Together with George Town (Penang), Melaka (or Malacca) was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Cities in 2008, and my couple of walks around the historic centre showed me how fascinating the place really is. Its cultural and religious diversity revealed in numerous mosques, temples and churches, its traces of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial rule, its colourful 'trishaws' (tricycle rickshaws) and meandering canal walks, its smell of delicious Indian and Chinese cooking... all made me wish for more time to wander and to take in more fully all the sights, sounds and smells this old 'gateway to Malaysia' had to offer. However, I only had three days in the city before returning to Madrid in time for the first national Godly Play gathering that I was coordinating at the end of the week (see next post).
In any case, I was not in Melaka primarily for sightseeing. The initial and primary purpose of my visit to Malaysia was to lead a one-hour Godly Play presentation at an international consultation on Bible engagement. In the track which concerned the 'Coming Generations', about 45 leaders from many different Christian agencies around the world met together to discuss ways of encouraging effective Bible engagement with children and young people. This discussion was based on a series of different models of good practice that were presented throughout the first two days of the consultation, and tied into the overall Bible theme for the event: the encounter of the risen Lord with his two disciples on the road to Emmaus (in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24).
Scripture Union's International Week of Prayer guide summarizes nicely the aims and some of the contents of the track:
'Exploring Scripture Engagement for the 21st Century' was the theme of the 'Hearts Burning' Conference convened by the Forum of International Bible Agencies in Malaysia in October. In the 'Children and Youth Track', experienced practitioners (including several SU staff from different national movements) presented workshops that demonstrated different models of working amongst young people. Each of the models reflected thoughtful hermeneutics, the relational dimension of Scripture engagement and the expectation of response. Thank God for the diversity of experiences shared from around the world: from Godly Play with young people to state-of-the-art multi-media resources, from an interactive Bible Timeline approach to the Bible narrative, to the transformational impact of that narrative upon traumatised children and youth. Please pray that as a result of the Forum, SU around the world will face the challenges of Scripture engagement with today's young people with renewed vision and innovative ideas as the many SU delegates return to their national movements.
The feedback from my own workshop on Godly Play was very encouraging. Here are a few snippets:
- "Children and young people can 'hear' God without our help."
- "Really we need to understand more about our children."
- "It's really Godly play."
- "Very interesting for children and a very powerful tool."
- "Rituals and symbols."
- "Helping children to reflect."
- "The power of interactive object lessons"
- "Interesting storytelling method"
- The confidence that children - including very young children - can encounter God in the Bible narrative.
- The simplicity of inviting children to 'wonder' about the story - without prescribing answers or even requiring a verbal response.
- The patience and dignity of allowing the children to enter the story - no need for the adult to interpret the text for the child, but simply to encourage them to engage with it.
- The multi-sensory approach - not just visual.
- The reverence that accompanied 'God coming near'.
Perhaps the most challenging feedback for the long-term development of Godly Play came from Stanley Chum, General Secretary of the Chinese Bible International Ltd, based in Hong Kong. He wrote the following evaluation on the response poster: "David, that is the best presentation I have ever seen. I personally was in the story and have spiritual insight gained. I wonder how to train storytellers to work to that effectiveness." In a brief conversation the following day, Stanley and I discussed how to begin Godly Play training for Hong Kong and the whole of mainland China!
Photos: Typical sights in Melaka