July 2012

For a variety of reasons, I have been thinking a lot lately about the concept of home. We have just returned from a wonderful visit with family, friends and colleagues in “our home and native land”. Now we are settling into another year in our adopted home in KL.

It was such a joy and privilege to spend time with Greg and Liz as they settle into their first home together, the very home in which Greg grew up.  We spent lovely days in Ayr, reconnecting with our grandkids in the home that has been a secure haven for them for the past three years. We even had a lovely visit and dinner with Milan, Sara and their boys in the condo which I suppose is somehow our home in Ontario since we own it and it is filled with most of our earthly belongings, such as they are. We also had the joy of staying in my brother’s home enjoying the use of the granny suite that was home to my Dad and Mom for almost twelve years. Without Randy and Syl’s gracious hospitality we would be truly homeless in Ontario!

Today Jon and Nic and their kids watched as the contents of their first family home were loaded into a truck for a move across the continent to their new home in Washington State. It will be both a fun adventure and a huge dislocation for everyone adjusting to life far away from the family and friends they have enjoyed.

In the course of our marriage, we have lived in nine homes on three different continents. The very word home has very strong and positive connotations. We all need to feel connected to a home that creates a sense of familiarity, of belonging, of certainty and security. Now, for the first time in our marriage all of our immediate family have left Ontario, leaving us feeling oddly disconnected, even though we ourselves have been away for over five years. Fortunately we both have brothers, sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews who we love dearly along with many close personal friends with whom we will continue to have connection with in Ontario, and who will always play a huge part of our lives.

Along with the idea of a physical home comes the very strong realization that we also have a “home team”. We are so grateful for those friends who listen to us, care for us, laugh and cry with us, share their hearts and homes with us, encourage, pray and support us. We have come to recognize that home for us is not a set place, or a city on a map. It is wherever the people you love are, whenever you are together building memories both happy and sad, that become a part of us wherever we may be. This is very much like the Christian concept of ‘church,’ which properly understood does not refer to any physical building, whether in Rome, Canterbury or down the street, but rather is the people of God gathered in His name. In a similar way, home for us truly is where our hearts live.

When I taught in Canada I would often have international students in my classes; mostly Asians. Over time I learned to tell the difference between North Vietnamese (Nguyen) and South Vietnamese (Nguwen) last names. I would always ask Muslims if they were honouring Ramadan and seek to sensitize my class to their situation. I enjoyed the cultural and social perspectives they brought to our discussions.

But teaching in Malaysia takes the concept of ‘international student’ to a whole new level. I had my first class today and as I always do took the time to have the students introduce themselves and say something about where they are from. The answers were revealing. I heard Malaysia many times, of course, but also Sabah, Indonesia, China, Korea, Myanmar, Iran, Yemen, Egypt, Zambia, and Kazakhstan; all within a class of twenty students! In the past I have also had students from Vietnam, Mongolia, Iraq, Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania. The only students I have taught that could even loosely be described as Caucasian have been from Kazakhstan.

The perspectives that such a multi-ethnic group bring to my classes are interesting and richly rewarding. In such a diverse group, students learn to listen and develop respect for how other people see the world. They learn to be less dogmatic about their own culture and religion and understand how their own views can be accommodated within a larger worldview. It is a win-win situation for everyone, and an exciting classroom environment to teach in.

Some Canadians worry that with such an open immigration policy (the official target of 1% per year has resulted in a population growth through immigration at just under 25% in the last 25 years, a rate that places Canada’s immigration rate among the highest in the world; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_to_Canada ) our very way of life is threatened. I see the glass as half-full. I think our way of life will only be enriched and strengthened as immigrants bring their own vital perspectives to bear on the wonderful mosaic that is Canada. I know that the cultural mix in my classroom has only brought me joy and appreciation for all the flavor and colour that diversity brings. As the French in our nation would say, vive la difference!

There is much to criticize those who have “no fear of God before their eyes.” Simply put, if you have no fear of eternal consequences you are likely to do any foul thing and excuse yourself for doing so under the rubric that you were “born this way.” Jeffrey Dahmer, Joseph Stalin and Hanibal Lecter would applaud your life motto. Those who had no fear of God or consequence gave us a past century of unspeakable brutality and inhumanity. Those with no fear of God have given us thirty years of rapacious greed and monetary irresponsibility that has brought the economies of the world to the brink of collapse. There is little to admire in such people, regardless of one’s religious convictions.

But my distaste for the spiritually scornful is tempered by a sympathy for their loss, particularly in the daily communion with Christ that I find so comforting and so instructive as I make my way through these distressing times. Pam and I were discussing, as is natural for those who have returned from the bosom of their dear friends and loving family, how much longer we will stay in our present ministry. The answer for me is as clear and untroubled as the tropical sky above us: just as long as God wants us to. It is as simple as that.

So how will we know when God wants us to move on? Well, those who study these things will give you a lengthy list of useful touchstones: read the Bible and study God’s revealed will so you will better understand what He has not yet revealed, speak to those who have walked with the Lord faithfully over the years and listen to their advice, seek to understand the ‘signs’ all around you, the circumstances that speak of God working things out in one way or another, pray and ask the Lord for guidance. And all of these things are worthy and good, and all of these things I have employed in one way or another over the years.

But as I have read God’s word and prayed, as I have seen Him at work in my life and in the lives of those I love, one thing has come to mean more to me than all of those things combined: God speaking to my heart. The Bible refers to it as “God’s still, small voice.” It is my increasing conviction that God will use the ‘two-by-four’ of circumstance only when He has been unable to get our attention through speaking quietly to our hearts. Want to avoid that nasty face plant on the sidewalk, or that investment that went south the moment you threw your retirement savings at it? Learn to listen for His voice, for that is what He promised us when He gave us the Holy Spirit.

This advice comes with no guarantees, for this is one thing that you just can’t fake. Your daily walk with God has got to be imbued with His Word and His Presence in order for you to discern what is His quiet will for you is. And you can’t ask to know His will if you are not fully committed to following it – whatever it is – through whatever circumstances it takes you. His will and His way must be more important to you than anything else on earth. Given the loving nature of God and His desire that “all thing work together for good to those that love the Lord” (Romans 8: 28) this is no hardship, but rather an exciting and deeply rewarding journey.

Age and experience are wonderful teachers, but they are no substitute for the discipline of listening to God speak to the heart in the quiet moments following the reading of His word, or singing psalms of praise, or offering prayers of petition. These things are not meant to be dry and lifeless one way communications, but rather a way of opening up our own dull sensitivities to what the Lord would have us hear from Him. Don’t rush away from His Presence. Linger awhile and meditate upon His eternal nature and learn to listen with your heart, for it is in such times that God will speak. This is how you can come over time to discern His voice amidst the babble of our daily lives. For this year, and as long as He gives me strength, I will follow that “still, small voice” with which the Lord directs my path.

Well it has been really swell, but it is back to Malaysia for Pam and I. It has been a very fast 17 days, starting in Toronto and ending up in Seattle, but here we are both back in Calgary and tomorrow morning we will be on our way once again.

Over the weekend I flew to Seattle to visit our oldest son who is finally moving down there, having worked for Microsoft for the last three years. He admits that the flying was beginning to wear on him. They bought a beautiful home in a gorgeous community, about a half hour’s drive from his new employer. Their new house offers a view of the Cascade Mountains from their bedroom window and a Starbucks in the center of town. Oh yes, there is the best school in the district, a library, and a community center just down the street as well. It looks pretty close to ideal.

Jon patiently tried to bring me up to speed on all the latest gismos that I could use for the classroom. I am not a total loss in this department, having taught Design and Technology for 18 years, but computer stuff is hard to keep up with, even for those whose living depends upon it. I am hoping I can get some of this stuff up and running when I get back to Malaysia.

To top off a very productive weekend we entertained Pete and Joan, our friends in Malaysia this past year who are now back in Calgary looking to relocate in Canada and tonight we will get together with the family of our daughter’s new husband, Greg. We once again want to thank all those who extended their hospitality to us on our all too brief visit home this year. If we didn’t catch you this year, then perhaps we will be able to get together when we get back in 2013. As I look out over our daughter’s back porch at the beautiful Alberta sky, I am hard pressed to think of a single day of bad weather while I have been home; it has been gorgeous weather all the time. Thank you, Father!

Our trip to Calgary went incredibly smoothly and the icing on the cake was finding Dave waiting for us at the airport, something we were not expecting given that we arrived in the middle of a work day. A very relaxing afternoon at the Pig and Whistle gave us a great opportunity to get caught up on Dave’s news while we waited for Liz and Greg to get home from work.

Steve has been in his glory browsing Home Depot for tools and supplies and doing odd jobs around Greg and Liz’s house. They have a lovely home but as it has been rented out for a number of years, there are plenty of repairs to be done. The focus was mainly the kitchen with hinges to be replaced and drawers and gliders to be rebuilt. With a little steel wool and varsol cleaning and a fresh coat of varnish the cabinets are looking great. The cathedral ceilings in the great room make decorating a major challenge but they found the perfect four foot high clock for the two storey entrance wall.

Wednesday evening we took advantage of “Date Night” and enjoyed a fine steak dinner with Greg’s parents, Holly and Vern at Milestones. Friday, Steve headed for to Seattle to spend the weekend with Jon while I prepared a presentation of our project in Cambodia for the annual meetings of Medical Ambassadors Canada which is being held in Canmore.

I headed out early Saturday morning for a fabulous drive west towards the mountains on the Trans Canada highway and have to admit it was pretty tempting to just keep on driving. But I did the right thing and enjoyed the opportunity to meet with my co-workers, Bill and Sharon and the MACA team. There were a number of people there whose names I have often heard through CHE reports and it was a real joy to actually meet them. I look forward to working more closely with this group in the future

Where did the time go? It feels like I just arrived back in Ontario and here we are on our way again, this time out to the West to see our kids. The two youngest, Dave and Liz are in Calgary, which is where we will be headed next, while our oldest is now in Seattle, where I will be flying next weekend. It has been nearly a year since I have seen any of them, so I am looking forward to that leg of our stay in Canada.

This week has been all about seeing our grandkids, who will be shortly joining their Dad in the States, our daughter-in-law Nicole, who has been holding the fort back here in the East, and our friends, supporters and natal families. It has been a whirlwind of meetings and meals, events and conversations. To those we have had the opportunity to see, many thanks for your kindness and hospitality. We wish we could have stayed longer. For those we missed, we are awfully sorry and hope that we will see you next year.

Being missionaries on furlough – even tentmakers like us who don’t have a host of supporting churches to visit on our all too brief annual trips home – means that our time is not our own. It is basically at the service of what we like to call “God-appointments;” those dear folk that the Holy Spirit directs us to minister to in the short time we have at our disposal. However, God is not a hard task-master, and He has allowed us some time of reflection on our journey. We did get a very nice walk through Springbank Park of an evening and a hastily conceived and much appreciated trip to Ipperwash Beach to watch the sun go down in a blaze of glory into Lake Huron.

Now we will have one final visit with our grandkids before we have to say goodbye to them for another year. That will be hard. But it is a great comfort for us to know that they are being brought up in a godly home by parents who love them dearly. With all the turmoil in the world, both here in the West and in Asia where we live, that is a great blessing.