April 2009

Paul Auster: “We construct a narrative for ourselves, and that’s the thread we follow from one day to the next. People who disintegrate as personalities are the ones who lose that thread.”

Erik Erikson: “To be adult means to see one’s own life in continuous perspective, both in retrospect and in future prospect.”

Clifford Geertz: “A human being is an organism that cannot live in a world that it cannot understand.”


Dave and Judy Wright serve in Papua New Guinea with New Tribes. Dave was in our College and Career group, and later the MIT support group that we started for those who had missions in mind as a career option. Dave has begun a series of lessons with the Mengen tribe and could do with your prayers this week in particular as it comes down to decision time. As he faces this critical week, Dave quotes from A.W. Tozer:

“Ministers of the gospel should search their own hearts and look deep into their inner motives. No man is worthy to succeed until he is willing to fail. No man is morally worthy of success in religious activities until he is willing that the honor of succeeding should go to another if God so wills. God may allow His servant to succeed when He has disciplined him to the point where he does not need to succeed to be happy. The man who is elated by success and cast down by failure is still a carnal man. At best his fruit will have a worm in it.

God will allow His servant to succeed when he has learned that success does not make him dearer to God nor more valuable in the total scheme of things. We cannot buy God’s favor with crowds or converts or new missionaries sent out or Bibles distributed. All these things can be accomplished without the help of the Holy Spirit. Our great honor lies in being just what Jesus was and is. To be accepted by those who accept Him, rejected by all who reject Him, loved by those who love Him and hated by everyone that hates Him. What greater glory could come to any man? We can afford to follow Him to failure. Faith dares to fail.”

A.W. Tozer Born After Midnight


I have a student teacher with me for the month of April. Sheila is from Ottawa, and for her last practicum has opted to come to Malaysia to learn not only how to teach, but to find out what another culture is like. I think it is incredibly gutsy of her! Sheila is great, and I have enjoyed her can-do spirit and her rapport with the kids. But I have not always had good success with student teachers. There is something about this job that brings out the worst in people, and it is never more apparent than when they are starting out. steve-and-me_1

For some reason having a class full of naive and trusting children in front of them encourages otherwise rational adults to behave like young autocrats auditioning as storm troopers. They get the idea that ordering other human being around has something to do with learning. It doesn’t. Instead it has everything to do with your vanity and your desire to make other human beings miserable. You want to rule someone, and these poor kids are as close to it as you are likely to get. chan-and-evelyn_1

I remember when I first starting taking on student teachers I would be careful to emphasis lesson plans and proper preparation and the organization that pedagogy requires. Not anymore. Now I go right to the core message: you show me that you care for these kids or I won’t let you anywhere nearthe front of the classroom. I needn’t have worried with Sheila, who within a few days had everyone’s name down pat and was carrying on animated conversations before and after class. As a result she doesn’t need to correct any behaviour or exert any discipline during her lessons. The kids like her, and therefore they listen to what she has prepared for them to learn. jagdeep-and-jaipreet_1

I don’t know why so many in this profession have failed to learn the lesson that learning is based on relationships. Develop rapport, and everything else will fall into place. Kids want to know you care before they care about what you know. This doesn’t mean there won’t be some poor students in your class. A class is just a cross section of the culture you live in. The only difference is that  in a class you can set the tone: critical and controlling, or caring and compassionate. Would the first type kindly leave the profession I love and get a job a job as a security guard where you’ll be much happier and do far less damage! yi-ming_1

I have just a delightful group of students with me this term, some of whom are pictured on this post, others you can find in our Flickr sidebar. They come from as far away as Tanzania and the Punjab and English is for some of them their third or fourth language. So if they struggle with the intricacies of our grammar, that is only natural. They are invariably pleasant and polite and have a keen desire to make an impact on their world. As a teacher I get the opportunity to help them learn how to do that. What a huge responsibility. What a great privilege.


Everyone has stories of how they have been treated poorly by other nationalities. It brings out unfortunate comparisons with our own ethnic group, and at best leaves us feeling slightly smug and superior. At worst it degenerates into racist slurs. I recall hearing such talk before we went to Germany. Ever mindful of our responsibility as parents to teach our children differently, all five of us enrolled in German school for a year before we left, and learned to appreciate not only the language, but the culture of Germany as well.

During our year in Kandern we were constantly struck by the gentle courtesy of our neighbours, their genuine love for nature, their cleanliness, and their grief and sense of shame for the horrors their country had unleashed on Europe in the last war. The war changed forever the way they saw themselves and their responsibility to their neighbours. It is terrible to think of the price of that lesson, but encouraging to hear of their self-recognition and their genuine humility.

We heard our share of slander about South-East Asia before we came here as well. I won’t indulge in any stereotypes by citing examples, for I’m sure you’ve heard them as well. Let me just say, as we close in on the end of our second year here, that you would be hard pressed to find people as gracious and considerate in any part of the world as we have found here. From our rental agent and her husband who drive us to church every Sunday, to the total stranger who bought our lunch in Singapore when he saw us struggling over the menu, Asians are almost invariably considerate.

On our last trip to the airport we made a casual comment regarding the music video the driver was playing for our entertainment on his in-cab viewer. Before he would let us go he had pressed all five of his current music videos into our hands and insisted that he take no money in exchange. He was simply pleased that we had appreciated his efforts. We were both humbled and embarrassed by his gesture and determined to be more careful about our admiration for what belongs to others in the future.

Asia may be crowded, and in places extremely poor and deprived. Their sanitation is not up to snuff and their infrastructure is overburdened and often inadequate. But for all that they could teach us in the West a thing or two about treating others with courtesy and consideration. That is to say, if it is not too late for us to learn.


As I was visiting homes in the Stung Mean Chey garbage dump, I had the privilege of meeting a young mom and her new little daughter. There is a Cambodian tradition, or so I am told, that if a very special visitor comes to see a newborn baby, they are given the privilege of choosing a name for the baby. I was given that honour and after a little discussion we decided on the name, Hannah, as this family are Christians. The family name is Ros (pronounced rose) and they found it quiet delightful that it sounded like “Hosannah”. Of course I am a little cynical, and since the second part of the tradition is that the person naming the baby also has to give it a gift, I suspect this child may well have several names. But that is not my point.

My point is this. During my five hour bus ride home from Singapore I was reading a great book called I Heard a Voice written by Vinita Shaw, the CEO of TWR-India and in the book there was a quote from Mother Teresa that ran “If a child is not safe in a mother’s womb, where on earth will s/he be safe?”

So much of what I have seen in the past year, makes me wonder if there has ever been a time in which a child has been so unsafe in their mother’s womb. With mothers either choosing or being forced into abortion at alarming rates, abortion being used as routine birth control or to protect the income of those who prosper from the sex trade, unborn babies permanently damaged by the use of drugs and alcohol, pregnant women too hungry or ill for their bodies to protect their babies, babies contracting HIV/AIDS or developing fetal alcohol syndrome, and angry fathers deliberately abusing their pregnant wives, are there any safe wombs anymore?

I believe there is no deeper pain than for a mother to see her baby suffer or die and that no mother is immune from that pain no matter how deeply it is buried. Even when that is a decision that is, on the surface, one that is fully sanctioned by the laws of the land and surgically carried out, and may even appear to make sense when the baby has apparently very little prospect for a happy, healthy life, the mother still faces a lifetime of pain, guilt and regret.

It is a privilege to have a small part in Project Hannah which seeks to reach out to young women and mothers who are living without hope, feeling unloved and alone, to let them know they are precious in the sight of God. I will have more news of my deepening involvement with this program in the days to come. But for now I would ask for your prayers for the women of this region, and the particular challenges that they face in ensuring the safety of the precious life they carry.


On Tuesday I conducted a seminar on blogging where I work and I learned some things about what I do on this site. I learned that in the last two years I have developed some expertise in this medium; what it does well, what it can’t do, and now feel reasonably comfortable at sharing that information with others.

I learned that what I take for granted – blogging two or three times a week, checking for comments twice a day so that those who drop by aren’t offended by waiting – strikes others as impossibly demanding. I don’t see it so. I find it relaxing and enjoyable, an opportunity for me to develop the craft of writing, which I now teach for a living, and a goad to keep me in touch with family and friends and what is happening in the world.

Pam has recently come across some software that will allow us to slurp (yes, that is the technical term) our past two years of web logs and download them into a book format that we can print and keep in hard copy. That sounds to me incredibly rewarding and I am hoping that we can get some of that done before we head home for the summer.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by how much I like the medium. Writing has always been a joy for me. Translating this craft to cyberspace was a little daunting at first, but with a modicum of decorum, even one as outspoken as I can find a voice that is not too offensive. Recently I have had to take down a couple of posts and a picture that others found over the top, and I apologize for that. I do try to find a relatively neutral niche between what is personal and what is public, but no one is perfect, and if you are one of those I have offended, please forgive. And keep reading.


What do you think about global warming? According to Al Gore and the scientific establishment, the world is getting warmer, and we are to blame. We are using too much of the world’s carbon-based fuel resources and eating too much meat (cows not only consume much of the world’s grain, but they produce methane, four times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat).  We burn far too many of the world’s dwindling forest reserves, and produce an unsustainable amount of garbage that releases methane in its decomposition.

All of this is incontestably true, and something that I have not only protested against for most of my life,  but I have incorporated into my lifestyle. I do not own a car. I owned a canoe, but never a motorboat. I have recycled long before it became popular and I live modestly in an Asian country. Although not yet strictly vegans, our diet consists largely of fruit and vegetables. It is healthier and tastier and less environmentally harmful. There are way too many cows on earth and we need to do a better job of looking after this planet.

But are we causing global warming? I don’t think so. The most potent greenhouse gas is not carbon dioxide, or even methane. It is water vapour, which makes up by far the largest percent of ‘greenhouse gases’ in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide and methane make up an almost negligible percentage. The carbon dioxide that is there is produced primarily by the outgasing of the world’s volcanoes, not human behaviour.  This venting is a normal natural phenomenon, almost like the breathing of the mantle. And like breathing there is an ‘inhale’ as well as an ‘exhale.’ The inhale occurs when the world’s carbon dioxide is trapped in various living organisms, such as plants and crustaceans, who use carbon dioxide to produce the calcium carbonate of their shells. This calcium carbonate becomes limestone when these creatures die, and the limestone is returned to the mantle via the tectonic process described in a previous post. Completing this cycle, the carbon dioxide is then ‘exhaled’ back into the atmosphere.

This whole process, called the carbon cycle, is akin to the water cycle that we all studied back in grade school. But rather than taking a few weeks, or possibly months to complete, the carbon cycle takes about 50,000 years. As such it acts as a kind of global thermostat, regulating the earth’s temperature over long periods of time. We are presently at the start of an upswing, having reached a low point about two hundred years ago in what was called the ‘Little Ice Age.’ If the world continues to warm up – as it will – Britain may once again be able to grow grapes and produce wine, just as it did in Roman times.

There is nothing scary or alarming in all this. It is perfect natural behaviour for a living planet. What is alarming is the extent to which people are prepared to go to impose their political will on us in the name of science. Nor is mine the only voice of dissent in this growing controvery. State of Fear, a highly readable thriller by Michael Crichton, speaks to the encroachment of our civil rights engendered by this scare. Many reputable scientists – Freeman Dyson, for example – do not buy the scaremongering either. The New York Times recently ran an article on Dyson, and it is worth a read, if you have the time and the inclination. See the link below for a look at Dyson:


See this link for Michael Crichton’s essay on why Global Warming is a dangerous theory:


And of course, as always, your views are cheerfully encouraged in our Comments

Those who think that Christianity is a religion for the weak-minded know nothing about integrity. Holding scriptural values in today’s world, either in Asia where we presently live, or in the West, is not for those who cave easily under opposition or criticism. There is always going to be some aspect of Christianity that is going to offend someone: its insistence on marital fidelity and moral purity, its cheerful contempt for wealth, its balance of the championing of the rights of women while maintaining the role of men as leaders in the home and the church, all these and many other issues are offensive to many in the modern era, and those who proclaim their love for Christ better know that this is going to engender the opposition, if not outright hatred of many.

But of all the offenses of my faith, none is more offensive than the blood of Christ shed for the remission of sins. The very image of a naked Saviour dying in agony nailed to a cross is a grave offense. Putting that image up before an unbelieving world provokes cries of outrage and condemnation. “Who are you to say that I am a sinner?” they will demand. “What kind of God would require a blood sacrifice?” they contend. “What evidence do you have that this event even took place?” they protest. It is an offense, all of it. An offense to reason and sensibility. An offense to decency and decorum. An offense to the dogma that mankind is essentially good.

But mankind is not good. Mankind produced the horrors of Auschwitz, and the Killing Fields. Mankind produced Rwanda and Afghanistan. Mankind produced the Sudan and Somalia. Mankind is not only not good, we are at times demonic. So demonic, in fact, that we need only to look at the picture of Christ hanging on the cross to see what our sin did to the holiest man that ever walked on this earth. And that offends us. We turn our faces from Auschwitz and Rwanda: that wasn’t us; those men were monsters, not human beings. But they weren’t. They were human. Just like us. Not worthy of heaven, not worthy of Life.

And this is how much God loves us anyway. That God, in the flesh, allowed Himself to bear in His body the penalty of our wickedness, so that all who put their faith in His finished work – not the works of their own righteousness, for all our righteous acts amount to filthy rags that cannot cover our sin – will be resurrected, just Christ Himself, and have Eternal Life.

I accepted Christ at His word some thirty years ago now. If I am wrong, and there is no God, I will have lived a life of purpose and peace – yes, even in the midst of conflict, I have the peace of knowing that He walks beside me, and that is a great comfort – and disappear into nothing, just as you say. If you are wrong and there is indeed a God who died for your sins, and you reject His offer – your filthy sins, for His perfect righteousness – you get a life without purpose or hope, and an eternal life of torment. I’m not much of a gambler, but those strike me as rotten odds.

Stung Mean Chey

There is no doubt in my mind that there are times when people just need immediate aid in the form of food, clean water, shelter and healthcare.  But this week I saw first hand that “aid” given over extended periods can be very ineffective unless it is also accompanied by a real change in the heart and life of the recipient. 

This week I was able to visit about 250 families living in a well established garbage dump community on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.  As I have worked several times in the health clinic there,  I had already met some of the people.  Plans are in place to “relocate” these families to vacant land about two and a half hours south of the city.  Once there they will have to start afresh to built homes, find food, a source of water and work.


As horrible as life is in the dump, the families there have created homes, some in permanent structures but many in structures made from wood and materials salvaged from the mountains of garbage heaped around them.  They make a very meager living from “recycling” and some have even set up small businesses suchas making clothing from discarded clothing and materials, shoe repairs and selling products to their neighbours.


Most of these families have recieved a water filter system in the past two years.  These are a unique system that is produced locally and consists of a large plastic pail with a spiggot on the bottom.  Into the top of this pail is inserted a specially designed clay pot.  The dirty water is poured into the top and is cleansed as it filters through the clay pot.  The system costs $10 but an Australian church pays $8 of that so the family needs to come of with $2.  My task was to ensure that each family had a working filter prior to their relocation.

Two of the Pastors of the church in the dump and a CHE worker went with me to translate and as they knew many of the families well, were able to tell me a bit about the people.  I saw a marked difference between those who had found hope and peace and those for whom life appeared so futile.  Many told me stories of how their clay pot broke so they recycled their plastic or used it for other purposes, it was too much trouble to use and to clean and really had no interest in having a new one.  I got a chuckle from one lady, almost literally lying in a pile of garbage, who said the filter was of too poor a quality for her liking.



Others told a very different story.  They appeared happy and hopeful that their circumstances could improve.  They understood the importance of clean water and staying healthy in order to better their lives.  They were so proud of how well they cared for their filter and their homes and wanted to show me how clean their filters were.  There was a real joy in their relationship with God that was evident in their lives and a motivation to make the best of the little they have.


My Dad was a bit of a scoundrel before a war, a wife and three worrisome kids wore him down. In his youth he had a number of jobs, the most interesting working as an apprentice mechanic for the pre-war racing champion Raymond Mays. It was Mays who taught my father to drive, going on one famous ocassion from Edinborough in Scotland in the late evening to the race track at Silverstone south of London in time for racing trials in the morning of the following day. This was long before the A1 motorway was built!

When we were younger Dad would take my brother Wyn and I to the track at Mossport, where I was fortunate enough to see the famous Sterling Moss win the first ever Canadian Grand Prix, a thrilling event that cemented forever my love of Formula One racing and guaranteeing that I and my male offspring would be dodging speeding tickets for the rest of our natural lives. With this background in mind, it is no wonder that I have followed the recent Malaysian Grand Prix with some interest.

Formula One is a challenge for the drivers, for whom it is a gruelling two hours at nightmarish speeds in the cockpit of what is essential a bullet on wheels. In a typical race a driver will lose 3 litres of water and 10 pounds of body weight. An F1 car can go from 185 km/hour to zero in 3.5 seconds putting almost 5G’s of force on the body. Decisions that will cost you and those around you their lives must be made in nano-seconds, repeatedly throughout the race.

But Formula One is a challenge for builders as well, as the rules governing the construction of the cars are changed each year in order to further develop automotive technology. The regulations this year allow four major changes, including how the air under the car is channelled or diffused to keep the rear wheels on the track, and the use of KERS, or kinetic energy recovery system, that redirects braking friction into stored energy that can then be accessed during passing. Kind of like the energy boost button in video games!

When you throw in team rivalry, like the historic match up between Ferrari, Renault, Mercedes and Toyota, and nationality, such as Lewis Hamilton’s restoration of British racing pride last year, and you have an exciting mix for any race. This makes the F1 decision to postpone the start of the race in Malaysia until the sleepy-headed Brits were awake all the more disappointing. It was an exciting race, with the lead changing hands frequently and great battles in the middle of the pack between Lewis and the charging Mark Webber. That is until the race was called on account of rain, and then couldn’t be restarted because of darkness.

Decisions that are made based on advertising revenue are an increasing threat to the safety of this and other sports, and it is to be hoped that the international outcry over this event will temper the greed of those who put these drivers’ lives at risk to increase their profit. However, that aside, if the last two races in Asia are any indication, this promises to be an exciting season of racing on the F1 circuit, with the field more wide open than any I can remember. Gentlemen, start your engines!

Great backrounder on KERS at http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/motorsport/formula_one/7906290.stm

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