November 2008


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Moaz was among the first to greet and help us on our arrival in Malaysia. As a Canadian who had been working in Malaysia for five years, he knew his way around, and was able to help us with bus routes and customs, organizing a tour of the nation’s administrative centre, Putra Jaya, and giving us tips on restaurants and sites worth visiting. A devout Muslim, he was nonetheless tolerant of other faiths, and appreciated what other religions contributed to culture.

As a witness to his broadmindedness, we soon discovered he was dating a Buddhist girl from Malaka with a Chinese Malay heritage. Over the course of the past year and a half their relationship has become more serious, and yesterday, in a solemnization ceremony in Singapore, they pledged their vows to each other. In the sometimes confusing traditions of the East, they are now formally married, but the actually wedding ceremony will not be for another year and a half!

Marriage is not an easy proposition over here. It may be what God has ordained, but in the East God has a seemingly insurmountable number of obstacles to overcome in order to bring about His will. Some traditions require that women be pledged to a man before they reach puberty, others require that the parents or even the grandparent choose the spouse. Some traditions forbid interfaith marriages, and others require conversion before marriage. In all these obstacle God’s loving provision for a life partner to love and encourage each other can be so obscured and twisted as to make what ought to be a most blessed adventure be a tragedy of life altertering proportions.

Through this maze of man-made obstacles, Moaz and Karen found each other and pledged their love and support to each other in marriage. Our prayer is that the God who smiled down upon them yesterday, will light their path throughout their lives and give them real joy in each other, and in the Lord.

Gosh this is an exhausting job! Lately I have been marking some four hours a day, on top of lesson prep and teaching. That comes to roughly 12 hours a day, and that has been going on for about a month. On top of that I have not been entirely well the last little while, and I just hate being poorly: it saps my strength and darkens my mood.

To make matters worse, my darling wife is off on her travels again, this time to Singapore; which is why you are getting this endless series of blogs from me. What else I am I to do with all my spare time! However, today was my last teaching day for the year, and it will be a warm day in January before I have to do it again.

That said, today was bittersweet. The kids that I teach are just so dear, so kind, it can bring bring tears to this calloused old heart. They all want their picture taken with you because they all want to remember the impact you had on them. They give you flowers and cake and cards and shower you with affection and praise. It can be quite overwhelming. Nor am I alone. All the ex-pat teachers here are treated in the same way. Asian kids are just so appreciative of all that you do for them, it makes all the long hours of marking and preparation more than worthwhile.

I have no pictures to post for you, as our camera is in Singapore. The good news is that I will be there myself tomorrow as both Pam and I will be attending the wedding of one of my colleagues in Singapore this weekend. There likely wont be a post for a few days, so email or call us if you want to get in touch and have a joyful weekend.

I am always disarmed by the innocuous conversation starter “What’s happening?” So much has been happening to me lately I am at a loss to know where to start. Do I go with “Well let’s see, two years ago I was happily minding my own business, looking forward to a quiet retirement in a couple of years, but now I find myself in Asia teaching at a university preparatory college stretched to the max and loving it?” Or do I settle for the simple “Nothing much. You?”

Not that what happened two years ago was unexpected, and that is the point of this post. You see my life, like that of countries, ideas and religions has a narrative arc, and I know more or less where I am in it. That is the beauty of a life that is illuminated by sense of purpose: there is a story, and I am part of it.

My story is common enough. I was a happy little kid, loving life and having fun until I got blindsided by adolescence, and found myself challenging every conceivable authority and entrenched sacred cow on my way to finding out what in this wide world was not phony. When I read Catcher in the Rye I thought Holden Caufield a timid little poser who didn’t push the envelope far enough.

I accepted Christ when I was 27 because in all the patently false rubbish that passes for spiritual insight in the world the Bible was the only thing that rang true. I wasn’t expecting anything from God in return. Boy was I surprised. I almost instantly came to grips with the fact that my teaching was actually a calling from God. He had gifted me for that job and He had a purpose He wanted me to accomplish through it. My job has taken me to Bangladesh, Germany, Malawi and now Malaysia. It has financed the mortgages of six homes and paid for the schooling of three kids. It has given Pam and I vacations in Europe, Africa, North America and Asia. And most importantly of all, it has allowed me to impact the lives of thousands of students to whom I have been called to witness what Christian faith looks, talks and acts like when it deals with the vital issues of life everyday. 

It is that witness that means the most to me, and the reason I am here. It is part of the story of who I am; a story rooted in what I do for a living. I am a teacher; that defines and shapes me, gives me huge amounts of stress, but also huge amounts of satisfaction, and allows me to fulfil the purpose that God has for me. God is writing the story of my life in all the experiences and phases of my life that He takes me through; now scolding, now encouraging, all to mold in me someone that is worthy of the name ‘Christian.’ I am not there yet, (as my family is painfully aware) but each day is a new page with something new to learn that has eternal meaning in the narrative of my life. Can anyone ask for a richer life than that?

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The election of Barack Obama has brought the issue of fundamental Christianity and its inabilty to interact with modern culture back into the limelight. Much has been made of Dr. Dobson’s vituperative objection to Obama, and his insistence that Obama is not a true believer because of how he interprets the Bible, especially the story of creation in Genesis. On the other side of the issue, Sarah Palin came in for her share of media ridicule for her understanding of a literal six day creation. Now that the election is over, perhaps a discussion of this issue can be held. I invite your response.

The Globe and Mail’s Robert Fulford, in an excellent series of essays entitled The Triumph of Narrative  devotes a chapter of this collection to “Master Narratives and the Patterns of History.” He states that “Each society develops a master narrative to which it frequently refers,” and goes on to point out that countries use such narratives as “the only sure source of righteousness and moral certainty available in times of national crisis.”

But it is not just countries that have such narratives. Ideas, whether political, philosophical or religious have master narratives as well. Part of the reason why Christ is able to penetrate all cultures so effectively is the power of His narrative. It is such a compelling story: that the Creator God would step into history to redeem fallen mankind and provide through his sacrifice and triumph over death a way to heaven, is electrifying in any language.

But make no mistake, Evolution has succeeded as a scientific theory not because it answers all the issues regarding the development of life, (Read Michael Behe’s excellent book Darwin’s Black Box  for an excellent summary of evolution’s clanging errors), but rather because it also is a compelling story. Evolution is a darn good ‘read’, and Christians, who know first-hand the power of narrative in their own lives, should be the first to recognize that.

However, I am by no means aligning myself with those who fail to see that the Bible oftens wraps spiritual truth in metaphor, analogy and parable, and this does not decrease its historical and empirical truth one bit. If I give Pam flowers, or bring her a cup of coffee in bed in the morning, that is just as much a way of expressing my appreciation and affection for her as saying “I love you.” Strict literalists of Bible interpretation who insist that it cannot be an expression of affection because the words ‘I love you’ weren’t imprinted on the flowers are too simple-minded to have any effective witness in the world.

Yes, of course God created the world. Even Stephen Hawking, an avowed atheist, writes in his A Brief History of Time  that the overwhelming weight of evidence points to a divine creator of the universe. But he, unlike Richard Dawkins and many other evolutionary idealogues, is transparent enough to admit that he personally finds this answer objectionable, and is searching for an alternative. However, if the overwhelming evidence is that God created the world, it is equally apparent that God can use any means within His unlimited power to do so. Nor is it deliberately deceptive of Him to tell us briefly the narrative of how this was done using metaphor and analogy. If ‘flower’ can stand as a metaphor for ‘love’, cannot ‘God made’ stand as a metaphor for ‘God used a combination of amino and deoxyribonucleaic acids in a saline/protein environment’?

Narratives have power. God recognizes that, and has wired our brains to be receptive to truths being conveyed in such a manner. After all, isn’t this how Christ conveyed truth in the story of the Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan and The Wise Steward? To insist that the story of creation be written in technical scientific jargon or rejected as ‘untrue’ is to reject the possibility that there is in fact a God, whose master narrative includes the salvation of mankind through His own loving sacrifice.

On this day, November 19, 1976, my life changed. I had come home on Friday after a tough day of teaching and didn’t feel much like going out. I crashed out on my bed and was asleep before I hit the mattress. But an hour later I was up and showering and ready to get out and look for a little fun.

I went to the Blue Boot, on the corner of York and Ridout in London, as it often had a good Blues band on the weekends, but I was early and the place was flat. Worse, there were two drunken sods stirring up trouble. I left after a broken glass flew across my table and gashed my thumb. Not a good start to the evening.

I wandered along King St. to Kelly’s, which in those days was down towards Clarence, and got in line. Kelly’s was a little more upscale, and I didn’t want any more trouble. I got in line behind a couple of young ladies – nurses, I found out later – who were naturally curious about this guy behind them bleeding profusely into a paper napkin. One of them turned around a looked at me and I found myself staring into the most remarkable eyes I had ever seen. They were eyes that radiated a serene confidence and an unambiguous inquiry; grey eyes that spoke of kindness and wisdom; eyes that held no shadow of hurt. I stared and something inside me went ‘click’, like a light had just been switched on inside me.

I knew I just had to talk to that girl. When the group she was with were let in, I bulled my way past the bouncer by saying “I’m with her.” It took me a minute to convince him, and by the time I got in the place she was already at the bar with her friends, and I could see that there was a guy to her right that was turning in his chair to speak to her, maybe offer her a drink. I strode forward, put my elbow firmly on the bar between them and said to her,  “Can I buy you a drink.” She looked at my bleeding thumb, recognized me, and said “Sure.”

We talked for three hours that evening; about work, politics, children and religion. I found out she was a Christian. She found out that I had just accepted Christ two month ago. She agreed to go out with me later that week, and gave me her number. In that most unlikely of ways, God brought Pam and I together, and thirty two years later, we still are.

We had the rare opportunity of going into two prisons in Nepal, welcomed by the Chief District Officer, to meet with listeners.  In the Women’s Prison there were 19 regular listeners, two of whom lead a prayer group and Bible study based on the broadcasts.  The Men’s Prison was much larger and we were unable to find out how many regularly listen.

656We were able to present a water filtration system as well as portable radios to each of the prisons and each person there received a Bible, a program guide and a booklet.  Sadly, we couldn’t sit and talk with the inmates, which was distressing as many of the women were anxious to talk with us. I so badly wanted to hear their life stories and to be able to offer them some hope.

Violence against women takes many forms from verbal “teasing and emotional abuse, to physical and sexual abuse within the home, to rape and trafficking.  According to the New ERA (1997) report, one of the major causes of women leaving the household has been polygamy and subsequent abuse by co-wives.  Alcohol related violence in the family was reported high all over Nepal as well as incidents of dowry related violence.

We visited with a number of women who have been abandoned by their husbands or forced to leave for the safety of themselves and their children.  Many have found hope and strength and talked to us of the joy of having a community of friends to turn to for support.

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This lady abandoned by her husband, is living in one room with her three daughters, two of whom are developmentally handicapped. 

Just a few weeks earlier, her house had been washed away by the floods and she pointed out to us the place where it previously stood.  None the less you can see the joy radiating from her face.  She is just so grateful for all that she has.

I really need to work on my “Attitude of Gratitude”

We also visited a slum area in a dried up river bed to see another initiative of the staff.  A small group have built a house for two ladies to live in and establish their own outreach ministry.  They know that the house will wash away next rainy season but in the meantime they have a home and the church will build them another when the rains stop.

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One very unique experience for me was to visit with three women in a brothel who have “chosen” prostitution as a profession.  Shanti has developed a friendship with these women and the owners of the hotel so they agreed to tell us their stories.  Aged 12, 22 and 42 they each told us horrendous stories of life long abuse, poverty and illiteracy.  The owners were anxious to brag about how well they looked out for the needs of the 12 year old by limiting her to two men per night.  We each left that hotel shaken and thinking pretty ugly thoughts about the owners.  Sadly, thes women are even rejected by some helping organizations as they are seen to have chosen this lifestyle.

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There have been some gains in literacy in Nepal since the 1970s when the government began including programs for girl’s education, but the WHO statistics still indicate a huge discrepancy between literacy rates of males and females.  In 2002 the literacy rate for males was 62% but for females only 26%.

Many reasons exist for not sending girls to school including lack of household resources, high school fees, a lack of sense of importance of educating girls as they will simply get married and become an asset to the husband’s family, a heavy workload for girls in the home, a lack of female teachers and inadequate facilities.

Along with literacy programs for women, TWR staff and volunteers have recognized the need for childrens’ programs.  We visited a multi-purpose  “school” in  a dump area which provides schooling for the kids in the mornings.  We were there to see classes break up for the day and the room immediately fill with women who receive not only basic literacy but also sewing and design skills and the knowledge needed to set up and run a small business.

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A 9 year old girl said “I really wanted to go to school like my friends. But my parents stopped my schooling after 6 months of my joining school because they were not able to provide my uniform and exercise books and pencils. With heavy heart and broken heart, I had to stay back at my house to look after my younger brother at home while my parents went out to work. I used to peep out my age children are going to school with school uniform and school bags with full of books. I wished I could get opportunity like these children. Now, I am so much happy to able to study in this children education centre. I want to be a teacher in future so that I can teach those poor children like me.”

 

As a result of the sewing programs, five women have found employment in the garment and tailoring industry and three have opened their own small shops.

We visited several Women’s Literacy Projects that have been established by TWR staff and volunteers.  There was just no way to prepare ourselves for the shock of seeing these Nepali women so excited about learning under the most appalling of circumstances.

One women has opened a small area in her home and teaches everyday using a six month curriculum.  At the end of the six months, the women are able to read and write as well as do basic math.

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As we approached this home, I thought it looked pretty tiny to be a Literacy Center but was shocked to see that in fact the classes are held in just one end of it.  Twenty-four women are enrolled in this session, and did I mention that it was about 32 degrees that day.5311

As it turned out, that was actually a fairly clean and comfortable learning situation,  The next one we visited was in a “barn”, too low to stand up straight in, with the goats moved to one end to create space for the women to sit on the floor.

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Here is what one women wrote about the opportunity to learn to read and write:

“Now, I am altogether different mama. I am proud of myself in society and community. Now, I can read newspaper and I can read the Holy Scriptures. I can sign by myself. I am the happiest mama now because I will not have to suffer any more due to the illiteracy.”

I was fourteen when they shot John Kennedy. Stunned, shocked, like most everyone in those days, wondering what it meant, and what was happening. Five years of civil unrest followed, but there was still hope for America. Good men fought for a new vision of the world. But then in April of ’68 they shot Martin Luther King, shortly after he indicated that he would seek the nomination of the Democratic Party. I was enraged: how dare they! I didn’t burn cars like they did in Detroit and L.A., but I and many of my generation were dangerously angry. Robert Kennedy, a personal friend of MLK, calmed a furious nation by saying that he would set aside his concerns for his own personal safety, would run for president and seek to represent those who had just been disenfranchised. Two months later he laying dying, shot in the head by a disgruntled Palestinian, minutes after winning the California primary.

I, and many others, simply gave up hope. If everyone who represented a chance for change in the world was going to be shot, what was the point in hope? Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon fought that election, but what did it matter? We found out years later that both their campaigns were heavily financed by the same man, Howard Hughes, who wanted to keep the war in Vietnam going so he could sell his helicopters – Hughies – to the military. Both men were bought and paid for. It didn’t matter who won. That was forty years ago. Since then American politics has been a disappointing parade of the venal and ineffectual, without vision, without hope, and the nation languished.

Now, after a generation of wandering in the wilderness, hope has returned to America. A new voice is lifting the vision of a decent, caring country once again and the youth of the world, and those of us who are old enough to remember what hope looked and sounded like, are inspired. I know that are are evil men, whose hearts are filled with hatred, who even now are plotting how they might kill him, and put an end to hope. I pray that an Almighty God would frustrate those plans and preserve this fine man long enough to do the world some good.

No one man can lift a nation. But one man can inspire others to join him and many can go where one man leads. I saw it with Kennedy, I saw it with King. I hope that I can say in eight years that I saw it with Obama too.

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