Friday, July 23, 2010

Last LST Party

Our last party was a rousing success. We couldn’t get the students to leave! It was after eleven by the time we got home, but ours was a sweet tiredness.

Thirty-five of our 49 readers were at the final party. Everyone brought food and Gina, Kinley, and I made a huge taco salad—4 packages of taco mix for the “minced beef,” and all the lettuce, tomatoes, etc., that go with it. We bought several 3MYR ($1) bags of chips and used them all. We were able to buy salsa here in the Western Foods aisle. The American, Sharon, who attends the church here lent us her enormous bowl to put it in. There was a preponderance of desserts, but of course no one could complain about that!

We gave awards which were received with much excitement. Josh had a reader, Kong, who came for 17 lessons! I think even Josh, with his 10 LST trips, has never gotten further than that with a first-time reader. My reader Yike came 13 times, so she also got a prize. We gave them CDs of a mix of Christian music that Josh put together several months ago and that we’ve listened to a lot. We also gave prizes for those who brought the most people, and those who attended every party received CDs from the parties.

We sang for the group “Ancient Words,” “Magnificat,” and “In Christ Alone.” Then we taught “God is So Good.” But the highlight of the evening for me was when Matthew, the local song leader, got together all our readers and had them sing “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” Seeing all those sweet young people singing praises to Jesus was very touching. We knew that many had said they did not believe in Christ and still believe in following Buddha or Tao, but at that moment they were affirming God. I prayed that the words they were saying would become true to them. They also sang in Chinese a song of blessing that was very sweet.

What a terrific way to end our project! After studying 321 hours, we could see some fruits from our work.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Day of Let's Start Talking

On Thursday Josh videoed us on and off through the day and here is the link: It takes almost 7 minutes to watch, but it gives a good view of what we do each day.

I can hardly believe we only have two more reading days. Our party Thursday night is a potluck, so it will be interesting to see what readers bring. Since most are college students, they will probably buy from the "hawker stands," which in Bangkok we called "street food." Some of it is very good. We are preparing taco salad. Steve brought several packages of taco seasoning from the U.S. and we can buy everything else here.

At the party, we are giving prizes for the five people who have attended every party, the four who have recruited so many readers, and the three who have read the most lessons. Then everyone gets a certificate of achievement as long as they did three lessons.

It's a bittersweet time since we've made some good friends here. Best of all is my friend Doreen, who is sure to be a forever-friend.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Last LST Themed Party

Our Indianapolis 500 party was great fun! We played games connected with driving and racing and watched video of some Indy 500 races. It’s great to have a large screen and internet access to show pertinent video. (At the baseball party, we showed video of a Goofy cartoon explaining the game of baseball and a video showing how Cracker Jacks are made. Ever noticed that Cracker Jack popcorn is round and doesn’t have all the little offshoots of regular popcorn?)

We sing an appropriate song at each party, so of course we sang “Back Home Again in Indiana” for this one. (Last week Knox first sang a solo of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which you may have seen on YouTube, and then led us all in singing it.)
The chocolate chip cookies and milk were a big hit. Of course we had to offer milk because that’s what the Indy 500 winner gets. After all our struggles, we were glad everyone seemed to like the cookies. People here do not drink milk, but they did with their cookies and no one complained.

A popular drink here is Milo, which is a chocolate-flavored beverage with some milk product in it, similar to Nestle's Quik. Knox loves it. His other favorite drink here that Kinley loved at that age is yogurt drink—much more liquid than in the U.S. Cans of Coke Light (no calories) and Pepsi Light are usually available at the same price as a can of Coke, but Coke Zero, strangely enough, costs three times as much. It’s imported and the other is canned locally, I think.
Another food note: in the grocery store I couldn’t find a bottle of mustard in the usual places. I finally found it in the “Western Foods” aisle. “Western” here refers to anything from Europe or America. In other words, everything here is eastern and most commonly referred to as “Asian.” We will be told that something is “the Asian way” of doing something. When we eat out on Sunday nights, there are often large families eating out together. The Chinese restaurants have enormous round tables, often with a lazy susan turntable, that seat up to 16 people. “Sunday night is family night when Chinese families eat out together,” they say. By “families” they mean at least three generations, sometimes four. It’s very sweet to see all those relatives talking together and sharing their meal.

Work days here are very long. Stores are open from ten till ten, as a rule, every day. Evidently they have not adopted the idea of shift work here. You work those 12 hours or not at all, according to one of my readers. So many Chinese Malaysian women are housewives for that reason. Many Chinese families have maids that help extensively with the children. It’s possible that parents who both work outside the home will only see their children on the weekends since the maid may get them up and off to school, and they have been fed and are back in bed by the time the parents get home.

One Chinese mother whose youngest is fifteen told me that she has never cared for a child by herself from morning till night. She also said that with their long working hours, they sometimes feel they hardly know their children. That’s understandable, with such long days.

Most of the people here are very trim. I’ve only seen about 6 or 7 obese people on the entire trip, and two of those were Caucasians. I’m not sure how that works since local foods feature rich rice and noodle dishes. Unfortunately, the local food is not getting me down to local size!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Just Chocolate Chip Cookies....

As Americans, we love our chocolate chip cookies, but they are never considered very special. "Oh, they're just regular chocolate chip cookies," the cook might say. But now I have a very different view of the ease of making chocolate chip cookies.

For our Indianapolis 500 party on Thursday, we will serve chocolate chip cookies and milk, to connect with the race winner, and as a typical American snack. Josh found chocolate chip cookie mix on sale at Target ($1.16--makes 3 dozen!)so Steve lugged six of those with him from Cincinnati to Wangsa Maju. Then we started figuring out how to bake them.

The church kitchen, typical in Asia, has a two-burner gas stovetop but no oven. Two of the members brought their "portable ovens" for us to use. I couldn't even imagine what they meant; how could an oven be portable? Well, they are approximately the size of a large crock pot and can bake one layer of a cake. We figured we could cook ten cookies at a time and get them done in about 20 cookings. We were sort of right.

First, we had to calculate what 375 degrees Fahrenheit would be in Celsius. Gina's handy iPod told us it would be 197 degrees C. The package said for 8-11 minutes, so we tried that yesterday. The first ones looked pretty good from the top, but they were uncooked in the middle. The second batch we left in longer, and the three in the middle were too brown to serve (but not to eat, of course!) So from then on we put eight around the edge and none in the middle. I hope you can see the cookies in the picture of the open oven.

So we have finally figured out a routine. We mix the softened butter, egg, and mix. Then we refrigerate it until it's firm enough to roll into balls. We can bake 8 flattened balls at one time in one of the ovens. The other doesn't have a pan with it and the only pan we have only holds four cookies at a time. This is a slow process! But we are getting them done. When we take them out of the oven--now down to 150 degrees C.--they are still a bit gooey in the middle. So we cool them upside down and then the soft middle stays in as it cools. They look pretty good from the top, but definitely not typical from the bottom.

We have not allowed ourselves a single bite today. We've tried to cook every single bit, not even popping that occasional bite of cookie dough in our mouths as we rolled the balls. Confession time: So when Doreen escorted two readers into the kitchen and offered them a sample, I yelled, "Oh, no! Not until tomorrow!"

Then I immediately realized that that really wasn't the Christian attitude I should be displaying, so I laughed and apologized and told them to have a cookie. Last week we had 63 at the party, so we'll have enough for at least two each. I'm sure it was my jealousy exerting itself when I saw Bee Ping pop that warm cookie into her mouth!

We've lost track of how many we did today, but probably around 100. Gina, Kinley, and I worked every minute we didn't have readers or weren't eating lunch. Kinley was a trooper when we were busy with readers. Today Gina and I each had three readers, but tomorrow we have about twice that many, so it was imperative that we bake a lot today. (I admit to not being too disappointed when one reader canceled and I could keep baking.) We're glad to bake some tomorrow because the smell is so wonderful. But we'll have to leave the kitchen by 4 because the church women come in cooking for dinner for the college students that come to the party.

At this point, we've cleaned up all the buttery mess, heating water to be able to get all the butter out of the utensils and bowls. And speaking of utensils, there is no such thing in this kitchen as a pancake turner--or whatever you call the implement for removing cookies from the pan. So that's also been a challenge.The whole process has made us appreciate our large ovens and cookie sheets at home.

So, believe it or not, that's the short version of our baking day. When I get home you can ask me for "the rest of the story."

Perhaps next I can post pictures of our party and of our readers eating chocolate chip cookies for the first time!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Asian Travel

This is our fourth trip to Asia, and third with Let's Start Talking. There are certain things that we are accustomed to that might be news to someone who hasn't lived in Southeast Asia.

Any retail transaction is slower than in the U.S. For example, I bought a cheap ring at a local department store, Jusco. I handed it to the clerk, who hand-wrote a sales slip. Then I had to take it across the store to the cashier, who took my money and gave me a computer-generated receipt. I took it back to the salesclerk, who took my purchase out of a drawer, wrapped it in tissue paper, bagged it, and gave it to me. Not the quick transaction I anticipated, since I was paying cash.

Friday we went to First World Hotel at Genting Highlands,, which is the world’s largest hotel—6118 rooms at an altitude of 6118 feet. When we arrived, we had to stand in line for a ticket so we would be called to register. The digital numbers showing then were 189, 190, etc. Our was 4013. Not encouraging! But after about 35 minutes, the numbers jumped to the four thousands and eventually we got a room. EVERYWHERE requires your passport number. The clerk asked if we wanted connecting rooms and of course we thought that was great. When we got to our 18th floor rooms, we found that even though the numbers were consecutive, there was a large section of doors to machine rooms between our two rooms. Never have two consecutive room numbers been so far apart!

For one who compulsively reads every sign I pass, Asian signage can be frustrating. In Thailand, I got used to not being able to read anything at all; here there are certain Malay words that are similar to English, and that part is entertaining. The rest is just frustrating.

Saturday, however, I used my ignorance of the language to my advantage. Josh and I went to buy bus tickets to ride home from Genting Highlands. He got in the long line and I was in the short one. I noticed that KL was only listed above the window for his line, but I was hoping my window would serve KL also, since all the people were sitting together behind the ticket windows.

At the window, I asked for six tickets to Kuala Lumpur at 12:30. The lady there said I had to get in the other line to get KL tickets. I said, “I am sorry, I did not know.”

She pointed to a sign posted in the next window. Fortunately for me, it was all in Malay. I said, “I am sorry, but I only speak English. I cannot read the sign. Can you please sell me the tickets here? The line is long and I have already waited a long time." I tried to look helpless and must have succeeded because she said, "Which time? Six people?"

Gratefully, I agreed, and she reached over to the other person and typed in the info to print out our tickets. So she might think Americans are rather stupid, but surely she knows that we are grateful since I kept thanking her profusely.

Finally Josh and I could leave those 14 people still in line in front of him, grateful that we got our tickets to return to KL. Unlike the US, both bus tickets and movie tickets are for assigned seats, so getting seats together was essential to us, and it worked out very well. (Especially for Gina, Steve, and me. Josh was the one sitting with Knox when the hairpin curves prompted him to throw up!)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Giving Attitudes

Worship outside the United States is always fascinating to me. This project is easier than usual because the services are conducted in English, though it is a second language for all but one woman and us. There are more similarities than differences in what I'm used to at Central in Cincinnati. They use the same hymnal, but, as we do, have all the songs on PowerPoint so that books are unnecessary. Communion is before the sermon, and the communion talk is very scripture-based.

When giving the prayer before taking contributions, the gentleman leading the prayer said that we should be "cheering givers." In the next sentence, he corrected it to "cheerful givers," but his slip of the tongue made me think. It would be terrific if we could also be cheering givers--cheering God for his blessings, cheering God for his Son, cheering each other on in our Christian walks. We do want to glorify God in our lives, but "glorify" is kind of a "churchy" word. Maybe we could get more enthusiastic about living for God if we looked at it as cheering God!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Steve Safely Arrived!

We are all most excited that Steve (and his luggage) arrived safely this morning. Steven, my host for the last few weeks, drove Kinley and me to the airport to meet him. My usual Thursday morning reader, YiKe, agreed to come at one so I'd be free to go pick Steve up.

Steve was greatly impressed with the efficiency and quality of Singapore Airlines and the Singapore airport as well as the KL airport. He looks quite chipper and seems none the worse for wear after the long journey.

I know many prayers went up on his behalf, and he mentioned how just the right person was always there when he needed help. Surely God does provide! Does he not send angels as ministering spirits to serve us? Indeed he does! (Hebrews 1:14)

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Malaysian Pizza Hut Experience

Last night we were being picked up at the train later than usual, so we had time to get off the train at an earlier stop to have dinner. We stopped at KLCC, a large mall, to eat at Pizza Hut--our weekly American indulgence after eating Asian food all week.

The sign was familiar and the table and chairs were typical, but there the similarities to American Pizza Huts stopped. Our server was a Muslim girl who had on the Pizza Hut uniform, shirt and pants, but her head and neck were covered with a black tudung, the Muslim headcovering that clearly distinguishes the Muslim women from the Chinese or Indian women (or Americans!)

We have also seen Muslim women wearing the burka, such a complete covering that there is only a slit for her to see out. This is quite disconcerting, especially in a restaurant where she must lift the flap on the front to slip her food up under it and into her mouth.

So our server was a very efficient young Muslim woman. The menu featured pizza with prawns, so we passed on that to get one pepperoni and one veggie. From the menu and from what we had been told locally, we knew that the pepperoni was beef rather than the forbidden pork. Since Malaysia is officially a Muslim country, pork is found only in some Chinese or Indian restaurants marked "non-hallal."

Each table had a buzzer on it with buttons marked Call, Bill, and Cancel. Kinley and Knox, of course, vied for who would get to push the buttons. Since it's an American restaurant, I asked if there were free refills. "No, no refills," she answered. She'd obviously had that question before. I ordered "Diet Pepsi," and when she read back our order, she said, "Pepsi Light." You'd think I'd know how to order my diet soda by now!

As we ate, more people arrived. It was around 8:30, but we've noticed that families eat much later here than in the US. All the other women in the room were wearing tudungs. Most of the men were dressed in a typical American way except for one who looked like Osama Bin Laden and was dressed in white with a Nehru collar. He did help the children with their food. We felt it inappropriate to take a picture, but I did take pictures of shops selling the tudungs.

There were two precious little girls dressed to match that looked about 8 and 10 years old. Their headbands matched their outfits and they looked so cute. But it bothered us to think that soon they will have to cover their heads and retreat into a world that thinks less of them than of men. (Though Muslim women do work here in restaurants, banks, retail, etc., still wearing their tudungs.)

Eating pizza in a room full of Muslims was quite an anachronistic experience for us. As a result, I think we all felt even more determined to spread Jesus here. We cannot teach the Muslims, but we can reach their Chinese neighbors and hope eventually they, too, will know the truth. Jesus is Lord!

Praying for Readers

Before we came to Kuala Lumpur, the Wangsa Maju church had been praying for us for months. One of their prayers that I would not have thought of was that God would protect the time of our readers so that they would be able to come for their lessons.

At first our readers were the most consistent that we have ever had. But lately, due to rain or exams, they have been less so. So we are increasing our prayers for our readers to make time to come for their lessons. Some of them are very engaged and do not miss at all, but some, just as in the US, are less committed.

Here are my male readers I am praying for: Wai Man, Chang Hoe, Boon Hui, Ching We, Lee, and Jeremy. My female readers are Fei Ling, Wai Chan, Yike, Yun, Hing Chuan, Bee Ping, Vhonne, and LeeLee. (I am just now getting that straight without looking at my notes!) So prayers for these precious college students are greatly appreciated.

On Friday, we took a bus to Malaka, the oldest city in Malaysia. There was a gate there built by Europeans in 1543, but Malaka was settled long before that. The architecture reflects Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese, and British influences. We especially enjoyed the ceramic tiles on the old buildings. We returned Saturday evening--3.5 hours there, 2.5 hours back, due to traffic on Friday morning.

It was very hot there and we appreciated even more that we are working, traveling, and sleeping in air conditioned comfort.

We enjoyed a special treat there that we have also found here in KL: waffle sandwiches! We watch a vendor cook a round waffle, cut it in half, slather it with chocolate (or honey, or strawberry jam, or peanut butter), and put it together. They drop it in a brown paper envelope, and for less than a dollar we have a delicious dessert treat! I can see that I am not going to lose weight here!

We are excited that Steve leaves the States on Tuesday morning and will arrive here Thursday morning. He'll get here the day of our baseball party. Prayers, please, for his safe and uneventful trip as well.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Video from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Yesterday Josh put together a brief video about our situation here. You can read it at, I hope. I can't get the hyperlink to work, so you can copy and paste. It's a sketchy view, but should give a good picture of our space here and our outdoor surroundings. Be sure the sound is on, especially for the beginning.

Kinley is an integral part of our team. She helps prepare party invitations and nametags and jumps at the chance to help in other ways. She loves to go to the 7/11 below us and get some little treat for Knox with her own money. Today she brought me a treat--mango TicTacs. She knows I love the fresh mango here, so that was a thoughtful choice from her to me.

Tonight the theme of our party is Independence Day and we have tons of red, white, and blue decorations to put up between 6 and 7. Last week Josh's reader Steven came early to help decorate and is returning this week. We really enjoy that interaction with our readers. Our first party had 56 attendees, so we hope to at least match that.

Rain halts just about everything here. A thunderstorm, especially, prompts calls to cancel sessions because of the rain. This was a mystery to us until one of Gina's readers told her there is a strong taboo against wet hair. (I guess anyone seeing you with wet hair--not sure, because hair here is always clean.) The reader said that women aren't allowed to wash their hair for a month after giving birth. So obviously there are still many unusual cultural differences here.

Wai Chan wanted to know who helped Mary have her baby in the barn--just Joseph? I'd never given that much thought, but I guess that was it. Then she wanted to know where the cows ate while Jesus was using the manger. So even though some questions are deep and probing, many are more practical!

Sometimes I ask why all the rooms in Bethlehem were full. Some readers finally come up with an answer, but the quickest--that everyone was in town to register because of Augustus Caesar's order--came from a hotel management major. I told him he was in the right field, to be thinking that way.

All our readers are precious to us. We're hoping for good follow-up with them when we leave. After all, we are only the planters. God needs waterers in order to give the increase.