March 2010

Although this was a trip that was not intended to happen and was pulled together in pretty short order, it turned out to be very full and fruitful.

TWR staff met me at the airport on Wednesday morning and we went directly to the office to finalize a document that needed to be emailed to our Dutch partner by the end of the work day in order for us to have some input into a context analysis for a national HIV/AIDS proposal.

Thursday morning I had the privilege of preparing the hotel rooms and providing a welcome for a short term missions team from our son’s home church in Ontario. From there it was out to spend some time catching up with Trully, a dear young Indonesian friend who is leading the work at the Cambodia Training Center where we have had some opportunity to teach and minister.

Back at the airport early Friday morning to meet Annelies, a physician from Singapore who has extensive knowledge and experience in public health in several Asian countries. Together we went directly to a meeting with Cambodia Global Action and then to RHAC. Both meetings were extremely positive with CGA expressing a willingness to provide training and RHAC excited about the potential of training their 20,000 village health volunteers in moral issues, emotional health and family and interpersonal issues. We finished the day with a plan to return and spend several days getting to fully understand RHAC’s program and strategy so we can design a unique approach that will meet the needs of their staff and volunteers.

Friday night and Saturday morning was spent giving Annelies a whirlwind tour of Phnom Penh and eating way too much food. Prior to seeing Annelies off to the airport, we had lunch with Veasna, our TWR ministry leader to talk about media involvement in our approach to RHAC. Saturday evening I was able to join the Ontario team for supper at a “typical” Cambodian restaurant which means lots of food eaten while sitting on the floor. Our tuk-tuk driver had fun showing the group his skills in negotiating the traffic in the downtown, much to the delight of his Canadian passengers.

I was happy to be back in our little apartment on Sunday and am excited about the next steps in this wonderful opportunity to work with some wonderful Cambodian friends and friends of Cambodia.

Does God expect Christians to condemn the culture we live in, or merely critique it? Does He want us to opt out, or to opt in? How do we go about being salt and light to our generation, to our culture? Is taking part in culture even part of our mandate as Christians?

Pam and I have always tried neither to condemn our culture, nor merely to make our way through it without too much of it sticking to us, but rather to recast it in His image through our own God-driven effort. Our relationship is part of that remaking. We have tried to make it a true partnership, along the lines of Aquila and Priscilla in the book of Acts, and not fall into the expectations of others in either the church or our workplaces. We wanted to live within our means and give freely to those in need to create a model that was not beholden to cultural expectations of unnecessary expense and debt. The Joneses far outstripped us long ago, and we let them.

We left our jobs for a year during our careers, not once but twice, not to increase our earning potential by advancing our educational degrees, but to devote ourselves to the cause of Christ irrespective of the cost. We have now left our jobs at the peak of our earning potential , not because we despise comfort and ease, but because we value serving the Lord with the best of what we have to offer, rather than wait until our power to effect change has waned.

This is what we want to show to our families, our friends, our church and the world. We want to be part of those who are trying to create new ways of living a life, a life that has meaning beyond a consumer-oriented economy, a life focused on Christ and His call on our life. We want to show His love to the world in a tangible way.

You don’t have to leave where you are to do that. We did so because the Lord directed our hearts to this place. How is the Lord directing your heart? Would you not rather have a life of purpose, whatever they may cost you, than to live a life totally circumscribed by cultural demands and expectations? How many hockey games do you need to see; how many technological marvels do you need to own; how much mortgage debt do you need to assume? Are you living for God, or for the culture that surrounds you?

God intends to redeem culture every bit as much as He intends to redeem individual lives. And all cultures need to be redeemed, perhaps none more so than our own. We are striving to be part of that work of redemption in Southeast Asia, and we appreciate your prayers on our behalf. We also want to encourage you to rethink your role in your own culture; to be caring, thinking and acting as agents of cultural redemption. We also covenant to pray for you in this crucial work: to serve the Lord in His great act of redemption in individuals and in cultures.

President Barack Obama showed his mettle and determination in pushing through a health care bill despite the most virulent opposition America has seen for decades. His legacy will be established on that basis alone, if he accomplishes nothing more. But if you think he is done, I think you have grossly underestimated the man.

The opposition came from a number of directions. First there was the knee jerk reaction of Republicans who were opposed on the basis of the fact that Obama was not a Republican. Such thinking naturally has engendered a lot of contempt for the Republican Party. We’ll see how that attitude works out for them this November, although it is always safe to keep P.T. Barnum’s maxim in mind in these things. Barnum, famous for appealing to the lowest common denominator in public entertainment, once quipped, “No one has ever gone broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” I didn’t say it folks, it is part of the public record. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

The second factor here is the Religious Right in America, the ideological offspring of the Pharisees in Christ’s day. Christ called them whitewashed tombs, and His series of woes levelled at their righteous indignation would peal paint. The kind of invective our Lord used would be sin in any other mouth, but Christ was speaking as the Lord of Creation, so those who would dress themselves in His garb when speaking to others are doing more than forgetting their Christian responsibility to think no ill of others, they are enacting blasphemy, for which one of us has the right to speak as if we were God?

I would think no ill of my Christian friends and brothers in the Lord, but I would caution them to examine the political motives of those who would seek to rally their allegiance by giving lip-service to patriotism on the one hand, and a facile nod to the complex issue of abortion on the other. Saint Ronald Reagan, he of the charming smile and the Hollywood hair, gave less than one-half of one percent of his vast income to charity in his lifetime, and authored the assassination of at least three properly elected leaders of Latin American democracies whose policies he disagreed with, while funding right-wing coups with money raised by selling arms to Iran. Such is the character of politicians who gather the faithful to their cause on the Right. Please don’t slander my Lord by suggesting He would side with such as these.

It is still early to say what Bush’s legacy might be, but certainly both he and his father, along with Reagan, are at least partly to blame for the polarization that has gripped America. Who would have thought a mere twenty years ago that we would once again hear Black American legislators being called ‘niggers’ and spat upon as they walked into Congress to cast their votes in favour of the health bill. James Clyburn, one of those congressmen said, “A lot of us have been saying for a long time that much of this is not about health care at all. And I think a lot of those people today demonstrated this. It is about trying to extend a basic fundamental right to people who are less powerful.” What in his discretion he omitted was that a lot of those disadvantaged people are Black and Hispanic.

There are at least two sides to every issue, and I am certain that many of you will disagree with this assessment. As you do, please keep in mind that America has the worst infant mortality rate in the Western world. Singapore has 2.2 infant deaths per thousand births, France has 3.3, Germany has 4.0, Canada has 5.0. Even the much despised and economically blockaded (for 50 years!) Cuba has 5.8. The good ol’ U.S. of A. has 6.2. I am not in favour of abortion any more than you are, but surely better health care will ensure that more children get to live, not less. And that is worth voting for.

Being firstborn in this part of the world has mythic proportions. You inherit not only the family name, but the fortune and all the responsibility for looking after your parents, not only in this life, but in the afterlife as well. The sense of earthly entitlement and an eternity of responsibilty are not conducive to healthy children.

In North America that is less of a problem, although firstborn’s do share some of the same baggage. Expectations and smothering come high on any new parent’s to do list, despite the best of intentions not to go there when you are making preparations for this new entry into your family. Second borns have a much better chance of being normal. Not only are the expectations lower – “s/he is going to learn to talk eventually and then we won’t be able to get him/her to shut up, so what’s the rush?” – but there is the modeling that an older child provides; a much surer teacher than any parent could ever be, no matter how well intentioned.

Our grandaughter, pictured here in her Mommy’s duds, is the perfect example of a second born: bright, lively, outgoing; no sense of entitlement, just happy to take whatever comes her way. With her older brother there to test out everything in advance, she gets to see how it is done before she even knows that she didn’t always know it. Our only problem with this delightful child is that she is 15,000 kilometers away from us and we only get to see her once a year. That is the price we pay for serving the Lord where He has called us. Every once in a while we have a pity-party for ourselves and cry a little.

Today our little girl turns two. We hope that there are no tears on her special day, and that she receives back from others some of the wonderful joy she gives with her innocent loving spirit. Happy Birthday Abi. May God richly bless your young life, and may you grow to know the One who created you to be such a blessing to others.

Almost two years ago I began a campaign on behalf of a wonderful Cambodian lady that I met in my search for health information and resources for our Cambodian Project Hannah team.  Dr. Vathiny is the Executive Director of an organization which provides family and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS services to much of Cambodia.  She works through an extensive network of clinics and health stations, providing clinical services and  training village health volunteers.

In a very early conversation she confided in me her heartache that although she can provide the mandated services, she has seen little positive impact on the overall life of Cambodians, particularly women.  Her comment was that the hearts of the people needed healing and she was unable to meet the emotional, moral and spiritual needs of her patients. She asked me to help her meet this need.  Although I have been able to  help with a few minor initiatives and have even written a proposal that would allow TWR to provide her with some media based resources, I know that what is needed is much more involved.

Through my connection with the International Community Health Education Network, I was able to present her need to a group of doctors who are willing and able to assist her.  I am now headed to Cambodia to introduce Dr. Vathiny to one of the group of physicians who will offer their expertise and experience to assist.  Please pray that Dr. Vathiny’s heart will be open to accept this offer which has the potential to impact the health system of Cambodia in a very significant way.

Following our meeting on Friday, we will either form a “consultation group” working out of Singapore to begin training village health volunteers in a holistic approach to health and village development, or this particular avenue of my work will come to an end.  I believe that we have seen God’s hand in the building of the team and would ask for your prayers for guidance and sensitivity as we meet together on Friday.

This week is March break for Steve and we thought we were content with the fact that although we had not booked a trip away, we both had plenty of work to do to fill up our week.  However on Saturday morning, realizing that all of our colleagues were off on great adventures to China, Myanmar and Borneo, we were feeling a little cheated.  So we rented a car for the weekend to do a few things locally that can’t be done without wheels.  Saturday night we got to practice our ballroom dancing and after church on Sunday we took a drive out in the country to see the fireflies at Kuala Selangor.

In spite of the fact that we have wanted to do this for almost three years, we really weren’t expecting too much.  We have after all seen fireflies before.  In the afternoon we visited the Kuala Selangor Nature Park a combination of mangrove swamp and forests.  A trolley ride took us up to Bukit Melawati, a hill on which you can see the remains of a the fort built in the eigthteenth century to protect the tin trade of the region. 

Along with the cannons and a lovely lighthouse, the hill is inhabited by hundreds of silverleaf monkeys who survive by using all of their charms on tourists.  It was amazing to watch them jump from branch to branch with their little babies holding on for dear life.

As we had eaten lunch at a rather questionable roadside stall we decided supper at Pizza Hut was in order.  As dusk approached we headed out to Sungei Selangor a narrow river along the banks of which, grow berembang trees amongst the mangrove swamps.  We watched a beautiful sunset as the flatbottom boats lined up along the dock to prepare for the evening of ferrying visitors up the river. It was raining slightly but our boatman provided us with umbrellas and the evening was lovely.

As we floated silently down the river we were treated to the most amazing sight. Glittering fireflies filled the bushes that hugged the river and glowed like delicate little Christmas lights. We had heard that they blink in synch with each other, but we didn’t see that. Given the myriad thousands of lights, some of them undoubtedly do, but there were too many to notice such subtleties. What we experienced was an ineffably charming ride through a most delightful display of nature. We thank the God of Wonders who designed such a unique and beautiful little creature to have a role in His creation.

Life of Pi is an endearing novel, if such can be said about a book that deals with isolation, unspeakable brutality and cannibalism, among other things. I found myself being charmed and disarmed as I made my way through it over Christmas while we traveled through Australia. My purpose, as is true for nearly everything I read, was how to compass its idiosyncratic nature within the confines of a classroom study.

There are of course plenty of online resources for this kind of thing. But I have learned to my chagrin that any novel study that I take from the internet can be answered by my students in the like same manner. Tit-for-tat, as it were. Besides, online studies have a tendency to ask closed questions (‘How many animals were on the boat?’, for example) instead of open ones (‘If the hyena were a man, what would he be like?’). The objective of a closed question is to determine if the student read the chapter. The objectives of an open question are to ensure that the student not only read , but understood the chapter, encourage discussion and inquiry, and stimulate the student into writing which is going to strengthen his/her abilty in English. Like most in my profession, I cheerfully despise closed questions.

I determined on a structure that divided the text into nineteen sections of about 24 pages each, with two open questions per section. My intention was to have the students read the section aloud in their small group, discuss the two questions for that day, and write down a one page answer for each. What was not done in class would become homework. I must confess I had my doubts when none of the groups even finished the reading on the first day, but I made adjustments. I scrapped the ten minute lesson on grammar that I had used in the first unit, and kept my opening remarks to ten minutes, no more. By the end of the first week my students were meeting my objectives.

Then I had to introduce the essay topic for this unit: a fifteen hundred word research paper that had to cite at least half a dozen secondary sources. Some of the students had been through this process last term; some were brand new to this task. I booked library computer time, went through the MLA style guide in painstaking detail and met individually with dozens of students. The results were impressive. Some papers had bibliographies that ran to fifteen entries; some were absolutely letter perfect in their grammar; most pursued their thesis with consistent vigour; nearly all passed through the SafeAssign plagiarism check with flying colours.

The unit fell exactly within the time parameters I had planned. I collected their response journals in which they recorded their answers to the forty questions on the novel, and they were as impressive as the essays. We even had time for a fun day of illustrating a scene from the novel, and a day to get them prepared for a reading assignment over the March Break. On top of all that I got all of their marks for this unit uploaded to Markbook and sent off to admin in time for their mid-term report.

Those who do this for a living will understand what this feels like. For those who do different things, it’s like building a bookcase that you have planned, or writing a program that does exactly when you wanted it to do. A well planned and executed unit is a deeply satisfying experience. My students feel accomplished and well rewarded for their labours, and so do I. We part company for a week happy in how far we have come this term, and confident in our continued success. Both us deserve a week to rest and renew ourselves, and I plan to do just that.

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