90 Mile

There is a patch of ocean that is considered by many to be the most beautiful beach in the world.  Visitors to the beach are struck by the intensity of contrast between the electric blue water and the orange sands of the dunes.  It is said to be one of the most photographed areas in the world.

The beach is New Zealand’s 90 mile, and it is believed to be the third longest uninterrupted coastline in the world.    Although called the 90 Mile beach, the name is a bit of a misnomer.   The name actually results from a math error.  When missionaries first traveled the beach by horseback, it took them three days to cover its full length.  Figuring that a horse could travel thirty miles a day, but failing to accommodate for the effect of sand slowing down their travel, they naturally, but incorrectly, assumed the beach to be 90 miles long.  It is actually only 55 miles.  

For many, this beach is one of those spiritual places where people will spend a great deal of time travelling to just to spend a few days recharging on its sands.   For me, I have long had a desire to visit the beach and do just that.    Truth be told, the imaginary daydreamed escape to New Zealand has always been one of the tools that I have used to battle the day to day stresses of my life.   When life gets hectic and I start burning the candle on both ends and in the middle, every now and then I take the opportunity to plan my great escape to somewhere on the New Zealand mainland.

Why New Zealand?   Why do I want to close the doors on Keene, NH and  restart life in New Zealand?  Why do I spend time on the internet looking at homes in Auckland, Christchurch or Wellington?   Probably more than anything, I do so because its far away.   I have a friend who likes to say, surfing the net to imagine a new life in some distant corner of the globe, is the modern equivalent to our grandparents dream of riding the rails.   Its our way of temporarily running away from all the hectic to do lists, demands, bills, and concerns of our day to day.

Although I have never visited New Zealand, and the odds of me doing so are not great, there is a big part of me that has this Utopian or the Grass is always greener perspective of what this part of the world is like.     Some of it may not be rooted in reality, but there are indeed a great number of ‘pros’ for life in New Zealand.    A climate where snow can be seen only once or twice a year, and average temperatures hover around 60 degrees is the biggest of pluses for this snow hating New Englander.    

Add to that the truth that the overall quality of life is consistently higher in New Zealand.   The rates of education are higher there than in the US with an adult literacy rate of 99%.  New Zealand is ranked 23rd in Life Expectancy versus the USA’s 50th.   The economy is consistently solid, and unemployment is almost 4% less than the US.   The population is said to be more spiritual at their core than the typical American.  It’s even one of those places where American sports like Baseball and Football are growing exponentially. The demographic deck is certainly stacked in New Zealand’s favor.

If you move beyond economics and demographics you must also consider the sheer beauty of the land.   If you have ever seen Phil Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies you have seen the natural landscape of New Zealand.  In a rather condensed road trip one can experience any type of geography, climate, or nature that tickles your fancy.   It’s simply a gorgeous area, and the photographs will take your breath away.

No set of photographs will do that more so than those taken of 90 mile beach.  As such, it has become one of those New Zealand destinations that I escape to when life gets a little overwhelming.    When, the pressures of deadlines at work, your daughter’s impromptu visit to the Emergency Room,  a nagging running injury, a church charge conference, and several challenges that you would prefer to forget about for a moment all seem to vie for those last few nerves I have left, I find myself taking a minute or two to disappear.  I find myself getting lost in pictures such as the one attached to this post.

In the end, that escape provides a mental health break for a few minutes.  The break is short enough to keep my mission on track, but long enough for me to find a lower gear and exhale.   In the end, I know that I have put this distant part of the world on some oversized and glorified pillar.  I know that my impression versus its reality is likely separated by a million miles, but when those wonderful road bumps of life find you, it’s good to have your escape.   It’s good to have the fantasy.  A maverick life in New Zealand is mine.

When all those things that I just mentioned came crashing down on my plate this past week, I found myself voyeuristically peering through a never ending supply of New Zealand pictures on Google.   As I did, I stumbled upon a story of one brief moment on 90 Mile Beach this past January.   It was the story of Jackie Maynard Wiki, a native to the area.

His story at first seemed so spectacular that it was hard to believe.   It was not only hard to believe, but if it was true the story is, simply put, powerful.   The more I researched the story and the more I learned about Jackie, the more I realized that his was a story that I needed to share with you this morning. 

It’s a powerful story that I hope hits close to home.

As I was preparing this sermon, I turned to Facebook to contact Jackie’s son, and let him know just how I was moved by his father’s story.    I just wanted him to know that even thousands of miles away, in our corner of the world, the story of a 55 year old man could not only move me, but open my eyes.   I told him that I would be sharing this message.

Jackie’s Story:

Jackie was your normal blue collar father.    From the reports that I read, it doesn’t seem that Jackie was enormously wealthy, but just that he was a solid, family man.   Although I am sure that he had his dents and bruises like the rest of us, his son said that his father was a “funny, out there” kind of guy.    As I think of it, I imagine that description is not much different from some of the kinder descriptions my own children might give me.

He fathered three children, and was your typical Dad.   He drove a truck for a living, and for sometime before that he owned a family campground.    He lived several hours away from 90 Mile, but like many others found relaxation and recharge at the beach.   

What the pictures don’t tell you of 90 Mile is that due to some weird oceanic topography the beach has some of the most dangerous tides in the world.   As you approach the beach there are countless signs that warn the visitor of harsh conditions of the beach for the two hours before and two hours after rising and falling tide.   Cars getting washed out to sea are a common occurrence for those who fail to heed the warning.

Jackie understood the danger.   His story never appears to be one of a man throwing caution to the wind, or taking unnecessary or dangerous risks.  As a matter of fact, he understood the danger of 90 Mile and he respected it.  It was almost as if it was his way of loving the beach.

On a trip to see family, he decided to take two of his grandchildren ages 5 and 6 to play at the beach.    Together they were going to collect a seafood dinner from the shore, and then spend some time bonding at the beach.   It was a day which I assume to be have been like a hundred others.  It certainly must have started that way, but without a doubt in an instant everything changed.

While they were in the shallows, an unexpected rip tide struck and sucked the children out into the open water.    As Jackie turned he realized that his grandchildren were in enormous danger and in an instant shot out towards were they were fighting the tides.  He was accompanied by a 17 year old bystander.  In a matter of seconds they were at the children’s sides.  I would imagine it was in that moment that they both realized the full force and strength and power of those waves. It must have been terrifying.

As the teenager swam one child back to shore Jackie’s attention was focused on the other.  It was then that the ultimate struggle began. Jackie was unable to pull the child through the current.   He was unable to swim the child out.   In a desperate attempt to spare the child, Jackie did the only thing he could think of doing.   He took a deep breath and sank below the water.   In the turmoil of the waves, Jackie grabbed a hold of the child and hoisted him partly above the water. 

 I can’t imagine the thoughts that travelled through the man’s mind, but he must have been praying that the air in his lungs lasted as he stood with his face several inches under water.   You can only imagine the desperation of his prayers and the uncertainty of those few moments, as he stood blindly underwater, waiting for someone to come.   It must have seemed like an eternity.

That same, unknown 17 year old that rescued the first child finally managed to reach the second.  He snagged the child from his grandfather’s grip and brought the child to safety.   He had reached the child in the nick of time…at least for the child.    Jackie was lost to the waves.   In that moment a grandfather sacrificed everything to provide a chance for his grandchild to survive.

He never hesitated.    His son says that his father loved his grandchildren immensely.    He says that his father was a hero.   What happened on 90 Mile that day was in his nature.

What Jackie’s Story Tells Us:

In the process of confirming the details of this story, I discovered that it has rightfully led to an enormous outpouring of sympathy for the family.  Despite occurring less than two years ago, the story has reached almost legendary status.  In my search for details on this story, I have even found churches and blogs that use the story to illustrate any number of concepts; from the idea of divine love to the power and strength of grandparents.   There is no arguing its ability to reach those who hear it.  

Jackie Tells Us What Love Looks Like.

This is indeed a story that hints at the divine love of God.    The love that is God is this type of Love.   The Bible continually reminds tells us that true Love perseveres.  It always protects.   It never fails.   Divine love is not self serving but completely sacrificial.   Its powerful and its life changing.    When we say that God is Love, this Love is all those things, and it is certainly expressed in actions similar to what Jackie did that day in the surf.   In Jackie’s story, I certainly catch a glimpse of what God’s love looks like.

This is first and foremost a love story.   It’s a love story between a man and his grandchild.   It is a powerful story, but that power doesn’t come as a function of it representing some unthinkable feat.   I would hope that none of us would think twice about choosing the same course as Jackie did.  This is how things are supposed to be.   

I know at my core that if it was my child in that situation, I would not hesitate.  I would make that mad dash into the waves as quickly, if not quicker, than Jackie did.   His love is not a unique love.  

What makes Jackie’s story so special and so important is its clarity.   Jackie’s actions are a clear living out of the very love we all feel at our core.    It’s  a privilege to see it so clearly.

Jackie’s Story is a Calling.

In the end, I don’t want to leave Jackie’s story there.   After spending a great deal of time in this moment over the last few days, I think for me the story of Jackie is also important for another reason.    I believe that Jackie’s story shows the type of love that makes a difference.    I believe that we need to be  (and we can be) challenged, encouraged, and empowered by what happened that day on 90 Mile.

We talk endlessly about how the world needs to change.   We have had our hearts broken again and again over the hurts in our community that we witness.   We turn to God and ask why is this world such a fouled up place, and we grow tired waiting for answers.

Crack Cocaine, Child Abuse, Hunger Alcoholism, Cancers, Drug Abuse, Teenage Pregnancy, Unemployment, Runaways, Pollution, Terrorism, Greed, Infighting, Kidnapping, Gun violence, Lost Children, Lost Adults, Stock Market Crashes, obesity, and poverty are all words that are quickly loose their impact.   These are things that are becoming commonplace.    Sadly, we want to change the world, but we cannot and in the end, we do not.

Consider one issue on that dizzying list I rather hastily compiled; hunger.   Let’s take a moment and consider the statistics.   More than 50 million Americans, including over 17 million children are considered food insecure in the US.   Simply put, they don’t have enough money, or assistance, to go without being hungry. 

Twenty percent of our population is hungry.   Feeding America, who helps source our own food pantry reports that 5% of all households in the US have turned to a food pantry in the last year one or more times.   Having said all this, the saddest truth is that hunger is completely fixable.  It is estimated we could alleviate hunger in the US, for an estimated one time injection of $15billion dollars.

$15 Billion dollars is huge amount but it is less than half of what we spend developing nuclear weapons in this country each year.    It is $30 billion less than what it cost to put on the Beijing Olympics.   It’s equal to the cost of construction projects in Iraq, and its $400 Billion dollars less than the Bush/Obama bailouts.   

Let us take it one step further.  At the same time that so many of our neighbors are starving to death, and our government is doing little to stop it, it is said that the Catholic Church has over 10 billion dollars in property and the United Methodist Church has 8.    It is said, by some estimates that the total Christian Church has close to $30billion in assets.   If we sold half of what we owned the church could end hunger once and for all in the US.   We claim we want to change the world, but do we really want to?  We claim we are Christians for that matter, but are we?  Can we call ourselves when the balance sheet is so warped?

When I heard Jackie’s story, I was reminded of one simple truth;  If we want to change the world, if we want to make a difference, and if we want to be the people that God calls us to be, then we need embrace Jackie’s kind of love.  We need to be people willing to go rushing towards the waves without second guessing our own comfort or own solid ground.   

We need to give all that we have to make that difference.    We need to risk everything.  We need to be willing to suck water if it means holding another up.   It’s a radical love with a passion, a intensity, and a commitment that will change the world.

A Challenge to Be Better, to Be More Loving.

I have recently came across a writer who challenged his readers in a very direct way.  In turn, I offer you the same challenge.   The writer says (and I am tweaking his argument a bit) if we were honest with ourselves, and truly acting in accordance with our faith, we would take a look at the world and see what bothers, challenges or moves us.  We would ask ourselves what it is in our church, our neighborhood, or our world that truly breaks our heart.  Knowing that is critical, because most times heartbreak is the truest indicator of where God is calling you.     If we refuse to pay attention, we are refusing to listen.   

 Once we identify the cause of the heartbreak, we need to be those that learn all there is to learn about it.   We would read newspapers, search the internet, and visit the library with that issue in mind.   We would become experts on the issue.  We would turn to the Bible with this issue on our mind.   We would pray about it.   We would go to bed with it on our mind.

Then, with all that newly acquired expertise we were pursue its resolution in full force.   We would work to spread what we learn to our communities, our leaders, and our peers.  We would write letters and make websites and signs. We would commit ourselves fully to that issue, and with a radical, purposeful, and sacrificial love put all we have into overcoming or defeating it.   We would do just that because our faith demands it.   

In the end, that is not a neat roadmap, or a cool life model.  It is a risky, all or nothing, full Love approach to living out our faith in real and concrete terms.

In this one man’s story we see so much.   In the story of that man on 90 Mile we see what true love looks like.  We see real world actions and decisions and hope that we have the same conviction at our core.   We see sacrifice and love lived out to its fullest in an instant and without forethought.

In Jackie we also see what God’s love looks like.   Knowing that God’s love is beyond anything this world can hint at, we gain confidence in Jackie’s example.   We know that if Jackie can do that for his grandchildren, than we will surely feel God lifting us up when the waves are crashing all around us.

Lastly, Jackie reminds us of the Love we are called to practice if we truly want to change the world.    As people of faith we are called to Love, and that love is the type of Love seen off 90mile.    That love is not only our challenge it is our responsibility, our obligation, and our duty.

I guess in the end, the ultimate lesson we can learn is that Love changes, and Love Changed everything.   We need to celebrate that.  We need to embrace that.   We need to be all about that.   







Photo by Fir0002, 2002 – CCL

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