Seen and Unseen
“One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. 2And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. 3When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. 4Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ 5And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’” Acts 3:1-3
I (Lisa) have been pondering this passage recently, and I’m struck by how important sight is for connection. Luke uses four different verbs for seeing here to craft a striking scene. It seemed crucial to Peter that the man meet his (intense) gaze. Peter was practicing beholding. A favorite writer describes beholding as at the heart of loving another person. He calls love the impulse and capacity for saying, upon seeing another person, “How good it is that you exist! How wonderful it is that you are in the world.”[i] I suspect that the man’s healing began when he locked eyes with Peter and realized that Peter’s gaze was upon him not as an object of pity or alms, but as a fellow human of great worth.
Unseen and Unseeing: One of the most challenging teaching assignments I’ve taken on in a while has taken place on Monday nights via Zoom. I’ve been teaching a basic preaching class in a country where Christian worship is strictly curtailed and access to formal theological training is nearly non-existent. For security and for technological access reasons, the students leave their cameras off for the 90-minute session. Their names are on the tiles in a script I can’t read. The high power-distance in this culture means that they are not used to offering their thoughts along the way, so my attempts at interactive dialogue have fallen flat. I feel like I’m blindfolded as I teach, and it is exhausting. But I do get glimpses. Last week I taught on the importance of bringing ourselves to our preaching, offering our own witness to the truths we proclaim. At the end students briefly turned on their cameras and shared that their church leaders (sadly recapitulating their highly authoritarian surrounding culture) had shamed them for sharing personal stories in church, so they were grateful for this refreshing perspective. My hope was that they felt seen and felt encouraged that their stories mattered. I’m happy to make this small contribution, but must confess I’m grateful for in-person classes here in Malaysia, and even an in-person retreat!
Seeing Together: St. Paul’s Theological College builds in a required annual retreat as part of their commitment to spiritual formation in community. This year’s weekend was in a lush, green, and very wet part of Malaysia. While rain curtailed outdoor activities, it invited us to linger over meals, games, and long conversations in the common areas. I asked students around tables for seminars on Malaysian politics, and at two meals, I pulled out this fun visual depiction of differences between East and West to get their thoughts and reactions.
They loved it. I met with several students for what they call “chaplaincy,” half-hour sessions to share a challenge, ponder it together, and pray. I loved these moments of seeking to sit with and see the students, and look together at what God might be doing.
Seeing my limits: The days—and the evenings—have been quite full, perhaps a bit too much so. I was feeling underutilized in the fall, so I said yes, and yes, and yes to invitations that now have me teaching four evenings a week, for four different schools, including the informal pastor training center abroad. Only one (SPTC) is in person. That’s the most enjoyable, but also the most tiring, as I have a 40-minute train ride after a class that ends at 10:30 on Thursday evenings. (Don’t worry, Rich comes to meet me, and we live in a very safe area.) I definitely feel my age on Fridays. The courses are varied in topic and types of students, and it is all good work to be doing. But each day involves a good bit of prep and grading, followed by full evenings of teaching. All four classes will end in two or three more weeks, and I will be ready for a break!
A lovely sight: On the practical front, a surprising offer came to us from a friend here of a discounted rate on an apartment she owns. We were not seeking a change, but we are so grateful for God’s unexpected gift. Our previous apartment was perfect for our first season in KL, as it was central and convenient. Its main drawback was that it was in an extremely dense location, so there was nowhere to walk where we could enjoy nature. During a retreat in CA in December, I had identified the lack of natural beauty as a challenge of life here, and prayed about that but with little sense of how that might come our way. This apartment is still in the city but in an area with tree-lined streets and folks out walking their dogs in the evenings. It also has an oven, washer, and dryer, three things we’d missed at our other place. It’s a short and pretty walk to the train station. We feel blessed and seen by God.
No change in sight: On the visa front, we have no news, sadly. We’d been led to hope for it to come through in Jan or Feb, but then got the update that work on processing visas had ground to a halt. This is a costly and discouraging hassle, as we needed to arrange travel for at least two weeks away—the amount of time we’ve been advised is a good minimum for being granted re-entry. We’ve been told that if we bring the physical documents showing that our long-term visa is in process, we should be fine. We’ve been invited to Nepal in May, and we’re going, despite being a bit nervous about piling up more attempts to enter Malaysia. So, yet again, we ask for prayers in this area, and for discernment of what God is up to in the process.
As always, we love to get quick replies, and love to pray for you as well, so drop us a note!
Lisa and Rich Lamb
The photos on the top and bottom were taken at the recent St. Paul’s Theological College retreat: Codenames, a group Lectio Divina exercise, and doing the very serious work of judging hilariously "Malaysianized" parables skits.
I have been writing Sketches of Leadership during the pandemic. These are short Bible studies on leadership topics, often developed because I have been asked to develop a course on a topic like Leadership during a Time of Crisis or Missional Leadership, or the course I am currently teaching, "Personal Leadership: Navigating Life's Turns and Disappointments." This course is addressing topics like fear, burnout, failure, disillusionment, conflict, suffering, and death. Though the topics are mostly negative, the passages and the promises we discuss are mostly hopeful, and the class has been very well received. Here is the list of the ten books I am writing. I have second drafts of Books 1-6, first drafts of books 7-8, and outlines of books 9-10. I hope to complete these books simultaneously and self-publish them in Kindle format very soon. I do not need to make money on them, but I do hope they generate some revenue that could help me to pay for the costs of translating them into the languages of the people I am teaching in Asia. Watch this space for news about how to download your own copies of these books coming soon!
Rich and Lisa Lamb