Let's get this post off on the right foot – Happy New Year! You may be curious as to how I spent my last day in 2006….let me tell you, for a year that was coming to an end I was introduced to a lot of people on New Year's Eve!
It all began with me waking up in the morning and finally meeting Carol, the woman who's house I'm staying at for a bit. It was a bit awkward at first to be meeting someone for the first time just as they have awakened but she is a really nice and people oriented person. We spent a few hours just getting to know each other a little better – even though she was born in New Zealand, she is part Australian and part RaroTongan, so an interesting mix to say the least. Talking to her really helped me understand her attraction to the South Pacific type life. As we were talking, she revealed that she's probably going to come to Samoa sometime during March so perhaps I'll run into her on my home turf. We talked for a few hours and then just kind of hung out for a bit before she headed out for lunch with a friend, leaving me by myself for the first time during this trip. It was nice to finally have some me time and just relax by myself for a bit. Was I bored? Nah, because I also took the time to write postcards to a lot of people – so when you get those cards, know how much me time went into making them! At 5pm, Lorna and Zonder came to pick me up and we headed to a New Year's Eve Church Service.
The church I went to here is called Every Nation Church – Auckland and it's kind of a sister church to Peace Chapel in Samoa. A lot of the people from this Auckland church have visited Samoa during the past year, so it was a chance for me to come and see what their church life is like here. The Every Nation Church is located on the northern part of Auckland (in an area called Northshore), so it was about a 30-45 minute drive from Mangere Bridge (my current location) in the southern part of Auckland. We arrived there and I was just amazed by the diversity of people in the church building – there were Polynesians, Asians, Indians, Caucasians and African-American (me and the wife of a pastor of the church) so it really felt like a lot of nations were represented in this church building. A few of the songs they sing at Every Nation we also sing at Peace Chapel (just at a different tempo) so it really felt like home for a bit. I think I was the first lay person from Peace Chapel to actually visit Every Nation Auckland, so everyone was introducing themselves to me – it was a bit overwhelming. The toughest part wasn't remembering peoples name – no, the toughest part was explaining why I was in Samoa (since I don't look anything like a Samoan). It was then that I came to the realization that NZ has no equivalent to Peace Corps – they send money to Samoa but not their people (whereas the US, Japan and Australia send mainly people), so it was kind of hard to keep saying 'I work for a volunteer agency from the states' over and over again. Fortunately, there were a few Americans there who knew what Peace Corps was so I didn't have to explain it as much. Some people were kind of shocked I would leave America to go help such a small country – they thought I was doing mission work type stuff. Anyway, after the service there was a games night at a local YMCA that I went to with Zonder. They played soccer, basketball and relay games – it was a really great time of just fellowshipping and hanging out with folks. That's where I really got to talk with some of the folks a lot more – in a more informal setting I'm more open then a formal setting. So we played games for about 2 hours and then headed over to the Every Nation Headquarters near downtown Auckland. Over there we rang in the New Year by singing praise and worship songs and just reflecting on what God has done in each of our lives over the past year. It was amazing to see all these Christians gathered together on a New Year's Eve and just glorifying God – a lot different from what I was experiencing last New Year's Eve. The only problem was – it didn't really feel like the New Year to me, even though for the first time in my life I was in one of the countries that starts the New Year first. My body clock is set to US Eastern or Central Standard Time – when it's New Year's there then it feels like the New Year has begun; old habits die hard! We got done with the gathering at about 1am and instead of heading back out to Mangere Bridge, I stayed at the house of another person that I know (Jarrett) in Auckland with Zonder. I've just got connections all over Auckland!
So waking up on the first day of the New Year, my first thought turned to….football! Since it was New Year's Eve in the states, this would be my last chance to watch some regular season football. The only problem was that the games started at 7am (1pm EST) and after going to bed at 2am that would just be cruel. So I missed the early morning games for sure – but Zonder and I woke up with enough time to see the later games (the 4pm games). After showering at Jarrett's place, we headed over to the house of one of the college kids that go to Every Nation church for breakfast. There were a ton of people at her house who had stayed up all night in order to watch the first sunrise of the New Year (why they didn't nap and then wake up, I have no clue – youth!), so Zonder and I walked in on a lot of people passed out on couches. There were a couple of people that were up and cognizant, so we had some nice French toast and bagels (they also tried to give me some pancakes that looked more like tortias then actual pancakes). The house was situated on a lake and had just an amazing view that my eyes were just soaking in (some people asked if I was having a good time because I was just sitting there looking off into the distance – they don't appreciate the change in scenery like I do). After a bit of hanging out, Zonder and I left to go find where Josh was currently staying. Fortunately, he was out west where we were going to watch football so it wasn't too out of the way.
There was a bit of difficulty in finding Josh – but find him we did and with him was another Peace Corps, or should I say former Peace Corps: Kevin. Kevin has just finished his service in Samoa and will try his hand at travelling around the world for the next couple of months. For the next few weeks he's going to be travelling with Josh and I down to the South Island, so it should be an even more interesting trip now. We all hopped in the car and headed off to Zonder's friends' house to watch a little NFL action. When we finally got in, the World Series of Poker was on instead of football (on ESPN International) which means that even here ESPN doesn't show any of the afternoon games and only the Sunday/Monday Night games. So we waited a few hours before I had my first taste of Sportscenter in the New Year (and what a great taste that is my friend!) and following that came the last Sunday Night game of the year between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers (the focal point of the night was whether this was Brett Favre's last game or not). It wasn't the most exciting game in the world – and Chicago definitely played like it was meaningless – but during this PC Adventure I have been able to watch football on 2 different countries and on both sides of the international date line – who says I'm not committed? We stayed and watched the entire game – just appreciating the opportunity. We also found out that we basically get the same signal in Samoa as they do here in NZ (only it's video quality here), but they get ESPN all the time whereas in Samoa we only have it at certain times of the day.
The football itch finally scratched, it was time to head home and get prepared for tomorrow. We dropped Josh and Kevin back off at Lindah Lepou's house (they'll come pick me up tomorrow once they get the rental car) and I headed back out South to Mangere Bridge. And here I sit, with the sun still shining at 8pm!
Ack…anyway, my what a year this has been. Full of great accomplishments and soul searching. A lot of my relationships (especially in the states) actually became stronger here which is definitely a blessing for me and says a lot about the friends I have. Thanks for everyone who has supported me in 2006 and keep it up in 2007, I'm going to do my best to finish 2007 the same way I did 2006: Strong! L8r folks.