April 2012

Five years ago today we began an amazing new leg of the journey of our lives.  We said goodbye to the people who are dear to us and packed all the things that were important to us into four suitcases.  Steve had the promise of a one year teaching contract with Taylor’s College in Malaysia and I had a draft and brief description of a missionary position with TWR- Asia to work with HR and media resources related to a health program in Cambodia.  Both of these have unfolded as God intended, with Steve now completing his fifth teaching year and a health program well underway in Cambodia.

Along the way we have had some amazing experiences and learned much about ourselves and the joy of serving in Asia.  We both came into this with a love of new places, cultures and people and a real joy in learning to understand what makes people tick.  We were unprepared for the extent to which these cultures and people would get under our skin and how quickly they would become a part of who we are.  Now when we think comfort food we think of dosa masala instead of steak and baked potato.

We have seen a degree of poverty and suffering that shocked us out of our complacency, and have gained an entirely new understanding of the difference between want and need and are often startled to find how little we actually need.  This allows us the privilege of living in such a way that we appreciate more fully the daily miracles of God’s love, provision and protection.

We have learned that a decision such as this demands a huge commitment on the part of our own family and that without the support and willingness of our children and other family members to pick up the slack caused by our absence this would not be possible. We have learned that you can miss your family terribly, and still survive the distance, and even find ways to be there when they need you.

We have learned much about friendship and the people we have been blessed to have as friends.  Some friendships span the years and some remain friends no matter where you live or how often you see each other, while others come into your life for only a short time yet have a huge impact while they are there.  We have Canadian friends, expat friends, national friends in various countries, each filling a very special place in our lives.  Our lives would be so much poorer if we had not had the opportunity to know each of them

We were reminded by our Pastor this morning that when our life is over we will leave four things behind: memories, souvenirs, trophies and legacies.  Memories will fade, souvenirs and trophies can be lost or broken but our legacy will remain.  Generations to come will reap what we sow whether that be joy and blessing or sorrow and havoc.

We live in an age where people are encouraged to do what is best for them and are led to believe there will be no consequences for their actions. This is so wrong; everything we do, both good and bad, plants a seed that will inevitably grow into something much larger and more lasting. We write our legacy with every action, every word. Five years on in Asia we are trusting that the Lord may continue to use us to plant more seeds for His glory here.

We relaxed on the deck outside our cabin until we estimated that it was time to head out to the observation blind that we had spied out earlier in the day. We thought that dusk might be a good time to observe wildlife, and we weren’t disappointed as we were just in time to watch an Asian jungle elephant stroll into the clearing and make his placid way to the waterhole.

After a drink and spraying himself with mud and water, he strolled off again, as unconcerned as a British copper on his evening rounds. We also made our way to a very nice restaurant for some local food and the chance to chat about our day. When we returned to our cabins, however, we found that our friend the elephant had paid us a visit. His tracks and his dung were all around our place, and quite unaccountably, he had taken Joan’s wet shorts off the porch railing and trampled them in the mud!

After a 5 am wake up for all of us, an early bedtime seemed in order. I am happy to report that the beds were well above the usual hard spring pallet that seems to be the Asian preference, and Pam and I quickly fell into a deep sleep. Not so Pete and Joan, who were woken by our elephant friend snuffling through the peanut shells we had thrown on the ground beyond the deck. They tried to wake us, to no avail; we were sleeping too soundly. So they took some pictures and went back to bed themselves.

In the morning I woke early and went back to the observation blind again in time to see our elephant friend in the clearing at his mud hole getting a good, gooey bath. Then he strolled to a tree in the clearing for a scratch and a few choice leaves, and ambled off back into the jungle. By the time I got back to the cabin the rest of the crew were up. We shared elephant stories over breakfast and planned out our morning activities.

We decided that the weather being fine we would walk to the canopy bridge, about two kilometers away on a good trail. Evidence of elephant and either wild boar or tapir were everywhere alongside the trail. After about 45 minutes we came to the canopy walkway; at 40 meters high and half a kilometer in length, the longest arboreal walkway in Asia. Entrance fee: 5 ringgit! Even at that height the trees in this ancient forest tower another 40 meters above you. And yes, the walkway does sway, rather alarmingly in fact. But there are rangers at every lookout post making sure that not too many people are on one section of the walkway at a time, and we were fortunate to be there when the traffic was light. It was quite an adventure, but definitely not to everyone’s taste, especially if you experience vertigo.

With time running short we caught a boat back to our resort, 10 ringgit each, showered and checked out. A short ride across the river brought us back to our car, and with a few brief stops along the route, we made our way back into the city just as the sun was setting. If we had rented a car, there would have been plenty of time to return it. As it was, we just had to park ours and unload. Despite its years and relatively small size, the Satria performed admirably on some pretty rough roads. But with the memory of some nasty pothole bumps on this trip I think I might just want to have someone look at the front end before we head out again. We are not done touring through Malaysia and having a servicable car to do so is a real blessing.

We unloaded our stuff on the dock, parked the car, and caught a one ringgit taxi ride across the Pahang, a turbulent muddy river that can become a destructive torrent in the rainy season. There is a marker at the top of the stairs leading from the jetty that shows the high point of the 1971 flood where the river rose an amazing forty feet! Mutiara Resort is a collection of private two bedroom chalets and larger hostel-like bunkhouses. Our cabin was at the end of the property, down by the river; quiet and restful, with a nice little deck out back, two comfortable beds, a decent bathroom, a fridge and a safe. It was clean and comfortable, and with the aircon and fan both going, nice and cool after a sweaty jungle walk.

We dumped our stuff and sent Pete out to investigate river options while we relaxed on the deck. When Pete got back we did a little reconnaisance tour of the compound. Pete and Joan explored the pathways to the jungle canopy walkway while Pam and I investigated the beautiful foliage and found an observation blind that gave a nice view of a clearing in the jungle containing a meadow and a watering hole. We spent a pleasant half hour watching the butterflies dance over the meadow, but there were no tigers or tapirs to be seen at this time of the day.

Back at the cabin we considered river options. There was a cruise on the larger branch of the river that was longer and offered the option of running some rapids but had the disadvantage of minimal tree cover from the blazing Malaysian sun. Or there was a shorter trip up the narrow branch of the river that offered more tree cover and possibly more wildlife. Both were 50 ringgit. We opted to go upstream on “the smaller river” and this turned out to be the right decision. The boat held the four of us, the driver – who knew the river well – and a fellow who sat in the bow and kept a sharp eye out for rocks. It was a frisky river, and a challenge to make our way upstream against a strong current that was just as muddy as the main course.

About half an hour upsteam the river branched out and taking the right fork we found ourselves in a stream as clear as many you would find in northern Ontario. Another ten minutes brought us to a shallow berm in the river marking the end of the navigable course. It was there that we pulled in, and from there we could hike to the nearby waterfall, if we chose. We chose to swim instead. It was mentioned at the resort that this would be a possibility, so both Pam and Joan came prepared with bathing suits under their clothes. Not being strategic thinkers Pete and I were unprepared, so we just went swimming in our shorts.

The water was brisk and refreshing and there was a smooth ledge running alongside a deeper trough in the river that made it ideal for jumping in and allowing the current to take us downstream and then back to shore for another round. We swam until we were tired and then quickly dried in the Malaysian sun for a much quicker ride downstream back to the resort.

Taman Negara lays claim to being the oldest tropical rain forest on earth at 130 million years, older even than the Amazon. I don’t know how you verify that kind of thing, and it really isn’t all that important anyway. We just wanted to see some natural growth forest instead of all the plantations that you see in the countryside around Kuala Lumpur. At over 4,000 square kilometers, there is a lot to see in Taman Negara besides the old growth forest, including elephants, tapirs and the elusive Malaysian tiger.

There are any number of bus tours that will get you there. The cheapest and most direct ones start at the Five Elements Hotel on Jalan Sultan on the edge of the Chinatown district in KL. They offer two or three day all inclusive packages that range from around MYR 150 to MYR 650, depending on the type of accommodation you choose. Our advice is to avoid the bus. You will spend all of your time travelling to and fro, and no time in the park. It is not a good deal. For MYR 300 you can rent a car for two days that will carry four of you comfortably and allow you to come and go as you please and stop when you like.

We took our 15 year old Proton Satria, and friends Pete and Joan and left at 6 on Saturday morning. We took the LDP (E11) out of town, which at that hour was deserted, picked up the E8 around Batu Caves, sailed past Genting and over the range of hills that forms the spine of Malaysia and didn’t stop until we left the highway at Temerloh, where we woke our sleeping passengers for a break.

About an hour up highway 98 brought us the sleepy little town of Jerantut. Turn right at the t-junction and 8 clicks down the road you come to a left that is well signposted for Taman Negara. The road is a little rough at first, but once you hit the stretch alongside the plantations it gets better. Then it gets worse again, a lot worse. There are potholes that eat little cars like ours for breakfast. An hour up this road brings you to Kuala Tahan, quite literally the end of the road as the Pahang River is in front of you. Across the river is the Mutiara Resort, quite possibly the nicest Malaysian owned resort in the country and our final destination.

In spite of the fact that we’ve been here for five years, we are  just visitors to this part of the world. Long after we leave, the work in which we have been privileged to have a small part, will go on.  There are many at home who have played a significant part, without the joy of knowing personally the people who lives they have invested in.
There are many ways in which you have been involved- and you know who you are. Some have financially supported specific individuals or  projects, others have covered the work in prayer support and still others have carried the load at home to free us up to be here. The hospitality offered by some in welcoming us into their homes when we needed a place to stay, or offering a listening ear or a voice of encouragement have enabled us to be here. We would so love for you to be able to meet the young people that are doing amazing things for the Lord here, so will try to introduce you to some of them in our posts.

Haun Kimsong is a Cambodian that one family back home have financially supported both in his work and his training. Kimsong is a husband and father of a very sweet little boy, named Canaan and the leader of the Youth team at TWR Cambodia. This team of three, write, voice, produce and distribute a weekly radio program called It’s Yours that addresses issues for youth and provides contact information so youth can receive personal support and follow-up.

A leader in his own church, he often preaches there or preaches in other churches as needed. Troubled by the lack of unity between churches, he and a friend have established an interdenominational, youth prayer movement with over 250 young people in Phnom Penh as well as another group now meeting in Siem Reap. They meet monthly to pray for the church and very specific issues that they feel called to address.

Kimsong has been a leader in the health program, embraced CHE (Community Health Evangelism) very enthusiastically, has provided translation for us through every training week, and has done a considerable amount of training himself in churches and other community organizations. He has developed friendships and networks of like-minded people and been a real witness among the RHAC staff.  A gifted teacher with a very sensitive heart, it is a joy to watch him take a group of youth through a CHE lesson and watch their excitement as they grasp these concepts for the first time. This young man has the potential to impact Cambodia and it is a joy to have had a part in his life and to count him as a friend.

We invite you to lift this fine young Christian leader and his family before the Lord in prayer. The future of a better Cambodia is in the hands of people such as this.

The Qing Ming Festival, also known as the Tomb Sweeping Festival, is very much a family celebration and at the same time a family obligation. This year it falls on April 4th and last weekend thousands flocked to Chinese cemeteries for what is seen as a time to reflect and to honour and give thanks to their ancestors. It is an opportunity for families to reunite and enjoy a meal together.

Chinese families normally visit the graves of their recently deceased relatives on the nearest weekend to the actual date but sweeping the grave site is done within the ten days before or after the Qingming Festival. The Qingming Festival normally starts early in the morning by paying respect to distant ancestors from China at home altars then this is followed by visiting the graves of close relatives in the country. Traditionally, the family will burn spirit money and paper replicas of material goods such as cars, homes, phones and paper servants. In Chinese culture, it is believed that people will still need all of those things in the afterlife.

There are many paper products available that relatives burn including products such as iPads, smartphones and MP3 players but most families stick to the traditional items like houses, cars, clothes and massage chairs as they feel the new items would be too difficult for their ancestors to use. Hell money is still the favourite so they can buy whatever they need.

This is not unlike ancient Egyptian practice of burial for the dead where small replicas of household objects were placed with the dead (unless you were really rich and then you could get the real thing buried with you, including your personal servants!). In little shrines all around Asia, not only incense, but small packets of food are daily offered to the hungry spirits. Firecrackers are set off at regular intervals on almost every occasion, not in celebration, but to scare away the spirits. What may seem like quaint and colourful rituals at first glance, are actually desperate attempts to keep the spirit world – an often needy and malevolent force – out of the present world.