Ministry


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Coming to Cayman the first time was like entering a theme park. It is a jewel set in the glittering seas of the Caribbean, seemingly serenely unaware and unaffected by the tumultuous political and economic seas on which Pam and I had been sailing the previous eight years (that is the past perfect progressive, for those who believe that verb tense never gets used in ordinary conversation). Every once in a while I wake up in a nervous sweat thinking that we are still trapped in Malaysia, a fate that very well might have been ours, had the Lord not protected us. I want you to keep that fear in mind as I describe what it is like to come back here. Whatever my present lot – the work, the trial, the unremitting pressure of performance – there is no fear in it. Therefore it is a good that I am about to describe, whatever your impression of it may be.

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This morning we went to the beach for a swim. It is October 22, and I have been back ‘on island’ for ten weeks. This is my first swim at the beach. Ten weeks, seventy days, first swim. On the first day at school, which was the second day back, I was given a computer that would not keep a charge. It went downhill from there. Three weeks later I had a functioning computer. That put me three weeks down at the beginning of the year. I have just this week been healthy again after being the sickest I have been in a decade. I lost three weeks over that one. Although only two days out of class, I had zero voice for another three and two weeks around that sickness where I could barely function. That is six weeks out of the ten that I was damaged goods. The fact that I got to the break with most things done is testimony to the Lord’s good grace, not my competence.

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In Grade 11 I got the novel for the quarter and three weeks’ worth of background to dramatic form covered (Life of Pi, Poetics, Oedipus Rex). In Grade 12 I got the novel and the drama study done for the quarter (A Tale of Two Cities, Hamlet). In addition I got the Community Service elective launched, taught two workshops and retooled my class websites. Report cards were submitted yesterday. At home I wrote a ten page, a twenty page, and a thirty page essay for the two Master’s courses that will finish off this degree, and launched a cell group in our home on Thursday nights. We researched and bought a newer vehicle – a Hyundai Tucson – and I started the IB Examiner course that I hope will teach me how to better prepare my students for the IB essays that they have to write.

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I continue to get up at five every morning, and get an exercise routine finished before breakfast. Pam and I take the time to read a portion of the Bible and pray at the start of each day. In the evening we like to sit out on the porch for our supper and reflect on how God has been to us. It is a full and productive life, but there has been zero time for relaxation. I spend my weekends and evenings either marking student work or writing essays for my Masters. I haven’t been snorkeling, which I love, and aside from this morning, haven’t even swum.

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I know there will come a time when all this transitional stuff will be over. I will have mastered the IB English curriculum, my class websites will be built, the Master’s course will be done, and so will the IB Examiner’s course as well. I will be able to get to the beach and swim every evening, and read a book just for the joy of doing so. But frankly, that day is likely at least six months to a year away. In the meantime, I continue to work away at what the Lord has placed in front of me, knowing that He knows my frame, and my inmost need. He must know that right now I need to work. I hope that, for this week at least, He knows that I need to relax.

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Even though we have been in the Caribbean for nine months, my heart is still pretty connected to SE Asia. I really miss the people that I was able to get to know and love and work with, during our time there. I was able to return to Indonesia recently for a few weeks and I have to admit it felt like home. I had not realized how much I miss the beautiful greenery and lush gardens and the hustle and bustle of SE Asia as well.

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I arrived two days before the conference began in order to deal with jet lag before I tried to sit in meetings all day. This worked out well as several of my Canadian friends had done the same. It was a great opportunity to get caught up with their lives and ministry and even to do some exploring of the local beaches and restaurants.

We stayed in a rather typical, gorgeous hotel with beautiful surroundings that was almost deserted. Also typically, the hotel had seen very little maintenance since it was built.. There was a constant shuffling of rooms as leaks broke out on a regular basis. But, the company was great and the fellowship sweet.

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There were about thirty five of us who gather there, representing many different organizations but what brings us together is that all of us use the same core strategy in our work. It was exciting to hear the reports of all that is being accomplished in this region and to strategize over future potential projects.

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The trip to Asia and back is long, tedious and incredibly tiring and unpredictable and right now I feel that I would be happy to never do it again. However, the other part of the story is that I love to be with the people I was with these couple of weeks. We share the same passion for community, love the work that we do and are committed to seeing people freed to be all that they can be. Each of them are amazing examples to me of what it means to give their lives in the service of others.

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According to the statistics quoted by the Orality Network approximately 5.7 billion people in this world are oral learners; they are considered to have basic or below basic literacy skills. Others, although their literacy skills are not lacking, are oral preference communicators. These are defined as those who “learn or process information by spoken rather than literate means” and “prefer non-print forms of communication.” Please see:

http://www.orality.net/what_is_oral_learning#sthash.q5emOGmN.dpuf

The vast majority of western missions work and much of the training I saw carried out in SE Asia has been created and delivered to meet the needs of a literate audience. As a result much of the target audience is not able to connect with the material and fully grasp the message of the Gospel. People in oral societies are very relational – they share their lives with one another and communicate with one another in narratives, dialogues and dramas, proverbs, songs, chants, and poetry. Please see:

http://www.orality.net/statistics_and_facts#sthash.aV6GeX97.dpuf

TWR has been involved in meeting the needs of oral learners through broadcasts over both radio and now the internet and have contributed to discussions on oral communications for many years. The International Orality Network was formed in 2005 as an extension of the Making Disciples of Oral Learners Working Group of the 2004 Lausanne Forum on World Evangelism. The network seeks to increase awareness of orality and oral preference learners and to build a network of churches, missions and individuals who are working with oral communicators. It is also a source of training, materials and strategies that utilize storying programs and art forms. One of the resources available is the Orality Journal which is an international and interdisciplinary online journal published twice a year to encourage discussion through research articles, book reviews and academic updates. Please see:

http://www.orality.net/how_we_began#sthash.1tA25ACZ.dpuf

The people of Cambodia are predominantly oral preference learners and the strategies of Community Health Education that we used in our project are specifically designed for oral learners. My colleague and mentor Dr Su Min Lim and I were recently asked to contribute an article for the Orality Journal which would document the use of the “Ten Seed Technique”. This is a particular participatory tool that we used to assist oral learners to talk about the problem of alcohol abuse in their community and the extent of the social and financial burden related to alcohol use. The article was published in this month’s Orality Journal. Please see:

http://orality.net/node/1464

The Ten Seed Technique with Village Leaders in Southeast Asia……. 49

Lim Su Min and Pam Wise

Two seasoned practitioners document a participatory method used
by an indigenous NGO to engage communities in addressing the
problem of alcoholism.

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Over the past eight years, I have visited Cambodia many times and have come to love and deeply respect my Khmer co-workers, friends and villagers I have had the privilege to meet. It was not the best time for my last visit, as my first few days here were holidays to celebrate the king’s birthday. However, that did give me an opportunity to revisit some of my favourite haunts and to spend some time with precious friends, Stephen and Beth who are also wrapping up their time in Cambodia. That fact that it was 39 degrees with very high humidity, creating the sensation of 60+ degrees, was also a brutal reminder of the other side of life in Cambodia.

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On Sunday, I made the dreaded seven hour bus trip to Siem Reap to meet up with TWR staff and a team of medical students from Singapore who have been volunteering in our pilot project in Pourk. They will be here for two weeks spending the mornings teaching and doing research in the villages. In the evenings they will be leading educational skits at village gatherings organized by the community leaders. Last night there was a great turnout of both adults and children for two skits; one on the dangers of drinking and driving and the other on the physical damage caused by alcohol abuse. Following the performances, which are largely done by village volunteers who really shine when given the opportunity to take the stage, there is a question and answer time.

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A telling and very poignant moment occurred when a young girl of about ten years of age volunteered to come to the front to answer a question about alcohol abuse. When asked the standard CHE question: “Does this happen in your community?” this sweet little girl had no hesitation in stating “it happens all the time even my own Dad drinks a lot”. At this point, several community members escorted her father, who was decidedly under the influence, to the platform to answer the question. With his beautiful little daughter hugging him, he admitted to his own behaviour in front of his entire community. Alcohol consumption robs this village of at least 40% of their disposable income, leads to ill health, family violence and marital breakdown. It also leads to the loss of productivity, takes young people out of school and keeps people trapped in disempowering life circumstances that rob them of a future. Although not the focus of our project, it is a core and pervasive challenge that must be addressed as it attacks the dignity and identity of our listeners.

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As we rode in a tuk-tuk for the 20 kilometers out to the village for the evening session, we were reminded of just how vulnerable our Khmer brothers and sisters really are. A brief storm that blew through in the afternoon, seemed pretty innocent to us as we rested in our hotel. All the way out to the community; although the sky was brilliant with sunshine and a magnificent double rainbow, we saw trees and signs which had been damaged and destroyed. We later learned that more than fifty homes in our villages had been completely destroyed, leaving families once again having to start over from scratch. The lessons for Tuesday morning were cancelled while our team went with the village leaders to visit some of the families affected.

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There are so many people in our world for whom the reality of day to day life is incredibly difficult. This “minor storm” will never get international coverage because it is just taken for granted that people must just go on dealing with a capricious life and a belief system that offers little hope or comfort. It will not be easy to leave this ministry behind but I know that God is at work in this community and that our TWR staff will continue to build relationships with these leaders who are so keen to find the answers for their people.

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I came onboard to my present position as Project Coordinator for corporate social responsibility after hearing about Taylor’s CEO Dato’ Loy’s desire to see a hostel built in the remote Kelabit Highlands. I had no idea where Bario was, or who the Kelabit people were, but the Spirit spoke to my heart and urged me to get involved. I responded to that ‘still small voice’ and found myself in charge! God will do that, if you are not careful. For two years, I have labored to bring the work in Bario to the attention of the Taylor’s community. I have built an entire website grouped around this one project – which in the process expanded into 90 projects. I have arranged for others to visit and conduct projects there, and visited Sarawak three times in the process. But this is going to be the last trip.

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It is the last because the project is nearing completion. My friend Evan Horsnell, the project manager for this and many other construction projects for Taylor’s, travelled with me to Bario to have one final inspection of the work there. I went to arrange for the construction of the bunks and lockers, and to begin the process of planning for the ribbon cutting ceremony to take place. I met with the principal, Dora Tigan, and with one of the elders, Laju Balang, who will supervise the construction of the furnishings for the hostel. They gave me a tour of their respective longhouses, which was an education in itself. They graciously hosted me with tea and fresh fruit gathered from the forest. Then they told me the stories of the salvation of the village by English and Australian missionaries, and their part in the liberation of Borneo from the occupying Japanese forces.

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During WWII, when Japan occupied Borneo, it became the site of a guerrilla offensive, launched by Australian special forces, who trained and armed the locals to attack the back lines of the occupying Japanese army. The offensive provided to be more than an annoyance for the Japanese, as several thousand Japanese soldiers died in the jungle on unfamiliar trails at the hands of the Kelabit, Penan and Kayan, who were not opposed to removing the heads of their victims for personal use. Forced to redeploy their troops from the coast to handle the insurgency, the Japanese were ill prepared to meet the Australian troops landing not far from Miri when that offensive began later in the year.

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Those bloodier days of their history are well in the past now, as Bario promotes its culture and natural beauty, becoming a local centre for education and eco-tourism. The new meeting hall and dormitory will help to ensure that continued growth and draw children from the surrounding villages who will be able to stay in Bario during the term and benefit from the growth in their education and understanding of the modern world.

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I spoke to the elders in a meeting arranged and translated for me by Dora, and urged them to consider planning for an event which will celebrate an historic moment for Bario when both the hostel and the accompanying meeting hall will be completed. I have heard in recent contacts with the village that the best date for this is July 3 of this year. It is a bittersweet pill. On the one hand the elders have found a time that suits both the village and the CEO of Taylor’s. On the other hand, I will not be able to attend, as I will be back in Canada at that time.

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This then will be my last visit with people I have come to care for and seek to serve. The blessing is that as brothers and sisters in Christ, there will be a future time for all of us to meet again and share how the Lord has blessed in the completion of a project which will impact the children of that region for years to come. It was my good fortune to be a small part of His greater design for the Kelabit people that He loves.

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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

 

Page View

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!

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