Trip of a Lifetime

Barbara & I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, with all six of our children, to do some ambassadorial work for Home Educators (HEs), visit family and friends and do some serious sight-seeing in Japan, Canada, Mexico and the USA over the Christimas / New Year period of 2001/2002. When a close relative gifted us some money at Christmas 2000, we began planning a trip which ended up covering over 9,000 land miles, including 13 states in the USA.

Part of the planning was communicating with HEs over there by email. The Japanese HE I located was American Brian Covert in Osaka who had married a Japanese and writes for English language publications there. Amazingly he was also for a time the editor of the paper in my little home town of Sanger, California! Osaka was too far from our stopover point of Narita / Tokyo, which actually set us free for something more exciting.

A native Japanese Christian (of which there aren’t many) and lecturer at a Tokyo University, Dr Takeyuki Ozawa, did a sabbatical year at Massey University here in Palmerston North and began attending our church. There he and wife Kayoko and children Naho & Mino met so many other HEs that he declared his intention to institute daily devotions and coming home from work early so as to get time with the family…..and yes, they’ll look into HE as well. When we arrived at Narita airport, Take and family taught us a lot about Japanese culture and even more about generous and gracious hospitality. We were escorted all over town to see the sights, guided through the subway system, given a running commentary on the Buddhist and Shinto ceremonies we watched, taught the proper way to slurp noodles and soup and introduced to raw foods such as squid and horse meat (both very nice, I must add)! A highlight was going to church with the Ozawa family and talking with one or two other young families about HE which so far is a very small movement in Japan. They’ll be receiving some copies of New Zealand’s own Christian HE journal Keystone thanks to NZers’ gifts to the Home Education Foundation.

We helped to host veteran HEs and convention speakers Bill & Diana Waring and family all over NZ back in 1999/2000 and had the pleasure of taking Diana’s mum, Joyce Bell, around for part of that tour. When Mrs Bell heard we were coming over, she immediately offered her 27-foot Rockwood motor home for us to use while in the USA! Wow! Talk about blessings being poured out from heaven! She also picked us up from Vancouver airport and housed and fed all eight of us at her home on Lake Stevens (just north of Seattle, Washington), where we saw rare American bald eagles flying around. We travelled many miles and shared not a few adventures with Mrs Bell, and we all became very fond of her….she is pretty special to us.

It took us two days to drive from Lake Stevens to Great Falls, Montana, where we had a big reunion with the Warings in the middle of a two-day HE conference! Barbara and our eldest (Genevieve, 21) and #3 (Alanson, 17) spent all of the next day fellowshipping with HEs there while Mrs Bell and I took our other children (Zach 19, Charmagne 14, Jeremiah 9 & Jedediah 3) to the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center (famous early American explorers) and to the Charlie Russell Museum (outstanding artistic recorder of Old West images). Staff and secuity guards in both places heard all about HE and NZ for two reasons: Our son Jedediah Smith wears the name of another early American explorer, a Bible-toting Christian, well known in this area. And Jeremiah would strike up a long-winded conversation with anyone, especially those wearing badges and utility belts with pistols! He finally talked one policeman into slapping the handcuffs on him!

We also met a Lakota Sioux Indian Chief, Paul J. Never-Miss-A-Shot, pastor at the Lighthouse Church, who demonstrated to my satisfaction why he has his name: he spoke on cultural issues at the Lewis & Clark Center, liberally interspersing Christian testimony throughout! He’ll also be receiving some copies of Keystone for his people.

Another full day’s drive got us to the Waring home in Spearfish, South Dakota. NZ HEs Jesika and Catriona Shand from the Marlborough Sounds arrived in time for us all to hand-feed a herd of buffalo and for a typical American HE landmark: Michael Waring’s Graduation from Home School (that is, finishing the state’s compulsory attendance years), at which I was honoured as official guest speaker from overseas!

After driving through the night dodging dozens of live deer on the highway, we got to visit with Dr David Noebel, author of Understanding the Times and President of Summit Ministries near Colorado Springs. He gave us a couple of his other books and is looking forward to speaking to NZ HEs at the World Views Conference in Auckland next month (7-12 April).

When we were way out in the desert near the Mexican border, on the old Pony Express route, out there where Billy the Kid used to hang out, the Rockwood ground to a halt. The catalytic converter (smog control device) just burned out. Never did figure out why. Anyway, we were stranded there in Las Cruces, New Mexico, for the next five days. The phone book listed one church similar to ours, and the Lord used that phone call to channel much blessing and instruction our way.

Kim & Carol Watne picked us up and took us to University Presbyterian Church where we were welcomed by folks non-stop before and after the service. Pastor John Pickett not only fed our parched souls with strong, authoritative preaching, he also made sure we joined several new members at his home for lunch. People gave us keys to their cars, and we had keys to two private homes pressed into our hands so we could shower, do washing and use the computer while they were at work! The Watne’s were especially generous to us in this regard and also instructed us in their simple yet effective evangelistic methods: prayer, face-to-face contact and service.

University Presbyterian Church is also pro-home education! They too will be seeing some Keystones. In fact, Pastor John and others are investigating ways to make Christian secondary and university level education and qualifications a reality for anyone in the church. We spent a couple of days with HEs Eric & Laurel Tessier and family eating Mexican food and checking out second hand book shops!

An overnight drive got us to California in time for our first ever Thanksgiving holiday with my Mom and all of my sisters and their families, 22 of us in all: first time many of the cousins had ever seen their NZ rellies. As Christian HEs we tended to swamp them, as Christian HEs tend to do we noticed — we had six children while their families exactly reflected the national average of 2.3 each.

Near Bakersfield, California, we met up with Jonathan Lindvall of Bold Christian Living, a well-known Christian HE in the USA who thinks and lives well outside the box as he seeks to understand and consistently apply Biblical principles of family living. We joined two other HE families visiting his home that evening and talked state and national HE issues until late. Jonathan loaded us up with taped messages of his, and they’ll be reminded of NZ HEs regularly via Keystone.

Then we splurged and took ourselves to Knott’s Berry Farm Amusement Park. Gunfights, stunt shows, stage plays, wildlife demos (Jeremiah got to hold a large live Boa constrictor), shopping and horrifying roller coasters kept us going for nine hours solid. While in the LA area we were invited by the CHEA executive (Christian Home Educators’ Assn. of Calif.) to stop by the office.  We spent a few hours with one of the founders, Susan Beattie, and the Executive head, Phillip Trout. We now receive the CHEA magazine and they receive Keystone. While there are many parallels, the political and organisational development of HE in California is very different to that in NZ. Our National HE organisations and most support groups still hold together HEs from all philosophical lines, while it is common for USA groups to have statements of faith. And the perceived commercial / financial / legal pressures on HE organisations and individual HEs from curriculum and legal interests there is something NZ has not yet experienced.

At one point we took a two-day drive up north into the California gold rush area to meet some special HEs we’d encountered on the internet. Andy & Kendra Fletcher of Modesto encouraged us with their Christian fellowship and vision of celebrating “Reformation Day” on 31 October (the day Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg in 1517) rather than Halloween. Eric & Lisa Kjeldgaard of Angels Camp had a heart for fostering and adoption as well as a vision for home education. They introduced us to Mark Rushdoony of the Chalcedon Institute in Vallecito, the crowd I’d have to point to as the one whose publications got me thinking about HE in the first place. Had an hour with him and bought a stack of Chalcedon’s books.

North into Oregon where we spent an evening in Portland with the Welch family: Pat & Sue plus Heather, Holly and Brian: pioneer HEs and editors of The Teaching Home magazine for Christian HEs! Production of TTH has taken over several rooms of their house….just like us! We just had a blast together. Over dessert at 9pm we got onto used books. They mentioned that the largest second hand bookshop west of the Mississippi was right there in Portland….and that it was open until 11pm!!! Spoons clattered against bowls as we raced out the door together. We spent so much money in the next 90 minutes, the Welches were still worrying in emails to us a month later that we would be angry at them for taking us there! No way folks….we loved it!

Stan & Pyng Dokupil are HEs on the south end of Seattle, Washington, who I met a couple years ago. Somehow they had rounded up eight sleeping bags for us to take in the Rockwood all over the western USA, and now they loaned us their van to drive into the Canadian Rockies — in winter — so we could have Christmas with my sister Stacey and family (as the Rockwood had to stay behind). We had such a great time as we fellowshipped with them and several Christian families Saturday night and then attended their Chinese church, which fortunately for us had their monthly English language sermon that Sunday with an interpreter translating into Mandarin. We hope to see the Dokupils out here for a visit soon. They’ll also be keeping up with HE in NZ via Keystone.

Although I’d been in contact with several Christian HEs in British Columbia, Canada, before going there, we never met up with any of them. Why? Because we spent most of our time on the slopes of Apex ski resort on some of the best packed powder snow Barbara and I had ever skied on…the air was dry, sunny and still and measured minus 15° C. That was my first time on skis in 20 years, but the skills — and the thrills — all came back to me like it was yesterday!

Just before Christmas we arrived at Mrs Bell’s at the same time as Bill & Diana, Isaac, Michael & Melody Waring, all the way out from South Dakota! We had such a great time, these are such good friends, it took ages to say goodbye. As we actually started up the van to leave, the Warings broke into the action song of “Kia taha, kia toa”. Enough to make a Kiwi homesick, even though it was sung with American accents!

We are more convinced than ever that the legal, political, social and economic environments for HE in NZ have to be among the best in the world. We would also say that the political and social factors within the HE movement itself here in NZ are also to be treasured. There no longer appear to be any major divisions into camps, and HEs across the religious / philosophical spectrum as well as across the curriculum spectrum appear to be communicating a lot more freely, are working together quite happily and are respectful of each other’s differences. Kiwi HEs seem far less concerned about staying abreast of the state schooling system than many in the States or about gaining its (now rather questionable) qualificaitons. This and the very low level of competition here among resource suppliers for the dollars HEs are willing to spend keep the stress levels in NZ quite low in comparison. Long may the Lord allow these positive qualities to continue.

(Craig & Barbara Smith are founders of Christian Home Schoolers of NZ [CHomeS], founders and trustees of the Home Education Foundation and editors of Keystone and TEACH Bulletin.)

From Keystone Magazine
March 2002 , Vol. VIII No. 2
P O Box 9064
Palmerston North
Phone: (06) 357-4399
Fax: (06) 357-4389