Brief note: The three chapters of this memoir are basically about my experiences of being a Christian. I’ll include two of my experiences in college and one experience in secondary school. Before I came to Canada, I was a half-year student at Taylors’ College (in Kuala Lumpur) for the Canadian Pre-University program. Canadian Pre-U (CPU) is kind of like a preparation/transition for Malaysian students to get accessible grades to enter Canadian universities. Living in my first college life at Taylors for six months was definitely an experience, including when I was with a group of church sisters in Subang Jaya (the town I lived). I lived in one of the row of houses just opposite the CPU building, and it was rented for church girls. We went to church together and we did spiritual, holy things like reading the bible and Christian books.
The fierce solar sphere shone radiantly at the city of Subang Jaya in Kuala Lumpur,Malaysia. The streets outside the campus were scorching, but the classroom inside was cooling.Thick yellow curtains covered the glass windows from the blazing sun. The room was lit up by six white fluorescent lamps above the ceiling. As usual, the students in the Challenge and Change in Society class (a social science course) did their quiz paper before handing in to the instructor, Miss Shelley Smith Dale. She had blonde hair that reached down to her shoulders. Her blue eyes gleamed along with a white toothy smile. A little background I remembered about her was that she was a grandmother of a lovely family back in Toronto. Even though elderly wrinkles crawled on her skin, she still looked as beautiful as an enchantress.
“All right, folks! Before we begin today’s lesson, I would like to pass this to you.” Miss Shelley announced. She had a stack of one-page documents in her hands. A wave of curiosity crawled in my head as I waited for a paper to be passed to me. I think I’ll pass the quiz. And then I will be focusing on the assignments these few weeks…including the Life of Pi essay for English class..and oh! The surveys for the research project! And what else…community service…wait what? Community service? COMMUNITY SERVICE??? I paused for a few
minutes. My eyes were glued to a form with the words “community service” on top. (I was not quite sure what the exact heading was because I was too shocked. Silently shocked.) I pleaded to God, Please don’t tell me we have to do community service! I have loads of assignments to do these few weeks! Plus I haven’t done such a thing before! Miss Shelley slipped her round-framed spectacles which hung down her chest by a long string which was tied firmly around the ends of the eyewear. She looked at the sheet through the lens of her spectacles
and explained, “Now as you all know, one of the requirements to graduate from the Canadian Pre-University is by participating in 10 hours of volunteer work. Now it’s the time for you to think about what you want to be involved in.” My inner voice groaned, Oh..just great! I wore a stoic mask on my physical face, but inside I was banging my head on an invisible wall. I didn’t really pay attention to her speaking after that for I was too anxious to remove the imaginary wax from my ears. I panicked for a week that I won’t be able to do it. Jesus knew what I was going
through, and he sneaked in a miracle for me.
It was a typical heavy rainstorm in Subang Jaya. The dark cotton puffs above shed a storm of tears down the earth. I rushed to campus with an umbrella in one hand and presentation materials in a bag in my other hand. I tried not to groan too much because of my wet sandals and soaked jeans which was drenched by the rain. I nearly slipped on the shiny tile floor of the CPU building. Luckily, I made it to the classroom in the nick of time. A classmate, Rimita and I had to do a presentation on AIDS in the Individuals and Families In a Diverse Society course (another social science course). I settled on a chair in the freezing air-conditioned room before bringing
my pen drive to the instructor’s laptop. While doing so, I silently wondered whether the rainstorm would cause more harm to the urban city. This thought slipped when I realized that it was my turn to speak. I was shivering, and it was not due to the frosty-like temperature. It was my speech. I remembered saying a line that made the entire class laughed like I was an alien from Mars. I couldn’t remember what I said exactly but it was something about AIDS that was caused by gay men who had sex (yes, call me stupid). Even my partner covered her right hand over her mouth to hide her chuckle. I had no idea where I got that information from. After the presentation, I was relieved when the instructor, Mr. Craig Hobin announced that class was over for that day. But as I spoke too soon, karma hit me once again when my still-shivering hands made me drop my yellow and white Kingston pen drive on the floor. I quickly picked it up, and I was sure that Mr. Hobin took a short glance at me with a goofy smile on his Irish countenance. I assumed that I would get a D because of what I said during the presentation…or maybe an F. A friend of mine, Iwin Soosay came to me with a nonchalant smile. His pearly white teeth outshone his dark Indian skin. “I enjoy your presentation very much, Michele!” he said. I stared at him in disbelief, “Yeah right! I look like a joke in front of everybody.” “Well, look on the bright side! You entertain us from the dull weather outside. I’m sure that even Mr. Hobin finds your speech impressive.” he said before he bade goodbye. I made my way back home which was just opposite the campus building, hoping that everything would be fine with a simple dinner and Youtube videos on my laptop. The bottom of my jeans sagged heavier than before due to a small pothole of rainwater at the gates of my house. Thanks a lot, Mother Nature.
The home phone in the living room rang that made me jumped. I left my early dinner of Swiss rolls on a glass table in the living room and took the call. I couldn’t quite understand what the person on the line was talking about, for I was rusty in Mandarin. I rushed upstairs to my room to get help with translation from my roommate Jasmine. The Cambridge Advanced Level student was studying at her desk as usual. Her straight silky hair (longer than mine, it reached almost to her waist) draped down and her red-rimmed spectacles revealed a little sheen under the white ray of her table lamp. She looked a little startled when I burst into the room without knocking on the door (Jasmine, if you’re reading this, please forgive me for my rudeness). I caught my breath and said, “Jasmine! A sister’s on the phone!” She placed a pen she was holding and took the wireless home phone from my right hand with a small smile. Five minutes later, she hung up the phone and passed me the sister’s message. It turned out that the roof in the church we went to was leaking and stacks of Christian books which were stored in the attic were soaked with naughty rainwater. The guardian (we usually call him or her a “serving one”) on the phone was looking for volunteers to help out with carrying and moving the books away from the attic. Most of us sisters in the house agreed to drop by. Jasmine remained in her study desk for she had a big test coming up. Sometimes I pitied her for not taking breaks.
We sprinted under the splattering storm, overcoming its droplets that attacked against our skin like bullets. We passed by a long row of bubble tea cafes and local restaurants. We then turned right to an opposite block and finally to the foot of a flight of stairs. A semicircle of saints crowded there; they were waiting for a few muscular brothers to climb down with big cardboard boxes of books in hands. They were like ants building an anthill. “Hello sisters! You’ve finally came!” a brother greeted us with a smile, “Do you mind helping us carry these boxes to the truck over there while we go up to the top floor to take down some more books? Thanks so much!” And the next thing I knew, he plopped a box the size of a 1990s television onto my hands. I didn’t know what the others were thinking but the books weighed like five kettlebells in a parcel. Due to weeks of delaying my priority of going to the gym, my muscles were wailing for a long break after carrying several bundles. We took turns carrying books passed by the brothers and stacked them in the wide-spaced trunk of a truck. I had no idea how many books we had to carry. After the truck was completely loaded with collections of precious Christian writings, a couple of saints volunteered to drive the troubled books down to another church which was newly-built. This new church was for the church people to gather in the near future. It was the only place for us to store the books until the next day or so.
We continued carrying boxes to another truck that arrived a few minutes later. I volunteered to go up the stairs to the third floor where the small church was situated. I zigzagged my way up three flights of grey concrete stairs as I made way for a long line of muscular brothers to go down the building. They grabbed hold on the wrapped books like heavy dumbbells. It had been half an hour and I could see splats of sweat on their shirts like a child’s
watercolour painting. Speaking of sweat, I felt as if my energy meter had dropped to zero and I tried not to complain about the aching cramps from my thighs to my feet. Eventually, I made it to the third floor. As I walked through the open wooden door, a group of sisters sat on either green plastic chairs or on the cold, white, tile floor. They were tearing out large pieces of newspapers and wrapping bundles of books with them. I remembered that there was a wooden bookshelf with a couple of glass doors; it was placed a few feet away from the entrance. It stored a collection of reused Bibles and spiritual magazines for people to borrow. A couple of long white tables were at the back of the huge room. A medium-sized black and white clock was hung at the
top center of a wall on my left; its hour arrow showed 7:00pm. And lastly on my right was a vertical line of green plastic chairs stacked in five feet towers. I recognized some serving-ones and helped them out with the process. I could feel adrenaline rushing in my veins. I watched as the saint next to me dropped twenty notebook-size books on a square piece of newspaper like a rough parachute landing. She then closed the sides with brown tape and tied it with ropes (there were not enough boxes so we had to use lots of newspapers instead). We tried to finish off this task as much as possible. The books written by founders of the church brother Watchman Nee and brother Witness Lee were categorized into wet and dry, and we had to get them all packaged like elves in Santa’s factory. There were little chatters in Mandarin, but mostly what I remembered of hearing was the rustling of newspapers and the thumping of the godly materials. I took a good three-minutes glance at the window which was at the front of the room. The clouds were still bawling above the sky; their tears splotched the glass panes as if we were hiding from a Paintball attack. We were worried that the rain would get stronger and more books in the attic would be spoiled. It was like destroying God’s Word. However, our mouths were silvered with encouraging, hopeful lines of prayer. The Lord soon strengthened us with his light. A tiny spark of luminescence glowed inside of me, telling me that everything would be okay. The circle of sisters around me smiled at me like they were reading my mind and suggested that we should pray together to make the rain subside. Each of our prayers were combined with strong, firm “Amen” into a harmonizing unison like an orchestra.
It was 10pm and there were several dozens of stacks left and a sign of luck was revealed through the fading rain from the windows. One of the serving-ones suggested that we should go for a break. I immediately realized that I hadn’t eaten dinner yet and my Swiss rolls which were covered with an overturned bowl was still on the table back home. I followed a group of sisters to the nearby food court called Asia Cafe. To my surprise, my energy level had aroused like a rocket and I found myself taking three big steps down the stairs like a child who doesn’t entirely grasp the concept of safety. My heart lifted once I felt the severe drizzle. God must have comforted the miserable clouds to be a little more positive. Our prayers had been answered! Kudos to the Father! The neighbourhood’s famous food court was just opposite the block and we could smell a mixture of local dishes from the foot of the stairs. Unlike the buildings around the area, the wide-spaced food court was made up of a roof supported by metal pillars. A large number of white rectangular tables with six to eight plastic chairs each were arranged all over the place, sandwiched by more than twenty stalls that were lined up on both left and right sides.
There were also about ten stalls in the middle of the food court. We were greeted by the buzzing voices from a big number of customers. The rows of bright fluorescent lamps above shone down the nearly-packed restaurant. Hawkers turned their voices loud and captivating to attract customers. Once you entered in this tourist-recommended venue, you would want to try every single dish from every stall here because the chefs were like so well-trained and your mouth would water over their proud variety of cuisines from Chinese to Italian. And who wouldn’t want to enjoy their meals with a little entertainment? Night owls, especially men, fixed their eyes on a television screen, which was equipped above the very center of the ceiling, while watched football matches live. And strangely, there were also one or two video game stalls that I rarely check it out. We sat at a perfect empty table and ordered our desired dishes. I usually craved fo creamy Carbonara pasta or crunchy Japanese Tempura with thick yellowish-white Udon noodles, but that time I decided to go for something related to my ancestors’ specialties, Chinese wonton. In case you don’t know what the heck wonton is, it is a smaller version of Chinese dumplings with meat fillings the size of a table tennis ball and a pretty twist pattern on top. I added in yellow noodles just to satisfy my growling stomach. For half an hour, I listened to stories told by the church sisters as we enjoyed every single bite or sip of our orders. “So what time do you think we’ll be done with the books?” I asked, slurping in my last few strings of noodles into my mouth. One of them, Lydia, shrugged her shoulders, “I’m not sure. But according to the brothers’ assumption, we shall be done by midnight.” She then pushed her spectacles back up to the bridge of her nose and added, “I’m sure that we will finish moving the books away soon.” We thanked the Lord by prayer for recharging us with the food before we went back to work. Shortly, I realized that it was past curfew (which was 11pm) and my eyelids were at their limit. They were drooping quickly that I hardly could keep myself awake for a little bit longer. A housemate of mine noticed this and decided to walk me home. Before I left, I scanned around with relief as the number of book piles began to decrease. After a ten minutes walk back to our house, I saw the plate of food that I had left four hours ago on the same spot. I decided to eat the cakes for breakfast the next day. But as I lifted up the overturned bowl, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Instead of its beautiful, pink, spongy texture, the Swiss rolls were conquered by a small army of brown ants. The miniscule yet mischievous creatures were crowding over my poor pastry. Damn it! There goes my eight bucks! I took a couple of minutes to calm myself down before dumping it into the thrash can. And that was when the idea hit me. I remembered reading the suggestions of community service in the form I received in class, and the word “church” was written near one of the bullets. The four-hours of helping out that night could be counted as community service!
I thought that there was no way I could find something for six hours of community service, but it turned out that I was wrong. The next day, a serving-one, Su Min, called me by phone to ask me for help, “Would you like to help us dry the books in the new church? We won’t be moving them back until all of the books are dry.” I agreed since I wouldn’t mind helping the church again. That afternoon, Su Min drove me and a friend who was also a sister named Chieng Bing to the newly-built church. It was about twenty minutes from the city. If I could briefly recall, the new church was located near a farmland which was an ideal setting for a peaceful church. And yes, it was an independent building with its very own parking lot. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite remember the details outside of the church because of the scorching sun that I couldn’t stand under for five whole minutes. Su Min led us through a large main door and into a white-walled hall. A wooden stage overtook the front with a glass podium on the left. It was completely varnished like gold’s sheen. But what captured me the most was a gigantic sheet of books that were all over the newly-mopped square-tile floor. The opened books reminded me of a crowded Californian beach where people went sunbathing for hours. Five volunteers were in different spots of the room, fanning soaked pages with rectangular lids cut out from boxes. It was a pity that the electronic ceiling fans above couldn’t do all the magic of turning the books back their previous untouched states. Anyway, the three of us spent two hours going around the hall, fanning the publications. I had to be honest, this traditional way to drying the books was one of the most boring things I had ever done in my life, but it was for the sake of fulfilling another two hours of volunteer work.
I was pretty sure that Satan was behind all this. He tried to ruin God’s speaking by ruining the precious works from our fellow brothers, but he was missing something. God was there to help us. He never gave up on saving the books by encouraging us to transfer the books to the a safe place. Ha! Take that, Satan! We even learnt the power of teamwork. That afternoon, after we had done most of the drying, Su Min decided to take Chieng Bing and I back to the city. She also signed my form under the name of the church and wished me luck on finding the remaining four hours of volunteering with a smile that shone among her pale skin. Chieng Bing also cheered me on with a chubby smile, “I wish I can do community service like you do. You’re getting the benefit of helping people out, and that’s something valuable in life.” I have to admit, I guess I did.