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

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.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

catch-up (but don't eat the ketchup)

In this current moment, it is down-pouring outside. It seems appropriate, because I feel as if I have had a down-pour of experiences both in KK (Kota Kinabalu) and KL (Kuala Lumpur) over the past two weeks. I simply cannot retell it all.

So, I will give you a recap of some highlights, memorable people and noteworthy tidbits:

---The scenes---

*** Exploring Mt. Kinabalu Provincial Park: Of course, one of my favorite parts is anything that involves being outside or - even better - in the mountains. We thoroughly enjoyed the escape from the heat, as we relished (and needed) the use of hot showers for the first time since arriving in Sabah (the state KK is in). We climbed a bit, ate a bit and relaxed a lot as we sat down for readings and conversation about Malaysia, its customs, people, religions and more while staying at the "J Residence."

*** Manukan Island: So, you know those pictures you see in travel magazines of tropical islands that simply look photo-shopped? Yeah, we went there. Malaysia is beautiful.

"Trouble in paradise" when Sarah cut her foot on some coral, but she was meticulously cared for and is OK! 
***Brickfields: The neighborhood we are staying at near KL Sentral; a primary transportation hub and crossroads of dozens of cultures, religions and people. As part of an assignment, we went around to try and find as many places of worship as we could. Within less than a square mile, we found a mosque, Methodist church, Taoist temple, two Hindu temples, one Lutheran church, a Buddhist complex, Methodist college and a partridge in a pear tree.

***National Mosque: This is one of the only mosques in the country that allows non-Muslims, inside. It was a beautiful and serene place located in the heart of the capital city. As a sign of respect and to follow the customs, the women wore purple robes to cover their skin and hair if they were not wearing appropriate attire (clothing plus a hijab). We also took off our shoes, which is a common practice in many places of worship.
At the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur.
*** Batu Caves: Once again, I think I was particularly infatuated with this place because it was amidst God's "green" Creation. These ancient caves hold one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India. We happened to arrive when they were performing a ritual at the Lord Murugan Temple, which involved pouring many jars of various substances to wash a deity. Also, there were monkeys everywhere. I had one climb on me to try and steal a rock in my hand (I imagine it thought the rock was food) and ANOTHER one actually took my 100 Plus (like Gatorade), opened it and drank it within a matter of seconds. It was clearly not this monkey's first rodeo.
Temple within the Batu Caves, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.
*** Pavilion KL, Suria KLCC, Plaza Lowyat, Lot 10, Midvalley Mega Mall and the Gardens, Fahrenheit 88, Berjaya Times Square, Bangsar Village, Avenue K, Starhill Gallery, Sunway Pyramid: Yeah, so what I just listed off was a small handful of the malls located in Kuala Lumpur. There are SCADS of malls and shopping... everywhere. They are big (most around 6-8 stories tall), extravagant (amusement parks possibly cooler than MoA, rooftop forests, light-show fountains, etc.) and crowded. It has definitely been an interesting experience seeing so much wealth juxtaposed with great poverty - sometimes across the street. It has also been a challenge to stay within our stipend and commitment to simple living when many things seem so cheap to us in USD. Example: large package of Oreos at the 7-11 for $1.00?? Yes, please! Right? Well... :-/ 

---The people---

*** Carrie and Gary: We met these two while at dinner with the Bishop of the BCCM (Basel Christian Church of Malaysia) in Sabah. Carrie worked at a Lutheran camp in Michigan this summer and Gary lived in Minneapolis once upon a time when his parents were students at Luther Seminary, where I am a student! Both also help with a youth group in KK and we exchanged numbers so I can get involved during my year in Malaysia! I can't wait!! :)

*** Maria: A Japanese woman I met with two other women from the group while we were running some trails at Mount Kinabalu Provincial Park. She was there alone and getting ready to hike Mt. Kinabalu the next day with a group. She thought we were "so cool" for running the trails; we thought we were huffing and puffing like dogs.
After our trail run, we "ran" into Maria again at the base of Mt. Kinabalu.
*** Mom an' Pop: While out on the streets looking for food (that sounds bad... we were out in our neighborhood in KL looking for "street food"), a small group of us found a husband and wife who were selling homemade  - everything. They had literally cooked up pots and pots of Indian food and set it up on a table at a street corner to sell. Two of the guys each got a DENSE container full of goodness for 5 ringgits (less than $2). One of the women in our group pointed at a plate of food the woman was eating herself and asked to get some of that. It turns out she had actually bought it somewhere down the street, but she proceeded to bag up what was on her plate and gave it to Julia free of charge.

*** Audrey and Suresh, Margaret and Eric and Beatrice: Friends I made during fellowship lunch after attending church at "Luther House" in KL. I was the lone member of the group that didn't fit in any of the other vehicles that were driving to lunch, so Eric and Margaret offered to take me. Beatrice is their adorable baby (who fell asleep holding onto me - nbd) and Audrey is her godmother. Audrey and I had a great conversation about traditional Chinese weddings and through that conversation, she offered to take some of us shopping for saris/sarees with her husband, Suresh! It was extremely overwhelming, but thoroughly enjoyable. We're Facebook friends. :)
Sari shopping with Audrey (not pictured) and Suresh. He was a trooper for shopping with a bunch of ladies and a major asset as our barter guru (which actually means "teacher" in Malay).
*** John Ben, Mariah, Sabrina and Joseph: You might have already seen this on Facebook. We were talking to these guys after church on Sunday and found out they just moved to Malaysia from Minnesota 6 months ago! What's more crazy? They lived 5 blocks from my apartment in the Twin Cities! I still can't get over this. It's a (crazy stinkin) small world, after all.

---Little Things... ---

*** American food: It has been rather interesting seeing, tasting and experiencing what classifies as "Western food" over here. Example: the "Western set" breakfast at the YMCA (where we're staying) is comprised of an egg (over-easy), baked beans, toast and a chicken hot dog. The ketchup... well, let me just say the first ingredient is sugar, not tomatoes. The pizza is good - and bad - depending on where you go (Pizza Hut makes the "bad" list). McDonald's - I've heard - tastes like McDonalds. Oh - and the Colonel (the KFC Colonel) is EVERYWHERE. I mean - - - EVERYWHERE.

*** The Porcelain Throne: I will talk a bit more about this later, but the toilet situation is certainly one we have had to figure out. On a similar note, bowel movements have become a greatly momentous occasion among the group. When your diet and virtually everything you know has changed, the plumbing doesn't always work as it normally would. So, yay for poops!
Another mysterious toilet contraption.
*** Germans: We have enjoyed language class and time well-spent and much enjoyed with a crew from Bavaria - which is where my aunt, uncle and cousins live! I cannot tell you how much I've enjoyed speaking auf Deutsch with them and simply exploring Malaysia, together. Ironically, it has been like one more piece of "home" that's made me feel closer to family and simply closer in the world to God's people. Ich liebe das!
My new Bavarian friends, Sophie and Paula (missing Hannah)!
*** Smokes and smells: There are so many exotic and alluring aromas here, from incense to baked roti (a type of bread) to hookah to durian (the "king of the fruits"). In the States, I would often turn my nose to the smell of smoke, but here I find myself intrigued by the deeper stories behind these scents. I'll speak to this more later, but for now just know my nose is happily curious. :)

I promised myself I wouldn't write long blog posts, but as I said earlier, there is so much to tell! I thought everything that happened over the past two weeks warranted a longer story and I thank you if you were able to stay with me!

6 of us (plus country coordinator Peter) are heading back to East Malaysia, to the island of Borneo, the state of Sabah and the city of Kota Kinabalu on Friday. We continue to learn Bahasa Malaysia (the native tongue) and venture out into the grand city of KL for a few more days. Until then, keep an eye on my Facebook for picture posts - which I am much better at doing than blog posts. :P

Love from KL! PB&J,

Prayer requests:
As we prepare to disperse to our various site placements, please pray for smooth transitions, as well as open hearts and open minds. May the communities we enter be blessed by our presence, as I am sure we will be blessed by theirs. Also, please pray for our safe travels as we take trains, buses, cars and planes to get where we're going. Thank you and please let me know if you have prayer requests! <3

Saturday, August 24, 2013

the laundry view

My fellow YAGMs and I just did laundry on the rooftop of the Sabah Theological Seminary and let me tell you, the view didn't suck. It was hands-down the most enjoyable laundry experience I've ever had.

Lots has already taken place already during our time in Kota Kinabalu; however, our country coordinator, Peter, has been gracious and flexible with our jet lag and general need for adjustment to this new place. We arrived two days ago (at about 1AM) and here are just a handful of things we've learned, seen and been puzzled by:

- STS: Sabah Theological Seminary; our first "home base" as we go through our first week of orientation in East Malaysia on the island of Borneo in the city of KK and the state of Sabah
- KK: Kota Kinabalu; a pretty large city that will be my home for the next 11 months and our first stop as a YAGM Malaysia group; you can find everything here from local fish markets to movie theaters to Coach stores (who knew??)
- Laksa: a superb dish some of us had at a restaurant in the "City Center" that comprised of a broth, spices, tofu, shrimp, chicken, cilantro and deliciousness
- Umbra juice:  I called it "guac juice" or a "garden in a glass" a very strange concoction of avocado, something sour and lots and lots of greeny goodness; the glass was passed around the group and there were many shocked, disturbed and delighted faces - a wide array of reactions to say the least
- "Squaty potties": the bathroom situation is still puzzling many of the women; there's a bucket with water (sometimes), no toilet paper and no instructions on what you're supposed to do. More on this topic, later.
- Fellow Americans!! Tonight, we met a family of ELCA long-term missionaries who teach here at the seminary in Sabah. My ears perked up when I heard a woman say to two young boys, "Do you see the YAGMs?" ha - it was a welcome comfort to hear someone refer to us as "YAGMs"
- Terima Kaisah: [tah-ree-mah kah-sea] "thank you" in Malay; the first thing we learned! :)
- Mount Kinabalu: the tallest mountain in Malaysia; this morning, we had an incredible view of the thing on our run and tomorrow we head there to do some hiking. We can't wait!

Can't wait to share more, soon! One of the YAGMs, Sean, suggested an "electronic free" time on our retreat to Mount Kinabalu (an excellent idea!), so we will be MIA for the next few days.

In the meantime, please pray for everyone's continued adjustment to this new place. We have some bodies in the group that are trying to get over colds, some trying to get more/better rest and minds that are very full and over-stimulated by new things. We are very blessed and thankful to be here and trying to enjoy every moment with healthy bodies, minds and spirits.

[peace, blessings, joy]
~Jenna B.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Home with clean underwear

A wise friend of mine once said, "Home is where you have the most clean underwear."

This sense of "home" is one I've been toying around with all summer, because in May I moved out of my apartment and took my clean underwear many places throughout the summer. I did not have a place to call my own, but I was welcomed into the homes of many - graciously, lovingly and without question.

In Shane Claiborne's book, "The Irresistible Revolution," he questions whether or not Jesus was "homeless." True, he didn't have a place with a dresser where he kept his undies (not even sure if Jesus wore underwear...but we don't need to go there); however, throughout His ministry Jesus always had a place to enjoy a meal and lay His head at night. Friends and family took Him in everywhere He went - even from the humble beginnings of a stable. The important thing is not that people were there to invite Him into their home, but more importantly into their hearts and into their lives.

Throughout the summer, I was invited into many lives. From extended stays with friends to impromptu nights with church members, familiar grounds in the Northern Minnesota woods to foreign space amidst the Sequoia's in California, I was welcomed by my brothers and sisters in a way that made me feel deeply cared for and loved - in a place of home. I was never without a home, because I was never without the comfort of knowing there is a great cloud surrounding me.

I come from a place of great privilege where I chose to be without a roof over my head for a short time, but the experience was eye-opening none-the-less. I wish to thank everyone who invited me into their homes at some point this summer and everyone who invited me into a place of home, into their very lives.

As I sit here at the airport in Seoul, South Korea with my eight brothers and sisters with whom I travel to Malaysia, I feel whole. I have already grown to love them in a way that makes me feel at home. I can't wait to meet my host community and find yet another place of home when we arrive at our placement sites in a few short weeks to love, engage, hear stories and unpack our underwear.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A solid seven to start

A year is a long time - and yet, it's not. 

As the days tick away, I take each in stride knowing that every day has worth and offers me new opportunities to change, to grow, to learn.

Most of you probably know I'm going to Malaysia in a little over a month. I have tried to prepare for this year of mission work since January, but I have faced the reality that I could never be fully prepared or "ready" for what lies ahead.

However, here is what I do know:
  1. I am serving as a missionary through the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) program called YAGM (Young Adults in Global Mission) with nine other young adults throughout Malaysia for one year.
  2. My placement includes teaching, learning and growing with differently-abled children and youth at Seri Mengasih Center, an independent and secular NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) located on the South China Sea in south Kota Kinabalu or KK. I will live at the facility with a private room and shared bathroom and kitchen space.
  3. The people of Malaysia speak a number of languages, including English, Malay, Mandarin and others. I'm pretty solid on English ;) but I look forward to learning Malay and possibly other languages during our two-week, in-country training in the capital city, Kuala Lumpur, when the nine of us first arrive in Malaysia.
  4. God has prepared me. While I might not know everything God has in store for me in this next year, I know the stories I take with me from my previous 25 years will help and guide me on the way.  
  5. I'm nervous. Several people have asked if I'm nervous and I realize I have never answered with a heartfelt, "Yes!" Well, there you go. I believe I am leaving a place of comfort and security and moving from that makes anyone nervous. Nerves are simply the current that keeps us alive and alert when life changes course. 
  6. This isn't about me. I am so excited to share stories about this next year, but I anticipate they will not be stories about me, but about God and God's work in the world. We are all vessels with words to write, pictures to capture and love to give to spread God's abounding love with one another - from San Diego to Sudan, Minnesota to Malaysia.
  7. You are a blessing in my life. Have you ever stopped to think about how the interactions in your life have shaped who you are? It's overwhelming. We simply don't have the capacity to remember each and every meaningful conversation, loving hug, pant-wetting laugh or content sigh contributed to someone we love. At least, I know I don't!! I am blessed beyond words with a cloud chock-full of witnesses. I am eternally grateful for those who love me, support me and are there for me in the past, present and future days of my life. Thank you!
I can't wait to share this experience with you! I will ask for your prayers and also ask that you give me requests in return! I would really like to know what's going on in your lives and I have found prayer is an incredibly powerful way to stay connected - with God as our rock in all things, at all times and in all places.

PB&J (Peace, blessings & joy),

~Jenna B. 

Prayer request: Please pray for the current YAGM missionaries. They have spent nearly 11 months serving, loving and growing in the communities many of them now call home. May God continue to bless their time together with brothers and sisters in Christ and nourish them with experiences that will forever impact their lives and those around them.