We began Sunday afternoon once the 125th celebrations as St. Luke's came to a close. We packed our bags and drove to Ohakune where we found ourselves staying in the motel where the Lord of the Rings cast stayed, called The Hobbit! The town was a sleepy little ski town at the base of Mt. Ruapehu. Unfortunately, Monday morning was overcast and cloudy, hiding the mountain from view. So we decided to head up to Taupo to do some tramping and exploring. On our way, we spotted some gorgeous rainbows, a very common sight here in New Zealand. Once we arrived in Taupo, we visited Huka Falls - a massive, powerful waterfall.
After our hike up to it, we rested in natural hot springs! We ended the evening exploring Craters of the Moon, a system of hot steam vents coming out of the earth. The ground was extremely unstable and so we had to walk on the wooden planks provided as you can see in the pictures. We ended the evening with Burger King and a long trek to Auckland. WOW - talk about culture shock, going back to a large city with freeways! Ken enjoyed driving in traffic again, and I liked all the city lights! That night however, I got sick (food poisoning by Burger King??!!) and so Tuesday we took it easy, sightseeing Auckland from various hilltops (most of which are old volcanoes, or craters) surrounding the city. It was fun to imagine the landscape when the place was filled with lava, steam and ash flying everywhere! Now in it's place are green hills with sheep (yes, can't get away from them even in a metropolis like Auckland) amidst city skyscrapers, Sky Tower prominently jutting into the cityscape.
We met our billet family Tuesday night - Bob and Eris. A wonderful old couple who played Rummikub with us (reminded me of my Grandma Steinbart), let us watch Law and Order, and told us exciting stories from their latest adventures to China. Kiwi people are the most traveled people in the entire world.
Wednesday the national LCNZ conference started - it was very intimate with about 20 of us there, and Harry Wendt was our guest speaker. He was awesome! A real inspiration to all of us, and gave us quite a bit to think about. That's needed for us church workers every once in a while-we need to re-think our reason for doing ministry and what that ministry really is. He focused a lot on how Jesus' life was a living display of what He talked about, and how He is a radical God, coming to earth to live the life of a servant to free people from demonic control of living life for self. For there are only two "rulers" he claims, fighting for you in the world - Satan and Jesus. But a favorite statement of Ken and I from Harry was that we don't put God 1st in life...because what idols then come 2nd, 3rd, and 4th?...but instead God is to be the ONLY in life because He is not an "important" part of life, but IS life. In Jesus' ministry, He talk-about, walk-about, show-abouted everything to His disciples, and we too have to walk-talk-show people the Jesus we want them to believe in (Ken likes how Harry said, 'walkie, talkie, showie'). Hmmm...interesting things to think about.
It was great for Ken and I to meet other church workers as well - there is some great youth ministry going on in Upper Moutere, which Ken enjoyed hearing about and swapping ideas with. He also enjoyed visiting with Harry Wendt, learning more about his ministry and thoughts. I got to know two other musicians pretty well, one from Christchurch on the South Island, and the other from Wellington. We are planning a possible music ministry retreat for sometime next year for all church musicians in the LCNZ.
Saturday we ended our time in Auckland by visiting the Zoo...this Zoo was unlike any other I've been to! They take their elephants on walks twice a day around the park! And there was a bird sanctuary where the parrots would feed from your hand (or in Ken's case, shoulder)! And of course, we saw a kiwi bird! Yes! They have a special place where they make it "night" in the daytime so the bird will be active (they only come out at night.) It was a great way to unwind from the week. That evening, we enjoyed walking around the city at night after having a nice dinner (yes, we even found a Borders and Starbucks and indulged in some American living!)
Sunday Rob Erickson was installed as the new LCNZ President and we were able to meet his wife Betsy. Both Rob and Betsy are from the states (Rob is from Arizona!), and we are excited to welcome them to New Zealand and into the St. Luke's family. The people here really are a family to us, so generous with their time and talents! It's humbling.
We ended our adventures in Waitomo where we went Black Water Rafting to see the Glow Worms in the caving systems. It was awesome to tube down an underground river system in a cave, jump off waterfalls INSIDE the cave, and to float lights-out while gazing at the "star" filled ceiling (the glow-worms). It was truly incredible and a somewhat spiritual experience as we just took in how awesome and unique God's creation is. There is always something down here that continues to inspire us and take our breath away.
On the long drive back to Palmy, we saw Marikopa Falls and a natural bridge as well as Mt. Egmont (the most climbed mountain here, also with the most deaths totaling 60 so far...) We also enjoyed seeing Angorra rabbits being sheared for their fur - didn't look so humane, but it's supposed to be good for them!
Now it's back to work. Please pray for Ken and I as we hit the ground running full speed ahead this week with lots going on for music and youth/children/adult ministry! The trip was rejuvenating and mind-tantalizing, giving a new boost for getting ready for the end of the year ministry work before the summer break-up (as they call it down here)!