Category Archives: Mission Work

reminded that I’m a foreigner

Serving abroad, for me, comes with the caution to not be ‘the foreigner who comes in thinking they know it all.’  It’s a temptation; after all, Christians here honor me as a missionary, thinking I’ve made great sacrifices in order to be here.  I have a masters degree from the USA, so I’m treated as a scholar.  I speak several languages, have some free time now that the boys are in school, and seem to have an endless amount of resources that could help the local church and people.

But I’m still so clueless.  This week I started on a project meant to help pastors with preaching and thinking about theology after they leave seminary.  A quarterly preaching newsletter that offers ideas for sermons, reflections on scripture texts, and a short theological piece.  For our first newsletter, Eric took two of the topics (the cross, and Easter) and I thought, I’ll cover the topic of doubt, using the story of “doubting Thomas.”

I went to the library and immediately found tons of material.  (Did you know Thomas meant “the twin”? Maybe doubt is a twin of worship – the two not opposites, but connected?)  On my way out of the library, with all my handy research, I asked a local student if people here talk about “Doubting Thomas.”  No, it turns out that there might not be a Malay word for doubt.  We could translate belief and unbelief, trust and distrust, but doubt to me is something in between  – “finding it hard to believe.”  Wanting to believe but hesitating.  That’s not as cut-and-dried as belief or unbelief.  It just didn’t translate.

And so I was plunged into again realizing that I am a foreigner.  I don’t know language or the art of translation; I don’t know what stories from Scripture are the biggies for people here; I don’t know how local theology approaches belief.  I end up feeling like I don’t know much.

But, I didn’t give up.  Today I went backwards: find a good story (Zacchaeus) and a theme in it (promises).  And I ended up having a lot of fun, downloading the Malay language Bible on my phone and writing a draft of a topic that I think will be at least comprehensible.  That’s the key in all of this, not giving up.  An arrow has to be pulled back, and back, and back, before it can be “flung forth” towards its target.  Yesterday I was a little down, today I’m a little hopeful.  Cade’s French lesson yesterday was “comme ci, comme ca.”  It comes, it goes.  Sometimes I feel right at home here, sometimes I feel like a clueless tourist.  The key is being open to the idea that tomorrow might be better.

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Country Coordinator … ?!?

We have news! In addition to Eric’s work as a seminary professor and leader at the still-somewhat-new Lutheran Centre at Sabah Theological Seminary, I have been asked by the ELCA to step into a new role: Interim Country Coordinator for the ELCA “YAGM” program in Malaysia.

YAGM stands for Young Adults in Global Mission, and Malaysia is one of 8 sites around the world that host Lutheran young adults in their 20s for a year of volunteer service. Sites include Argentina, Jerusalem, Madagascar, the U.K., and soon to be Rwanda, among others. It is a year of “being Church” in a new way for not only the young adults, but also the communities in which they serve. The current Malaysia country coordinator, fluent in Swahili, has been called to support the companion synod program between the St. Paul (MN) synod and Tanzania. He will use Swahili a lot more in Tanzania! Part of what I am learning is the variety of ways that the Lutheran Church approaches global mission – from national programs like YAGM, to synodical ventures like St.Paul-Tanzania, to long-term partnerships like ours at STS.

I am excited about this position – it seems like God’s hand in it when the ELCA found itself in need of – 1- an ordained ELCA pastor who -2- lives in Sabah, -3- speaks Bahasa Malaysia, -4-has a work visa (which are hard to come by), and -5-has met the young adults currently in country (I shared 2 weeks of language training with them in September). When the Church needs someone with those characteristics, and there is exactly one person in the world having them … well, it seems like God was making a way for the YAGM program to have a leader. The current coordinator will be in Sabah for another two months to coach me on all that I need to learn.

This *theoretically* still allows time for me to continue writing projects, while *happily* giving me reason to travel into the interior of Sabah as well as leading retreats throughout Southeast Asia. It also links me with communities in which I can learn more about life and faith in Malaysia. Together we can share the most Lutheran elements of the Gospel with communities who are only just now receiving Bibles and the Small Catechism translated into their language. New doors are opening through these resources, and new roads are waiting for me to travel as I support and learn with the generous young adults coming from the USA.

As a post-script – you can learn more about the YAGM program at www.ELCA.org. The ELCA is doing amazing things – you can learn a ton from surfing the ELCA page or from following it on Facebook. As a reminder – you can follow our blog or facebook page – just google Flung Forth Anew & you’ll find us! Remember to click “follow” here to be alerted when a new blog post is shared. It’s not too many e-mails – we promise!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Site visit #1 – visiting YAGM Evan at the school where he teaches English to immigrant (undocumented) children. These are the staff with whom he works & lives. In the center you’ll see Peter Harritts, outgoing coordinator, who built the YAGM program in Malaysia. I find that I will be meeting many people and learning about the amazing work that they do!

 

 

 

 

 

 

This picture was on the wall at another YAGM volunteer site. I took it to mean me – joining in this mission. But I hope you read it as YOU and know that by supporting ELCA Global Mission with your prayers, donations, and love, that you are reaching kids who need to know that there is a place for them. In today’s “glocal” world, connections abound.

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A photo that does me so proud

IMG rock climg Dante Artur StanA friend of Dante’s (in the yellow shirt) is moving to Hyderabad, India – something that is a commonplace kind of thing when attending an international school in a quickly developing nation. This picture was taken at his good-bye party (rockclimbing! in Kota Kinabalu!)

When I look at this picture, I see what kind of friend Dante is growing up to be. In an international setting, people are coming and going – moving, attaching, saying good-bye. The kids can’t always articulate it, but it is often a challenging kind of life. Yet a pat on the shoulder, sharing some cake… and everybody gets to live in the moment, for just a little while longer. Friendship, at any age, is such a gift, and it comes from being able to both stand on your own *and* reach out to span the gaps.

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ELCA Presiding Bishop’s message includes a Shout-Out to Malaysia

Recently, each synod in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA – having 65 synods) watched this video at their annual Assembly. So many people have excitedly told me about the stories of the Church in Malaysia being shared in the video. If you wonder what the ELCA is doing to “Change and Save Lives” in the USA and beyond, watch this video.

Randomness and Coping Skills

Today was an odd day for a missionary; it was a standard day for a housewife. I have to admit, I am stumbling over how to understand who I am and what I am here for – pretty deep questions! I know, intellectually, that I am here to support Eric as he learns a language and as he becomes a full-time lecturer, and as he ministers through teaching theology at the Seminary and in workshops throughout Sabah and Malaysia (and perhaps beyond that as well). When I was a pastor, I emphasized that every profession is a way to minister to others. Every job can be a vocation – a holy calling. Since we used to live in a town with a lot of housewives, I was very clear that that role is a precious one. That even if it is a luxury afforded to few, it is a way to make a difference in the family, in the community, and by extension, in the world.

Now that I’m a housewife, and I spent my day leading the PTA Walkathon (a huge event), getting hot lunch for my kids (a special treat), and taking them to a playground and then a birthday party – I have to admit, I look at my day and think, “ministry?” But I don’t want to shoot myself down, so I do my best with today, and tonight I will pray for wisdom and perspective, and I will trust that God will direct and provide and give some hints to that deepest of questions, “Why am I here?”

And, because being a homemaker is an essential calling, I’ll share two tidbit images that might support others in their callings to care for families.

#1: a cleaning schedule, from Flylady.net. Do not do all of these in one assigned day. But some Wednesdays (for example), do schedule in 15 minutes to try one of these tasks, and as you do that 2-3 times a week, you will find your house becoming a more welcoming place (and your soul a little less stressed, if you value having a home that has at least a few flat surfaces not piled with “stuff”).

And #2: from the “is that really happening?” file… At the birthday party today, it was a pool party, but it turn out here that just a pool isn’t enough… you have to have some of these:

yes… it’s clown cars. Two cars pulled up, driven by clowns in full get-up (how do they drive in those shoes????). They made hundreds of balloon animals and then had a magic show which produced a live bunny. The Korean mum hosting the party was horrified, as she had to keep the bunny in a box for the rest of the little show, and she clearly did not want to be near this rodent. (My mom brought a live snake to my school as a kid, so my boundaries for animals are a little more wide open!)

I thought it ironic that they didn’t arrive together – I mean, Malaysia is famous for its small cars, so why not at least put two clowns together in one? Instead they arrived separately in the slightly larger Myvi’s (pronounced “my vee” as in my vehicle). In this picture the mum is insisting that they take the bunny in the green box back NOW.

And here is a picture of me with the clown …. They apparently aren’t considered scary here. But notice that the clown seems to have made a machine gun out of balloons? Maybe clowns are, indeed, creepy. Maybe Malaysia just needs a few more cheesy horror films in order to realize this.

At any rate, my day is done. I am going to sleep and pray heartily, and tomorrow I am going to learn to make porridge with a friend from the seminary. If I am to be a homemaker, I am going to do it with friends who can cook!

Playing “Half the Sky” with my boys

Today is Sunday. The Sabbath. A day to rest and recover, to recharge for the rest of the week. We went to worship at a Church that meets in our apartment building and got home by 11:30 and promptly turned on all our screens. Some days I’m sad when we are all attached to screens, but today we needed the rest. My husband turned on his baseball-league-managing game. The kids were transfixed by a reprogramming of the Masters golf tournament. I settled in to catch up on facebook. Ahhhh…. Peace.

A friend on Facebook had invited me to play a game. It’s called “Half the Sky” and it is based on a book of the same title,

about how women hold up half the sky –caring for their homes, their communities, daily making small improvements and investments and using their creativity to find empowerment to change their world. The game starts with a mother whose daughter is sick, but she cannot afford a doctor or medicine. She collects mangoes from her garden, sells them for money, barters them for a ride to the hospital, and trades her hours waiting there for the medical services that will save her daughter’s life. The game has drawings with dialogue, simple but fun games to play; it donates real immunizations and books as you play, and through all of it, it makes you think.

Soon the boys were playing along with me. I love that they were so focused on the female characters (click here: author ratios for why female voices are so often lacking). I asked Dante if it seemed fair to him that the women were getting all the attention – and though he is usually all about fairness meaning exact equality, he seemed to understand why it was important that the women in the story are being empowered.

Then we played part of the game where you get to collect books in a game. We talked about places near us that are just like the game – needing books, and specifically books in the right language (not only English!). There is a school for immigrant children just down the hill from us, and another school run by the owner of a jungle lodge we’ve visited, that are both in desperate need of basic supplies, including books. Imagine a school with no library – or a whole community with no library. As a US American, that seems almost impossible. Maybe there are such deserts in inner cities or on First Peoples’ reservations. That is the point of the Half the Sky game – to lead your thoughts down these paths, to make improving a community seem both possible and needful. It makes you look around where you life and see either how much you have, or where needs exist. Near us, an immigrant island had a suspicious fire last week where 200 homes burned down – probably 1,500 people lost their homes. Our kids went through our things and sent many clothes, toys, and we especially included a few picture books. It has new meaning to us, playing this game and interacting with our world.

The next stage of the game is based on microfinance loans. Muhummad Yunus won a Nobel prize for starting a bank that would loan small amounts to people in poverty, because even the smallest gains made by the loan recipients meant so much to their family and gains trickle through the whole community. Today Kiva.org is a microfinance powerhouse. You loan $25 (US dollars) and choose the recipient. Loans are paid back within 18-24 months. As a new pastor, I had loaned $50 of my own money, letting the youth of our congregation choose the recipients. Since then I’ve re-loaned the money as it was paid back, and have loaned to 13 different individuals/groups, to expand their market stalls, buy a motorbike for a taxi business, build a barn for livestock, buy materials for their tailoring business. So as we played in the game, we opened a window to Kiva and looked back at the people who we’ve loaned to. The last loan we made was to a woman in the Philippines – little did we know she would practically be our neighbour in our new land. Off we went to Google maps, where you can make the little man walk all over the land on the map.

Up popped a congratulations screen on the game – this time with several flags. The boys have a flags-of-the-world poster and went to identify the flags. One of them was from Kenya, which led to looking at the pictures of our missionary friends in Kenya, Mike and Leslie Fonner. Their picture is one of many in a collage on our dining room table, with a clear plastic tablecloth over it, so as we eat, we connect to our friends and family around the world.

From the game, we wandered through flags, gender issues, empty libraries, Kiva loans, and what the Philippines look like. And I realize just how rich my kids’ life is. I wonder what they will do, growing up with so many connections and so many supports (because we couldn’t live this life without the love of family, the Church here and at home, the schools the came from and to, and probably a hundred other things that I take for granted each day).

And though I am excited for my kids, I also know that what I really feel is my own self being changed. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to get extra US books to these immigrant schools, and whether English books are helpful or if there is another path that needs to be trodden – to get books in Bahasa Malaysia to kids in need. I think about how much we have (when we came with only 2 suitcases each – we still have enough to share). I think of the families rebuilding homes after fires. I begin to see more than my portion of the sky – to explore connections to Half the Sky.

See where your adventure takes your head, heart, and life: https://www.facebook.com/HalftheGame.

Taking pictures because a visitor came!

I was overjoyed to pick my mother-in-law up from the international airport today.  She had flown all the way from Washington DC – from DC to LA to Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur to KK.  The trip takes about 3 days.  She has the benefit of being a nurse, used to changing her sleep schedule.  We had the difficulty of traveling with two young kids who could not sleep once we entered our new hemisphere.

KK Airport - Terminal 1

KK Airport – Terminal 1

I had not been to the airport since we were picked up there.  I remember very little of that first trip… we were all overwhelmed.  But today as we drove, my mother-in-law was snapping photos and I realized how wonderful it is to have her perspective here, now.  She is not as overwhelmed, she has guides that already know her, and she only has to last two weeks here!  But her response to what she was seeing brought me a lot of joy.  It was the kind of time when you see your life through someone else’s eyes, and realize the wonder and excitement before you every day.

A very concrete set of buildings, with a hotel, apartments, and several businesses.

A very concrete set of buildings, with a hotel, apartments, and several businesses.

She took pictures of buildings that I now call ordinary.  She took pictures of palm trees.  She took a picture of me, driving on the right-hand side of the car.  She took a lot of pictures, and now when I see them, I think, these are far from ordinary.

Driving around Kota Kinabalu... tourist snapshots!

Driving around Kota Kinabalu… tourist snapshots!

Each place has its wonder, that doesn’t have to wear off; or at least, it can be rekindled.  An apartment building can be amazing in its weaving of culture, architecture, personal styles, and frankly, laundry.  It’s all there waiting to be beheld.

Yet at the end of the day, it was this picture that captured the spirit of the day:

Family, together.

Family, together.

We all want to come home, somehow, whether it’s to a familiar place, or to the arms of family.  This moment between our homesick son and his newly arrived Nana gave a context, a grounding, for all the other pictures.  Places have meaning because of what they tell us about ourselves or one another, and today this city of ours was a place where we embraced and were embraced.  All the memories we share, the wonders we behold, have meaning to us because they are how we connect to our world and one another.  We aren’t collecting images, we are finding life together.

You know you’ve arrived when…

The 6-month mark of living in a new place is important in a lot of ways.  You know which grocery market you like best.  You realize how many street signs don’t have names (true in New Jersey, true in Kota Kinabalu).  You have a library card.  You’ve started sticking stuff up on the walls of your apartment, even if it’s not technically allowed.  You don’t need to get a thousand things every time you go out.  And…

in my case…

You dream about the Dukes of Hazzard driving on the opposite side of the road from which it was filmed.  Vividly.  My theory is, if you’re really there in your dreams, you’ve finally arrived.  Welcome to your new home!

Driving on the left side? the "right" side? the other side?

Driving on the left side? the “right” side?
the other side?

the 1980's tv hit

the 1980’s tv hit

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I typed, we started watching Cash Cab Asia.  You never know when you will find such great balances of new and familiar.  It’s a great part of travel and of living in a new land!

 

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Cooking with New Friends

This gallery contains 1 photos.

 

Day 12 of 20 *Questions*: What potential memories am I bartering, and is the profit worth the price?

Ah, this is the question that, in part, led us to serving as missionaries in Malaysia.  We were just fine where we were – a beautiful congregation that we co-led as pastors, hopes of Eric finding adjunct teaching in the tri-state area, kids in a great school, financial stability, and a great Y and public library.  It was the American dream.  (Yes, our garden even had a picket fence.) 

But as happy as we were, it still wasn’t *our* dream.  Our dream has always been to serve abroad.  For Eric’s Ph.D program we tried to move to South Africa, because we felt this strong pull to moving outside of America.  Nothing against America – but I know that I’ve always wanted to see how others outside of America experience life, and to see their perspectives on the life I’ve assumed as “normal.”  But South Africa didn’t work out (in part because I was pregnant, and my mother put her foot down that “my grandbabies WILL be born in an American hospital” … and there are times when you don’t mess with a fierce Mama Bear.)  Our plans would have to wait, and we mostly thought they were gone, and that was okay.

Until this opportunity in Malaysia opened up.  This time we had Mom’s permission!  (Thanks mostly to Skype and Air Asia.)

In coming here, we had to ask ourselves about our potential memories.  We were giving up Little League and youth group pizza nights and a house that we had named.  (Blueberry Cottage, if you’re asking.)  We were giving up a place where dogs are vaccinated for rabies and vehicle emissions are controlled – those certainly help toward creating memories, though they’re often unnoticed.  We were bartering those memories in order to come here  – and we were certainly deciding a lot for our kids without their voice or consent.

Hospitality!

Hospitality!

But under it all, we decided that the biggest and defining memory for our kids would be them watching us follow our passion.  That hope goes for all who had to grieve at our leaving – our family, friends, congregation and colleagues, and even our kids’ friends.  We bartered their memories as well, and that is no small thing.  But I fervently hope that people who have lost track of those specific dreams might have a door or window opened by knowing that people can indeed follow their passion – whatever that passion may be for them.

This question asks us to balance our todays and our tomorrows, as well as the things that give us satisfaction now versus what we will look back on someday.  This question reminds us that we are always defining our future and that we have a say in what not only our future will be, but the future of those tied to us.  It reminds us that we are always negotiating, always finding our way.  This question reduces our complacency, and replaces it with verve.