Richard and Janice

A month or so ago I was asked to undertake a ministry among the international students that attend our little church in Subang Jaya. I listened to that ‘still small voice’ within and found myself saying I would. It is not much of a ministry, to be honest. We meet once a week for ninety minutes or so. I basically run it like I would an English 3U class with lots of time for interaction with the written material and dialogue and only occasional direction from me on particularly troublesome points of the language.

I have been getting between eight and a dozen students each week and they are a real cross-section of cultures and countries. I have quite a few from South America, several from Africa, one from Russia and real sweetie from Mongolia. Today I met another, Kutasha Kasongo from Zambia after the morning service. He arrived just a few days ago with his very nervous parents, Richard and Janet who have come to see him settle in KL so he can further his education. Richard did his M.A. in Civil Engineering in England before returning to Zambia where he is now a consultant. Janet is a high school teacher and a history major with an emphasis on African pre-colonial history.

Their nervousness springs from the fact that their son is just 17, and this is the first time he has been away from home. As any good parents might be, they are anxious about their son’s welfare, and wanted to see him connected to a church that had an outreach to college students. They came to the right place, for our church has a heart for such kids and he will be well looked after. But imagine you are Richard and Janet. In faith you travel nearly half-way around the world for the good of your son so he can get a good start in life. You pray that you will find people who understand and care for your son when you can’t. And the Lord does exactly that. Wouldn’t that be a joy?

It was a joy to have all three of them in our little apartment for the evening. Pam did her usual wonderful meal. Janet was particularly delighted to find something she could actually eat, as the Chinese food hadn’t been sitting on her too well. And Richard was greatly relieved to see that his faith in the Lord’s provision and protection hadn’t been misplaced. As for us, we are happy that the Lord is able to use what we have to be an encouragement to others, no matter where in the world they call home. Scripture says, “Do not be forgetful to entertain strangers: for by this some have entertained angels unawares.” (Heb. 13:2). Or at the very least, had a very pleasant evening with lovely guests!

A year or so ago, I met with a group of young Malaysians who were studying at Sabah Theological Seminary, ten of whom had gone to Cambodia to attend a CHE TOT1 facilitated by our TWR Cambodia staff. One young lady, Zahara, has now graduated and returned to her home village to await her assignment with the Anglican church. Zahara is an orang asli (native people)young lady with a passion to serve her own people and sees CHE as the ideal way to move her communities forward.

I decided to venture out on my own to meet up with Zahara and found myself a local bus heading north to Teluk Intan. We met up with no problem at the bus station and drove out to her village about a half hour away. This is the first time that I have been able to experience the close family connections, gracious hospitality and acceptance of the rural communities of Malaysia. We had to stop several times on our way in to Zahara’s house to meet, greet or share a drink with other village members. The community consists of two small villages just a few minutes walk apart, with a total of about fifty families. It is largely Christian, with four established churches but there are also a few Muslim families living peacefully amongst them.

Church

Dinner

Since I was in the village, Zahara quickly arranged a church service for that evening and over thirty adults and many children arrived to hear me speak, which of course I was totally unprepared to do. With Zahara translating, I facilitated a CHE lesson called What is Good Health. As virtually always happens in this part of the world, at mess of food appeared for all to share after the service. I had the opportunity to meet and pray with a number of the women before we retired to Zahara’s home which she shares with her Mom, niece and nephew. Lots of family members, sisters, brothers, aunt, uncles and nieces and nephews and cute little kids dropped by to visit before bed.

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In the morning we met with a village lady with a burden to reach the young people in the village who refused to attend church or even go to school so we did some planning on ways to engage the youth in the village. From there we went to the kindergarten and shared some CHE resources for children with the young lady who teaches around a dozen little cuties and her friend who works in the children’s ministry. I am so grateful for the thousands of CHE lessons that I have so often relied upon in sharing with others.

Girls

Zahara cooked us a very flavourful lunch, including some turtle, and by the time I left to catch my bus back to KL, I was sad to be leaving this close knit group of brothers and sisters. I am looking forward to hearing where Zahara’s placement will be and figuring out how we will work together. I also have standing invitations to bring Steve to meet the folks and stay any time. Oh and a wonderful group of friends to spend Christmas with.

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Hey Dave, we hope that you guys have a great weekend together at the cabin. Hope that the year ahead brings you new opportunities and adventures. We love you and are incredibly proud of you.

CSR Banner

I am coming up for one year in my new position as Project Coordinator for Corporate Social Responsibility for the Taylor’s Education Group, a large educational provider that owns a university, two colleges and five schools in Kuala Lumpur. I have been working in one program, the Canadian Pre-University Program, at one of those colleges for six of the last seven years. A year ago I stepped into this position hoping to do some good in a larger context than just one program in just one college.

To say that this has been a stretching experience is accurate, provided you envision a medieval rack along the lines of the one used in The Princess Bride. Don’t let the fancy title fool you. I spent the first four months in this role at the end of a crowded bench normally reserved for student interns only slightly older than my grandchildren. Not to worry. Asian workers are nothing if not mobile, and of the four of us sitting on that bench, only I lasted longer than six months. There were plenty of offices available shortly as well. I simply moved into one of them, squatter-like, and dared them to evict me. The jury is still out on whether I will ever get my name on the door.

I spent those first four months largely on the move myself, leveraging my impressive title into meetings with the high and lowly, connecting social entrepreneurs with CSR-inclined businesses, finding out which staff were helping the community and which ones to avoid. After this initial phase and after a few meetings with the CEO to get his take on the whole matter, I began to formulate a website in my head. In my thoughts I saw a place where all those lowly staff, toiling away in the forgotten bowels of the enormous company could meet with each other across the internet. I would compose pages of the projects they were involved in and write up profiles of the staff and students involved. I would provide links to the community partners and post upcoming events they could participate in. It would celebrate community service and affirm those who cared about the larger community.

By now I had an office where I could meet and begin to compile and compose all of the information I needed. I called together some of the team in Marketing and gathered their advice and ensured their commitment. I pulled in the ICT department and enlisted their aid for what was going to become a detailed and complex website. I began to learn the software, a steep learning curve whose intricacies had been facilitated by our own blogsite which you are presently reading. I gathered more information more widely from other colleges and schools. As the database of all this information grew I began to transfer it to the pages I was developing, learning compositional tricks as I progressed. By the time I left for our break in May, the site had begun to take shape.

Impact1When I got back at the beginning of June I had managed to convince my CEO to hire an assistant. Amelia knew some things about graphics from previous positions and has been very helpful in the last push to get the site complete enough to publish. I worked with some graphic designers to get the whole CSR package branded, and after a dozen prototypes arrived at IMPACT!; a name that seems to have met with widespread approval. I secured permission for its inclusion on the staff and student portals and on 19 July 2014 it got a ‘soft’ launch with a letter of introduction from the CEO to all staff. You can see a screenshot of the result above, but only staff and students can login to view the site.

This journey is not over. On Friday I met with the ICT team once again, this time to find a vendor to retool the content beyond the limits of its Sharepoint template, to something more approaching the kind of look and feel that you would expect from an institution of this clout. Next week the team and I will meet with three vendors to outline the specifics of the projected revamped CSR site and allow them to work out some proposals. This process is expected to take three months, by which time Amelia and I have to finish all the content for the site so it can be migrated to the revamped format.

My days are long. I get here at 7 in the morning to get in a full day by 3 so I can get to my ‘other’ job over at Taylor’s College so I can keep my work visa which says ‘lecturer.’ On busy days at the College I get home after 6. Aside from our time in Canada, I haven’t taken a day off since I began this job a year ago, although I did take a couple of half-days when Liz and Greg and Matt and Kate were here. Outside of the people I work with on a daily basis, not ten people out there know what I am doing or why I think it is important. But some day, maybe before Christmas if all goes well, this site will go public, and then this institution will become identified by the sacrificial staff and students who are doing all they can to help those who need their help in the communities around us. And then I will have done some good.

One year ago our family was greatly blessed by the birth of Liz and Greg’s first little boy who has been such a joy, even in the midst of unthinkable sadness. We love his happy little smile and boundless energy and excitement with life. He has grown up so much in just one year.

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His first birthday party was a pirate theme and we bought him a great pirate ship water table which he got a sneak preview of when we were home last month.
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Pirate

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According to United Nations, 54% or 3.9 billion of the world’s population, lives in urban settings and by 2050 it is estimated that that number will rise to 66%, a further 2.5 billion people. Given that the area of emphasis we have chosen for our Master’s is International Development and Urban Studies, we have taken several courses dealing with poverty, organizing in urban centers and understanding the unique needs for ministry in urban settings. These courses have also included some useful tools for assessing needs, engaging with communities, planning and implementing programs.

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Steve is currently taking a course called “Encountering the City” which requires him to complete an ethnographic study of a neighbourhood. So today we set out for a four hour visit to Brickfields, Little India to do an exegesis of the area. This involves close observation and reflection, which is something we had learned how to do in a prvious course in Seattle. The word exegesis means a critical interpretation and is commonly what we do when we read the Bible, we exegete the text with a view to discerning its truth for our lives.If we are committed to serving in an area that God has called us to, then we need to be able to see what is going on in our areas, what the people view as most important, what they hope for, fear and believe. We also need to understand the narrative of their lives and their communities in order to see what God is doing so that we can seek and to partner with Him in the work.

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In order to learn about the community we looked at the types of housing, the streetscapes, the transportation corridors, government services, community centers, charities, places of worship, stores, cafes, local hangouts, health care facilities, schools, graffiti and industries. Steve had prepared some survey questions which gave us opportunity to chat with the residents. Occasionally we invited respondents to join us for lunch. As we walked, sampled the street food and chatted we were able to get a sense of the places that represented life and hope and beauty for the community but also those that showed evidence of poverty, neglect and despair.

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The Indians love their bright colours, music, flowers, food and family and we thoroughly enjoyed getting to know this community a bit better, practicing new skills and doing research for a current project. Our lives may seem a little strange to those of you who have much better things to do on a Saturday, but for us it was a fun and fascinating day filled with discovery and blessing.

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.

Rainbow

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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