Daphne and I have been leading the fundraising drive over the last year, ever since Muzz, our youth pastor, became a deacon and was seconded to another parish at Christmas. Saturday mornings selling sausages outside The Warehouse … washing cars in the church carpark … picking up the rubbish at Mt Smart after Warriors home games. Such has been the rhythm of our lives, our liturgy of litter, our monastic rule. So it was first with interest, then dismay, that we followed the progress in August of Cyclone Sherwin over Tongatapu, north through Ha’apai, and further north still to Vava’u. Our itinerary was to take us through all three sets of islands, but by the time Sherwin had had its way, there wasn’t much left of the place, and it was with heavy hearts we decided we would have little to offer the locals during such a traumatic time. Nor could we risk coming a cropper as we sailed between islands, a point which became increasingly obvious as I tried filling out a risk assessment form. As I said to Daph, “You’d be crazy to chance shipwreck on a mission trip.”
When I had first mooted the idea to Vicar Bob, he had quizzed me as to why Tonga should be our object. I think he had it in mind that Tonga was already reasonably well Christianized, and so perhaps having less of a claim on our missional energies than, say, Tokyo, or Texas. I countered with the key missional point that fares to Tokyo and Texas were three or four times the price of fares to Nuku’alofa, and would therefore require several years outside The Warehouse and cleaning up Mt Smart. Bob wondered if we might re-brand it – not so much a mission trip, but as a holiday. When I pointed out to him that it would be hard to fundraise for a mere holiday, he finally came round to the concept, and eventually showed a keen interest in our progress towards the fundraising target.
In fact, it was Vicar Bob who upped the ante by dreaming up some more creative ideas for fundraising. He had the kids mowing parishioners’ lawns, mowing non-parishioners’ lawns, running quiz nights, and so on. But the best idea of all was the 7 Days rip-off he hosted in the church hall one Saturday evening. Most of us know not to ring Bob on a Friday night after 9 o’clock, because he doesn’t like being interrupted during his viewing of the TV show. Some parishioners were a little shocked to learn that he watched the show, given its tendency toward “lewd innuendo,” as Morrie Singleton put it at an AGM. Bob reminded them, though, that being a vicar, you have to keep your finger on the national pulse. “There are three shows I watch religiously,” he explained. “7 Days, The Naked Choir, and DIY Marae. You’ve gotta stay tuned to the spirit of the age.”
Well, 7 Days at St Imulu’s was quite a night. Bob was host, and he formed the two teams by inviting Auckland’s six foremost Christian comics. The words “Christian” and “comic” were not ones many of us had seen used in tandem before. Indeed, there were those who opined that along with the best tunes, the Devil has rather cornered the market on jokes. But Bob was undaunted. He scoured the Comedy Club and the Powerstation, as well as a number of lesser known suburban venues – I think I recall him mentioning visits to Parnell Puntown and Humourville@Hobsonville – until he had settled on six performers who could be counted on for genuine, old-style, curse-free repartee. The event nearly went pear-shaped when the bulk of the tickets were snapped up by a group of young-earth creationists from the neighbouring Brethren assembly. When they’d heard a Christian version of 7 Days was being touted, they’d figured the Anglicans had come round at last. Bob put them right on that score, bought the tickets back at discount, then on-sold them at scalper’s prices, thus earning more bucks for Tonga.
Only Tonga was not to be. It was a case of 10K in the bank and nowhere to witness. Nowhere, that is, until I got a call one Friday night, just as the final credits were scrolling on 7 Days. “Warren,” a voice said. It was Bob. “I’ve been thinking. What about Tokoroa?”
“What about Tokoroa?” I asked.
“For the mission trip.”
Had he been taking advice from one of his Christian comics? “Bob, you’re having me on.”
“Am not. I’m 100% serious. What do you say?”
What could I say? It was a Friday night, I’d been fielding calls all week from belligerent parents wanting to know what would become of their child’s hard-earned cash, and here was Bob proposing we shoot down Highway One and … do what exactly? Plant a few pine trees?
“I rather thought we might find a church down there to partner with, ask them what they need, and see if our kids can help.”
All the while I was mouthing to Daph – “BOB … TO-KO-RO-A! … CRAZY!!” – and pointing a rotating a finger at my temple. She grabbed my phone.
“Bob? It’s Daphne here. Warren seems to be having trouble comprehending you. He’s saying something about Tokoroa and someone being a few trees short of a forest or something.”
For the next few minutes all I could hear was Bob’s excited voice gabbling, and Daph stumping up an occasional “Uh-huh” or “Right.” When she came off, she had a fixed look on her face.
“Praise God for Bob, Wozza,” she said. “That man has vision.”
“We’re going to Toke. It’s just like in Acts. You know, God telling Paul he can’t go to Asia, it’ll have to be Macedonia.”
“Tokoroa’s our Macedonia.”
And it was. We hired a couple of minivans in the end. Most of the kids had never been past Pokeno before. We stayed marae-style at the Baptist church for ten days. The kids did odd jobs each morning, then had free time in the afternoon. Evenings were for Bible study, together with kids from the Baptist church, and even a few tag-alongs. I don’t know if it was mission, exactly, but it definitely felt like meaningful connection.