Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Malaysia part 1 - Penang & Kuala Lumpur

My long journey from Madrid to Malaysia, via Frankfurt & Bangkok, started at 4.30 pm on Wednesday 30th September and finally brought me into Kuala Lumpur international airport at 6 pm local time on Thursday 1st October. (The time in Malaysia is 6 hours ahead of Central European time.) However, the travelling had still not quite ended, as I then had to take an hour-long domestic flight from KL to Penang, eventually arriving at 9.10 pm.

I was greeted at the airport by Dr Sunny Tan, dean of the Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) in Penang, and by his wife Rosalind, director of the Holistic Child Development (HCD) Institute that is housed on the same MBTS campus. They took me in their car to the other side of the island, approximately another hour's drive. So, by this time very tired after so much travelling, and suffering the effects of jet lag, I was glad to finally get some rest in the guest room that had been prepared for me at the Seminary.

The Baptist Seminary has close links with the growing Child Theology Movement and has hosted several of its international consultations. Sunny Tan is one of the directors of CTM. They informed me that at one of these consultations they had invited Dr Jerome Berryman, the founder of Godly Play, to talk about his work. However, Jerome could not attend due to health problems. So, for about 5 years they had heard a lot about Godly Play but had never had the chance to experience the method personally. Now with my arrival in Malaysia, that opportunity finally arose and for that reasson the welcome was doubly warm!

Warm, too, was the climate with a high level of humidity - so I was very thankful for the air conditioning in my bedroom. I was warned to always keep doors and windows firmly shut because of the mosquitos and monkeys! The Seminary has been built on a steep hillside overlooking the coast, with thick vegetation on the other side. The monkeys come in from the hilly jungle area and are considered to be a nuisance as they steal whatever is within their grasp. I woke up the next morning to see several monkeys swinging on the telephone lines outside my bedroom window.

Later on, Sunny and Rosalind took me to a local Indian terraced restaurant for a very tasty breakfast: lentils and pita bread, washed down with iced lemon tea. After that it was back to the Seminary to start setting up for the 4-hour workshop on the principles and practice of Godly Play, which would take place straight after lunch in the campus refectory. As over 40 people had already booked in to attend the workshop, and last-minute registrations were still coming in via the telephone, we decided that the most adequate space was the Seminary chapel - and even that later proved to be rather cramped!

Eventually, about 45 people attended the workshop. We formed an inner circle on the floor and two other concentric semicircles of chairs. However, I noticed that some of those who sat on the outside ring had difficulty seeing everything as I told the Godly Play story of the Holy Family, and there was less participation during the 'wondering' time from those furthest away. It was also unfortunate that some had come to the workshop with false expectations, thinking that Godly 'play' would be a loadsafun approach and hoping for some tips to take home for party games and camp activities! They must have felt rather disappointed by the slow, soft manner of engaging with Bible stories that Godly Play offers.

Even so, there were good responses from others. The participants were from a broad cross section of church affiliations and contexts: school teachers, Sunday school volunteers, and professionals who worked with mentally and physically challenged children and young people in schools and day centres. Particularly in the second part of the workshop, during the full session of Godly Play, there were lively contributions to the wondering time and good responses to the well-stocked table of art supplies. Some chose to take their work outside to the patio where there was more space. Others returned to the desert bag and the story artefacts. And three of the participants asked me to tell them yet another story.

During our 'feast' time there were numerous questions about the Godly Play method, most of which I had heard before in Spain and other European countries. "Yes, this is wonderful. We have been able to get ready and enter the story, but will it work with children?" "American and European children might be able to settle down to all this slowness and quietness of Godly Play, but Malaysian kids need a much more upbeat approach - after all, it's what they're used to!" I just had to laugh silently inside me, as these were the very same comments that teachers made about Spanish children when I first started Godly Play in Madrid 5 years ago!

Early the next morning, Sunny, Rosalind and I caught the plane back to Kuala Lumpur, and then a taxi to the MBTS extension centre in Klang Valley. The centre was actually an apartment building in a residential area in one of the KL suburbs. A second 4-hour workshop was waiting for me there, too!

This time, the group was much smaller numerically - just 15 participants. It was a more relaxed session and we had a break for lunch. The group, although small, still represented a diverse mix of church denominations. A few from a local Lutheran fellowship had already begun to use Godly Play with their own children at church. They had bought several volumes of the Complete Guide to Godly Play and had made their own materials, such as clay 'people of God' figures. However, this was the first time that they had ever experienced Godly Play for themselves or received any training in the method.

The feedback following the 2nd workshop was on the whole much more positive and several participants were already asking for further ongoing training. This will obviously pose a challenge to them and to Godly Play trainers internationally.

My time in Kuala Lumpur had not yet finished, but I will resume that experience in the 2nd post of this Malaysian blog.

Many photographs were taken of the session in Penang. They can be found here

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