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 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