Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Well here we are, back in Singapore! A technologically advanced, beautiful, clean city with amazing architecture, good economy, and--you guessed it--yummy food. :) The above pic was taken as we walked downtown enjoying the spectacular skyline (whoops, did I just state the obvious...!?). We've enjoyed a few leisure days in-between conferences. In Singapore, "leisure" is the code word for "shopping" so one evening we hit the streets to see the sights and blow some Sing Dollars. I must interject here that there is something very, very romantic (or in our case "ro-tic" since, alas, there was no man among us) about a city at night. The air was muggy with a slight breeze and the strains of a Christmas song wafted from a store as we passed through.
White CHRISTMAS!?!?!?
Now that is strange. Bing Crosby crooning Christmas songs just seems a little twisted when we're sweating and strolling among palm trees wearing flip flops (us, not the palm trees) in Asia. It does not at all feel like the Christmas season. There are an abundance of lights but...where is the snow? Where are the warm spicy drinks? Where is the pair of boots I love to wear because they looks so cute with my black hat and red plaid scarf!? 

Ug! I MUST reprogram my mind because if I insist on traveling AND being so attached to holiday tradition and warm fuzzies for the rest of my life, I am destined to be traumatized during many more seasons to come. Because hot chocolate at 90 degrees just does NOT work. 

For Thanksgiving I skyped with mom. She showed me the turkeys brining, the pumpkin pie ready to be palaced in the oven, and--*sob!*--one of our newer Sobie traditions: pumpkin marzipans all lined up in rows on the counter. I ate Indian food that day. It was an unbelievably memorable Thanksgiving meal. CRAZY good, and I can't exactly complain since I know mom will make me a belated Thanksgiving dinner after I come home in December. 

All these memories and Christmas/Thanksgiving thoughts have me thinking about my family, my warm and inviting home, the rich spiritual meaning of the season for me, and the abundant, abundant blessings that overwhelm me each November and December. 

I am so blessed. I am almost ashamed and embarrassed at how easy I've had it, though I know that all blessings come from God's hand. I can't even describe how many little things I know I take for granted... clean, odorless bathrooms and quick, easy medical care and freedom to talk about whatever want to whomever I want, and a bed raised OFF the ground and no bugs infesting my home and the ability to own a car and the absence of fear when I enter my church and It's endless. My life has been filled with one privilege after another and when I stop and think about it--particularly with the focus that being in Asia has brought, I am seriously, literally, overwhelmed. Consider this:

-In Malaysia, there are approx. 28 million ethnic Malay citizens. It is illegal to share the Gospel of Jesus with them. Because of this, it's estimated that there are only about 1 thousand Malay believers. If you were born as one of the 28 million Malays, someone would have to break the law and risk jail time to tell you about Jesus. So, most likely you would never hear.

-Today I listened to a friend of mine who has been working in China among handicapped children. She wept as she told us about the work she does and the children she has encountered. If they are handicapped there's a good chance that their parents will throw them away or give them to an orphanage. At one orphanage she visited she was prohibited from picking up any babies. "They don't cry...they just stare into space because they know they won't be fed or held if they cry anyways. But last time we had come and held them, they cried for a week afterwards. It was because they had hope that someone might come back and pick them up again." Hopeless babies? I have never even considered such a thing. That a human life would be deprived of hope before that person could even say a word or formulate a sentence. My heart breaks. 

-In Malaysia we spoke with a beautiful Christian woman who described the bondage her idols had held her in before Jesus delivered her. Every evening she was paralyzed for a time by the demonic power or her idols and she had no hope for deliverance until she heard the Truth and God set her free. I rejoiced with her but couldn't help but grieve for the millions of people who live in bondage to their idols and will never hear or accept the truth. Like the one Taoist shop owner who exclaimed to me about how REAL her idols she could hear them and and even physically feel their presence when she sacrificed to them. 

-In the newspaper I read about the Buddhist monks who were begging on the street. They live a life depriving themselves of pleasure including the pleasure of food. They eat for nourishment ONLY. any sensual pleasure, they believe, keeps them from enlightenment. It broke my heart to know that these determined men are depriving themselves of the ALL the pleasures God designed us to enjoy...and yet will not reach eternal pleasure because of it! Can you imagine the pressure and needless deprivation of living life this way!? Because we can never hope to work our way to eternal joy and happiness and enlightenment; Only our merciful, powerful God can bring us there; and He DESIGNED us to delight in life, in food, in physical and mental and spiritual pleasure of all kinds!  What a frustrating life. 

I want God to open my heart to grieve for the things that make HIS heart grieve. I want to be aware of the sorrow in this world and do anything He calls me to do to heal a hurting world in the tiny space of time I will fill on earth. When I am in America I forget it so easily! I pray about my little problems and the problems of my friends but I must fight to remember to pray for the world... the broader picture. I don't want to keep forgetting. I want my heart and my perspective and my vision to be eternally changed. I want to be a "world Christian."  I want to learn how to be like my God, who is infinitely joyful, but infinitely pained. How does a human understand this? God must teach me because I don't know. Please comment if you have anything to add. My words fail, but this Michael Card song has been on my mind today and it captures EXACTLY what I've been thinking:

In any split second of a moment of time,

In the blink that is one single day,
The sum of the sorrow that wraps round the world
Would catch every soul up and sweep them away.

As vast as the ocean, as deep as the sea,
Swept up in one toxic tide.
By warm salty waves the world weeps its woe
So how can it be that my own eyes are dry?

So open my eyes,
And open my heart,
And grant me the gift of Your grieving.
And awaken in me
The compassion to weep
Just one of the tears of the world.

When God walked among us in the fullness of time
He wept tears as old as the world
Acquainted with sorrow, he took up the cup
And drank every drop of the poison that heals. 

So open my eyes,
And open my heart,
And grant me the gift of Your grieving.
And awaken in me
The compassion to weep

Just one of the tears of the world.

Well, I'm out of words so that's a pretty good sign that I should wind up this post. 
Time to hit the hay--er, air mattress--because conference prep begins tomorrow! 

Love from Singapore. :)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

From Malaysia!

Well, my travels with the Bright Lights crew have led me from Alaska to Singapore and now to Malaysia. Such good times! It's good to be back in Asia... I wondered if I ever would come back and what a JOY to be here. I'll post a few pictures of the happenings lately, but first a thought from this evening.

Last time I was in this city it was in September, during the month of Ramadan. The religious fervor is high in an Islamic country during Ramadan; the call to prayer was louder then and more frequent, and Islamic festivals and bizarres were all over the place. The things I saw and heard fascinated me.
Four years later, they still do!
Tonight I sat in my friends' hotel room and heard the call to prayer outside. (In fact, you can click here to see a video I took of the prayer call early on a September morning in 2008 from the same hotel here in Melaka.) I went to the window and looked across the street to the apartment building opposite our hotel. Many lights were on; many windows open, and through the open windows I could see people praying or leaning out on the window sill to pray as the wailing cry in Arabic echoed over the city. One women, standing in front of  her window, wore a long, draping white hijab, covering her head and body. She repeatedly knelt, bowed to the floor, stood, knelt, bowed to the floor, and stood again . The call ended and one by one people retreated back into their apartments, quietly turning away from their windows, continuing conversations and activities which had been paused during their devotions. The woman in the long white hijab stood and removed it, revealing somewhat modern clothing underneath.
Life resumed.

I stood at my window looking out at theirs and praying for them...
...And thinking.
 The dedication and devotion of Muslims could put many Christians to shame! They probably pray, fast, and give more than the average "Christian." But the thing that fuels their prayers, their almsgiving, their fasting is a deep rooted fear. It is not love. It is DEVOTION, yes, but that devotion is driven by the knowledge that if they reach the end of their lives and their good deeds have not outweighed their bad, they will not enter heaven.
Can you imagine? The fear? The pressure?

I remember hearing a Christian missionary once retelling an incident he had with a Muslim man as they studied the Muslim holy books, Injil (or what we Christians call the four Gospels) together. They read together Jesus' words which are so familiar to us:

"Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."

Upon reading this, the Muslim man broke down into tears. The thought that Jesus Christ is a God who offers REST and not striving, a RELEASE from loads and not more rules and demands to pile on one's back, overwhelmed him with relief; joy; astonishment!

We should serve Him because we love Him and He has saved us....
We should give to those who need it because we love Him and He has saved us...
We  should obey His commands because we love Him and He has saved us...
We should walk in purity and holiness because we love Him and He has saved us...

Not because we're afraid of damnation if we mess up too often!

I hope you can rejoice in the fact that Jesus has paid for your sins with His own life, He has blotted our your transgressions with His own blood, and he offers us a life free of striving and "trying to be good enough." Because He is God and He knows none of us ever will be good enough.
Have you understood and accepted that?

And pray for the precious Muslims of Malaysia and those all over the world who are still carrying the heavy burden of paying for their own ticket to paradise. Pray that they will come to Jesus for rest.

Picta' time!

Fitting all our suitcases in the bus from Singapore to Malaysia. It's about a 5 hr. drive to Melaka from Singapore.

So, we've realized that apparently restaurants don't see the need to wash their dishes with SOAP here. I mean, why do that when you can just rinse them off in a tub or 5 gallon bucket and they look just as clean!? (We shot this picture as evidence but it turned out a little blurry.) This is the Indian restaurant we've been frequenting. We just eat and don't think too hard.

This lovely lady is my roommate in Melaka! I  kinda' like her.

The American team- Me, Grace, Nickie, Bekah, and Sarah... plus Jolynn (far L) and Crystal (second from L)

I stayed with Abigail and Gabriel 4 years ago in Singapore and now they are traveling with us! SO fun to reconnect with these awesome sisters!
I can almost guarantee you: there WILL be Roti Prata in heaven.

Danielle Moi, little Jerusha Tan (in her mommy's belly last time we came) and me

The BEAUTIFUL view from my hotel window in Melaka!!!

It's not that all we do is's just that THAT'S when we pull our our cameras. :)

Eating again. At the no-soap Indian place.