A Different Sort of Life

Hi! I’m Sara Warmuth. I am a junior Business Administration major at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. I grew up in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, and now call Kauai, Hawaii home. I love being here in New Zealand. Kaikoura is a wonderful place, one where you can swim with snowcapped mountains in view.

Our wonderful blog-running fairy, Essie, asked me if I could write a post about what is different here at CCSP in comparison to home. The first thing I noticed in Kaikoura was how similar it was to other places I had been. On the drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura, the homes reminded me of Hawaii, and the cutting and burning happening on the drive felt familiar, and sad. The forests were unique in some ways, but still felt fairly similar to the forests in Hawaii. Even the people were sarcastic, and had a similar humor to that of the Massachusetts area I have come to know and love. As I grow more accustomed to being here at The Old Convent, living in community, I begin to notice little things that are different. First, The Old Convent is a place where people drop in. So many locals have connections with it, so they come randomly throughout the day, and sometimes stay for a meal. This is a great way to get to know the locals and the culture of the area, but it can also be frustrating when I am in the middle of homework and then suddenly have a visitor show up. However, the main differences about living here have nothing to do with the Kiwi (New Zealander) culture or the land we live on. Our community of North Americans (the two Canadians make it so I can’t just say Americans) is an eclectic group that often dances through doing the dishes, the laundry, the weeding, and through life. Whether it is Amy sending “real life snapchats”, which is really just her making weird faces towards someone, or Joey saying “Sara help me” whenever the slightest thing happens, we always interact in ways unique to us and to our experience here. This can also lead to some frustration, as we are always together. Victoria last night, when unable to find a staff member, exclaimed, “I didn’t want to tell any of you my problem because it has to do with my secret homework spot!” A part of her needed to protect that one space of privacy, and I respect that. Yet part of me is going to miss the feeling of being cramped when I go back. We are so close here, physically and emotionally, because we don’t have the opportunities to be apart. That creates a community unlike one I have ever been a part of before. And it is still only half way through the semester! Here’s to a second half of loving nature, loving God, and loving each other here in beautiful Kaikoura.

Becoming a ‘Slow Activist’

Hi, my name is Amie, and I’m a senior Writing & Rhetoric major and Religion minor at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. I am currently learning and living at The Old Convent in Kaikoura, New Zealand with a community of pretty cool people, if I do say so myself. In this post, I’d like to share some thoughts with you all about life here at CCSP and what I’m learning about the joy of work. Enjoy!

“Become a slow activist” was one piece of advice that our Professor, Mick Duncan, gave us during our second week of class on Sustainable Community Development.

“Hurry,” he told us, “will damage your most important relationships in life.”

Now six weeks into my time at CCSP, I can clearly see how hurry damages our relationship to the joy of work. In my daily life as a college student in North America, it is all too common for me to feel like I am constantly rushing from one activity to the next—from class to lunch to a meeting—leaving my dishes in the sink in my apartment and telling myself that I’ll wash them later tonight when I have more time. And I’ll confess that I often put off doing my laundry, wearing some articles of clothing probably a few more times than I should, just so I don’t have to sacrifice the few hours it takes to oversee the washer and dryer.

For the average American, this hurried pace of life trains us to see activities such as cooking, cleaning, or doing laundry as inconvenient chores rather than dignified work. We turn to dishwashers and washing machines in order to maximize efficiency and purchase processed or premade foods at the grocery store, rarely giving any of these choices a second thought because it’s so easy to consider them all normal and even indispensable parts of life. But I’d like to raise the question, “Are they?”

Life at The Old Convent has given me the opportunity to reconsider the pace of life and the value of work both individually and communally. Whether we are throwing dance parties in kitchen while doing dishes or playful moaning about pulling weeds in the rain, when we share the responsibility of work, we also share the joy of work—the tangible results of our actions and the time spent together. When I do my laundry by hand in the wash table outside, I spend my time engaged in the process instead of waiting for a machine to do the work for me, and I can use both my hands and my mind throughout the duration of the activity. Doing laundry by hand teaches me to appreciate the whole host of factors which have to align in order to make the process possible. The weather — not too cold, no rain, hopefully some sun to aid the drying process. The time of day — morning or early afternoon so I have daylight. The tools — a relatively small amount of water, some powered laundry soap, and a brush — no electricity required. Surprisingly, I’ve found that despite the fact this process requires more effort on my part, I always seem to have time for it. Because I live my entire life at a slower pace, I can appreciate the time I spend doing laundry as time to reflect on the day or meditate on deeper thoughts which surface in the quiet.

Baking is another way in which I have experienced the joy of work. In my daily life at school, sliced, store-bought bread in a plastic bag is the norm. That’s not to say that we don’t eat the same kind of bread here at CCSP (anyone living here this semester knows just how much we love peanut butter on toast and how quickly we go through it), but we also have the opportunity to bake and eat our own bread. Learning this ‘homemaking skill’ has been one of my favorite things this semester and is a practice I’m very excited to bring back to North America. Turns out, baking bread isn’t hard and has a ton of benefits. Through making my own bread, I am able to control what goes into it. I can reduce the amount of packaging and energy that result from my personal food consumption. Also, I get to enjoy the smell and warmth of baking bread on a cold day. How great is that?  It’s unfortunate that the need for speed and convenience has stripped away these simple joys from many people, especially when I consider how that mindset affects many of our fundamental relationships.

For me, recovering the joy of work and the sense of satisfaction that comes from seeing a process through to completion is a key part of what it means to be a slow activist. Transforming my mindset toward ‘chores’ such as laundry, cleaning, or cooking from one of annoyance and inconvenience to one of enjoyment spills over into my attitude toward academics and community. When I can see listening to a lecture or developing a relationship with someone on the margins of my life as an opportunity to do good work, I am able to take joy in these activities as well, and my life becomes oriented toward a greater goal—the dignified work of ushering in the Kingdom of God.

A Day in the Life of the Cook


By now this semester’s group of students have settled into the general routine of making the Old Convent their home. They’ve been on a weekend break, been on a week-long field trip to Wellington, and completed the class called Sustainable Community Development. You’ll get to read insights from several of those students soon, but for now you’ll have to settle for hearing from me, the Kitchen Manager. I was a student at CCSP exactly a year ago and am thrilled to have the chance to be back as a staff member and live the Convent life for a while longer.

In case you were wondering, (I’m sure you weren’t) I am a recent graduate of Houghton College and CCSP alum Fall 2015 (NGA!).

So, my morning starts with some sort of half-groggy form of exercise. Today I biked down the road to the Kowhai (pronounced co-fy) river and jogged part of the mountain bike trail. It was a chilly, foggy morning but turned out to be a beautiful day.

Every weekday I cook lunch and dinner for all the students and staff. It’s a colossal job but thankfully one I enjoy. Not that there aren’t moments I consider regretting my life choice, like when struggling to cut open a huge butternut squash, but when the meal turns out well in the end it is always worth it.

After jogging comes breakfast. As soon as I walked into the kitchen, my mind scattered to the thousand and one tasks I had to do to for the day. Lately our chickens, called “chooks” in NZ, have been laying a lot of eggs and I decided it was time to make some quiche to use the four dozen eggs that had accumulated over the week. Along with the quiche I made cabbage au gratin and a salad. A typical healthy, local, sustainable meal, no big deal.

After lunch, there was a staff meeting. I usually start making dinner around 2:00 or 3:00pm  but today I took a chance and decided I would carpool with two other staff members on their trip into town so that I could get my grocery shopping done for the week. I got back to the Convent at the late hour of 4:00pm and rushed to throw together the Mexican casserole for the evening meal. Dinner, I’m proud to say, was still on time.

Here’s an interesting and useless side note. In New Zealand they call dinner “tea.” It hasn’t really been explained to me how that came into practice; something for further research I guess.

After “tea” the students went to their evening class session and I retired to the staff house for some much needed relaxation. Before dark, I visited with the horses across the street. The stars here are stunning at night and I always look for the southern cross constellation when I walk the short distance from the Convent to the staff house. Now it’s time to rest before another full day in this beautiful place!

~Essie F.

Morning Boating



The students are off again! This time on their final adventure— hopping on an airplane back to the States. As another season of inside jokes, kayaking with dolphins, and other “only in New Zealand” adventures come to a close, I find myself reflecting on what made this semester unique. While swimming with dolphins or living in a convent are very rare and extraordinary opportunities, most CCSP students have been able to share those and similar experiences in their time here. They’ve all been able to play a song for our Music and Musings time, stay with a local family for a home stay weekend, and see the wonders of New Zealand from the West Coast to Wellington.

An adult Little Blue Penguin

But something new and exciting about this past semester in particular was the amount of time students were able to dedicate towards research hours for Marine Ecology, taught by local professor Jody Weir. Every Wednesday afternoon for the majority of the semester students were either dropped at Point Keen or the Ohau waterfall to count seal pups, staked out at various beaches to scan for dolphins, helped with dedicating the new “Hutton’s Hub” for our local Kaikoura bird, the Hutton’s shearwater, or even helped with collecting data of Little Blue penguin chicks!

And if that doesn’t sound cool enough, between the two weeks of Marine Ecology and Research all seventeen students were able to go out on Jody Weir’s research boat for a morning. What that means is spotting TONS of dolphins, penguins, albatross, seals, and even a whale!
To get an even better idea of what this experience was like, read it from the words of CCSP student Judith Marklin (Houghton ’17) in an excerpt from her research journal:

April 11, 2016
We went out on the research boat today with Jody for KORI (Kaikoura Ocean Research Institute) research. It felt so good to be on the water. Even though it was a clear, sunny day, I still decided to wear the Mustang suit – a full-body, bright orange life vest. I felt intense and awkward at the same time. We went out to Haumuri Bluffs and spotted Dusky dolphins, New Zealand fur seals, albatross, a Hutton’s shearwater, small orange crayfish/crab things… It was incredible to be so close to the wildlife. The two seals were doing synchronized yoga while holding their flippers!
I was scanning the sea from the 6 o’clock position to 9 o’clock when Jody got word of a humpback whale close to shore. Humpbacks are not native to Kaikoura, but rather, are spotted passing through as they migrate. We sped over and waited for it to resurface. The suspense built as I scanned the glassy surface of the water. Suddenly, we heard the blowhole as it resurfaced not ten feet from our boat. Jody cut the engine, and we watched in awe as it slowly came toward us, gliding a foot under the surface. It passed right behind our boat. It was a small, young one – but still incredible. I saw its outline from above, fins outstretched and white spots along it’s back. I couldn’t help but be humbled. Praise the Creator and Sustainer for these glimpses of sacredness.

I can’t help but agree with Judith; at the end of the day, being able to live in a place so beautiful, near an ocean teeming with such a variety of life, there’s nothing left to do but sit in awe and praise of the Creator of such a beautiful creation.

-Lauren Berg
Student Life Coordinator
Creation Care Study Program

The Gardener


It has become a bit of a tradition to have a “celebration night” to conclude a week of God and Nature classes with Dr. Andrew Shepherd. We clear out the tables and chairs from the dining room, and take time to view or listen to or watch student’s creative responses to questions on humanity’s role in creation and the role of the cross and resurrection. All of the videos and songs and art pieces shared blew everyone away with their level of maturity and thoughtful reflections, so we thought we would include at least one of those pieces to give you a taste of the night. Here is Anne Nusbaum’s poem “The Gardner” accompanied by her art piece “The Garden”:


Every story worth hearing begins with


So let it be known that


Began with a slip and a


With the best of


And the worst of


And the shattering of the


Of the



Thus setting the scene,

The world spins on.


The morning stars continue in their


Whilst birds soar and


And wander near and far.

The sun rises and sets, and

The sparrow finds a


And the swallow a nest for her young.

Flowers blossom and whither as

Forests melt into


And valleys deck themselves in swaths of grain.

The moon keeps faithful watch as

The rivers harmonize and the hills sing for


They gird themselves in


As the waterfall roars

And the trees clap their hands

And the mountains skip

And the heavens weep while

Tthe sea crashes—

All in a heavenly


For their King.


Even the stones of the earth will cry out His


And deep will call out to deep

As thunder shakes bones

And wind screams in peals of laughter.

Heaven and earth praise Him—

Seas and lands and all that moves within.

All Creation echoes His


In whisper

And bellow

And movement

And rest.

Every moment therein is

Saturated with


For Him.

This, I tell you, is



Now add to this


The faltering and broken voice of


At its best, his voice is


When he tries to sing louder, the


Is fractured.

For his voice is the scrape of

Trowel into earth.

It is the near silent drop of

Seed into earth.

It is the gargle and spit of water carried from

Home to home in the earth,

And the quiet ‘pit-pat’ of a

Slow step on the earth.

It is the gentle touch of cool soil on


And the humble attention of

“Watch as it grows.”

It is companionship and faithfulness and


Of grace and strength.

Just as garden is not


Without its roots and bees,

The chorus

Is not whole without the voice of


Gardener tending the


It is very Good.


-Anne Nusbaum

Class ’17 Eastern University

West Coast Walking

blog 4


They make up the majority of communication among people. They have the power to make us laugh, cry, or grow silent in awe. I love hearing stories and if you spend a few hours with me you will quickly find out I love telling stories just as much (if not more). As an ecology major, I love learning the stories of interconnectedness of all living and nonliving things. And yet, time and time again I find myself paying no attention to the stories this earth before me is screaming at me. So, naturally, allow me to share some stories preserved in the West Coast

The week of March 21 was one of my favorite weeks here in New Zealand because

  • A. We were going to the West Coast, which has a completely different landscape than Kaikoura.
  • B. I love roadtrips

The first day started off with a bang: one of the three vans broke down a few hours into our trip, testing our fearless staff on their ability to think on their toes (they proved worthy, as always). This unfortunate event did allow the other two vans to spend lots of time at Castle Hill, the famous landscape of the battle scene in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The phrase, “FOR NARNIAAAAA” was constantly being carried through the wind while we ran around. I think the staff were hoping we would get all our energy out during this time. Jokes on them, I don’t think that’s ever possible with our group.🙂


Fun fact: Castle Hill is a farmer’s backyard…. WHAT?

Our professor, Dr. Port, from Bethel University, used this as an educational opportunity. He explained that these rock formations aren’t only interesting because of their role in Narnia, but more importantly they tell us a story of New Zealand’s past. These limestone rocks are made from sediments being under immense amount of pressure- that which comes from being submerged under water. The information from these rock formations brought up the questions we asked throughout the week:

Is New Zealand really “Moa’s Ark” and how does that affect what we consider a “native” of New Zealand? Should we really be concerned about native species? Are all invasive species harmful? Is conservation protecting the native ecosystems that would have been around before humans came into the picture? Or has human presence completely altered them?

I’m not going to attempt to answer these questions right now. However, I do encourage you to ask your loved one(s) here at CCSP these questions to see what they think!

After a stop in Castle Hill we continued onto Arthur’s Pass to wait for our broken-down-van friends joined us. Our first night and day in Arthur’s Pass included:

  • Being attacked by sandflies (blackflies) every time we stepped outside
  • Curious keas (a NZ parrot) trying to get into garbage cans on the street
  • Fish and chips for supper
  • Glow worms by the river
  • A walk in a mountain beech forest
  • An intro to the native plants of New Zealand
  • Lovely cushion plants in the alpine zones
  • Typical west coast weather (drizzling, cold, windy)
  • Noting the stories of alpine plants: highly adapted to these elements and poor soils

arthur's pass

First class session in the alpine environment at Arthur’s Pass.

Our next stop was Bruce Bay on the west coast. I was questioning the weather because when we arrived it was sunny and warm- not what we had been told to prepare for. The Makaawhio Marae was definitely a welcoming and refreshing place to stay for the first part of our trip. Our hosts, Jeff and Marie, told us stories of their people and their land. These stories are preserved with every detail on the walls and ceiling of the wharenui (Maori meeting house).

blog 3

One story the west coast is known for revolves around a type of stone. Special stones, pounamu, as Maori call it. This stone is “grown” in the mountains of the west coast: “Te Wahipounamu” the place of greenstone. Jeff is involved in this story. He’s a famous pounamu carver, which involves him getting the stones from the mountains and rivers. However, in Maori tradition, they believe the pounamu reveals itself to the seeker: a reminder of our connection with the land. There’s so much more to this story, and I encourage you to look into the traditions deeply rooted in this beautiful stone.

blog 4

Our trip to Fox Glacier was unexpectedly moving for me. Dr. Port had told us in advance to make note of the changes in landscape as we drove from the marae to the carpark. In my head I was naming the different trees we had been learning and little background stories of them.

  • Tree ferns: r-selected species. found in recently or commonly disturbed areas. aka: EVERYWHERE along the roadsides.
  • Juvenile lancewoods: have different juvenile and adult forms. juveniles look dead.
  • Kahikatea:  the New Zealand white pine. Tallest tree in the forest. Found in swampy lowlands. My favorite native.

Trust me, the list could go on, but I will get back to the glacier. Signs along the road marked where Fox Glacier reached in certain years. In the 1950’s the carpark was well under the glacier and the trail that lead us to the face of the glacier is always changing due to the receding ice.  As we started our walk to the glacier, I observed my surroundings: steep cliffs called glacial schists, beech forest, small shrubs along the trail, algae on rocks, and grey, murky water rushing from the glacier.

blog 5

Class by Fox Glacier.

Soon I found myself standing in front of the story teller itself, and I was brought to tears. I had only seen pictures and documentaries involving glaciers and the stories they hold, so this was an overwhelming experience. I couldn’t help but think about my time on earth compared to the glacier’s time on earth. Obviously, the glacier has and it will remain here longer than I. The very ground I was standing on once was under hundreds of tons of ice. Funny then, that my actions and my lifestyle in the States can affect something so massive and powerful halfway around the world. If I ever return to Fox Glacier, the reality is that the carpark will be moved closer, the trail will continue farther back into the valley, and this glacier will be hardly recognizable from my memory. I was reminded of why my passions lie within science as I stood in awe of our powerful God who is reflected in nature.


The face of Fox Glacier.

The rest of the week was filled with walking on trails while Dr. Port and our knower-of-plants-TA Lauren pointed out native plants and birds we would need to know for our field exam. All of the non-science majors were gently introduced to the world of ecology: made up of little riddles to remember the differences between tree ferns, hand gestures to distinguish needle types, and lots of frustration along the way.

However, I also noticed how much everyone enjoyed learning the names and features of each plant and bird we came across. Many times I heard phrases along the lines of, “Wait, science is actually fun!” or “I want to be able to do this back home!” I cannot express how much joy it brought me to know the rest of my CCSP family was seeing the world through my eyes: to see God’s creation as complex and beautiful, and to have the desire to take the time to learn details and be able to call a plant by name. Basically, I was pumped because I wasn’t the only one geeking out over plants anymore. I have a hunch that God was doing a little boogie dance too, seeing his children taking delight in his creation.


blog 9 blog8 blog7

Each place we visited told a different story of the past. This includes Pancake Rocks, Monroe Beach, Lake Mattheson, the West Coast Wildlife Centre to see Rowi kiwis, Rotariti Gorge, Lewis Pass, and many in between. During this week I realized how much I don’t pay as much attention to these stories as I should. Just like in Christian circles we like to say every person has a story worth telling, I believe that can go beyond humanity and apply to all of creation. Every stone, every bird, every fern, every glacier, and every human has the ability to tell of a great story. One that has been told throughout time. One that brings people to tears. One that celebrates the gift of life. One that shouts praise to the Creator.

I pray that I may have the ears to hear this beautiful story being told all around me.

Will you join?


Check out the video I made to see more of the beauty found on the West Coast.

— Ashley Maloney

NorthWestern College, Class of 2017




Venturing North: Wellington (and beyond!)


I know it’s been awhile since our last update, but this student blog post is well worth the wait! Current CCSP student Judith Marklin (Houghton ’17) reflects on her experiences during the field trip to Wellington for the Sustainable Community Development class last month. Enjoy!

We took the ferry from Picton to Wellington, weaving through the rugged islands of Marlborough Sounds, spotting gannets and terns, and enjoying the beginnings of a new adventure. Upon arrival, it felt strange to be in a city after a month surrounded by cows and sheep. (Oh right, traffic lights do still exist.) Yet it also felt good to be reminded of the reality that is for so many in today’s world. Namely, that of the concrete jungle. It was also nice to people-watch again and try to spot the fingerprints of the Maker on these strangers. To be reminded that I am not alone and that most of us don’t have it all figured out. We just get really good at pretending sometimes.

The first couple nights we stayed at the Te Kakano marae, or Maori meeting house. This one was unique, however, as it was Christian. We began with a powhiri (or welcoming ceremony), listened to speeches, sang a waiata (or song), and then gave our mihimihis (or introductions in Maori – which we learned during Te Reo Maori class). After breaking bread (eating a meal) with them, we were considered family, and the marae graciously welcomed us in. It became our homebase and place of retreat. But for me, it is unique because of Pae. Her full name is Paerangimarie, which means beautiful day. She is mature for an eleven year old: she introduced herself to me, plopping her small body across my mattress. And there is a warmth about her – not just emanating from her beautiful smile, but from her entire being. She took us on a river walk, and we played the games of our childhood: throwing rocks, Pooh sticks, and listening for trains. The next morning we walked her to school in her burgundy uniform and got lost on the way back. And in the evenings she would wait for us to play hide-and-seek or dodgeball or simply talk. Goodbyes were hard, and I wonder about her future. She was my joy.

Pitting plums with Common Unity!

Our trip was jam-packed with a variety of talks, visits, and experiences. We spent some time in Wellington exploring the city and visiting the Beehive (parliament), as well as learning more about restorative justice and empowerment of local teenage boys through a boxing gym. We got to spend time gardening at an elementary school with Common Unity project. It was so encouraging seeing young children planting sunflowers, learning how to knit their own blankets, and cooking meals with their own food. The parents and the rest of the community was also involved in this vision.

We then went a bit outside the city to Ngatiawa, a River Monastery, that is part of the New Monastic movement. It was such a place of peace and belonging. Everyone lived in close community together, and the day was punctuated with times of prayer. My favorite was evening prayer. We entered the chapel slowly and silently, slipping off our shoes at the door. Taize songs greeted us and the entire service was by candlelight (we each had our own candle to hold). It reinforced the importance of rhythm, of spiritual disciplines, of liturgy in my own life. Three times a day we met for prayer, for a re-centering of our lives around Christ. And it was beautiful and good.

Visit to the Leason's Catholic Worker Farm, Otaki
Visit to the Leason’s Catholic Worker Farm, Otaki

On Friday we visited the L’Arche community in Kapiti, a Christian intentional community where people with intellectual communities (“core members”) and those without live side by side. It was such a refreshing and uplifting experience. Here I learned about the importance of presence and being present to those we are with. As we met with the core members and the others, I was struck by the incredible sense of community and mutuality. Often we tend to approach others with the idea of “helping” them or “saving” them, yet they are often doing just that for us. As we spoke to those from L’Arche, Julie, a core member, introduced herself and then excitedly introduced Sue, her ‘caretaker.’ Julie raved about Sue and how much she helped her, but Sue smiled bashfully, yet with a deep joy, simply answering, “we care for each other.”

Our trip to Wellington was deeply enriching and inspiring. It is incredible to meet so many people making a difference in their neighborhoods. And to think this is just in a part of one city, on one island in the world. When I find myself cynical with the headlines, I have to remind myself of all the good that surrounds us. It can be hard to notice, but it is there, in the small, in the mundane, in the ordinary. I pray that I may learn to live out my faith without words; that my actions and my life be an act of worship and a prayer to God. For as Chris, a volunteer at L’Arche, said, “you become more human, because you do little things with great love.”



Houghton College

Class of 2017


Kia Ora Summertime!

SLCs Bennett and Lauren enjoy the plum tree

The agapanthus are blooming, plums and apples are ripe for the picking (peaches on their way), and the convent is full again, this time with 17 students! They come from all over, even as far as the UK, and most are studying a variety of different majors at their various colleges. Yet they all are united together here in New Zealand, halfway across the globe, to live in this very special place for 3 and 1/2 months. Ever since hopping out of the vans in Kaikoura this group has hit the ground running. In amongst the many activities planned for each day, the overall attitude of the group has been unrestrained excitement and wonder. Whether it is finally getting their hands on a field or bird guide of New Zealand, or visiting different sites where they will be conducting research for their marine ecology class, without fail the prevailing vibe of this group is “this is so cool!”

One of the favorite activities of Orientation week was going to a local marae, or Maori meetinghouse, and having a welcoming ceremony there, called a powhiri. This involves speeches and songs shared between the locals and the visitors, both in the Te Reo Maori language. “Aroha” is usually our song of choice, which means “love.” After the powhiri, Brett Cowen, a local expert on Maori culture, gave a brief history of this particular Maori meetinghouse, including a description of the stories represented on the elaborate wood carvings and panels on the inside of the marae. After sharing some “kai,” or food and tea, we gathered up on the lawn outside the marae to receive an introduction in taiaha, Maori stick fighting. After mastering some sparing with our partners, we had the privilege of Brett teaching us a fruit haka. A haka, for those who don’t know, is a traditional challenge used as a form of nonviolent intimidation or a way of generating energy, commonly used to pump up the group towards a common goal (such as picking fruit). You may have seen a haka if you have ever watched New Zealand’s rugby team, the All Blacks, play. Needless to say, this was a great way to introduce the students to indigenous New Zealand culture, and a favorite morning of the past week.

Another favorite activity was a visit up to the Topps Farm, home to a local pastor and sheep farmer in Kaikoura. Kevin Topp showed us how to shear sheep, and talked about the history of sheep farming in New Zealand, while Sandy Topp showed us around her gardens. The students were enraptured with the pet deer, Lucky, who came along with us on a walk up around the farm. Though the weather was a bit drizzly, the farm’s views of the Puhi Puhi valley, nestled under Mount Fyffe, were still quite beautiful.

Kevin Topp showing us around the farm


Lucky the deer

But these two experiences are just a sampling of the week’s introduction introduced to Kaikoura and what makes it so special, including scenic views and marine wildlife. Now that the students are back from their weekend get-aways (which you may hear more about in a future post) and starting into their first week of classes, students are beginning to settle in, and make the Old Convent their home. I’ll let them tell you more about life here in New Zealand themselves. Stay tuned!

Looking for dolphins at Hapuku Beach
Looking for dolphins at Hapuku Beach

-Lauren, Student Life Coordinator

Happy Christmas from the Old Convent!


It’s hard to believe that it was just a few weeks ago we were having our own holiday celebrations at the Old Convent, complete with a delicious meal shared with friends, a cookie decorating contest, Christmas music…and a nice late summer evening?? Okay, I have to admit, as someone who usually spends Christmas in New York, the summer part is still a bit weird. In contrast to songs about snow and sleigh bells, a classic kiwi Christmas often involves grilling up crayfish, venison or steaks on the barbie, an afternoon spent at the beach, and going to church in a nice summer dress. It’s a whole different world down here…although our California friends might be able to relate.

DSC00421 DSC00422

In the meantime, though, our lovely fourteen students have returned to their homes and families in the States, not without a few tears. Somewhere in the course of three and a half months what was once a group of strangers transformed into a whanau, a family, and created a beautiful home where people could feel free to be fully themselves. It’s a very encouraging thing to watch and a privilege to be a part of, though such a thing does not come about quickly or easily. But it does make it a bit easier to say goodbye to a group that is bringing back home not only new knowledge and life skills they have learned this semester, but also new friendships, memories, and a confidence in themselves and their passions. It’s what all of us on staff could only hope for, and work hard to foster with each group of students that spends a season with us at the Old Convent. For this reason, we have many reasons to give thanks this holiday, even though it is a bit quieter here without late night laughing circles and human knots.


To all of you have been reunited with your families for a couple weeks now, and hopefully adjusting to the winter weather, we hope you were able to enjoy a classic American Christmas celebration back home; whether that means Christmas sweaters, roaring fires, snow, candy canes in hot coco (or all the time), or searching for hidden Christmas presents. We hope that in the midst of all the joy of being back home with family and friends, and as you begin to share about this past semester, you remember what you’ve learned, what goals you have set, and that,

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,

Nothing is going to get better, it’s not.


Hope you had a very Merry Christmas, and have a Happy New Year!

– Lauren

(Molly, Carlos, Rocky and the chooks say hi!)


Dolphin Reflections


One of the highlights of students’ semesters here in Kaikoura (and for us staff too!) is the times we have been able to see and even swim with the local wild dolphins. Whether it is spotting them from shore or getting in a wetsuit or kayak alongside them, it’s an experience that leaves an impression. As part of a reflection written at the conclusion of the second week of the class “God and Nature,” Essie Fenstermacher (Houghton College, ’16) shared this reflection on a morning spent kayaking with dolphins:


Kayaking with Dusky Dolphins one early morning, I thrilled to watch their beautifully sleek, hydrodynamic bodies weaving in and out of the water beneath me. They swam mere feet from the kayak. The water was clear and still as glass; a window into the dolphin’s world. I listened to the distinctive sucking sound of the dolphins inhaling as they surface and became aware of my own breathing. In, out. The same air that filled their lungs filled mine – the same air as the gulls and turns soaring above me. Even the sea breathed; its gently heaving chest lifting my kayak in rhythm.

How am I to be priest of all of this? Am I to lead dolphins and birds in the praise of their creator?They know far more about living lives of worship than I do. Their very being glorifies Him. Then is it my (our) role to minister to them? Administer them the sacraments? Preach them the gospel? Let’s not be ridiculous. These wild animals already know God as much as they can. What is left to do? Am I to speak a blessing over them? Perhaps our relationship is this: we bless each other in the sight of God. “The Lord be with you,” I say to the dolphins gliding underneath me. They silently reply, “and also with you.” After all, we humans are the keepers of words. We give speech to the unending praise of creation. The birds sing and soar and the dolphins leap and dive, praising in ways we never could. Is our praise, joined together, somehow now complete?

-Essie Fenstermacher,

Houghton College ’16