Denys and a few other guys would be playing 18 holes of golf the following day. I was tapped on the shoulder to caddy for Denys and on Wendsday I found myself standing at the tee off for the first hole of the golf course caddying for the team of Denys and Steve. Keep in mind now that I have never even set foot on a golf course, I didn’t know the first thing and anything but I was caddying for Steve Lawson who could probably pursue a career in amateure if not professional golfing and Denys who himself was a highly skilled golfer. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for a seminarian to watch and listen as the men who played golf talked about ministry, grumbled about poor shots and dispensed sage advice like, “This is what it’s all about ministry and good golf.’ It was a great bookend to an amazing God orchestrated two weeks in New Zealand.

This is the introductory post in a series of posts I hope to publish in the next few weeks. I could go on for pages but instead will break up what follows this according to topics or subjects that are a little more detailed. It should be remembered that one of the primary purposes of my trip was to look for potential ministry opportunities for after seminary. I met lots of men and heard lots of opportunities but also saw into the very heart of the challenges that the church is facing in New Zealand. These will be the topics of following posts. If you have any questions please feel free to email me or respond to this post and I’ll answer back that way other people can see the questions and their answers. I intend to post 1 new article a week for the next several weeks. I will blog about the challenges facing the church in New Zealand, the sucess of the Hastings/Napier area churches, messages from the conference, the Shepherd's Bible College and contacts that I made while in NZ.
As you read these posts and look at the pictures the intent is to show you how the Lord is working in another part of the world so you can pray with understanding along with Amy and I as we consider future ministry in New Zealand. It is no understatement to say that the fields are white unto harvest but that the workers in that land are few. There are tremendous opportunities and significant challenges in pursuing a call to this land.

All the photos were taken during my time in New Zealand.


GreenEggsandSam said...

soo cool!
i pray that the LORD makes HIs direction very clear...and I hope it includes NZ...I'd try to come visit!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Scott! I really enjoyed your report on New Zealand. I'm looking forward to the next chapter. Please remember to send me copies of some of the sermons you mentioned. The picture of you and Amy is great! Love, Momabird

Chuck Staley said...


I was on a walk tonight with Gina raving about one of Steve Lawson's sermons and she casually mentions that you went to NZ with him. What a great post. Please send me the sermon. Every time I hear him preach, my heart is moved! Also, I'm looking forward to hearing about the opportunities in NZ.