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.

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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

We Llove our Llamas


A highlight of life at the Old Convent has been the recent addition of our friends Carlos and Rocky. Carlos and Rocky are two retired trekking llamas that have come to live out retirement in the lush green pastures of the Old Convent back paddock. They have made their secret pathways to run on anytime we want to catch them and have their little poo corner that I nearly almost always forget about. They also love anything and everything green and leafy but have a particular liking for the clovers.

A couple weeks after their arrival, a couple students and myself thought Carlos and Rocky looked like they needed a walk. After chasing two llamas in gumboots for an hour, hopelessly trying to lasso them and being dragged by llama strength, we finally managed to summon our superpowers and corner the two before swiftly and calmly applying the harnesses. Their first Convent walk involved a parade around the building followed by a walk down the road. We only got a few stares and a couple laughs from passing cars.

Since our first day catching the llamas, every Monday has been Monday Llama walk day in which another student, Sarah, and I take Carlos and Rocky down the road and throughout the Convent property to feast on all the weeds and clovers to their hearts’ content. It’s also been really great getting to know the llamas’ personalities through Monday walk days. Carlos is for sure the boss. He’s smaller (and plumper) but feistier. He has the greater spitting capacity as well. Carlos’ favorite leafy green is clover tops but he isn’t picky. On walks, he’ll eat anything and everything he can get his lips on. He also loves to spontaneously start running as I am dragged behind tripping over my gumboots. He’s pretty great. Rock, on the other hand, is more shy and reluctant to eat in unfamiliar territory. It usually requires some hand feeding and slow walking before he begins eating his favorite treat of grasses. Both of them also love to make noises while walking close beside us that sounds like a whining dog.

It’s been so great growing closer to another part of creation this semester in learning just how interesting llamas are. I’ll definitely miss my Monday Walk Day buddies, but let’s hope the tradition continues. We’ve managed to get Carlos and Rocky comfortable enough with people here that it now takes less than five minutes to catch them and requires very little chasing a lassoing. We even managed to sneak our llama friends into our semester group photo because they’re basically family, of course! To my dear llama buddies, stay cool, keep spitting, and enjoy all the greens in the world.

-Bryce (Hope College, Class 2017)

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