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.


  1. Jenna, your photos are just breathtaking. Thanks for sharing.

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