On my first Monday in Malaysia, our ministry began in earnest. We headed to a downtown feeding center for the poor and homeless that is very similar to American soup kitchens. At this house, those who are needy and/or living on the street (homelessness and poverty are rampant in Malaysia) can get a small breakfast with coffee or Milo (the Malaysian equivalent of hot chocolate), a shower, lunch, and an optional Bible study following the noon meal. My team went to help clean, prepare food, and visit with the people coming in.
It was quite an adventure for me, and one that brought me out of my comfort zone quite significantly. After getting our bearings, praying with the staff, and dealing out tasks, we all split up to perform our respective jobs. I worked in the kitchen, helping the house's wonderful master chef make an amazing-looking chicken and tofu stir-fry. I was quite pleased with my positioning since I love to cook, and also love to be busy. So I set about chopping onions (shedding quite a few tears over them in the process!) and garlic, washing dishes, and making the breakfast Milo. However, I soon found myself finished with my tasks and without much to do.
At this point, people were starting to come into the house's main area for breakfast biscuits with butter or showers (or both), and then hanging around until lunch. The house staff and volunteers suggested going out and visiting with the people, mostly homeless men. I wasn't too sure about this -- I'm never good at casual chatting and "small talk" even at home in the U.S. where the people I'm hanging out with speak the same language and inhabit the same culture and general demographic. It was with some trepidation, then, that I headed out into the main room, armed with the little photo album I had brought with me. I shared the album with a few people, mostly volunteers, and they seemed more interested than I expected in the pictures of my family, friends, and homeland.
A newcomer sat down next to me at the table where my album was getting passed around. I turned and introduced myself with a smile, now feeling a little more comfortable as I saw how well-received my album was and how cheerful most of the men were. This new man, however, was not so cheerful. He told me that his name is Kosnan, and after I asked him some questions about his life, he began telling me some truly sad stories. From what I could understand, he lost both of his parents during "the war" (Vietnam?) and has been searching for his mother ever since. (This man seemed to be about 40 or 50 years old, so it seems that he is still suffering some sort of PTSD-type of trauma from his youth.) His marriage is on the rocks, and he's having trouble at work due to poor eyesight (although, on the positive side, he was up for cataracts surgery at the time and might even have had the surgery since I met him). A sad story, to be sure.
I didn't know what to do, and that bothered me. I like to be busy, to be able to do something, but what could I do for this man? More to the point, what could anybody do to help him? His mother, whom Kosnan is so desperate to find, is probably dead, and even if he could locate her, would that fully heal all his emotional wounds? And what about his marriage and job? What band-aid could I put on those circumstances that would fix the problems there? I offered, feeling more than a little silly, the only thing I could aside from a listening ear. "So . . . would you like to pray about all that?" I heard myself asking.
I don't know how I expected Kosnan to respond. Perhaps I thought he might laugh, or get offended, or feel let-down. But he didn't react in any of those ways. Instead, he accepted my offer with obvious gratitude. And so -- we prayed. This is something that I hardly ever do in public, much less offer to do with complete strangers. I don't know how much it helped the problematic circumstances in his life. That's all up to God. But I do know that it strengthened him that day -- and it strengthened my own faith. It gave me courage to really live my faith, to not be ashamed of Jesus. When I saw Kosnan two days later, he was a changed man. He'd had a haircut, seemed cleaner, and his depressed mood was vastly improved. Was it the prayer? Was it God, working more fully in Kosnan's life after we invited Him in? I don't know for sure . . . but maybe!
After finishing up at the feeding center, we headed back to our hotel to rest, wash the sweat off our bodies (it is hot at the equator -- go figure!), and then head out for dinner. Our team leader, who has previously visited Malaysia, had a personal mission that had nothing to do with our ministry. She was on the prowl for an authentic banana pancake. She promised that this banana-stuffed rendition of roti canai (pronounced "CHA-nai"), a flatbread suitable for either breakfast or as a dessert, is not to be missed. On this particular night, the restaurant we ate at had something on the menu that she thought might be the banana roti, so we all ordered one. Unfortunately, what we got was a fried banana (mine was drizzled with honey). It was a tasty treat, but not what we were looking for. On our last night in Malaysia, the leader and I managed to finally find our banana pancakes.
Since returning to the United States, I have found my enjoyment of the foods I used to love diminshed. I miss the intense spices and flavors of the Malay, Chinese and -- my favorite -- Indian foods. I determined to try my spatula at recreating some of the Malaysian dishes. Two nights ago, I made my first foray into this mission. I bet you've already guessed it -- for the final Royal Foodie Joust of the year, I made banana roti canai, inspired by this recipe! Although it was a little more dense and less sweet than I would have liked, it wasn't bad for an inaugural attempt at Indian. Served hot with vanilla ice cream and some maple syrup, it made for a tasty after-dinner treat.
I-Miss-Malaysia Banana Roti
1 cup brown rice flour
1 large ripe banana
2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 cup light coconut milk
1/4 cup water
Sprinkle of salt
Optional toppings: Ghee/butter, dried coconut, ice cream, maple syrup, honey, peanut butter, jam.
Dice or mash the banana. Grease a flat skillet with cooking spray or oil, ghee, or butter. Set the skillet over medium high heat.
In a small saucepan, cook the water, sugar, banana, and coconut milk over medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the rice flour while the contents are still hot. Form the dough into two pancake shapes, and either brush with oil or cover with cooking spray. Fry both sides until browned and firm.
Serve hot with your favorite toppings.