Alumni Interview: Vicki and Justin Thirkell

Vicki and Justin Thirkell completed the Vocational Programme Wellington in 2018. They live with their two children, Zachary (13) and Nadia (11), in Island Bay, Wellington. Here they answer a few questions about what life for their family looks like in lockdown.  


Where do you both work and what has changed/adapted given the Lockdown?
Vicki works part time as a neurological physiotherapist in a community rehab team at Wellington’s DHB, and is therefore considered an essential worker. Her work changed significantly from the Monday the country went to level 3, as she was unable to continue face-to-face appointments and only some of her patients can be followed up on zoom or by telephone. Initially, she was on standby to be redeployed elsewhere in the hospital as the need arose, but this is looking less likely.

I (Justin) have two roles. I work 0.9FTE as a software architect for Xero and a few hours a week as a chaplain for Wellington Free Ambulance. Transferring my Xero work to home was trivial, as I already work in a team that spans Melbourne, Wellington, and Xian in China, and so remote working was already a thing. Chaplaincy work has become more difficult. It’s hard to maintain regular contact when people are not only shift workers, but now also remote workers and organisationally under the pump to ramp up their preparedness.

What are you both looking forward to during this period?
While we’ve read and listened to others loving the enforced rest or the slowing down that lockdown brought, this was not at all our experience! In fact, the first week felt like life had doubled in speed and we were really struggling to keep up. In some ways, that first week felt like a disappointment. We had an initial sense that things might be different, being at home and away from “all-the-things”, but in reality we were swamped by full-time work, trying to wrangle schooling, and attempting to handle all the changes to our day-to-day lives–and the endless emails about those changes!

What are some of the challenges you are anticipating or have already experienced?
Having just come out of one of the more challenging seasons in our life, where we had to learn to take one day at a time and our ability to be hospitable was severely curtailed, we had just one week where life felt like it had returned to normal before we were launched into lockdown and another season of one day at a time. As is the case for many others, lockdown has meant missing some much looked forward to events, including a holiday and celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary with Vicki’s family in North Queensland.

But the main challenge of lockdown was one we did not expect. It is not new to us that Vicki likes structure and I rail against it, but we have made this work for us the past 20 years (although Vicki has always said she could never work with me). Suddenly, we found ourselves in a situation that requires structure for me to juggle my two roles, as well as the additional responsibility of Nadia and Zachary while Vicki works. As a family, we worked out a daily schedule–that was the easy bit–but found it almost impossible to stick to when Vicki was absent.

In some ways, the lockdown has forced to the surface our need for structure. I have been (slowly) working my way through The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, and it has been both deeply challenging and encouraging. In order to emulate the ways of Jesus, it seems that some discipline or consistency is unavoidable, especially if one doesn’t want to live a life of “borrowed spirituality”.  Lockdown has made clear, once all the dust of extracurricular activities settled, that it’s not enough to just cut the clutter of life. As John Mark Comer paraphrases Dallas Willard, “if you want to experience the life of Jesus, you have to follow the lifestyle of Jesus.” Zoinks! Challenge accepted, again. It’s clear that establishing some structure is part of this.

I (Justin) have been reflecting on this struggle to attain structure. Early on in our marriage, we listened to a series of talks by Terry Virgo, taped (yes, cassette tapes) at a Vineyard conference.  The talks went through Romans 5-8, and we listened to them every year for many years. It was inevitable that anyone in our home group would also end up listening to those talks! They were absolutely foundational in helping us to understand and internalise God’s grace: “We reign in life through the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness.” So, I’m incredibly grateful now for that groundwork, because it frames any striving for structure and discipline in the right way and on the right foundation.

Yet, we have much to be grateful for. Zachary and Nadia have adapted well to being at home and have coped amazingly with the various disappointments this has inevitably caused.  As we were supposed to be on holiday, Vicki has been on leave for the past week restoring much-needed calm to our home and, we hope, the structure needed for the rest of lockdown.

What passages of Scripture have you found helpful and encouraging?
Vicki has spent time reading the Psalms and Isaiah, having recently read the autobiography Free Cyntoia (Cyntoia Brown Long’s inspiring story of God’s miraculous love and redemption in the face of tragedy and injustice), and now, experiencing lockdown, she has been reflecting on what it means to be free in Christ. She’s been asking, what does freedom truly look like and what does it mean to be free in Christ, especially for someone whose personality type is a doer and an achiever? Perhaps it isn’t just about us being free to choose what we do, where we go, and who we spend time with. Instead she is learning that freedom comes when we still ourselves in the presence of God, free from expectations and the never-ending list of things to do.

We’ve all got a bit more time on our hands, tell us about your favourite podcast, movie, or book, and why you like them


This Cultural Moment
This entire podcast is immensely encouraging in the middle of crazy times. It helps rebuild hope over and against what we might see as an unhopeful trajectory of human history. But it’s sobering too.


Goldenhorse, because it’s just strangely compelling – it’s interesting I guess!

Horowitz’s return concert in Moscow, because his playing is just outrageous and you can hear the fervour in the audience (you also have to read the sleeve notes to set the scene).

Karel van Helden’s first album

Sons of Korah – I find listening to them as good as reading the Psalms

I concentrate better with music, I guess.


Strange Days by Mark Sayers
I’ve just started this book and I’m expecting it to be pretty good.

The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
I read this again, and again, and again.

Keeping Your Love On by Danny Silk
This is all about how to love others in the way of Jesus. Danny Silk’s other book Loving Your Kids on Purpose is the best parenting book we’ve come across.

Finding time to read is one thing we’ve found has become more difficult as our children get older.


La Famille Belier, because it always causes me to laugh out loud and Louane has a fabulous voice.