July 2009

I am not a huge fan of the graphic novel, but I read one many years ago that still has a strong hold on me; a parable of the power of revenge. I cannot remember either the author or the title, so if you know it, please let me know. It tells the story of a warrior who suffered defeat in a battle and the loss of much that he held dear. He swore revenge, and in his distress called upon the gods of vengeance to answer him. They heard, and one appeared offering him a sword by which he would become invincible: he would suffer defeat no more. The only drawback was that he would be unable to ever put it down again. He would have to sleep and eat with the sword in his hand for the rest of his life.

In his distress the warrior agreed and took up the sword. He felt a strange power flow through him from the sword to his arm, to his body, to his soul. He felt invincible. The warning about never being able to put this sword down seemed insignificant. He never wanted to put it down, he felt so powerful with the sword in his hand! At once he set off in pursuit of his enemies. One by one he tracked them down, and as the gods had promised, he was never defeated. In fact as time went on he became ever more unassailable. No one could stand against him, everyone feared him. His wrath became truly fearsome. He became a legend of power and hatred.

But the warrior came to know an agony that was literally killing him. This was indeed no ordinary sword. In fact it was no sword at all, but rather one of the gods of vengeance; a serpent. He had not picked up a sword, he had allowed, he had invited, he had welcomed the serpent to take hold of him, to sink his loathsome fangs into his hand. The shape of a sword in his hand was appearance only; merely a form that the serpent wore.

His victories belonged to the serpent, and with every battle, with every victory, with every passing day the serpent consumed more of the warrior. Already his arm was completely inside the serpent, whose head was now at his shoulder. Now the warrior would do anything to put the sword down, but never would again. Eventually the serpent would simply consume him, and he would be no more; eaten by the vengeance he swore on his enemies.

In a similar way, we too are affected by the vengeance and hatred we feel for others. We may feel it gives us power, but that power comes at the cost of our own lives. Our wrath may hurt them, but it will consume us. It will take over our relationships and our personality. Soon all that will be left of us is our wrath; all that was once ourselves will have disintegrated. That is what the great serpent, Satan offers us. Many in distress, in ignorance or in pride have taken him up on his offer of vengeance, believing this was the only way to deal with the wrongs they had suffered.

But Jesus offers us something else. He offers us completeness, wholeness, integration, the daily renewal of our hope and the fulfilment of our dreams in ways that we little understood when we were young and foolish. What Jesus asks of us in order to lead us to this good place is for us to forgive those who have wronged us, and even more than that: to love them. This may be an easy thing to say, but if you have been wronged by the evils of this world, it is not an easy thing to do. I say this not as one who has suffered much from evil. There are many, especially among the women that Pam seeks to minister to, who have suffered such violations of their bodies and personalities that I shudder to even hear their stories. I know so little of such pain.

Yet what I do know teaches me this: that forgiveness and even love for those who have wronged us is not only possible, it is necessary. But it is only possible if you allow Jesus to forgive you first. You too have wronged others. You too have been the author and perpetrator of evil, not only its victim. You will never have the ability to truly forgive and even love your enemies and until you have been truly forgiven. And only Jesus has the power to forgive you. Only Jesus has the power to make you whole. To Satan, you are just another meal.

DadandHelenThe last two days, I have heard many stories of antics that took place more than 60 years ago at Morrow Memorial Church on Queen St in Toronto. Not sure of how this was all set up but a number of young people lived in rooms and apartments in various parts of this huge old church. There many marriages and lifelong friendships began.
ArchieAmongst that group was a married couple, Barnie and Helen and two singles who were later to marry and become my parents. Somewhere in there, Mom’s youngest brother Archie, still high school age, came and stayed for a summer. When Mom and Dad got married, it was Barnie who played the organ and Helen who supplied the tablecloth and sandwiches that comprised the wedding reception. Forty years later, Steve and I had the pleasure of having Barnie play the organ at our own wedding.

Although Barnie passed away twelve years ago, Helen, at 85 still enjoys a very active life, living in a lovely granny flat at her granddaughter’s house near Kingston. Since Uncle Archie is in Kingston as well, Dad and I took a road trip to visit them both. Although their bodies are beginning to fail them, all three enjoyed reliving memories of the days when rebellious, young people did unthinkable acts like placing a grape in the hat brim of a gentleman on the streetcar and laughing hilariously as it rolled around with the motion of the streetcar. How precious is the knowledge that a day will come when bodies are healed and these faithful folk will rejoice for eternity with their Lord and their life time partners.
BoatWe even found time for a drive to Gananogue where Dad and I took a cruise through the Thousand Islands and and ate fish’nchips along the shore. Although it was a long drive through Toronto, Dad is a great travel companion and never turned down an opportunity for food and a Timmies along the way. I will long treasure these days I have had with Dad while I have been home.

On July 12, the People’s Church in Toronto dedicated their evening service to honour the work of Trans World Radio Canada and two individuals in particular.
GeraldFor the past ten years, this vital ministry has been very capably led by our friend Gerald Hayes. During this time TWR has continued to support worlwide broadcasts in various languages, Canadian and national workers, as well as specific ministry projects in many countries around the world.

In recent years TWR Canada also began broadcasting in the French language to the province of Quebec and in the Mandarin Chinese language in the Greater Vancouver area of BC. At the conclusion of his term as Canadian director many friends and colleagues were present to honour the commitment that Gerald has made to the ministry.

Most of the Canadian Board were on hand to take the opportunity to welcome our new President, Ray Alary.  Ray and his wife Sandy have served with TWR for over twenty years, most recently in the role of Director of Operations for Africa. Ray brings both administrative and field work experience to his new role and TWR looks forward to continued growth in service to God under his leadership.


Although both Gerald and his patient wife Gloria have been happy to serve TWR for much longer than they originally intended, it sure looked to me like Gloria was perhaps the person who was celebrating Gerald’s retirement the most. We thank them both for their dedication, and trust that these retirement years are filled with the joy of recalling a job well done.

Often attributed to the East, this phrase is probably no more Chinese than the hundreds of sayings attributed to Confucius when we were growing up. But it has a certain inscrutable air to it, so the Chinese get blamed. As far as I can tell it can be traced to pre-war Britain, and connotes the kind of foreboding that was gathering in Europe at the time. However it came about, the phrase is an apt one for Malaysia’s troubled political scene.

As one of the least fragile democracies in South-East Asia, Malaysia has experienced the kind of economic growth that other countries in this region admire and envy. Only Singapore has developed more rapidly following independence in this part of the world. But unlike Singapore, Malaysia has the beginnings of a genuine democracy, and in the last election the opposition parties gained the control of several states, including Selangor, the state in which Kuala Lumpur is located, and the most prosperous state in the country.

The response to this growth of political maturity has been mixed, with some relishing the political vitality, and some genuinely fearing for the perks that now appear threatened by an opposition victory. It is in this context that the death of a young aide to the opposition party must be cast. Teoh Beng Hok died in the custody of a quasi-police organization, the MACC, his body broken from a fall from the building where he was being detained and questioned. The political fallout has been swift and unavoidable.

The opposition party has called for an independent investigation, and the parents are refusing to buy the official version that their son somehow went missing from MACC custody for several hours. A new twist was added today when a leading member of the ruling coalition crossed the floor to the opposition benches stating that his conscience would not allow him to remain in the government any longer. The government controlled media are understandably supportive of the official line, but the internet is abuzz with rumours and accusations. Interesting times indeed.

International schools face a lot of staff turnover. Most staff are young and looking for a year overseas to add to their resume or pay down a student loan before heading back into the jungle that teaching in Ontario has become. If they are older, they have family committments that keep them from investing too much time on foreign shores. Folks in the middle are rare, and are usually on the international school circuit as a career choice. Not a bad choice either, as there is a lot to see in this beautiful world, and a teaching certificate is a more or less universal passport.

New this year are Amy and Michel, a youngish couple (from our perspective) from Toronto. Amy has done some teaching in China, but Michel never so much as got in an airplane until a year ago. He is doing real well in a foreign climate and loves the food, but is not terribly impressed with the crowded conditions found here in public transport. Amy is just loving it and is game for just about anything. Her can-do spirit is especially evident in English 3U, jumping in with lots of ideas and enthusiasm.

Jim and Shelley are from Ottawa and closer to our age. They were married three months before us, and this is their first overseas experience. He is teaching Computer Science, and was one of the developers of the Math Trek program, software that is widely distributed in Ontario public schools. Shelly has been in administration for the last dozen years and is happy to be back in the classroom teaching Challenge and Change. They are thoroughly enjoying their time in Malaysia and can’t wait to see more.

We have a barbeque planned for this afternoon, just to get to know one another a little better. Its a good excuse for a Canadian comfort meal in a relaxed setting. If the evening is fine, we might go for a swim after! After all, if you live in this climate, you might as well enjoy it.

Finally, I had the opportunity to visit the TWR head office in Cary, North Carolina. Marli Spieker and I were able to pick up our conversation right we left off, a month ago in Thailand. I have corresponded for some time with the Project Hannah team so it was so great to finally meet Tina, Peggy and Anne. The staff meeting on Thursday morning was spent reviewing the work of Project Hannah in Asia and I had the joy of sharing the stories of several of the listeners that I met in Nepal.

TWR has a wonderful Lodge for visiting staff and guests, which is beautifully situated in a very quiet wooded area. It was so restful that I think I actually made up for some of my sleep deficit. A chance guest this week was Christine, the most amazing lady who heads up Project Hannah in Liberia. We all were delighted as she shared her story with us over a lovely lunch.

I finished up my stay there with a quiet evening visiting with Edmund and Marli in their lovely home. Anyone who spends even a brief amount of time listening to Marli’s passion to help women marginalized by poverty, disease and cultural tradition can not help but be touched. It was great to talk with her about plans for Project Hannah and I must admit that I am getting a little anxious to get back to work in Asia.


The flip side of the lovely trip downtown on the weekend is the haze that settled over the city on Monday. Kuala Lumpur, like Los Angeles, is a city set in a bowl surrounded by hills. Pretty site, but a meteorological trap for airborn pollutants that drift in from the sea and settle of over the city, sometimes for days.

Indonesia, like Brazil, practices slash and burn agriculture, and the resulting thick smoke drifts across the Straits of Malacca. There are all kinds of agreements between the two nations on when and how much of this can be done, but no one enforces any of it and there are whole months of the year when the haze over KL looks like the picture above.

Its bad for the eyes, bad for the lungs and even worse on the economy which depends heavily on tourists and the traffic at foodstalls to keep the dollars flowing. No one feels much like going outside when it is like this, and employee absentism, already a growing problem here, becomes much worse in the haze. All you can hope for is a good rain or a strong wind to clear the air.

Our first pastor – Carl Seyffert, bless his memory – was a tour bus operator in Niagara Falls before the Lord called him into ministry. He never lost that tour guide enthusiasm. Everything was great, everything was interesting, every new thing was worth learning. I just love that attitude in people. Maybe that is why I was so happy to take some of the newbies on staff – Shelley, Jim, Michel and Amy – around town for the first time. It was great to share their enthusiasm for this place.

KL Railway StationBy now I have a pretty good little route mapped out. We start at the old train station. Not KL Sentral, with its overwhelming busyness, I leave that to the last. But the original train station built by the British in colonial times. Spacious in its Victorian splendor, with delicate minarets at the corners in deference to the host country in which it was built, it is a fitting start to the day. From there we walk to the Central Market for a look at the local folk art in masks, kites and batiks, and fuel up at the food court noted for its variety and cleanliness. Then it is across the river at the Post Office, with its modern take on the Western/Muslim fusion of architecture, the Dayabumi Tower. We take a short hike down Jalan Raja to Merdeka Square, the place where Malaysian independence was declared. On the one side is the Royal Selangor Club, an Edwardian-style building that was the hub of colonial social life. On the other side of the square is the former administrative offices of British rule, now renamed after the Sultan Abdul Samad, which housed the Malaysian Supreme Court until just recently. Although Moorish, rather than Asian, it too shows the deference of the British for Muslim sensitivities.

merdeka1Then we walk past the funky and organic picture plant sculture/fountain and the Masjid Jamek, the oldest mosque in Malaysia, also built by the British for their Muslim hosts at the spot where Kuala Lumpur was founded. A short hike up Jalan Melayu brings us to Little India where we do some bargaining for ‘designer’ perfume, watches and handbags. On Jalan Tuangku Abdul Rahman we stop at at the Colliseum Cafe, the oldest restaurant in KL for a much needed drink and cooling off. We need it on the next leg, a hard slog in the sunshine without much shade, to the Malaysian Tourist Centre, point of origin for the Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour and the native Malaysia dance held daily on this site. From there it is a short walk to the magnificent Petronas Towers, where we spend a happy half-hour gawking at the Gucci and Cartier merchandise on display.

We exit on the south-east side into the City Centre park, alive with tourists like outseves and Malaysian families relaxing for the afternoon. We mark out the Aquarium for a later visit, but do go into the Jewelry Exhibit in the Convention Centre where Shelley demonstrates an amazing knowledge of gemstones, which can’t be a good thing for Jim! Then it is on to the Trader’s Hotel, site of the SkyBar, arguably the best view of the Towers anywhere in the city. We relax by the pool sipping coolers while the lights come up on the towers and the fountains begin their dance in the park. Weary from walking, we take a very reasonably priced taxi van to Chinatown for a seat in an outdoor hawkerstall restaurant that allows up to do some serious people watching while getting a really good nosh of Chinese food.

Another short hike brings up back to KL Sentral, a lot quieter in the evening, where we catch a cab for a twenty minute ride back home for 18 ringgits. Split three ways that comes to about 2 bucks each. I made a few wrong turns in the day and led us to a couple of dead ends, but I got it mostly right, and the newbies ended up with a favourable impression of their new home in Asia; one that I hope will help to balance out the workload and the sense of homesickness that gets to all of us from time to time.

Kim McNamaraSteve’s days in Canada came to a close with a lovely visit with our friend Kim McNamara.  It felt so strange to be in Bolton having a BBQ without our dear friend, Bill.  However, it was good to be able to reminise and to look at pictures of the amazing experiences we shared during our year together in Malaysia.  Reading the tributes to Bill that were written by the many people whose lives he so positively influenced helped us to come to grips with this loss in our lives. Kim told us of the hundreds of people whose lives Bill had touched who came to the funeral. One group of students took a cab all the way from Guelph to Toronto to be there to pay their respects.
                                                                         Ken, Susan and Kim 
Friday morning Kim and I dropped Steve off at a the airport and then I had another two full days with Kim.  We even tackled some pool jobs to make our time useful.  On Saturday, Ken and Susan, two friends from that first year who knew Bill and Kim well, came out for the afternoon to to visit and relax by the pool. It was good to see them again.

Kim wanted to be sure that we thanked her friends in Malaysia for the gift of a vase in memory of Bill, and the many thoughtful cards and notes that Bill’s colleagues and friends in Malaysia had sent. Following a suggestion by Gan Yen Sen, the business award at Taylor’s College has been renamed in Bill’s honour; a fitting tribute to a unique guy, and one of the finest men we have ever met.


IMG_1057bAlways ready to eat one more meal, especially if it means a chance to visit with family, we packed in brunch at an outdoor cafe on College Street on our last day in Toronto. Steve’s brother, a writer, editor and film critic of national recognition, showed up looking much younger than his sixty plus years.

IMG_1056bAlso on hand was Steve’s neice Sarah-Jane and her boyfriend, Michael, who has just finished his undergraduate degree and is considering his options for post-graduate studies. Sarah-Jane looked as relaxed and content as we have seen. Michael seems like a very decent young man with a bright future ahead of him, and they looked pretty happy in each other’s company.

IMG_1058bTalk was as light as the occasion, and with the sun shining warmly on the patio where we ate, it felt good to be in Toronto in the summertime with family doing normal things. Our lives are so packed, and while we recognize the importance of staying focused on the challenges we face in Asia, it is a real relief to just relax and enjoy the simple things once in a while. They seem to pass so quickly.

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