As another Christmas season arrives, my thoughts turn to the journey the Holy Family made before and after Jesus’ birth and to a journey that I began five years ago.
After a lifetime of living and working in Louisville, I decided to move to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to teach English.
My move was the fulfilment of a lifelong dream to teach and to discover the world, while also embarking on an odyssey to discover God’s will for my life.
Before leaving, I learned that Malaysia is a moderate, Muslim-majority country where more than 40 percent of the population is made up of a great diversity of Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians, among others. I had no idea, however, that I was entering a land that would continually provide me with connections to my past, and at the same time, suggest that I was on the right path in my life.
I had always known of the “universality” of the church, but I was now going to live that universality every day in Asia. I was immediately blessed when I realized that thanks to our great church, the world is not a completely unfamiliar place.
With a love of English instilled by my sophomore English teacher at St. Xavier High School, Martha Newcomb, I felt prepared to teach English. However I did not know that I would be walking the same paths that St. Francis Xavier followed during his missionary work centuries earlier! But this history was not all I discovered.
I also found a strong and incredibly vibrant Catholic community in Malaysia. Parishes of all shapes and sizes abound in Kuala Lumpur, my city of seven million people, including parishes with familiar names such as Holy Family, a “mega” parish with 3,000 families that I attend regularly and St. Francis of Assisi, a parish that shares its name with the parish of my childhood. Another is St. John’s Cathedral that — like Louisville’s Cathedral of the Assumption — is very diverse, with people from all over the world attending every jammed-packed Mass. And, there is a St. Joseph’s Home, an orphanage with a familiar name to Louisvillians, in Penang, Malaysia.
The strength and stability of the church in Malaysia amazes me. For a seat at any Mass, any time, at any parish, you need to arrive early unless you don’t mind standing. Families attend Mass together, and the diversity of the beautifully-colored ethnic clothing adds to the natural beauty of the Mass.
Here in Malaysia everyone celebrates everyone else’s religious and cultural holidays, and all of the festivals have one thing in common: a journey of faith and heart, journeying back to their families to celebrate, and most importantly, paying respect to their parents and to God, and giving thanks for their own life journeys.
My loved ones realized that there was no need to worry about me converting to one of Malaysia’s other faiths, for in celebrating the diversity that is Malaysia, my own faith has been strengthened like never before.
After five years in Asia, I know that I am on an amazing path to him, though I may not know why or how. And while I try to do God’s will always, I fall often, and that is okay: okay with Him and with me. As Thomas Merton put it better than I ever, ever could, “… the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.”
Whether I am always following God’s will for my life, this continues to be the greatest journey of my life. One clue God shared with me happened five years ago when I attended my first Mass outside of America at Holy Family parish in Malaysia. At the Lord’s Prayer, a 5-year old, beautiful Malaysian girl extended her hand as we prayed together. Staring into her face, I felt I had seen the face of God and was moved to tears.
So for the glorious season of Christmas, let us wish good will to one another and pray for God’s will for everyone.
W. Thomas Yurt is a former parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi Church and now resides in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
If you have a story for, “A View from the Pew”, contact Sal Della Bella at email@example.com or 502-585-3291.