My Next Chapter – Janice Munro

Throughout the Easter Season, we are hearing some of the stories of people in the Kippax community about how they are living their “next chapter”,  following on from the unfinished resurrection story in Mark 16.    This is Janice Munro’s  “chapter”


Last year as many of you are aware, I joined a very privileged group: the group of retirees from the Commonwealth public service.

Members of this group are privileged for a number of reasons.

One reason is that many of us now have the time, health and financial means to travel; to enjoy journeys to places previously unknown and meet the people who live and work there.

Another privilege for me is having some time to reflect on how we as privileged individuals and communities in Australia can best support less privileged individuals and communities elsewhere in their everyday lives. How our post Easter faith based on hope and love can make a meaningful and personal contribution to the lives of others.

Don and I have been doing quite a bit of travel in the last twelve months … both within Australia and overseas.

We have travelled across inland Queensland to the Gulf of Carpentaria, heavily impacted by drought. We have visited Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia blessed with lots of water and we have recently spent time in South America, travelling with our daughter in Chile, Peru, Argentina and Uruguay, struggling with Spanish.

We have had many interesting experiences and met many wonderful people on these journeys.

This morning I would like to share two things with you in my journey of learning more about faith, hope and love. One is a travel experience in Laos and the other is a grandmother movement.

I travelled to Laos last November with two others. Laos is an obviously Buddhist country. Young and older monks are regularly seen walking the streets or heard praying in temples. Every morning the local people provide food for the monks and special days are set aside for provision of extra items. For many young boys joining a temple also includes access to education and accommodation that would otherwise be scarce.

On the third day of our Laotian adventure, my friend suddenly became very ill. She was writhing in pain which had come on at the end of the day’s activities for no obvious reason and continued unabated for an hour. She was unable to stand or sit comfortably and could not walk unaided. What to do? Find a doctor? Organise a flight to Bangkok… last plane out in two hours? Pray for advice! Perhaps we should first try to access a doctor through the hotel. This proved to be difficult and would take some time. Laos is a third world country and doctors are not readily at the beck and call of Westerners. It was now 7 pm. I tried to contact the multi-national insurance company for advice. No answer to the many numbers provided.

Prayer intensified.

I then sought some advice from our tour company through their emergency number. The manager answered and advised he was in Thailand but would get his local manager to contact us. The local manager who spoke English phoned and advised that he would organise for a driver to pick us up for transport to the clinic. Prayer answered. The clinic was already overcrowded with local people spilling onto the street. The hospital… about 8, kilometres away through busy streets with motorbikes, bicycles, trucks, buses and people on foot snaking across rough roads was the best option. On arrival we were ushered into a side room and sheets were found and changed a couple of times. The manager convinced an English speaking doctor to fit us into her long queue of patients.

She was wonderful. She had trained in Bangkok and was very thorough in her questioning. I phoned my son in Canberra at midnight and asked him to contact the insurance company and ask them to ring me. I was conscious of the requirement to let the insurance company know of any hospital visit. FINALLY, they returned my call about 8.15 pm and were so bureaucratic and rude in their response that I told them basic details and hung up. What a contrast to the caring and sensitive way we were being treated by our Lao hosts.

The doctor diagnosed the problem without access to ultrasound or xray and prescribed medication which was obtained after first passing though corridors lined with benches of people waiting for attention. Both the diagnosis and the medication were spot on, although we were a little nervous at the time. The pain faded and my friend was well enough to join in our planned activities soon afterwards. The manager and his driver insisted on stopping in town for us to get food and took us back to the hotel. The boy who slept at the bottom of the stairs every night in case we needed anything, showed that he was very happy that my friend was feeling better even though he had no English. He asked again every morning and night while we stayed.

What did I learn about faith, hope and love? God walked alongside, helping me keep a clear head to work through options. I am convinced that He provided access to wonderful people to deal with our medical issues. The Laotian people served us out of love. They provided hope. They were prepared to share their expertise and use their networks to ensure the best outcome for us. Buddhists certainly have something to teach us!

It was a very humbling experience. I would like the tour operators and the medical community there to know just how much we appreciated their assistance and to help them to increase their capacity to care for others. But what is an appropriate response? I have had ideas but it has proved difficult to put them into practice as an individual or small group, which is my preferred method of interaction.

I have however been inspired to keep hopeful of a possible pathway by the example of the Wakefield Grannies, albeit rather more expansive. In 2004 ten grandmothers in a small town in Canada responded to a talk by a South African nurse speaking about the challenges faced by her countries grandmothers who were raising their orphaned HIV positive grandchildren. The Canadians decided to regularly send letters of support to the South African grandmothers and raise money to assist. Their work gained the attention of a Canadian diplomat and benefactor who then established a foundation to raise the profile and organised a conference in Toronto. In 2014 there were 250 grandmother groups across Canada who had raised millions of dollars to assist their pals in South Africa. A documentary has even been produced called “The Great Granny Revolution”.

In my post Easter life, I hope to re-energise and have courage to see and take advantage of the opportunities to contribute positively to the many communities I encounter, locally and internationally.

My next step in this journey will be in Mandalay, Myanmar …previously Burma in about two weeks. Don and I will be joining eight friends to learn more about this country and its people. We will be visiting Buddhist temples and no doubt meet more wonderful people. We also hope to visit teachers in one or two of the schools in Mandalay recommended by Peter and Robyn Worland. Apparently the teachers look forward to conversations in English, so that should not be too difficult!

Nothing is impossible at Kippax.

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