Sunday, May 31, 2015

These are a few of my favourite [kiwi] things

I've already slammed the rain. And Auckland's traffic. I haven't mentioned the price of gas/petrol. Cost me $126 to fill up my son Derek's Nissan Cefiro. Ouch.

Big Sis after she's forgiven my cheekiness
But then there's being able to say "Gooday" to the congregation and not have them wonder what language I'm speaking. And there's spelling, like favorite favourite.

And then there's my favorite favourite big sis who has been going through a really tough time in life in recent years, along with others in her family, but I'm 8000 miles away.

Derek at Wyuna Bay, Coromandel Peninsula
And there's my favorite favourite 1st born son who is half-way through his third year in mechanical engineering at Auckland Uni, and is still working part-time for NZ Post. He's studying for exams across the table as I write this (we've escaped for a few days to the Coromandel to finish my time in NZ at one of our favourite places).

And there's memories of my dad who stepped into eternity 40 years ago, but then showed up unexpectedly at Cheryl's house courtesy of a relative. The photo to the right is evidently when he enlisted in the British Navy (he served in WWII in the Pacific Theatre). Best guess is he's maybe 19 or 20. Another ship that he was meant to be on was torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese. He was held back as he had the mumps or the measles or possibly the munchies. Amazing to think that I would not be here (or there, or anywhere) were it not for a singularly unpleasant virus. And the providence of God, of course.

Last, but not least, is kiwi dress sense. Those who have seen me clothed know what I'm talking about. But this photo, from a T-shirt worn by a friend with whom we enjoyed "fush n chups," says it all.

I've Given Up

I've given up trying to keep up or catch up on the days lost on my blog. It's been crazy. The thing I have done the most of is drive all over Auckland (a city of 1.5 million in a country of 4.5 mill) and drink lots of coffee and eat lots of food with lots of wonderful people.

Let me tell you from experience, you don't want to get stuck on the motorway in Auckland's atrocious traffic after two or three coffees or kiwi shakes.

One of the coffees was with my mate, Rob, who just flew back in from the Philippines that morning. It was great to catch up with him and to look from Glendowie over to Bucklands Beach where I grew up in my early teen years, and to Musick Point which I tried rowing around a few times.

The first few days back in Auckland were very depressing since it rained almost all the time and I even started wishing the rain was snow, which says how miserable it, and I, was.

The only real bright spot was hanging out with Cheryl, my beloved big sis, two-thirds of whose face you can see in this "sister selfie." I think you'll agree this shot has captured my best side.

Can anyone say 'fratricide'?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Return from Taupo, Rotorua Luge

It's been kind of crazy, so I'm playing catch-up here. We returned from Taupo almost a week ago amid lots of laughs and great discussions in the van. These are some wonderful, wonderful friends, including 3 elders I served with (tall TC with the glasses was my elder chairman and is now senior pastor). So good to hang out with these five crazies.

Lake Taupo, in the background, is a massive caldera (volcano crater lake) from a supervolcano that first erupted 27000 years ago and has erupted 28 times since. The map on the left shows its size and location (dead center) relative to the rest of the north island (which is around 500 miles from Cape Reinga at the northern tip to Wellington in the southern tip). The lake is 29 x 21 miles long.

Rotorua is a geothermal region, rather like Yellowstone. It, along with Lake Taupo, is the site of numerous previous elder retreat competitions. One key event has always been the luge, with yours truly holding the number one position. Perhaps the most famous such event in elder lore was when Val, then my women's ministry director, said "Graham, don't under any circumstances let Trevor do the luge! He's really hurt his back."

Upon arrival, Trevor went straight towards the helmets. "Trevor!" said I dutifully, "Val has given me this sacred trust--to make sure you don't go on the luge."
"She'll never know," he said.
Five minutes later, TC lost control and smashed into sandbags. Trevor smashed into him and went flying through the air. Seeing that no one was dead, and now having the front position, I continued on to victory.

Afterwards, people kept quoting me the parable of the Good Samaritan for some reason.

Trevor was bruised from his knees to his navel but managed to keep it secret from Val for a few days until my associate pastor, Jonathan, naively asked her: "So how's Trev doing?"

We had been planning a re-match months ago. You can imagine my and our utter dismay arriving there to find it had closed early FOR WINTER. The best I could do was pose and pretend. I hate winter!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Lake Taupo Pastors Conference

It's been a few days since I've posted anything as I've been down in the center of the North Island at Lake Taupo at a pastors' conference without WiFi access.

So good to be here and reconnect with so many great folks I've known and ministered with for more than three decades in some cases (some students from when I was campus director with Campus Crusade at Auckland University who are now pastoring).

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Day 3: ABC's 25th Anniversary Celebration

I was a real plonker (kiwi expression in my day -- not sure if it's still in use) and didn't take any pics. Oh well. Maybe next Sunday.

It was a great morning with folks from all over re-gathering to celebrate God's goodness and work through this church we love.

We received a current program and also a bulletin dated August 5th 1990 just a few weeks into the church's existence. Definitely a historical week for the Blaikie family.

We sang a couple of hymns that were sung at the very first service, along with some more contemporary songs. There was a slide show with many of us looking considerably younger and thinner. We were all directed to stand and folks sat as we went back through the years to that original church-planting team. Former elders and pastors were invited to stand and "stay standing if you have a birthday today." Got me good. Rather overwhelming having the whole church sing happy birthday. Then Pastor Tim Collins preached (who also served as a lay elder chairman when I was pastoring) preached a great message focused on God's faithfulness.

Considering how many church plants fail, God has been wonderfully gracious to ABC and to a later plant we did, BotanyLife Community Church, which is also thriving. Pastor Brad Carr, whom we sent out with his wife Rochelle and a great team, was there and spoke briefly at the lunch, as did I. Other pastors, elders and dear friends (the pastors and elders are dear friends too) were there and made the whole day both emotionally a bit overwhelming, but wonderful.

That evening my son Derek, who was studying frantically all day for engineering exams, joined us for a fish n chip birthday dinner. A great day.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Day 2: Sheep, Ships and Sea

Saturday was as gorgeous as Friday was lousy. The sun was out and the birds were chirping. After a breakfast of weetbix, Trevor and I headed off to Cornwall Park, just over the road from their place. We climbed a few stiles and dodged multiple sheep pellets and cow pads and made our way up One Tree Hill, immortalized by the band U2 in their song honoring Greg Carroll, a Maori roadie who was friends with Bono and who was killed in a motorcycle accident in Dublin.

The single tree at the very top of One Tree Hill was cut down after a Maori activist had a go at it--from which it never recovered. Before European settlement, this now-extinct volcano (one of around 70 in Auckland) was a Maori pa, or fortress village.

After stopping to give a few autographs to my fan base (pictured left), and taking in the great views of Auckland from the summit, it was a short walk through the park to the showgrounds for the Boat Show in the "City of Sails," though there were mainly power boats on display. Keep your fingers crossed for the free boat I might win. All suggestions on how to get it to Wisconsin welcome.

Our last stop while daylight held was the Waterfront. Movenpicks on Mission Bay has the best mango and passionfruit sorbet. Sitting on the beach, with 850-year-old volvano, Rangitoto, in the background, is the perfect place to think deep thoughts about the meaning of life for seagulls.

Last, but not least, 11 of us (elders and wives) gathered at the Red Elephant for an evening of great Thai food and laughter to the point of tears as we recounted elder retreats (including water-sport mishaps and races) and mission trips of yore. The last time some of us ate Thai food together was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, at a neighborhood "barbeque." One of our triumvirate piked out due to a "headache." The other was a self-proclaimed vegetarian. So, yours truly became the token meat eater when the "meat" (various oddly-shaped body parts) came out and was cooked over a little bunsen-burner contraption. That was followed by homemade rice rum. I have never been so sick in my life as that night and the next day.

We also reflected on the great work God is doing there through Auckland Bible Church, through a number of couples and families going to serve for multiple years.

Day 1: Feijoas, Friends & Fatherhood

Some wonderful friends picked me up from the airport after the all-day, all-night three-flight 8000 mile trek. Trevor was an elder when I pastored here (and is one currently). Val was our Women's Ministry Director.

They brought me home to a room filled with jaffas and crunchy bars. Breakfast consisted of feijoas (almost the end of the season), crumpets and golden syrup. Wow, what a great start. Could it get any better?

It did when my first-born walked through the door. Derek has been in NZ almost all of the last eight years we've been in Wisconsin, so it was so good to see him and give him a big hug and punch his shoulder repeatedly. After an hour he left for Auckland University, where he is half-way through his third year in engineering.

The weather was atrocious all day so I didn't resent spending it trying to resolve data access problems with AT&T. Couldn't talk with them directly so skyped Doreen on wi-fi and she triangulated with them on her phone. After two hours, I finally had data access, so I can blog on my phone now though Doreen's still receiving the same text from me a hundred times in an endless loop.

That night we headed to Titirangi in west Auckland for a gathering of friends at a birthday party. Fun evening till jetlag finally hit and we headed home.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Lost Day & Conversation

I've been praying this last week, in confidence, for a good spiritual conversation en route. Some of my best spiritual conversations have been on planes.

First two flights, people were buried in their devices. I checked: they weren't reading my blog. This flight everyone's sleeping and the big Maori bloke in my row is two empty seats away. I suppose I could sidle over next to him and wait for him to wake up and greet him a cheery "Gooday mate!" But did I mention that he's big? A few too many hangis (pig roasts cooked in the ground) under his belt. At least he's got a good cultural excuse for his puku (belly). All I can point to is cherry pie and eight years of delicious Thanksgiving turkey bird with Doreen's family in Illinois. And Good and Plenty candy. And long-lasting sympathetic pregnancy symptoms from our four kids, the youngest of whom is seventeen.

I have a long list of goodies to reacquaint myself with on this trip: pineapple lumps, minties, Lemon and Paeroa, feijoas, to name just a few. The last one is a fruit. It's not gluttony if you include a fruit.

Anyway, maybe my prayer to share will be answered later. God seems to enjoy mixing things up.

This trip is already like stepping into Narnia. I left Wednesday, I arrive Friday. Thursday simply gets expunged from the calendar. On my way back, I arrive before I leave!

One thing that remains the same is that Air New Zealand is still my favorite airline.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Koru

A little more on the selfie. I'd heard about the selfie stick being the latest craze but hadn't seen one until today at the Madison airport. A couple were trying to manipulate it telescopically. Seems it gives you that wider angle and a little more distance. Reminded me of those aluminum sticks used at Disneyland for spearing trash. Guess if you don't like the person in the selfie you can always stab them.

I'm in San Fransisco waiting for my third and final flight. It's been a while since I've flown my favorite airline. We'll see if it's still up to snuff.

The design on the tail is known as the Koru, the Maori word for the uncoiling silver fern frond which, like the kiwi, is a national icon.

Koru also happens to be the name of our cat, whose claws unintentionally resemble a koru from time to time. The other cat is named Tui, the Maori name for the Bell Bird whose coloring (black with a white throat) she resembles. In the silence of the long, birdless Wisconsin winter I have oft longed for the paradisical song of the Tui to lift my spirits.

I Hate the Selfie but Love the Wifee

What a class act this woman is. First, she says yes to marrying me 32 years ago. Then she follows me to NZ for close to 20 years. Then she graciously lets me return on my own for three weeks. No complaining. Just a great smile and a kiss.

It Begins

In an hour I head to the airport for the big O-E, as kiwis refer to the Overseas Experience. Only, I'm going to NZ, not from there. 

The other day a friend asked me if kiwis liked to be called kiwis, or if it was a derogatory term. Oh my, what do they teach them in schools these days? Of course, then they went on to explain how they loved to eat kiwi. I did the haka on the inside. . . 

. . . but smiled on the outside. I explained that the fruit is called "kiwi fruit," that the bird is called the "kiwi" (after which NZers proudly name themselves) not the "kiwi bird" (any more than we glory in the "eagle bird" or stuff ourselves with the "turkey bird" at Thanksgiving). They were gracious in their response. And I almost hoped that my one-man crusade to correct this pervasive heresy might one day be achievable. Then I got real.

Kiwis, of course, have their own quirks. We have this thing we're quite proud of which we call "Kiwi ingenuity." Personally, I think it's our way of feeling better at being small and being the most geographically isolated country on earth.

Kiwi ingenuity reached new highs (or lows) in the last few days, however.

Headline: "Missing Trail Runner Found Alive, Survived on Her Own Breastmilk"

Headline: "[NZ] Artificial Intelligence Experts are Building the World's Angriest Robot. Should You Be Scared?"

Is this the old NZ I know and love and which I last visited five years ago? Time will tell.


Sunday, May 10, 2015


So I'm leaving Wednesday for Aotearoa New Zealand, the land of the long white cloud, as the native Maori call it.

Auckland Bible Church, the church we helped plant 25 years ago, and which we pastored for 8 years, is bringing me back for the anniversary. I'm stoked, to dredge up a long-lost kiwi phrase I'm saying over and over, along with "mate!" to get me in the proper cultural frame of mind.

NZ is also the birthplace of bungee jumping. It's the place you want to go to seize the day.

Friday, May 1, 2015

My Prayer

From my reading yesterday:

Show me your ways, LORD,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
                             - Psalm 25:4,5