​Mary, Moriah, and Mark Hurst, Thomas Fougnie, and Naomi Tice share a meal at Magpie Hollow. Photo by Mary Hurst.  


Singing the Lord’s song in a new land

By Naomi Tice
Thursday, April 9, 2020

I arrived in Australia at the end of January, when the air was filled with smoke from uncontrolled bush fires and dust storms caused by one of the longest and worst droughts in recent memory. Rain finally arrived in February, and we rejoiced in the green that sprang up, welcoming the smoke- and dust-free air. Businesses affected by the fires started rebuilding, and people started spending more time outside.

But then almost overnight, everything changed. Streets are empty again, and businesses once more have had to close.

Mid-March through mid-April was supposed to be a busy season of traveling for me, along with Mark and Mary Hurst, retired Mennonite Mission Network workers, to attend conferences, gather with folks who are part of Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand (AAANZ), and sight-seeing. First on the list was a weekend conference in Melbourne, followed by a conference and a few days of vacation to see the sights in New Zealand. After that, we planned to have a week at home in the Blue Mountains (northwest of Sydney) before heading south again to attend the National Folk Festival.

But plans went haywire. New Zealand closed its borders, requiring a 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the country. We had planned to be in New Zealand for 10 days, so that meant our New Zealand trip was canceled. We would later learn that the conference shuttered as well. The new plan was to go down to the conference in Melbourne, return home, and then go to Canberra for the Folk Festival. But then, large gatherings of more than 100 people were forbidden, so our conference in Melbourne canceled. We hoped that things would blow over after a few weeks, and we could still go to Canberra at least. But when regulations tightened and all international flights were grounded until at least the end of May, the Folk Festival canceled, too. So now we’re home at Magpie Hollow for the foreseeable future.

Despite the disappointment of canceled plans, I feel fortunate to be isolating in such a beautiful location, living with a wonderful group of people. Magpie Hollow is a six-bed, seven-bath home in the Blue Mountains, situated on 300-plus acres of land bordering a national park. Mark and Mary moved here about a year and a half ago and are working to establish Magpie Hollow as the main office for AAANZ and a retreat space for individuals and small groups. Currently, there are five of us living here: Thomas, Mark and Mary’s long-term housemate, is a French Mennonite who works as a local water engineer; Moriah, Mark and Mary’s daughter, here on sabbatical from her work as a pastor in the States; myself; and Mark and Mary.

With quantity restrictions in place on certain food items, getting enough groceries to feed a household of five adults (with different dietary requirements) for even a week is tricky. But we are improving at working with these restrictions. Work continues as usual for most of us (I’ve been tasked with updating the AAANZ website). Thomas now works from home. Last weekend, we forged household bonding, thanks to yet another water pump dying (we’re hoping the new one lasts more than two months). We also lost electricity soon after we got the new pump installed, due to faulty wiring. We know someone who’s an electrician who could help us on Monday, once he got the necessary parts after work. So, Sunday, we did puzzles, read by sunlight streaming in the windows, ate dinner, and played games by candlelight. Lots of singing and laughter occurred during this time, too!






Naomi Tice is serving as a special assignment worker in Australia with the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand.







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