StepandBeth

Over the past eight years, I have visited Cambodia many times and have come to love and deeply respect my Khmer co-workers, friends and villagers I have had the privilege to meet. It was not the best time for my last visit, as my first few days here were holidays to celebrate the king’s birthday. However, that did give me an opportunity to revisit some of my favourite haunts and to spend some time with precious friends, Stephen and Beth who are also wrapping up their time in Cambodia. That fact that it was 39 degrees with very high humidity, creating the sensation of 60+ degrees, was also a brutal reminder of the other side of life in Cambodia.

tuktuk

On Sunday, I made the dreaded seven hour bus trip to Siem Reap to meet up with TWR staff and a team of medical students from Singapore who have been volunteering in our pilot project in Pourk. They will be here for two weeks spending the mornings teaching and doing research in the villages. In the evenings they will be leading educational skits at village gatherings organized by the community leaders. Last night there was a great turnout of both adults and children for two skits; one on the dangers of drinking and driving and the other on the physical damage caused by alcohol abuse. Following the performances, which are largely done by village volunteers who really shine when given the opportunity to take the stage, there is a question and answer time.

skits

A telling and very poignant moment occurred when a young girl of about ten years of age volunteered to come to the front to answer a question about alcohol abuse. When asked the standard CHE question: “Does this happen in your community?” this sweet little girl had no hesitation in stating “it happens all the time even my own Dad drinks a lot”. At this point, several community members escorted her father, who was decidedly under the influence, to the platform to answer the question. With his beautiful little daughter hugging him, he admitted to his own behaviour in front of his entire community. Alcohol consumption robs this village of at least 40% of their disposable income, leads to ill health, family violence and marital breakdown. It also leads to the loss of productivity, takes young people out of school and keeps people trapped in disempowering life circumstances that rob them of a future. Although not the focus of our project, it is a core and pervasive challenge that must be addressed as it attacks the dignity and identity of our listeners.

homeeconomics

As we rode in a tuk-tuk for the 20 kilometers out to the village for the evening session, we were reminded of just how vulnerable our Khmer brothers and sisters really are. A brief storm that blew through in the afternoon, seemed pretty innocent to us as we rested in our hotel. All the way out to the community; although the sky was brilliant with sunshine and a magnificent double rainbow, we saw trees and signs which had been damaged and destroyed. We later learned that more than fifty homes in our villages had been completely destroyed, leaving families once again having to start over from scratch. The lessons for Tuesday morning were cancelled while our team went with the village leaders to visit some of the families affected.

1510041_10206592500915293_8219014684807090672_n

There are so many people in our world for whom the reality of day to day life is incredibly difficult. This “minor storm” will never get international coverage because it is just taken for granted that people must just go on dealing with a capricious life and a belief system that offers little hope or comfort. It will not be easy to leave this ministry behind but I know that God is at work in this community and that our TWR staff will continue to build relationships with these leaders who are so keen to find the answers for their people.

11295597_10206592530396030_5166642598003883538_n

20150508_132509

I love drama. Some would say that is because I am a ham and crave attention. Well, all teachers have to have some sense of timing and teachable moment or they cannot be effective. But limelight? Actually I am painfully shy at heart and spent maybe the first 20 years as a teacher with painful sore throats that would often lead to strep for the first two months of every school year in absolute dread of having to stand in front of people and let them see how little I know. I have learned how to manage that stress, but limelight I leave to others. They are plenty of prima dons and donnas in this profession. Some of them are actually quite talented. Some of them simply have an inflated sense of self. Unfortunately, Drama Festival can bring out the worst in my colleagues as some of them cannot resist the spell of the spotlight. That is not what I love.

20150508_142904What I love about drama is how it brings a class together. Drama is more effective at doing this than almost anything else you can name. You can teach your class about working cooperatively together until you are blue in the face. You can design modules, and construct space, invent clever strategies, and provide endless examples. You can have literature circles and reading groups, you can plan seminars and workshops, but if your students have come from a restrictive and repressive education system – as Asians have by and large – then it will take months of patience and effort to bring them to the place where they begin to work together as a team. And even at that it may still not happen. Or you can let your class do drama and bring all that and much more about in a few short weeks. And have fun doing it!

20150508_142221

Drama has the power to take us out of ourselves and teach us in a very practical and unforgiving way the absolute necessity of working together as a group. You don’t show up on time? Everyone on your team has to wait until you get there. You forget your lines? Everyone in that scene suffers from your failure. You have to work together on where you stand in relation to everyone else on the stage. You have to work together to move the props about and organize your costumes around a theme or time period. You have to work together on script and accent, on gesture and response. Everything everyone else does affects you, and everything you do affects everyone else.

20150508_143957As for the performance itself? That is just the icing on the cake. It is fun to see and especially fun to witness those who are shy like me come out of their shells and lose themselves in their characters. There were many notable performances that day in other classes. There were individuals who clearly have greasepaint in their veins, whose performances who outstanding. There were those who commanded the audience’s attention and compelled their admiration and respect. I commend them for their performances and the characters they created. But I was trying to do something else. I was trying to create a caring community through drama. And that is something both much harder to do, and more enduring.

20150508_143042

I wanted my students to enjoy what others in their class were doing as they brought their characters to life. I wanted them to come up with their own suggestions on character and staging and share them with others. I wanted them to work together on their plan and then plan for little details. I wanted them to feel the rush of anxiety and anticipation and the absolute thrill of experiencing all of what you have planned take place in front of a live audience who laughs and applauds with approval at what you have created for their enjoyment. I love seeing the transformation in my students as they move from a sense of individuality to a sense of the unity of the group and the importance of depending on others for your own individual success. If you are thoughtful, if you are careful to allow the students to take responsibility for what they are doing, then what you build through drama is a community, instead of a class.

That is what I love about drama.

Bush2 We arrived in Malaysia with several married or soon to be married friends. Chief among them were Bill and Kim, a couple about our age with whom we shared many evening meals. Our circle of married friends expanded to include several Malaysian couples as well, such as Rowena and John, with whom we spent our first Malaysian Christmas. But since then, married couples have been pretty much outnumbered by the younger staff, who are not only more mobile, but less inclined to while away the evening lingering over a meal or just sitting and visiting. Bush5 But the longer the younger staff stick around, the more likely they are to get married themselves. Some of these marriages, like Yuri and Easton’s, have been pretty lavish affairs, with several course meals and lots of changes of outfits. At a recent wedding of one of Pam’s colleagues in Phnom Penh, we got to witness a traditional Khmer ceremony that featured eight changes of dress! We love these elaborate cultural affairs, and always look forward to learning about Asian customs and traditions. Bush4 This past weekend we got to attend the wedding of Anusha and Colin, with whom I have worked in the English department for several years. Anusha’s family are Hindu, and her father took a little while to warm up to Colin, although he is fine man and will make a good husband. The wedding took place in a Hindu temple, with all the attendant rites and rituals. So on the weekend we got to go and see a real Hindu wedding. Bush8 It came complete with two holy men performing the ceremony in a little canopy inside the temple, while two others played traditional Indian music. There was some parading around the icons, and some washing of faces with fire and some anointing with paint and oil, none of which we understood at all. Then we got to throw some rice at the newly married couple and adjoined for pictures on the beach at Port Dickson, where the ceremony took place. After a very pleasant afternoon sipping drinks at the Thistle Resort and Golf Course, we returned for the reception. Bush9 If you know anything about Indian culture, you know that it all centers around food, so we were looking forward to the buffet. We were not disappointed. In a Chinese meal, the dishes are all brought out separately, as they are in proper Italian cuisine. With all due deference to one fifth of the human race, this drives us both nuts. Oh boy, I get to eat a big bowl of kale? Okay. What else? Just kale? Until it is all gone? Indians on the other hand like the mix of flavours that you get when you pile your plate with all kinds of things and the flavours all get mixed up and interact with each other like sensory chemical fusion in your mouth. Love it! Went back three times! Bush7 Then there were the obligatory speeches, and the drinks and toasts, the mingling with the guests and some weak attempt at dancing. Honestly, aside from Bollywood dancers, can anyone do anything with those complex rhythms? We did get in one Cha-Cha, but the rest of it did not go so well. Oh well, small beans in such a wonderful, colourful, tasty and heart-warming wedding. All the best to the lovely couple!

Bario2

I came onboard to my present position as Project Coordinator for corporate social responsibility after hearing about Taylor’s CEO Dato’ Loy’s desire to see a hostel built in the remote Kelabit Highlands. I had no idea where Bario was, or who the Kelabit people were, but the Spirit spoke to my heart and urged me to get involved. I responded to that ‘still small voice’ and found myself in charge! God will do that, if you are not careful. For two years, I have labored to bring the work in Bario to the attention of the Taylor’s community. I have built an entire website grouped around this one project – which in the process expanded into 90 projects. I have arranged for others to visit and conduct projects there, and visited Sarawak three times in the process. But this is going to be the last trip.

Bario11

It is the last because the project is nearing completion. My friend Evan Horsnell, the project manager for this and many other construction projects for Taylor’s, travelled with me to Bario to have one final inspection of the work there. I went to arrange for the construction of the bunks and lockers, and to begin the process of planning for the ribbon cutting ceremony to take place. I met with the principal, Dora Tigan, and with one of the elders, Laju Balang, who will supervise the construction of the furnishings for the hostel. They gave me a tour of their respective longhouses, which was an education in itself. They graciously hosted me with tea and fresh fruit gathered from the forest. Then they told me the stories of the salvation of the village by English and Australian missionaries, and their part in the liberation of Borneo from the occupying Japanese forces.

Bario8

During WWII, when Japan occupied Borneo, it became the site of a guerrilla offensive, launched by Australian special forces, who trained and armed the locals to attack the back lines of the occupying Japanese army. The offensive provided to be more than an annoyance for the Japanese, as several thousand Japanese soldiers died in the jungle on unfamiliar trails at the hands of the Kelabit, Penan and Kayan, who were not opposed to removing the heads of their victims for personal use. Forced to redeploy their troops from the coast to handle the insurgency, the Japanese were ill prepared to meet the Australian troops landing not far from Miri when that offensive began later in the year.

Bario10

Those bloodier days of their history are well in the past now, as Bario promotes its culture and natural beauty, becoming a local centre for education and eco-tourism. The new meeting hall and dormitory will help to ensure that continued growth and draw children from the surrounding villages who will be able to stay in Bario during the term and benefit from the growth in their education and understanding of the modern world.

Bario6

I spoke to the elders in a meeting arranged and translated for me by Dora, and urged them to consider planning for an event which will celebrate an historic moment for Bario when both the hostel and the accompanying meeting hall will be completed. I have heard in recent contacts with the village that the best date for this is July 3 of this year. It is a bittersweet pill. On the one hand the elders have found a time that suits both the village and the CEO of Taylor’s. On the other hand, I will not be able to attend, as I will be back in Canada at that time.

Bario12

This then will be my last visit with people I have come to care for and seek to serve. The blessing is that as brothers and sisters in Christ, there will be a future time for all of us to meet again and share how the Lord has blessed in the completion of a project which will impact the children of that region for years to come. It was my good fortune to be a small part of His greater design for the Kelabit people that He loves.

We love to have company. Pam is a great cook, and clearly has the gift of hospitality. In the early days in Malaysia, we would have company over all the time. With two jobs, two Master’s degrees, and enough responsibilities to burden folks half our age, we have slowed down a little. It was great to have Matt and Kate here on the way back from missions work in Cambodia, and our dear friends Al and Shelley, with whom we shared a great island holiday in the middle of a typhoon! But lately, the company has been a little thin on the ground.

DSCN2371

So it was very nice to hear that my old colleague and our dear friend Shelley would be dropping by to visit for a couple of days. This was especially true since Shelley now lives in Bali, Indonesia, so for her to come all the way to Kuala Lumpur was a great delight. She has just taken a job in Macao, and I have just taken a job in the Cayman’s, so we had a lot to talk about the job hunt for those of us who are rapidly approaching their ‘best-before-date’ as far as getting a shot at international teaching jobs is concerned. Gender barriers may be falling all over the place, but ageism is alive and well, and is probably being practiced in your own country, no matter where you live.

Unfortunately, Shelley got very ill on her last two days – nothing we fed her, we’re pretty sure – and was unable to come out for dinner with us to Oasis. In her honour, and on her nickel, we went out ourselves to Foley’s and had a very pleasant evening. Shelley is going to be across Hong Kong harbor from some other ex-CPU staff, so she will be in good company, and we wish her all the best in her new adventure.

IMG_3348

Shortly after Shelley left, we had the pleasure of hosting some other dear friends from Phnom Penh, Beth and Stephen Lauer, who like us left Southwestern Ontario to come to Southeast Asia to minister. Phnom Penh is not an easy city to live in. It is noisy and increasingly crowded, and it is not only hot, but it is dusty and dry as well, with a fine, red dust that floats up and hangs in the air with the diesel exhaust, making it difficult to breath and impossible to escape. At least in Malaysia there is plenty of vegetation to soak up the carbon. But not so in Cambodia, whose forests have been razed for farmland and bombed into oblivion. It is a tough field in which to minister, and Beth and Stephen have persevered in difficult circumstances for many years. We were happy to be able to give them a a break from the heat and chance to unwind with those who understand the pressures of ministry.

IMG_3349

We didn’t give them long to rest, heading out for Malacca on our first full day to do some sight-seeing and souvenir shopping. Then with our trusty iPhone and Google map we set out across country on the back roads to a place just south of Port Dickson called Avillion, where we stayed the night in little cabanas on stilts over the Straits of Malacca.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pam had packed an entire picnic basket of goodies, so we all curled up in the little sitting area overlooking the water and chatted happily for half the night. No, we never did run out of things to talk about. More cross country trekking the next day brought us to Putra Jaya and some iconic pictures before we headed back to our little condo in Subang Jaya. The next day Pam led our still-game company downtown for the Cook’s tour of KL, and I joined them after work so we could go up to the top of Trader’s for a drink and a look at the fabulous view of the Twin Towers as they lit up at night. Sunway Pyramid for shopping and lunch was on the menu for the next day, with some very nice home cooking awaiting me at the end of my day. Wednesday was Stephen’s birthday, so we did the Las Carretas Mexican meal, and nobody was disappointed.

It is impossible to measure the importance of visits such as these. Our lives are rich in work, study, and experiences. But friends are among our greatest treasures, and to have an opportunity to demonstrate that importance to those we care about is especially sweet. We didn’t get to all the places we wanted to go, or all the restaurants we had in mind. There are nine places that serve food in the nearest strip mall of 12 shops. Multiply that across 5 million people and that is a mess of restaurants. But we did have a fabulous visit with some very fine people, and that is the important thing. It is also likely to be the last bit of company we have until we get home ourselves. If so, it was a nice way to bring our ministry of hospitality to a close.

Obama

Gerhard Lohfink writes, “When the church is criticized among the nations because of its bad example, the holy name of God itself is dishonored” (p. 179).  Those thoughts go through my head every time I hear of a Christian likening President Obama to the anti-Christ. Do these people have even the remotest conception of the testimony of Christ they despoil with such screeds? As Lohfink points out, there are many in the church, myself included, who decry the identification of the church with the corporate structure of America that seeks to reduce millions of people to economic slavery so the powerful can dwell in luxury. “This understanding of the church is marked by a profound embarrassment at the history of the church since Constantine as a dominating institution; it is also characterized by an aversion to elitist and triumphalist thought, [and] a longing for solidarity with all of humanity” (Loc. 809). This ‘longing for solidarity with all of humanity’ is most keenly felt by those of us who have lived in the Majority World for any length of time and have seen the damage that an “America-First” form of Christianity has inflicted on the developing countries of the world.

How did we get to such a destructive and elitist Christianity in the West? This certainly did not come from Christ, and scripture tells us that He would have condemned such attitudes in the strongest possible language (cf. Luke 4:18; 11:42; 19:46). However, it is not merely the words of Christ we need to look at, but his actions which sprang from his character. As Lohfink notes, “It was characteristic of Jesus that he constantly established community precisely for those who were denied community at that time, or who were judged inferior in respect to religion. Jesus made clear through his word and even more through his concrete conduct that he did not recognize religious-social exclusion and discrimination” (Loc. 1104). Yet the church in America does not merely recognize religious-social exclusion, it promotes it by supporting economic structures that oppress and persecute the poor and minorities.

Franklin Graham, who clearly ought to know better, recently reduced all of this oppression and exclusion to a simple matter of acceptance of tyranny (Woods 2015). As Martin Luther King pointed out years ago “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice” (King 1963). Graham, and other Christians who so callously dismiss the suffering minorities should pay better attention to their own history.

Lohfink, Gerhard. 1984. Jesus and Community: The Social Dimensions of Christian Faith. Philadelphia, USA. Fortress. Kindle Edition.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Letter From Birmingham City Jail.” thekingcenter.org.            http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/letter-birmingham-city-jail-0

Woods, Mark. 2015. “Franklin Graham branded ‘crude, insensitive and paternalistic’ for Facebook comments on police shootings.” Christianity Today. 20 March 2015.            http://www.christiantoday.com/article/franklin.graham.branded.crude.insensitive.and.            paternalistic.for.facebook.comments.on.police.shootings/50387.htm

 

Page View

Last week I presented the work I have been doing to the GMC (there is a proper name for this acronym, but General Movers and (C)shakers covers it). I was given 10 minutes with five for questions. I had to peel myself out of there after 30. There was widespread approval and even applause for what I have accomplished in my short tenure. Everyone wanted a piece of the pie. It was very gratifying.

The website has started its uptick, almost entirely through word of mouth. The GMC want to change that with an on campus poster blitz. As people go to the site, it moves up on Google’s algorithm, spawning more hits. It topped 8,000 this month for the first time. Not sure what happened in February, but the Chinese New Year and having no students on campus might have had something to do with it!

On Wednesday I fly to Bario for the last time to try to put together a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the conclusion of the hostel that we are building there. I am hoping to get all of this in place before I leave this position at the end of June. This job has been one heck of a ride, and has opened my eyes to a potential I never knew I had. This is what happens when stop trying to be in charge of everything and let the Lord run the show!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 69 other followers