January 2011

We arrived home from Sri Lanka two weeks ago and are finally beginning to feel that we are somewhat organized, at least briefly. Steve has his classes for the semester well underway and is finishing up the first unit on Poetry.

The new folks are settling in well and we organized a Karaoke night with a dual purpose. It was a fun night to break in the newbies with good food and great music, after all teachers tend to be a pretty gifted lot. Sadly though, it was also time to say farewell to John and Lindsay who are heading back to Canada to establish their careers and home there. They were a real asset to Taylor’s especially with the musical productions that they organized and will be missed by staff and students alike.

I managed to get in a few days in Cambodia to move plans forward for the next set of moral values training and to spend some time with the TWR team developing a plan for annual evaluation and reporting on the health program. Once home, I had one more major document to complete and send off before I began the final preparations for training.

With some repair work done in the apartment, lunch with Gary and Kveta to get caught up on their news and material purchased to have a dress made for the wedding, we are now, once again tripping over suitcases in preparation to hit the road, or skies once again. Please stay posted as we go our separate ways for a while and then meet up again in Phnom Penh.

If you look to the right on our homepage you will see a link to our son’s blog. He has been blogging for a lot longer than we have, and we owe our interest in blogging to his initiative. This latest post from our son’s blog is just too wonderful to not capture in our own record.

The other day, Ben and I were driving around on some errands, and he started into his ‘God’ line of questioning. The kids frequently ask questions about Jesus and God, and daddy’s grandpa — who died and is with Jesus. These are complex concepts to wrap around a 2 and 4-year old brain. “How are God and Jesus the same person? If God is bigger than our house, how does He live in our heart? Why did Jesus have to die? Why did daddy’s grandpa die too? Is Jesus taller than daddy? How old is Jesus? How fast can he run?”

All of these questions have been asked and answered numerous times, with the best most patient answers we can, doing our best to reduce answers to questions only God Himself really understands to something our kids can comprehend — without being blasphemous in the process!

This time though, some of the answers really seemed to be hitting home with Ben. In his thoughtful little way, he wanted to know if God lived in his heart. I told him that God will come and live in his heart as soon as he asks Him in. He wanted to know how, so I told him he’d have to pray. He wanted to know when he could pray — could it be when we got home, but after he had his cookie?

I’m not sure about his prioritization, but shortly thereafter he took my hand and we walked down stairs, and I helped him pray a simple believers prayer. When we were done, he pointed to his chest, and asked if God lived there now — and will he live there for always? I assured him that He would, and gave him a hug, and he trotted up stairs to tell mommy.

Of course his understanding is incomplete, and his faith is simple. But at 30 years of age, my understanding is still incomplete too. I was also saved when I was 4, and although there was a time when I was about 16 where I came to the realisation that I wouldn’t make it without my Saviour, I’ve never doubted my own simple believer’s prayer said 26 years ago.

And now my oldest son, my firstborn, isn’t just a part of our earthly family, he’s apart of our heavenly family too. There will be lots of hurdles and hard times. If he’s anything like his father, there’ll be rebellion and anger and stubborn independance too. But at the end of it all, he’s been bought with a price and saved by grace, and I couldn’t be more proud of my little man.

We are humbled by the Lord’s grace to our children and grandchildren, and rejoice with Jon and Nic at this news. May the Lord who has been so good to this family, find a home in your heart as well.

Cambodia is a moral vacuum. Ruthlessly colonized by the French, who drained the country of its resources and basically brought nothing to the country in return, bombed back to the dark ages by the Americans, who were seeking to cut off the supply route to South Vietnam during that bloody war, decimated by the Khmer Rouge who obliterated the intelligentsia, wiping out an entire generation, and dominated by the Vietnamese who now control the country through a puppet ruler; it is no wonder that they have little idea of how to function as families, as communities and as a society.

What Pam and her organization are seeking to do is to bring moral education, admittedly with a Christian focus, to the people of the villages of Cambodia through health care evangelism, using the existing organizations in the country in a focused and cooperative way. In a couple of weeks both of us will return to Phnom Penh during the Chinese New Year holiday to take part in further training of these health care workers. I am looking forward to providing some teaching first hand as opposed to my usual role of being part of the support network so that I can better understand the issues and the personalities involved in her ministry.

In my own workplace I see the importance of these moral values every day. Asian students, at least those who have not been devastated by generations of war and abuse, are invariably polite, civil and kind. Manners and social graces are important components of their culture, and I must say that my time spent teaching in Asia has benefitted from this aspect of their culture which my students bring to class. Civility breeds respect; incivility contempt. But civility does more than ensure that a respectful tone and atmosphere permeate my classes. It also facilitates inquiry and discussion as students become aware that their questions will be met with not with scorn, but with polite interest and a desire to further their understanding. Inquiry and discussion facilitate understanding and develop confidence in the learning process. Eventually this brings about maturity, as students begin to own the learning process for themselves and begin to develop their own strands of intellectual and social growth.

I wrote recently about the desire of some teachers and administrators to control the process of education through anger and intimidation. It has been my observation that this control is not only detrimental to personal relationships, it is detrimental to the learning process as well. Fear may work to impart facts and even skills, but it fails impart the understanding necessary for future growth, and undermines the self-confidence that is necessary to undergo present difficulties for future gains, which is an essential quality for those who are considering a university education. Kindness and civility do not in themselves lead to advances in education. But they do mold the character that makes this level of education possible. And they do affect a society that can look with hope toward a future when the education of the youth will become a valuable component of that nation’s fabric.

Civility and kindness; such simple virtues, it would seem; so unconnected to the success of a nation; and yet upon examination, how fundamental to that nation’s progress. It is also most pleasant, and most encouraging to my own attitude and teaching effectiveness to be treated with such civility and kindness by my students for the efforts I make on their behalf. To all my students in Malaysia who are reading this, my most appreciative thanks.

A long-time colleague of mine passed away recently; a man with whom I had worked for several years at a school back in Canada. Famous for his temper, he was both reviled and feared by students and colleagues alike. Yet, as is often the case when we examine such people, the Lord was able to teach me much about my own temper through this man. By his example I saw more clearly how odious my own bouts of intemperance were, and how destructive to the self-esteem of others.

My father had a nasty temper. He had been an officer in the war, rising to major before its end, and he was used to giving orders and being obeyed. He was not easily provoked, but once inflamed, he was not to be trifled with. My mother was strong-willed and selfish, and liked things to go her way. Between the two of them, our house was rarely peaceful. Understandably, my siblings and I grew up with anger management issues. Accepting Christ at 27 should have taken care of that issue for me. But as anyone who has come to Christ as an adult will tell you, there is a lot of baggage to attend to. Basically it takes you a lifetime.

My situation was complicated by the fact that in this profession, at least in North America, a little anger is a useful tool. Every student will tell you that a teacher’s stare is his or her best weapon. That stare has to contain more than a hint of menace to be effective. A hallway scolding is often necessary to rein in unruly students. Yard duty is not for wimps. In all of these ways, anger is reinforced as a useful part of a teacher’s personality. One of the things about teaching in Asia that I am most grateful for is the complete absence of any discipline issues. Students here are respectful and polite. There is no need for anger; in fact in this climate it would be almost unforgiveably rude.

I have always taught my children that anger is sometimes necessary to define boundaries and prevent others from treating you disrespectfully. But lately I have begun to question the wisdom of my own advice. More and more I see anger as an impediment to personal growth in my faith, and a barrier to effective and peaceable relationships with others. Yesterday I had a further reminder of that insight. Someone who I considered a friend thought it necessary to unload a barrage of his anger on me. To be honest I was too shocked to respond, and merely allowed him to exhaust himself, being as mild and inoffensive in my own manner as the situation allowed. He stomped away, muttering invectives under his breath, and I was moved to reflect upon his unexpected behaviour.

I will confess to being upset, and somewhat upbraided myself for not responding more forcefully. But then I noted that I seem to be losing my appetite for a response in kind. Rather, I felt sad for the man for not getting better control of his thoughts and his emotions. It seems to me that he has become smaller in my sight, and more immature, like an adolescent who is upset at not getting his own way. In whatever direction our relationship now goes, it will be coloured by his outburst, and I will be less trusting and open with him in the future. I now view him as unreliable and unbalanced.

This I see is the true cost of anger. A dear friend and former colleague has written elsewhere (http://corrinaaustin.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/on-being-nice) about the cost of kindness. Kindness is costly, it is true. But there are compensations for acts of kindness, and a resulting growth in character. The cost of anger seems to me higher, with fewer compensations, and a loss, rather than a growth in character.

I regret that it has taken me so long to recognize what others have understood at a much earlier age, and hope that my ignorance on this issue hasn’t doomed my children to misunderstanding on this aspect of their relationships with others. Nor do I think that I have yet learned all that I need to learn on this issue, at least I hope not. The Bible says that the wrath of man does not accomplish the will of God (James 1:20). In the end I think this is the greatest cost of all.

Well it is has been a lovely little trip, but now it is time to return to our regularly scheduled lives. We ended up taking a taxi to Negombo, our last stop in Sri Lanka,and we glad that we did for otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to stop and see the whale, beached on the southern coast. Negombo, was underwhelming to say the least. The Brits, of whom we encountered plenty on this trip, would say that the beach here was “scruffy.” They are being far too kind. We wouldn’t go anywhere near that filthy water, nor did we care to fight our way through the packs of dogs that roamed the debris- and garbage-encrusted stretch of beach between the hotel and the water. It is a shame, because the beaches along the southern coast are absolutely gorgeous.

Unfortunately the town of Negombo wasn’t much better, offering nothing in the way of beauty or interest, save oddly a number (seven at least) of large and offensively ornate Catholic churches. I say offensive, for such a gaudy show of wealth among such poverty, which demonstrated such callous indifference to the needs of the people the church pretended to serve, must be offensive to any Christian of good conscience, to say nothing of the Lord whose name is being so maligned. Oddly there seemed to be very few restaurants or food stalls in town either. There were a few bakeshops, with the occasional table, but sticky buns were not what we were looking for. Living in a country where every third shop cooks some kind of tasty cuisine, we were perplexed to say the least. We finally found a coffee shop that had a limited menu, and got something that called itself goulash that consisted of potatoes boiled to near mush and a semi-meat topping. Get me back to Malaysia!

Sri Lanka itself is gorgeous: beautiful beaches, stunning hills with their cascading waterfalls and slopes of emerald green tea, a wildlife park that is extensive and varied in both fauna and flora; there is a lot to like. And the people are lovely and considerate. But the place is sadly lacking in cleanliness even by Asian standards. To make matters worse its infrastructure – rail, roads, buildings, sewers, and so on – is either rotting or crumbling. And unlike Cambodia, which is undergoing reconstruction daily, nothing much seems to be happening to repair the damage. A ring road is badly needed around Colombo to get to the airport from the south without having to go through the heart of the city. We did that yesterday and it took pretty close to three hours. A road has been promised, and contracts have been paid for, yet nothing has been done for over twenty years and the money just seems to disappear.

The civil war against the north has taken much of the country’s wealth and poured it into the men and machinery of war. Everywhere you see evidence of the militarization of the country, and it is disturbing. The army is the tail that wags this particular dog, and it may well take a generation before the young men of this country are reabsorbed into more peaceful and productive pursuits. Now, with nothing more useful to do, they impede the progress of the nation toward normality. Army personnel are everywhere. Checkpoints are everywhere; most of them totally senseless.

When we arrived at the airport, for example, there was a baggage check at the front door. Fair enough. But the traffic congestion outside the front door was enormous. Once through that blockade there was a guard standing at the entrance to the departure hall and ticket counters. The crowd around him was dense and growing larger by the minute. There was no sign or other information regarding what he was doing, but I found out that he was only allowing one flight’s passengers through to the ticket counter at a time. Who would know that? Why would they do that? Once we got our bags checked the departure hall itself was lovely; spanking new and well serviced. But there was nobody there because they were all still back in the bottleneck at the entrance!

This country has a long way to go before it is back on track to becoming the prosperous jewel in the Indian Ocean that it once promised to be. It is at present ill-equipped to meet the natural changes in seismic activity, like the tsunami of 2004, or the floods that are presently taking place in the north of the country that have displaced a million people. War, greed and corruption. What a mess we humans make of things when we fail to acknowledge that we will one day be held to account for our behaviour. How poorly we treat a world that He has made so beautifully.

Because the Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama was the first European to round the Cape of Africa and sail into the Indian Ocean, many of the first European settlements along the coast of India, Sri Lanka and even as far as Malacca in Malaysia were Portuguese colonies. His name is still remembered along this coast in places like Welligama. In Malacca the Portuguese displaced the Muslims, who had been there for less than a hundred years. In Galle, Sri Lanka, where we are at present, they were themselves displaced by the Dutch, whose East India Company was a powerful player in the 17th century. The Dutch built a fort on this southernmost tip of what was then called Serendip, and like all things Dutch, it was solidly built; so solid in fact that when the tsunami hit Sri Lanka in 2004, the waves did not breach these walls. It was the only town along the southern coast so protected.

We got to Galle around noon yesterday, once again putting our lives into the maniacal hands of those who seek to terrorize their innocent passengers by driving through these narrow roads in a homicidal rage. There are no set times for bus routes in Sri Lanka. They leave when there are no more passengers to load, and then they race to get to the next stop to get the next set of passengers before the other buses. And the words ‘bus stop’ don’t convey quite the same meaning either. The conductor who sold you your ticket knows when you get off. Two kilometers before your stop he will usher you to the door, the bus will pause momentarily – it will not actually stop – and you will be ‘assisted’ off the bus in the most expeditious manner possible.

However, looking on the cheery side, it did get us here in good time, and here is a nice place to be. The owners of the Beach Haven Guest House, where we were booked, could not, in their gentle Asian way, convince their previous guests to vacate the room we had booked. We have lived in the East long enough to understand their reticence, and given the beauty of this spot, also understood their guests’ reluctance to leave. However, it did leave us in a bit of a pickle in that we had no place to stay. Once again Asian courtesy and civility meant that these kind people had booked another (and even nicer!) room for us at the end of the fort overlooking the sea. In order to hold this room they had promised to pay for it if we failed to show up.

Galle Fort is a warren of little houses and winding streets filled with craft and jewelry shops, guest houses and tea shops, churches, mosques and temples all peacefully co-existing beside each other with a magnificent view of the sea cascading in over the rocks and into these sturdy walls. All around the fort is a walkway where in the evening and early morning the residents stroll or stride, according to their tendency in the clean warm air that comes in over the ocean. We are sitting on our balcony eating a lovely Sri Lankan breakfast consisting of egg hoppers, an egg and thosai conconction that actually goes very nicely with the curried potatoes, and strong Ceylonese tea, watching the breakers and the walkers and wishing that we could stay here for a lot longer. But our next night’s accommodation is booked, and we must shortly catch a train to Colombo, a journey of 117 kilometers, which will take 3 ½ hours. After the terror of the buses the last few days, I am looking forward to the more leisurely pace!

My Village Guest House is a funky little place tucked away on the outskirts of Tissa overlooking the Bird Park. Its owner has designed something unique and very restful, and we had a nice breakfast on the patio outside our room and then I went out looking for a tuk. On the way I met a young Singhalese boy with who ran out from his yard and greeted me shyly hugging an English primer to his small chest. I asked him if he could read for me and traced the words with my fingers. It didn’t take me long to see that he was having trouble with his past tense endings. As any ESL teacher will tell you ‘ed’ only says ‘ed’ when it follows ‘d’ and ‘t’. For most other consonants it says ‘d’, except for ‘k’ and ‘p’ when it says ‘t’. A lot of English teachers over here don’t know that (and a host of other small hiccups) and improperly educate their students, who then end up in our program struggling with their English by the time they get to our program.

This young lad was a quick study and so had it right without much repeating. Of course his teacher will beat it out of him on Monday, but he will still remember the right way and use it someday. He gave me a wide happy grin for my efforts and I felt well paid. Those who do not teach and think that this profession has something to do with lording it over others must have met some nasty teachers on their way. Or maybe they were nasty students and never understood that others were trying to help them. There are some people who simply cannot humble themselves long enough to take something from someone else. It is much easier to paint all teachers black than admit their stubborn sense of god-given superiority has hindered their ability to learn. But for those of us who have been blessed with this gift, the learner’s gasp of delight in recognition of something they had struggled with and now understood, and their gift of a smile of appreciation is worth all the gold the rich man in his greed and ignorance strives to accumulate.

My next contact was with a tuk-tuk owner, or more specifically his wife. His tuk was parked outside his house, which also served as the local grocery store. I asked if the owner of the tuk could give us a ride to the bus depot and she said she would call him. Her daughter immediately protested – in voluble Singhalese! I don’t speak the language, but I did read the tone. She was dressed very nicely, obviously on her way out, and her father, who then showed up, had obviously promised her a ride. “Yes, yes, I will take you to the bus depot,” he said. “No, no, you will not,” I replied, “your daughter is waiting for you to take her to school, and that is more important.”

“It is not school she is going to, but church.” And then in case I didn’t understand he added Hallelujah! Correcting myself – it is hard to keep track of the days of the week when you are travelling – I replied, “Well that is even more reason for you to give her a ride, and I will not get in your tuk.” I shook his hand and waved a greeting at the woman and her daughter who were both giving me big smiles. A short walk down the road brought me to the dam where many tuks were being given their morning bath. I flagged one, caught a ride back to the guest house and loaded up the luggage. Then we were on our way to the bus depot.

The station was relatively clean and orderly, and there was a bus to Tangalla just loading. We got on, found an empty seat and settled in. The fare cost $1.50 for both of us and took just under three hours. The roads were pretty good for the most part, but there is a lot of road reconstruction going on in the country right now, so patches of it can be pretty rugged. We never felt hassled and we didn’t feel unsafe. The hardest thing we had to endure was three hours without a rest stop. At our age that is trial enough! We caught a tuk in Tangalla to the resort and got ourselves checked in and were on the beach by 1 pm.

Paradise Palms Cabanas is a nice little resort, with 15 to 20 little cabanas scattered over the property. Only one has an unimpeded view of the beach, but none are more than 100 paces away. As I am blogging this I can hear the sounds of the waves and the music of Bob Marley drifting in from the beach. We read and rode the waves all afternoon, ate some fresh lobster out of the sea – Pam’s first – and spent some part of the evening checking our email and uploading previous blogs.
Three of those emails are of special concern. Thomas Froese, a long time friend and missionary/journalist in Uganda has been ill with malaria. Although he is one the mend now, he would appreciate the prayers of those who know him. Joannie Wiley, wife of Terry, serving the Lord in Pakistan is also ill with malaria, but hers is cerebral and she has been delirious for many days now. With the ongoing relief work from the devastating floods that Terry has been spearheading in his area and the refusal to grant visa to much needed coworkers, Terry is feeling more than a little overwhelmed. He certainly could use your prayers at the moment, and Joannie too that there will not be any ongoing damage. Dave Wright is also facing some difficulty with the young church he has founded among the Mengen people in Papua New Guinea. There has been both illness and death among the believers who in their naïve faith thought that Christ would heal them of all those diseases. Dave is struggling to get Romans translated and ready for teaching, as his little flock are being attacked and need spiritual meat for their souls.

Pam and I are “wondering where the lions are.” We go on our merry little way, enjoying God’s rich blessing and others who like us are serving in foreign places seem to get nothing but challenge while we sit on the beach. Perhaps our challenge is ahead for us this year. If so, may the Lord find us ready to bear any burden, and do whatever it takes to see His love, truth and healing power bring comfort to those who have suffered for so long under war, poverty and disease in this part of the world. So then maybe you should pray for us as well, that we would be ready for the challenge when it comes. A holiday is nice, and even the Lord called His disciples aside to rest. But there is much work left to be done, and we want to stand with our friends who are putting much on the line to do their share of good while it is still day.

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