O LORD, you are my God;
I will exalt you and praise your name,
for in perfect faithfulness
you have done marvelous things,
things planned long ago.
Dear Family and Friends,
As the year comes to a close, I have found myself in that habit that many of us have of reflecting on the past year and planning for the year to come. These markers that establish the end of one year and the beginning of the next are arbitrary, manmade stopping and starting points, yet I find that I need them. I need them in the same way that I need daily cycles of waking and sleeping, eating, working, and playing. In Singapore the weather does not change much at this time of year, except that it’s a little rainier and slightly less hot; nevertheless, there are other things that indicate the year is ending—school is out, sales are on, holiday programs for kids are running, Christmas decorations are up, and many working people are using up the last of their annual leave days before they expire. While all of these indicators affect us—we are taking a one month break from homeschooling, we have been doing some Christmas shopping, the house is decorated for Christmas and Edward has been at home quite a bit—we also sense the Lord nudging us to ‘consider our ways,’ to think through the past year’s journey with Him and to listen to Him to find direction for the new year ahead. The verse printed above seemed fitting for the end of the year—reminding us that God has been perfectly faithful and whatever has occurred was planned by Him long ago.
It’s been a long time since I wrote to all of you about our lives here in Singapore, and I thought it would be a good time to do that again.
Living in Community
One of things that drew Edward and I together from the very first few interactions we had (10 years ago!) was our love of people. Relationships are what drive us most and so spending time with the various people in our family, church, neighbourhood and work communities takes up much of our time and energy. This year we attended 5 weddings (Eli made his debut as a page boy in one of them) and 13 children’s birthday parties (and hosted 1 for Zack); visited at least 4 friends who delivered babies, and attended a handful of funeral services.
The boys and I participated in a weekly playgroup with a small group of homeschool families in which we went to various parks, the zoo, the children’s garden, the science centre, the botanic gardens and the national museum; held a national day party where the children learned history, the pledge and the national anthem (which is in Malay language) of Singapore; learned about aerodynamics by making paper airplanes and kites; and we even made a ‘thousand triangle’ —a 6 ft equilateral triangle made up of 1,000 small triangles– to learn about tens, hundreds and thousands. The moms also had a Bible study once a month on ‘The Power of Motherhood’. The children have had their share of fights and injuries, but it just proves the community and the people in it are real, fallen beings hoping to align ourselves and our children with the One who created us all. On a few occasions we joined a larger group of homeschool families for outings to: a Goat Dairy, a synagogue, a game of laser tag (only Eli joined in for that one!), a jumble sale, and a World War II era museum. I helped organize a talk on Antarctica at an indoor snow play facility as well as a year-end concert.
Hosting. We thought of titling the year 2007 “The Year of the Visitors” as we had the privilege of extending hospitality to a number of friends old and new who came to Singapore. In January and February, we rented our spare room to a young Chinese man from Australia who was working here as an intern. During that time we also squeezed Uncle Barrett (Horne), an IFES friend from my Ukraine days, into the boys’ room. April saw the arrival of my parents, a.k.a. Grandmother and Papa, for a 2 ½ week visit, June brought Steve and Laura Humphrey (Laura’s my old friend from UT), Barrett was back again in late June, and somewhere around there we hosted a Thai-Phillipino couple who were friends of a friend. Twice during the year, we hosted our friends’ domestic helpers, Patimah and Eka from Indonesia, so we had extra help with housework during those times. In October our friend Dale came from China for medical treatment here in Singapore and stayed with us for about 6 weeks. When the spare room was available, Edward’s mom would stay over at our place on the weekends. When we bought this flat 3 years ago, we dedicated this home to the Lord and prayed we could show hospitality. This year He gave us abundant opportunities to do that!
Feasting. We celebrated 2 Jewish feasts this year with friends. We hosted a Passover seder meal on Good Friday, helping us to see and understand the last meal that Jesus had before he died and the significance of that feast at the time of the Messiah’s death. Later in the year, we celebrated Succoth, or the Feast of Tabernacles with some friends at their home. In addition to these, our downstairs neighbours organized an American Thanksgiving dinner with a very international group, including people from the U.S., Singapore, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, and Canada. To simulate autumn, they asked the man who rakes up leaves around our apartment complex to save them for us. So we poured out two huge bags of leaves for the kids to jump in. The weather was still hot, but they got the idea.
Retreating. We also had a few opportunities to get away from the hectic pace in Singapore. In May, for our 9th anniversary, Edward and I went away overnight to a nearby Indonesian island (Bintan). It was a short getaway, but the moment we stepped onto the ferry for the 1-hour ride there, time seemed to slow down. A trusted friend stayed with the boys and we had a refreshing time away. In June, we were all off to Malaysia for our bi-annual church camp. Later in the year, we retreated to Cameron Highlands in central Malaysia for some cool weather and beautiful scenery, not to mention good fellowship with some close friends we drove up with.
Educating our Children (and ourselves)
Since we began the homeschooling journey 2 years ago, our ‘school at home’ has been slowly evolving. Besides researching curricula and methods, we’ve had to work hard at finding a rhythm that suits our family. This year we had a schedule and were more consistent. Because primary education is compulsory in Singapore, and Eli is due to start primary school in January 2009, we had to apply for exemption from school in order to continue homeschooling for next year. Children go through a school selection and registration exercise in June/July for the following school year, so we had to submit our application for exemption in May this year. After writing out our reasons for wanting to homeschool and listing the curricula we plan to use, the only thing that seemed to be lacking was how we would adequately teach Chinese at home (one of the required, examinable subjects). So, we put our best foot forward and named all the ways Eli would be exposed to Chinese—at a weekly Chinese speech and drama class, in classes with a private tutor, at his grandmother’s house every week and with Dad at home in the evenings. Miraculously, our application was approved. This means that the coming year will be a more serious one in terms of school work for Eli. We need to submit a yearly progress report, which is not too difficult, and we need to gradually prepare him for a major national exam he will have to take (along with all other Singaporean kids) at the end of Primary 6. Homeschooled kids have to reach a higher benchmark on this exam to qualify for secondary school, so the pressure is on to keep up with the local syllabus. The challenge for us will be to balance a responsible attitude toward the government requirements without losing sight of other, higher purposes for homeschooling—namely, incorporating God’s Word into all we learn, focusing on character building, and making learning part of daily life.
We’ll also try to have a bit more structure and some ‘preschool time’ for Zack, who just turned 3 in October. He finds it exciting to ‘do schoolwork’ at times and at other times is perfectly happy to be left alone when I’m working with Eli. Again, balance is what we are aiming for.
Serving the Body
This year both Edward and I have been mainly involved in teaching roles in church. Edward taught (and will continue to teach) the Secondary 1 Sunday school class for youth aged 13-14 and I worked with another friend writing lesson plans for and teaching in the 2-3 -year-old Sunday school class. Both of us have been challenged to present Bible truths in age appropriate ways—Edward to a bunch of adolescents who’ve been brought up in church and can answer Sunday school questions in their sleep, me to an active group of toddlers whose ability to soak up all that’s presented is great but whose attention span is short.
Edward has also continued serving as an officer for the Boys’ Brigade. This year was tough as there were only 2 officers, but he managed to establish good relationships with many of the boys. A group of them attended church regularly for a while and some of the old boys who’d graduated also came back to church once in a while. Our prayer is that more of these boys will become Christians.
Edward had a couple of short-term commitments—playing guitar for the worship team about once a month, and sitting on a committee to evaluate Christian education in the church—and turned down a nomination to be a deacon again. We both continued to enjoy encouragement and times of learning in our respective Bible study groups as well.
Being at home
At various times throughout the year, I have been very grateful for the home we have. The flat we live in now is just behind a park where we can go for walks or bike rides, most of our windows face that park and so we have very green view (this is rare in Singapore), we have a pool downstairs, and more importantly we have some very good neighbours. I do not take all this for granted, I only pray I can make the best use of what has been given to me for this time. I have been reminded time and again that my primary calling is to serve my family for this season of my life. I find that the less I resist God’s calling, the more content I am. We pray that godly contentment will mark our family and yours as well as we venture into the new year ahead.