December 2009


Brian Buzzard the Bush Balladeer dropped by our campsite to ask if we liked country music. He looked a little wild, as only the older Aussies can, so I gave him a ‘Yeah, well it’s not my favourite’ so as not to seem overly duped. He invited us to hear him sing, and after he left we decided that he looked relatively harmless, so we did just that.

We had driven about four hours to get to this particular campsite, about 300 clicks north of Perth. The camper van we rented turned out to be even better than advertised, almost brand new with all the cooking utensils, pots and pans, and cupboard space we could possibly use. It did not, however, come with insurance, but a quick call to American Express took care of that. Back in June I had signed up for a platinum card with Amex which came with complimentary insurance coverage on rental vehicles. I figured the annual fee would be well worth it if we ever had to rent a vehicle over here, and they confirmed my request with a phone call. Feeling smart and happy we headed to the nearest mall to stock up on supplies.
It looked like the mall in Cambridge Jon and Nic took us to when we arrived back in Canada. The layout and even the stores were almost identical. The people though were not. Aussies are an odd looking lot. The older ones are weathered and decidedly shifty looking. They look like they had sat too long staring into the sun while the sand etched their faces. The middle-ages one were invariably overweight, looking distraught and burdened. The only ‘normal’ looking ones were the teenagers, bright and engaged, like kids almost everywhere are.

We had a little trouble getting out of town, but once on the highway we made good time, only stopping in Cervantes for gas and a decent map. The map showed us how to get to the Pinnacles, something we had read about in the Rough Guide book. We took the detour to have look. Years ago there was a limestone cave on this barren point, with stalactites dripping and stalagmites growing under them. The cave and the stalactites eroded away under the steady south-westerly winds leaving only the stalagmites, like a terra cotta army, planted among the sand dunes. It was eerie and odd, like much of what we had seen in Australia.

We were both beat by the time we arrived at Jurien Bay. Not much sleep on the plane and a lot of driving over unknown terrain had worn us out. Fortunately, due to Pam’s excellent planning, we not only knew where we were going, but had the place booked and fully paid for in advance. So yes we were happy to go and listen to a little local music. And local it was. Aside from the two Johnny Cash songs – Brian didn’t know any Canadian folk singers, so that was as close as he could get – all the rest were Australian folksongs, as local and indigenous as the flora we had driven through that day. There were songs about the strangeness of the land, its animals and its people, and there were songs about beer, lots of those, but there were not many songs about love, strangely enough. I couldn’t help thinking that Aussies were a lonely lot. Brian certainly was. We were glad that we went and gave him a little company for the evening, and happy to retire to the orderly warmth of the camper.

This will be our third Christmas in Asia, and we still have trouble adjusting to the heat at this time of year. Of course Christmas for Christ was probably pretty warm as well if the shepherds were still out at night with the flocks, don’t you think? But still Christmas without snow and a tree and the fireplace is not the same for those of us who have grown up with those comforting things around us.

Unlike North America, where Christmas seems to be under attack from every side by those claiming that as Christians we have no right to intrude on their lives with our celebrations, Christmas is celebrated with enthusiasm in Malaysia by everyone. So is Deepavali and Ramadan, Hari Raya and Thaipusam. Despite the problems of this country, this is one area in which I think they have a superior attitude to our own.

Instead of trying to eliminate every reference to religion from public life under the notion that it will offend someone, Malaysia celebrates every faith’s special event in the understanding that if it is meaningful to someone, it should be honoured. Asians recognize that faith is an important part of being human, and celebration is not only enjoyable but necessary if we are to understand and respect one another as people.

So a Merry Christmas to all, even those who grow resentful at the joy of others and wish the world was as mean-hearted as they imagine it to be. Great joy to you as well, for the King of Joy has come to earth and shown us what great love and joy lay in store for those who like Him seek to fill this world with good deeds and kind spirits. May His spirit be a blessing to all of you at this blessed time of year.

We had heard that it was going to be hot in Australia. Apparently not first thing in the morning! I have my hoodie and my jacket on and I am still cold. It could be that we are tired. Sleep was hard to come by on the overnight flight from KL to Perth. The cabin light above our head was stuck on, much to the consternation of the Aussie behind us who had to let everyone know just how shoddy the whole operation was because of this particular light.

We have got a little time to kill before we can pick up the camper. We arrived at 6 am and the rental place down the road doesn’t open until 8. We had a couple of very expensive – $4.50! – coffees and a couple of granola bars I snuck in across the border. They scruntinize foodstuffs pretty carefully in Oz, for good reason, but the granola bars got in under the radar.

We will post when we can, but I’m not thinking that once we leave Perth there are going to be too many places in the Outback that we will have access to the internet. We are headed north initially, with the end point being Coral Bay, the land point closest to the Little Barrier Reef where we hope to do some snorkelling

Term Five in Malaysia is now officially over. The exams are marked, the reports are completed and the kids now have their diplomas in hand. I even got in my ‘volunteer day’ at the new campus on Saturday and probably signed up six of the eight parents I talked to about enrolment. Today is the first day of the Christmas break, and I finally get to sit down at the computer and actually do some things I would like to do before heading out on vacation tomorrow.

But before I go, I would like to pause and thank the many students who read this blog for their kind words to me over the past few days. I am well aware of my limitations as a teacher and as a person. All my striving to improve daily cannot fully overcome those limitations. But despite these failings, I seem to have done some good, and that cheers my heart.

So thank you for all those gestures of kindness, the hugs and the handshakes, the requests for pictures and especially the words of encouragement regarding my teaching and the help I have been. This is not the icing on the cake for me, it is my bread and butter, the reason I teach. I no longer need to do this for the money, I do this to help students to be the person they were intended to be, the person they were created to be.

Sometimes I come home from teaching thinking I have achieved nothing, got nowhere, helped no one. Other days I feel like I have been a blessing, been useful to someone, and faithfully represented Christ. A couple of days ago I got a letter from a former student along these lines. I have asked her permission to reprint it here. She said she would be honoured.

“Mr. Wise, I hope you know that St. Thomas and all of the kids from Locke’s have not forgotten about you. Today, I can still say that you have been my most influential teacher throughout all of my years of school. I’m positive you are loving where you are at in your life, and I hope that will always continue for you. Anyways, I just thought I would write you, since you were on my mind. Hope to hear from you. Jessica.”

The term may be over, the kids all gone, but so long as I can, I will be back doing what I can to make this world a better place for all the Jessicas I can reach. I am so very grateful to God for allowing me this privilege.

The four great traditions of Western culture – logical analysis, empirical investigation, the triumph of individualism and a spirituality rooted in reason – dovetail and reinforce each other, allowing for a unity of purpose in cultural development. Western culture has triumphed, not on the strength of military power or technological invention, but rather on the strength of its ideas and ideals that are rooted in these ancient traditions. Different ages have interpreted these ideas and ideals in different ways, but their essential truths have remained unchanged in Western culture for four millennia.

It is through logical analysis that Locke’s thoughts on the Wealth of Nations arose. It is through empirical investigation that all the great advance in science and medicine of the past 500 years were derived, it is through the insistence on the importance of the individual, rather than state, the theme underlying Antigone, written in the 3rd century B.C. and pursued throughout Western literary tradition, that has formed the basis for democracy and all the human rights and privileges enjoyed by the West. It is the merger of spiritual wisdom with rational devotion that scorns ritual and superstition that has allowed Western religious traditions to have had such an impact on the morality and ethics of Western democracies.

When a teacher from the West enters the classroom, he brings with him or her all the great heritage of this vast cultural tradition. Whether that teacher is engaged in science, economics, law or literature, behind him or her stands not only the intellectual treasure of the ages, but the paradigms and intellectual constructs that permit the continued investigation, growth, and purposeful discovery of all the wealth of knowledge still unlearned. There is an excitement and a sense of adventure, a conviction of the intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual successes of the past and a confident drive towards the future. It is my great privilege to be part of that historic cultural tradition. It is that sense of excitement, discovery and purpose that I attempt to bring to every class I teach.

For the past month, I have been buried in work for a country that I love, Cambodia, trying to assist the team of dedicated men and women working to change lives in that needy country. They are just a great group of young men and women, with a passion for rebuilding their war-torn country, who write, produce, and distribute for broadcast very specialized programs to meet the needs of their target audience. 

“Happy Children’s Garden” is a weekly radio program aimed at the 32% of the population who are under 15, mostly living in poor rural villages with little hope of a quality education or health care or even a nutritious diet.

“It’s Yours” seeks to bring a new way of thinking to youth, roughly half of the population,  who have  grown up in poverty, exposed to drugs, pornography, per-marital intimacy, gangs and violence in ways most adults have never experienced.  These young people are the hope for the future of Cambodia.

“Women of Hope,” the radio broadcast of Project Hannah, meets the needs of women who face constant problems related to poverty, poor health care, poor nutrition, high maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, illiteracy, domestic violence and sexual abuse. I am currently working with the TWR team there on the writing of a proposal for external government funding of a new HIV/AIDS program. My goal is to have a draft proposal in their hands by the end of this week.

The Church and Leadership Development team seeks to equip pastors and lay leaders who have no formal Bible education to enable them to mature in Biblical understanding.  “The Word Today” and “Through the Bible” have been translated and are offered both on radio and through CD Listener Centers throughout the country.  Pastors are also provided with Bibles, hymnbooks  and other teaching resources as the funds are available.

Cambodia is a nation of oral learners with many people who either cannot read at all, read poorly or read well but do not have access to decent reading material.   The goal of the Orality Team is to meet the needs of those who need to “hear” the Word.  They are currently researching a weekly radio program in magazine format using story telling, songs, testimonies, discussions and poems which the Cambodians love so much.  They distribute radios and other media devices like MegaVoice and Saber Units for areas where radio is not an option, as funds allow.

Each of these programs has a complete follow-up strategy that involves phone calls, letters, text messages, village visits, listener groups, prayer calendars, seminars and outreach programs in orphanages and rescue centers.  They work in partnership with many other organizations to provide referrals for help and protection for listeners when they come across needs that are beyond their scope.

Everytime I look at this group of young people, and understand the enormity of the work that they are doing, I stand in awe of what God can do through a small group of passionate and committed individuals. It is my great privilege to stand with them in that work, and I ask for your continued prayers that God’s work would be done through me as well.

If you want to read a brief and challenging summary of the last thirty years of Cambodian history, read our son’s latest post at http://www.jonandnic.com/topics/news/hadda-be-played-on-a-jukebox

Our son Jon has a new job out of Seattle that requires him to do a lot of travel from his home base in Ontario. The new job also comes with new responsibilities, like presenting developing products in public forums. This is not entirely new, as Jon has often had to make presentations for products in the past. But those products were always software programs that he and his team were developing, and the target audience was pretty small.

This new job requires that he presents his company’s products in much larger venues. To my way of thinking this is a natural development of his native gifts. He has quick mind and a facility with words and ideas that makes him a persuasive speaker. He also has a strongly independent character that allows him to approach each new situation with integrity, allowing him to speak with authority. I know this as one who has often had to go toe-to-toe with him on a number of issues as he was maturing. If I won the lion’s share of those debates it was only because in grace he conceded to my authority, not because I had the winning argument.

My wife and former students will tell you that when I am passionate about something that I am teaching, I am a force to be reckoned with. Pam’s friends and colleagues know that there are few who can so winningly put together a team and get them working together toward a common goal as she can. Jon seems to have a happy combination of her networking skills and my verbal ability. Put that together with Jon’s gift for computers and his drive for excellence and the results speak for themselves. Yeah, we are pretty proud of the kid.

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