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.

Photo by: Erin Pettengill

After the Earthquake- Port-auPrince, Haiti

Women of the Harvest Picture Praise

Pam’s Dad was admitted into hospital again this weekend, now in congestive heart failure. Following so closely after his heart attack, we are understandably concerned. Apparently there is a lot of fluid on his lungs and his breathing is very laboured. Clearly there is another obstruction, and the heart is unable to clear the lungs. This could be a valve or it could be a failure of the muscles of the heart (myopathy). We don’t know at this point if Pam will have to fly home. It depends on the results of some tests that will be done within the next twenty-four hours.

If Pam had nothing on her plate at the moment then our decision would be an easy one: she would simply fly home. But the situation is not that simple. Pam has an awful lot on her plate and her role at the moment is pivotal. Essentially the plans for a new initiative in Cambodia depend upon her connections with the various players who do not yet know each other. Pam is working to bring that meeting – or series of meetings – into being. Once those meetings have taken place, Pam can step back into a supportive role once again. But at the moment she is the lynchpin for this initiative; hence our dilemma.

Obviously if Dad takes a turn for the worse, she will have to come home immediately, there is no question of that. But if Dad is able to recover, and Pam could delay coming home until these Cambodian meetings take place, then the work here could go forward. We know that the Lord’s will and timing are perfect. But our undertanding of the Lord’s plans at present is a little uncertain. Would you undertake to offer a prayer on our behalf so that we would do what the Lord would have us do? We would ask that you undertake to pray for Pam’s Dad as well. He is a dear man, and as faithful a servant of God as one could ever hope to meet. May the Lord’s gracious will be done in his life.

Reading one of the giants of science or of literature is considerably different than reading about them. I found that out long ago by reading Cervantes’ Don Quixote. It is an immensely enjoyable book, filled with quirky humour and sly digs at the foibles of mankind, far different than the stuffy image of ‘classic’ that it is burdened with. The same is true of Darwin. His book was a great joy to read, and I took my own sweet time, savouring every tasty morsel.

He immediately destroyed one of my preconceptions about the limitations of his scientific education – he trained as a clergyman – by demonstrating his meticulous attention to detail. The man was a consummate naturalist, leaving not the tiniest stone unturned in his pursuit of gathering the minutiae of observation. If anyone was qualified to write such a book as Origin, it was Darwin, and evolutionists are quite right to place so much faith in his work and call him a giant in his field. The man had impressive scope, not only of biology, but of geology as well; he was a true Renaissance intellect.

Secondly I was impressed with the genial and generous nature of the man. In one section he deals with the objections to his theory by another naturalist in agonizing detail, pouring over what amounted to little less than slanderous accusations. And yet he had the grace and good nature to thank the man, and pour praise upon the other’s fearless questioning of Darwin’s theory, holding his adversary’s questioning up as an example to others of the thoroughness with which they must answer every criticism, and being fair-minded enough to assert that such discussion was good for science!

This attitude he extended to his friends and allies as well, being careful to give credit to Wallace, Lyell, Asa Gray and a host of others for their contributions, and acknowledging the greater expertise of some of his colleagues to whom he looked for advice and assistance. Would the Stanley Millers and Richard Dawkins of today take a look not just at the arguments of Darwin, but his approach as well. To listen or read Darwinians now is to be subject to the most infantile arrogance and insufferable intellectual conceit. Darwin displayed none of that in his book, but only the most courteous discourse and reasonable debate. I would love to have sat down and talked to the man.

I could extol further virtues, but let me conclude with this: nowhere in Origin does Darwin deny the existence of God. This one fact alone made the reading of this book valuable to my understanding of the man. He may have questioned the common interpretation of Genesis (a literal rather than a literary one than uses metaphor and symbol to convey spiritual truth, just as Christ did in His parables), but he doesn’t dethrone God. Rather, like Newton before him, he seeks to “think God’s thoughts after Him.”

For Darwin it was no less honouring to God to believe that He had created all things by the process of evolution than to believe He did it by divine fiat. Darwin writes at the conclusion of his impressive work “When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Cambrian system was first deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator.”  (506 in Signet Classics, italics mine).

What evolutionists have done to Darwin’s thorough and respectful examination of the Creator’s handiwork amounts to a wholesale hijacking of the reputation of a great scientist. Darwin is not the poster boy of the anti-God brigade he is made out to be by the narrow-minded atheists in the popular press. He was a thoughtful and fair-minded naturalist who painstakingly examined the evidence regarding the way God created the inhabitants of the earth, and respected the views of those who disagreed with him.

I encourage those who have long been leery of reading Darwin because of how he is portrayed in the public media to give the man the benefit of an honest appraisal by reading him yourself. You will not agree with everything he says; I do not. Science marches on. The development of probability and information theory, the discovery of the ‘irreducible complexity’ of the cell, examined by Michael Behe in his groundbreaking book Darwin’s Black Box, and the increasing importance of the anthropic principle that underlies modern cosmology, explored in the 2002 blockbuster Rare Earth, among many others, now calls into serious question some of Darwin’s basic assumptions. But the man has suffered from unnecessary caricature, not only from evolutionists, who should know better, but also from Christians, who should behave better. Darwin deserves greater respect.

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