Interfaith rugby in Southeast Asia

July 17, 2013 — Features

By Carol Keochekian ’81

Patrick Cudahy ’12 was doing what he loves most: playing sports.Pic 5

As the late afternoon sun illuminated the rugby field, Cudahy joined his Malaysian teammates for practice. As the only orang putih (white guy) on the team, he was a distinct minority.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Cudahy wrote in the newsletter that he produces for family and friends, “or just how important this team would prove to be.”

With practice nearly every weekday and games on the weekends, the former CLU rugby player began to learn more about his teammates. To his surprise, he found that most of the team members were Muslim.

“This was a bit shocking for me because I have never really had Muslim friends before or even had an in-depth conversation with any Muslim person,” Cudahy wrote.

Last year, Cudahy was selected to serve as a volunteer with Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM), a program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Following a week of training, he traveled to Malaysia, where he has been teaching English to boys and girls from ages 6 to 18.

Located in Donggongon, a suburb of Kota Kinabalu (the capital of Sabah state on the South China Sea), the school serves undocumented, mostly poor immigrant children who cannot access a public education in Malaysia. Cudahy estimates that three-quarters of the 200 students enrolled are Christian, with the remainder Muslim.

“Parents of Muslim students are told up front that we are a Christian school and that all students are required to attend chapel and participate in Bible studies,” Cudahy said. “However, the parents opt to send their kids to our school because we have one of the best reputations amongst the immigrant schools in the area.”

Once Cudahy settled into his teaching tasks, he started looking around for a sports team he could join. Through a Google search, he found a rugby team. This was a godsend for the Port Orchard, Wash., native who played four years with the CLU rugby club and was a senior when the team went to the California Cup for Division III.

Rugby, like most sports, builds camaraderie. That was certainly true for Cudahy as he attended practices in Malaysia. It opened doors for new friendships and new understandings.

“I began talking with one of my rugby brothers about our different faiths. After comparing many of our beliefs and values, we realized just how similar our faiths actually are…. I had no clue that joining this team would lead to the interreligious dialogue that it has,” he wrote in the newsletter.

In Malaysian society, Cudahy continued, Christians and Muslims are generally kept in separate communities, and it is not common for people of different faiths to associate.

“That is when I saw just how important our rugby club is. If the call to prayer occurs during our practice, we all stop for a few minutes to allow a quick prayer.” And the orang putih prays alongside them.

Having been in Malaysia for nearly a year, Cudahy can now speak Malay quite well. His near fluency has allowed him to get to know his students better.

“At first, my primary objective was to be the best English teacher that I could be and try to improve the speech, reading and writing of the students,” he wrote. But after hearing of the hardships that many students face outside of school, his goal changed from teaching English to making the kids feel loved.

When his volunteer stint ends this summer, Cudahy, who majored in biology, plans to attend medical school. He believes the YAGM program has helped him prepare for the future, in part by changing his mindset.

“Living simply is one of the values that I have learned during this year and is a value that will stick with me forever,” he said. “It has made me realize what is important in life and what things we actually really need in order to be happy.”