It wasn’t long ago that I came to New Zealand, this time; however, I came with the ASC students. The final experience of their education in the Antipodes is the journey to the shores of Aotearoa (literally meaning “long, white, cloud”) the Maori name for the country.
The students had trekked across much of New South Wales and finally did the same in the coldest of the Polynesian Islands.
The itinerary traced from our starting point in Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland) to Whakatane* to Rotorua and back to Auckland. The experience was in addition to the studies about Australia. As a student I found it important to learn about another Commonwealth nation in order to better understand Australia and how it functions. I found it especially helpful to study another indigenous people to compare their stories to those of the Aboriginal Australians.
The Marae is a central part of Maori culture. In pre-European settlements the Marae was something between the town center and the church. The central feature of a Marae is the Whare Tipuna (House of the Ancestors). This is a place of peace, healing, and gathering (hence the connection to the church). It is also a place where guests are welcomed and farewell ceremonies are held. Though the Maori have a common language and ancestry they are divided into several iwi (tribes) across the island. Each iwi performs ceremonies and customs with slight variation. But some common elements galvanize the people.
Maori culture is centered as much around food as it is about community. There is also fervor to keep alive what was once (and still is, some would say) threatened with absorption into the ambiguity of the White Western World. It seemed that nearly everyone we met spoke of “keeping Maori culture alive.” To see students of the Enlightenment interacting with this thinking was fantastic.
In the Western world we assume that we have no culture, that we are moving away from culture, that we are on the path to creating a progressive civilization that is no longer troubled by the trivialities of tribal societies. Christians take this a step further and imply that through belief in Christ we rise above culture, “we’re Christians, we don’t have a culture,” I heard many students say along the course of the trip.
While belief in Christ may lead us to similar values, the lenses through which we see the world is different. Even a country so similar in many ways to the US, like Australia, brings a completely different mindset to the Gospel. This doesn’t even begin to describe the worldview difference that Aboriginal Christians bring to the truth of Jesus, or how a Maori Believer would be influenced by their culture.
I gather that most Christians in the US would agree that one doesn’t have to wear a suit and tie to church or cut our hair short or refrain from wearing golden earrings in order to be saved. We think this way because many of our denominations have “broken free” from legalism and oppressive interpretations of the Good Book.
But are there other things we hold tightly to, thinking that one must walk through that threshold to truly be “saved”? Do those standards have anything to do with the person of Jesus? Or cultural values?
Our time in New Zealand provided a fantastic opportunity to talk about these things. I have been greatly challenged myself during this semester, especially in how to communicate with students who are engaging many of these ideas for the first time. I’ve found that if something is going to “click”, it must come from the student, it must come from within. The change cannot come from the outside, a shift in worldview or thinking cannot be forced. I have found this to be true of many other things that would take a few more virtual pages to write.
At the moment it is nearing an hour when I should be asleep. How about a commercial break?
An exciting end to an exciting semester is only fitting. On our day off in Auckland our tour guide, Lindsey, gave our group the option of caving under a mountain just to the north in Whangarei.
To be perfectly honest I was not immediately excited about it. I had just recently watched the 2011 film Sanctum. Images of divers drowning to death while trapped in a tunnel of rock immediately came to mind. The fight or flight response was activated at the moment Lindsey pointed to me and asked, clipboard in hand, pen ready to tally, “can I count you in?”
Because I had heard stories from previous semesters I knew there was a tight squeeze in this cave that had the ability to test the limits of some who had trouble harnessing their own panic reflex. How else am I going to get over my fear of really tight spaces several hundred meters below thousands of tons of rock?
“I’m in,” I said.
So, the next morning, I’m waiting in line in a dark tunnel, ready to attempt the passage so fittingly named “The Rib Roller” listening to a caver near the front of the line nearly lose her mind with panic as she got stuck. I could hear her calling for help between tears. I could also hear the guide ahead quietly talking her away form hysteria and into practical tasks that would set her free.
In the end she did it and conquered her fear. When it came to my turn to fit through a passage the size of a cereal box, I was quite comforted. I had to tilt my head to the side to keep from drinking in water that was up to my chin and I had to push my helmet in front of me, but I eventually got through.
It is incredible how rewarding it is to push yourself to the limits. Who knew that struggling through a dark passage (surrounded by the greenish lights of glow worms) could teach so much?
The rest of the cave was mainly exploring tunnels, jumping from waterfalls and stamping my feet to make sure they were still there after standing for hours in an ice-cold underground river.
You could be wondering why I spent my last day in one of the most beautiful countries in the world in a hole in the ground. Well, it was raining and cloudy up above.
I was gonna get wet anyway.