Many communities in developing countries are trapped in a mindset of short term relief, feeling helpless or simply unaware of how they can improve their environments. They have grown dependent on outsiders coming in with short term, quick fix solutions for long term problems. Sustained, long term improvements will not happen until the community members themselves own the problems and the solutions.
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Last week in Cambodia I had the joy of seeing our pilot project take some definitive steps toward local ownership and direction. Although my colleague and I, both outsiders, were there our TWR Cambodia staff are very capable trainers and it was great to see them facilitate the process even though I didn’t understand a word.
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They led a group of commune leaders, village council members and local volunteers through an exercise designed to enable them to discuss what constitutes good health for their villages and families. However it was even better to see the community leaders come together to decide on their own criteria for defining a “healthy home”, create their own teaching booklet and take the initiative to arrange and pay for the printing of the booklets.

Practice

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After the second day of training, we accompanied the young volunteer trainers to a village where they could practice teaching the lesson in a couple of the homes. These young ladies then taught the lesson to several of the other volunteers who had been absent for our lessons, and then observed as these young men taught the lesson themselves. This is multiplication.

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As the day wrapped up, we sat under a village home snacking on enormous pomelos that were growing on a tree in the center of the community. Trapped by a monsoon downpour, we enjoyed watching village life as children returned from school and families from the fields carrying wood and leading their cows home for the night. Within minutes a small lake had formed beside the house and the village boys were romping in the mud.

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Not to waste a perfectly good opportunity to share with others, Kimsong spontaneously shared with the villagers the story of the rainbow.

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Matt and Kate Thompson, friends from our church, West London Alliance in London, came to visit with us in Kuala Lumpur over the last few days. To say that we were excited to have them here doesn’t do justice to the occasion. Pam and I were like puppies who had been adopted. Really? You want to visit with us in KL? Really?

We laid out the royal carpet and got out the fine china. Well, okay, we have no fine china and carpets don’t make any sense at all in this climate. But metaphorically speaking, we did our best to make our guests feel welcome. For their part Matt and Kate were happy to be shown around town and game to jump through all the typical tourist hoops of seeing the Twin Towers and shopping in Chinatown. Rather unusually, Matt chose not to stock up on Rolex watches and Kate seemed to have no appetite for cut-rate Gucci handbags. But they did just come from Cambodia whose prices make Malaysia’s seem positively outrageous, so their reticence was perhaps understandable.

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We climbed all 300 steps to the Batu Caves, and since the cable car was down for repairs, drove all the way to the top of Genting Highlands, Pam’s terror greatly modified by the fact that she couldn’t see anything of the road ahead through Matt’s head. Once at the top we had a lovely buffet meal which we didn’t rush through, and even took the time for a brief look at the Sunway Mall, all lit up in honour of Ramadan. They all got way too much sun lounging around the pool (while I ran around in panic mode at work) and slept comfortably in the guest bedroom (to which you, gentle reader, are also invited), having exhausted themselves in the service of the Lord at English camp in Cambodia.

All of this is pretty standard fare when you go to visit a foreign country which you are unlikely to see again. What was not standard fare, and very much appreciated, was the lovely long conversations about ministry and missionary service. This is all we have been doing for the last seven years, and we get very little chance to share what the Lord has been teaching us, where He has called us to minister, with the church He has called us to fellowship with. It is a strange disconnect, and one that cannot easily be overcome. They also brought with them the gift of cards and notes from the congregation; a gift of immeasurable value. We intend to open only one a day and pray for each one who was kind enough to write and encourage us.

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We see in Matt and Kate a couple much like us; hearing God’s call to serve in what for many seems like an unusual way, not sure what it means for them professionally or personally, but willing to walk the road the Lord has marked out for them to journey along. We know from personal experience that this road is often lined with loneliness, loss and misunderstanding. But it is also a road of great wonder and joy as you watch God blaze a trail through an unknown difficulties with grace and kindness. Some of that grace and kindness came to us this week in the form of Matt and Kate, messengers of God’s love to us, and a reminder that His people have not forgotten us. We are humbled and blessed, and very, very grateful.

After our foray into the slums, we went back to our hotel to freshen up for a trip into the downtown for a meeting with a group of very bright, young education consultants who are partners of both Taylor’s and the American schools. There we had a glimpse of the other side of Mumbai.

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In stark contrast to the slums of Dharavi, Mumbai is also home to the world’s most expensive condonium, entirely owned by one man, which cost more than $1 billion to construct. Living with his family of four, this  twenty-seven story, 400,000-square foot skyscraper residence, has six underground levels of parking, three helicopter pads, a ‘health’ level, and apparently requires about 600 staff to run it.

Following the meeting, we were treated to a lovely dinner at a restaurant in the heart of the old city, hosted by our friends from Parthenon. The conversation with Indians, Americans and Canadians all sharing their perspectives of how to best help urban communities was lively and interesting. The Old Fort area looked beautiful all lit up and we were looking forward to having the following day off to finally explore the sights and sounds of Mumbai. I have to admit it was not nearly as exotic looking in the light of day.

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Much of Mumbai is built on reclaimed land created when seven islands on the shore of the Arabian Sea were joined to form a single city. The waterfront is beautiful but quite undeveloped and polluted by the run-off from the masses of people and industries that empty directly into the sea.

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The Gateway of India which is designed to be the first thing that visitors see when approaching by boat, was constructed to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the city.

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We took a break mid day to have tea, which is about all that we could afford, at the stunning old Taj Palace Hotel while we watched the multiple vendors of everything from lemonade to balloons sell their wares along the waterfront.

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After a long walk we found a public beach, but then after getting down to the water’s edge and contemplating the consequences, decided not to go for a wade after all.

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We both wanted to see the house where Gandhi lived while he was in Bombay. He never owned this house, but the owner allowed him to stay and study here. It was here that Gandhi relearned the traditional arts of weaving that became part of the drive for India’s economic independence. That simple spinning wheel can still be seen on India’s flag.

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Gandhi was a learned man, and practised law in South Africa before returning to India. His library is still in use by those who study the issues to which Gandhi devoted his life. To walk among these remembrances is to be humbled by the man’s gentle greatness.

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On our second day in Mumbai, we met up with the American students for a visit to Dharavi which is one of the largest slums in the world, renowned for its prominence in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.  Situated on just over 500 acres of land, it is a multi-ethnic settlement that is home to upwards of a million people (2000 per acre) most of whom are rural poor from all over India who have migrated to the city to find work. We made our way through incredibly small passageways, some too low to even stand up in, past the tiny, stacked homes of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhist and Christians who work and raise their families together in this slum.

dharavi4As this area, which is located on a tract of land that runs between two suburban railway lines, has been in existence since the late 1800s, it is considered a “legal slum” so the government provides electricity and a source of water. However with an inadequate supply of clean drinking water and only one toilet for every 700 people, a creek which runs through the district is widely used by local residents for toilet functions, leading to the spread of contagious diseases. There is a very active market place, community organizations and numerous mosques, temples and churches to serve people of the community. Inside the houses appear very clean, and some families try to make their, often single room homes, pleasant with curtains and flowers and plants.

 

 

The amazing thing about Dharavi is that it has an active informal economy of household businesses that employ many of the local residents that is estimated to have an annual turnover of more than $650 million US dollars and exports goods around the world. The district has an estimated 5000 businesses and 15,000 single-room factories. We saw many people hard at work in industries recycling plastics and aluminum, creating leather products, textiles, baking and pottery but could not begin to figure out how they managed to organize it all. Somehow through these crowded rabbit warrens masses of raw materials are brought in, processed, packaged and carried back out to markets and someone keeps track of all of this. The income for workers here ranges from $200 to $500 US per year.

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We saw the finished projects and these hides leave the slums as beautiful purses, briefcases and belts ready for the name brand companies to add their special logo.

Mumbai is a city where house prices and rents are among the highest in the world and Dharavi provides a cheap and affordable option to those who move to Mumbai to earn their living. We were told that the poor in Mumbai are not those who can afford to live in the slums but the “pavement dwellers” living under a tarp or cardboard on the sidewalks. The message clearly was that Dharavi provides a safe, affordable home, an income and a sense of community for the residents and is not the filthy, dangerous place that it appears to outsiders.

I am afraid that I was not convinced. It may provide all of those things for people but ultimately I do not believe that anyone who bears the image of the Creator ever deserves to work that hard just to survive nor should they be subjected to the indignity of living in these circumstances. It is a shame on those of us who have plenty and the wherewithal to meet needs and transform lives.

 

 

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As part of Steve’s work, he was asked to represent the school at a meeting in Mumbai and to meet up with an American team who were doing a project in India. Since his costs were covered and we have not yet been to India, it seemed like a good opportunity for me to tag along. We arrived in the brand new, majestic airport shortly after midnight and fortunately were greeted by hotel staff who escorted us into the night. As seedy and frightening as the area looked in the dark, it was even worse in daylight. The scene outside our window was reminiscent of our memories of Bangladesh nearly thirty years ago. In spite of the area, the hotel was actually quite pleasant and the customer service was excellent.

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We met up with a group of students and staff from Andover and Exeter academies in the afternoon to visit quite an amazing and unique project called Mumbai Mobile Creche which serves more than 4500 children in Mumbai.  The construction industry is the single largest employer of migrant workers in India with an estimated 30 million men and women moving to cities with their children and living on construction sites. While parents are working their children are often left to fend for themselves and are at risk for malnutrition, injury and illness. MMC exists to support the health, education and safety needs of these children and their families.

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The site we visited was a massive project building a Marriott hotel near the international airport, employing over 500 labourers and families. There are about 40 preschoolers there who receive food, early childhood education and medical surveillance through MMC. As well they provide basic hygiene, health and parenting education to mothers, and support to ensure that school aged kids are enrolled and have the supplies needed to attend local schools. MMC also provides a yearlong training program for local women who wish to become teachers either for MMC or in government schools.

After a brief stop at the hotel to freshen up, since the temperature was in the high 30s, we went to the India National Sport Center for dinner and an evening get together hosted by the India co-ordinator of the international school project we were observing. It was a great evening with three speakers who each lead a major initiative and gave their perspective on leadership. We enjoyed some excellent food and a rousing lesson in Bollywood and regional cultural dances.Our Indian hostess Avanti, (on the left wearing green) lead the event with great confidence and poise, spoke knowledgeably and pasionately about her leadership and experience in the program and the goals and rationale for what she hoped to accomplish through her work. We just kept shaking our heads at the realization that this young lady is just sixteen years old and has already accomplished more than many people do in a lifetime.

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It is unbelievable to me that it has been only seven weeks since we packed our bags and naively headed home for our annual visit with our family and friends. Now that I have been back in KL for almost a week, I am finally beginning to feel that I am on top of things once again.
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During a brief nine days in Ontario, I went non-stop and accomplished all that I had set out to do and then some. Once I had the car on the road and figured out how to drive a standard again, It was a real treat to be able to attend a “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” themed wedding shower for Sarah, my nephew Jesse’s new bride. Sunday was a full day touching base with friends at WLA, a lovely BBQ lunch with Sara and Milan to reclaim the keys to our condo and a family visit during which we at least were able to acknowledge my brother Lawrence’s upcoming 65th birthday.
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I am well aware of the debt that I owe to a group of women who have encouraged me and supported me in prayer throughout our time here. I treasure the opportunity to spend a weekend with them each June at the Ladies Retreat. The setting at Team Ranch was beautiful with plenty of activities for everyone. The giant swing was a big hit for the more adventurous of the group but others enjoyed horseback riding, canoeing, swimming, skating, volleyball and sitting quietly in the midst of creation.

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The theme this year was “The Voice” and Shelley led us through a wonderful study of the Voice of Truth, Power, Goodness and Love. The Voice who hears and responds to my voice as I approach Him with my confessions, my requests, my pain, my pleas for others and my adoration and responds with forgiveness, guidance, provision and healing. I am so prone to listen to the voice of the Lie that leads to confusion, doubt, deception, temptation shame and isolation and was encouraged and strengthened by this reminder. It was great just to have some quiet time that didn’t involve running from one task to the next.

With the banking details all up to date, our medical records located, the car back to Aylmer, and the condo cleared and prepared for a new occupant, I packed up one more time to head back home. I was very grateful for a round trip via Calgary which meant I had two more days with Greg, Liz, Russ and Dave. Lots of fun spending a day with Russ and creating a barricade to protect him from his favourite activity, racing to the stairs and seeing how far he can get up before you can catch. Found the perfect T-shirt for our little Epic Dude.

 

Epic DudeLeaving Greg and Liz behind and returning to KL has been incredibly difficult and I struggled to begin to pick up the pieces of life here. But life goes on and there are friends to see, courses to pursue, visas to obtain, trips and training to organize and work to be done and even in all that there is a measure of healing. I look forward to seeing how God will lead in this upcoming year

 

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My children made me a father. I don’t mean that they came into the world and my name was entered into their birth certificate in the appropriate place. That was true also; but that is not what I mean. I mean that through their influence I grew into the role. I became the father they needed. This is why:

They trusted me. Trust is a huge motivator; much more effective than fear. Fear causes you to close down; to seek the most available route out of trouble. Trust causes you to grow to meet your children’s (often unrealistic) expectations. You want to be larger, not smaller. You want to give more, not less. Their innocent trust in your abilities drives you to develop those abilities. Their trust in your character drives you to refine and purge that character. Their trust in your wisdom drives you to research and understand the issues that concern them. A child’s trust is not something you can mess with. You have to earn it.

They loved me. I so do not deserve that love. I am tough-minded and even cruel on occasion. Life has often kicked me in the face and I have fought back. Hard. I can be unforgiving and relentless. But my children loved me. And I wanted to be worthy of that love. I took their rebuke and disappointment in me and turned it into lessons for improvement. I confessed my unworthiness and sought to be more worthy. I dug deep into my faith and asked God to show me what needed to change. My children’s love for me transformed me into a better man, and continues to do so.

They respected me. This is the ground of a man’s being. His children’s respect will drive him to heroics of self-sacrifice. Men who lose the respect of their children lose the better half of themselves. My children may not have agreed with every decision I made, but I ran every decision through this filter: Is this worthy of my children’s respect? Not their agreement; not their compliance. Those are different issues. But everything you do has to meet this standard or it is a non-starter. My children have their own priorities and concerns and they do not perfectly align with my own. But I know they respect me, and I am determined to live a life that is worthy of that respect to my dying breath. Their respect influences my behaviour. Always has.

My children made me a father; made me a better man. But here is the icing on that cake: their lives bring me great joy! They are no more perfect than I am. But they all live lives that are worthy and uplifting. They are all ruled by kindness and consideration. They all understand the value of relationship and are not slaves to money or superficial consumerism. They care for others, and they care for each other. This is the sweet legacy of having tried to be the father that my children needed me to be. My children made me a father, and that has been the greatest joy in my life.

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