My family and I have just enjoyed a whopping 12 weeks of long service leave. On my first day back at work, I thought it might be good to jot down some thoughts and reflections on our extended time away from our church and ministry and city. This isn’t a blow-by-blow account of what we did (that wouldn’t be very short at all). Rather, it’s a way for those particularly at our church family to know how one of their pastors used the extended time that they have so generously gifted him and his family.
So here it is. Like a good sermon, I thought I’d summarise it all under three headings.
1. Travel Highlights
Our family spent three weeks in Taiwan and Japan courtesy of my generous parents (James and Garnet) who came with us and paid for the trip. It was a fantastic opportunity for three generations of the Kos to travel to East Asia together. The grandparents love the kids and we all love them back dearly.
Taiwan is always memorable for me as it’s the country of my birth. It’s also got some of the best food in the world, so our tastebuds were certainly spoilt. A particular highlight for us was the three-day trip to Sun Moon Lake and eating (of course!) some delicious local fare: amazing tea eggs and stuffed chicken wings were the best!
Japan was a first for all of us. After meticulously planning our trips via the hectic Tokyo subway and Shinkansen, we managed to get around without too many dramas. A week in Tokyo plus three nights in Kyoto gave us just a little sample of what this country had to offer. For Karen and me, the highlights included the Ko ladies spending the day in Asakusa dressed in Kimonos, and wandering around Nara feeding deer whilst surrounded by autumn leaves in their full glory. For the kids, it was… the Pokemon Centre. We’ll leave it at that.
After returning to Sydney for a short week and a wedding, we set off for 28 days for the South Island of New Zealand in a campervan. Words can’t do justice to what we experienced in that amazing part of the world. The highlights for us included: a cruise at the unearthly beautiful Milford Sound; being dwarfed by the grandeur of Aoraki Mount Cook; getting up close with seals at Kaikoura; and kayaking and paddle-boarding on some of the most scenic lakes and beaches in the world.
2. Opportunities to Grow
As great as the travelling and sightseeing was, what made our NZ trip something that Karen and I will never forget was the opportunity God gave us through this trip to really grow as a family.
Prior to our trip, we were a little nervous about how four weeks would turn out for a family of six in a campervan. Extremely close quarters and long car trips with kids aged 6 to 13 for 28 consecutive days was a potential disaster.
Thankfully we not only survived it, we really thrived through it. Karen and I particularly felt that this was the most growth we have ever experienced as a family unit. We watched as the kids learnt how to get along in times of uncertainty and stress. We witnessed each of them rise far above our expectations when it came time to care for one another. We laughed and played together without the distraction of phones and emails and Facebook. And we marvelled together at our Creator’s amazing handiwork in one of the most scenic places on earth.
Aside from that, I also benefited from disconnecting from the daily demands of being a pastor and leader. It was good to just “be”. I am first and foremost a child of God, a husband, and a father above and before anything else. Long service leave allowed me to appreciate that.
I set myself a goal of reading the Bible through cover to cover in the 12 weeks. An ambitious task, but something definitely achievable (I’m up to 1 Thessalonians, so nearly there). It was great to put my life in the perspective of God’s amazing plan of salvation from creation to new creation, centred around the Lord Jesus.
3. The Next 10 Years
I’ve been a pastor for 12 years now. Long service leave allowed me to think a little more about what the next block of life and ministry will look like by the time I’m eligible for this kind of leave again.
We hope and pray that the next 10 years will be some of the most productive years of growth and ministry for me and for us as a family. We really are in a different stage of life now, with no more babies, toddlers and preschool aged kids in tow. For the first time since full-time pastoral ministry, Karen and I can consider how we might serve alongside each other. That’s really exciting.
We want to maximise this next decade to serve our wonderful Lord, his people, and the world. We are also aware that some of the biggest challenges as a family lie in the next decade as well. We hope and pray that the investment of the last three months into the life of our family will be a solid foundation for the challenges that lay ahead. We covet your prayers for this.
Karen and I knew, going into this extended leave, that it would be the first and last of its kind. By the time I’m eligible for long service leave again, our young family won’t be so young anymore (Emily will be 23!). The opportunity to travel together like we have will unlikely arise. My wonderful parents (who will be that little bit closer to 80) probably won’t have the stamina or desire to travel with us. This really was a unique opportunity that we will cherish dearly.
We’re so grateful that we live in a country where long service leave is given and provided for by law. We’re also extremely grateful that our church family, and in particular, my staff team, elders and church leaders, have worked harder in our absence in order to give us the time away.
So here it is. A not-so-short post (but the best I could do) about a not-so-short time of leave. Blessings in abundance from our generous God in the year ahead!