Anyone who has willingly hiked 1100 kilometres has to love the journey.
For 68-year-old Queenslander Anne Maczkowiack, walking the 800 kilometre Camino De Santiago trail across Spain was only a part of a post-retirement reward in 2014. She and husband Robert decided to add an extra 300 kilometres to start from Barcelona. That says something about embracing opportunities.
This ‘seize the day’ mindset is also reflected in the latest mission for retired teacher and principal Anne.
It’s a mission that has taken Anne to one of our northern neighbours, Papua New Guinea (PNG), for LCA International Mission. The aim? To encourage and support the country’s teachers in revising their 20-year-old Christian Life Studies curriculum.
While travellers to PNG are advised to exercise a high degree of caution due to the law and order situation there, Anne knew she could use her talents to be of service to local Lutheran teachers. After all, she was part of the team which developed Lutheran Education Australia’s original LIFE curriculum for Christian Studies.
So she accepted the approach from the International Mission team to work alongside teachers and education secretaries in PNG’s Lutheran School system.
PNG was not a new destination for Anne though. She and Robert had moved there in 1979 with two children, with Robert working in rural development for the Yangpela Didiman agricultural program.
When they left seven years later in 1986, with four children, Anne never thought she would be returning.
‘The thought of going back had never occurred to me; it was not on my radar at all’, she recalls. ‘I just thought that door had closed. It was a great surprise in 2018 when I was approached by Glenice Hartwich and Nevin Nitschke [from LCA International Mission] to consider returning to a PNG work assignment alongside Lutheran school leaders in order to facilitate a revision of the Christian Life Studies program.’
After deliberations, conversations and prayers, Anne boarded a plane in March last year to return to the country after almost 30 years. ‘It was a big step, as so much has obviously changed since we were there, which we had heard about’, she says.
On arriving for that first reconnaissance visit, Anne felt immediately at home, with phrases of the local Pidgin language even popping back into her head.
A lot had changed. But Anne was welcomed with warmth and friendliness by the thriving church community. She also saw the challenges faced by the local teachers in the town schools, including class sizes of 50 to 55 children, school numbers of up to 1500, and limited resources. With teachers working so hard under trying conditions, supporting them through an updated curriculum would surely help!
‘If I can do anything to help those teachers, that’s my motivation’, Anne says.
‘The passion of people for their faith was outstanding for me. When the expatriate missionaries left, churches were left on their own and with a new administrative burden and, in my opinion, they have done an outstanding job. The faith and commitment of people to church is very strong.’
And so Anne returned again last November and expects one or two trips in 2020 to support the local PNG team charged with the work.
After a career in Australia’s Lutheran schools, Anne is certainly gifted to support her PNG counterparts. She started teaching at Dimboola, in Victoria, in 1971, followed by serving in schools across South Australia as a teacher, and then as principal of Peace Lutheran Primary School, Gatton, Queensland, followed by Living Faith Lutheran Primary School, Murrumba Downs, in Brisbane’s north, before retiring at the end of 2013.
Anne, who is now a mother of five, aged from 31 to 44, and grandmother of 10, says she has led a richly rewarding life. She and Robert, who last year celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary, feel very blessed to be in good health.
‘We have an awareness that this is a very good time of our lives and that there are many good things to look back on that have formed the way we are, that have grounded us, and to use that grounding to continue to make the most of every day’, she shares.
‘To recognise that this is the day the Lord has made, that each day is special, is a blessing.’
In their retirement, good health has enabled them to enjoy hiking through a range of beautiful places in Australia and around the world, from Kangaroo Island’s wilderness trail in South Australia to Spain’s great pilgrimage trail. ‘It was a wonderful time of stepping aside from life and being able to reflect, to live life lightly, meeting people from different cultures’, she says.
The peace and serenity of bushwalking reflect one of Anne’s favourite Bible verses: Psalm 46:10, ‘Be still and know that I am God’. That verse is a gateway to her times of contemplation to be still and let the thoughts and prayers come.
‘I look at my faith as a tree where its roots have been grounded in traditional Lutheranism, but the branches are wide’, she says.
‘My faith is far wider than it ever used to be, and my picture of God is much wider than I ever thought. Experiencing the world had played a part in it, reading, listening to podcasts opened my mind and ears to different ideas, which can be challenging but extends and develops you.’
Helen Beringen is a Brisbane-based writer who is inspired by the many GREYT people who serve tirelessly and humbly in our community. By sharing stories of how God shines his light through his people, she hopes others are encouraged to explore how they can use their gifts to share his light in the world.
Know of any other GREYT stories in your local community? Email the editor firstname.lastname@example.org
This feature story comes from The Lutheran February 2020. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.