We love to have company. Pam is a great cook, and clearly has the gift of hospitality. In the early days in Malaysia, we would have company over all the time. With two jobs, two Master’s degrees, and enough responsibilities to burden folks half our age, we have slowed down a little. It was great to have Matt and Kate here on the way back from missions work in Cambodia, and our dear friends Al and Shelley, with whom we shared a great island holiday in the middle of a typhoon! But lately, the company has been a little thin on the ground.
So it was very nice to hear that my old colleague and our dear friend Shelley would be dropping by to visit for a couple of days. This was especially true since Shelley now lives in Bali, Indonesia, so for her to come all the way to Kuala Lumpur was a great delight. She has just taken a job in Macao, and I have just taken a job in the Cayman’s, so we had a lot to talk about the job hunt for those of us who are rapidly approaching their ‘best-before-date’ as far as getting a shot at international teaching jobs is concerned. Gender barriers may be falling all over the place, but ageism is alive and well, and is probably being practiced in your own country, no matter where you live.
Unfortunately, Shelley got very ill on her last two days – nothing we fed her, we’re pretty sure – and was unable to come out for dinner with us to Oasis. In her honour, and on her nickel, we went out ourselves to Foley’s and had a very pleasant evening. Shelley is going to be across Hong Kong harbor from some other ex-CPU staff, so she will be in good company, and we wish her all the best in her new adventure.
Shortly after Shelley left, we had the pleasure of hosting some other dear friends from Phnom Penh, Beth and Stephen Lauer, who like us left Southwestern Ontario to come to Southeast Asia to minister. Phnom Penh is not an easy city to live in. It is noisy and increasingly crowded, and it is not only hot, but it is dusty and dry as well, with a fine, red dust that floats up and hangs in the air with the diesel exhaust, making it difficult to breath and impossible to escape. At least in Malaysia there is plenty of vegetation to soak up the carbon. But not so in Cambodia, whose forests have been razed for farmland and bombed into oblivion. It is a tough field in which to minister, and Beth and Stephen have persevered in difficult circumstances for many years. We were happy to be able to give them a a break from the heat and chance to unwind with those who understand the pressures of ministry.
We didn’t give them long to rest, heading out for Malacca on our first full day to do some sight-seeing and souvenir shopping. Then with our trusty iPhone and Google map we set out across country on the back roads to a place just south of Port Dickson called Avillion, where we stayed the night in little cabanas on stilts over the Straits of Malacca.
Pam had packed an entire picnic basket of goodies, so we all curled up in the little sitting area overlooking the water and chatted happily for half the night. No, we never did run out of things to talk about. More cross country trekking the next day brought us to Putra Jaya and some iconic pictures before we headed back to our little condo in Subang Jaya. The next day Pam led our still-game company downtown for the Cook’s tour of KL, and I joined them after work so we could go up to the top of Trader’s for a drink and a look at the fabulous view of the Twin Towers as they lit up at night. Sunway Pyramid for shopping and lunch was on the menu for the next day, with some very nice home cooking awaiting me at the end of my day. Wednesday was Stephen’s birthday, so we did the Las Carretas Mexican meal, and nobody was disappointed.
It is impossible to measure the importance of visits such as these. Our lives are rich in work, study, and experiences. But friends are among our greatest treasures, and to have an opportunity to demonstrate that importance to those we care about is especially sweet. We didn’t get to all the places we wanted to go, or all the restaurants we had in mind. There are nine places that serve food in the nearest strip mall of 12 shops. Multiply that across 5 million people and that is a mess of restaurants. But we did have a fabulous visit with some very fine people, and that is the important thing. It is also likely to be the last bit of company we have until we get home ourselves. If so, it was a nice way to bring our ministry of hospitality to a close.
Gerhard Lohfink writes, “When the church is criticized among the nations because of its bad example, the holy name of God itself is dishonored” (p. 179). Those thoughts go through my head every time I hear of a Christian likening President Obama to the anti-Christ. Do these people have even the remotest conception of the testimony of Christ they despoil with such screeds? As Lohfink points out, there are many in the church, myself included, who decry the identification of the church with the corporate structure of America that seeks to reduce millions of people to economic slavery so the powerful can dwell in luxury. “This understanding of the church is marked by a profound embarrassment at the history of the church since Constantine as a dominating institution; it is also characterized by an aversion to elitist and triumphalist thought, [and] a longing for solidarity with all of humanity” (Loc. 809). This ‘longing for solidarity with all of humanity’ is most keenly felt by those of us who have lived in the Majority World for any length of time and have seen the damage that an “America-First” form of Christianity has inflicted on the developing countries of the world.
How did we get to such a destructive and elitist Christianity in the West? This certainly did not come from Christ, and scripture tells us that He would have condemned such attitudes in the strongest possible language (cf. Luke 4:18; 11:42; 19:46). However, it is not merely the words of Christ we need to look at, but his actions which sprang from his character. As Lohfink notes, “It was characteristic of Jesus that he constantly established community precisely for those who were denied community at that time, or who were judged inferior in respect to religion. Jesus made clear through his word and even more through his concrete conduct that he did not recognize religious-social exclusion and discrimination” (Loc. 1104). Yet the church in America does not merely recognize religious-social exclusion, it promotes it by supporting economic structures that oppress and persecute the poor and minorities.
Franklin Graham, who clearly ought to know better, recently reduced all of this oppression and exclusion to a simple matter of acceptance of tyranny (Woods 2015). As Martin Luther King pointed out years ago “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice” (King 1963). Graham, and other Christians who so callously dismiss the suffering minorities should pay better attention to their own history.
Lohfink, Gerhard. 1984. Jesus and Community: The Social Dimensions of Christian Faith. Philadelphia, USA. Fortress. Kindle Edition.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Letter From Birmingham City Jail.” thekingcenter.org. http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/letter-birmingham-city-jail-0
Woods, Mark. 2015. “Franklin Graham branded ‘crude, insensitive and paternalistic’ for Facebook comments on police shootings.” Christianity Today. 20 March 2015. http://www.christiantoday.com/article/franklin.graham.branded.crude.insensitive.and. paternalistic.for.facebook.comments.on.police.shootings/50387.htm
Last week I presented the work I have been doing to the GMC (there is a proper name for this acronym, but General Movers and (C)shakers covers it). I was given 10 minutes with five for questions. I had to peel myself out of there after 30. There was widespread approval and even applause for what I have accomplished in my short tenure. Everyone wanted a piece of the pie. It was very gratifying.
The website has started its uptick, almost entirely through word of mouth. The GMC want to change that with an on campus poster blitz. As people go to the site, it moves up on Google’s algorithm, spawning more hits. It topped 8,000 this month for the first time. Not sure what happened in February, but the Chinese New Year and having no students on campus might have had something to do with it!
On Wednesday I fly to Bario for the last time to try to put together a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the conclusion of the hostel that we are building there. I am hoping to get all of this in place before I leave this position at the end of June. This job has been one heck of a ride, and has opened my eyes to a potential I never knew I had. This is what happens when stop trying to be in charge of everything and let the Lord run the show!