I told her I was back in Penang to see my mum. Mum is 92, with dementia, and I don’t know how much more time I will have with her. She said she was back in Penang to see her brother. He had been in a coma for four months. Her brother was involved in a road traffic accident that had killed two others. After his surgery he opened his eyes but had been non-responsive. She had come back to help take care of him. It also meant she had to resign from her job in Singapore and that meant the family would be deprived of a valuable income.

There were 25 of us waiting to take our Covid-19 swab test. If we tested negative we could end our two-week quarantine. She was the only Malay in a group of Chinese; a young girl in her twenties. I noticed that nobody was talking to her so I went by and struck up a conversation. I spoke in Malay (well I tried to) and she replied in Malay and English. I told her we needed to pray in situations like her brother’s. Then we were called to do our swabs. I didn’t have time to share the gospel but I hope I demonstrated the heart of the gospel in some way.

As I reflected on the incident, I thought we still had a long way to go in building healthy relations between the races in Malaysia. (I think the situation is far better in East Malaysia. Go Sabah!) I also think that when we share our struggles we help open the door for serious conversations. When we drop our guard, it is an invitation to others to do the same. It opens the possibility to move beyond superficial pleasantries.

As some of you know, I went through some very difficult times in my life. I used to think that if I could only turn back time, I could choose differently and avoid some of the bad decisions I had made. But of course we can’t go back in time. Then I discovered that my wounds and scars opened the door for me to have life-giving conversations with others going through similar situations. My scars became a bridge from my heart to theirs. I am not excusing the mistakes I made; just marvelling at how God’s grace can redeem our mistakes and wounds.

I often think about how the church presents herself to the world, especially in places where the church is middle-class and above, and sizeable: We are big, we are strong, we are powerful, we are right, we are many, we are clever, we have friends in high places, etc. I wonder if such an approach invites or turns off those we are trying to reach for the Lord.

I was wondering if we should instead lead with our struggles and wounds and acknowledge that we live in the same broken world as everybody else. Then, standing with our fellow human beings we look at how we can find help. We know the answer is Christ, but maybe the starting point is by not standing above those we are trying to reach. After all, we have been told that God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Maybe weakness is also the best canvas to show the reality and love of God.

I met the girl again, briefly, as we were going back to our rooms to pack. I reminded her to pray and to keep her spirits up. She said, “You, too, uncle”. An exchange between two human beings.