Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

It was the final day of my journey down the east coast of Australia, and therefore also my final day this week of actually travelling.

Today, all being well, my destination would be home, also known as the room where I live in Auckland, New Zealand. However my other three travel days this week had all been fraught with stress. So, surely this last one couldn't really have any new unexpected disasters to throw at me?

As it turned out, today was also the day upon which US religious broadcaster Harold Camping had predicted that the world would end.

As my late night gave way to an early morning (5am), if Camping's date was right, then thanks to eastern Australia's time-zone I had maybe as long as 29 hours in which to get back to New Zealand, and hastily achieve all of my still-outstanding lifelong ambitions. Finish making those films, get this blog up to date, catch up with season 32 of Doctor Who, that sort of thing. What's that? Marry the girl of my dreams? Sorry but I have to prioritise here.

The day certainly got off to a surreal start. Fio gave me a lift to the station, bought my ticket with me, came over the railway bridge, and sat waiting with me on the platform.

I've said it before on this blog, but my friendship with David and Fio, whilst not an unusually close one, has become a special one to me over the years. They've been there for me whichever side of the globe that I've been on, and as such represent to me something of the faithfulness of God. Every time I bid them goodbye, I never know if I'll ever see them again, and yet here Fio and I were at yet another international parting, chatting with the lack of facial defensiveness that comes with a very early morning.

Fio spotted the train approaching, gave me a hug, and headed back across the bridge towards her car.

I've found taking pictures in Australia to be an uphill struggle, for several reasons. Firstly because my friends don't use film any more, and so therefore never have cause to look for it in shops, and so therefore now think that nowhere sells it. Secondly because those places that do still sell it (convenience stores, chemists, the same places as always have basically) do now have a narrower selection. And thirdly because, upon repeatedly running out of film, I would go over to using my phone as a backup, which like all things digital, takes many times longer to switch on, and is much more likely to fail.

Bearing that in mind (rant follows - enjoy), despite repeatedly telling me that it was fully charged this week, my phone's actual standby time has reliably proved itself to somehow be less than a day.

Now this morning on the train it was claiming that it had no power left, and automatically logging itself off. So I was turning it on again, upon which it would suddenly realise that, oh yeah, it actually did have enough power to run an entire minute-long smug video telling me its name, before a moment later claiming again that it had no power, and logging itself out once more. At which point we would go through the whole pantomime all over again, with my attempting to seize the occasional shot for the collection above.

Just what designer had judged that purchasers of this phone would be so stupid as to not notice the disparity between what the phone would say, and what it would prove? A 'smart' phone? Really? If you ask me, it's been designed by Ideos.

However despite all my internal despairing, this morning I had to remain calm. My biggest challenge still lay ahead of me. For although my New Zealand visa explicitly stated that I was allowed to re-enter the country for over another month yet, the fact remained that the lady back at Heathrow in March had seen this, and denied that it was so. According to her, today I would not be allowed back into New Zealand, even despite the written wishes of its own government.

So, trying to look as helpful and friendly as possible, I approached the lady seated behind the Qantas check-in desk. After all the hassle on my way out of New Zealand about the camping stove that hadn't been in my luggage, just what problem might this clerk be going to raise? Maybe some other query to do with camping?

Clerk: "So, do you think the world will end today?"


Was this an official question? Was it a new part of her flowchart, just introduced in the past week? Would she refuse me onto the flight if I wondered out loud "God knows"? Yes, as I type this now I have no end of answers that I wish I had counter-thrown her with.

"Yes, in just over three minutes and five seconds."

"Lucky escape for Arsenal if it did."

"Of course it is - which is why it doesn't matter if I smuggle on board this coughing foreign minor inside a 500ml transparent bottle."

"Never mind about that - take a look at this camping stove."

In the event I meekly went with "Um, no."

I also muttered something about "I don't think anyone will know when the world is going to end." Hmm, relevant, although admittedly still a little bit threatening with it.

As it turned out, she seemed to be distracting herself with this subject, and as she checked me in, let me know exactly what she thought of all those stupid doomsday believers that the media had told her about. Apparently they were all selling everything they had and humanely having their pets put to sleep. I wonder what she thinks of global warming?

I did manage to add "I don't think they're stupid, I just think they're letting a system make their decisions for them." But then it was all over. (I am obviously referring to the checking-in process) (whew!) I was now hurrying to get through security as quickly as possible before anything else went wrong, not least everything.

Of course now that I had left her, it was possible that her question had been in response to seeing my job title 'Missionary' on my visa, and maybe she had been looking for a slightly deeper answer. Perhaps I should have regaled her with talk about Revelation's metaphorical interpretations vs. its literal ones, and the possible intentions of the original author.

Although if I'm honest, privately, I think a part of me secretly rather liked the idea of the world ending today after all. I think on some level we all did. It would have solved so many problems. Good job I hadn't told her that!

Newspaper: Harold Camping has '300' followers. What? How few? (beat) Oh. Suddenly it all fell into place. 300 people is hardly international news, unless they're dead, or you're making fun of them. The media were never going to round such a figure down, so it had probably been rounded up, as had the number of Camping's followers who had also believed that particular aspect of his teaching. So how many human beings actually believed that the world was going to end today? Put it another way, how many were rather going to wait and see? How many had actually had a pet put to sleep? One?

Christianity, and the opinions within it, are extremely diverse. Most of the media on the other hand strives to convey things very simply. Whoever those people were, they were not as simple-minded as they were being portrayed, and neither were those of us who disagreed with them. They needed our sympathy tonight, not our scorn.

The internet was looking mean. There was a lot of ridicule for Camping's followers, including from some church leaders. That was so not the way to handle this. In the event that the world indeed didn't end, those people would be rather broken and hurting, so they needed people to reach out to them and accept them. The fragment of the church that I saw online was doing the polar opposite of this - crowing about itself being right and Camping wrong. I sincerely hope the atheists were having a bit more compassion, but again I suspect some did to some extent, and some didn't.

Which reminds me, I have to grudgingly suppose that the designer of the Ideos phone probably made a lot of good decisions too...

I got on the plane. I sat down in my window seat. I went to look out of the window. I kid you not - there was nothing there...

We sat - presumably on some tarmac - waiting to take off. I watched the whole of Are You Being Served? (sadly not the Australian version, but the BBC episode Conduct Unbecoming) Then we sat on the tarmac some more. If I were really cynical, then I would have assumed that this was because someone was rummaging through my luggage, desperately trying to find something - anything - to delay the take-off even further on account of. Or maybe we couldn't take off because New Zealand - being a couple of hours ahead - had already gone.

But, take off we presently did. There was more food, another ice cream, and disturbingly little to look at outside the window all the way back to Auckland. There we found a planet to land on (I assume it was the same one we'd left), and I at last approached Passport Control for final clearance to re-enter New Zealand.

Pleeeeease... Goddddd...

And you know what? The guy at the desk was really helpful. Pointing out that my Visa only had six weeks of validity left, he advised me that Immigration ought to be able to extend it for me. I was so impressed. I suppose this had distracted him from noticing that my passport was due to expire soon afterwards too...

Oh the world might not be ending, but thanks to that international dateline that I mentioned, the legality of my being at the edge of the map sure was.

Out in the public hall, I looked around for catholic-priest-in-training Nigel. Upon locating each other, he promptly whisked me back to Howick in record time. Outstanding.

This whole week has been a breath of fresh air, both literally and metaphorically. I guess I perhaps could have recognised earlier that this trip would turn out to be much more about seeing friends than seeing the country. For example I visited Tim for one night, but have hardly come away with a sense of Brisbane. Everybody invited me back. I hope this means that I didn't outstay my welcome anywhere.

I must admit, at the outset I'd felt somewhat apprehensive. It had been a while since I had last dropped myself into an alien environment with only my own abilities to depend upon. Sure, every time something works out I attribute it to God, and often when it doesn't I do too, but I also believe that there's a component of his letting go of me to see how I manage on my own too.

If there is a next time, then I hope to plan it in a little better detail, rather than (cough) winging it.

Thank you very much friends Tim, Andy, Ally, Fio and David.

Thank you Australia for a whole week of g'days.

And thank you also for coming on this trip with me.

Return To Oz episode #1
Return To Oz episode #2
Return To Oz episode #3
Return To Oz episode #4
Return To Oz episode #5
Return To Oz episode #6


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