I should have known when, after an hour on the road, we stopped at a Caltex gas station for snacks. The kids returned with sweets and Hannes sipped on a cup of coffee. It was going to be a long night.
We have travelled to Penang on an average of once a year for the past 20 years. It is known as the “Pearl of the Orient” and for us the shimmer and glow of the jewel seems to draw us back each time. The Malaysian government introduced a program to lure foreign investment about 15 years ago known as “Malaysia My Second Home”. Indeed that rings true for us – although I now claim it as “Our Third Home”.
A couple of weeks in Penang comprises of both relaxation and mission. This year we felt a stronger sense of missional purpose. We come as ourselves and make ourselves available for whatever and whoever comes our way.
The night I speak of is typical. We were unsure of where we are going or what is expected. We met our friends at 6pm. We ‘ubered’ to an outdoor restaurant where we shared coffee and roti canai. The pastors told us they were hoping to plant a church up north and tonight was a gathering for prayer and fellowship in the town.
Indeed, when we arrived about 2 hours later near to the Thai border, we came to a house where women hovered over the stove – cooking up a big pot of Bee Hoon noodles. We were led in worship by a couple of children on a keyboard and bongo drum. Throughout the evening the host would receive calls on her phone and race off to collect someone new on her scooter. A woman obviously mentally disturbed joined us with her mother and she would periodically cry out and rock back and forth until her mother comforted her. An older man had to be carried in from the car. We met neighbours, family and church friends. The host was nervous with so many in her home. Most had to stand. Our pastor friend scolded her for not providing enough chairs.
We were asked to ‘bring a word’. Be ready Louise in all seasons!
We worshipped. We prayed. We ate.
As we departed the woman, who had demonstrated such disturbing behaviour that night, motioned to me by patting her head. She wants you to pray for her, the others said. She was calm as I prayed. Fear left her just for a few minutes.
We piled into our car. Our friends dropped us at a McDonalds near their home in Penang where we could get onto wifi and organise an Uber to get us back to our hotel. The children in our car were exhausted. The little boy, Jordan, has been coughing all night. I felt for them.
We entered our hotel at about 2am as a Chinese wedding was just wrapping up. The gaudy Christmas snowy castle in the lobby looked even more out of place that night.