Above: A great class of MDiv students at Nepal New Covenant College.
Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ John 13:7
While I’m eager to share our recent ministry joys and challenges, I am distracted and discouraged by the news coming from Israel this week. It is time once again to write a prayer letter, but my own prayers have been focused on Israel and on the growing conflict there. All people of good will pray for peace, but like the protracted war in Ukraine, it is difficult to see how it may be achieved. God is indeed great, but human evil is still quite present in this world.
All the more reason to be engaged doing what we are doing here in Asia! Last month Lisa and I were in Nepal for a week, teaching pastors and organizational leaders for their last term in a three-year Masters of Arts degree in Organizational Leadership. I taught the course on Fundraising, and Lisa taught a course on cross-cultural communication and leadership. The 11students in the program were thoughtful and highly engaged. . It was a great week, teaching alongside each other and getting to know the students in that context in Kathmandu. It was inspiring to hear the vision statements of the organizations represented in the cohort, ministries focused around serving teens, orphans, women at risk, and to mobilizing leaders into ministry and church planting.
At the end of the week, Lisa flew back to Kuala Lumpur while I went on to a second week of teaching at Nepal New Covenant College, which is a small school in Eastern Nepal. I had taught three courses there via Zoom (during the pandemic),but I had never been on the campus. I taught a course called, Personal Leadership: Navigating Life’s Turns and Disappointments. My previous courses at NNCC focused on leadership, but had been focused more on pastoral and organizational choices and insights. This course focused on topics of failure, burnout, fear, temptation, disappointment, disillusionment, suffering, and death. With all the negative topics, the course was an immense encouragement for students, and over 6 days we spent so much time in Bible study and discussing these challenging topics in deep ways. Almost every day there were moments of tears, or deep sharing, or thoughtful reflections on the parts of the students.
One theme for the week is captured in Jesus’ words to Peter, when he was washing the disciples’ feet and Peter was objecting. ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ We often experience the hard times mentioned above but our understanding of what God is doing in our lives at the moment is obscured. We don’t NOW know what he is doing, but often later we are given greater understanding and perspective. My hope for this course was to help the MDiv students (some of whom were already serving as pastors) have perspective on the hard aspects of their lives, past, present and future. Of course, the hope is that these discussions will bring them insight into the struggles and issues those they lead will also face. I have taught many different courses in the last three years—but this topic and cohort of students was one of my real favorites.
Of course, the topic also is personal to me, and perhaps to many, as the last three years, since the outbreak of COVID, have been a time of mostly not understanding what God is doing, but praying in hope to one day be able to understand. It feels to me that Lisa and I are in a time of reaping some of that understanding, as we are given many opportunities to make a real difference in the lives of students, pastors, and organizational leaders in Asia.
I have, on the side, been working on releasing short YouTube videos on some of my teaching topics. If you would like to see short summaries of some of the teaching I did in Nepal, the following videos cover scriptures that I studied with students.
Thank you for making our ministry possible through your gifts and prayers. We love to hear from you!
Rich and Lisa
Below, Alumni of my past NNCC courses want to take a picture with their professor. I had just presented them gift copies of my book (Sketches of Leadership, volume 1, books 1-3).
Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words that Baruch wrote at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which King Jehoiakim of Judah has burned.” Jeremiah 36:27-28
This past week I (Lisa) had the privilege of serving as part of the faculty for a three-day retreat of doctoral students from all over Asia. Since few schools here have the bandwidth to field a Ph.D. program of their own and since some students are working in countries without any seminary, they have creatively combined forces to offer one as a consortium. The work of the Asian Graduate School of Theology (AGST Alliance https://agstalliance.org) is so strategic. The students are highly self-motivated, working mostly on their own and with their doctoral mentor, so these three days together each year are much-needed fuel for their journeys. Their stories inspired me, their wide-ranging topics intrigued me, and as a cohort they filled me with hope for the future of theological education in Asia. I offered devotional reflections from Scripture each day. One day I led us in learning from the model of Baruch.
Baruch is the patron saint of writers and re-writers. He faithfully wrote all of Jeremiah’s prophecies into a very lengthy scroll, then boldly read it to the people. When the king got wind of this, he asked for a private reading, at which time he callously burned the scroll a section at a time. What must this have been like for Jeremiah and Baruch? They may have had high hopes for how their (the Lord’s) words would be received. Like many writers (including some of you, in writing or other fields) who put their workout there with vulnerable hope, they experienced a huge setback. It must have been devastating, and hard to understand. They may have assumed it was the end of the road. I imagine it may have been nearly as hard to then hear the words, “Take another scroll…” We talked about the perseverance and faithfulness that it takes to write--and to rewrite-- after a setback. Several students have had life or ministry challenges that caused them to put their projects on hold for weeks or months, and they resonated with the courage it took to reopen their document and begin again.
This passage speaks to me personally as well, as we have experienced a season of setbacks that have been hard at times to understand. The end of term and the summer break (which is very brief here) did not roll out as we had planned. As most of you know, my appendix ruptured, and I was hospitalized for several days.
Here’s the part we haven’t yet shared: I was fully recovered in time for a rather ambitious itinerary we had planned for early August--a week in Hong Kong with our son and daughter-in-law while we graded and taught final sessions via Zoom, then a flight back to KL with connecting flights on to the US for me and India for Rich. But as the plane from Hong Kong landed in KL, Rich experienced a severe bout of dizziness (vertigo) that made him too unsteady to walk to the next flight. This plunged us into a series of interesting adventures learning about how airport ambulances work here (not well, let’s just say), cancelling tickets, communicating with pastors in India and family in North Carolina, etc. The upshot is that Rich is fine—we met with an excellent ENT back in KL who pinned down the problem to nasal inflammation and got him on good medicine, with no recurrence of dizziness. He did not go to India, but the training events went on, with a key leader in whom he’s been investing doing from all reports an excellent job teaching the material he's developed. We were happy to learn that, but at 3 AM in a small-town hospital outside KL, our well-laid plans in tatters, it certainly felt like a Baruch moment: a confusing, disappointing, and discouraging setback.
This week, we are taking up our scrolls again—the AGST retreat will be quickly followed by the beginning of the term at SPTC. Rich has an exciting new opportunity to offer weekly leadership training to some of the many Burmese church leaders who for now call KL home, in addition to ongoing Zoom training in India. On September 16, we will head to Nepal and each teach intensive courses for Development Associates International’s MA in Organizational Leadership.
One form of persisting and resilience for Rich has been his foray into the realm of video! The recent illnesses have reminded us both of our limitations and caused him to think about creative ways to extend his reach beyond physical presence or even the synchronous presence of a Zoom class. While I was in the US with family and friends, he hunkered down and learned some video editing skills, and I think the initial results are quite good, and even fun! Check out several recent videos here and subscribe to his channel for more:
Successful Failure https://youtu.be/MjXZX814w9Y
A Leader Leads by Serving https://youtu.be/-ZmQaIBh71U
A Leader Serves by Leading https://youtu.be/WVcCLw83gU8
(If you do watch the videos, please click on the “LIKE” button as it helps me with visibility. I am really just starting this channel, but of course I hope people begin to notice these—from Rich.)
One of the things that struck us at the doctoral student gathering was how much the Lord valued Baruch’s writing project. God’s word to him about the king (vv. 29-31) is that he would have no lasting legacy. But Baruch’s life still speaks to us today, calling us to be faithful, resilient, and tenacious.
Please pray for us as we enter the fall, a bit sobered by our recent reminders of our finitude, but still eager to give ourselves wholeheartedly to the people and the work to which we’ve been called. Pray for health, stamina, and wisdom. We’re grateful to God for preserving and protecting us and for giving us good work to do, and as always, we are so grateful for each one of you, and for the prayers, financial support, and friendship that makes our work here possible.
Rich and Lisa
Above: Lisa and Rich back at home together after Lisa’s 5-night stay at the hospital.
(From Lisa) Thank you so much for your prayers and kind words during my hospitalization. I am not out of the woods, but I am home, taking two strong antibiotics. The infected mass that grew around my ruptured appendix shrank considerably through your prayers and five days of IV antibiotics. It is not gone, my surgeon stressed, and my blood numbers are still not in normal range, so I need to rest and monitor for fever and pain, and go back in for more tests in a few days. But it was delightful to get a full night's rest in my own bed. I had never understood so fully the saying that a hospital is no place to get well or get rest. To all who replied with kind notes, I did not reply but read them all and smiled--I am grateful. We appreciate continued prayers for full healing.
(From Rich) I too am so grateful to have Lisa back, and thankful as well for all the kindness shown us in this time.
In other news, I have written a few books! Ten, to be precise. To be clear, they are short and simple, with no footnotes, and they contain many things I have been teaching for about 40 years. The series is called Sketches of Leadership (sound familiar?) and the books are compilations of “Sketches” around different leadership and discipleship topics. Each book contains 10-12 Bible studies that could be used by a small group or ministry team, but of course they can be read by individuals for their own learning and growth.
Now, I did not stop my teaching ministry in Asia to write these books. The pandemic produced a great surge in writing energy in me, and my collection of written Sketches of Leadership tripled during 2020-2022. Several colleges in Malaysia and India asked me to teach courses on different leadership topics, which required me to develop new material. This prompted new sketches. I have now put all this into short books (70-100 pages each).
I had resisted putting these into book format for over 20 years, since I began developing my leadership material. I am committed to the inductive Bible study process, and my material was delivered almost exclusively as Bible studies intended to be inductively led in small groups of students, staff, church members and leaders, pastors, etc. But in the last year I kept having conversations with pastors and leaders that made me realize that having a more familiar and portable content delivery vehicle such as a series of books would allow me to reach a wider audience, and perhaps more deeply, even though I would trade away my beloved inductive process.
I believe these short books will be helpful in Malaysia, India (even in English, but especially in translation) and elsewhere. And I hope that you who read our letters will find them helpful.
In the US, these books are now available on Kindle and perhaps eventually in print. For the next few days (through July 12th) they are free on Kindle. So, if you have an Amazon Kindle or Fire (or a Kindle reader on your laptop) you can download free Kindle versions of these books. In fact, if you would do that, then you can write a short review of one or more of these books and that can help them become better known and noticed. If you have any interest in these books, but do not have a Kindle reader, you can download one for your laptop here. You can also find a Kindle Reader app for your phone, but I personally couldn’t imagine reading these on a phone.
I encourage you to visit Amazon.com for the complete list of books, although the list is also available on our blog, with more information about each title. Let me highlight a few of the titles:
I have pursued the growingly popular self-publishing route. 1) The process with IV Press takes a long time—from inquiry to published book was almost 2 years, and that was after I already had first drafts completed. I didn’t want to wait to get these vetted and approved by IV Press, which was of course not certain anyway. 2) I wanted to produce books in Malaysia and India that the average person in these countries could afford. I think printed books will be priced at a level of about $2.50 in India and about $4 in Malaysia.
Thank you so much for your prayers for Lisa! We were very encouraged by the response.
Thank you for your prayers and notes! They are very much appreciated. If you’d like to read a short sweet lament Lisa wrote about her time in the hospital, visit our blog.
Rich and Lisa
I’ve just returned from a six-day hospitalization for a ruptured appendix, a malady which went undetected for several days--long enough for a serious infection to set in. Many aspects of this journey, which began three weeks ago with moderate but persistent stomach pain, have been frustrating and confusing. It can be challenging to access medical care in a foreign country. An initial doctor’s visit may have failed to cover all the bases (or it wasn’t appendicitis by that point), it didn’t present in the typical way (no searing pain or fever), etc. At any rate, I am grateful I eventually got the care I needed and pleased with many aspects of that care. But there were moments that hit me hard. Like the lizard fiasco.
I had asked friends on Facebook to post pictures of their pets to cheer me up. An array of adorable dogs and cats soon filled my feed, along with the odd bear in a driveway and the determined raccoon scaling a window. Each one made me smile and buoyed my spirit. Animals of every kind delight me, and I was touched as well by the kindness of my friends.
Though I was tied to my bed by the IV drip line attached to my wrist, my doctor wisely encouraged me to seize the moments when it was detached for bathroom breaks and take walks. On the fourth day I was especially bored and lonely (I have an attentive husband but inevitably spent many hours on my own). So, I ventured out to the entrance area where fellow inmates were being released to waiting cars. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the tiniest lizard I had ever seen, a bit more than two inches long. I mused that it was the size of the infected mass inside me that we were trying all week to shrink, but cuter and much more diligent at doing pushups. I bent down and watched it fetchingly flex its triceps. I thought, “I’ll take a picture and post it on Facebook as my pet—a “thank you” for all the pet posts I’ve received!” I’d left my phone charging but headed back up to the fourth floor and got it, hoping against hope it would still be there when I returned. I got back just in time to watch a janitor mopping the lizard into a pile. “NO!” I cried. I found it on its back fighting for its life and flipped it back on its belly. At that point the janitor scoldingly shook his finger at me and smashed the little guy to death with his mop.
I turned away and silently screamed, and tearlessly wept, shaking my fists in frustration. “Why, God? What cruel trick was that? Why pile that on to my pain, making me come down here to see random suffering?” That remains baffling, just as the whys of this whole appendicitis incident remains a bit of a mystery. I don’t fully understand what hearing from God looks like or claim to know for certain when it is happening. I rarely get more than inklings. But what I heard quite clearly as I pondered it later was, “I did not like watching that either.” This seems right to me—God takes no pleasure in suffering. God cannot or at least does not always prevent it, but God does come alongside. God sees. And God suffers with us, and with this whole groaning creation, even down to its smallest lizards. And musings on creation, from the likes of Lewis, Chesterton, and even Calvin, make me think that God also takes pleasure in watching lizards do their pushups and will one day restore a kingdom where all his creatures are treasured.
Setting theodicy aside for a moment, I want to be clear that I am not griping that I live in a country that treats animals poorly. I live in a country in which one janitor was callous toward one lizard. I see well-loved dogs every day here. This is not a cultural reflection. It’s a lament. Life can get hard. My last three weeks were hard. The lizard smash was a microcosm, a visible manifestation of all the hard on going within me. Its one grace was that it afforded me a moment to cry out in visceral lament, instead of just soldiering on. It no doubt hit me harder because I was fragile and worn down—perhaps it was silly to let it upset me. For now, I’m going to keep trying to learn the lifelong lesson from my very small sister, who was always so good at noticing the smallest good gifts life sent her way: I’ll keep delighting in pet pictures, the kind friends here who visited me in the hospital, and tiny lizards doing pushups as long as they have breath.
Photo by verdian chua on Unsplash
This is a follow up to our last letter, sent as we just arrived in Nepal. We had a great time in Nepal with the IFES staff team there and we were a good team as we taught on leadership (Rich) and mentoring (Lisa). Lisa returned to Kuala Lumpur and I have been in Orissa State and then in Punjab state the last 12 days, with just a couple more before I return to Kuala Lumpur.
As a reminder, my main strategy in all my teaching here is to help develop the Indian pastors and leaders by teaching and modeling inductive teaching. When they see it done they recognize that their church members enjoy it more, and it retains even young people’s interest far better than the typical style In my sessions. My first challenge is to get people to participate in the Bible study, first by directing them to move into small groups of 3 or 4 to discuss the passage, and then to turn back to the large group to bring their comments out to everyone. It is an unfamiliar process to many, and at first they are shy. My strategy is to be winsome and coaxing—I see some of the pastors are more comfortable speaking with more authority and challenging people, almost (though I cannot tell except by body language and tone) shaming them to participate. But in the end, I do think the coaxing wins them, and they begin to believe I am ready to listen to them, and I do. One… then a second… and then it seems they eventually must speak up, and many are eager to share, on topic, as requested, a question, something they liked or noticed, or a verse they wondered about. And then our Bible study is off to the races.
Now these are modified Bible studies—on the small side they are 30 people, on the large side, 180 people. The larger they are the more it is like preaching, and over time in the session I move from eliciting discussion to summary and teaching. But throughout I am asking questions, for feedback or at least rhetorically. And I know they are with me because I see them nodding. My points aren’t made with the dogmatic shouts of the preacher, but with the storytelling logic and reasonableness of the teacher, and typically they like both the style and the content, or so it seems.
Today was typical in some ways. After the 3 sessions of teaching ended, I thought people might be tired and ready to leave, but they stayed around for 20 minutes of photos with me, their new friend, the celebrity of the day, posing with families, with teens, with elder men, with young women, with families. And then prayer for a dozen or so, moms with ill children, men and women with body pains (for a very logical reason no doubt given the challenges of their lives), for a man struggling with alcoholism and a woman struggling with demonic oppression. I’m more comfortable with the prayer time than with the photos, but it is clear they enjoyed the teaching and wanted to linger in the day’s humor and lightness a little longer.
I spent 7 full days in Orissa State visiting churches and teaching in this inductive style, perhaps teaching 20 times (usually 3 sometimes 4 times daily), with travel between stops, and usually one session with just pastors and lay leaders after they have seen me teaching inductively. Some of the 100 pastors I met in Orissa have been on my Zoom calls, but most haven’t—they’ve been going through the Sketches of Leadership with the Zoom call pastors coaching them. All 100 pastors were being shown a model of inductive teaching that could be tried and learned by them that, as Pastor S said, is both easier and more fun than preaching solid for an hour (while kind of haranguing for a good part of that time, as repetition seems to be the typical way to build an hour-long sermon).
So I thought I was going to Orissa to continue to train the 25 pastors I have been teaching via Zoom, but it was really to encourage them while also meeting and training the 75 other pastors and church planters (including many youth and women) in the network, to hear their stories (which was the main point of our leaders’ meetings), to pray for them and encourage them in their work.
One of my favorite parts of a journey like this is the opportunity to hear stories, and pastor S had arranged a few gatherings specifically for the pastors and church planters to share stories to encourage both each other and me and to pray for each other.
I have three more days of inductive teaching, training and modeling for pastors and leaders here what I hope they will take up in the coming months. My immediate goals for the Punjab visit are that we begin a Punjabi Zoom call with a dozen or more pastors going through more Sketches of Leadership, after having been introduced to them this week. If there is sufficient interest for that, I have great hope that this work can continue to grow.
Please pray 1) for the work and investment here to produce fruit in the lives of the 140 (mostly pretty young) pastors and lay leaders attending these trainings; 2) for health and safe return to Kuala Lumpur; 3) for Lisa and my busy class teaching schedule this Spring term that has already begun for her and for me begins on Tuesday and Wednesday next week!
Thanks so much for your interest in our ministry, your prayers and your support! We are grateful to be able to be fully investing in our work here. Please drop us a note if you are able! We always love to hear from you!
Rich and Lisa
Below: Our view of the foothills of the Himalayas from Pokhara where we were training NBCBS (Nepal IFES) staff!
”For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” Romans 1:11-12
Lisa and I are happy to be together in Nepal for a week. We have each taught in Nepal in the past (Lisa in 2017, Rich in 2018 and 2019), but this is our first chance to be here together, joining the staff team of the IFES student ministry. We had planned to visit them in June 2020,but of course those plans had to be cancelled. When we first were praying about ministry in Asia, Nepal was always part of our sense of calling. We both have taught courses on-line in Nepal in the last two years, and we will both teach hybrid courses in the fall, courses which begin with a week of in-person teaching in Kathmandu. This is one of the benefits of living in Kuala Lumpur--direct flights here are quick and inexpensive.
After our time in Nepal, Lisa will return to Kuala Lumpur to begin a new school term, and I will spend two weeks in India, in Orissa (May 7-14) and Punjab (May 15-21). The first week I will teach about 20 times, through the entire gospel of Mark. We will be in five locations, teaching the people of the village/town churches in 3 inductive studies over the course of each day, with a fourth study in the evening for a group of pastors and church planters that will be traveling all week with us. These pastors have been with me studying scripture weekly via Zoom for the past six months, and I am looking forward to meeting them in person! My host and translator, Pastor S, was a graduate student in a course I taught in India last July —he is a great student of the Word, teacher, and leader. His initiative has brought this week about. I am looking forward to all the teaching, but especially to deepening the teaching/training ability of the pastors who will be in the course, as they both learn from my content and my modeling of inductive methods.
The second week in India I will be in Punjab state, teaching among a group of pastors and lay leaders in a church-planting network. The schedule will be similar, but a bit reduced, probably only 3 sessions/day. Still, it will ideally open up a new network of pastors to this teaching in a way that may continue via Zoom after the end of my time there. My connection to this ministry and network of Pastors in Punjab state is Pastor J, who hosted Lisa and me last August in Tamil Nadu state. He will be joining me for the week in Punjab, where his seminary friend will be hosting us. I hope to return to Tamil Nadu again later this year, perhaps after my return to Nepal in September.
One theme of my investment in India is helping pastors to learn how to teach inductively by asking questions and getting groups of people to look at the word and to discuss it themselves in small and then larger groups. Pastor S in Orissa has been doing this with groups of people who are very much enjoying a new way of hearing and studying the Word of God. The pastors who will be with me for the week in Orissa will leave with several months’ worth of Bible studies they can return with to their own churches, and a model of how to lead people into discussions that will help move them past the typical experience, which is of a pastor just talking for a long time about a passage in ways that do not as easily engage the hearts and minds of the listeners.
Please pray for our time in Nepal, India, and Lisa on her own in KL. We ask your prayers for health and stamina, as well as for the campus ministers and pastors we will serve. In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he is obviously looking forward to the teaching and ministry he can do among them, and he expresses that in 1:11, but then Paul gives us a look into his thought process, because he enlarges his thought to recognize that his time in Rome will involve mutual sharing and encouragement. This is indeed how we see our visits to Nepal and India. We are aware that in both countries, the church faces great grass roots resistance, and government suppression is on the rise, so we hope to be an encouragement to them in person as we have been praying for them at a distance. But the pastors and church in India, and the student ministry staff in Nepal, are a very real inspiration to us, as God’s promises about suffering for the Gospel are more meaningful to them than we can imagine.
As we often do, we ask for prayers for our visa situation, which has not progressed in any way we can discern. Thus, we left KL with minor trepidation, since each departure adds one more uncertain attempt to enter on a new tourist visa.
Thanks so much for your interest in our ministry, your prayers and your support! We are grateful to be able to be fully investing in our work here. Please drop us a note if you are able! We love to hear from you!
Rich and Lisa
“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!
[Photo: The St. Paul’s Theological College Faculty and Staff recognize the Chinese New Year with oranges, a symbol of well-being and abundance.]
Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. Mark 10:51-52
We hope you all enjoyed a Happy Lunar New Year. We have been in Malaysia now a little over a month, and we just finished the observance of Chinese New Year for the two weeks before and after January 22nd. The CNY celebration in your area might have been more muted, but here, it was quite festive. We ate well and saw lots of art, splashes of red everywhere, and lots of bunnies as we enter the Year of the Rabbit.
In the brief story of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, in Mark 10, Jesus asks the blind man an interesting question: “What do you want me to do for you?” Why, at one level, would Jesus need even to ask? You wouldn’t need divine omniscience to know that the blind' man’s top request would be to be healed. But Jesus still wanted the blind man to ask. Another way to put it is that Jesus doesn’t assume he knows—he let’s the blind man express it first.
I (Rich) call this question “The Servant’s Question”, because Jesus asks this question twice in the larger context of Mark 10, before and then after Jesus teaches his disciples about seeking to be great by becoming a servant. Jesus, and Mark in his composition of his gospel, is teaching us that asking this simple question is a powerful way to be a servant. Jesus, with divine resources and knowledge at his fingertips, nevertheless asks people to express what it is they would like from him.
Now, I do not think of myself as Jesus, but I do want to learn from and model my ministry after his. I am doing a great deal of teaching, which I am very grateful for. Every week I teach between 20 and 24 hours of classes, some for the three seminaries in Malaysia we serve and a training center in China, and the rest of the time in non-formal classes, each with 6-15 men and women who are serving as pastors and lay leaders among the poor in several states of India. Some of the classes are taught in English, but about half of those hours are taught in translation. All the classes are inductive, which means (especially for the translated classes) I do a lot of listening. I listen when my own words are translated, but also when Scripture is read (in Hindi, Tamil, Oriya, etc.), when people are making their comments in the group sessions, and I listen some more when their comments are being translated to English so I can understand. So my classes are not “efficient”—I spend 90 minutes but only perhaps actually “teach” for 20. Of course I don’t really believe my classes are inefficient, because even when I am not teaching, I am modeling: asking questions, seeking participation, affirming contributions, clarifying and summarizing what others have said, asking follow-up questions; and from time to time I am also bringing out the clarity that may be lacking in the discussion after we have had significant time discussing the text.
And then at the end of the non-formal classes, I usually try to complete my remarks a little early so there are 10 minutes to listen to and jot down prayer requests and pray. I have come to see that asking, “What is it you would like me to pray for for you?” is an important way I can serve the people I am teaching and training. I hear prayer requests about upcoming weddings, sick family members, heartaches (tonight I prayed for a bride for a young and poor pastor), home and church construction projects, children’s college and high school exams, and everything in between. I get to know their lives and needs. I do not have money to resolve all the financial pressures, but we together have access to the Father from whom all good gifts come to us.
I would never have said I am a man of prayer. (I would own to be fairly described as a man of Scripture.) But I am praying more, for more people who are desperate, and more eager to hear of answered prayer, than I have ever been. And I am glad to be more willing to ask the servant intercessor’s question: “What is it you would like for me to pray for you?” I am so grateful for the way God through this ministry is changing me.
Perhaps you saw our notice in our last letter, but Lisa’s book, Resonate, How to Preach for Deep Connection, came into print mid-December. If you haven’t had a chance, check it out here and consider buying a copy for yourself or as a gift for a pastor, campus minister, or seminarian friend. We would greatly appreciate if you would rate and review it on Amazon. It’s quicker than you’d think—don’t feel a need to compose an essay. Two sentences would be great.
We’re so grateful to you all for your prayers and care!
With gratitude for your friendship, financial partnership in our work, and prayers,
Rich and Lisa Lamb
PS: Below see images of colorful and artistic displays in our neighborhood during the Lunar New Year observances.
Rich and Lisa Lamb