I was coming to Malaysia to take a couple of classes about Urban Ministry through Golden Gate seminary. But my desire to go to Malaysia and passion for its people took root many years before I was a seminary student. In the late 1950s, my grandparents first came to Malaysia as missionaries. They served there for 10 years and worked among the Tamil speaking Indians. Malaysia is where my dad spent his childhood; so I’ve always felt like part of my heritage is in Malaysia. Though I was thousands of miles away from home, I felt strangely connected to my family as I looked out of my little window and imagined my dad landing on the same runway when he was just a little boy.
I snapped back into reality as the plane came to an abrupt landing and I stepped foot into the hot, humid air. As I made my way through the crowded streets of Kuala Lumpur, I encountered people from all different cultural backgrounds. Not only did I notice the three main people groups of Malaysia (Malay, Chinese and Indian), but I also saw people from Africa, the Middle East, Europe… nearly the whole globe seemed to be represented in this urban city.
The scent of incense weaved in and out of the air while mixing with the smells of sizzling meat from road-side stands and diesel fuel from the busy roads. I heard voices all around me- I couldn’t distinguish the difference between the Tamil, Chinese and Malay languages. They all seemed to blend together into a conglomeration of syllables that were foreign to me. Colorful fabrics were draped along the walls of small shops. The vendors beckoned me to “come have a look.”
I felt like I was in a wonderful dream, only it was real! I was really making my way through the colorful, crowded, chaotic, cultural streets of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. And my journey had only just begun! Over the next two weeks, I would have many eye-opening experiences and be reunited with some of my dearest friends from college. I would learn things through our class activities that I would never learn in a classroom. My eyes would be opened to ways that God is working in cities all around the world and I would be exposed to ways that God could potentially use me in the future. Adventure was beckoning me, and I couldn’t contain my excitement.
Over the course of my trip, my eyes were opened to see the rich, unique culture of the Malaysian people. In my classes, I learned about their customs, their religions, and their lifestyles. As a class exercise one day, we sat at separate tables at a road-side outdoor restaurant. Our task was to observe the people for an hour. We were to record what they looked like (What were they wearing? What language were they speaking? What noises did we hear? What did it smell like?).
So many times I am in such a hurry that I rarely take the time to stop and observe those around me. I walk past people every day without even looking at them. But this particular day, I looked deeply into those people. So much so that I began to feel like I knew them personally. I watched as Chinese women shopped for fruits and vegetables in the market and Indian men cooked roti canai at the restaurant. I saw people offer fruits and candies at the Buddhist temple and my heart ached because they didn’t know the truth of Jesus. Though this wasn’t necessarily a “mission trip,” God was still working in my heart and giving me a passion for his people.
Sometimes when I go on trips, I enjoy myself, but by the time the 10-days is up, I’m ready to come home. But every now and then, I am deeply touched by a place and its people. This happened in Sri Lanka and again in Hawaii. And now I can say Malaysia impacted me in the same way. I guess it’s just one of those places where I feel like I “fit.” I felt totally comfortable there and as I was walking through a busy street in the city one day I thought to myself (or maybe God nudged me), “I could totally live here.”
I can’t predict the future. And I have no idea what God may have in store for me. But if He called me to live in Malaysia, or a place like Malaysia, I would be more than willing to go. My heart was singing the whole time I was there. As I imagined my grandparents serving in that same place decades before, I was filled with awe and thankfulness. God is so faithful. How cool it is that I was able to go to the same place and share the same passion for its people that my grandparents had.
Another highlight of the trip was being reunited with my Malaysian friends who graduated from Campbell. In 2005, when I first arrived at Campbell, I went to the International Student Office and told them that I wanted to meet international students. The first students that I met were five girls from Malaysia. We began a friendship that year that has continued until today. Each year after that, exchange students would come to Campbell and I would always be excited to meet them. By the time I graduated, I had about 20 friends from Malaysia who had come to Campbell. Many of them live in the states now, but I was fortunate to be able to meet up with several of them on my trip.
Again, I was reminded of God’s faithfulness. When I said goodbye to these friends 3 or 4 years ago, I wondered if I would ever see them again. But here I was, years later, in their home country, sharing a meal with them. And now I was the international student! We sat around the table late at night, laughing and reminiscing on our memories from our time at Campbell. We talked about the first time I met each of them, and I’m just surprised I didn’t scare anyone off! One guy said, “You just showed up in my apartment my very first morning in America and I had no idea who you were but you were so excited.” Another girl said, “I was in a car and you ran after me and introduced yourself because you knew I was Malaysian.” Thank goodness they weren’t too afraid of this crazy American girl!
My good friend Jamie is from Malaysia and though she’s still in North Carolina, I was able to spend a day with her family. I had talked to them before and heard all about them for years, but had never met them. It was such a joy to go to Jamie’s hometown and sit in her house with her family. Her dad brought out his guitar and as we sang praise and worship songs, my eyes filled up with tears. I was flooded with memories of my time at Campbell with my sweet Malaysian friends. Part of my heart ached to go back to that time when we were all together. But then another part of me was just extremely joyful and thankful for how God has been at work in all of our lives over the past few years. Being in Malaysia was a great reminder that even though my friends are scattered all over the world, God is just as real over there as He is in America. He’s working all the time, even when I can’t see it. But I’m so thankful that for those two weeks in Malaysia, He allowed me to see a small glimpse of His plan for my dear friends there. What an incredible journey.