Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Godly Play practice in Kuala Lumpur

Wonderful circle of special children!
Saturday 3 November 2012 was an exciting and intensive day for me in Malaysia. I had arrived in Kuala Lumpur the evening before, made my way from KLIA, the international airport, by express train to the city's central station, where I was picked up by my hosts, Phoebe and Yu Chiet. We immediately made our way to a Chinese restaurant for supper, before continuing to the apartment they have for guests, just across the hall from their own residence.

However, Saturday was when the fun really began, starting off with an amazing breakfast at an Indian restaurantt! I was then taken to the Breakthru Enrichment Station (BEST), a school for children and young people with learning dificulties and challenges, where Phoebe and Yu Chiet are directors. This was where I was asked to present Godly Play to a group of the children, with staff, volunteers and family members observing! I was very conscious that this almost one-to-one ratio of adults to children was not at all the Godly Play way of doing things. So, while the children were looked after by some of the staff members in an adjacent play space, I briefed the adults on the background of Godly Play, explained to them that what was about to take place was not normal practice, and ernestly asked them to be as quiet and unobtrusive as possible during the session with the children.

I needn't have worried too much... when the children arrived, we began to form the circle and they focused immediately on the story ('The Exodus') and remained so throughout the wondering, response time and feast. Only a couple of members of staff had to draw near to one or two of the children to help them re-focus from time to time. Altogether, the children, as well as mums, dads, grandmother, staff and volunteers, did amazingly well!

Sweeping up the desert sand!
During response time, many of the children drew and painted pictures. The 'desert bag' was also popular, of course. At clearing up time, I told the children that they were responsible for sweeping up the sand that had managed to escape from the bag, rather than the adult helpers. The children --mainly boys-- quickly found some tiny brushes and pans, and really enjoyed the game of getting all the sand back into the bag. In fact, laughter and fun was in the air from start to finish!

After the children had left with their family members, I was able to debrief the members of staff and volunteers, and listen to their own observations and reactions to the session. The comments were all very favourable. Here is a summary of what was later posted on the 'BEST' Facebook page: «It's amazing how the children were so engaged throughout the Godly Play session on 'Exodus'. Our team had a great time watching how the session was conducted for children who have various learning abilities, discussing our observation and learning after the session. We are thankful to the Lord for this wonderful opportunity»... «Thanks for your sharing in Malaysia especially with the children in Breakthru Enrichment Station.» 

BEST directors:
Yu Chiet, Lian Ai and Phoebe
Hopefully, Godly Play will continue to feature regularly at this school. A number of the dedicated staff and volunteers later took part in the Godly Play workshop I led the following Saturday at Bangsar Lutheran Church in Kuala Lumpur. So many of the principles of Godly Play seem to connect with the core values at Breakthru Enrichment Centre.

Following Godly Play with the special needs children, it was time for lunch at another restaurant -- this time Malay! (The range and variety of cuisine was amazing!) Then Phoebe and Lian Ai (the third director at 'BEST' and a former school teacher) drove me to another excellent Christian ministry centre that I had contacted before I left Spain. It was only a few kilometres away, but neither group were previously aware of the other's existence, which sadly is so often the case in big cities. After negotiating the heavy KL traffic and monsoon showers, we eventually arrived at the Harvest centre, run by the Dignity for Children Foundation in Malaysia, a ministry to the urban poor in Sentul, a district to the north of KL.

Revd. Elisha and Petrina,
 founders of Dignity for Children
The two adjacent and interconnecting apartment blocks house a church meeting hall, a Montessori infants' school, a primary and a secondary school, residential quarters, a 'Bible Play' space and the Harvest Cafe -- a restaurant and community space run by the young people themselves, as part of their vocational training. All this, and more (e.g. a sports ministry, called the Faisal Cup), is led by a highly dedicated pastor and his wife, Elisha and Petrina. They are passionate about the effects of quality education as a means of breaking the cycle of poverty. During their theological training in the States, they had come across Montessori education and later, whilst on a visit to the UK, were introduced to Godly Play. In just 12 years, they have been able to impact the lives of hundreds of immigrant children and young people from a variety of faith groups.

Petrina showed us the vast stock of wooden and rubber (!) figures she and her volunteers had made. As they had had no ongoing training or handbooks to guide them, they began to create stories in the style of Godly Play, especially adapted for Muslim children, which they call 'Bible Play'. The materials they have produced are intended not only for their centre in Sentul, but also for the 10 partner schools they have established in Sabah and Sarawak! Petrina and her team of young teachers were really thirsting for further training in Godly Play, and I was informed that a dozen of them had already signed up for the workshop the following Saturday.

Some of the 'Bible Play' materials
produced at Dignity
It was also amazing how the leaders from the two groups (Phoebe and Lian Ai, from Breakthru, and Petrina, from Dignity) were able to quickly appreciate the different but complementary ministries they each represented, and I felt really humbled that it needed someone from Spain to travel to the other side of the globe in order to become the catalyst that brought them together!

Later, Phoebe and Yu Chiet drove me south to the other side of the city, to the hotel where the Scripture Union Living Hope conference was to take place. But not before another meal at yet another restaurant - this time Thai. Evidently, in Kuala Lumpur, variety is the spice of life, in every sense of the word!

More photos here

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