Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

At the start of March this year, when booking my latest mission trip to New Zealand, I was faced with a choice.

Schedule the return flight in two months' time on a Tuesday, or extend the trip by two extra days to Thursday, and pay a bit less?

You know what? I paid the higher fee to avoid having to spend two more days in NZ.

Actually returning over four months beyond even those dates, boy, do I feel like a mug.

Specifically, the one that my friends at work just presented me with.

I had mixed feelings about this. It's thoughtful of them to get me a gift, but it kind of makes me feel as though I might not ever be returning from the UK this time. Admittedly, I do always plan for that contingency, it's just never come to pass yet.

But... I'm only going back to be best man at Herschel's wedding, right? That ceremony won't last forever, will it? Will it? Please God don't let Herschel's actImeanspeech last forever...

So this week I spent much of Tuesday night / Wednesday morning in Auckland packing yet again. Jade seemed to believe that I was leaving her permanently too.

Well, she didn't like that. She didn't like that at all.

Here she is realising that she has to say goodbye to yet another flatmate:

At one point while I was packing, she came up to me and suddenly struck my hand before bolting away. Oh dear.

With a 30kg weight limit, the bathroom scales made it clear that I was going to have to decide what to leave behind. I'd copied my photos off of CD and onto hard drive, so those discs went in the bin. ANZ bank statements got recycled. T-shirts, a Bible, other books, my old phone that Tim Downstairs had given me… I just had to box them up and leave them behind, in case they were still waiting for me if I ever return.

Yep, it's a good opportunity to declutter.

My suit has been here ever since I first moved over in 2004. I actually decided to wear that to the airport. Over the years I've tried everything else to get an upgrade, and as shuttle driver Matthew began chatting to me about the economy on the way there, I figured it was proving itself to at least be a good conversation starter.

Still, once at the check-in desk, I didn't manage to score the hallowed seat that turns into a bed for up to 30 hours, despite how empty the (initial) flight was. However I was still 4kg over my limit, which should have set me back me $360, but they kindly waived it. Hm. I wonder how they would have felt if I myself had been 81kg instead of 77?

Then it was time to buy a few last-minute souvenirs, and to sit for a moment.

Just to sit. Just for a moment.

So I accordingly took a load off and finished the bottle of V that Julia at work had given me months ago now, to say thanks for helping her run The Dragons' Den. Auckland Airport now held a few more memories, of a few more people. This particular concourse was where I had come with, among others, Sara, Joanne, Stephanie, Cathy, Rasella, Rachel, the Oasis kids, and the entire Reynolds family to say farewell to Carmel a while back. Funny, I hadn't known any of them before this trip…

Something went wrong with this - my sixth - journey to New Zealand. Having as usual picked up my job, my church, my friends, my bank account, and my flatmates without missing a beat, my latest short-term mission trip just sort of kept on going. Like a tennis player running to return a really high lob on the edge of a cliff.

Work kept plying me with more, and ever more varied, projects to undertake.

I made a ton of new friends at church, took on a new regular responsibility there, and joined every cell group going.

My blog? Sheesh, I'm sorry, I just haven't had any time, so it's got five months behind all over again…

Returning across the globe to tend my UK life is, unusually, an interruption. Normally things in NZ reach a sudden natural breaking point, but this time I'm turning down work to leave.

Has my New Zealand odyssey really come out a success?

Yes, I consider that it has. If I actually don't come back this time, perhaps it's good to literally go out on a high.

Once through security, I had my traditional BK reward meal, and began the first flight to Melbourne with two empty seats next to me.

Had a great conversation with a neighbour called Jim. Everybody needs good neighbours. The next seat is only a footstep away. Anyway, Jim was heading back to Oz to rejoin his family. I hope when he got there they all went out to the street to play cricket and steal each others' lives.

Then a lady called Helen came up, and congratulated me on travelling in a suit. We talked. This was a big trip for her, and she actually asked me to pray for her. I promised, and privately resolved to continue to do so throughout October.

Most of the changeover at Melbourne was spent chatting with a nameless Indian guy who was off on his own travels. Yes - a random Indian guy! It turned out that he was an NZ immigration agent, and lived at the top of my road.

Unlike the first, the second flight was packed. Now the two seats next to me contained John and Paulo. Since they had each other to talk to, there was less conversation with them, but still some.

It was the middle of this second flight that I found the hardest. As night set in and my eyes began to close of their own volition, I was quietly wishing that I didn't have eight more hours to go before being rewarded with another giant flight afterwards. I took a deep breath and just waited. It was the only thing that I could do.

At Dubai I showered, and almost checked out the airport chapel. There were shoes at the entrance. I decided that I didn't want to risk offending anyone by failing to observe any local etiquette, so instead skipped it.

The Dubai to London leg was much easier. The highlight for me would have to be flying over Romania. This was the first country that I had ever flown to - in 1991 - and on some level I've always wanted to go back and shoot more film of it. My flight to New Zealand six months ago had been at night, so this morning I made full use of my Android phone to snap away at anything visible from the sky.

There were more people sitting next to me here too, but I don't recall anything about them.

Presently, would you believe, we reached… the English coast!

We got stuck in a holding pattern on our approach into Heathrow. I could see things that I could recognise! The River Thames, the O2 Arena where we had been to see Ben Hur Live, the readable roof of IKEA, Heathrow Airport… uh, Heathrow Airport? Already?!?

Throughout my three flights I had had Anika Moa's song Mother Mother going through my head, and upon reaching my house as always it was special to see my mum again. She was actually waiting outside the gate in the sunshine for me to arrive.

The cats hadn't missed me (I could tell by the way they ignored me as usual), the book I forgot to pack in March is still here, and according to Herschel I phoned him and babbled incomprehensibly for about an hour and a half, as is standard.

As always, it was good to be home.

Thank you God. I don't know what you're doing, but I do believe that you're still in this with me.

The very next day, I left again.


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