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Invisible guests in Malaysia

Hope of a better life motivates many to leave their homeland

by John McCall | Special to Presbyterian News Services

LOUISVILLE – You may not see them, but they pick the crops, sweep the floors, care for the children and elderly, build infrastructure, labor in factories, cook and serve. They often have to leave their home countries and families to find a job. They send much of their earnings back home to their families.

I had the opportunity to teach and preach at a gathering of 20 congregations of the Presbyterian Church in Malaysia. Malaysia has three main people groups: the Malays, who are Muslim; the Chinese, who worship traditional folk gods and include a good number who are Christian; and the Indians, who are Hindu, Sikh or worship other Indian gods.

PC(USA) mission co-worker John McCall says goodbye to friends from Myanmar, Nepal and Indonesia before he leaves Kluang, Malaysia, to return to Taiwan.

PC(USA) mission co-worker John McCall says goodbye to friends from Myanmar, Nepal and Indonesia before he leaves Kluang, Malaysia, to return to Taiwan. Photographer unknown.

I stayed in a simple hotel in the city of Kluang for five days. Next door was a barbecue restaurant owned by a Chinese-Malaysian. There are a number of folks from other countries working at this restaurant. Each evening as I returned to the hotel, I would talk with these young men. During the week, as they were finishing their jobs of sweeping and mopping and preparing the hot pepper sauce for the next day, they would offer me a glass of tea and tell me of their lives.

I got to know Iman from Indonesia. He is a Muslim and speaks Malay. He told me how his parents cried when he prepared to leave for Malaysia. Another young man, Nini, is from Myanmar (formerly Burma), a country that is experiencing tremendous governmental change. Nini is a Buddhist and has nine brothers and sisters. The third young man, Raz, is a Hindu from Nepal. His eyes lit up when I mentioned the Himalayan mountains in his country.

John McCall talks with a Bunun tribal elder in Taiwan. Photographer unknown.

John McCall talks with a Bunun tribal elder in Taiwan. Photographer unknown.

These young men welcomed me to their place of work each evening. They put their mops aside and sat with me. Their boss joined us at the table several times. They told me of their dreams and lives. One showed me pictures of his Vietnamese girlfriend.

My last night in Kluang, I told them that I would be leaving the next day. Iman and Nini asked me what time I would be leaving.

The next morning, I went downstairs and saw them standing there. They had dressed up in their finest, and Nini brought his Vietnamese girlfriend so I could meet her. We took pictures and laughed together.

I wanted to bless them in some way, but I also wanted to be sensitive to them. They knew that I was a pastor, so I asked if I could offer a prayer of blessing. We held hands, and I prayed for each of them. It was a wonderful moment of connection.

In our divided world, it was such a joy to get to know a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Hindu and to share tea together. I felt as if Christ was the unseen guest at that table.

MAKE A DIFFERENCE

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This article is from the Summer 2016 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, which is available online and also printed and mailed to subscribers’ homes free three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission.


Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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