June 2013


Pam attends a Ladies Retreat at our church to maintain contact with women who have been important to her spiritual growth over the years. Since we have been in Malaysia she has managed to get home for all of them, and each year she is asked to speak. This is a copy of her message for this year:

It has been more than six years since we signed that one year contract with an optional second year with Taylor’s College in Malaysia. We left behind our three children, a daughter-in-law and one three month old grandson. We knew that we would miss them terribly but fortunately had no idea what that would actually mean for us as a family. We also had no idea what that would mean for us in terms of the work and the ministry that God intended to lead us into. I think that was a good thing because I am sure we would have been too afraid to take it on if we knew the challenges that lay ahead.

Our time in Malaysia has been such a precious gift from God as we watched Him open doors for us to serve, bring new people into our lives, allowed us to see amazingly different cultures and experiences. We have so often marveled at the things we have been able to learn, the peace and strength He gives us each day and the real joy we have experienced in serving in SE Asia. We would not trade those experiences for anything.

However living the life that we do, we almost daily have to confront our own weaknesses and we do that without the support of family and friends and structures that we took for granted in Canada. In 2 Cor 12, Paul talks about his thorn in the flesh and the fact that he prayed three times that God would take it from him. When God chose not to relieve him of this limitation, Paul’s declaration was one that we are all very familiar with and often quote. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness”. That is a promise that I have often claimed and rejoiced in.

The second, less quoted part of that verse is more problematic for me; it says, “Most gladly therefore I would rather boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” I would be the first to admit that actually I would prefer for God to take away my struggles rather than leave them for me to boast about. My biggest battle has been that of loneliness and I went into this experience with lots of strategies for dealing with my issues – most of them bad. I come from a background where I had some pretty highly developed skills in terms of hiding my pain, discounting it (after all plenty of people deal with much worse), denying that it exists or just keeping so busy that I don’t really have to think about it.

Those things worked initially but when I was eventually forced to face the reality of my sadness, I used my second unhealthy strategy – look at how others are doing it badly so I can see that I have a good rationale for not dealing with the issues. I could cite examples of those who used their struggles to gain attention or sympathy, maybe even some status as a “suffering saint”. Others used it as an excuse to sit around and do nothing or to avoid dealing with their own failures or shortcomings. Again I turned to denial- the old buck up and get on with it because you don’t want to be that kind of person type of statements. I think that most of all I did not want to develop an attitude that I had no options. I could easily see that we were exactly where God intended us to be, the work we are involved in was moving forward in ways that only God could possibly orchestrate and I did not want to feel that I was trapped, feeling I was forced to stay in an uncomfortable spot because it was the will of God.

No matter how solid my rationale for avoidance seemed to be, I knew that I had to deal with this loneliness and sadness head on, to see it as part of God’s perfect plan for my life- as a gift to be treasured, to learn from and to use it well for eternal purposes. One of the first things I realized was that my loneliness does not make me special. God created us to be in relationship and every single person deals with these feelings throughout their lives. Whether it is the teenager struggling to find her place in an adult world, the young woman longing for a life partner, a wife and mother facing decisions and experiences that she has never faced before, seeing children leave home, partners pass away and eventually facing our own home going- loneliness is a part of life.

So I have this gift- this asset that God has given me -what am I to do with it. I was reminded of Christ who surely dealt with the most profound aloneness. He was God and chose to take on a human form and live in this world, He was rejected by his friends and those he came to save and eventually cried out My God, My God why have you forsaken me. His strategy was to withdraw to the mountain to pray, to fellowship with God and surrender to the will of God.

What an incredible gift it is to place all my sadness into the Hands of God. To feel a peace and strength that only comes from giving control over to God. To be fully aware of my own powerlessness and recognize that power comes from outside of me – from God. I recognized that the gift was not so much the loneliness but the opportunity to surrender myself- my own hopes and dreams and desires into God’s better plan for me. In this I became aware of some other precious truths.

The very things that make me so alive are the things that create my loneliness. I miss my kids terribly but I know they are amazing young adults and I am truly blessed by them. I ache to hold my grandkids at times but can’t help but rejoice in the fact that they are beautiful healthy kids with wonderful parents and are safe in God’s hands. I miss my friends but know that they too have rich and full lives and I am so blessed to call them friends.

I gradually find myself praying less and less that God would take away the loneliness. Now my prayer is that God would make me more loving, gentler and more sensitive to the hurts and loneliness of others. That I would not be afraid to reach out to others in their pain, to meet others where their needs are. I pray that I would be less critical and slower to judge but would see others as hurting people trying to do their best through Christ’s strength.

I had a very unique opportunity this past year to see first hand what that attitude can mean in a Christian community. I was asked to present our Cambodia project at an annual CMDA Conference which I was only able to attend because I was presenting. It is a very involved conference put on by a number of Physicians, dentists and medical professors from John’s Hopkins, and Mayo clinic who although they are not called to serve on the mission field, believe that they are called to protect their brothers and sisters who are serving. They hold this conference so that their colleagues can meet the ongoing educational requirements in order to maintain the license to practice in their home state. On my arrival I was surprised to find that there were some 570 medical professionals meeting in a very remote location- an odd choice for such a large number of participants. Then I started hearing the stories.

These individuals and families had all given up very lucrative practices in the US to serve in closed and very dangerous situations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Nepal and China. They were never free to openly worship, to meet together with other believers, they face constant scrutiny from informers and gov’t officials and threats on their lives. One group had seen 12 of their co-workers martyred over the past five years. One lady received a call midweek to say that her husband had been arrested and she should not return to her home until she knew it was safe. Several couples talked of their decision to not have children as it just was too unsafe for them. Here in a remote area in northern Thailand they were free to worship, to sing out loud, to fellowship with other believers, to share their pain and sorrow with friends who were sensitive to their needs. Although it was only Feb, we celebrated Easter Sunday together because that is just something that these faithful servants never got to do. The participants talked at length about the joy of feeling safe and free and loved by brothers and sisters who were sensitive to their desire to serve and the price they were paying.

I began to wonder how safe others are with me- can they trust me to listen, to not betray a confidence to not place my needs above theirs, to help and support them in their need. My prayer became Lord make me a safe person. Help me to be so sensitive to what others are dealing with that I would not make anything more difficult for them. Help me to be honest and trustworthy with my words, help me not to be quick to take offence or to hold grudges. Help me not to be petty, have a critical spirit or begrudge others their blessings. Help me to reach out to others in genuine loving concern and care and to stay focused on the things that are eternal.

We have the privilege- and it is a privilege that very few in this world have- to meet here every year as sisters in Christ. We all come with our burdens and we all need friends who are prepared to listen to us, pray with us, cry and laugh with us, to be gentle and accepting of us and to tell us the things we don’t necessarily want to hear. We need people who will keep us safe. This is a pretty big group but my prayer is that each of you can find a small group of safe friends. I had that for many years in the early morning ladies prayer group and there were lots of weeks that I am not sure I would have survived without that group. They kept me safe and I will treasure that as long as I live. I take great comfort in knowing that they continue to pray for me and in the fact that I can stay connected by praying for them even from a half world away.

I am so thankful for Shelley, Jan, Deb, Barb and Catherine who are so faithful to create this retreat for us each year. I look forward to being a part of it and am blessed when I can reflect back on it in my times of loneliness.

We had an opportunity to visit New Zealand and learned of a traditional Maori tribal greeting. It is called a Hongi. This greeting is offered to and shared with someone who is welcomed into the community- with all the rights and responsibilities of family. In performing this they symbolically allow their breath to intermingle- they breathe the same air. In a sense we have shared a Hongi this weekend and leave with a new relationship with each other- with all of our joys and sorrows and the rights and responsibilities that come with being a part of the family of God.

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I don’t like saying goodbyes. It is hard to know what to say; how much or how little. You don’t want to presume upon another’s emotional space. Perhaps you weren’t as meaningful in their lives as they were in yours. You are trying to capture how you feel in words, and the words are too lame to describe how you feel. I was trying to explain to one of my classes the other day not to get too caught with money as a motivating factor in one’s life; that love was what motivated me, and in my humble opinion was more meaningful. They just kind of looked me. Huh?

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But if this is going to be my last day in the classroom, and it may well be, I am going to talk about the most important thing in life. And that is love. So rather than talk about love today, in order to get the point across, I sang about it. Sometimes a song can get through when words can’t. I told them that when they were young love was often painful and full of loss and regret. Then I sang them ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen. The hurt they understood! There is a lot of hurt and rejection around love when you are young.

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Then I told them that when you are older that love can be a great comfort, especially in a stable relationship. And then I sang the ‘River is Wide,’ an old Irish ballad which has a hundred different verses. I chose ones that were most meaningful to me; ones that speak about God’s sustaining power to keep love alive. It is my conviction that without God in a relationship, that love is very hard to maintain.

The river is wide, I cannot cross, and neither have I wings to fly

We’ll build a boat that can carry two, and so we’ll cross my love and I

There is a ship, and she sails the sea; she’s loaded deep, as deep can be

But not so deep as the love I’m in; I know not if I sink or swim.

When love is young, then love is kind; just like a jewel when first it shines

Our love grows old, and yet it stands; for yet it’s held in God’s good hand

This life is like that river wide, and we don’t have us wings to fly

Our love’s a boat in which we ride, and so we’ll cross my love and I

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We also watched the class’ production of Waiting for Godot which was great fun and a project that had really helped the class to understand that they were all in a community together. Then we had some ice cream and we all took pictures. In the new term I will be back at CPU, but not in the classroom. I will take on the responsibility of the Bario Project and cover some time in Student Success. I will have no class of students to teach. And I will miss it!

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I have been in the classroom for 38 years and I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye. I guess I am still hopeful that one day I will be back in front of the students that I love. I am so very grateful to the Lord for this privilege He has granted me for so many years. I wish my students all the very best on their exam tomorrow, and promise that I will mark, as I always do, with fairness and compassion. Thank you for your gifts and cards today. Be all you can be.

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Mr. Wise

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Grad Pic In the “good old days” nurses trained in hospitals rather than universities or colleges which meant that not only did we study together but we also lived together in a Nurses Residence.  As a result we got to know each other pretty well as we were all dealing with the same issues of home-leaving and late adolescence. In fact we pretty much grew up together since we all arrived at about 18 years of age, straight out of high school,  and were rapidly exposed to sights and experiences that we had never even dreamed of before.

Nurses’ training back then was a very grueling thirty-three months, and the demands of our instructors and war-hardened supervisors were such that well over half of the class were kicked out for various infractions such as unprofessional attitudes and breaking curfew. Our class was one of the last 2 plus 1 classes in Ontario, which essentially meant that our first two years were fully paid for by the hospital and the third year we provided what amounted to slave labour to repay our debts. However, I almost certainly would not have been able to afford an education otherwise and to give our instructors their due, we were all excellent nurses by the time we graduated.

I used my training well, both on the ward in London and St. Thomas Psychiatric Hospitals, but also increasingly toward the end of my career, in administration. I ended my nursing career at CPRI in London as manager of  Nursing Services in 2007 when Steve and I moved to Kuala Lumpur. However, even in my new ‘job’ in Community Development in Southeast Asia, my health care background has proven to be invaluable. As best as I could I tried to stay in contact with those whom I had trained and graduated with so many years ago.

This past weekend I had the joy of spending  time in Niagara Falls with more than half of my graduating class getting caught up on the lives of these amazing women who have each contributed so much to their professions, their families and their communities over the past forty years. I am so proud to be able to call them my friends. Our lives have taken many different paths, and we’ve each had to deal with our own joys and struggles over the years, but it felt like we were all just picking up from were we left off forty years ago.

We  are all so grateful to Marci, Liz, Mary Jane, Nancy and Karen who so thoughtfully and carefully put together a fabulous weekend for us. Sadly some were not able to join us due to health, family, and work responsibilities, but we hope to see them in 2016 for a huge birthday party in Port Dover to celebrate what will be for many of them their 65th birthday. I hope I will also be able to be there, despite being a mere babe of 64 by that time!

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I have been to a number of weddings in my time. But few, if any, could match yesterday’s wedding between Easton and Yuri Hanna for its creativity, design and attention to detail; it was a marvel of organization and classic style.

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We began with a tea ceremony at the house of Yuri’s parents. This was conducted in traditional Chinese costume and Yuri’s red Chinese dress was stunning. After some silly games that the bridesmaids conducted to test the groom’s determination to come in, we were admitted to the formal part of the ceremony that involved the obtaining of parental blessing through the offering of tea. It was charming and delightful.

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Then it was off to the Corus Hotel in downtown KL for the pictures to be taken in the bridal suite, decorated by Yuri in the retro 60s Mad Men theme that they had chosen for their wedding. Little gift boxes adorned the room, along with some very classy black and white photographs on display along with retro vinyl and advertisements from that era.

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After some informal shots on the canopy bed and more formal ones in the living room, the proceedings were adjourned for the morning and we all went and had breakfast and a nap. I confess I worked for three hours; deadlines being what they are regardless of the occasion.

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In the early evening I collected a carload of guests and we all headed back for the reception and dinner. Once again Yuri’s design was evident everywhere. The reception room was entirely retro 60s complete with turntable, ads, and table favours. Most guests had followed the invitational suggestion to dress the part of the show, and it certainly added to the ambience to see the skirts, curls and makeup of the ladies, with dapper ties, stripes, suspenders and fedoras of the guys. We all looked pretty swell!

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Speeches were blessedly short and sweet, and food and drinks were in abundant supply. Yuri went through three costume changes that evening, each one as elegant and stylish as the one before, and all the cheerful spirit and warm camaraderie adding to the genuine joy we all felt at seeing our good friend Easton so happily married to such a beautiful and accomplished young woman. We wish them all the best for a long and happy marriage!

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