May 29, 2009
REAL Tours Down Under--Australia 2009
REAL in Australia: Our team poses with the Cairns youth after our Edmonton show, Sabbath afternoon, May 16, 2009.
Babs and the Little Feller at the Cairns Tropical Zoo, Friday, May 15, 2009.
We came to be a blessing, but came away richly blessed ourselves. About two weeks ago REAL Christian Theater embarked on its ninth (and my final) off-island tour. Our destination, for the first time ever was Cairns, in tropical north Queensland, Australia. From Friday, May 15 through Monday, May 19, the team performed six times (including a half hour spot on the radio) and also took some time to explore the beauty and culture of Australia. But more than the shows, more than the tours, more than the exotic animals (kangaroos and crocs and koalas), it was the people that made this trip memorable and special. When you work for the Lord, what you get back is always so much more than what you put in.
The blessings begin and end with God of course. The tour seemed almost too ambitious when I first thought of it more than a year ago on the drive back from the Atherton tablelands just oustide of Cairns. I mentioned to Paula, one of the youth leaders, the idea of bringing the drama team to Australia. She sounded interested and the seed was planted. It seemed more like a dream than a plausible reality at the time. Airfare to Australia was pricey and we'd have to rent vehicles to get around as well as pay for lodging. But it seemed like at every turn, God opened doors for the trip to move ahead. The cost of airfare dropped from the 800s to the 700s to the 600s by the time we bought tickets (cheaper than any destination closer to home in Micronesia except Guam). Due to some very generous donations from supporters in the states as well as here in the CNMI. we were able to cover our lodging and transporation costs. (It helped that we were staying at the Bohemia Resort, a hostel that at $15 USD a night for clean, simple rooms, a beautiful resort setting, and five star service has to be the best value for the money I've experienced anywhere). As if that weren't enough, we were blessed with close to $300 in donations while in Australia.
I could go on recounting the doors God opened--how "The Treasurer", our Chinese national team member who had to travel to Australia with Amy via Japan due to immigration restrictions, got her Australian visa; how "J" got her passport renewed just days before we left; how frequent flyer seats just opened up for those of us who had lots of miles but little cash.
But the blessings weren't just in the provision of our physical and monetary needs. What I will remember most about this, my final tour with REAL Christian Theater, is the kindness and openess of the people we encountered. Last year, the Cairns SDA Church opened their hearts to us when we visited with 8th grade class, and this year they seemed determined to outdo their own prior hospitality. They were an enthusiastic and appreciative audience for the various performances we put on over the weekend. They provided us with delicious homecooked meals on Friday night, Sabbath lunch and Sabbath supper. They entertained us with volleyball on the Esplanade after our final performance and took us for another day of water sports up at Lake Tinarroo in the Tablelands. The welcoming spirit of Ken and Ruth Stewart, Tom and Paulo Nelio, Robyn, the folks at the radio station, and all the youth made our time in Australia all the more precious.
God's spirit was at work outside the church as well, though, and His love and care was revealed through the remarkable staff at the Bohemia Resort. After our stay there last year, I didn't even consider staying anywhere else on our return. The price was right and the service was unparalleled. Like our church friends though, the Bohemia Resort staff raised their own bar of service to a whole new level. Not only did they meet our every need, but they anticipated needs before we asked, and offered to fill them. Once they discovered we were a performing group, they offered us a room on the top floor of the hostel to use as a rehearsal space. They allowed us to keep one room for an extra day as a place to store our luggage and a "base of operations" at no extra charge. When Elijah proved to be a bit too noisy at night, they allowed us to split the women into two rooms (Babs, Carol, and Elijah in one, some of the other staff in the other room), again, at no extra charge. They arranged all our tours--more often than not at the last minute, and helped us find the best prices. When Rhonda's dive tour operator failed to pick her up, they quickly arranaged another dive tour so she wouldn't miss out on her once-in-a-lifetime chance to dive the Great Barrier Reef. These are just a few of the most exemplary examples of the fantastic treatment we received while staying at the Bohemia Resort.
The girls dorm: One of our rooms at the Bohemia Resort. The rooms are spare and simple at Bohemia Resort, but they're clean, air-conditioned, and the service is five-star. (Photo courtesy of Megan Mocca)
Every time we walked into the reception area we were greeted with a smile. Not once did I sense that we were a "bother" to them (though I'm sure we were with our many needs and many requests). I'd like to thank all of the Bohemia Resort staff including Darryl, Becky, Peter, and of course Mong Na (I hope I spelled that right) for treating us so well. I can only say God bless you, and I'll be sure to send as much business your way as I can!
Mong Na and one of the other staff at Bohemia Resort. This is the woman I mentioned in my blog last year who was so kind to us the first time we stayed at the Bohemia Resort. I couldn't get a picture of her then, but this time I was able to take a quick snap just before we left Australia, Monday night. Once again, she and her colleagues outdid themselves in looking after us during our stay. She even gave us some small souvenirs from her recent trip to China to share among the teachers.To Mong Na and all the rest of the BR crew, thanks a million!
It was truly special weekend and I really enjoyed getting to know the members of our team better. I feel like we really bonded during our time in Australia. It was a great way to end years of great tours with REAL.
Here's a quick summary of what we did on the REAL Christian Theater 2009 tour to Australia, accompanied by a few photos. For some reason, none of us took very many pictures on this trip--guess we were too busy having fun. As a result, the photos you are here were yanked off various Myspace and Facebook pages. All photos have been appropriately credited.
We did our first show on Friday morning at the Cairns SDA School, a small school (about 50 students) with a beautiful, ultramodern campus on the grounds of the Cairns SDA Church.
REAL waiting to take the stage at our first show, Friday, May 15, 2009 (Photo courtesy of Megan Mocca).
The team pauses for a photo op at the Cairns Adventist School, after our first show, Friday morning, May 15, 2009. Here's the team--as always, most of them, as minors, will be identified only by nicknames: From L to R, "M", "the Kangaroo", Megan, "Old Lady Taylor" (so named after her role in our play The Line Up), "The Invincible", "Miss Em" (our youngest team member at 10 years old), "Ji", "The Treasurer", "Little Sister", and "J". (Photo Courtesy of Jaimie "James" Nickell) .
After our first show we drove out to the Cairns Tropical Zoo and spent a few hours there checking out all those cool Australian animals. Driving in Australia, by the way, was a little nervewracking at first (Carol, Amy, and I each piloted a vehicle throughout the weekend), but we got used to it afterawhile. That fact that we each had a "navigator" (mine was Rhonda) to focus on the map and directions really helped.
"Miss Em" clowning around at the pool at the Bohemia Resort. Friday, May 15, 2009 (Photo courtesy of Jaimie "James" Nickell).
Friday night we drove out to Kuarra Beach where the Cairns SDA church members treated us to a picnic on the beach before our evening performance. We did a few skits as part of the vespers program at the new church plant in Kuarra Beach being spearheaded by Pastor David Gilmore.
Sabbath was a busy day. We did our first show at the Cairns SDA Church youth Sabbath School class. "J", Megan, "Little Sister", "Miss Em" and "Old Lady Taylor" did special music for the church service.
The REAL team leads in worship at the youth Sabbath School class at Cairns SDA Church, Sabbath, May 16, 2009. That's Rhonda sitting at the computer working the PowerPoint, and (l to R, standing) Megan, "Old Lady Taylor", Me, "Miss Em", "Little Sister" and Carol leading in the singing.
Then, after church, we wolfed down a potluck lunch in the van, while on our way to a local radio station, where we were interviewed for about half an hour and even performed one of our skits live on the air.
REAL on the radio. That's me with "Miss Em", and "Ji", who are about to perform the skit "The Two Complainers" on air. Sabbath, May 16, 2009 (Photo courtesy of "J")
"M" flashes a grin as he talks to Cairns on the radio. (Photo courtesy of "J").
After the radio spot, we were off to another church plant in the town of Edmonton. We did a full 45-60 minute show there and were warmly received. It was really exciting because our performance inspired some of the members there to consider starting up their own drama ministry in the Cairns area.
"Little Sister", "M", and "J" perform at the Edmonton church plant, Sabbath afternoon, May 16, 2009.(Photo courtesy of "J")
Performing "Everything" at the Edmonton Church, Sabbath, May 16, 2009 (Photo courtesy of Rhonda Prokopetz)
After the Edmonton show we hustled back to the Bohemia Resort for a little Sabbath rest, before heading back to the Cairns SDA Church for our final performance of the weekend, a production of our latest full-length play, The Line Up.
We wrapped up the evening with some volleyball with our new Cairns friends down on the Esplanade and a late supper at the Cairns night markets.
The Stewarts once again took us out for a day of fun in the sun, waterskiing at Lake Tinnarroo. Despite a couple of carsick moments for the trip up the winding roads to the Tablelands (and back down again), we all had a great time.
A view of the Atherton Tablelands, not too far from Lake Tinnarroo, where we went skiing, Sunday, May 17, 2009. (Photo courtesy of Megan Mocca).
Monday was our "extra" day in Australia. Our travel agent mistakenly booked the main group to return a day later then we'd planned. We didn't realize it until literally days before we left Saipan, and at $150 change fee per ticket, it was more cost effective to just stay in Cairns. Amy and "The Treasurer", who had booked tickets seperately went back home on Monday morning, as did Babs and Elijah. Rhonda and Jaimie, who had also booked seperately changed their tickets to stay the extra day, and I did as well, to help with supervising the students. Carol, "Little Sister" and "J" had already planned to stay in Australia for a few more days so they were with us on Monday too.
The group at the entrance to the Tjapukai Cultural Park on Monday, May 18, 2009. Standing, left to right, "Old Lady Taylor", "J", "Little Sister", "Ji", Megan, "Miss Em", and "The Kangaroo". In front, is me and "the Invincible". Missing is "M", who had already done the Tjapukai/Skyrail tour last year and opted to hang out with Rhonda and James in Kuranda instead. Also, Amy and "The Treasurer" who flew back to Saipan that morning (due to their lengthy layover in Japan they were actually the last of us to get back to Saipan, on Tuesday afternoon, May 19. Babs and Elijah had also left early that morning. Carol was taking the photo. (Photo courtesy of Megan Mocca)
It actually worked out well, because we wouldn't have otherwise had time for the kids to visit the Tjapukai Cultural Park or take the Skyrail up to Kuranda. As it was the kids had a full day soaking up the various facets of Australian culture and the tropical beauty of North Queensland.
By the time we packed up our belongings that Monday night for our red eye flight back to Saipan, we were all sad to leave, and most of us had declared our intention to one day live in Australia.
It had been a great tour--great performances, great people, great memories--all by the grace of our great God. Who could ask for more than that?