English Conversation

Q&A in English

I had a golden opportunity to spend a morning with Electrical Engineering students who wanted to practice conversational English.

We’ve talked to Mr. S and his wife several times when we eat breakfast at the same local coffee shop. Just after New Years, Mr. S told us he was going to a nearby university to help some students improve their spoken English. All of these students can read and write English, but they don’t have any one to practice with to hone their speaking. When he heard that I had taught ESL, he asked if I would go with him one morning and talk with his class. I was delighted to have this chance.

For four hours we talked. Before class, I talked briefly with each student and got to hear their names and what they are studying and why. It gave me a chance to assess their level of ability and for them to get used to my accent.

Mr. S asked me to start the class by giving them some of my background, work experience, and about our time in Malaysia. From that time on, they asked questions and I answered. I would ask them questions and they would answer.

How rich an experience!

It is not common for a foreigner, a Christian, and a woman old enough to be their grandma, to talk to Muslim, university students. It’s not that we wouldn’t like to, there just are very few opportunities.

They asked my opinions about Malaysia, its food, its culture, its progress as a nation. They wanted to know why I like Malaysia and what I don’t like. They wanted to know what I liked best about working as a NICU nurse. I was asked how would they know who to marry and what I thought was important to ensure a long lasting marriage. One girl asked what I do to stay healthy.

They told me about their families, what they want to do with the education they are receiving. They told me about their favorite music and movies.

There was such respect and interest on both sides of the discussion. I felt completely at ease and shared freely. I really stepped out of my box and out of my usual introvert personality. They took the chance to speak in English and realize a native English speaker could understand them and wanted to converse with them.

I will always treasure the memory of this day as one of my favorites in Malaysia.

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This afternoon we stopped at a tea shop high in the Malaysian mountains. The shop was closed, but they had a lovely terrace overlooking a tea plantation and some greenhouse buildings. We took some pictures and were enjoying the cool breeze and sunshine.

I went to a far corner of the terrace and saw a mynah bird hanging upside down from a potted plant. I thought, ‘Ugh, what kind of weird decoration is this?’
Snared Bird
I called Mike over and he said, ‘It’s alive!’ When I looked again I could see it move. On closer inspection we saw that both its feet were wrapped with a string around a branch. How it must have struggled only to be more and more tied up!  He definitely needed help or he would die. We had no knife to cut the string. Mike tried using a key to slide the string over his claws. Nothing was working and the poor bird was screaming like a crow.

We found a gardener nearby and pointed out the bird’s predicament. He went immediately and gently held the bird with one hand as he carefully picked the string with a pen knife. The bird kept screaming, but the gardener held it securely until every bit of the string was removed from both feet. When no string remained, he held the bird up and opened his hand. That unfettered bird flew at top speed with not even the slightest backwards glance.

We went away with a warm glow knowing one of God’s creatures was now safe. Mike said, ‘What a tale he will have to tell his family tonight!’

Psalms 124:7 – “We have escaped like a bird  from the snare of the fowlers;  the snare is broken,  and we have escaped!”

How gently, but securely our Gardener holds us while he cuts us free of the fetters that kept us captive. We may yell and squirm, but He knows for our good He cannot let us go too soon.

He has a plan for good and not for evil, but we have to be set free from our snares first.

Have we seen someone caught in a snare, maybe even of their own doing? God may be asking us to help hold them, while He untangles them?

How gently and how securely we may hold that loved one or stranger in prayer and in friendship until God sets them free.

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Dark to Brilliant

I woke up on Saturday grumpy. It was a dark day, not weather-wise, but internally. Unfortunately, my husband also seemed under a dark cloud that day. We bumbled into each other a few times throughout the day.

It was time to get ready for service at a Mandarin speaking church. Mike offered for me to stay home since I was so glum. But I decided to go, gloomy mood and all.

It is the custom at this church to share a turkey dinner along with many delicious Malaysian dishes on the Saturday after American Thanksgiving. The pastor leads her congregation in giving thanks on that day. We picked up a prepared turkey dinner they had ordered for the church.

The songs they sung, though in Mandarin, had English translation. I was so touched that in moments  tears rolled down my cheeks and just wouldn’t stop. I had to quietly move to the back  to keep from drawing too much attention to myself.

The pastor led the people in thanks to all who had helped through the year and to the Lord for His blessings to them collectively and individually. Then, before asking my husband to speak, she talked to the people in Mandarin for a long time. She interpreted for us occasionally. She talked about our long friendship with her and their church, about our family coming to Malaysia, our family life, and more.

After the meeting was over and before everyone went to eat the prepared feast, many of the folks gave us cards, small gifts, personal thanks, and a huge fruit basket. They came and asked us to cut a cake. It said, “Happy Anniversary,” on it. After they lit three candles, they sang, “Happy Anniversary,” to the tune of Happy Birthday to you.

Mandarin Church gifts

It was at about that point when we realized the pastor had turned their annual Thanksgiving service into a celebration of our 30 years in Malaysia! We were so blessed and so humbled.

It was almost too much to take in. These people were so kind and generous and thoughtful. We cannot even speak their language, yet they treated us so well!

We love Malaysia and the people. We are thankful we have been able to make Malaysia our Second Home. Malaysians have opened their homes and hearts to us. We could not have chosen any better place to live and serve even if we could have made the choice. We don’t feel like we are doing anything so special or unusual. We just do what we would do anywhere. Yet this place and this people have been planted in our hearts and we feel so privileged!

That dark day now stands out with a brilliant silver glow.

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Christmas has always been a special season for me. My mom used to buy Christmas gifts all year and squirrel them away. Each year she selected one gift to be the gift. It was for only one of us, but we were all excited about what that gift would be and whose it would be. We woke up Christmas morning with a tree that was decorated over night and surrounded by gifts. We took turns opening the gifts one at a time so everyone could enjoy the thrill of seeing what each one got. Then the moment would come for the gift to be given and opened. It was always perfect! We all celebrated!

Christmas was about giving. We always found some way to make someone less fortunate than us happy too. A few years, we went to an orphanage and brought Jean home to share our Christmas. We each bought her a gift from our allowance and we tried to make her feel like a queen for the day. Some years we bought gifts, wrapped them, and took them to some family who lived in the poor part of our community. We always took food, as well as gifts.

Most of all, I remember the Advent Wreath and how the story of the first Christmas came alive to us little by little through the month before Christmas.

When we first came to Malaysia in the early ’80s, there was not much mention of Christmas outside of the churches and homes of the Christians. We didn’t expect it to be celebrated much since the majority of the population were not Christians.

Over the years we’ve watched with sadness the move in America away from Christmas. It became politically correct to say, “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas.” After all, we were told, there are other holidays around this time and we shouldn’t make anyone feel bad. There is Hanuka and even the new holiday, Kwanza. But then, to avoid all the religions, why not call it, “Winter Holiday.”

It made me sad, but then, I’m not sure anyone outside the Christian community actually understands what we are celebrating. So I was a little sad, but not surprised.

So when were moved back to Malaysia in 2005, we were really surprised to hear Christmas carols, not just winter holiday songs, being played over the P.A. in a major department store! We  turned a corner and there it was! A huge section of the store was filled with trees and all kinds of Christmas decorations and music! It was like going back to my childhood memories of the stores before Christmas.

We have noticed over our recent years here that everyone celebrates all the holidays. Of course we don’t all understand all about each of the holidays, but we all greet each other with the appropriate greeting of the season. Rarely during the weeks before Christmas do the clerks neglect to say, “Merry Christmas” to us. Muslims, Buddhists, free-thinkers, and atheists seem to have no trouble reminding us of our holiday and receiving our greeting in return. We don’t expect them to convert and they aren’t afraid of offending.

But this year, I’ve been surprised again!

The fourth largest mall in the world has chosen for its theme, “It’s Christmas. . .Believe!”

Its Chistmas Believe

Of course, it doesn’t tell us what to believe. But I think if the same theme were used by any mall in America, they would be overwhelmed by law suits from those who think they should be the ones to tell us what we are allowed to believe.

I am happy to be celebrating Christmas where I don’t have to be afraid to say, “Merry Christmas!”

P.S. Preparing this post, I researched the largest malls in the world. See: The 25 Largest Malls in the World. Be prepared for a surprise!

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A fire engine and a tank truck screamed as they threaded their way through town. We watched, like everyone else, and wondered what emergency they were going to help.

The day dawned bright and beautiful after a rainy, windy night. What a day to take a drive! We were meandering through West Virginia to see the fall leaves at their peak. The gold and russet leaves shown against the blue sky with scattered puffy, white clouds. In the afternoon, after our snack, we headed back towards home.

We stopped at the first overlook we came to, hoping  for a  few more pictures of  leaves and sky. What we saw was not what we expected. At the end of the parking lot were the fire trucks we had seen rushing through town. The firemen were taking one last look and getting back in their trucks to return to their station.

There, in a huge puddle of water, sat the burned out hull of a Mitsubishi Eclipse. The air was still acrid with the smoke. We got out of our car and in hushed awe saw the total destruction of that car. I snapped a few pictures, just so I would know I hadn’t dreamed the awful scene.

Totaled Eclipse

A car pulled up with two young fellows inside. They called to us and we asked if they knew anything about the car and fire. The driver said, “My friend, here, just bought that car 20 minutes ago.” Then a rather timid and shaken boy said, “I lost it all! I paid a friend cash for that car. He told me it was smoking a bit, but it ran well.”

He was driving his newly bought car while his friend followed in his car. He saw some smoke wisps and decided to pull off at the overlook. He parked and got out to see what was happening. His buddy pulled up just as they saw little flames lick at the pavement. He jumped into his friend’s car and they drove to the other end of the parking lot and called 911. Before the fire trucks had arrived the whole car was engulfed in flames.

As they poured out their story, I said, “I hope you thank God for saving your life!” They assured me they did. They said they were so thankful they had stopped to see what was smoking.

Two shaken young men drove away from that scenic overlook. We were reminded of how important it is to pay attention to the nudges God gives us so our lives are not eclipsed before their time.

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