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Friday, May 31, 2013

Gibbs Farm - Sculptures

Yesterday I went with a group from Church to Gibbs farm on the Kaipara harbour. It is an amazing place to visit if you ever get a chance. Alan Gibbs bought the farm in 1991 and has transformed it into a huge sculpture park - or should I say a park with huge sculptures! Both are true. Here are a few photos to give you an idea:

You need to book to be able to visit and you need to be reasonably fit to climb up and down hills for several hours! But it is well worth it. You can Google Gibbs farm for more information but their website it currently under reconstruction so it doesn't tell you a whole lot. When I Googled I discovered that there is also a Gibbs Farm in Tanzania! Sorry but that wasn't the one I visited!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book clubs are great!

I really enjoy the book club I belong to for lots of reasons. One of them is that I get to read books I would never have heard about otherwise. I have just finished reading The Rugmaker of Mazar-E-Sharif by Najaf Mazari & Robert Hillman.

Although I have read several other books set in Afghanistan this one gave me the best understanding  of that country's complicated history and constant conflicts. I saw it all through the real life eyes of Najif whose memoir it is. From the small boy minding the sheep to the adolescent beginning his apprenticeship as a rug maker and finally through so much anguish, loss of family members, and personal torture to his escape as a "boat person".

The absolute terror and desperation of those who choose to leave home and family for the sake of their lives is a perspective we need to remember when hearing the news of countries (including our own) saying clearly that such asylum seekers are "not welcome".

Through all the uncertainty and danger of the journey Najif did make it to Woomera - the detention centre north of Adelaide. I wonder how those who have already endured so much manage to cope with the prison like environment and dreadful uncertainty of whether they will be accepted or rejected and sent 'home'. Through Najif's experiences so beautifully recounted I could feel the turmoil of day to day life, language difficulties, trying hard to fit in in order to be accepted, agonising about family left behind and all the time the ultimate question of: "Will this new land take me in?"

The way the book is written we know from the first page that Najif does become an Australian citizen. I am very glad I knew this! It made travelling with him through all the stages of this arduous journey more hopeful. Najif is a Muslim and the way he prays and understands God's presence with him is a wonderful reminder that the day to day faith of most Muslims is a gentle and life giving reality. In the current atmosphere of some extremists denigrating the Muslim faith I know I have more in common with Najif than with the so called Christians who are behind the anti-Muslim propaganda.

The final section in the book describes the enormous challenges of settling in a completely new country with no family or friends on hand. Reading this made me aware of how much it matters to a new immigrant to have simple friendship, a smile, a conversation. And even better if someone offers practical help to get established.

Najif is an amazingly positive person. He is grateful for so much even though he has suffered more than most of us could even imagine. In a postscript to the book he says:
One way in which I try to solve the problem of my good fortune is to share it in every way I can with those in Mazar-e-Sharif who need some comfort in their lives. I have joined with friends to start a fund that will build schools and buy ambulances for the people of Mazar-e-Sharif. I am not the United Nations, but surely I can help in a small way. Helping in small ways is good. I really appreciate my Australian friends who have helped me set up the Mazar Development Fund which you can find at www.mazardevelopmentfund.org.au

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Letters from the past

As a couple of people have reminded me - I have been a bit slack about blogging for the past month. I have been reading the usual range of fascinating and inspiring books but somehow their content is a bit hard to summarize helpfully...

But I have also been reading a stack of letters which I wrote to a close friend during the 6 years I was teaching ex-pat children in a mission school in Nigeria: 1972-1978. I had asked her to keep them and when she recently moved back to Australia she asked if I wanted them. I did - though I had forgotten all about them!

It is a very strange thing to read my personal reflections about a chapter that feels like another lifetime.
I haven't quite finished reading them yet but I'm noticing some fascinating things:

  • How right from the start I was saying I had a feeling I wouldn't be in Nigeria for the rest of my working life. (In those days "career missionaries" set off with no sense of changing jobs before retirement - though of course that often did happen.)
  • How I was privately saying to my friend that I would love to teach adults in a theological setting one day. (I was trained as a primary school teacher and did not have a theological degree at the time.)
  • How even in Nigeria when I'd never even heard of "spiritual direction" I was commenting on how I was often sought out for "deep conversations". (For the last 20+ years spiritual direction has been a major part of my vocation.)
  • How deeply committed I was to my own spiritual growth - and how even then I was "pushing the boundaries" beyond what might be considered the conservative view I was brought up in. (I'm still constantly exploring even deeper and broader dimensions of the same God revealed in Christ!)
In my journal as I have noted these things I've said: "So many 'seeds' that have grown into important aspects of my life in the ensuing years." Some Blog readers will know that I came back at the end of 1978, did four years theological study to gain my MTh and then taught at the Bible College of New Zealand until 1999. During that time I also trained as a spiritual director and since 2000 have made that my main vocation. When I wrote those letters I could never have imagined how those inner thoughts and desires would come to pass.