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 http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/04/palm-oil-for-the-west-exploitation-for-young-workers-in-malaysia/274769/) 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 email@example.com 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.