Monday, December 9, 2013

Saying Yes

Now that school is on holiday, I am full time at Cheshire Home. I'm loving it and am thankful to get the chance to grow deeper in this community over the next month.  I feel like I am going through another wave of newness.  When I first got to KK and began my jobs, there were so many new people and experiences!  Now, being at Cheshire more, I am having more new experiences all over again!  When we first arrived, we were encouraged to say "Yes!" to invitations and experiences that came our way.  I'm finding again, that there are so many opportunities to say "Yes!"
Want to come to a Malay wedding in 2 weeks? Absolutely.
Want to go to my kampung (village)? Yes, yes I do.
Want to go to help with ______? Happy to!
So you get the picture.  Being in this place more is creating more opportunities to deepen relationships and get me more connected with culture, language, and people.  A man at Cheshire has asked me a few times if I can get dinner after work.  Unfortunately, each time he has asked, I have had other commitments for the night.  Tonight though, I was free.  After going running at the sports complex (another new habit of this month) I came back to learn that we would be going to his sister's house, that she had dinner ready for us.  I was thinking just stopping to eat on the way home, but this sounded fabulous!  *Another new piece to this month has been my increased use of Malay.  My kindergarten is Chinese speaking, so I really have only been using some Malay 4 days a week for a few hours, not really long enough for much progress to be made.  But now this month I'm around Malay all the time.  Am I improving?  Slowly.  I have high hopes ;)* We got in the car and over the course of a 30 minute drive, I felt pretty pleased with how the conversation was going.  Sure, there were holes in my Malay, both speaking and understanding, but I felt that I knew surprisingly more than I thought.  We arrived to the house and were greeted by his sister and her 4 children.  We sat down to eat and out of the refrigerator came.... DURIAN.  I should have seen this coming.  I felt a weirdly large number of people asked me today if I have had durian yet.  Definitely God saying, "Get ready, sister, it's coming for you!"  The box opened and the smell I have smelled countless times on the streets of KK hit my nose.  "Makan durian, Sarah!" This was it, no cameras, no videos.  Just me, the family, and the durian... this was real life.  I took the smallest piece out of the box, and took a bite.  It tasted like a creamy onion.  I kept eating away at this little piece, but I finally had to say no more.  Will I eat it again? Probably not. Am I glad I tried it? Absolutely.
Also on the menu was durian fish, which really wasn't bad, fish curry, vegetables, guava, and rice (of course).  We talked and I was invited to come back again, and to go to their kampung sometime!  That was some serious hospitality.

While I kind of feel like I'm behind the times here, just now having this experience 4 months into my year, I'm reminded that relationships take time.  I wasn't going to be immediately connected overnight, or even over the first couple months.  I'm thankful to be here long enough to build relationships and to continue having new experiences!

If you've ever watched Golden Girls and seen the episode where Sophia talks about not being able to eat certain foods because "they repeat on her", I think durian goes on that list.  The after taste, it's something.  Going to sleep with tastes and smells of durian still hanging out. Yay for trying new things!

Friday, November 29, 2013

I Live Here.

This morning I woke up in my bed at about 6:00.  Despite my hardest efforts at sleeping in, I've learned that it just is not going to happen.  The sun comes in my windows a few minutes before 6 each morning, mother nature's alarm clock, if you will.  I got out of my bed around 7, filled my laundry bucket with water and detergent, then pushed my clothes down for them to soak while I crawled back in bed for about 45 more minutes.  After talking with my family about their Black Friday buys, I got out of bed, walked downstairs, said good morning to Mrs. Soong, and began washing my clothes.  I walked outside to give them a final ringing out and hung them to dry.  I went back to my room to get dressed and packed up my bookbag to head into town.  I've learned to never leave home without an umbrella (tropical country), tissues (bathrooms, restaurants... you just never know), and a jacket (yes, this is a hot country, but I frequently get goose bumps in places with air conditioning) in my bag.  As I walked down the street, I passed the dogs that sometimes decide to chase me, but I think I've learned how to hide my fear ;).  I turned the corner onto the main road to my bus stop which happens to be where I buy my pau, so I had to stop and buy one for the road!  The girl who usually takes my order (and by that I mean knows my order and now just hands me my pau without asking what I want) wasn't at the front, so I had to order today.  I looked around the restaurant and saw the usual morning staff and gave them a wave.  As I walked down the road, I looked to my left to see the school bus stop that I sat at for a good 30 minutes in my first weeks in KK before realizing that it was a school bus stop and that I would not be able to catch a bus into town from there.  I turned at the stoplight with my bus stop in sight, I turned to look behind me and saw a bus was approaching, so I gave a wave to let them know I wanted them to stop.  My first time going into the city, 5 buses passed me before I realized you had to give them some sort of sign to stop.  For awhile, I flailed (probably excessively) to make sure they saw me, now I know just a simple wave will do.  On the bus, I went ahead and pulled out my 1 ringget fare for the bus, as you never know when they will walk by to collect money, you don't want to be the one that holds the man up.  The bus pulled into KK, I got off and made my way to the places I needed to go today.  Especially in KK, I often pass other "orang puti", white people, tourists from Australia or Europe.  Today I saw an exceptionally large number since a cruise ship has started docking in KK.  With their maps in hand, fumbling with their ringget, I smiled to myself, since that was me not too long ago (/sometimes I still am clueless... let's be real), but now, in my routine, through trial and error and lots of guidance, I can say that I know how to do at least some of this now, because I live here. And that is a pretty cool feeling.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Saya Ada Banyak Untuk Bersyukur Untuk

The title of this blog comes from my attempt at translating a great song from camp, I've Got So Much to be Thankful For (maybe it's just called "So Much".... details.).
To be honest, today started a little teary on my end. When I told someone it was Thanksgiving today, I thought about the traditions I would be missing, especially my whole family being together.  I figured holidays would be tricky to navigate. But, as the day went on, I was more aware of how much I have to be thankful for today, and everyday here in KK. So, here is my list of things I experienced today, this week, and since my time arriving in Malaysia:
1. Hospitality- Countless people have welcomed me into this community. I have been invited into family gatherings, weddings, dinners, movies, and workplaces just to name a few, and have been shown around and looked after since arriving. There are so many people giving me warm and loving welcomes into this new place.
2. Patience- Today I was reminded of this one. I have started working full time at Cheshire Home now that school is on holiday. Monday-Wednesday I helped in the nursery, today I was out in the home helping residents and staff with daily activities. My Malay is still pretty rough, but today I had several conversations in Malay, with the help of repetition and hand gestures, I really felt that people wanted me to learn and wanted to be helpful in teaching me. I am so thankful for those conversations and for those who are patient enough to talk with me and teach me.
3. Support- The web of support in this year is pretty mind-blowing. I have my family and friends back at home, sending church communities, the ELCA Global Mission staff, local program support in Malaysia, site supervisors, fellow teachers and staff in my workplaces, receiving church congregations with the BCCM, and friends I've made here. Knowing that so many people are present in this year with me is so humbling and so encouraging. A lot of peace comes from knowing I'm not alone in this year.
4. People- The people in my life are pretty amazing. I have a wonderful "landlady", Mrs. Soong who goes far above and beyond that title to make me feel taken care of and cared for each day. I have wonderful teachers at school who have taken me under their wings and welcomed me in countless ways. I have my kids (who even though the school year is finished and they will move onto a new class in January, I'll still call them mine) who quickly turned me from a random white girl in their class to "Teacher Sarah".  I have the staff at Cheshire Home who teach me everything from language to how to make fried banana donuts.  I have the residents at Cheshire Home whose smiles, hugs, and conversations bring serious joy into my life. I have church communities: cell group, caroling, Sunday worship, and Girl's Brigade who have welcomed me in as a member of the same Body of Christ.
5. Grace- As wonderfully perfect as I want this year to go, I make mistakes and have regrets. Whether it's been making cultural mistakes, language mistakes, not trying as hard as I should, or just being too hard on myself, I am so thankful for the grace received from everyone in my community, acknowledging the mistake, but giving hope for a new and better next time.

Some highs just from today were:
1. Making hand turkeys with one of the girls I teach english to.
2. Learning and remembering (I often learn new words, but a few minutes later have forgotten them) several new words in malay including hair- rambut and sour-masam.
3. Having a car stop next to me on my walk home from getting a loaf of bread that was a mom of one of my kids. Having her recognize me (although I guess I do stick out a bit) and stop to talk to me and hear about her daughter meant so much!
4. Finding a free online music site since Pandora doesn't work in these parts of the world, so now I can listen to Christmas music!!

So, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! To those of you in America, eat some turkey, green bean casserole, and pecan pie for me! To all of you, there's never a bad day for being thankful, or a bad day for eating turkey, for that matter. So get on both of those!  But really, Happy Thanksgiving! Love from Malaysia.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Lesson from Mr. T

I love riding the buses here in KK. It is always an adventure, from the music to the people to paying the right person at the right time, I always enjoy myself.  Actually, my first bus ride in KK was so crowded that I was literally sitting on a man's shoulder the entire trip.  Ridiculous.  One of these days I'm going to take a video for you to experience the craziness with me.  But, I especially love when I get to sit next to someone who I end up having a conversation with.  Once, I was next to a woman and her adorable baby and talked about her children and what I enjoyed most about Malaysia.  I learned she was from the Philippines and moved here with her family because Malaysia offered a more hopeful future for her and her family.
My most recent bus ride, I sat next to a man who did not look like a local, he looked more Middle Eastern, so I wasn't sure if he would speak Malay or English or neither.  So, I asked his name in Malay and he answered.  He had an Arabic name that I can't remember for spelling, so let's call him Mr. T.  Mr. T was from Palestine and between my broken Malay and his broken English, we learned about each other's lives.  He is a business man in the Likas area, he has 3 children, and his family moved to Malaysia from Palestine because of the oppression the Palestinian people face.  He has not gone back to Palestine since leaving, but was excited to learn that I had been there a few years back.  Through a smile, he told me that Palestine is not good for Muslims, but Malaysia is.  As my stop approached, the man collecting bus fare passed by and Mr. T pulled out his wallet to cover my ride.  My friend I was riding with had already paid for mine.  "Next time," Mr. T said to me.
It is easy to place a generalization on a person, a race, or even a country.  It would be easy to place a stereotype on Mr. T for why he came to Malaysia.  We all know of stereotypes assigned to various races and religions, so I don't feel the need to spell those out for you.  The point I want to make is that every person has a story and a reason for doing what they do.  Mr. T had a story of oppression and seeking a life that did not cause him to live in fear.  Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country which does allow freedom of religion.  Like most countries, from what I've observed this freedom isn't perfectly practiced, but overall people live in peace here.  Thinking about Mr. T, look at what he has fled from.  He's left his homeland which is being torn apart by conflict to come to a country where his race and his religion are not factors for discrimination.  For me, that is something to be respected.
People are moving more and more in our world today, immigration is something that many countries are experiencing and working to figure out the best way to manage.  My hope would be that as we look at who is coming into our towns, states, and countries, we look at why.  We don't immediately place a judgement on these people, but we find out their story.  From stories, people become people--unique individuals with emotions and reasons for living.  And once you are looking at a person and not an object, any ideas you form or decisions you make come from a completely different place, a place of empathy for another human being.

Hopefully there will be a next time, Mr. T.  I'd like to learn more from you.

Real Talk.

These are just some fun facts about my Malaysian life:

1. Climate: It's hot, y'all.  I mean, it's November and I can tell you right now it will be in the 90's and/or raining tomorrow.  I drink at least 3 liters of water a day (Today I think was somewhere around 4.5) and still find myself feeling dehydrated.  There have been days when I've come into my room and turned on my AC and put my fan right on me so I can get under my quilt I brought (yes, I brought a quilt to a country that is only a few degrees above the equator) and pretend it is fall.
2. What I brought: Speaking of weird packing things, I felt the need to bring 8 scarves to a country that does not ever see below 85 degrees, so there's that.
3. My appearance: Those of you who knew me before I arrived in Malaysia know I have hi-lighted my hair since high school.  But before I came to Malaysia, I decided to go back to my "natural" color, which I assumed was more brown.  Surprise, people!  Sarah has blonde roots.  Also, I thought I was going to have to dress wayyy more conservatively than I do.  I bought so many long skirts and pants before coming here only to find that appropriate shorts and even some tank tops are perfectly acceptable (at least where I live, I can't speak for all of Malaysia).  The good news is that my skirts are comfortable.  The bad news, see #1.
4. Laundry: Hand washing clothes is a time commitment. It is quite theraputic, but at times I've found myself with more dirty clothes than time to wash them.  Enter: febreeze.  I'm telling you what, I went through 1 bottle in a month and its awesome.  I used to use pinterest for things like recipes, now I'm using it for DIY febreeze directions bc I use it so much.

I feel like all my blog posts thus far have ended with some sort of lesson I've learned or a nice conclusion.  But for this one, all I have to say is that I'm clearly still getting adjusted and laughing at myself for some of my preparation decisions.  Life is good.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Highs and Lows

I have lots of wonderful memories from my senior year at PC! Life in C5 with my best friends was seriously the best. Actually, we are going to need to make a C5 part 2 when I get back to America, but that's another story. 
One of my favorite things we did as a townhouse was roomie family dinners. These always happened by candlelight in our dining room and were cell phone free :) At each meal, we always did "highs and lows" since most of us had some sort of camp background. Highs and lows, peaks and pits, pows and wows, call them what you want, I find to be both a great way to process your day and hold you accountable throughout the day. At camp one summer, it was explained to me that if you are thinking throughout the day what will be the thing you are most thankful for and what will be the thing you most regret, you will recognize the things you will most regret as they happen and will work to change those situations as you can.  
I was really good about journaling when I got here, but as my schedule has gotten busier and busier, unfortunately personal refection time has been something I've done less and less. But today, I was reminded of this exercise I committed to in my journal of asking myself each day what I was most thankful for and what my biggest regret was.  I thought about this today after I left the kindergarten concert rehearsal.  I realized that I let my tiredness get the best of me and I wasn't as engaged with my kids as I would like to have been.  With only a week and a half left with them before the end of the school year, I need to be taking in all the time I can with these precious nuggets.  Then later in the day at Cheshire Home, I was standing around in the office after our meeting got out with about 10 minutes before I got off for the day.  I realized that it had been 2 days since I mingled with the residents and I hadn't talked to the girls I teach english to about why I hadn't seen them.  I didn't want this to be another regret of the day, so I walked outside and found Kura Kura and said something along these lines, "Maffkan saya kami tidak pelajar bahasa english hari ini. Saya ada meeting. Esok boleh?" (I think I said: "I'm sorry we didn't learn english today.  I had a meeting.  Tomorrow can?"... Is that even correct BM? Probably not...) She put her hand on my arm, smiled, and told me it was ok, that she understood, and tomorrow we would learn.  This, friends, was what I was most thankful for today: the reminder that as we have regrets and fall short, that there is grace surrounding us and always a chance to try again. 

So while "highs and lows" may seem like something you did as a kid at camp, I'm still finding that the practice can spur you on throughout the day to move toward more thankful moments and fewer moments of regret. Tonight I'm thankful that God uses both the moments of thankfulness and the moments of regret to teach us. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Joy Only Grows in a Thankful Heart

A trait I have that I really do not love is that of comparison.  I often look to where others are and think to myself how if I could just have what they have or be where they are or experience what they experience, then I would truly be happy. In a program like YAGM, it is so wonderful to hear the stories of the other volunteers, but I have caught myself being envious of others' experiences.  Don't get me wrong, I am beyond happy to be in my placement and know that this is the perfect place for me, but it is difficult not to compare.  Each time I have caught myself doing this comparison this past week, I have thought back to a story I heard at least once a summer at camp from Pastor Mary, "The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle".  I'll let you watch the story being told.

"The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle"

I love how it closes, "If you can't be happy here, you won't be happy anywhere.  For joy only grows in a thankful heart." I think this story challenges those of us in the YAGM program, but really everyone whether you're working, in school, old, or young, to give thanks continuously.  When we recognize what we have to be thankful for in a given situation, envy and jealousy will subside and we will realize just how much joy there is to be had where we are!  This week, I am thankful for the reminders/slaps in the face that what I need and am looking for is right here in front of me.  It may look different than I expect it to, but I am being provided for by one who knows my needs better than I do!



**This is yet another support for my argument that you are never too old to take away a lesson from a children's book. ;)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Simply Being

Tonight I had the goal of sending out my newsletter, however my internet was being slow so I called it quits for the night.  I closed my computer and walked downstairs to find Mrs. Soong watching TV in the living room eating dinner.  I then realized that I myself had not eaten yet, so I went and poured myself the dinner of champions, cereal.  I sat next to her and watched a Malaysian romantic drama.  She would laugh, then translate for me so I was in the know, too.  Then I went into the kitchen to wash out my bowl and she followed me in and pulled out some of her leftover dinner and fixed me a plate (she is always worried I don't eat enough).  We went back out to our show and after finishing my second dinner, Mrs. Soong pulled out a bag of crackers for us to eat.  We continued watching and talking, and eating, then we both decided we were tired so we turned off the TV and as I stood up, she reminded me how my posture was not good when I arrived to her house and now it is better.  She followed this observation with a "Praise the Lord!" So we praised the Lord for better posture, talked about tomorrow's plans, and after a goodnight hug, I went upstairs.
I got to my room to find a text and missed call from my friend Carrie saying she was bringing me a bowl of soup because I've been sick.  I went downstairs to wait for Carrie and was able to talk some more with Mrs. Soong as she got ready for bed.  Carrie dropped the soup by.  I sat at the kitchen table, eating some absolutely delicious soup and was filled with comfort and peace by the love and companionship I was completely surrounded by tonight.
This is what this year is about.  It's not about newsletters (although check your inboxes soon for the first issue) or plans for what's to come or exotic experiences.  It's about being.  It's about being where you are, in relationship with others, supporting and being supported, and finding peace and joy in those little moments.

Going to sleep so thankful for tonight's simple reminder of why I'm here.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

No Place I'd Rather Be

I'd like us all to flash back to my first few days/weeks of my first summer at camp. I remember sitting below the dining hall during orientation and talking to some of my new friends about how I didn't really love kids, I wasn't really outdoorsy (I actually got my cartilage pierced before the summer because I thought it would make me look more outdoorsy, but that's another story for another day), and couldn't give a very sure answer of why I was there, but there was something that had drawn me to apply.  It took a few weeks and some tears, but slowly I learned that being at camp in the summers was exactly where I needed to be.  Because of my time there, I now absolutely love working with kids, I have some earthy points, I made wonderful friends, and have grown so much in my faith, just to name a few of the benefits :).  For me, camp went from being a place of discomfort and uncertainty to a place that held so many memories and experiences that there was truly no place I'd rather be.
So, fast forward to now. I'm about 3 weeks into my service in KK, and about 6 weeks into my time in Malaysia. Honestly, sometimes I wonder why I'm here. Up until YAGM, Asia as a whole wasn't really on my radar of places to go.  I've never really been more than a few hours away from home for an extended amount of time.  This is not a decision that I would say is characteristic of myself (Much like when I decided to work at camp but did not really like kids at the time).  Why or how we are lead to things sometimes really blows my mind.  Tonight I was in the Eklektos youth service at church and we started singing "No Place I'd Rather Be."  In that moment, after a week filled with a fair amount of discomfort, I was comforted by the familiarity of a song I have sung countless times at camp in the mountains of North Carolina. To be reminded of past experiences of God's faithfulness renewed my hope for the experience to come.  Everyday I see more and more of why I have been called to Malaysia, mainly in the community I have experienced so far.  And slowly, I am growing to call Malaysia the "no place I'd rather be".

No place I'd rather be
No place I'd rather be
No place I'd rather be
Than here in Your love, here in Your love

So set a fire down in my soul
That I can't contain
That I can't control
I want more of you, God
I want more of you, God

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

God With Us

Sunday, I received the best welcome packet from the BCCM church in KK.  Inside were lots of wonderful materials, but I was especially excited to get a daily Bible readings calendar.  Maybe a weird thing to be excited about, but go with it.  So today, the passages were all based around the coming of Jesus into the world, looking at Matthew and Luke for what we would usually hear around Christmas time.  Now, I still don't know why these readings were placed on this day, if not to remind us that Christmas is exactly 3 months from today :) But, it was really cool for me to read these because I have been reflecting on how thankful I am to have met so many incredible people in the past week that have made me feel more welcome and more comfortable in the midst of so much discomfort and uncertainty than I thought possible in such a short amount of time.  I have realized this week that one of my biggest anxieties for the year was not the food, or having hot water or internet, but having a community to feel connected to.  I think I felt that it was my responsibility to make this community happen, to build my own support for the year.  However, the beautiful thing about God's community is that there is no need for us to do all the work.  Just as God has acted first in loving us and claiming us, God also has acted first in showing me a new part of the community of Christ for me to be welcomed into with open arms.  Everyone from Mrs. Soong and her family, to the teachers I work with, to the staff and residents at Cheshire Home, to the new friends I made at church have all been incredibly hospitable and welcoming as I enter into this year, reminding me that God is with me.  God is with me in every single person I have met in this new community and will continue to to remind me that nothing is left up to me to figure out alone.  Sometimes, we just need to be still and let God meet us.

"Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." Matthew 1:23

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Being "the Other"

It is hard to believe I have been here for one month!  Part of me feels like I just got here yesterday, but the other part feels like we have done so much these past few weeks that surely we have been here for longer than that!  Either way, the further I move into my year of service and as I settle into my home community, the more I realize my own visions of how I expected this year would go.  I pictured myself in my different roles, at Mrs. Soong's, the kindergarten, and at Cheshire Home.  Most of these images I had were of me thriving in the new environment, which for me meant blending in and being a part of the community as if I had been here my whole life.  I'm not too sure why I thought I would be such a natural at such a cross-cultural experience, but nevertheless it was an expectation I did not realize I had until recently.  Being not super comfortable with Malay yet, having not a single clue to a lick of Chinese, fumbling through my wallet when paying because I still don't know which color is which denomination, and only managing to get 4 grains of rice in my mouth with chopsticks are just a few of the initial cultural differences I'm dealing with now.  Not to mention how often I'm told that I am so tall. :) During orientation, I had to take a little journey to the local eye hospital because I thought I was going blind.  No worries, guys.  I can still see just fine.  But as I filled out paperwork, when asked my race, I had to check the "other" box, which made me uncomfortable.  To know that people "like me" were so few and far between in this country that my race wasn't included in the groups to check was a completely new experience.  To be frank, being "the other" is really uncomfortable a lot of the time, it doesn't always give the joyful feeling I had expected to be filled with by the newness.
But, the bright side to this uncomfortable post is the wonderful people I have met who have made this transition smoother.  The language barrier is made easier when people take the time to slow down what they say, or even when we play a small game of charades when talking.  Never be above a game of charades, that's just a good life rule.  People taking the time to talk to me to figure out what foods I like, then bringing them to me to make this new place more like home. (Shout out to Teacher Rita who brought me a ham and cheese sandwich to school the other morning after I told her I liked sandwiches!)  I know I look and speak much different than the people I am around.  But it means so much to me when I get glimmers of those differences being bridged, when my differences aren't the topic of conversation or of looks wherever I am.  I am so thankful for the people I have met who have helped me figure out how things work in Malaysia, to help me become more and more like a local.

So, who are the others in your life?  The ones you see at the store struggling to communicate with the cashier?  The ones who are trying to get from point A to point B but do not know the area to get on the right transportation?  How can you help them as they try to acclimate with the new community and culture?  Believe me, they will appreciate the help more than you know :)

In the mean time, I'll keep trying to fit in over here by being a head taller than those I walk to work alongside, carrying this massive book with me.  Casual. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Good Work, Holy Spirit.

Hey people! I'm writing from the wonderful Mrs. Soong's living room and am currently being serenaded by her granddaughters' piano lessons.  It is so great to have this family to come home to!  My living situation is such a good fit!  Mrs. Soong is probably in her 70's and rents the rooms upstairs to girls from Malaysia and to YAGM volunteers every year.  She is just precious and always has advice to help me in my transition.  For those of you who knew my Aunt Zela, she kind of reminds me of a Chinese Zela... kind of.  A good Mrs. Soong story happened this morning.  I told her last night that Peter would be picking me up for work around 7:45.  Once I got to my room to go to sleep, I had a message from Peter that he would be here around 8:45 instead.  So, I adjusted my alarm accordingly.  Well, this morning around 7:30, there was a faint knock at the door accompanied by a gentle yet persistent, "Sarah, Sarah, Sarah".  I went to my room door to find Mrs. Soong concerned that I had overslept and was going to miss my first day.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Soong didn't receive the same time change information I did.  So sweet of her to check on me though!  She has lots of advice.  Everything from not drinking cold water to how to properly open and close doors and how to stand against the wall to help my posture.  I think its safe to say I'll learn a lot this year!
Like I said, today was my first day of school at Yuk Yu kindergarten and work at Cheshire Home!

Yes, I did make Peter take a first day of school picture of me.  I got to the kindergarten and was greeted by the principal.  I was then introduced to Teacher Rita and my new class of 20 4-year-olds!!!  Y'all.  I can't even tell you how precious they are!!  Also, Sarah isn't the most natural word for people here to pronounce, so today I was introduced as "Sharah".  These kids can call me Sharah all day long, because they're adorable.  I was told of the upcoming concert (which we saw kids outside practicing their dancing for) and kindergarten graduation.  Seriously I may die of precious overload here.  More stories to come, I'm sure.
Then, I went to the Cheshire Home which is a residential care and vocational training center for adults who are differently abled.  On the tour, we got to the back building which not only houses their bakery classes, but will also be opening a nursery for children 4 and under to attend who have developmental or physical disabilities.  So basically, my two favorite things, children and baking, all in the same building.  I spent the afternoon mingling with the residents, showing off my lackluster Malay skills, and working on an English Assessment for the bakery students.  One of the residents, Chi-Chi (I'm not too sure of the spelling) had a car we were playing with much of the day.  At one point, she pointed at me and said, "kakak" which means sister in Malay.  I am more than happy to be Chi-Chi's sister this year, and to grow relationships both at Cheshire Home and the kindergarten. 
I really don't think my placement could be a better fit.  I have a nurturing grandmother and jobs that are exactly what brings me joy in life!  So, good work Holy Spirit.  I know that this placement is not at all by chance!
More to come soon, now it is dinner time with the Soong family! xoxo

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Celebrate!

Hello from Kota Kinabalu!
I can't believe we have been here for almost a week!  Life since we landed in Malaysia has been a whirlwind, but I'm doing my best to take everything in!  So far, we have spent time exploring KK, meeting new people, growing together as a country group, trying new food, and relaxing in the mountains.  We just got back from a couple days at Mt. Kinabalu.  It was a wonderful way to get over jet lag and get to know one another a little better.  (Not to mention, a nice break from the heat of KK)

One of the topics we have been looking at through our in-country orientation has been how we process new experiences.  We have been looking at judgements and expectations of our experience and how we can recognize those.  One of my favorite pieces of this discussion has been how to respond to a new experience.  Our country coordinator encouraged us to celebrate any new experience we have, regardless of if the outcome is good or bad.  There is a reason to celebrate the experience!  So, with that mindset in place, I have had tons of reasons to celebrate since landing in KK!  First of all, I made it to Malaysia.  Celebrate!  I have tried so many new foods, some have been the best things I've tasted and some have left something to be desired.  Still celebrating!  I successfully completed washing and hang-drying clothes on the roof of the seminary we are staying at with the added bonus of a beautiful mountain view.  Celebrate!  I learned that some of Malaysia's national pastimes include shopping and eating... seriously celebrating!  I attended a worship service in Malay.  Celebrate!  I wandered through the street market that sets up each Sunday.  Celebrate!  I hiked through the jungle in the mountains of Malaysia.  Celebrate!

So, you get the picture.  I am having so many new experiences, and am finding that the best way for me to process all that is happening is to celebrate everything!  We have 2 days back here in KK before we take off to Kuala Lumpur for our language training for 2 weeks!  Thank you so much for your love and prayers as I get acclimated to the other side of the world!  It has been a wonderful experience so far and is certainly giving me lots of reasons to celebrate!

Kota Kinabalu shore line: fishermen bring in their daily catches late afternoon to sell in the market

The view from our villa at the J. Residence in Mt. Kinabalu

The YAGM Malaysia team, ready to conquer Mt. Kinabalu!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Counting Down!

Hello sweet friends!
I am down to my final days in South Carolina before I begin my year long journey in Malaysia.  (My mom has called it a "mission extravaganza", which I really like... makes it sound like there's a party happening.)  The packing has been underway for awhile now.  As some of y'all may know, I tend to forget really important things when packing.  One spring break, I didn't pack shoes.  I almost always forget my toothbrush.  I forgot shirts once.  So I have about 5 lists going on to make sure nothing too important gets left behind.  And, I've recruited the help of my dear sister several times now to help me consolidate things.  It is coming along and I am just about finished!
I realize I still haven't shared publicly what my placement is for the year, so let me fill y'all in!  I will be living in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia which is on the eastern side of the country.  I have two placement sites: in the mornings I will be working at a Chinese speaking kindergarten as an assistant and in the afternoons I will be at a residential care and vocational training center for differently abled adults.  I could not be more excited about these placements!  Working at Lutheridge for most of my summers in college helped create a special place in my heart for both of these groups of people.  They both share God's love the so freely and openly, and I am so excited to learn from them!  I will be living with an older lady in the church, so I am excited to have a "host grandmother" to help me get involved in my new community!
I feel like while I have my lists to check off and have been reading up on my town, there still are so many unknowns as I go into this year.  People will ask me questions, often for me to respond with, "I'm not sure."  I think, though that so much of the YAGM process thus far has been a practice in faith.  I applied to the YAGM program, not to a country.  I had to go into the discernment weekend being open to going to two very different parts of the world.  When I said "yes" to Malaysia, I still did not know where I would be living, who I would live with, or what my job would be.  Each step of the process has taught me to be confident that whatever comes next, I will be taken care of--to have faith in God's call.  So while I may not know if I will have wifi in my house (which right now I say that's probably doubtful just because I know my grandmother here wouldn't have any use for wifi in her house), or if I will have air conditioning (my answer is "I hope so"), or where we will stay when we leave the country for our retreats, that whatever the situation turns out to be, I will learn and grow from the experience. 
This is by NO means to say that I am not anxious about what is coming up.  I do keep having some reoccurring dreams.  Since my hair is brown now (I figured keeping up hilights in Malaysia probably wasn't the best use of my money) I have this dream that because my hair in my passport picture and driver's license is blonde, that I'm not allowed into the country. So clearly, I am experiencing some mild stress about what's to come :)  And despite my hardest efforts to put off goodbyes, they're beginning, and that is pretty difficult.  I keep thinking about the poor soul that's going to be next to me on the flight from Columbia to Chicago.  They don't know the emotional mess that's coming their way.

I leave Wednesday morning, so prayers for goodbyes to go as well as any goodbye can be would be much appreciated.  And, that as I do grow more anxious about what is to come, that I will be reminded to have faith in the God who has called me into this year of service, that I will be taken care of. 
Tonight I am thankful to have so many wonderful and supportive family and friends that make saying goodbye something that is difficult.
xoxo

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Hakuna Matata

Hey there sweet friends!
There have been so many exciting life events since I last posted!  For starters, I graduated from PC!  This is a pretty momentous occasion for anyone, but I feel a special sense of accomplishment for doing it all in 4 years considering my numerous major changes and life plans over my time at PC.  As cliche as it is to say, these past 4 years really did fly by.  It seems like I was just moving into my luxurious attic room on Clinton 4th with my hall bath.  My time at PC has blessed me with such wonderful friendships and memories I am just so thankful for.  
Luckily, I didn't have much time to dwell on my sad and sentimental feelings I was experiencing leaving PC in my rear view mirror as I headed to Kenya the next morning.  Sure, the timing may not have seemed like an issue at the time I signed up for this trip, but I'm not going to lie I was slightly overwhelmed the weekend of graduation with all that was going on.  Sunday morning I flew off to Kenya with a group from PC.  In Kenya, we built a dining hall and church and worked with girls at a rescue center who have run away from early forced marriage.  The people we met and the experiences we had taught me a lot about myself and really opened my eyes to how others in this world live.  I was reminded of the privilege we come from as Americans and how that privilege can affect our perceptions of new situations.  I think the most wonderful thing to experience on this trip was the hospitality we received.  Each day when our group pulled up to the church site, almost immediately women began flocking to the church to begin cooking for us.  They worked so hard all week to make sure we were fed. Everywhere we went, we were taken in and watched over.  In church services we didn't always understand (but were so so beautiful even though I couldn't understand much) there were members of the church who would tell us what songs meant in English or point out where we were in the service.  Our drivers were always making sure we were safe, even accompanying us to the markets to make sure we weren't getting ripped off.  I tried to love on everyone I encountered while in Kenya, but at the same time I felt so much love from everyone I met.  I was encouraged to remember no matter where I go, as a part of the Body of Christ, I will always experience the love of Christ, being watched over and cared for by God's people.  
As we visited the girls rescue center, orphanages, and schools, I found myself wanting to come and live and work in all these places.  Luckily, in about 2 months, I will get to do just that- except in a different country!  While I still have not received my specific site assignment, I was almost relieved to be reminded of the excitement I felt having the desire to be in some of these places.  This trip was an absolutely amazing experience!  On top of all I learned and experienced in Kenya, I was assured of the experience that is to come.  I am confident that I will encounter God's love and hospitality all the way in Malaysia, and I am confident that my placement will be one that excites me just as much, if not more than, the places we visited in Kenya.  
So, to utilize the few Swahili words I picked up while in Kenya, Hakuna Matata! (Maybe I learned that from the Lion King...) No worries about the future.  If I have learned anything from the past, it is that God is present and working through it all, no need to be anxious! 

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Here I am; send me!"

I am so excited to be able to say where I will be spending the next year of my life!  I have been accepted into the Young Adults in Global Mission program for the upcoming year and attended the discernment weekend for country placements this past weekend.  After lots of conversations, reflection, and prayer, I am so excited to say that I will be moving to Malaysia in August for a year of service!  This past weekend brought with it a lot of emotion mixed with excitement, but I am so confident that I will learn and grow so much from this upcoming year.  Many of you may be like I was when I first learned I was interviewing with Malaysia.  The first question I asked myself was, "Where in the world is Malaysia?!"  So, allow me to show you on the map where I will be!
It is south of Thailand, southwest of the Philippines, and north of Indonesia.  Within the country, placement sites vary.  I will find out early summer what my placement will be and where I will be living, so stay tuned!  I am so thankful for so much support and encouragement from my family and friends as I prepare for what's next!  I know the next year of my life will bring with it joys, challenges, and tremendous growth.  I am so thankful for this opportunity and cannot wait to see what God has in store for me in Malaysia!  

Selamat Tinggal for now, peeps! (that's goodbye in Malay... already downloaded an app!)

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” -Isaiah 6:8