My other passionate distraction!

I teach refugees. Previously, most of my students were refugees from Myanmar with a few from Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The political situation in Myanmar and Sri Lanka has more or less stabilized, so I only get a few students from these nations. Of late, none from the latter.

In the last year, we saw how millions of North Africans and Syrians left on rickety boats across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, many of them shipwrecked and drowned along the way. A trickle of them found their way to Malaysia. So, in my current batch of students, I have Yemenis, Somalis, Syrians, a couple of Pakistanis, one Rohingya and an Iranian.

They are all Muslims, except for the Iranian whose family, according to him, weren’t religious, and, he stressed, weren’t Muslim anymore. A brave lad to declare it openly to a class of all Muslims. (After getting to know him, I realised why; he is a tough guy!) Despite, his open stand, I didn’t see any discrimination against him.

In fact, one of the other students later said that many Muslims in Iran were converting to Christianity. That was a revelation. Really? That’s a trend we don’t read about!

When I talk with my students, I catch glimpses of life I don’t read or hear in the media. They have to struggle with the horrors of war, and off and on as they talk you catch a perspective that reveals much about their inner thoughts and feelings.

One Yemeni student lost his father who crossed the border into Saudi Arabia for a job when militant groups started bombarding enemy-held territories, and he has not seen his father since then. His mother is being strong and raising the family single–handedly without country and with minimal funds.

A Palestinian student — though not living in Palestine anymore — abhors the thought of co-existence with Israel. “They destroyed our villages and we have no where to go. Let them go back to where they came from!” She usually pauses and stammers, searching for words, when she speaks. But, on this subject, she spoke fluently, without a pause or an error!

Some of their emotions are raw, but, I let them speak, gently challenging them to consider alternatives, and they do. They start thinking!

A Somalian student who fled her violence-wracked country is still quite partial to the pirates who ply the coast off the horn of Africa! She says some of the pirates do kill those they kidnap, but most don’t kill but only want money, which, according to her, is given to the poor along the coast. Now, I understood why the pirates get support from the coastal folk and why they continue to thrive. They have the support of those they feed.

A number of the refugees are anti-West. If they had a choice they wouldn’t want to be resettled in the West. But they have no choice. Firstly, they have to go where the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) sends them; secondly, they have to live and they go where they can earn a livelihood and that takes priority over their political preferences.

Their countries many be broken up because of politics, but the concerns of the refugees are economic. When they can’t live in their countries any more, they leave. They want to live and that is the fundamental human need that drives them to leave their homes for a strange, unknown world — it’s their survival.

That’s the reason why I teach refugees. I teach them English. They need to learn the language in order to live in this new world before them. I help them acquire it. As I teach them English, I open their eyes to the world they have been thrust into. Most important of all, I tell my students that there is a world in front of them and there are opportunities they can seize to make it in this world. I help them see those opportunities.

I care for my students and I enjoy interacting with them. What I like most about them is that they relate to me just like another person. I don’t scare them off — strangely! I seem to scare of others, but not my students! We get along fabulously, and as I relate with them I help them along in the life they want to carve out for themselves.

I know what it’s like to start on brokenness, and grow towards hope. Of all the compliments that my students have given me, one blesses me the most. In the last term, I asked my students what they learnt most from my course, and one Myanmar student, who is a Shia Muslim, told me, without hesitation: “Hope!”

My students are eager to further their studies and I’m glad to do my small part to give them hope to do so.

If you would like to fully or partially sponsor one of my students or provide any other kind of financial aid, — which is their most urgent need — please contact me.

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A heavenly distraction

When you consider some of the things happening in this country (in this world, in fact!), it is quite tempting to throw up your hands in despair! You think, “Give up, lah! Change just isn’t happening. And the same old same old keeps going on.”

Everytime, I come to that point, I tell myself not to lose faith. Just trust God and do what you can do. If somehow things work out our way, we thank God for it; if it doesn’t, then we just have to find the faith to adjust to the reality. Meanwhile, to make me feel better about my life, I look for distractions! Take my mind off the worrying trends!

By “distractions” I don’t mean only frivolous, entertaining activities, though they are included in that category. I mean those activities that yield better and more satisfying dividends as well!

The most significant of all my “distractions” is the time I spend reading the Bible. It gives me the greatest encouragement. It’s a very productive distraction! I often get direction as I read the Bible, and, many, I have shared with you. I have another verse I want to share with you today: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Rom 15: 7)

Wow! When we accept one another, it somehow facilitates praise to God! I don’t know how that happens but it makes sense to me. When we accept one another, we help to upbuild the other person and that would certainly make us feel good about ourselves and the people we relate with and they too would feel good about themselves. In that feel-good state of bliss, it is natural for us to praise God!

Amazing! Now, to start putting it into practice!

 

 

 

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What really counts

As we grow older, it is quite normal to look back and wonder if we have left behind anything of value. Children, career accomplishments, houses, cars, holiday trips, savings, retirement plan. When they have served their purposes and the children are on their own, we wonder, don’t we, is this all there is to life?

These are much, sure. If we have all these, it means we have made good our lives and that should be commended. But, these are practical matters. We have to attain them so that we and our own are ok. And they give us purpose and focus. Once they are achieved though, is there anything else to look forward to?

I was wondering about these things when I came upon Gal 5: 6 and it put things in perspective: “… The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” When we look back we’ll realise the things we did that really counted were those we did out of love. How we strove for the people we love — our family and friends. Sometimes, it was difficult, but we did everything we could to give and take care. When we succeeded what joy it was to see them blessed!

Sometimes, it was impossible to love, but many of us found faith in God or in a “universal will” — as some people call it — that came through at the right time! I think this is something that people with children and people to take care of can identify with. The accomplishments, the material things, money all have a very short lifespan. Once achieved, they don’t seem to matter so much, but the people we suffered for and who grew as a result of it, we value a great deal, don’t we?

The things of value are not the cars, houses, designer clothes, starbucks coffee, travel and the monuments we build, but faith expressed in love. That has a touch of the divine and is priceless!

The context of Gal 5: 6 is a debate on the need to circumcise. Paul declares that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts but faith expressing itself through love. The same point is echoed in Gal 6: 16: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.”

In other words, all the things we do to justify our actions, count for nothing except what we do by faith in love. When faith is demonstrated through love we upbuild the new creation in Christ, which is the Body of Christ, which is The Church.  That should be the priority and the bulk of our resources should be channeled for that purpose.

 

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Clean hands make us grow stronger

Two weeks ago I wrote about how people seem to be doing all sorts of things and getting away with it. It appears as if those who are doing the right things have to face consequences. It just doesn’t seem fair.

But recently, in my night reading of the book of Job in the Bible, I came across a verse that has encouraged me greatly about doing the “right thing”. The verse is Job 17: 9: “Nevertheless, the righteous will hold to their ways, and those with clean hands will grow stronger.”

Even when it doesn’t seem so, those with clean hands will grow stronger. Job was already down in the pits. He had lost everyone and everything. He was bewildered and baffled by the extremities of his deprivations. He could not understand why God was doing this to him. He knew he was blameless, and so he was beside himself as to why he had to undergo such unwarranted suffering.

In his conversations with God, he starts with despair cursing the day he was born (Job 3:1), then to the realization that God is too great to dispute with (Job 9:14) and by the time he comes to 17:9, he affirms the settled belief that the “righteous will hold to their sway and clean hands will grow stronger”.

Yet, at the time he says it he isn’t in a strong position and there would be many more chapters of agonizing appeals to God before his fortunes change! Yet, at verse 17:9, Job knew his God enough to realise the truth that those who do right and suffer will become stronger.

In the end it became true of Job. Job endured and “the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10) He became strong and persevered. I don’t know if suffering always produces the rewards Job received, but whatever the additional benefit, we certainly will become stronger.

For example, a person who doesn’t accept nor give bribes may not bring in as much business as his or her colleagues. As a result he or she may not earn as much as them. He may have to settle for a lower standard of life or change job. It may be a difficult adjustment but by going through it that person becomes stronger in character. In addition, he or she would enjoy the inner satisfaction of knowing that he/she did the right thing.

So, when we suffer for doing the right thing, we should see it as an opportunity to become a stronger person, not one who lives in bitter regret and disappointment over our misfortunes. Clean hands, indeed, make us stronger.

Job didn’t know why he went through such an ordeal. He didn’t know anything about the conversation God had had with Satan. God (it wasn’t Satan’s initiative) asks Satan to torment Job but not take his life (Job 1:6-12).

Some people may say God is rather cruel to do this to an innocent man. Well, that is one way of looking at it. But, I am inclined to think that the test God put Job through was a device to create a person that was his handiwork. God achieved his purposes although Job had no idea of it.

There are forces at work in this world that we, human beings, know very little about. Religion helps us become aware of that realm and the choices and decisions we make in some ways influence the outcome in the other realm. That was the context in which Job suffered though he never knew why, but, through it, God made his point in that realm and ours.

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O, for some truth!

Reading the local media, I sometimes wonder what is the truth. One media will report what this person said and another media will respond what another person said. But, what is the truth?

Why do our media just report? I don’t know why the media even carry such reports. This person said that that person is such and such. This will be followed by a rebuttal by the person accused in the first report. And, it goes on and on.

Where is the proof of truth? Journalists should know better than simply regurgitating what one person said and then regurgitating the rebuttal. It’s what we call yellow journalism, yet day in and day out, that’s the kind of news we get.

It’s no wonder why a number of people I know don’t take the news seriously. Perhaps there are more such people and that, perhaps, is the reason for Malaysian apathy. Maybe, people are just tired of hearing one-sided views and not knowing what really is the truth, they don’t take sides.

If people really don’t know the truth, the blame is entirely on the media; they have not done their job well to present the truth based on facts.

And, that’s the reason why I am all-out for reforms in this nation. The first thing that should be reformed is the media. They should be free from political manipulation and simply report the facts and describe the context within which it happened.

People would then get a truer picture of current news and be more willing to make well-informed decisions

A sign of a well-informed society is a free and responsible media. To become a truly developed nation, we first need a media which engages in truth-telling. We may not achieve absolute truth but if the process is to attain it we usually achieve some measure of it.

 

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Discipline helps to avert a worse outcome

When you see people all around you doing all sorts of things and getting away with it, you wonder if there’s justice and fair play in the world. They seem to be living like there are no consequences to their actions. Something is just not quite right with this picture.

Will such people always get away with it? I think not. It’s inbuilt in life that our mistakes and shortcomings catch up with us at some point. When they catch up with us, those with integrity face the consequences and grow to become better people. Those who weasel their way out will leave the consequences for others to clean up. That isn’t fair, is it?

Those who think they are spared the consequences of their actions are usually in denial. They won’t face the music. If there are people around them to tell them of the state they are in, they are lucky — if they listen and act accordingly. By doing so, they very likely avert a worse scenario. That’s the way of life.

Facing the consequences is a form of discipline and the Bible teaches the benefit of it. (And, I’m in a preachy mood today, so here goes …!) Hebrews 12:5-11 talks about the value of discipline and how God disciplines those he loves because he regards us as his sons and daughters. As Christians, if we really love God, we will understand that his discipline of us is an act of love and, out of reciprocal love, we will submit to his discipline. We won’t argue with him that it is not meant for us, it’s a mistake, we don’t deserve it, we didn’t do anything wrong (we say this when we can’t see our blind spot), why me when others are getting away with it, etc, etc.  There is no point in resisting; all we have to do is just submit to his discipline, which is to assume responsibility for what we have done and face the music.

This is especially true in doing the “right thing”. Sometimes, in doing the right thing, we go against the grain and there will be consequences. Whatever the consequences, we need to face them. It’s a discipline that builds us up.

I don’t think God disciplines because he gets a thrill from it or because it is his nature to punish us for our failings. I believe he disciplines to achieve a desired outcome that fits into his scheme of things which we may not know much about. That desired outcome includes improving the individual by the discipline of dealing with consequences.

And, hence, we come to what for me is one of the most encouraging verses in Scripture — Heb 12:11 which states: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Our actions have consequences, even when we mean well. By facing the consequences, we become better people and enjoy a peace that really passes all understanding (Phil 4: 6-7). That peace is something we should desire and it comes when we go through the pain of facing the music.

So, when we have to do the right thing or something we feel God is saying — even when it’s painful — we do it because we know we are loved and at the end of it we’ll enjoy a peace that blesses. That is God’s discipline and only good comes from it. If good follows discipline, then, we can safely assume, by submitting to discipline we avert a worse outcome.

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Spare our athletes, please!

Why don’t we let our athletes just be, and cheer them on to do their best? Instead, we place such high hopes on them and when they fall short of expectations we get disappointed. Is that good sportsmanship?

Shouldn’t we be giving all the help — monetary, physical and moral — we can to motivate them to excel and then see how they perform at competitions? Athletes also want gold and they strive for it, but they know their limitations, too. They know what they can achieve and what they can’t and yet they give their best.

The fact that we won a silver by the national badminton mixed-doubles pair Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying, another by Pandelela Rinong and Cheong Jun Hoong in the synchronised 10m platform dive, and a bronze by Azizulhasni Awang in the keirin cycling event is a commendable effort. This medal count is higher than the two we won in the London Olympics. And, we might get a gold or, at least, a silver in the badminton singles when Lee Chong Wei takes on China’s Lin Dan.

We should be proud that our athletes are getting more medals and winning at more international events, instead of politicising their participation or diminishing their achievements with racial undertones — like the two Malay papers which downplayed Chan and Goh’s silver. Seriously!

Surely, we have reached a stage where Malaysians, whatever their ethnic background, are simply Malaysians? It is very disappointing that some Malaysians are still trapped in their ethnic mindset. They have yet to become true Malaysians.

But, I suspect such Malaysians are a minority rather than the majority. What is disturbing is that the minority seems to control the media in wielding the influence to shape the opinions and perspectives of the unsuspecting majority readers.

A good way to counter such media is for other media to express exactly what they think of thoughtless and insensitive reporting through the race lens. People need to speak up against such reporting and, generally, against such bias.

I hope the athletes are not discouraged by the negative publicity they have got from the two earlier mentioned Malay papers. Do your best. Take part in all the competitions you can and win all the prize money and medals you can! The rest of us are rooting for you!

I wrote this article in the hope that my readers will my express their thoughts on this issue. Please write freely. With your comments, more people will read your thoughts and I really believe that would help in countering the negative publicity a couple of our athletes have got.

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