Friday 28 January 2022

Scripture Union Bible camp

On Tuesday, Martin and I got back from a week on Pōnui Island at Scripture Union's only annual camp for grownups - their Bible Study Camp.  I'm still exhausted, but it was such a good week.  It was a beautiful location, people were so friendly, and the teaching times have given me good stuff to ponder on.

We traveled there from the stunning Kawakawa Bay, somewhere I don't think I've been before:

The island's a sheep farm (or, perhaps, three sheep farms?) and we got there on the sheep barge:

Meals took place in a hall, as did morning teaching sessions and evening 'worship and testimony' sessions (which I generally didn't go to - they started at times like 8pm!):

I particularly appreciated the reflection time on Sunday morning, where we given questions and sent away to think and pray about them.  I think one of them was to bring your sadness to God - something like that.  I came away realising that Jesus is sad that I'm still significantly ill, just like he was sad when his friend Lazarus died or when he saw the state Jerusalem was in.  I tend to think that God only partially healed me because that was all that was needed so I could do my Just Kai work, which feels kind of uncaring.  It has been encouraging to remember that God has limited his ability to work in the world as it is now (with most things simply following the laws of physics etc.), and that the struggles I still have are more because of that than because God doesn't care.

The Sunday morning session was a bit different, with the main sessions following the theme of discipleship in the book of Mark.  The main thing that struck me from those was a session on the parable of the sower and the seed, and the explanation Jesus gives of it.  Our speaker, Ian Waddington, proposed that Jesus wasn't just talking about how people who aren't Christians respond to hearing God's word, but about our ongoing responses through our Christian lives.  So we could be hard soil, not growing at all; we could be Christians with little root, thrown whenever stuff gets hard; we could be Christians full of worries that get in the way of our responding to God; or we could be fruitful.  He saw the key difference between these different 'states' being the quality of our listening - there are numerous exhortations in the story to 'listen'.

I realised that I'm currently very much focusing on worries and stresses, rather than on what God is saying.  Which doesn't mean the worries and stresses are of no consequence, but they're not really where my focus should be....

Other than the scheduled teaching and worship/testimony sessions, it was basically free time, although there were a few organised walks.  Here's Martin on a wander he and I took up to the Ros Chamberlin memorial seat (installed in honour of someone from the island who died in a farming accident fairly recently):

It was a beautiful place to wander.  This was on our way up to the highest point I reached, where you could see the Coromandel on the other side of the island from where we were camping:

This one probably needs to be blown up to see properly.   The bay to the right of the picture is where we're camping, and you can see Pakihi Island off the coast:

The bay where we were camping:

I was very taken by this massive pohutakawa tree. As far as I can tell, all you can see there is one tree:

Sunset (looking towards Pakihi Island again).  I took this whilst brushing my teeth - not a bad view for it!

Also taken from the sink where I brushed my teeth, this time looking back towards the main part of the camp:

The camp was essentially in two wings - one mostly with army tents provided by Scripture Union (in the picture below); our area that was a mix of simple indoor accommodation and people's own tents (and which had close toilet access, so housed all the people with mobility or energy issues, of which there were a surprising number); and between them the main area, with the hall/kitchen, a couple of house buses equipped with bunks, and a bunch of kayaks and paddleboards on the beach for general use.  Between 'our' area and the main area there was also a fairly substantial boat house that was used for prayer meetings during the week.

One of the house buses, the sinks where I tended to brush my teeth after breakfast (which did feel awfully public!), and the boat house in the distance:

The back of the cookhouse, off the main hall.  Cooking was done on a woodfired stove, and a second woodfired stove provided hot water to the showers (which are behind the green doors you see in the picture below).  I hadn't expected hot showers, but they were very nice after a swim!

We both were keen to take advantage of having the sea so close, and having access to kayaks and paddleboards.  I went out in a kayak on a fairly choppy day, and was pleased how well I did at both not freaking out and at getting to where I was going.  After paddling across the choppy bay it was a delight to go a short way up a blissfully calm estuary, meandering between mangroves before heading back into the sea.  We also both tried out stand up paddleboards.  My balance is pretty atrocious and I think it'd be a while before I found it calm and meditative, but I was pleased with how I did.  Here's Martin having his first go:

Despite all the fun things available, I did spend a lot of time resting, which I did find frustrating.  I was fine so long as I focused on all the good stuff I was able to do, but I did feel more acutely than usual how much I was missing out on.  It's one thing missing stuff whilst resting quietly at home - another when you can hear snatches of laughter, cheering and singing drifting over, and you'd really love to join in.

Still, there are worse places to spend a lot of time lying down!  Here's the view from the tent:
And, when it got too hot in the tent, I'd often lie under this tree.  It was quite near a major thoroughfare, but after everyone learned I needed a lot of rest, no one tried to talk to me when they saw me lying down there:

The whole place was so full of life!  At night we heard ruru and Kiwi; at any hour we'd hear the donkeys (the island is home to Aotearoa's only wild donkey herd, apparently); in the sea we saw two jellyfish - one maybe 1cm across, the other the size of a dinnerplate, although both with the same colouring - perhaps different life stages, perhaps a coincidence; on the way back on the barge we saw huge flocks of some kind of shearwater waiting on the water (perhaps fluttering shearwater?); all kinds of interesting (and less interesting) bugs were continually checking out our tent, etc.

Between our tent and the nearest loo, there was also an artificial pond, made from a mussel farm floatation buoy that had been cut in half (such buoys frequently wash up on the beach from the various nearby mussel farms, apparently).  At night, it's inhabited by frogs (the whitish thing is the tail of a decoy duck, which gives you an idea of size):

The sheep from the farm also came out in the evenings at low tide to browse the seaweed on the beach:

Our camp was the last Scripture Union camp on Pōnui for the summer, so one of our jobs was to take down the tents.  They're quite fascinating.  Many years ago someone custom made a bunch of metal rods which get bolted into concrete pads in the ground.  The tents get tied to the rods, rather than guy ropes and pegs, and thus stay up the whole summer with minimal fuss.  Here's the one nearest our tent (all the others had sea views - I think this one was intended to be a Covid isolation tent, should that be needed).  In the foreground you can see perhaps a third of the mussel floatation buoy collection!

Starting to untie the tent:

Removing the fly:

You can see the side rails clearly, now the tent is down:

Whilst Martin and other energetic folk were working on that, I headed up to the Ros Chamberlain memorial seat for a rest.  It has such a stunning view:

After a bit I lay down on it, and found myself facing a dead tree that was full of welcome swallows, flitting in and out about their business:

It was a lovely camp, and we very much hope to go back some time.  Martin reckons it was the best holiday he'd had in years, with a really good mix of rest and physical activity and a good break from household chores. Many of the folk there were returnees, including one lady who'd come every year for more than 20 years!
It was remarkably affordable, too, at $170 each (plus a koha to the kind folk who picked us up on their way from Massey to Kawakawa Bay).  It's hard to tell how it stood in terms of carbon emissions.  I calculated 165kgCO2e for the two of us, which is the amount we can be responsible for over about 3 weeks, if we don't want to alter the climate at all, but it was a much poorer quality calculation than most I do.  Partly because I wasn't at all sure how to account for the barge (which likely is less efficient than a commuter ferry, but which was very full) or the use of kayaks and paddleboards, but mostly because I didn't account for emissions from the food.  The amount of meat we were fed was phenomenal!!  Not only more than we usually eat, but more than we usually get served at other peoples' houses as well.
It was nice to be amongst people who were all serious Christians (many of them returned missionaries), and to be part of a group where living a simple lifestyle was a common part of people's Christian expression.  But it was jarring to be part of such a white group - there was one Kiwi-Nigerian and one Māori, and everyone else was white.  It's a while since either of us have been somewhere like that, and we did wonder whether some of our friends who we'd like to invite there would be comfortable in that environment.

It was also nice to catch up with a few people from my distant past.  The mum of my 'oldest friend' (with whom I'm no longer really in contact), who knew me as a baby and who gave me the longest hug when she realised who I was; the husband of one of my Girl's Brigade leaders (who herself, sadly, died of cancer 12-13 years ago); the woman whose recorder classes at the local music school I took over in 1995, when she went off to Kenya to work with Wycliffe.  And, as ever in such missionary/evangelical circles, ever-so-many people who know members of Martin's family!

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