January 2010

The first two years here in Malaysia went by in a kind of blur. There was so much to learn, so many new projects and courses to get started, so much to see, so many new people to meet and cultures to understand. We are grateful to the folks at TWR Canada who have so supportive of Pam’s work here. But there was a lot to learn about her responsibilities, traveling, how to access reimbursement for expenses. Steve is still teaching new courses for which new lessons have to be prepared.

In addition there was a lot back in Canada that we had to learn to manage from afar. We are grateful to Sarah and Milan who look after our wee apartment, our friends who still drop by our website from time to time and especially our family who have been rock solid while we have been out galivanting around Asia. If we can ever get Canada Revenue sorted out we will consider ourselves to be well and truly adjusted to life on the other side of the planet.

In all that uproar, there was never much time for television. We would watch a show maybe once or twice a week, but we never subscribed to cable, and never saw Western news except when we were staying at a hotel. That changed this week when we got cable. I guess that is a measure of increased confidence in our ability to manage our responsibilities here that we feel that we finally have time to actually watch television in the evening.

This morning I watched the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks play. What a treat. Especially as Toronto had an outstanding first period and were leading three-zip when I last looked. I even got to see Coach’s Corner. I can’t tell you how comforting it is to see a period of hockey when you haven’t watched a game in nearly three years.

The Olympics are coming up in just two weeks. It will be Chinese New Year here in Asia and we have a week off school. We can’t afford to go anywhere as we are still paying off our little jaunt to the Land of Oz, so we plan on seeing a lot of telly that week and soaking in all that gorgeous Canadian landscape. Go Canucks!

Having alluded to the problems in Haiti being caused by the French in the last post, I thought I might clarify what I meant. After all, France is not alone in laying a heavy hand upon the territories it controlled. As with all colonial powers, some good came of their rule in South-East Asia. The cities they helped to build, Phnom Penh and Saigon for example, are much better designed than the logistical nightmares of Kuala Lumpur and Dhaka mapped out by the British.

But administratively the French were a disaster. While Britain left behind an educated and efficient civil service in every colony they vacated, the French did next to nothing in this part of the world. Notoriously after 80 years of rule in Cambodia they paid for the education of just four nationals, and that only to the high school level. Cambodia was ripe for a Pol Pot, even before the Americans carpet-bombed the country.

But Haiti has suffered an even worse fate. Arriving too late to the island of Hispaniola to claim the rainy side occupied by the Spanish, the French settled on the dry side and immediately began stripping the forest for sugar plantations which they stocked with African slaves. In a nice touch of historical irony it was the slaves who kicked the French out of Haiti in the only successful slave revolt in the Caribbean. But they paid a high price for their independence, France exacting a tax that the poor Haitians only paid off shortly after WWII. Their independence also cost them markets, as many countries, in order to punish Haiti for its uppitiness, refused to do business with the country.

Decades of rule by a succession of kleptomaniacs further reduced what had once been the richest colony in the Americas to the depths of poverty. A series of natural disasters did the rest. Hillsides, no longer anchored by trees, slide into the populated valleys with depressing regularity. Hurricanes batter villages that are already on the edge of existence and earthquakes shatter the insubstantial buildings. A knowledge of Haiti’s troubled history will not provide medical aid for those who need it. But perhaps understanding will keep others from blaming the victims of centuries of injustice for the dilemma they now find themselves in.

Haiti’s recent disaster is but the latest in a long string of disasters to strike that unfortunate country. Although heartened by the generous response by much of the world, many others are busy blaming the victims for selling their souls to the devil, the French for raping the country of its resources, and global warming for an increase in natural disasters generally, and hurricanes and earthquakes in particular. Living in a part of the world that has suffered much at the hands of the French, my inclinations lean in their direction. Poor people are not going to build earthquake-proof buildings. But just to clarify the issue for those who see the perfidious hand of global warming at work again, allow me to reproduce the following article:

The United Nations climate science panel faces new controversy for wrongly linking global warming to an increase in the number and severity of natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. It based the claims on an unpublished report that had not been subjected to routine scientific scrutiny — and ignored warnings from scientific advisers that the evidence supporting the link too weak. The report’s own authors later withdrew the claim because they felt the evidence was not strong enough.

The claim by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that global warming is already affecting the severity and frequency of global disasters, has since become embedded in political and public debate. It was central to discussions at last month’s Copenhagen climate summit, including a demand by developing countries for compensation of $100 billion from the rich nations blamed for creating the most emissions.

The new controversy goes back to the IPCC’s 2007 report in which a separate section warned that the world had “suffered rapidly rising costs due to extreme weather-related events since the 1970s”. It suggested a part of this increase was due to global warming and cited the unpublished report. The Sunday Times has since found that the scientific paper on which the IPCC based its claim had not been peer reviewed, nor published, at the time the climate body issued its report. When the paper was eventually published, in 2008, it had a new caveat. It said: “We find insufficient evidence to claim a statistical relationship between global temperature increase and catastrophe losses.”

Despite this change the IPCC did not issue a clarification ahead of the Copenhagen climate summit last month. It has also emerged that at least two scientific reviewers who checked drafts of the IPCC report urged greater caution in proposing a link between climate change and disaster impacts — but were ignored. The claim will now be re-examined and could be withdrawn.

The complete article can be found at:

Sambo, the only elephant on Phnom Penh’s streets, has become a symbol of the city and this week she celebrates her 50th birthday. She has lived and worked in the city for over thirty years. When Steve and I are in Phnom Penh together, one of our favourite things to do is to go down to the riverfront, sit at an outdoor restaurant and watch the world go by. Most days you can see Sambo along the quay walking to work at the National Assembly, NagaWorld, Sisowath Quay, Wat Phnom and then back home again.

Sambo was  born in 1960 in Kampong Speu province into an elephant family that roamed freely through the rolling green hills and forests of Cambodia.  When she was eight she was captured and taken to a village where she became the special companion of a young boy named Sorn, who named his new friend Sambo. She lived and worked in the village for ten years before she was captured by troops loyal to the Khmer Rouge.  Although the four other elephants from Sorn’s village were killed for food, Sambo survived and was sent off to work in the mountains.  Many wild elephants avoided the slaughter and heavy workloads that were a result of the civil war by escaping across the borders into Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

After the the defeat of the Khmer Rouge, Sorn and Sambo’s paths crossed once again when he discovered her working in the rice paddies for another village. Sorn gained Sambo’s freedom by purchasing a buffalo for the family, which was more helpful in their rice fields.  With Sorn’s village destroyed by war, the two friends, man and animal, headed together to Phnom Penh to find work. 

There were four other elephants working in the city at that time, but due to the demands of the work these patient animals are required to do and the lack of proper care from their human custodians, these others all died from exhaustion.  Sambo has survived because of the protection of her long time friend Sorn, who can still be seen walking beside her along the quay.  Many tourists continue to enjoy rides around Wat Phnom on this city’s most famous resident who will on occasion wander into local sidewalk cafes looking for peanuts.

It is such a privilege to be able to be in Phnom Penh to celebrate ten amazing years of ministry with this team that has been so mightily used of God. The staff did a great job of organizing the program, entertainment and meal, all decorated in bright, colourful, Cambodian style.

Guests were welcomed by a talented group of young musicians and a troupe of dancers doing a traditional dance of blessing and a dance of harvest.

Dan Blosser, a TWR missionary who has been in Phnom Penh since the beginning of the work, reviewed the history and talked about the current response to just a few of the programs that exist today.

We heard testimonies from a number of listeners and partners of what TWR has meant to them over the years. Certificates and letters of appreciation were presented to individuals who had been regular listeners of Women of Hope for more than five years and those who had completed the Through the Bible series.

The day ended with a time of fellowship around a great meal prepared by the catering company which had set up their temporary “kitchen” in the vacant field beside the office.

This ministry began through the efforts of one woman to translate and broadcast the Woman of Hope program and has now grown to a very competent team that reaches all ages, throughout the country. The Children’s team alone receives an average of 1200 listener letters a month, a fact that is much more significant when you consider that this is a country that is essentially without a postal service. TWR has created their own system of drop-off and pick-up points, using taxis, buses and motorcycles so that they can maintain and build relationships with their listeners.

Congratulations to Veasna and all of the TWR Cambodia staff.  I look forward to what God has in store for you over the next ten years.

Despite not having family around, Christmas was pretty good this year, perhaps because we stayed busy seeing new things. We were thankful to be able to get internet long enough to contact our closest family: kids, grandkids and parents. However, a few days after I called my Mom, I heard from my sister that she had fallen in the nursing home and broken her hip.

Back in KL I tried to get through to Mom at her hospital, but to no avail. Her ward didn’t allow patient phones, and the reports from the nurses were brief in the extreme. I was able to gather that Mom would not leave her room and was refusing physio. Because she would not move, her body closed down and they stopped feeding her by mouth.

Today we were to find out if they would take her back in the nursing home. My sister and I feared the worst. Her home is not equipped for the level of care that Mom’s condition would require. We didn’t know what the ‘Plan B’ would be, but we were sure that we would have to consider it.

We needn’t have worried. Lorna from the home came around this morning and welcomed her back to the home this afternoon. Mom had put on quite a show. Apparently when the physio team left the room, other staff reported that Mom had been up, moving around quite nimbly, practicising, as it were, for her ‘performance’ to Lorna. Like the old trooper that she is, she knew she could come through with the goods when she needed to; so why waste her ammo on the rehearsals.

Mom has always been like that. She was singer/entertainer in the war, that is, when she wasn’t manning the radar, and has been fighting some version of the Nazis ever since. It is never a nice feeling to realize that you have been duped once again by a consummate player, but you can’t help admiring the spunky old thing, and I do wish her a full and complete recovery back in the safety of her snug little apartment.

A group of imams from across Canada issued a fatwa Friday to label attacks by extremists against Canada or the United States as attacks against the 10 million Muslims living in North America.  In a joint statement issued by the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, the imams state: “We, the undersigned Imams, are issuing the following Fatwa in order to guide the Muslims of North America regarding the attacks on Canada and the United States by the terrorists and the extremists. In our view, these attacks are evil and Islam requires Muslims to stand up against this evil.” 

The fatwa, a non-binding religious edict that is given to guide Muslims in their daily lives, is a response to the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S.-bound plane by a Nigerian with ties to Islamic militants in Yemen.  In their statement, the imams cite quotes from the Qur’an that call on followers to “enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong,” and to “protect our friends.”

Iman Syed Soharwardy, who is organizing support across North America for this fatwa, goes on to say that “We have an obligation to inform Muslims around the world that North American Muslims practice their religion, pray five times daily and attend mosques and celebrate religious festivals in complete freedom. In many cases, Muslims have more freedom to practice Islam here in Canada and the United States than many Muslim countries.”

 The imams say that the Canadian and American constitutions are similar to the principles of Islam that protect human rights and justice. “Therefore, any attack on Canada and the United States is an attack on the freedom of Canadian and American Muslims. Any attack on Canada and the United States is an attack on thousands of mosques across North America.”

Many Muslims we have met during our time in Malaysia share the imans’ view that these acts of terrorism show contempt not only for the values of those they attack, but complete contempt for Islam as well. I am very much encouraged by this initiative, and I would be delighted to see Canadians leading the way in this world to a more moderate understanding of what it means to be Muslim.

Steve and I were happy to get away to Australia for a couple of weeks, but our vacation came at a bit of an awkward time for me in that I am in the midst of writing a proposal for funding for a new program for TWR Cambodia

Once again I have reached the point in my work that I can go no further without the input of the Cambodian team. So for the third time in this project, I will spend a week at the TWR office in Phnom Penh. During the first visit we just really launched the idea for an HIV/AIDS program and had some general discussions about the challenges the Cambodian teams face as they regularly confront the questions of their listeners. Following that visit and for the next two weeks, I did some background research on the situation in Cambodia and began to write up my research in rough form while the individual teams there looked at the needs of their particular target audiences.

On my second visit in early December, we went through the proposal guidelines step by step and I took notes of the discussions. We were also able to meet with several organizations that we hoped would be interested in partnering with us and received very positive responses from each of them. Since then I have been compiling all of the information and combining it with my previous research into a proposal, using the format required by the funding agency. I have a first draft prepared, minus some very specific information that the team will need to provide. I am grateful for a very gifted and knowledgeable English teacher as a husband who has helped immensely with editing and formatting the document.

I have chosen this week to go to Phnom Penh as it will allow me not only to meet the funding deadline, but also give me the privilege of being with the Cambodian staff to celebrate their 10th Anniversary. What a joy it will be to celebrate with this dedicated team who constantly amaze me by how such a small team can deal with the extent of the work they have accomplished.

I would appreciate your prayers for my safety, for a successful conclusion to the nearly two months of work I and others have put into this proposal, and to a joyous celebration of what God has been able to accomplish through TWR in Cambodia through the lives of ordinary people touched by His extraordinary grace.

There were a few more minor incidents at churches on Sunday; more vandalism, but no more buildings were gutted. In fact the incidents seem to have served as a bit of a wake up call for the nation, as many newspapers began asking “Is this the road we want our nation to be on?” Representative of the desire to re-establish civility in this issue is this article from Kuala Lumpur’s daily, The Sun:

In the wake of Molotov cocktail attacks against several churches since Friday, there has been an outpouring of goodwill and offers of assistance to the Christian community. Admirably, in the face of the attacks, one message which resonated in many churches during services over the weekend was the call for calm and forgiveness, and resisting any urge for revenge and retaliation.

Metro Tabernacle church senior pastor Rev Ong Sek Leang, whose church in Taman Melawati was torched on Friday, told a press conference after Sunday services in a rented building,“What happened was caused by only a small segment of the people. It was great to see people of all communities, faiths and social levels reaching out to help. It really reflects what Malaysians are about. It is a clear message to our nation that we are a well-integrated and connected family,” he said, visibly happy with the outpouring of goodwill and assistance offered to the church in its hour of distress.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak announced that the government will give the church RM500,000 for its new building near Batu Caves. Yesterday, Ong also received a RM100,000 donation from CIMB Group CEO Datuk Nazir Razak, towards Metro Tabernacle’s new building which is expected to cost RM1.5 million. Nazir said the CIMB Group was happy to provide assistance for the restoration of the church. “I speak for all at the CIMB Group that we condemn acts of violence, especially those that desecrate places of worship and dishonour the bonds of respect and tolerance upon which our nation is based,” said Nazir, the brother of Najib.

Elsewhere, Christians attended Sunday service as usual, unbowed by the incidents as at least three more churches were targeted in Taiping, Miri and Malacca. About 1,000 worshippers at the Catholic Church of Assumption in Petaling Jaya, which was targeted by the arsonists, were briefed by parish priest Phillips Muthu on the incident. “I told them we don’t want to blame any people, any quarter, any religion. We are peaceful and we are here to offer our prayer for the nation,” he said at the church, where a firebomb damaged part of the grounds. “Of course we are afraid after the incident, but life has to go on.”

Meanwhile, six Muslim NGOs yesterday offered their assistance and support to their “Christian brothers and sisters”. Executive secretary Datuk Nadzim Johan said the NGOs, were prepared to give a hand to their Christian counterparts should they need assistance. “Looking at the current situation, we are taking proactive and pre-emptive measures to offer our services to the public and also help the government to ensure peace in the country,” he told a press conference. He also invited Christian leaders to sit together with them and discuss ways they can collectively avoid divisive issues so that all Malaysians can continue to live in peace and harmony.

We would ask our regular readers to pray for peace in Malaysia, that the work of God may go on unimpeded, and that Christians would continue to follow Christ’s admonition to “Love your enemies.”

I’m sure many of you have been reading the recent string of articles about Christian churches being firebombed in KL, and are wondering what the ruckus is all about. Well it’s complicated. I can do no better than quote from Gwynne Dyer’s recent article on the subject. Once again, it is a Canadian journalist that seems to be able to take the longer and more balanced view.

In the late ’80s, when I was in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, a friend suggested that I drive out into the desert near Jubail to see the oldest extant Christian church in the world. Its existence embarrassed the Saudi government, which prefers to believe that Arabia went straight from paganism to Islam. It confirms the assumption of most historians that Christianity was flourishing in the Arabian Peninsula in the centuries before the rise of Islam. So what did these Arabic-speaking Christians call God? Allah, of course.

I mention this because last week the Malaysian High Court struck down a three-year old ban on non-Muslims using the word Allah when they speak of God in the Malay language. The court’s decision was followed by firebomb attacks on three Christian churches in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday night. On Friday, protesters at mosques in Kuala Lumpur carried placards reading “Allah is only for us.”

Prime Minister Najib Razak condemned the attacks on the churches, but he supports the ban on Christians using the word “Allah” in Malay and is appealing the High Court decision. Parliamentary Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang simply observed, “The term ‘Allah’ was used to refer to God by Arabic-speaking Christians before Arabic-speaking Muslims existed.” Of course it was. Arabic-speaking Christians predate the rise of Islam by 300 years, and what else were they going to call God? The word “Allah” is a contraction of the Arabic definite article al- and the noun ‘ilah, which means god.

This Arabic word was imported into the Malay language by converts to Islam, which arrived in the region several centuries before Christianity. All ethnic Malays are considered to be Muslim under Malaysian law, and are legally forbidden to convert by criminal sanction, but there are numerous Malay speakers, especially in northern Borneo, who are Christian and not ethnically Malay. They also use the word Allah for God.

What’s the harm in that? Why are Malaysia’s Muslims so paranoid? The real paranoia, alas, is ethnic. Malaysia is an ethnic time bomb that has turned itself into a peaceful and prosperous country by a huge effort of will. The original population was mostly Malay, but under British rule huge numbers of Indian and Chinese immigrants were imported to work the mines and plantations.

By independence, Malays were only 60 percent of the population, and much poorer than the more recent arrivals. They resented the past, the present, and the probable future. After several bouts of anti-Chinese and anti-Indian rioting, the country arrived at its current, highly successful compromise. The Malays dominate politics, but the Chinese and the Indians thrive in trade and commerce–and most people understand that they are ultimately in the same boat, which is called Malaysia.

The state spends a lot of money to raise the living standards of the Malays, and gives them preference for housing, university placement and government jobs. They haven’t done badly out of this deal, but nevertheless they feel perpetually insecure. Since they are all Muslims, while few other Malaysians are, they also feel their religion is under threat. Some respond by being aggressively intolerant of minorities.

Not all Malays behave this way. Major Muslim organisations, including the Islamic political party, PAS, have agreed that the other “Abrahamic religions”–Christians and Jews– may call their God Allah in Malay. But it’s getting ugly, and it’s high time for the Malaysian government to stop playing along with the extremists. The Christians, Hindus, animists, and others who make up 40 percent of Malaysia subsidize the poorer Malay-Muslim majority. Few of them will ever convert to Islam, but they are not its enemy either. Malaysia has achieved a fragile but workable compromise that gives its people a good life. It should not endanger it so frivolously.

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