Category Archives: Serving

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.

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.

Day 20 of 20 *Questions*: Really truly: Is this what I want to be doing?

Wow, day 20.  My last day with this series, and I have alternated between internal whining (ugh, another day already?  Waaaah) and really REALLY enjoying the process of writing – and of writing *on a schedule*.   And to have gotten to communicate with people who are all engaging their powers of thinking-feeling-doing…  this has been a great adventure, and I am so glad to have taken it on.  Really truly, it turns out, this is what I’ve been both wanting and needing to do.

In the time of writing this, I have also begun an essay on mountains in Scripture – a research project, a creative writing venture, and probably my first time being published.  This writing gave me a foundation for writing that essay – the schedule, the time thinking before writing, the considering of the audience.  And essay-writing is preparation for what I’ve been wanting to do for almost two years – work on writing a book I outlined almost exactly two years ago.  It will involve a lot of research (in the field of NLP psychology – neuro-linguistic programming) as well as a great deal of creativity (which is both creative energy, and actual creative output, yes, on a schedule).  In these 20+ days, I’ve moved closer to becoming a writer – a whole new identity and set of practices for me.  Yes, this is what I want to be doing.

So, for you, scroll back through these 20 questions and see which ring truest in your life – which ones did you need to ask yourself the most?  Which ones will you keep asking yourself?  Which ones helped you articulate some of the things you assume about life?  Which ones could you write an essay on?

Because this has been an effort in integration and in communication, I would love it if you could post below which question gave you greatest pause, or which question you still think should be added to the list?  I’ll post the list below, or you can scroll back through the fb posts here.

May you be blessed by the questions, and may answers not come too easily.

Day 5 of 20 *Questions*: “How do I want the world to be different because I lived in it?”

I’ve long known that I won’t be starting an orphanage or rewriting legislation or curing diseases with my life.  I’d like to, but I won’t; I’m 36 and have pretty much set a direction for my life.  But these things matter to me – why else would they come up first when asking this question?  And so I realize that I still dream that I may someday welcome foster children, and I have met with my Senators (when I lived in NJ), and I’ve walked with people facing debilitating illness.  In the classic example, I work to be more of a steady candle than a firework, and maybe my flame isn’t as big or bright, but it’s better than darkness.

ELCA Logo

Changing and Saving Lives
God’s Work – Our Hands

But — I don’t want to sell myself short, either, and pretend like doing less is okay.  I’ve heard from statehouse friends the difference that *one* testimony can make in local and state law.  I imagine that once a person joins the foster care system, they learn enough to *challenge* the system when needed.  I *can* make a difference.  The tagline of the New Jersey Synod – part of the ECLA/Lutheran Church – speaks loud and clear:  the job of each person, congregation, and organization is to “Change and Save Lives.”  Hold that like a mirror up to your life.  How have you changed and saved lives?

At first blush, you may say, “aw, shucks, I can’t do anything like that.”  But maybe you’ve stood up to a bully, or offered your time at an animal shelter or school classroom or at a friend’s bedside.  As a camp counsellor, I once had to walk over a live bee’s nest out on a wilderness trail to carry an epipen to a child who had just been stung.  Would I have thought I could do something like that, or that I would be one to volunteer for that job?  Nope, because I’m humble (I hope…) and not so creative in dreaming up differences that I can make.  But that doesn’t mean my future – or your future – won’t hold life-changing or life-saving moments.  Be prepared.  Be a person that others know they can ask for help.  God may be preparing you for something wild – or God may already be using you daily for the most domestic of miracles.

As a side note, often the resources we can best share aren’t hands-on service.  I lent $50 to Kiva.org five years ago, and have funded microfinance loans to 7 different entrepreneurs around the world.  The original $50 keeps getting paid back so I can re-loan it.  I can go back and look at the stories of lives changed, of parents who can now educate their children, of groups that have bonded together to create more industry in poverty-stricken areas.  Your money can make a difference.  Don’t hide from that or think, “I don’t have enough.”  If you can afford a meal at McDonald’s, you have enough money to share, whether it’s with Kiva or a local food pantry or Bread For The World.  With your time/energy and with your shared monies, you can indeed Change and Save Lives, so that the world is a better place for your having lived in it.   Take another look at the question above – use today to let it sink in!