Learning to serve and serving to learn

Immanuel College, Novar Gardens in South Australia, has had a partnership with Bethany Home in Malaysia for over eight years now. This partnership has been, and continues to be, a vital part of our mission and ministry.

Bethany Home is a school for people with disabilities in rural Malaysia. It was set up by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Malaysia (ELCM) in 1966 and is located about three hours drive, north of Kuala Lumpur, in an area that is relatively poor and reasonably isolated.

The school started from very humble beginnings and has progressed to the point where it now serves over 150 students of all ages.

Jayasingh Rajiah, who will retire at the end of 2013, has been the director of the school for 22 years and in this role he’s been instrumental in improving the standards and rights for disabled people throughout Malaysia. Campaigning tirelessly for the majority of his working life, Jayasingh strives to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities, whilst raising the profile of Bethany Home.

We first heard about Bethany in 2005, when the then counsellor at Immanuel College, Donna Longdon, was keen to challenge our students with an experience that took them outside of their comfort zone, while at the same time giving them a chance to witness Christian mission and to participate in faith-in-action. We took our idea to the LCA Mission Director at the time, Wayne Zweck, and his suggestion was this little place in Malaysia, called Bethany Home.

Since that time, groups of between eight and twelve students have been going to Bethany Home every year, to live and work at the school for two weeks, usually in the April school holidays.

Bethany is largely self-supported and this means that Jayasingh spends a lot of time raising necessary funds for the school. This is no easy task and he often describes himself as a ‘professional beggar’ because of what he must do in order to ensure the school has adequate funding to support the needs of the students.

In the lead up to our trip each year, we spend quite a bit of time raising funds to help Bethany fulfil its mission. While not all students at Immanuel can have the experience of serving at Bethany, the school community has been very generous in physical donations over the past eight years.

But the prime focus of our trip is mission and the opportunity for our students to experience first-hand, the challenges, joys and blessings of serving others, as Christ has served us. The Bethany experience has provided just that.

People like Jayasingh are the reason we wanted to go to Bethany; to work alongside him and many others as they help those at Bethany achieve a better life. It is amazing to see the pure joy and happiness that Bethany Home brings to the lives of everyone connected with the school. Without Bethany Home and the dedicated staff, life would be very different for so many who attend. We have been fortunate to have been part of this life-changing experience.

The opportunity to serve at Bethany has made us both humble and grateful. We gain so much from the friendships we make and the people we meet. They inspire us with their faith and willingly share their stories with us, each of them making a difference in our lives, touching our hearts.

We’ve also heard from others just how much the staff and students at Bethany look forward to our visit each year! I am still not sure who actually benefits most: Bethany, as we seek to serve and support them; or us, as we receive so many blessings and life lessons from the beautiful people there.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who benefits the most because ultimately, we all see the way God is at work – in, with and between us – through this special partnership between Bethany and Immanuel.

This story was also published in the November 2013 edition of Border Crossings, the magazine of LCA International Mission.

If your school would like to know more about how they can connect to the mission of God through a LCA International Mission service-learning and ministry partnership, you are invited to phone Erin on (08) 8267 7300 or email erin.kerber@lca.org.au. For more information, go to www.lcamission.org.au/join-gods-mission/service-learning/

Read more stories about school partnerships and school service-learning at www.lcamission.org.au/category/stories/local-partners/schools/