Mt. Kinabalu

Mt. Kinabalu

Thursday, December 26, 2013

First YAGM Retreat to Singapore

YAGM Malaysia had our first retreat mid-November to Singapore.  Before taking off we spent some time together in KK with our former country coordinator, Peter Harrits, who has accepted a position with St. Paul Area Synod to coordinate relationships with churches in East Africa.  We will miss him a lot but are excited to see how his gifts are used in new ways.  As it was the last time we would all be on the same side of the country with Peter we did some celebrating and had an island day!  It was nice to enjoy eachother’s company in the presence of the grand South China Sea where we spotted lots of nemo fish!   

Later on we made tacos and no bake cookies (the recipe my mom sent me has been a hit!).  We also gave Peter his going away present which was certainly a small miracle.  Weeks earlier Sarah and I had stumbled upon some minion fabric (It has been a running joke that we are Peter’s minions and he is Papa minion) and decided to have a shirt made.  Buying the material was one thing and finding a tailor was another.  When it finally happened I stumbled through ordering it in Malay and when they asked us what size I looked the tailor up and down and told him Peter was about his size.  Luckily enough, he was and the shirt was a hit.  Let’s be real, how many people can pull off this print?

We began the next morning sharing readings and discussing what we have learned about Singapore, Malaysia, and their relationship.  

Julia and I used big paper to create some visuals :)

 The next day we had a tearful farewell and were off to Singapore with Reverend Wendolyn Trozzo of the ELCA.  Aside from being the cleanest most organized city I’ve ever set foot in, the country has an interesting and complex history strongly connected to the history of Malaysia (it used to be part of Malaysia!).  During our time in Singapore we were welcomed with open arms by the Lutheran Church of Singapore, its Bishop Terry Kee, and former YAGMs the Dalagers.  In this time of transition, it was particularly comforting to be assured we are in so many good hands.  The fact that even people we have not met yet and may be in other countries have our backs is pretty incredible.  It’s quite the blessing to be part of such a caring church family worldwide. 

Here’s an overview of our Singapore retreat in photos :)

Spending time with YAGM alums Jacob and Hannah Dalager and eating fabulous burgers (something we don't get very often anymore)!

A live seafood lunch with Bishop Kee!  (Literally you could see them catch your food before you ate it!)  With dishes including bamboo clams, eel, ribs with a coffee glaze, and Singapore’s famous chilli crab.  All of it was fabulously delicious!

Bishop Kee (right) and Pastor Nick (left)

Chilli Crab

We got into the holiday spirit on Orchard Road, an incredibly long road full of malls and shopping, as it was already decorated with lights and Christmas displays.

We visited the Harmony Centre, an incredible place, which works towards peaceful interreligious dialogue and education. 

A trip to the National Museum of Singapore and its current art exhibit was of particular interest to me.  The exhibit explored the countries search for identity, both artistically and culturally.  Loving the art connections!

LOVE this quote.  I was in total art nerd mode the entire exhibit.

We had a Turkish dinner with the Dalagers!  Fabulously delish and with a great view of the mosque.


Our free day included a trip to the zoo, Singapore’s is one of the best in the world.  Sarah and I went on a trial run of the River Safari, the only zoo experience of its kind in the world, which was not open to the public yet.  We also got to check out the PANDAS! 

Cutest animal in the world.

Panda Capuccino!

One of our final Singapore experiences included eating at Makansuttra, famous for its superb street food, and heading up to the skypark to see Marina Sands Bay from the rooftops.  We had breathtaking views to end our refreshing and renewing adventures together as a YAGM team.   

Monday, November 4, 2013

Want to see through the eyes of a child? Hand them your camera.

Matthew 18:1-5: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  He called a child whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

I have never wanted to grow up.  You can ask my parents.  For some reason as a child I was always very content with my age and really didn’t want to be “grown up.”  In fact one of my more selfish reasons for becoming a teacher is so that I don’t have to grow up.  I can go back to elementary school every year for the rest of my life.  While that comes with a great deal of responsibility, it also comes with the freedom to be a child with my students every day.  This does not mean literally becoming childish and acting goofy all day long because we always have serious learning to do.  However, it does mean using silly voices to tell a story, making up handshakes, and laughing together because there is learning to be done in those things too.  It does mean embracing the silly moments because life isn’t all about school.  Children are almost always my greatest inspiration.  They inspire me with the way they have an ability to care about others with eyes not yet shaded by the judgments of the world, the way they are still determined to be “whatever they want to be” when they grow up, and the way they love while wearing their hearts on their sleeves.  They are some of my greatest teachers in life and I hope to be forever inspired by the lives and insights of children. 

Last week at Grace Center we had a “sports day” to take a break from the stress of the upcoming exams.  While there were many activities going on, I had no “official” responsibilities for the day. I grabbed my camera and what I anticipated as being a day of hanging out and being an event photographer sort of a deal turned into photography mini-lessons for my students.  As I was taking photos and showing the students the shots I had taken (they love checking out photos of themselves…who doesn’t?) I saw awe in their eyes of my big black massive camera.  I decided this was a learning opportunity.  I told them “hati-hati” (be careful in Bahasa Malaysia), placed the safety strap around their necks, switched my settings to auto, and showed them how to hold down the button.  I expected them to want to go take pictures of flowers or find some bugs, or take photos of the sports and games going on all around.  However, they took photos of what they care about most, their friends.  The results were beautiful.  I could not have taken better photos myself.  It gave me the chance to let them be “in charge” and with their new feelings of responsibility they were suddenly teaching me all sorts of new words and games.  I now have a student who gives me a quiz everyday.  She says, "teacher, tell me," and pulls on my shirt.  I respond with "saya baju hijau terang," (my shirt is bright green) and she gives a nodding approval.  The day was a great opportunity for me to be a “child” with my students.   This year my students are teaching me a lot about love and other things.  I’m sure there will be many more stories.  However for today, I leave you with what I have learned so far.  If you want to learn from a child, let yourself be one.  If you want to see through the eyes of a child, hand them your camera.  You might just see what love looks like. 

Below is a slideshow of a mere sampling of the photos from sports day.  Some of them are my photos and many of them were taken by my students.  You’ll never know the difference.  It will give you a glimpse of how awesome sports day was.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Teaching to Love

Hundreds of events, tragedies and blessings alike change our lives in the blink of an eye every single day.  Sometimes they go unnoticed until their result produces something of significance to our egocentric lives.  It is unfathomable to imagine how the events of the world in one single day impact every individual person.  However some events create change catastrophic enough to awake our human attention and sometimes those changes are really difficult.  Sometimes its inevitable and sometimes this change is chosen.

After hearing about YAGM from a friend at lunch I chose to apply.  After getting an invitation to the DIP event (where we interview) I chose to attend.  After receiving a call to go to Malaysia I chose to accept.   So many of my own decisions got me here.  I kept saying yes because I wanted to be challenged, I wanted to be pushed, and I wanted to be uncomfortable and yet, there are moments every day when this is still really hard.  Some of these moments are more difficult to cope with than others but the truth is, as beautiful as this experience is, it is not easy. 

I once had a professor who asked our class a simple question, "who likes change?"  Aside from her own hand mine was the only one that went up.  I don't remember why I raised my hand or why I thought I like change.  However, most of my life I haven't really minded change.  Often times I was able to see change as a gain, of course the times when change meant losing loved ones, friendships, or communities being the exceptions, but for the most part I welcomed and enjoyed change. In my YAGM experience so far the simultaneous relationship between gain and change has resulted in quite the emotional roller coaster.  I am gaining so much.  Everyday I am building relationships with my students, friendships with my co-workers, and am getting a lot better at adjusting.  I am learning about this culture and am learning about myself with every challenge.  However, I also feel some incredible loss.  Like the simple loss of knowing how to shop in the grocery store for things I know how to make, the difficult physical loss of my support system, and the greatest loss of knowing how to walk into a classroom and teach well.  I have had to let go of the certainty of knowing how to do daily things like grocery shop, ride the bus, and knowing directions home.  Learning how to rely on the help and grace of others in that has been very hard.  I have always been independent and while I love to give it, I am not always good at accepting help.  I have had to let go of the certainty that one of my close friends or family will happen to be on facebook in the middle of the night when I need them.  Learning how to put that trust in new places is something I am still trying to figure out.  I have had to let go of the certainty that I know what I am doing in a classroom.  I am learning to focus on remembering why I teach everyday instead of how to teach.  In remembering I teach to love, I have found more direction and clarity than any ESL resource or website.  When I remember I teach to love, a different classroom atmosphere than I am used to suddenly doesn't seem so scary.  When I remember I teach to love, suddenly despite the language barrier my students and I always have a way to communicate.  When I remember I teach to love, suddenly all things seem possible. 

Having faith is how I am learning to deal with change.   Dealing with change is like learning to float.  If you are tense in the slightest you will sink.  It's when you learn to relax and have faith that either you will indeed float or your teacher will catch you if you don't, that suddenly the water effortlessly lifts your body and you are floating.  It is an incredible freedom. 

I read a sermon from Nadia Bolz-Weber about how the mustard seed parable isn't necessarily about Jesus asking his disciples to increase their faith but rather affirming they already have the faith they need.  The sermon also discussed the idea that just because you are struggling doesn't mean you lack faith.  It mentioned the idea of lamentation and offered that, "being the people of God has always meant a whole lot of both praise and lament."  These messages could not have come at a better time for me.  It's not that I want permission to whine, I just want to be able to say this is really hard and not feel less faithful or less adequate.  In fact, I perhaps feel more faith in my lamentation because it's like saying, "I hate how hard this is but I believe all things are possible through you and your people."  It may be harder to have faith in times of loss and in times of change but it strengthens my faith every single day.  The coexistence of praise and lamentation seems to permeate every corner of my life as I feel how equally difficult and amazing this journey can be.    

Adjustment also feels like a strange line to walk because this is someone else's life which is not necessarily difficult for them in the same ways it is for me.  So why is it hard for me?  However, last week one of my teacher friends asked what my favorite food was and told me we would go to the market to buy ingredients and make it.  She explained that she knows the food adjustment must be hard because if she went to my country she would probably have a hard time too.  It was so beautiful for someone to recognize my struggle with such perspective.  I am absolutely humbled and amazed by God's people every day.  I have often felt in service the people I serve do more for me than I could ever do for them, but holy cow this year feels more like I am straight up getting served than able to serve anyone else.  I am clinging to the belief that watching CSI or the Voice with friends and laughing together, or helping decide what to do with little girl's hair for the Grace Center Festival (which is tomorrow!!! blog post with pictures to come), or high fiving as many hands as I can while walking through school is love and is therefore enough.  While I want to be better at teaching English in a foreign country,  I am quickly realizing it's just really not the most important reason I'm here.  I would say it's more likely I am here to love and be loved.  I would even venture to say there are even more reasons still awaiting my discovery.  Time will tell.  Day by day.  For now change will keep happening and I will praise and lament as my faith grows ever deeper.

 In the midst of preparation for Grace Center Festival keeping us all very busy, my class called "Love" had some fun drawing "raksasa" (monsters) and described them using adjectives!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Teacher Barbie Boleh (can)!

               The nickname I have been given by my students is "Teacher Barbie."  I hear on a regular basis things like, "Teacher, you look like Barbie, teacher."  At first I wasn't sure how to take this new nickname.  Though I had many Barbie dolls of my own growing up, as one gets older you tend to associate them with being too "girly" or with negative connotations thanks to her ridiculous body proportions.  Stubbornly not wanting anyone thinking I'm a wimp, I was at first a little horrified by the name.  However, I'm deciding I can definitely own my new nick name.  Barbie may be girly, which may be true of me as well, but she is also VERSATILE.  When I learned a song all in Malay my friend said, "Oooh, Barbie can sing in Malay!" and when I cooked for the first time here in Malaysia my friend said, "Oooh, Barbie can cook!"  Barbie can do so many things and so can I.  One thing this year is certainly going to be about is versatility.  Whether it's teaching English or helping save our plants from a torrential downpour (that happened while I was writing this post last night), Barbie boleh!  Boleh is probably my favorite Malay word because it means CAN and the word can is used so much more here than any other place I've experienced.  So my mantra for this year is Barbie boleh.  One example of my new mantra in action is in the video above.  With the help of my friend Nuria, who taught me the song and accompanied me, I performed in front of the entire school at chapel this week. 

Grace Center students at chapel
Below are photos of all of my housemates bailing our plants out of the rain.  It was quite an undertaking.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Say YES!

My country coordinator encouraged us to say "YES!" to every invitation, especially in our first months.  When I first heard this advice I thought, "ha, not a problem!"  Those of you who know me well know I have a much harder time saying no.  I can often rather delusionally believe I can take on anything and everything while not only maintaining my sanity but also doing it well.  However, when you have been plopped down in the middle of a new culture full of new people to meet and even given a new job, the physical and mental exhaustion can be overwhelming.  In moments when I would have usually jumped at the opportunity to join, I have found just a little part of myself wanting to say no.  It's a strange feeling.  While I certainly want to participate the exhausted part of me just wants rest.  However, another strange phenomena has occurred every time I have said yes against my body's wishes.  In the moments I have said yes, even though I did not go take a nap, I have found rest. 

This week during fellowship ( a time when all of the teachers come together to sing songs, study the bible, and pray) Tracy was our leader and she passed out bookmarks which read, "I will not be a workaholic" and had a verse from Psalms which goes "it's useless to rise early and go to bed late and work your worried fingers to the bone.  Don't you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?" (Psalm 127:2)  Workaholic....story of my life.  I am always over committing myself and am an insanely perfectionistic person.  It was a great reminder that I do need to be aware of my physical needs.  We discussed ants as imagery for the workaholic as they always seem busy.  This works nicely as a daily reminder for me because almost daily I have found one or two tiny little ants darting under the keys of my keyboard and out with a little crumb.  Apparently I had dinner while studying a few too many times during college.  However, the thing about ants is they are almost never alone.  They always seem to be working but they always seem to be working together.  This made me question the definition of rest.  Perhaps sometimes sleep is what we need and is exactly what God gives us.  However, perhaps sometimes he gives us invitations to participate in living life intentionally as rest.  Perhaps he gives us moments full of life and in community with people, which may energize us more than sleep could.  Our country coordinator also sent us a link to The Holstee Manifesto, an inspirational video about one company's empowering philosophy that, "Life is about the people that you meet and the things you create with them."  Our YAGM year is also very much about this philosophy.  Thus far in my own YAGM journey, it has been the moments created from spending time with my new friends, which has given me energy and in that energy rest. 

I said yes when Tracy, one of the teachers who picked me up to take me to Grace Center for the first time, invited me to go to McDonald's with her and some other women.  We ate fries and chicken burgers, food quite familiar to both of us, while getting to know each other across a lanugage barrier.  

I said yes when some new friends we met at church invited us to lunch and dinner and a movie later on and found another community of wonderful people to know during my time in KK.  They are all apart of the youth group which includes young adults and their energy and ability to fearlessly always be themselves reminds me so much of CLC's youth group.  

A few nights ago I was going to attempt to actually cook something for the first time in Malaysia and I was making spaghetti.  I got the noodles boiling before realizing I was going to need a can opener and I had no idea where to find one.  I asked my friends Bella and Sophia if they knew where one was and they helped me look for awhile before we all gave up.  However, they were not as ready to quit as I was and they began determinedly trying to tap a knife around the edge of the can.  Despite their heroic efforts it wasn't going well.  We asked Nuria (the music teacher) if she knew where one was and though she did not she proceeded to open the can effortlessly by placing the knife into the edge of the can and banging the can on the counter.  It was like magic.  After I finished making my spaghetti, I invited all of my helpers to take some.  Luckily I had made enough for four people, though I had intended to make enough for just myself.  Nuria then asked me to listen to the song she wrote, which was beautiful and she even taught me how to sing a song in Malay.  I felt so incredibly happy because it had been such a beautiful afternoon spent in my community.   

Later on that same night, Nuria had invited me to go to fellowship in Donggongon.  We walked under the stars by the light of the "torchlight" setting on my new handphone (old school cell phone) through hills of dirt and a jungley path into the community nearby.  We were welcomed into a family's home where the living room was cleared out and chairs were lined up all the way around the room.  People of all ages filled the room and we sang beautiful songs, heard the word of God (though it was in Malay, Nuria translated for me later on), and of course had snacks.  Milo (my favorite hot-chocolate like drink!) and some chocolate pastry sort of deserts.  It was a wonderful night of living among God's people.

I said yes when my Korean friends Bella and Sophia offered to share some fruit with me.  We ate mangosteen (queen of fruit in Malaysia) and another fruit I don't remember the name of.  The fruit was delicious and as I have been finding more and more food is a great way of breaking language barriers.  I have learned a lot more about Bella and Sophia thanks to sharing food or meals together.  I learned that Bella and Sophia are actually their English names, learned about their internship here at Grace Center, and learned about Korean food of course (all of which I have tried has been delicious).  

I said yes when I was working late in the office and my students asked me to play volleyball (bola tampar, directly translated being slap ball).  I not only gained some student buy-in but I also learned what sort of foods I should try.  Are you seeing a theme with food here?  They also explained that though they don't get picked up until 6:10 pm (school gets out at 4 pm), they don't get home until 10 pm and I got a glimpse into the lives of my students.  

These are the ordinary moments God has turned into rest for me.  These are what gets me through the week when I feel exhausted and tired of adjusting.  These are what my time here is about.  I am learning to create beautiful moments out of nothing but accepting invitations weather great or small.  Tonight I am invited to a birthday party.  I cannot wait to see what beautiful moments are in store.  

Sunday, September 22, 2013


My definition of diversity has developed into a term that means much more than difference in culture or skin color.  It is such a relative concept because even within a group seemingly very alike there is likely a vastness of diversity.  However, in talking about culture specifically, there is currently great diversity in my life.  I am a Scandinavian American living with people who are Korean, teaching with people who are Dusun, teaching students who are Indonesian, and attending church with people who are Chinese.  What a mix of culture.  We met some new friends at church today who explained that there is a colloquial language called “rojak” which is named after a traditional fruit and vegetable salad.  Sound familiar (i.e. melting pot, etc.)?  Rojak literally means mixture in Malay and the language rojak is just a mixture of many languages.  It seems pretty common for the people of Malaysia to know at least some of two or three languages.  When my new friends were describing rojak to me they said they might switch between languages quickly (like mid sentence) and sometimes combine languages in a single word.  They also told me I should get comfortable adding –bah,  -lah, or –kah (kah is more for questions) to the ends of sentences and words so I can sound more local.  Okaylah!  Now to learn how I fit into this awesome mixture of people as my definition of diversity is challenged and grows even further.  
World mural in the courtyard of Grace Center

Roll with It

            I have been at Grace Center for one week now.  I both live and work here so every morning I wake up to the beautiful sound of children playing.  This can be comforting because it reminds me they are right there waiting to learn and be loved while it can also be terrifying because it reminds me I am supposed to somehow teach them English while I continue to struggle to pick up Bahasa Malaysia (BM).  My first day of teaching was an interesting one.  I thought I might watch or observe one or two classes even after being introduced to all the different classes.  I may not have communicated this desire strongly enough because I walked into class expecting to watch and was given the class to teach.  I grabbed the eraser off of the whiteboard and decided to play a name game by tossing the eraser around the room.  This sounds great in theory, maybe even resourceful, however by the end of the day I had black smudges all over my face and neck.  Any place I had tried to wipe away sweat was now full of black smudges and at one point I managed to even draw on my cheek with the whiteboard marker.  I was literally a hot mess.  Thankfully with teaching seems to come the natural instinct to laugh at oneself and it gave me a good opportunity to laugh with my students.  I have mispronounced countless names and have had my students repeat them daily to the point where it seems painful.  However, Friday I was able to recite every students’ name in at least two of my classes!  Though another teacher told me one of my older classes said I am very serious (I’m ok with that for now J), I have sung silly songs, acted out words when language wasn’t cutting it, and have just been a goofball in general.  This week has been all about getting to know my students and allowing them to get to know me.  I’ve heard ahhs as I talk about how all the plants die in winter and snow covers the ground in Minnesota as well as gasps when I tell them about how long I sat in an airplane to get here.  As I attempt to figure out how to teach them English they have been helping me learn words in BM here and there.  It’s always fun when I whip out a new BM word I’ve learned.   Suddenly I see light bulbs going off all around the room because their crazy teacher finally makes sense.  Looking back on my week it was actually very fun but it is really truly so incredibly difficult.  Walking into class the first day with no idea what I was going to do was absolutely frightening.  While the odds seem to be stacked against me as I am jumping in almost at the end of their school year (their year starts in January and runs until November), I don’t know what they already know, I am inventing curriculum, I don’t have pre-made assessment tools, I don’t know their learning styles, and I have five classes ranging from approximately 3rd-9th grade (there is a mix of ages in each class), I am learning to just roll with it.  On my way to each class I literally say a little prayer that together my students and I will learn something.  I am trying to give myself grace in that if we do not learn complete sentences in this first week there are other important things to learn too.  That being said my students have also shown me incredible grace.  As I have butchered their names, struggled to communicate, and have given confusing directions, they always smile at me and ask how I am doing at the end of the day.  Side note…I have a student named Delia (the second Delia I have ever met in my entire life)…clearly this placement was meant to be.      
My oldest classes made "facebook pages" to tell me about themselves!

Aside from the teaching side of life I haven’t been perfect at adjusting to daily living either.  I’ve messed up my schedule, been nervous about trying new food, clearly struggled with the heat, and found myself at a loss for words when I didn’t have the language I needed to say something.  I just have to keep telling myself to roll with it and take baby steps.  In general I’ve considered myself to be a “go with the flow” sort of personality but suddenly “rolling with it” has taken on a whole new meaning.  Yet with all the adjustments I’m making, I have always felt loved and have truly enjoyed myself in the process.
Every week the teachers do fellowship together where we sing songs, discuss a bible passage, and pray together.  This week the bible story was the feeding of the 5,000, an impossible task made possible through the hands of God’s people.  It seemed all too relevant to my life right now.  My adjustment to a completely new culture has seemed impossible at times and yet it is made possible through the hands of God’s people.  There have been many beautiful moments of grace and understanding like my roommate’s mother bringing me dinner, another teacher asking the cook to make fried chicken for lunch after noticing my difficulty adjusting to a new diet, my students kindly redirecting me when I show up for class at the wrong time, and the companionship of all those around me despite language barriers.  I imagine the people present at the feeding of the 5,000 had to use what they had to “roll with it” and together they accomplished the seemingly impossible.  Here in my new community I imagine we too will accomplish miracles as we use what we have and come together to be both a school and a family.      

The road to Grace Center is lined with these wonderful flowers.  They are one of the first things I see every morning.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Survived my first week of teaching!  It was very fun getting to know my students and figuring out what I can teach them.  My new snail mail address is below if you want to write:
Locked Bag no. 13
Suite no. 88303
88890, Kota Kinabalu
Sabah, Malaysia

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Growing from a Source

Just a week and a half ago we were in Kuala Lumpur visiting the National Islamic Arts Museum.  Now I am at my placement site in Kota Kinabalu and I find myself reflecting on a panel I found at the museum.  The panel described foliate motifs in Islamic art and how they were originally accompanied by a concept of Malay Muslim society.  The example of one of those beliefs was this poem:
"Growing from a source 
A source full of secrets
Growing without piercing a friend
Climbing without clinging to a rival 
But intertwining with grace and friendliness"

In a place of such great religious diversity the word "source" makes sense in describing how we grow together.  As confusion becomes a pretty typical feeling for me in a place where I don't speak the language I also like the idea that the source is full of secrets.  However, most importantly there have already been many moments of grace and friendliness.  As stories begin to intertwine I cannot wait to see how we grow together.

  • Some moments of grace and friendliness:
  • A friendly stranger pointing out my stop on the crowded bus when I no doubt looked scared and alone
  • Sharing a meal at McDonalds with some of my new teacher friends (familiar food!)
  • My roommate offering me a desk to put some of my things
  • My students helping me learn school routines, being kind when I attempt Malay, and laughing with me when I get whiteboard marker on my face.  

Growing from a source
A source full of secrets

In other news:  So far my students think I am like Barbie and my oldest class thinks I am very serious.  I'm ok with that for now :)  Excited to get this year started and thankful for the beautiful new people in my life.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Where to begin...

Where to begin...this story begins in so many different places, in so many different ways, and with so many different people.  How do I begin to pinpoint the best place to start?  I feel like I could already fill an entire journal with words attempting to capture my experience.  If you asked me what Malaysia is like we would have to set aside several hours and even then the beautiful reality is you would still hardly have the slightest idea of all that Malaysia entails.  Can you imagine trying to give someone the gist of the US in a few minutes?  It couldn't be done because of the abundance of diversity.  (Interestingly, I have noticed places in Malaysia tend to be described by what food they are most famous for.)  The hardest part about telling this story is that I will never do it justice or be able to tell the whole story.  I can show you photographs, but photos will always have four sides and exclude the rest of the senses.  This blog is beautiful because it enables me to share this experience and will enable others to walk with me without being physically present.  However, it will always be limited to the snapshots I choose to share.  There will be times when I don't frame the story exactly right or I will make observations which may not be quite accurate.  I hope how my observations, perspectives, and judgments change will be a growing experience my readers can accompany me through.  So bear with me while I stumble along the journey of sharing this wonderful new part of my life.

The nine other Malaysia YAGMs and myself have been in in-country orientation for close to three weeks now (one in Kota Kinabalu [KK] and two in Kuala Lumpur [KL]).  Though my photographs might make it seem like we have been on vacation, we have been doing some very important preparation and making lots of adjustments.  Of all the icebreakers, get to know yous, and team-builders we did, one activity in particular stands out to me.  Peter (our country coordinator)  had us make observations while we strolled through the Gaya Street Market.  Later he placed five sheets of paper on a table, each with a different sense in the middle, and asked us to write our observations down.  After we had exhausted all of our senses describing our new Malaysian experiences he read our descriptions out loud to us and we had to decide whether each one was an observation or a judgement.  Whether it was a positive or negative comment, many of our observations had really become judgment through the language we used.   Rather than saying, "I tasted ginger,"  I wrote "ginger is BITTER" with several underlines.  Clearly judgment had found its way into my observations much more instantaneously and subtly than I might have anticipated.  The point of the exercise was not to make us feel guilty for our judgements, we were told to divorce ourselves from what we wrote before they were read, but rather it was to make us aware of how quickly judgments can be made.  For now, while we still often find ourselves in a state of awe or surprise by our observations it is better to turn to wonder rather than judgment.  As I gather more I will do a post about my observations and the subsequent wonderings.

Aside from important preparation activities like a two week language training class, attending church which included the closing service of the Lutheran Church in Malaysia's church-wide assembly, and adjusting to food & climate the most meaningful moments so far have been moments or people that have just been beautiful by being ordinary.  Here are a few of many:

Going for a jog with new friends with no pressure to push too hard or race, while the sun rises behind the mountains in the distance.  After which we stretched while watching monkeys bounce around in the trees above.

Sketching the view in cool mountain air drinking a cup of milo (hot-chocolate sort of drink) while on a retreat to Mt. Kinabalu.  A welcome escape from the seemingly extreme heat and humidity of Kota Kinabalu.

Handwashing laundry in a bucket having great conversation with a fellow YAGM on the rooftop of the Sabah Theological Seminary where we were staying.

Belly achingly laughing together while watching a ridiculous Jackie Chan movie at a dinner of bravely discovering new foods.

Attending Luther House Chapel (the church Peter interned at) and meeting some really incredible people.  Also, watching YAGMs share songs, stories, and thoughts with the Sunday School and youth group.

A waitress bringing myself and another YAGM a little scoop of ice cream to share on the house as we pathetically tried to locate a laundromat using the internet in the YMCA cafe after a failed attempt by foot in the rain.  We still had all our laundry in tow.  It turns out if we would have gone through one more door it would have been right in front of us.

A man asking me to videotape him talking (in a language I did not know) about a display at the Islamic Arts Museum.  When I asked what the video was for he replied matter of factly, "for the facebook."  (of course!)

Going to our favorite spot the Hussain Cafe (tagline: try once and you want it again!) and the waiters no longer handing us a menu because we have been there so much. 

Making new non-YAGM friends who will undoubtedly have an incredible impact on this year.

Photographing all of it.

Don't even get me started on the extraordinary moments ;)  There is just so much to share and so much left indescribable.  New posts coming shortly as I prepare to make another incredible transition from KL and my YAGM family to my placement site in Kota Kinabalu.  I want to thank again everyone who is supporting this journey in any regard.  I feel so incredibly blessed to have such an amazing sending community and to be headed into another wonderful community all to soon.  God is good.

Selawat dan Salam 
(Peace & Blessings) 

Doing laundry on the roof of the Sabah Theological Seminary (STS) housing.
Sketching on retreat at Mt. Kinabalu
My incredibly amazing YAGM family
The scoop of ice-cream described above
YAGM ladies and our new friends Wen, Paula, Sofie, and Hannah

Shopping with Audrey, Wen, Jenna B, and Sarah
Eating lunch at the Hussain Cafe (Makan di kafe Hussain)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Raw-thoughts on orientation

            After a week of orientation in Chicago we have finally begun our journeys.  Sixty young adults scatter around the world, on their way to communities anxiously awaiting their arrival.  We have spent a week of orientation trying to make sense of difficult questions about faith, identity, culture, privilege, power, and diversity.  Not surprisingly there were more questions surrounding these conversations than answers.  This left many of us struggling to express the multitude of emotions stirring under the surface of our skin, still suntanned from summer adventures we'd so recently left behind.  Ecstatic, pained, confused, purposeful, anxious, ready, scared, blessed, angry and loved  name a few of the emotions I found ready to burst out at any moment.  In describing this over abundance of emotion I tried words like neutral or numb.  It seemed more accurate than trying to pin down one specific feeling, which may change within the next minute.  However as the tears streamed down my face while hugging many of my fellow journeyers goodbye a new word came to mind. Like the salty streaks of tears left sitting on my cheeks I felt raw. I feel raw in more than one sense of the word.  One definition says raw is "having the surface exposed and painful" which is fitting. Having to contextualize our identities in terms of the global community has certainly left me feeling exposed and even pained at times.  To recognize there are systems at play in our world resulting in poverty, oppression, and division, about which we can only make small differences can feel hopeless.  This sense of feeling raw is crucial as we must carry both an awareness of ourselves and these systems as we begin to build relationships in our new communities.  However, possibly more importantly I feel raw in the sense that I am unrefined or unprepared.  Like vegetables lying on a cutting board I am ready for preparation, to be refined, to be changed.  We will all be changed this year and will hopefully find something new to stir into what we have lovingly called the great American melting pot (or salad bowl if you prefer).  

            We have spent a week searching for a recipe for how to live this next year and realized it doesn't exist.  There may be a few givens but there is lots of room for both creativity and mistakes on this recipe card.  The one thing I do know is love, hope, and peace will be at the top of my ingredient list.  Speaking of food, already encountered some interesting cuisine on our first flight to Seoul, Korea.  I wasn't expecting my side dish to have eyes (it was just my first encounter with anchovies, nothing too special yet)  More updates to come upon my arrival in Kota Kinabalu (KK)!

Peace & Blessings 

(From the YAGM Malaysia Facebook page, captioned "The Malaysian Minions are on the Move")

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Fear & Courage

                Just a few short days lie between me and the beginning of my YAGM journey.  Wednesday morning I will board a plane to Chicago where I will be reunited with my fellow travelers and begin a week of orientation.  While I am so close to my dreams being finally realized a little bit of fear sets in too.  Fear of what I might miss in my absence, fear of the unkown, and fear of inadequacy.  However, I am ok with the presence of fear.  I think a little fear can even be a good thing.  As Nelson Mandela once said, " I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."  Courage is not always easy to find.  I am anticipating it might be especially hard to find when traveling halfway across the world and my support system just doesn't quite fit into my suitcase.  Yet courage becomes so necessary as I begin a year of some of the greatest challenges I have ever faced.  It is a good thing love is something that doen't need a suitcase to carry with you. 
               I am so grateful to be surrounded by love from family, friends, and even people I barely know.  I felt an overwhelming outpouring of love last Sunday as Christ Lutheran Church blessed my YAGM journey through a beautiful sending service.  As I spoke about my dreams I was the lucky recipient of dreams more beautiful than I could have possibly imagined from members of the congregation.  I will carry these dreams with me in a tangible way as I bring my box of dreams to Malaysia.  However, I know I will also carry an abundance of love and support from my congregation.  As a part of the service the congregation gathered around me and read the verse at the top of this blog, which so happens to be my confirmation verse.  "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." -Romans 15:13 In that moment, with such wonderful people all around me, I was certainly filled with joy, peace, and hope for what was to come.  I do not go without fear but I do go with love, which just might be an even greater conquerer of fear than courage.  I am so blessed and grateful for the beautiful people walking this journey with me every step of the way.       
 Below are just a few of the special people from CLC who will be walking with me.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hey everyone!  This blog is where you can follow my adventure to Malaysia and get the latest updates during my year of global service.  My first post is the sermon I will be sharing on Sunday August 4th, check it out!

The gospel is Luke 12: 13-21, The Parable of the Rich Fool: “Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”  But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”  And he said to them, “Take care!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”  Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly.  And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to sore my crops?’  Then he said, ‘I will do this:  I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry; But God said to him ‘You fool!  This very night your life is being demanded of you.  And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So it was with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (1724-1725, Lutheran Study Bible)

In the parable of the rich man it becomes evident it is not material possessions that make us rich in God’s eyes.  So what does make us spiritually rich?  There are probably many ways to answer that question but I think it is about being in relationship with others and using our gifts to serve.  One of my most important gifts is to teach.  Teaching has opened my eyes to hundreds of new ideas, relationships, and perspectives.  I have taught students in Woodbury and Minneapolis, Minnesota; Evansdale, Nashua-Plainfield, Charles City, and Waverly, Iowa; New York, New York; Selma, Alabama; Arvada and Denver, Colorado and very soon will teach students in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.   My students have had different skin colors, spoken different languages, come from various socioeconomic backgrounds, have had different abilities, and have liked different subjects, sports, or tv shows.  There have always been hundreds of reasons they were diverse.  However the more I teach the more I realize kids are all just kids.  This notion first came to me when I went to Lulanzi, Tanzania with Christ Lutheran in 2007.  Another participant on the trip and I were playing duck, duck gray duck with a group of girls and despite the language barrier it seemed like the most natural thing in the world.  There is something about the innocence of children which emphasizes how similar we all are.  This notion, which began in Tanzania eventually led me to some new ideas which eventually turned into a painting (see below).

It came about as a result of a project I taught my kindergarten students at Tennyson Knolls Elementary school while I was student teaching in Colorado.  They were doing a mixed media self-portrait, they painted a background similar to Van Gogh’s starry night, glued a picture of themselves, a little poem they wrote about their hopes and dreams, and of course lots of glitter on top.  I took close to a hundred pictures of my students pretending to look up at imaginary stars.  I also interviewed them to help them write their poems.  I asked them questions like “what do you wish for?” and “what do you dream of?”  I heard wonderful dreams of becoming doctors, ballerinas, police men or women, artists, and teachers.  I also heard wishes for dad’s to be let out of jail, parents to stop fighting, to no longer be hungry and even for a big bowl of ice cream.  In their beautiful innocence comes beautiful honesty.  The even greater truth I saw in their answers was that regardless of their individual story they all had beautiful dreams.  The children you see in front of you are not just random faces, they were my students, Jocelyn, Beni, Syndi, Johnson, and Diego.  They each have a wonderful story all their own but when they are in a classroom they share the story of being kindergarteners together.  They have some big dreams, some of which may never be realized, but that will never stop them from dreaming.  I won’t go into too much more explanation of my painting as everyone will interpret my piece in terms of their own perspective.  I called my painting “They Have a Dream” and am finding even greater significance in the idea of dreams as I head to Malaysia. 

As we were discerning our call to be Young Adults in Global Mission or “YAGMS” in April we were challenged to listen to other people’s stories.  We were told that by sharing our stories and listening to the stories of others we would create a new space for being.  A space to create a new story by being in relationship with others.  As a teacher I both have many stories and listen to stories all the time.  As I think about my next year I am excited about the deep sharing of stories but I am also excited about the possibility of many unwritten stories.  As I await these stories yet to be written I am realizing I have many dreams of my own for my year in service.  I am realizing there is actually a wonderful relationship between dreams and stories.  I am realizing every unwritten story began with a dream.  All of the stories awaiting me next year would not be possible if I had not dared to dream I could be a YAGM.  It was only through the help of God that my dream of being a YAGM was realized.  It was through the gift he gave me to teach, my trip to Lulanzi which gave me a heart to serve, the network of support I find in my friends, family, and this church which gives me courage.

I have often heard diversity and unity spoken of as if contradictory ideas but I have come to see them differently.  My students have shown me that despite each having their own individual story to be celebrated, we share a story as a classroom, as that classroom shares a story with the school, and the school shares a story with the community, and the community with a larger community and so on until eventually we share a story as humanity and as God’s people.  This is God’s story and he intended for us to share it. 

As I mentioned earlier I will be serving as an English teacher at Grace Center in Kota Kinabalu.  The school provides a basic education to children of foreign migrant workers.  They are considered “stateless” meaning they cannot provide documentation of nationality, which in Malaysia means they are denied education and healthcare.  Thousands of families from Indonesia and the Philippines have moved to Malaysia to provide cheap labor for the ever growing palm oil industry.  The industry’s rapidly increasing success in Malaysia is the result of a high demand in the U.S. and Europe due to the products lack of unhealthy trans-fats.  Today, more than half of all products sold in U.S. supermarkets contain palm oil.  For far too many stateless children, the inability to attend public school will mean they receive little to no education and will end up working alongside their parents on palm oil plantations for minimum wage (something like $7.50 a day).  Their only hope may be learning centers run by non-profit organizations like Grace Center.  It may be the only chance of their dreams being realized.  In one of the articles I have read ( found at it speaks of a girl named Fatima Binti, who at 18 had to stop attending a learning center as a result of lack of money and the long distance from where her family worked.  She had dreams of being a doctor and longed to attend classes with her friends again.  She hoped her siblings could attend school so they could read and count.  However, Fatima’s dreams may be dreams deferred.  As I embark on this journey of being an English teacher for around 200 students for one year I am hoping to help dreams be realized.  Through the relationships with my students, other teachers at Grace Center, other YAGMS, and my newfound community in Malaysia I know I will have much to feel spiritually rich about.  However, I think God’s dream is greater than my dreams or the dreams of my students.  I ask all of you to walk this journey with me.  To pray and dream for the stories yet to be told. 

If you would like to help financially check out the instructions to the right.  As another way to get everyone at home involved I am also collecting dreams.  I will write dreams of people I know here in the US on yellow slips of paper and put them in a box.  If you’d like to share a dream please shoot me an email at and I will add it to the box of dreams.  Your dreams may be already realized like becoming a doctor or teacher.  I.e.  “I dreamed of becoming a teacher and I made it happen.”  Or dreams with unwritten stories like making a new friend or writing a book.  I will then carry the box of dreams with me to Malaysia and have my students write their dreams on blue slips.  This way when I return home I can show how your stories have been shared and show how those dreams have come together to create a new story.  I dream of a year full of opportunities to use my gifts and become spiritually rich.  With this will come many challenges so as you walk this journey with me I have a challenge for all of you.  Share your story, listen to someone else’s story, be in relationship with God’s people, and watch as dreams are realized.  Fill your barn with stories of love, hope, and knowing God’s people.