Sunday, November 10, 2013

Goodbyes and Hellos

Aokam Benevolent Centre - July 2013

    "Some people come into our lives and quickly go.  Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same."   
- Flavia Weedn

    Hello friends and family,
    
    I have recently realized that I have neglected to really post much of anything since returning to the United States.  I did indeed land back in Great Falls, Montana on July 20th, 2013.  Since then I have made short stops in Havre, MT and Moorhead, MN, and then finally landed in Columbus, OH for seminary at Trinity Lutheran Seminary.  

  Since returning I have went back and forth between emotions.  Some days feeling so immensely happy and privileged to have had such an incredible experience and to be back, and other days pretty broken-hearted about leaving some absolutely incredible people back in Malaysia. Some days I have hundreds of stories and words and experiences to tell people, and other days I simply have no words to express it at all.  

  If I've learned anything in these last couple of months about telling the story though, it's that it's all about these people.  These incredible individuals who opened their lives, homes, and country for me to come as I was. So for today, no more words from me, just the faces of those I love, who have left footprints on my heart and left me never, ever the same.  


Goodbye Celebrations
Last weekly lunch at Kedai Kopi Tawau with the Pangs. 


                           
Birthday Celebration with Tawau Tanjung (my church) Crew!


                          
The line dancing ladies at our last practice together! <3

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Notecard


     A year ago I was handed a note card. After a weekend of Discernment, Interviews, and Deep Conversation, I was asked to write down one of two countries I was feeling called to and why.  I was asked to write my feelings and hopes for the future and how I was feeling called to this place.  A 3x5 note card had never seemed so important to me before. 

    This weekend, as the new YAGM volunteers gathered in that same place, experienced similar things, and began to think about their own notecards I sat in Tawau, Sabah, Malaysia with a close friend and colleague talking about these very notecards.  How important they were, how we walked around with them as if we had the golden ticket in our pockets, but also how much of a stress they were as they held so much potential that was literally right in our hands.  

     And as I reflect on my notecard, I realize that I had no idea how beautiful this all could be. I had no idea that as scary and wonderful and exciting that notecard was, it's absolutely nothing compared to this place, to these people, to this food, and to this life experience. I had no idea how comfortable I could be in this place. That it wouldn't be a long visit while working to improve some place, but rather a new way of living life, finding home, and working to improve myself.  

     So today I decided to write a new note card.  However, as I sat down with my pen and 3x5, ready to make my checklist of hopes and dreams I came to a wall.  I can no longer try and put these places, feelings, and people into words. I'm so much further and deeper then anything that note card I wrote a year ago could even fathom, but I'm not ready to start a new one.  This place has become my home, these people have become my family, and I have realized that that "golden ticket" that I held one year ago has blurred into the edge of my current life as everything else around me sharpens into focus. 




     To the future YAGMs, congratulations!  You have the world ahead of you (literally), and I guarantee that in the coming months that you will learn and experience things that each of your note cards could not even imagine.  You're in the ride of a lifetime, so hold on tight my friends :)  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Gong Xi Fa Cai

Gong Xi Fa Cai!!! (Happy New Year!) 

Yes, today I write you a blog post with a title in Chinese!...except this is just the pronunciations of Chinese...and my translation is a rough translation...but hey, it's a start, right?  

  Chinese New Year began on February 10th and spans until February 25th this year.  Most of the celebrating happens from the night of February 9th until the night of the 12th, and then one more big celebration on the last day (Feb. 25th) as well.  

Gaya Street in KK all dressed up for Chinese New Year!  Red Lanterns Everywhere!

 
   Throughout my time here in Tawau I have been spending A LOT of time with the Chinese population.  Yes, these are Malaysians, but their ethnicity/heritage is Chinese!  So, because of the fact that I hang out with a lot of Chinese here, especially at church, this celebration is by far the biggest of the year!  Bigger then Christmas, bigger then January 1st New Year, bigger then Moon Cake Festival...let's just say it's REALLY REALLY BIG!  

   So what exactly does one do for Chinese New Year you might ask?  EAT!  and eat and eat, and go visiting friends, and eat, and light of firecrackers, and eat, and more firecrackers, and oh yeah did I mention eat?  Chinese New Year is a time for families to come together, and also for friends to come together.  It is a time built in to stop and enjoy each other's company and generally celebrate a successful year and wish everyone a happy and prosperous year to come.  Married adults will give "ang pau" (pronounced "ung..POW") to children, unmarried individuals, and elderly people. Ang pau is a little red envelope filled with money!  There is no set amount that it needs to be, but it is just a caring gift from those who are seen to be in the most stable position in society (married adults). 

   For me, Chinese New Year has come at a perfect time to celebrate the relationships I have formed here and also all I have learned and continue to learn each day. I have reached and passed the midway point of my YAGM year, and while there have been ups and downs throughout this experience I am reminded as I sit down for meals and visit friends throughout town how much love I have shared with these people and how many great memories I have made over the past 6 months.  

A dragon used for the "Dragon Dance" that is done during Chinese New Year in KK!

    This evening I went to my favorite restaurant in town to eat dinner with the owner and staff.  They are members of the church I attend, and while the restaurant isn't open this evening, they used it as the place to make a huge Chinese New Year feast and to just sit and relax for the evening.  We started the evening with a HUGE string of firecrackers...and I'm talking INTENSE firecrackers...by the end of the 180 string of large sized firecrackers, I was standing almost a full block away, and still engulfed in smoke and seeing sparks shooting at places not too far from where I was standing! 

    After the firecrackers we sat down to eat, and as I sat there at the table hearing only Chinese all around me, eating rice and raw fish and roasted duck, and pork and yams with my chopsticks, laughing as the guys showed videos of the huge firecracker explosions, and watching the surrounding fireworks out the windows I laughed to myself.  This was the first restaurant I came to in Tawau, the first place I knew how to walk to, the first person to ask me to just call her "Auntie" was sitting next to me.  This restaurant has become a "safe spot"  for me.  On rough days, when I just need a chocolate milkshake, or some excellent food that is either local or more Western this is where I come.  On good days when I want to celebrate a success or special occasion, this is where I come. On days where I have questions about new places to adventure, or how on earth to cook something, or even what a word or cultural norm means, this is, again, where I come. How lucky I am , to have these people, this place, this excellent food!

  Yes, it has indeed been a happy and prosperous year of the Dragon in 2012.  As I celebrate this new year here in Malaysia, I hope that the coming year bring you hope, joy and prosperity throughout the year of the Snake wherever you are!

A Lion Dance done to celebrate Chinese New Year in KK! 


Gong Xi Fa Cai!
Jessie

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Long Time No See

Hello Again!
  As I've said at the beginning of most of my semi-recent posts...it's been a while.  Turns out, I'm getting used to this place.  Life here is becoming more "normal"  and less crazy, new, stressful, and exotic.  I think the easiest way to do this may be to give you a bit of a timeline with pictures of what I've been up to! Some of this may be things I've already touched on, but I'll put it in anyways :)

Beginning of November:  Deaf Class Graduation/End of School Year



The two boys that I worked with in classes graduated this November, and will move on to a different school in Kota Kinabalu beginning January 2, 2013.


Middle of November: I attended a retreat with the other seven YAGMs and our Country Coordinator, Peter.  We traveled to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and studied migration, trade, and the history of Southeast Asia!



Beginning of December:  I returned to Tawau, and began working with the autistic class that works on daily living skills, and exercising with our autistic students who wanted to maintain classes during the holiday.  Sorry folks, no picture for this one.

CHRISTMAS: For Christmas I was able to participate in MANY activities here in Tawau.  I performed for the first time with my line dancing group, sang in a praise band, helped out with a Sunday School party, went Christmas Caroling,  and ate WAY TOO MANY delicious dinners, lunches, and mid-afternoon snacks with friends here.  While this was a time I had been very anxious about, it turned out to be great fun and an amazing and eye opening experience!



Last week of December: For the last week in December, I had the opportunity to travel with friends to their hometown.  Their hometown is a "kampung" or village, in the interior of Sabah and is located in what we American would call,  the jungle!  I was there for about a week, picking fruit, eating food, walking around the jungle, exploring the "kampung", watching native dances, and just hanging out with their family and friends. There wasn't much English, the lifestyle was much different then what I was used to, and there were many times when I had no idea what was going on, BUT it was definitely one of my favorite weeks here in Sabah so far.



New Years Eve:  For New Years Eve, I was able to attend a party with my church, filled with games, fireworks, singing and dancing, Gangnam Style, annnnd did I mention fireworks?  On New Years Day I was able to join a family from my church for dinner and some quality Harry Potter time :)



NOW!: As of today, I have been back to work for two weeks.  I am continuing my work in the deaf class, but due to a lower enrollment then expected, am working on taking on some other responsibilities around the school as they arise.  I am also preparing to travel to Hong Kong with the YAGM crew during the first week of February!





Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Advent Time Of Year

Hello Everyone!
   First of all, I am SO sorry about the lack of blog posts lately. Between returning from a retreat, getting back into the swing of things, having another YAGM visit, and preparing for Christmas, my time has been completely full of activities, big thoughts, and long naps!

  Just in case you miss my face...here it is:


Did I mention I got BEEF JERKY??? No?  Ok, well, I DID!  AND I LOVE IT!

    Anyways, back to the serious stuff...ADVENT!  I've spent a lot of time lately thinking about what exactly Advent is.  How did I spend this time in the states before this year?  How am I spending it now? How will I spend it in the future?  

   Well, as you know, Advent is a time of quiet reflection and anticipation and awaiting the birth of the Christ child.  Right?  I mean, I know that as a college student I spent every day...or maybe once a week...quietly reflecting upon and awaiting the birth of Jesus...or maybe that was reflecting upon the upcoming finals, buying of Christmas presents, purchasing of tickets homeward, and planning meet ups with old friends?  Awaiting upon the end of the pain of endless hours of studying, and frigid temperatures in Fargo, ND?  I wonder, have I taken the time out to stop and think about the meaning of Advent, or do I simply skip over this seemingly "boring" aspect of the Christmas season each year?  

   So, this year, with no finals, scorching hot temperatures, and more time to stop and think I decided to really try and get into the "Advent Spirit".  How does one get into the "Advent Spirit"?  Ha!  I have no idea...and maybe some of you can give me some input on that?  For me though, I decided to take a reflection approach.  I wanted to reflect on "waiting" and "anticipation" and how they play a part in my daily life.  How do we "wait" and "anticipate"  while still being fully in the here and now?  

  I have found that many times our lives revolve around waiting and anticipating.  I fondly remember many of my moments of anticipation in the last few years...waiting to go to college...waiting for summer...waiting for the end of finals...waiting for break....waiting for the championship meet...waiting for graduation...waiting for Malaysia...waiting to make friends...and waiting to go home.  Is it ok to always be waiting for something while so many things are going on amidst the waiting I wonder?  Does waiting mean that we disregard all else and focus solely on that anticipation?  Can you wait and anticipate, but still be fully present in all of the other surroundings around you?  

  I think so.  In Advent's case, I think that being present and fully "in" the things you do everyday is an integral part of awaiting the birth of Jesus.  We are called to be amongst each other, showing the love that has been shown to us by Jesus coming down to earth, THIS is how we await the birth of the Christ child.  Not with numbers and chains, and sitting idly as the days pass by.  
   
  For me, this is also how I am learning to live life here in Malaysia.  Am I awaiting the arrival of new experiences?  Yes.  Am I awaiting to be changed and transformed by this experience?  Yes.  Am I awaiting to return home to my American friends and family? Yes. BUT this does not mean that I am not fully invested in this place, fully living and breathing and of course eating this new Malaysian life of mine.  
  
  I am awaiting all of these things by spending quality time with my new Malaysian friends and family, by line dancing every Sunday with some of my favorite church ladies, by riding bicycles with Sunday School children, by waving hello to my favorite guard outside of my apartment complex each morning, by singing with youth in broken Chinese on random evenings, by playing pick up games of badminton, and by stopping and reflecting on how much of a blessing this waiting is in my life.  Yes, I'm thinking that maybe waiting is looking a bit different these days.  It no longer means impatiently stopping and wishing time away, but rather valuing what it is to come, and celebrating the time and experiences that will make that future and that rebirth possible.  

  Happy Advent Everyone!  I hope that you find the time to reflect on your "waiting" and what this season brings for you as well.

Peace, Love, and Happiness!
Jessie

Monday, December 3, 2012

Back in the Loop!

Hello Folks!
  I know, I know, it's been a while since my last blog entry.  The past few weeks have been filled with end of the school year parties, a YAGM retreat, Malaysian roadtrips, and most recently, Christmas preparations!  How crazy is that?

   So, where to even begin with this blog entry?  Well, I guess I will start by telling you that the school year in Malaysia goes from January until mid-November, and their "summer break" as we would call it, is during the end of November and the entire month of December.  However, my school holds holiday classes for autistic students during the months of November and December, so have no fear, I still have plenty of work cut out for me during these months!

   Halfway through November, the 8 Malaysia YAGMs met up with our fearless leader, Peter, to start a week and a half long journey to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.  Before we got started though, we had the opportunity to meet up with the Bishop of a California Synod of the ELCA as well as Franklin Ishida, who is the Global Missions Representative for the ELCA for this part of the world.  They very generously bought us some DELICIOUS Italian food AND ICE CREAM!  So, basically if I didn't already love the ELCA, they definitely just bought my heart by feeding me good food and speaking English with us for a while haha ;)

   Now, I could write pages, heck, full CHAPTERS on everything we learned in both Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, but to be honest, I'm still processing it all.  Trying to figure out how these two cities work, and how what I learned about those places ties into this place I'm in now.  I will say one thing...trade trade trade, location location location, and ports ports ports.  These things are HUGE in the history of both Singapore and Malaysia, and I am just now beginning to understand them.

   I would also like to express how thankful and blessed I feel that our YAGM crew was taken in by some members of a church in Kuala Lumpur who made us a DELICIOUS Thanksgiving meal (including mashed potatoes, lasagna, salad, applie pie, AND BROWNIES!).  Also, we were able to sit in on the church's worship band practice, which was in English, and reminded me so much of worship services at Concordia that it brought tears and laughs of joy to me at the same exact time.  While Thanksgiving was definitely a time where I missed my family and home, I wouldn't trade this experience, or getting to meet this INCREDIBLE family and community that took us in that night, and treated us as close and dear friends, even though we had just met.  

  I will admit that returning from retreat was difficult.  For many reasons, including leaving my YAGM family, coming back to a place that I am now familiar with, but isn't quite home yet, and the impending holiday season pushing upon us.  I ask that you please keep me in your prayers during the next month or so as I experience the holidays here.  I have a wonderful, incredible, and down right awesome community I am in, but it will be difficult to not be spending these holidays with my family and communities back home.  I will be spending this time caroling, planning games for children's parties, planning youth events, working at school, and line dancing up a storm!  So know that I am well taken care of, keeping busy, and always well fed, but please pray for me and my family as we learn to celebrate together from afar.

  There will be a more well written post to come, but for now, it's back to my Malaysian life!

Peace, Love and Happiness!
Jessie

Monday, November 5, 2012

A New Day, A New Pond, A New Life



Hello Again Friends!

   I would like to open this new post with a short YouTube video.  How techie of me, right??  haha, well, maybe....


   I received this video from my country coordinator this past weekend. With it were some questions asking us how our own plunge into a new "pond"  was going.  Were we flailing and freaking out?  Were we swimming around comfortably?  Were we jumping in for a moment or two and then sprinting out again?

    I never thought I would relate to a duck so much in my life!  You see, we all know that the ducks are completely capable of swimming, and living within the pond area. I mean, they were made for it, right?  So even if they weren't used to it at first, it should be something that comes naturally somewhat soon...or at least that's the expectation...the thought process that ran through my head.

    Likewise, when I look at my life here in Sabah, I know I can do this.  I am capable of learning Malay, I am capable of learning sign language, I am capable of making friends and getting out and doing things, and I am capable of being away for an entire year.  BUT there are moments even after I am thrown into the pond and dunk my head a few times, where I all of a sudden freak out, and sprint out of this pond.  Running to a place that will take me back to the comfort of the familiar and "normal".  Usually the internet, sometimes my room, where I pop in an episode of "Lost" and zone out for an hour or two.  

    What am I so scared of??  I wonder to myself sometimes.  I know that these people accept me, I know that they are incredible, fun, and loving people.  I know that this place is a beautiful, awe-inspiring, and immensely interesting place.  So what's so scary?  

     Well, maybe the thing that is so scary is love.  No, I'm not talking about Disney Movie Prince and Princess love.  I'm talking about falling deeply in love with the place you are in and the people around you.  What if I create these deep meaningful relationships with people, and then just leave after a year?  What if I become comfortable in this place, with the hot temperatures, weird seafood, 20 different languages, and friendly faces, only just in time to leave it for the blustery winters, meat and potatoes, and English back home?  What if I break people's hearts when I leave?  What if I break my own?  

   What if I forget who I was, and lose relationships with the people back home?  What if they feel abandoned or angry that I have so much love for this place and these people that they may never know? What if I feel guilty for leaving them as I come to have the experience of a lifetime and find out what is really at the core of my soul?  What if all of these things are inevitable, and I truly just have to live in the here and now every single day, hour, and minute?  
    
   Yes, I will admit that many of these fears are self-centered and inwardly directed. But, I also want this experience to be something that is not a step backwards for those who surround me both physically and spiritually.   I don't want to be the white girl who comes in, becomes best friends with people here, and then just leaves. Does this mean that I plan to return someday?  I have no idea...Does is mean that I will spend the rest of my life frantically facebook and Skyping across the world to old friends?  Again I do not know.  I also don't want to be the daughter or sister or friend who disappears off of the face of the earth for a year to do my own thing, and storms back in a year later expecting everything to be the same, and expecting everyone to understand my new views, ways of life, and experience.  

  In the next year, things will change.  I will change, my friends will change, my family will change, I will make new friends, and my life will inevitably never be the same.  The world and everything in it looks like a drastically different place when your heart is literally living on two different sides of the world.  Earlier this month I was talking to a fellow YAGM, and I said that you were just so much more aware of so many other places when your heart is ripped in two with a half on each side of the planet.  However, each day as I walk through life here, I realize that maybe my heart hasn't been ripped in two but it has been just expanded in size to encompass these two places at one time, these hundreds of people here and there at once, and a whole new clump of experiences and beliefs combined with the old ones as well.  

   Fear is a funny thing my friends, and as I look back on my fears listed above...and think about love...and making my plunge into this new pond...I realize that maybe the reason I fear so much falling in love with this place and these people, is because I already have.