Pete Bartholomew grew up in Porirua with his family and attended a Salvation Army corps as a boy. When his parents stopped attending the church, Pete followed and spent little time in church thereafter.
‘Mum and Dad, for whatever reason, got out of the whole church thing completely. They gave us kids a choice to stay, but I was young and kids just choose what their parents choose,’ says Pete. ‘Every now and then when I went to Grandma and Granddad’s on a Sunday I would go to church with them, but for years and years I didn’t go at all.’
When Pete was 25 he met and started dating a Christian girl, Carolyn, or Caz, who encouraged Pete to retry church and faith in God as an adult. He came back to church briefly, but when the relationship ended for a time, so did Pete’s church involvement.
‘When I was away from Caz I suppose I kind of talked to God in my own way, but at that time I wasn’t into it that much,’ Pete says. I said to myself and to God that if I got back with Caz again that it would be a good sign for me to go back to church.’
Though Pete now admits that giving God an ultimatum probably wasn’t the best way to go about his faith, he and Carolyn did pick up their relationship again, which to him was an answer to prayer.
As Pete and Carolyn grew back into their relationship and eventually got engaged, Pete’s relationship with the church and with Jesus Christ grew alongside. And though Pete and Carolyn initially attended a Wellington city church together, it was Pete’s roots in The Salvation Army that kept drawing him back in.
‘Granddad had invited me to two men’s breakfasts at The Salvation Army, and I got to meet a few of the guys from that and just started regularly going to it,’ says Pete. ‘We just recently started to go along to the meetings on Sunday too.’
When asked what drew him back to his initial church roots, Pete sites the ever-lasting example of his grandparents, the warmth of the people at the corps (Salvation Army church) and the music.
Pete and Carolyn were married on 18 April of this year, and Pete started his own plumbing business in August. He continued to be regularly involved in men’s groups and events at Tawa Corps. At a men’s breakfast earlier this year, Major Keith Wray, corps officer at Tawa, invited Pete to consider going to Tonga as part of a missions project with the corps.
‘I went to say goodbye after a men’s breakfast to Keith and he just happened to mention that the trip was coming up and that someone had cancelled,’ says Pete. ‘So he asked me on it and straight away I got excited about the prospect.’
Pete joined nine others from 5 to 14 September on a trip to Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu, where he planned to help the group paint a kindergarten and replace security mesh around the kindergarten and adjoining corps.
When he got there, he found that he had much more to tackle. ‘When I first arrived we went to Captain Sila Siufanga’s (officer at Nuku’alofa Corps) house and I noticed, as I do with plumbing, being a licensed plumber, that his toilet was dripping and just constantly running,’ says Pete. ‘So I mentioned it to him and pulled it apart for him and got the right part for him to go off to the building merchant and grab the right bit. Then I fitted it for him.
‘When he realised what I had done, he gave me a few more things to fix up where we were painting at Supo,’ laughed Pete.
Major Rex Johnson, regional commander in Tonga, soon heard tale of Pete’s plumbing expertise and whisked him away from painting one morning to help another corps officer whose home was completely without water because of a dysfunctional water tank.
‘The other job that I did was spouting at one of the officer’s properties. All of the spouting he had done by himself and it was no good,’ says Pete.
‘The downpipes were essentially disconnected and falling the wrong way and the spouting basically looked like a zip,’ says Pete. ‘It went up and down and all over the place, and so nothing got into the tank. So I just used what they had there and fixed it up so it worked again!’
The corps officer, who had been travelling to the local corps each day to wash his clothes and shower, was incredibly grateful to Pete for the work that he did. Pete, however, just saw it as his way to share the love of Christ.
‘I’d like to do more,’ Pete told me on his last night in Tonga. ‘I have sort of fallen in love with the place here. I know that they have bad water problems around the place: I saw it myself. The place that I went to was one place out of a lot of places that don’t have any running water.
‘I’m not sure how or anything, I’ll sort of play it by ear and see how things fall into place, but I’d like to do a few more trips like this one, except spend a bit more time getting people into storing the water from the rain into tanks, even if it’s putting up spouting and that sort of thing,’ he continued.
Before leaving Tonga, Pete left behind some plumbing supplies and also agreed to send over parts to ensure easier fixes for smaller problems, like leaky toilets, and a guitar for the Supo kindergarten in the near future.
‘The parts that I used to fix the toilet here were only 50 or 70-cent things, so they cost me nothing; but here in Tonga they are quite expensive—four dollars or so for some of the things,’ he says. ‘So I’ll send them over here to Tonga to hopefully make a difference.’
While in Tonga, Pete also began to experience a new side of church he had not yet fully encountered; and his favourite part was seeing the different way the Tongan Salvationists did church, particularly in the smaller corps.
‘Going to the smaller churches was the best part for me because they have the most energy and they are the most lively,’ he says. ‘I really liked all the kids and the faster music and the dancing too.’
More importantly, however, Pete grew to realise even more the incredible importance that faith and community in Christ were beginning to have on his own life, particularly as he and Carolyn are expecting their first child early next year.
‘After going along to the services in Tawa, getting to know people and then getting to go on this trip, it has just been amazing: getting to know everyone a bit more intimately and seeing the whole church scene a bit more and how it’s really based on good foundations and is a healthy environment,’ says Pete.
‘And when Caz and I have our kid,’ he adds, ‘I’m really looking forward to introducing our kid to God and that style of living, because it’s just such a healthy and non-harming environment for a kid to grow up in. I’m really excited for that’.
By Cara Wood (from War Cry magazine)