Day 3: Youth retention tour—Invercargill

    Arrowtown Cemetery.

    Inspiration is found in the most unusual of places. In the past three days, the inspiration has battered my eyes; everywhere I looked, the landscape screamed for attention. Such is the nature of this wild, rugged island, which looks like it has leapt from the pages of National Geographic. This morning was different.

    We stayed in Arrowtown, around 20 minutes from Queenstown, where we had met our group the previous evening. It had rained all night and over breakfast we found out that our plans for the day had to change. After our morning devotion, the South New Zealand Conference team headed south for Invercargill, the venue for tonight’s meeting, leaving the Australians to fend for themselves in the wild. They had work to do; we had some time to have a look around Queenstown. So we set off.

    We had barely left our accommodation when we spied a monument on a hill. Directly behind the monument was a graveyard. Graveyards in small towns have a different character to some of the large city ones.

    Death feels more personal here; it leaves a large mark in a small cemetery. I felt a morbid fascination. It is interesting to see how long ago people lived, how they died or some fitting phrase that sums up their life. How do you sum up a life?

    We climbed the small hill in front of the cemetery up to the monument—a monument filled with the names of the young men of Arrowtown who fought and died in both World Wars. I could only imagine these young men, cut down in their prime, and the impact it would have made on these small towns, to lose, as a ratio to their small populations, so many. In fact, these monuments find their home in every town in Australia and New Zealand. The words of English war poet, Wilfred Owen, ran through my mind.

    Arrowtown war memorial.

    What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
    Only the monstrous anger of the guns. 
    Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
    Can patter out their hasty orisons (prayers).
    Anthem for doomed youth

    A pretty place though, Arrowtown. But we had to move on, down the valley to Queenstown. The sun came out, highlighting parts of the mountain ranges, glimmering brilliantly of the white, white snow.

    Before we reached our destination, though, another stop interrupted us. And it was here I found my unexpected inspiration. We stopped at Shotover Jet, where people ride very fast boats through very thin canyons. This would have been cool but unfortunately we didn’t have the time or the gear to give it a go.

    Edith Cavell bridge, Shotover River.

    As we waited for a boat to go out, so we could take some photos and just check it out, I wandered closer to the bridge I could see in the distance. It looked old and it looked beautiful—the old girl draped gracefully across the steep canyon. There was a viewing platform, right under the bridge—clearly a place where photos could be taken of the spectacular scenery.

    My first thoughts, of course, were taken up with the bridge and the scenery, until I noticed a sign. When I travel I love to read the stories of the places I visit. I read everything and I often read the signs and commemorative plaques.

    The bridge is called the Edith Cavell Bridge. Edith Cavell was a young nurse from New Zealand who was executed by German soldiers after helping 200 Allied soldiers escape into the Netherlands from German-held Belgium in 1915.

    What caught my attention were her comments. She told the Anglican chaplain the night before her death, “Standing as I do, in view of God and eternity, patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

    John (Jack) Clark was a miner who lived in a sod hut near the bridge. He wanted it to be named in Edith’s honour but his official requests were denied and ignored. So he took matters into his own hands.

    On the day of the opening, February 13, 1919, Jack held a hand-painted sign “To Cavell Bridge” in red that greeted those in attendance. Later Jack painted “Edith Cavell Bridge” on the bridge itself in large white letters.

    To this day, the bridge bears her name.

    The rest of the day was great. We walked around Queenstown, had a “famous” burger and an award-winning vegetarian pie. We drove to Glenorchy and on to Invercargill.

    But the face and the story of Edith Cavell stayed in my mind.

    Tonight in the Invercargill church, around 35 adults and six children attended. If you’ve read the first few entries, you’ll know we are here doing a tour of the South Island churches to talk about youth retention.

    Pastor Mike Sikuri, president of the South New Zealand Conference, made a comment tonight that the loss of our young people should “make our hearts sore”. In fact, the loss of anyone from the kingdom should, as it pains the heart of God. I felt an echo of that pain when I looked at the memorial and the graveyard today. Death is unnatural. It is foreign to us. This is the reason it makes us uncomfortable.

    Dr Nick Kross has been sharing about how our values should be central, the most important things, informing our principles, standards and finally our rules. Unfortunately in the Church it is often the other way around. Our rules and regulations become the central thing.

    Our greatest values should be proclaiming the gospel and seeing everyone we know and love in the kingdom. The things we do, the things we surround ourselves with and the way we run services and meetings, should revolve around those central values.

    Young Jack was convicted. He broke some rules and changed the game because of his convictions. He took a risk painting that bridge. But his conviction that this courageous lady would not be forgotten was so strong that he saw it happen.

    Edith’s convictions were so strong that she saved 200 lives and lost her own for the things she loved most.

    The German military chaplain who ensured she had a Christian burial said this about her: “She was brave and bright to the last. She professed her Christian faith and that she was glad to die for her country. . . she died like a heroine.”

    The theme, it seemed, of the day. This war memorial, for the young men of Queenstown, states “service above self”. As Christians we believe this to be true although for a higher cause than war.

    What will be said about us? That we were brave and we stuck to the convictions we held? Are our convictions anchored in our core values, which come directly from Jesus and His model for ministry? Are we willing to give up our lives and comfort for the sake of our young people?

    Edith had no idea that a bridge would be named in her honour but she did the right thing—the dangerous thing, the courageous thing—in the situation she was presented with. Jack had no idea whether his plan would work but he tried anyway, because it was important enough for him to risk something. You have no idea what your decision to impact a young life in a positive way might bring. You may never know this side of eternity but imagine if the seeds you plant grow fruit that you finally become aware of on that glorious morning.

    God bless and guide you as you grapple with these questions.

    Tomorrow we continue to Dunedin. Continue to pray for the churches of South New Zealand Conference as they attempt to look at innovative ways to retain their young people. If you have comments, questions or thoughts, please email or go to social media to continue the conversation.