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A 34-year Odyssey

Thirty-four years ago today, I left the shores of my homeland for the first time. I suddenly recalled this personal benchmark during a special lunch today with family and friends back in New Zealand, to celebrate my mother’s 85th birthday.

As we shared happy memories around the table, honouring my mother Shirley for her spritely and fun-loving character, I wondered what strange combination of circumstances would have caused me to choose her birthday to leave New Zealand!

Not that I ever thought that I was leaving for good. Most young Kiwis take time out for their OE (overseas experience) lasting a year or two before settling back in Godzone to enjoy a typical outdoor sporting lifestyle.

A furlough-albeit brief-is a time for reflection, so I thought it appropriate to look back 34 years in this weekly word.

July 25, 1972: I clearly remember this day when the phone rang on my reporter’s desk at the New Zealand Herald in Auckland. The young woman on the other end asked me if I would be open to becoming a travelling secretary for a Christian student organisation, and would I travel to Wellington for an interview.

That evening, I read my Daily Light devotional book my parents had given me on my baptism. The reading was about the way of life and the way of death set before us. ‘I go to prepare a place for you’, the final verse read.

The next morning, my Daily Light began with a verse about Abraham, who, called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed.

The verses continued: He chooses our inheritance for us…. He led him about…. I am the Lord who leads you by the way you should go… Here we have no continuing city,…. Arise and depart, for this is not your rest…

I was getting the message! I sensed that this invitation would be a door that would open to further doors. Despite the fact that I enjoyed my journalist’s job, I found myself handing in my resignation and starting the new year travelling between universities up and down the country to encourage groups of Christian students.

Part of my new job involved a series of campus missions for English evangelist, David Watson, and a Canadian couple who were accomplished musicians and singers, Merv and Merla Watson, (not related to David). After travelling together for six weeks holding events on various campuses, the Canadian couple invited me to go to Canada to become their manager.

What was I to do? I was challenged and fulfilled in my job with Inter-Varsity Fellowship. Also, my newspaper had offered me the position of church news reporter.

My boss asked for a definite answer concerning my future next time I was back in the capital, so he could find a replacement if necessary. A few days later, I stood on the deck of the inter-island ferry boat as it entered Wellington harbour. What was I to tell my boss?

In my hand was my little red Daily Light. The pages ruffled in the early morning sea breeze as I turned to the current reading, and read: By faith, Abraham, called to go out… The date was July 26! Exactly one year had passed since I had received this verse as confirmation to leave my last job! Now it seemed clear it was time to step once more through a new open door.

And so, on February 4, 1974, after my year with Inter-Varsity was over, and after one last summer vacation with my family, they waved me off at the airport and I headed for Toronto, Canada.

My new role involved not just travelling and assisting Merv and Merla, but also managing a whole company of singers, dancers and musicians, called Shekinah. We travelled across North America, and then headed off to Europe for a summer tour of cathedral events in England and Holland-including Yorkminster, Sheffield, Guildford and Southwark Cathedrals in England, and the Westerkerk and Laurenskerk in Holland.

Soon after my return to Toronto, I sensed three strong impressions: I should return to journalism, I should return to Europe, and I should live in a community. Three days later, a letter arrived from a YWAM leader I had met in Amsterdam, Floyd McClung, inviting me to come to Holland to edit a magazine he was starting. YWAM had just purchased a property called Heidebeek where they were going to start a training community. Journalism, Europe, community! It was all there!

Coincidentally (of course), July 26 1975 saw me flying off to Holland on the next stage of my odyssey. Again I read my Daily Light, this time with understanding that I was one step closer to the ‘place of my inheritance’.

However, after several months of community life at Heidebeek, I was staring out of my office window wondering what I was doing, living out among the cows in the Dutch countryside! Was this really the right place for me?

A knock at the door interrupted my thoughts. A girl shyly entered and presented me a beautifully scripted sheet of rice paper with bible verses. “The Lord gave me these verses for you today,” she said, turning to leave. I took one glance at the sheet: By faith, Abraham…! I laughed. “I know where you got these verses from!” I said. “The morning reading of the Daily Light for July 26th. Right?!” The girl’s cheeks turned bright crimson.

“You have no idea how significant these verses are for me!” I assured her, explaining what had been in my mind on that November morning when she knocked on my door.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. No, that girl is not the one I ended up marrying. That’s another story (see photo of Romkje and me at an Afghan love feast at Heidebeek in the late ’70’s).

But our engagement date was July 26, 1976. And the verse engraved inside our rings is Psalm 47:4-He chooses our inheritance for us.

Till next week,

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