October 2012



We have often used this blog to whine about the challenges we face here in terms of walking, driving, traffic and parking.

Apparently we have no problems compared to our neighbour.

We live in a twenty-seven storey condo complex. There is a five storey parking garage front of the building but attached by walkways at various floors, forming an archway over the main lobby area.

This guy was clearly having a bad parking day.

Note the extensive damage to the wall and the corresponding lack of damage to the vehicle.

This would be a whole lot funnier if it were not for the fact that we live on the fifteenth floor of this complex and yes, that is the type of construction used in all the walls here.

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Pam and I didn’t get our annual Fall retreat this year as we seemed to be going in different directions with our job/ministry. But Pam did get a week in Johor Baru on a conference and I just got back from a company trip to Pangkor Island, which was pretty much as close to a retreat as you are likely to find. I had lots of quiet time to read and reflect and some beautiful scenery to drink into my soul.

We are making plans for our future, Pam and I, and that process needs time to absorb and listen to God’s still quiet voice confirming or deterring us from the course of action we are contemplating. At such times I always go back to my old favourites, Brother Lawrence, G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, who along with new favourites John Piper and Dietrich Bonhoffer stir up my soul to contemplate what I am doing in the light of eternity.

Used to be, when I was younger, I needed to find absolute quiet for this kind of thing. I would pitch a tent in the middle of nowhere and get as far away from people as I could. This weekend I found I could leave a conversation with friends and find a quiet shady spot under a tree and slip back into a conversation with God as if I had been talking to Him all day. I don’t mean to sound too casual about this or affect a level of spirituality I don’t possess. It is just that in some settings God seems to be particularly close and easy to talk to. This was one of those places.

I confess that I am perplexed by those who cannot see God in His creation. I was watching a young family walk along the beach, their child still uncertain on his feet in his dear little sun hat, but looking from a distance less like a child and more like a miniature man. How frightening and vast this world would be if God had created us full grown at that size. How impossible life would be if the plants and creatures of this world towered over us or hunted us for sport. In fact, how perfectly proportioned everything in this world is for the creatures that live in it. How pleasant it was to turn from the inspiring words of godly men to the inspiring sights of God’s world as I sat on the beach in the cool of the evening.

I may be, as others have been fond of pointing out, a naïve fool for believing in all that ‘God-stuff.’ I won’t say that I have been unaffected by such criticism. I am a sensitive fellow beneath this gruff exterior, and people can be so very unkind. But I will happily balance the years of scorn that I have endured for speaking up for my faith for five minutes of God’s small voice whispering to me through the waves that His goodness will prevail over all the misery and unkindness of the world. I still believe it will.

The quiet, secluded and beautiful Pulai Springs Resort in Johor Baru provided a wonderful venue for the Partnership Conference this year. Sadly, as one often finds in this country though, the place was underutilized and suffers somewhat from poor maintenance.

There were sixteen countries represented and we had a great time hearing the reports of the ministry throughout South Asia. As always, I most enjoyed the opportunity to get together with old friends and to make new ones and to do some planning for the upcoming year. Had a super roommate in my friend Blossom and enjoyed the chance to get caught up on their plans to return to Ontario in the near future. I know that I will miss having them with us here but am grateful that we will continue to work together through the Canadian office.

Enabled, Empowered and Encouraged was the theme for the conference and each morning started with a time of worship and a message by one of the country coordinators on each of these topics. There were some pretty practical workshops brought to us by some of the global staff who helped us prepare for the new strategic directions that the ministry is heading into. I never get tired of hearing the stories of individuals who happen to come across the broadcasts and how their lives were changed forever.
A big thanks to the organizing committee who did an amazing job of all the little but important details that came together to ensure a very fruitful time together. Lots of good food, fun and matching T-shirts helped to strengthen the bonds between ministry teams and we all headed back to Singapore together feeling enabled, empowered and encouraged by our time together.

I do not like to take what my profession calls ‘positions of added responsibility’ for reasons that I perhaps will explore in a later post. However, I am I great believer in professional development. I know that the vast majority of the public see this as another unnecessary “holiday” in an already vacation rich job. Let me assure that most of these days are no holiday; indeed this latest one was a great deal of work.

The facilitator for last week’s session was Lauren Wilson, a retired teacher/administrator who now works as an education consultant and who has extensive experience in effective assessment practices. This may bore the life out of most people, but for me it is the heart of the matter. Without honest assessment there is no student progress, a tenet of education that mountains of research has repeatedly proven. The heart of proper assessment is what is called assessment FOR learning; that is to say, assessment that teaches the student how they can improve what they are presently doing. This is known as formative assessment.

In my discipline we teach students how to conduct research and write structural essays that have a credible foundation. If you were to break this into component parts, as I do, there would be fifteen discrete steps. Fourteen of these would be assessment FOR learning; only the last would be assessment OF learning and be recorded. Last Friday I and several colleagues led the three hundred or so teachers of the four pre-University programs through a professional development day to provide greater understanding of this important instrument of student success.

We began with a three hour workshop ourselves for each of the three days prior to the PD day. I already teach a full load and then volunteer to cover the study hall for a period each day, so these three days really taxed me both mentally and physically. But Lauren was enthusiastic and knowledgeable and it was a worthwhile week of learning for me in which I acquired a number of new techniques, some of which I have already put into practice. On the PD day itself we got to teach our colleagues what we ourselves had learned and that too was worthwhile. Our team consisted of me and Shelley, a colleague from this program, and two other ladies from one of our sister pre-U programs. I have to say that we did a more than creditable job in the three workshops that we ran.

Far from being the slack day that the public views professional development as, it was a full and demanding week of learning and teaching in addition to my regular teaching load, and I am looking forward to a somewhat more reduced load for a while so I can get caught up on my regular teaching duties.

I was sort of delegated to attend a workshop in Participatory Learning in Port Dickson last week as everyone else had other commitments.  I admit that I went a little reluctantly given the upheaval in my ministry just now, especially once I discovered that I was to facilitate two of the sessions.  Those who know me know that I am a very reluctant public speaker. I did not learn a whole lot new about participatory methods but had a great time networking with a new organization from Cambodia.

It is however, always exciting to be reminded of the effectiveness of the CHE lessons which are designed to be learner-centered, posing a problem and allowing participants to discover the solution and develop an action plan to deal with it.  I was asked to demonstrate the Ten Seed method and opted to use an actual scenario from our pilot project.

This district is comprised of twelve communes each of which has ten villages made up of approximately 20 homes per village. In spite of the fact that there is an established Commune Council and Women’s Commune Council with representation from all the communes, the region remains very poor. Government money is often made available for projects and many NGOs have come and gone with money for various initiatives yet little progress has been seen over the years. Most people in the district feel that the main problem is lack of money and if they could just get more government or NGO assistance all of their problems would be solved.  The average family income in the district is $100 per month.

Here is the reality for people there that I presented for the demonstration.

Men

There is very little work available for you and in any case it is the responsibility of the women to maintain the home and gardens and provide for the needs of the family. From time to time you are able to make some money to support the family but in reality you spend much of the time sitting together with other men socializing and playing games. Life is a very painful reality for men and the one pleasure is to drink rice wine and beer with your friends.

You give what money you can to your wife for family needs but know that most of your own cash actually goes to alcohol and anyway your wife seems to be able to come up with enough money to get by. You know that the alcohol does affect your family as often you go home at night angry and are at times violent but it is at these times that you are able to get money from your wife, which you will spend on alcohol.

You are pretty sure that about 30% of the money available for your household is spent on alcohol.

Women

In your culture it is the responsibility of the women to keep peace in the family and ensure that the members of your household are cared for. You are able to grow your own rice and vegetables and even to sell some in the market to make a little extra cash. With the addition of some chickens, pigs and fish and your ability to sell some of your own handicrafts you could at least provide the basic needs for your children. The days are very long as you go about your work and care for the children but there is little hope in sight.

Your husband spends most of his afternoons and evenings away with his friends and often comes home very drunk and even violent. At these times he demands that you give him all the money you have and you know that you must do so as it is the responsibility of the wife to keep peace and protect the children. It is therefore impossible for you to save money to pay for necessities such as school supplies and fees. Many children in your village end up dropping out of school and going to the city to work in garment factories or restaurants in order to send money back to the village.

You are well aware that 70% of the available money for your household is spent on alcohol consumption by your husband and teenagers and even, on occasion, by yourself.

Youth

Your schooling has been limited as you quit studying at an early age to try to be of some assistance to your very poor family. There are relatively few teenagers and young adults left in your village as many have gone into the city to work in garment factories or restaurants to send money back to the village. You are able to make a small amount of money by helping out in the market or other odd jobs but see very little hope for your future.

There is very little joy in your life and not a lot to do for fun but you are able to forget about these things when you and your friends get together and drink beer, which you do on a regular basis. You do genuinely want to help your family but also know full well that 80% of the money you get is spent on alcohol.

When this community using ten seeds as a method to express their thoughts anonymously finally agreed that 50% of their income went to alcohol we were able to watch as they calculated that each year the entire community spends $126,000 US dollars on alcohol; money that could have gone to helping the community deal with family, health and education problems.

This is the kind of discussion we are seeking to promote at the community level through our Moral Values training. Not every group is able to attain the level of interaction that would lead to a community resolve to do something about the problem of alcoholism. But I have witnessed first hand how some groups get that far, and listened to others who report that such discussions have led to change and renewed hope at the community level in villages far from any missionary or gospel.

Other dicussions that have followed from Moral Values training have led to villages seeking to know the Truth behind these lessons; and the One who empowers that truth and buries it in the heart so that change becomes permanent. This is not some wealthy Westerner coming to bring riches from his goodie bag that will momentarily solve all ills. These are villagers confronting their own shortcomings in themselves, their culture and their traditions and deciding on a path of renewal. This is part of the work I am involved in.