August 2010

A week in Cambodia is exhausting and totally thrilling at the same time and I love it.  I love watching life on the streets, riding around in tuk-tuks, spending time with my Khmer friends and every aspect of the work that I do there.  Something about being in Phnom Penh just puts all of my petty little problems in the right perspective.  I was tempted this week to complain about the hard beds at the hotel until I realized that a number of the participants in the training were actually sleeping on the classroom floor as they didn’t have the money to stay in a hotel.

My main reason for being there this week was to assist to provide a couple of days of training to the staff at Cambodia Global Action, one of our partner organizations there.  With  thirty two participants all eager to learn the material and the teaching method, we had some very interesting discussions and lots of fun.  All of the participants were CHE trainers so were very keen to glean new information and just to have a forum where they were free to discuss issues and concerns that are not often talked about in this culture.  CHE lessons are designed for use in oral cultures so are very visual and participatory as each lesson is introduced through a role play or story

After a brief review of some HIV/AIDS materials from earlier training we moved into some great lessons on Addictions, Worldview and Broken Relationships, Choosing Your Friends Wisely, Youth Love and Lies, Discovering the Roots of Despair and Hope, Marital Faithfulness, Consequences of Sex Outside of Marriage, Making a Marriage Work. Translation is always a challenge but thanks to a couple of TWR staff who joined in the training, we were able to manage quite nicely.

Thursday was spent making some more contacts with potential partners in a new program and searching out Khmer resources for our TWR teams and their projects. Yet one more suitcase of vitamins was greatly appreciated by the Children’s outreach mininstry.

I even had the opportunity for a couple of first time experiences like eating cockles, which actually taste OK when served in a cinnamon sauce.  I just had trouble getting the picture of the “cockle carts” out of my head.   The tiny, little birds served with their heads and feet intact actually tasted just like chicken and I was happy to learn they were quails as somehow I was thinking pigeon.  It was quite startling to see how quickly the streets of downtown Phnom Penh can be transformed into rapidly flowing rivers when a monsoon rainfall hits.  I ended up wading back to my hotel in knee deep water with waves that reached thigh level when a vehicle passed by.

So why would I need encouragement? Why would I think that what I am doing is unimportant? Well don’t you ever get depressed? Don’t you ever get down on yourself? I’m 61. There are days that I don’t feel it, and there are days that every day of those 61 years weighs a ton. My feet ache, I’m overloaded with work, no one has said a kind word to me in weeks, my father-in-law passed away recently after suffering dreadfully and my wife is often away on ministry in Cambodia.

But this is where being a Christian comes in. No, not because it gives me great reserves of spiritual wisdom to face any trial. Rather it is because we serve a God who is personal, who is intimately connected with our lives, who listens to our prayers, even the ones we don’t have the courage or presence of mind to pray. He is the One who helps me, sometimes in very personal ways.

Shortly before the three week summer break I was considering not going to the yearly Prom. Pam had been back in Canada for several weeks nursing her father, and I just didn’t feel much like celebrating. I was musing this over when I went down to the pool and was greeted by some colleagues who urged me to attend. I went, reluctantly, but had half a mind to leave after dinner. In fact I was sitting in a chair in the lobby when a young man came up and said “You’re Mr. Wise, aren’t you?” I have never taught this lad or even seen him about, so I was surprised when he said that he was not in the CPU program, but had heard about me from mutual friends. “Your wife is a missionary to Cambodia, I hear.”

Now he really had my attention. I asked him how he knew that and he said that he was a frequent visitor on our website, whose address I make known to every student I teach. Word of mouth does the rest. He was a young Christian, just three years in the faith, from a nominally Buddhist family. He attended DUMC where we worship, although in such a large church it is not surprising that I had never seen him there. He wanted to know about short term mission work, and I encouraged him to get involved. It was that encouragement that he was seeking and that prompted his talking to me.

But it was his encouragement to me that was the more meaningful. I hadn’t realized the impact that I was having through this blog on students I had never met; nor the reputation that I was gathering in the school. Surely my ministry is larger than I knew and more important than I realized. This personal God that cares for us as a loving father would saw my distress and sought to comfort and encourage me by reminding me of this larger ministry by bringing this young man over to introduce himself and ask me for guidance.

I praise and thank the Lord that meets our needs in such an immediate and personal way, and I encourage you, where you are, to look to Him for such leading in your life. He doesn’t come barging in demanding our attention, uprooting our lives and ordering us about. But if you pay attention to the small details of your life, if you look for Him to answer your prayers and meet your needs – whatever they are – you will find Him, for that is His promise in His word:

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans not for evil, but for good; to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all of your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

I suppose I could be forgiven for thinking that my ministry over here is not that important. I don’t think God thinks that, in fact I’m sure of it. But if you get enough people who don’t see what you are doing as being significant to God, then you can’t help – on a human level – to start to wonder if you are doing what you think you are doing, if you follow my drift.

Here’s what I think I am doing. I am in the first place seeking to serve God. I wouldn’t be in Asia, miles away from my family and friends (thank you Jon and Nic for your visit; you don’t know how happy your being here for a few weeks made me!) if I didn’t believe with all my heart and mind that God did not only called me to come to Malaysia in the fall of 2006, but had in fact been leading me to make that decision for all of my life. From thumbing my way around North America and Europe in the early seventies, to serving Him in Bangladesh in the eighties and Germany in the nineties; from giving me a wonderfully successful teaching career that every year was a joy and an adventure, to giving me the worst teaching year of my life in 2006 and practically driving me out of my comfort zone; from seeing all my kids finally graduate from college and university, to listening to my wife plead with me to resign so we could go back to Asia; the Lord has been talking to me about this for years. I know I am where He wants me to be.

What I think I am doing is providing a support for my wife’s missionary endeavour in Cambodia that couldn’t be funded any other way. Not that what she is doing is too insignificant for a Christian agency, for example our home church or our church’s denomination to support. On the contrary, what she is doing is nothing short of miraculous. Her goal, if she can bring it to pass, is to put a Christian witness in every village in Cambodia through health care evangelism. That is a worthwhile endeavour, by any standard. That fact that I am her sole support is not a reflection on the importance of what she is doing, but rather on the woeful state of the Christian church in North America that seems to have lost its vision for the lost. I am a vital part of the support for her ministry. Without my support, it would not exist.

What I think I am doing is seeking to fulfil my responsibility to my God to give back to Him the gift of talent and capability that He gave to me: to become the best I can be at what I do. Parenting and teaching have been the two of the greatest joys of my life. I have poured myself into both of those things in order to honour the One who gave me the gifts to do those things. I can’t do much in the way of direct parenting anymore; my ‘kids’ are all approaching 30 and pretty much have got things worked out by now. But they still need me to model for them what a good Christian man does with the life God has given him. By leaving behind a good job with a comfortable income and lifestyle to serve God in Malaysia I am providing that modelling. This is what it means to be a Christian. God comes first, comfort comes later.

Not that our life over here is at all uncomfortable. You have seen the pictures; this is a beautiful place. But we had no idea when we left Canada that this would be so, and that is the point: we trusted God, put Him first. He honours that, and always has in our lives. As for my teaching, well that is my daily bread. I have always wanted to be a high school English teacher, and God has now given me that opportunity. I dreaded the thought of teaching high school in Canada: the drugs, the rudeness, the lack of motivation . But over here it is different; the kids are decent and well behaved, respectful and motivated. But teaching goes beyond a good working environment. The heart of my satisfaction is that I am committed to continue to grow as a teacher and as a person, and this challenge does that for me. Back in Canada I had exhausted every challenge. Over here I have taught one new English course every semester I have been here. It has stretched me and made me a better teacher.

I will conclude these thoughts in the next post.

We breakfasted in the hills..

Explored the gold course for next time..

Travelled over the rain forest by cable car…

Enjoyed a view from the clouds…

Took the tram up the Malawati Hill

Fed the natives…

Made new friends…

Even time for a photo op and a cuddle…

Waited patiently for food…

Experienced some great new tastes…

Watched a beautiful sunset on the river…

Floated silently and marvelled at the fireflies…

Went home happy…

Happy birthday, birthday boy;
You who brought your parents joy,
You who brought us smiles and laughter
Which echoes now and ever after,
That cheers us now and will forever
Lingering in our memories ever.

Happy birthday, fair-haired son;
Who loved to talk and learned to run;
Who taught us to forget ourselves
In developing enduring wealth,
In sacrifice so you would grow
A larger, kinder self to know.

Happy birthday, strong young man
Who strives and toils to sculpt the land
Who’s learned to delegate, command,
And build a future with his hands.
We marvel at the things you do
And joy to know a son like you.

Happy birthday, David. We are both so proud of you.

Ok, I admit that I do feel a little guilty posting this one. Gone to Bali for the weekend? How many people in this world get to say that in their lifetime? Like many things in our decision to come to Asia, working for a company that sends their employees on weekend team-building excursions to places like Borneo and Bali was an unexpected perk. However, that is what this company does, and since they were paying the freight, I didn’t mind hauling my weary body off to Indonesia for some free R&R.

The Hard Rock Hotel is situated on what must be the largest bit of prime real estate in this part of the world. The resort is enormous, and it is right downtown in Kotu Beach, one of the great beaches in the world, and a surfing magnet. Yes I did want to try surfing again, but I waited for the friends I was travelling with to come down for breakfast and missed the morning lesson. No lessons in the afternoon, as by then it was low tide and the surf is not good when the water is that far out.

But I did get some body surfing in on a boogie board and had a hard time getting out of the water as I was having too much fun. I was also getting a little too much sun, so I had to quit. In the afternoon I stretched out in one of the cabanas around the enormous pool and read and napped til supper time. For dinner we all went out to a seafood restaurant down the road for roasted crab and broiled shrimp. We also were treated to a formal Balinese dance while we watched the sun go down and listen to the awesome surf thunder into shore.

Taylor’s provided a a tour guide and buses for our stay. On one shopping trip we stopped at a coffee factory where I sat sipping my brew trying to make sense of this odd poster in front of me. There were Jack Nicholson’s and Morgan Freeman’s septinginarian faces grinning at me from their Bucket List movie with a picture of fruit bats and some script in Bahasa. Then it clicked: oh yeah, this was the coffee that was processed through the digestive tract of bats and civit cats before being roasted and ground for consumption! I didn’t finish what I was drinking!! I must admit it was exceptionally good coffee, it is just the thought that is so off-putting.

Our passage through the intricacies of Indonesian customs was also handled by Taylor’s, vastly simplifying the process. Three of my buddies, who had gone off for a last minute jaunt and had to make their own way through check-in, got booted from the flight under the excuse that it was overbooked. Their seats remained empty while I worried and fretted all the way to Jakarta. Apparently this is a fairly frequent scam. Garuda offers a financial compensation in such cases and a rerouting on the next available flight. Airport officials hose the airline by telling people who have a seat that the plane is overbooked. Then they have the unsuspecting tourist sign a release turning the compensation money over to the corrupt officials. This time the scam didn’t work as one of the teachers knew Bahasa and these guys talked quite openly about what they were doing. As a result my friends got the next flight and the money. Fortunately for them we had a three hour layover in Jakarta, so they caught up with us for the last leg back to KL.

In was a long day to get home, but I had brought some marking with me, and I finished it all at the last layover, so the time wasn’t wasted. I am tired though, after getting only four hours sleep last night and working all day today. But I feel great, and really enjoyed the trip. The music at the hotel was outstanding, and so was the room and the food. I went to Bali for the weekend and stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel. How neat is that!

I am very much a person who likes life to be well thought out and organized, even more so now that we are in Asia where things tend to be a bit unpredictable at best.  Before each visit to Cambodia I make a concerted effort to plan carefully so that I ensure that I maximize my time there.  Admittedly, I am pretty task oriented and something of a control freak.

My dear Cambodian friends are just the opposite.  They are very much about relationships; are gentle, accepting and totally unassuming.  It is often difficult to set up appointments from outside the country due to issues of language barriers especially in written form but there is also the reality of Cambodia.  There if you show up, people simply put everything else on hold and give you their full attention. I am trying to learn from them to be more flexible and focused on people not events but I have a long way to go.

Anyway, in spite of the fact that I arrived in Phnom Penh with very little in terms of solid appointments, God once again gave me a very full and successful week.  Since I was there this week with my friends Su Min and Sing Yu who have some class, I upgraded to the Billabong Hotel, $3 more per night but a much better location. It was a little frightening when we first pulled up to the gate but not bad once inside and it even has a pool
Monday night we had a lovely supper with a newly CHE trained couple from Partners Against Poverty.  Tuesday I met up with a nursing friend to give her  some children’s vitamins donated by a colleague of Steve’s to be used in her village project.  I spent the afternoon with TWR staff reviewing  changes to a funding proposal that we have been working on.  Another three hours on the proposal back at the hotel and I emailed it off at 10:30 at night, eight hours ahead of schedule.

Wednesday and Thursday we spent with our partners from RHAC and CGA planning our up coming training sessions.  Thursday afternoon we did some shopping and had supper with the TWR Country Co-ordinator and his wife, Veasna and Sela.  Back at the hotel I struggled to stay awake for a Skype conference call with our co-workers in Calgary and Switzerland. 

I finally hit the sack at 1:30 knowing I needed to be up and going by 6 in order to have an early breakfast and see Su Min and Sing Yu off to the airport.  Always on the lookout for other networking opportunities, I still had one more meeting with a CHE trained Australian Social Worker before heading out to the airport myself.  As much as I love Cambodia, I was plenty happy to get home to our own little place in KL even if Steve is off in Bali for the weekend.

The next step in the writing process is the peer edit. I have students submit their second draft in a typed copy, doubled spaced and then reditribute those essays to other small groups in the class. This serves a double pupose: the students have the benefit of knowing their mistakes before they have to submit it for marking and by encorporating those corrections their mark will improve; and secondly, they gain the additional benefit of improving their own critical editing skills that they can apply to their own written work in the future. It is a great review of the writing process.

Small group work also helps to develop a sense of community and helpfulness to other students that brings about a greater sense of ownship of the learning process and resposibility for group outcomes. It gives students an opportunity to read what others in their class are writing and provides a comparison with their own work that can motivate them to try harder themselves. It also saves me a lot of headaches in that my marking load is also reduced. What is good for others is not wrong because it is also good for oneself. A peer edit is truly a win/win for all of us.

Incredibly the first unit of this term is almost at an end. Tomorrow I am myself assessed, and on Thursday there will be the first unit test on this material. Media Presentations will be prepared Friday and over the weekend (while I am off in Bali on the company ticket) and be presented to the class on Monday and Tuesday. It is a breathless, mad dash to December: an intoxicating, adrenaline rush of content delivery, assessment and deadlines, to which I am unfortunately, irrevocably addicted.