Sunday, April 26, 2009

Malaysia Day 3

It’s a slow start to the day. After I wake at 6am, I do email, have devotions, make muesli, etc. and hum along with the band that starts up at 9am in the service below the apartment. Pam comes to take me to the main church service at 10. “It’s been very hot the last few days,” she says, asking if it’s too warm for me. Nope. “Usually it is 30-31oC, but it’s been 32-34o.” It feels fine.

The church has expanded beyond its original boundaries, buying up homes in the neighborhood which now function as youth, children’s, and communications centers. The main sanctuary is a long room of three sections: the original, built by missionaries decades ago (before they were kicked out of Malaysia) and two added sections. Video monitors in each section connect the congregation to the happenings at the front.

We sit in the front row, off to one side. Pam’s mom is co-pastor, and she sits beside us. The band is great – worship is focused and well-directed. I know one song. A yellow canary is loose in the church, but it doesn’t distract from the pastor's straightforward message about the blood of Jesus. He plants a stainless coffee mug on top of the crossbar of the cross that makes up the front of his pulpit. He is a powerful speaker who applies scripture. I haven’t heard such a direct presentation of the blood of Christ in years. It reminds me of childhood repentance services.

The large congregation is expanding into a new convention center in the next year. Pam doesn’t have time to show me the building model after service, but we head to the IUtama Shopping Center for lunch. The restaurant, one of a popular chain owned by one of my students, is called “Delicious,” and the food really is tasty. I have a coconut curried chicken on noodles, topped with cucumber swirls. Pam has a prawn sandwich that looks almost as good. Lime and longan fruit drink cools it off.

We have no time to spare to start class: I zip into the apartment to pull off my skirt and put on capris and head over to the classroom. 25 students gather today from 2-6pm. Some have other obligations, and a few have to leave early to participate in services elsewhere. It is a long day of standing and my feet are swollen when it’s done.

Jenny takes me to the night market, where we decide to wander along the food booths and sample whatever looks good. We start with a wonton-like wrapping with vegetables in the midde: one fried and two non-fried wrappers. The vendor cuts them into pieces. We pick up a crepe (like roti) with vegetables inside from the next vendor and order drinks – I get a creamy coconut and brown sugar Malaysian specialty that has gel strips floating in it. We prop the food between us, sitting on the curb across the street. People wander in all directions, chatting, buying food, and just visiting.

It looks pretty clean, and I wonder where the bugs are. Jenny assures me that there are probably rats lurking behind some of the stalls. Nearby, a sugar-cane juicer strips the canes bare, and the worker heaps the leftover stem straw into a massive heap.

Next, we sample a Turkish chicken and vegetable combo wrapped in pita. We find two plastic stools near a table – the others scoot sideways to let us in. I’m stuffed. The satay booth looks delicious but there is no room left in my appetite.

We walk between booths selling underwear, hardware supplies, children’s clothing and toys, jeans, watches, and other assorted goods. A few cow heads hang from hooks in the meat section. There are no flies, just cuts of meat suspended in the hot air. The market is an orderly assortment of people and stuff. There is no yelling or badgering, just the end of a Sunday with a lot of people in the same place. We take a whole bunch of blurry pictures of our food, laughing and enjoying the company.

As a special treat, Pam has asked Jenny to take me to a reflexology foot massage. Unfortunately there is only one worker available, so Jenny sits it out. First, I sit on a chair soaking my feet in a tub of hot water while the masseuse rubs the kinks out of my neck and shoulders. After ten minutes, I hop over to another chair, she dries my feet, and goes to work. It is oh-so-painful at times, but the Chinese gal is strong and knows just where to press. She doesn’t understand Cantonese, Jenny’s language, but we somehow communicate and they try to teach me a few words. Jenny laughs at my pronunciation sometimes. She snaps pictures of me, relaxing.

We have a nice chat with the manager, and the masseuse grasps my hands tightly when we are leaving. It must be a lonely life, without God and without family in a strange country.

Jenny drives me back to the apartment about 10.20pm and we sit in the car and chat for a while. We talk about the challenges of ministry in times where we feel no passion or interest, and the value of praying liturgy and others’ prayers when we have no prayers of our own to offer.

I head up about 10.40pm. I’ve been asked many times if I am afraid to stay alone in the complex, and the staff repeatedly warns me to lock up behind myself. “Don’t be out too late; it wouldn’t be good for someone to see you going into the building all by yourself.” It’s almost enough to make me think twice about staying alone. “The budget hotel next door is used for not-so-nice things, but at least there are people coming and going.” Okay. It’s a comfy bed with quiet surroundings. I am under God’s watchful eye and that’s good enough for me.

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