Dion's random ramblings

Saturday, September 01, 2007

'Merdeka' and miracles in Malaysia

Please forgive me for not posting any updates on my Malaysia visit sooner. Whilst my time in Oxford was busy (starting with the first session at 7am and ending with the last session after 10pm), my Malaysian trip has been even busier! Not only do we start early and finish late, but there is also a 6 hour time difference between here and South Africa. So, I stay up until after midnight to phone Megie, Courts and Liam (when it is midnight here it is 6pm there). The long and the short of it is that I have been capitalizing on my ability to get by on about 4 hours of sleep a night. Those who know me know that 4 hours is just about as much as my A.D.D. body cope with... Anything more than that and I start to feel sluggish.

Well, my time in Malaysia has been remarkable. I flew in via Singapore (which is the same route as I took to South Korea last year). However, the Malaysian Church is so different from the Church in South Korea! I have felt very much at home here. This is not only because of the magnificent hospitality of Bishop Hwa Yung and his team (not to mention that I am staying in an incredible hotel in Kuala Lumpur - the photo above is taken from my balcony and shows the inland wave pool of the Sunway Spa and resort), but also because the Malaysian Methodist Church has such a similar history to that of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Both our Churches come from Methodism in Britain. Both our contexts have a rich and varied racial spread, and both contexts have significant contextual challenges.

Whilst the Church in South Africa struggles with issues relating to poverty and HIV / AIDS, the Church in Malaysia faces the challenge of being Christian in a Muslim nation. Less that 8% of the 26 Million people in Malaysia are Christian. The Methodist conference at which I am speaking has about 4000 Methodists from the 6 annual conferences, and one mission conference, of Malaysia. Here's a photo of the main hall in which we're meeting for our plenary sessions.

Last night I did my first session in the plenary. It was extremely well received. There is such an openness to the gospel of Christ, and such a longing to see society transformed and renewed to reflect the values of justice, mercy, equity, wholeness and grace, which are central to the Kingdom of God. I had a 30 minute slot (translated from English into Chinese and Tamil) in which I spoke about the Transformation / Global day of prayer movement that combines:

  • 10 days of ecumenical fasting and praying for change, renewal, and God's blessing in society.
  • a one day gathering (often in large stadiums or churches) where persons gather to pray, repent, and witness to the unity of the Christian faith (there is an eschatological dimension to this of course - having to pray together for 10 days, and having to organise an event at which there may be 30 000 or 40 000 people soon teaches us that we have more in common with each other than what we have a distinctive difference). This event takes place on Pentecost Sunday each year.
  • 90 days of blessing, ministry, and service that follow the prayer event. Here the Church has an opportunity to be an answer to its prayers. The emphasis is on using the 90 days after Pentecost to try and address some of the practical issues that the community is struggling with (e.g., feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, rebuilding schools, blessing the elderly, building homes for the homeless etc.)
I have found a great deal of resonance with the balance between prayer (showing that true life, and new beginnings are ultimately reliant on the God who makes all things new), and Christian social action (showing that as Christians we have the incredible responsibility, and privilege, or matching our personal piety with social holiness - i.e., we need to become the instruments that God uses to bring about change and transformation in society). For me, this is the way in which the Gospel is made real, it relies upon God, yet it expects active human participation in God's mission in the world. Today I will be doing a two hour workshop with 1000 people. I hope that it will convince many of the the balance that is needed between personal piety and social holiness. God is glorified by our devotion to God, and our devotion to God's will for the world.

Yesterday was a national public holiday here in Malaysia - it is called Merdeka day. Merdeka means liberation, freedom, and independence. The Malaysian nation celebrated 50 years of independence from Britain on the 31st of August. The Celebrations outside our hotel where magnificent!! Here's a picture of the fire works that went off at midnight on the 30th. It was loud and spectacular!

I have experienced God's Merdeka among these wonderful Christian people. We can learn a great deal about racial diversity and religious tolerance from our Malaysian sisters and brothers. Of course there are some things that they can learn from us as well.

I always enjoy new contexts, and particularly meeting new people! Here's a photo that was taken yesterday. In it you can see Bishop Hwa Yung (I am seated to his right). Tomorrow the Bishop will lead a service in a local stadium for about 13 000 Methodists. It will be largest Christian gathering of its kind in the history of Malaysia. This is significant in a Muslim country!

On Monday I will travel to STM to spend some time with the academic faculty and students of the Methodist Seminary - I will be speaking on the role of the Methodist Church in South Africa in working against Apartheid, and dealing with violence and oppression in society. I hope to be able to blog some more in the next few days.

Please keep Megie, Courts, Liam and I in your prayers. All four of us have been sick with flu in the last two weeks.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

General relativity and time travel, or should that read 'relatively little time, generally, before one travels'?

On Monday I will be making my way to Christ Church, Oxford University, with Prof Neville Richardson. and our Presiding Bishop, Ivan Abrahams, to attend a conference, do some teaching, and deliver a paper at the Oxford institute.

I shall also be visiting our friends at Wesley house in Cambridge (although don't mention either visit to the other party... I believe there has been a rather fierce rivalry since the 13th century!).

To read more about the Oxford Institute you can click here:


I return to South Africa for my daughter"s birthday and some important meetings, and then have a chance to speak at a Methodist conference in Malaysia, and to visit and teach at STM, the Malaysian seminary. You can read about that conference here.

These are all very exciting events! I certainly feel unworthy, yet truly honoured, to be a part of such august and distinguished events! I will, of course, miss my family (however, Skype video does help!)

As usual I'll post pictures, podcasts, and thoughts here. So please do check back if you're interested.

In all of my research and preparation for these trips I have rediscovered the truth of Albert Eienstein's theory of relativity - time is truly relative, mostly time is inversely proportionate to the number of tasks one has to do before international travel. Oh well, I'll sleep on the flight!

Be patient with me - I promise to post more content soon! As for the value of that content... Well that's relative i.e., my relatives think it's great everyone else is bored to tears ;-)

Loved and blessing,

Dion (Tshwane South Africa)

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