Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. ~Hebrews 12:1

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Malaysia Holiday and Hong Kong Settling

Once again, I will share upfront that blogging has not been my strong suit in the past, but I'm going to try again. I know it's a relatively easy and accessible way to stay in touch and share stories with people near and far. 

It's been just over a month since I first arrived in Hong Kong and I figure it's due time to share a thing or two about my time here, thus far. Please enjoy some stories, findings and conundrums as told through pictures.:

Aerial view of Kota Kinabalu. 
I first flew to Hong Kong from Chicago on August 9th, but after about 30 hours in my new home away from home, I hopped back on a plane to visit my former home of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia. This is where I served under the program Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) with the Lutheran church in 2013-14 It was an immense gift to see old friends, visit some of my favorite little spots (including the school where I served: Seri Mengasih Centre). and, of course. gorge on the food my belly had missed for just over a year.   

One of the classes at Seri Mengasih Centre in KK, Malaysia.

I was touched when the students at Seri Mengasih remembered me and really moved to see the progress many of them had made in a year! I was particularly impressed with the behavioral improvements of many of the autism students apart of the Kololo program

Shortly after I came back to HK, I left with the faculty of Lutheran Theological Seminary (LTS) for a retreat on Cheung Chau Island. Many Hong Kong locals visit this quaint place just south of Hong Kong Island for holiday. We were there to discuss the future of LTS and were later joined by the LTS student body for an all-school retreat. This was a great opportunity (and perhaps a bit overwhelming, at times) for me to get to know a lot of people. Pictured here is my LTS “family,” a small group of students plus two faculty members who join together once a month for intentional conversation and fellowship. It’s a great way to nurture a more intimate sense of community within the larger school. We are the family of “Kindness.” So cute, right? The members of ”Kindness" come from Myanmar, Indonesia, Hong Kong and USA - quite a diverse group!

This is one of the Burmese students at LTS, Mar Lar. We are sporting sweet headphones, because LTS is a multi-lingual theological institution. There are actually two “tracks” of courses at the school - one in English and one in Cantonese. That means the messages given at public gatherings like chapel, meals and - in this case - the school retreat are all translated. Most things are translated from Cantonese to English and vice versa, but Mandarin is sometimes thrown in the mix, as well. It’s a beautiful and challenging aspect of this place which can make things like worship very interesting; although, one of the speakers at the retreat shared a quote from Father Thomas Keating, which has really stuck with me: “Silence is God’s first language, everything else is translation.” Chew on that for a bit.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

4. Hugs, high-fives and thumb flicks – when language or voice threatens to keep you from connecting with children, watch out for these guys! The first two were familiar, but the “thumb flick” is something I’ve learned in Malaysia and plan to bring back to the States! The younger kids tend to favor the hugs, but one of my favorite older girls (oh come on, we all have favorites!), Jacquelyn, is always waiting to give me a hug on the porch when I get home while she waits for her ride. God knows the power a hug holds. It doesn’t matter what kind of day I’ve had, Jacquelyn hugs fill the world with unicorns and rainbows.
I met this cutie at a wedding in a "kampung" or village outside KK. We couldn't speak with each other, but found other ways to communicate and become friends. 

5. Orion – my cousin in Texas first taught me how to spot “the belt” and it has since provided a place of solace for me throughout the world. Honestly, it’s silly but gazing at the constellation totally makes me think of the mice singing in American Tale. “Somewhere out there,” another is eyeing the same image, gawking in awe and submission. I’ve seen Orion from many places throughout my life and even talked with people on the phone, connected on some level with this common simultaneous sight. Stars have always amazed me, but there’s something beautiful in the continuity of seeing the same light gazing down on you from so many different perspectives.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

#3 - holidays 'n' festivals

3. Holidays and festivals – I’ve learned so many new traditions and celebrated countless new holidays throughout this year. I’m also blessed to know people from different ethnicities in Malaysia – primarily Chinese, Dusun and Kadazandusun (two native groups from Sabah) – which means I’m blessed to enjoy many different experiences. What I find particularly beautiful is that everyone recognizes and respects their neighbor’s traditions. Public holidays aren’t just for things the majority observes and everyone is cognizant of what their neighbor may be celebrating. The first person to wish me a “Merry Christmas” this year was my Muslim housemate. It’s not something she celebrates, but she knew it was important to me and that’s all that matters.

You'll find these red-topped containers with special treats everywhere at the time of Chinese New Year!

Moon Cake Festival (Google it!) 
As you might gather from the examples above, food centers around pretty much every festival or celebration, here. It's pretty great.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

back at it!

This has certainly been a year to learn not only about other people and other places, but also about myself. Well, if there’s one big thing I’ve learned about myself it’s that I am horrendous at blogging!! I don’t know if it’s the time commitment, the vulnerability in sharing something so publicly or if this is just not right for me right now. One thing I have remained committed to – partly because I really do enjoy it – is sharing pictures on Facebook. You may have run across people doing a project called “100 Happy Days.” It’s a discipline that challenges you to find one happy thing every day for 100 days and share it using pictures. As I move into the final months of my service here in Malaysia, I really do want to share some of the memorable moments, heartwarming relationships and breathtaking things I’ve witnessed on this side of the world. I just watched the movie Julie and Julia for the first time, last night. Part of the story is about a woman who sets a challenge for herself to share experiences daily through blogging. I would like to somehow combine these two efforts and share 100 things with you that have made these past several months beautiful in so many ways. I might include more than one thing in one day and my Internet could still be iffy, at times. Please bear with me, but also help keep me accountable! Thanks for reading!

Love and a hug, wherever you are.
~JB <3

1.    #1: KK – It seems like a simple yet also a HUGE thing to start by giving thanks for the entire city I call home, but it needs to happen. Last night, I had the first of what I’m sure will be many moments to come where I just stopped to soak in everything around me in the great city of Kota Kinabalu. For you Minnesota folks, it feels about the size of Duluth - perfect. I am grateful for its people, its amenities, challenges, blend of cultures, hospitality, food, nightlife, ocean view and “it’s all good” pace of life. Many people enjoy traveling, making visits out of the country or over to the capital, “the city” of Kuala Lumpur for holiday, but ask nearly anyone which they prefer and they’ll tell you: KK. It’s the place to visit. It’s the place to stay. It’s the place to be.
You could see lion dances spring up everywhere in KK during Chinese New Year.

#2: Music – Most of the music people listen to here comes from the States, but there’s just something different about it. For one thing, their deejays know how to mix it up. Tune into the radio and you'll hear top 40’s, oldies, rock, Jewel, Psy, U2, K-pop and everything in between - with a little Sabah flavor mixed in, too. I really can’t tell you how much I enjoy listening to music, here. In some cases, it’s like hearing it for the first time. Yet, at other times, it’s the song that’s been permanently embedded in my heart – and everyone’s here, too. We’ll crank the radio and gut out some Celine Dion – because when Malaynglish doesn’t quite cut it, My Heart Will Go On can apparently break all language barriers.
Dannela and I rockin' out in the back seat headed to the train station.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

strange(r) encounters

Have you ever befriended a stranger?

When we encounter "strange" people, it's often alarming. Most of us do a quick inventory before or as we make the initial contact: Does this person look legit? Do I have an out? Do I really need to talk to this person?

While maintaing safety precautions, I am trying to shift these gut reactions to a more positive outlook with my encounters: What is this person's story? What could I learn from this person? What connections might we find with each other?

Over the past few months, I have been blessed by countless strangers; people whom I don't know, yet gain some sense of "knowing" when I walk away. Here are three stories that share the joy of meeting strangers:

Fellow YAGM Julia and I were on our way into the city via bus. We had walked for 15 minutes and were about halfway to our bus station when it started raining. Correction: pouring. [It really doesn't rain much here - it pours.] I had a rain jacket and we were sharing an umbrella, but as we looked around and found no shelter, we faced the inevitable: we were going to get drenched. Over the rain, we heard some yelling in the distance. As we looked around, we found the source; a few people were hanging outside windows from a nearby house, yelling towards us and waving their hands. Oh, yeah! That gesture means "come" in Malaysia - not "go away!" After a few uncertain glances at each other, Julia said to me, "Well, we can go for it and this could be a really cool opportunity." Right on. We decided to accept the invitation.

A young woman, two children and an older man warmly took us into their modest home and invited us to sit down and rest. We probably looked so helpless, soaked by the rain with timid looks on our faces. Immediately, there were hot drinks in our hands and food at our laps. It was truly humbling - and comforting. From there, we did our best to communicate with Bahasa Malayu and a bit of English. [note: Julia is an absolute rockstar at BM; I consider myself fairly decent at it] As the rain started to let up, Julia and I glanced at our watches and told our gracious hosts we needed to get going to the bus station so we could get into town and meet some friends. "The buses don't run often on the weekend. We'll take you," they simply told us. And we received another undeserved, unexpected gift from our new friends.
Julia talking with one of our new friends as we get a ride into the city.
This little one was trying to sneak pictures of ME, so I decided to do the same! ;)

I recently enjoyed one week of holiday, which I grasped as an opportunity to see more of the state of Sabah. I traveled in one giant loop, which involved traveling solo and with others - but involved relying on the help of those around me each step of the way.

Riding the train with school children (more strangers-made-friends!) from Beaufort to Tenom.
I ventured to Beaufort on the train with several coworkers for a day trip and made plans to continue on the train by myself to Tenom. I waited at the station for about two hours, which gave me time to read, crank out about 20 postcards and meet my Malaysian grandmother. If my white skin and blonde hair didn't give away the fact that I "didn't belong" there, my gimonstrous backpacking pack certainly did. As I sat writing away, the woman across from me suddenly shoved a bag in front of me. "Makan." [Eat.] I say she's my Malaysian grandmother, because when I tried to thank her and say I was full, she gave me the look we all know: You look hungry and you will respect your elder. Don't make me say it again, child. Admittedly, those were the best fried bananas I've ever had. Plus, the one way we can all communicate with one another is through our stomachs.

After that, we spoke briefly and found out we were both bound for Tenom. It was a simple conversation, but it held so much love and value for me as I sat there - no longer alone. I asked my new friend to watch my things as I relieved myself and when I returned, she helped me purchase my train ticket. That was greatly to my advantage, because this Malaysian grandmother got in line before everyone - and before anyone knew what was happening with the ticket sales. Needless to say, we both arrived safely in Tenom and went our own ways with full tummies and full hearts.

The final story took place today, November 6th. I went on my usual evening jog, but unlike most days when I run with a coworker I was solo. I ran the full length of the beach and took advantage of the opportunity to do some exploring on my own. I was walking around taking pictures of the crabs when a fisherman came up to me in his boat - right from the sea! I'm not sure if he thought I was trying to sneak pictures of him (which I might have been... sort of. hehe!), but the next thing I know he's pulling a squid out of the water and asking if I want a picture! "Sure!" I excitedly exclaim. Then, he proceeded to walk towards me, holding it out - for ME to hold! It was so expected, but actually quite thrilling. After taking a few pictures of me, I asked if we could take a picture together. This led to a conversation in broken Bahasa Malayu and sharing of names. I hope to visit the resort down the road someday, not to stay there or eat at the restaurant, but to visit my new friend Brian in the kitchen.  
You can see Brian in the distance - but you can also probably tell I was trying to capture the crabs in the foreground.
Crabby dude.
The unexpected joy of holding a live squid ??
Ha! Selfie with Brian and Mr. Squid.
Kawan saya, Brian.
Brian's boat with the beautiful scenery.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

still alive! ;)

Uffda! It's been awhile since my last post. Life is so busy here and I'm finding that writing is something that hasn't taken priority. I LOVE taking pictures and if you're on Facebook, I hope you've enjoyed some of my "stories" here through those.

In an attempt to get everyone caught up, I'm going to just let you know what a typical week looks like, now that I've settled into a fairly regular rhythm:


6AM(ish) - wake up; go jogging or swimming at the beach; come back and get ready for the day

7:30 - school starts! *I rotate around to various departments and areas at SMC, which I can talk about later in other blogs

7:40 - exercise with students; this usually involves walking and stretching with some variations (like dancing!!)

8:30 - school gets rolling - teaching, baking, therapy, etc.

10AM - break! All the students eat something from home or from the canteen, which usually means a healthy portion of "mee goreng" (fried noodles), hot dog, fried baked goods, cookies or cake [yeah, not the healthiest eating habits, which is why I bring a carrot and/or apple every day, now]

10:30 - school resumes

Noon - one hour break for lunch and "rehat" (rest)

1PM - back to school; the afternoons look much more relaxed and "go with the flow" (again, I will talk details in later blogs)

3PM - school's out! Teachers (including myself) stick around until every student gets picked up, with the exception of a few who hang around for "tuition" or special tutoring/care; our work day ends at 3:30, so I'm free to leave by then

3:30/4 - rehat! I truly take a nap every day and there is NO SHAME! It's glorious and good for the soul. After napping, I will do anything from grab a snack, chat it up with my housemates, go grocery shopping, upload and edit pictures, e-mail or FaceTime people, write postcards - ha! basically anything but blog, I guess. ;)

5:30(ish) - go jogging with my co-worker (either the beach or an awesome park nearby called Perdana)

6:45 - dinner alone with my housemates; I sometimes make my own food, but there's usually food already made and it's insisted I eat that (noooo problem!)

7:30 - chillax - talk with housemates, watch a movie together, do laundry, back to photo editing or reading; FaceTiming

9/10 - beddy bye time!


*** seriously, Saturdays vary so much, I'll have to fill you in on some specific weekends. However, here are some of the things I've done for the past few:

  • Dusun wedding - a traditional Malay wedding in the "kampung" or village where several of my co-workers' families live
  • Chinese wedding - complete with "tea ceremony" and the tradition of giving and taking money from the bride and groom
  • Rafflesia flowers - one of my co-workers has an uncle who runs a center where you can view the world's largest flowers in the wild - love me some jungle trekking
  • Western groceries - did some "guilty pleasure" shopping and made a few purchases to share with my new communities, including Blue Box [Kraft] mac 'n' cheese, pretzels and gummy bears
  • Beach day - this wasn't actually on a weekend, but a holiday excursion with friends from church in the middle of the week (so it felt like Saturday)
  • Eklektos - this is the student-led worship service at my church; I wish I could make it there every week, but other opportunities make that difficult so I get there when I can! 

6:30AM - wake up; get ready for church; get a ride from my lovely friend, Connie

7:30 - church at BCCM KK (E) *the "E" stands for English

9:30 - fellowship after worship and head to breakfast with one of several wonderful groups I've found myself connected with

11AM - done for the day! At this point, I gauge my needs for the rest of the weekend and decide whether to 1) ask for a ride home 2) take the bus home from wherever I am (this often fails and people insist on driving me back) 3) figure out what the people I had breakfast with are doing for the rest of the day and tag along! This could entail meandering about in one of the malls, going to a movie, heading to someone's house for games or relaxing, bowling, etc.

9PM - sleepy time

Now that you know what a "typical" week looks like for me, I look forward to sharing more detailed experiences with you, including: people, places, challenges and puzzlements. 

I really want to try and be more intentional about blogging, so feel free to call me out and/or help keep me accountable! I give you permission! ;)

Peace and love from Sabah,

Prayer requests: 

There is a couple at my church who is expecting their first baby around Christmas. He is Singaporean and they want their baby to have Singapore citizenship, so they are going there for the final two months of her pregnancy; they leave on Monday! Please pray for their safe travels and a continued healthy pregnancy.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

the new digs, the new peeps, the new new new!

Today marks exactly one month since I've lived in Malaysia and one week since I have settled into my new home at the Seri Mengasih Center. Uffda! So much has happened and, as I tried to explain in Malanglish to my new housemates, it's a bit "overwhelming" sitting down to write a blog about… so, so much.

Let's start simple: day-to-day living style and patterns.

I am happily residing in the "Group Home" with seven other young women who work at the Seri Mengasih Center. I have my own private room, complete with "Air Con" (woohoo!!), two huge closets, WiFi, mini fridge and a bathroom with a washing machine in it. We share a kitchen and common space, as well as meals together, lots of laughing, some language barriers (not much, though - they are great at English!) and the occasional Korean or Philippine romantic comedy.

I went to cook something one night and found THIS in the wok on the stove! Yikes!! Natalie shared it with everyone, though, and it was delicious!
I can see the beach from my window and enjoy yoga and/or running on it every morning. I ran in the afternoon one day and someone at the Center apparently saw me (and thought I was crazy, because it was "too early and too hot") and asked the next day if I wanted to join him in the early evening, as he runs every day, too. So, now I have a running buddy! Awesome!  

Selfie the first night in my new backyard.
The public beach ("Beach One") in my neighborhood of Tanjung Aru is about a 10 minute walk from me, as well as a number of restaurants and about 50 "food stalls." They serve everything from fresh caught seafood to corn on a stick, meat on a stick, fruit on a stick to fresh coconut milk - served straight-up with a straw in said coconut. Walk another 10 minutes and you get to the "downtown" area of Tanjung Aru, where I can get groceries, minutes for my super stellar Nokia phone (SO old school!!) and catch the bus into KK (Kota Kinabalu).

The loving, the challenging: Seri Mengasih Center

After serving in a church for three years, my supervisor, Peter, thought it would be a good stretch for me to experience serving at an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization). SMC is a center for differently-abled children to young adults. It provides a safe environment for young people with autism, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities to learn basic life skills and vocational training. For the first two weeks, I am rotating around to each of the areas (and there area a lot - around a dozen!) to see if there's a good fit for me in any one particular area. 

So far, I've helped in the Sheltered Employment area in both the bakery and the canteen, observed the "Kopolo" class for autistic youth, worked with a few different Physical Therapists as they helped students one-on-one and spent time in the Multi-Sensory Room where kids dance, do various physical and mental "challenge courses" and just relax. 

I am very much in the "observing" stage right now, as well as "learning" as I soak in everything around me AND practice my Bahasa Malayu. It's become very clear very quickly that Peter was quite right when he told me SMC is the perfect place to learn this new language. The people here are helpful, patient and willing to help me in whatever way they can. I am blessed beyond words. 

SMC has SO many adorable, caring and quirky little people. I love them. I'm trying my best to learn the students' names, speak as much BM (Bahasa Malayu) with them as I can and just get to know each of them, individually. Some of them speak very good English and all of them try their darndest to communicate with me and make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Their welcoming smiles and personalities greet me anew every day and I can't wait to tell you more about them throughout the year! 
New buddy: Justin! He is obsessed with Justin Bieber and sang the entire song "Boyfriend" to my 4-year-old niece on FaceTime, one morning. When he finished 4 minutes later, she asked if he could sing another. Ha!
SMC also has a fantastic staff. Most of them are 20-somethings, so I can already sense roots to some pretty awesome friendships forming. They are extremely welcoming and have already invited me to come visit their "kampung" or villages where they are from and travel together on weekend get-aways. Over the years, I've learned there is nothing more vital than a solid community at work and it seems I am blessed with yet another great one!

New adventures in worship and faith community:

This morning, I was beyond thrilled to get completely enveloped in a church community at Abundant Life Celebration, a BCCM church in KK. The BCCM is part of the Lutheran World Federation and it was SO FREAKIN EXCITING to hear a sermon in Malaysia about Marty Luther and "faith as works." Ha! The pastor was very charismatic and when I talked to him after the service, I found out he was at Luther Seminary (staying in Stub!) this month! What??! This was amazing in itself, but the truly thrilling part of the morning was when we (Peter, fellow YAGMs Sarah and Delia and I) were bombarded - in the most loving possible way - by over a dozen youth from the church. They were ecstatic about talking with us and took us out for lunch, treated us to "Bubble Tea," pulled a great prank on Delia and are taking us to the movies, tonight. 

I have felt a very prominent void in the lack of a faith community here until today and I thank God for the opportunities that lie ahead with this community. Word got around that I have served as a youth leader and am studying to become a pastor, so the people at Abundant Life and I are mutually excited about learning and growing together. One of the main reasons I felt called to serve with YAGM for this year was to try and find where God's church grows smaller by bridging God's people across the world. I am blessed with a loving congregation in Minnesota that prays for me, walks with me and loves me more than I could ever deserve. I'm excited to see how the "me" can change to a "we" as Minnesotans and Malaysians learn more about each other. We have many differences and things to learn about each other, but many similarities, as well. We already share a love for the same God and that seems like a pretty solid place to start. 

Many thanks for those who are following! If there's anything you're curious about, please let me know. I feel I'm getting to the point where I can answer questions about this new place and I don't always know what strikes peoples' interests.

Also, I have my new address for those who have asked: 

Seri Mengasih Centre
℅ Jenna B.
PWD 75 Jalan Selangor
88100 Tanjung Aru, 
Kota Kinabalu Sabah, Malaysia

(Peace, blessings, joy)
~Jenna B.

Prayer requests: 

Please pray that each of the YAGMs will continue to "settle" in their new spaces. Some things are very different right now. I know it's especially hard when people have major language barriers and dietary changes. I have been blessed with a good adjustment to the change in eating habits, but I know some are not as fortunate. Please also pray for patience and vulnerability, as we face the need to be dependent on those around us for various things like transportation and food. May God bless us with communities that care, challenge and support us and that we may do the same for them as we learn to be codependent brothers and sisters.