May 2013


I cannot read a book like Footprints of God without a degree of sadness and existential longing. ‘Life happens,’ my generation says, and I suppose if you are not careful, it does. Not that I haven’t tried to live intentionally; I was as focused as in my limited perspective and vision as I could be. But when I look into the lives here recorded, I cannot help but think that I have been largely wasting my time!

Here is Toyohiko Kagawa, walking away from Kobe Theological Seminary on Christmas Day in 1919, and beginning a life of incarnational ministry in the slums of Shinkawa that led to the establishment of Sunday schools, cooperatives, worship services and social work that included the legalization of labour unions, leaving Japan with over 150 written works that explain the mission of Christ in a Japanese context. Here is Korean Bokyoung Park, refusing to be cowed by her culture into submission because of her gender, seeking to find a missiological feminism that “does not abandon the significance of the Bible as the Word of God or the lordship of Jesus Christ.”

Here is Ernesto Cardenal, the son of privilege, whose education at universities in Mexico City and Columbia University in New York led to him becoming a writer and poet. Returning to his native Nicaragua he became embroiled in the resistance to the dictatorial Somoza regime until at the age of 31 he encountered God and entered a Trappist monastery where Thomas Merton became his mentor. However, Merton would not let him ‘retire’ in solitude, telling him, “We have no right to escape into happiness that most of the world cannot share. This is a very grim and terrible century, and in it we must suffer sorrow with the rest of the world.” Cardenal would return to Nicaragua, becoming a cabinet minister and a spokesman for the Sandinista government that endured persecution from both Somozan and Reagan regimes, eventually returning to writing and with his powerful poetic voice proclaiming Christ’s power to minister to the neglected and despised.

Here is Mother Teresa, whose work in the slums of Calcutta is perhaps the world’s best known example of incarnational ministry; and Karl Barth, driven out of Germany by his opposition to Adolph Hitler who became perhaps the twentieth century’s most important theologian. Here is E. Stanley Jones who went to India as a missionary at the age of 23 and died there when he was 89. A good friend of Mahatma Gandhi, it was Jones’ biography of the Indian leader that inspired Martin Luther King’s non-violence movement. Jones worked tirelessly for sixty-six years in serving his Lord in India, becoming that nation’s foremost evangelist. After a stroke left him partially paralyzed, he still preached from his wheelchair at 88 at the world conference of the Christian Ashram Congress in Jerusalem, a movement which he founded, and which still flourishes in India.

These lives lead me to a state of shocked recognition of my own inadequacies. What heroic persistence in the face of obstacles! What stunning, shining lives these are in the darkness of the world’s selfish, carnal excess. Are you looking for miracles? Are you looking for ‘signs and wonders’ of the Lord’s power to change lives and make them eternally significant? This book would be a good place to start. This book rebukes my pride and gives me a glimpse into the true nature of servanthood for Christ, leading me to ask, ‘What am I doing for God?’

Advertisements

Dennis

At my age I am not really looking for any more birthdays. I am happy to just still be around; happy and working productively. But there is no getting away with hiding your birthday among your students, who can find out through Facebook and other profile pages when your ‘special day’ has come around. My students found out and brought me cake and flowers, a tie and a very good caricature. It took Dennis Hadi four hours to draw this, and I really appreciate the gift. Except for the muscles, which I do not have, it is a pretty good likeness!

Per1_2013

Of course with a cake and candles comes the making of a wish, and breaking tradition I made a wish out loud: that my students would continue to grow into the wonderful young men and women that they are becoming, and make changes in their lives, their country and the world that would be of benefit to all.

Thank you all for you kind wishes, gifts and notes. I count it among my greatest treasures to have the extraordinary privilege of being a teacher to such wonderful young people.

???????????????????????????????

This past week we had the opportunity to demonstrate for three very amazing young medical students most of the challenges that one is likely to encounter in the process of conducting rural community development training and research. We were training in a government health center which is a forty minute tuk-tuk ride from Siem Reap, guaranteeing that before the day even started we were hot, sweaty and filthy. Our co-facilitators had minimal English but then the training was done in Khmer. We however, did not have a great understanding of what was actually happening.

We had no part in the planning for the training and were working with great facilitators but although we had met once before we had not worked together.  Their organization has a very different approach to CHE and do not use the style of facilitation that we normally do.  This was a bit of a problem since the medical students were hoping to see a typical TOT1 as part of the research they were there to carry out. Thanks to Dr Su Min’s creativity, our TWR staff’s willingness to step in and the gracious attitude of our facilitators they did see a few typical lessons and even managed to help facilitate a few. Amit got to see how something that looks pretty straightforward on paper can actually be quite challenging to facilitate.

Group

It goes without saying that there was no air conditioning.  It was blistering hot and the electricity was spotty so often the ceiling vans were not even working. At one point we moved outside where there was a bit of breeze. The participants came from varied backgrounds and education levels; villagers, RHAC trainers and nurses from the government clinic, making the training even more challenging. Lots of distractions as children wandered in to see there moms, patients strolled by with their IVs held above their head and patients arrived by all sorts of transport.

Fortunately, we did have the assistance of Kimsong from TWR to assist with the translation for the research Focus Group Discussions and surveys, so hopefully the students will be able to get the information they need for their report. A fourth medical student was unable to come as she couldn’t get excused from a classroom based course on conducting research in a community setting. I hope that she learned as much as Ravi, Amit and Wesley did.

???????????????????????????????

4b3859d1-2a5e-4ee5-a184-e8ad2d469f0cwallpaper

Godot

Each semester the students at the Canadian Pre-University program where I teach put on a Drama Festival over on the main campus. This year my three classes did Act II of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, a play that was written shortly after the devastation of the Second World War that envisions a future landscape where billions have died in some global catastrophe leaving only a few survivors to make sense out of what little of their life remains.

Jon and Beck

The play consists of two principal characters, Vladimir and Estragon who meet two other people during the course of the play who are just as destitute and confused about what has happened to their world as they are. They spend the entire play waiting for someone or something to enter their lives and give them meaning, entertaining themselves with pointless exercises and engaging in conversations that range from the meaningless, to the poetic, and even deeply philosophical. Despite its depressing theme, the play is touched by traces of warmth and compassion, with liberal doses of dark, ironic humour.

Period 2

Last year when my classes were larger I divided the second act into twelve parts and had my twenty five students each take a portion. I tried re-dividing the play this year for my smaller classes, but the divisions I had arrived at last year would not yield easily; it seems as if I had stumbled across pretty close the ideal separation of roles. So I asked my stronger students to take on two portions of the play, and as in typical in Asia, they did so without grumbling or complaining, bless their hearts!

Sum Yee, Ashleigh and Jessica

Last night we staged our productions in the largest lecture theatre on the main campus, one that has a proper stage and tiered seating. Despite several weeks of advertising, promoting, and rehearsals, I confess I was disappointed with the audience turnout. The theatre was considerably less than half full despite my best efforts. However, that does not detract from the performances, which were enthusiastic, well-memorized, and well-executed. I sat in the wings ready to prompt, but frankly had little work to do all night and instead was able to see some really fine performances by students who clearly enjoyed the experience. It is a great joy to me as a teacher to see my students take on a class project like this. They got to feel like they had taken part in something larger than themselves and contributed to its success.

Joie and Calxin

Many of these students come from schools where they have been punished for speaking in class. If they ask questions they are made to feel stupid or rebellious. To be placed in English in a small group where they are encouraged to talk to each other is a scary and difficult thing at first. To put their faulty language and awkward accents on stage in front of their peers is overwhelmingly intimidating. Yet once they have done so there is an exhilarating feeling almost of liberation from the shackles of years of classroom restrictions.

Period 1a

To see the students I am teaching tackle something that a year ago would have been unthinkable, and not only to succeed at it but to enjoy the experience and share it with others, that to me is the most rewarding part of being a teacher. Congratulations to ALL who did the best that they could to take on this challenge last night. I admire your spirit!

Ming Wey and Theng Loo2