Finally I received my MTh(Ed) from AGST Alliance in a folder over registered mail. I have graduated. It was an enjoyable, enlightening and enriching journey.
It was fun to meet fellow servants of God from pastors, lay leaders to lecturers of Bible Schools who want to pursue further equipping and increase of knowledge and skills on a part-time basis, while still in their respective job responsibilities or ministries. When you are together in class, and over meals and breaks, over several courses, or even travel together, you are sure to build friendships and acquaintances.
My classmates are mostly from Malaysia and Singapore but there are also those from Australia and USA. They are from different denominations, Bible Schools and missions. This makes our interactions and fellowship times interesting and exciting.
I learned a lot from the course modules which included spiritual formation and Christian education. Each module comprised a five day 9am to 5pm lecture phase, preceded by reading assignments, and followed by research assignments. The lecturers were helpful and facilitated our learning and treated us with graciousness and thoughtfulness. They knew the kind of struggles and challenges people in ministry faced in trying to juggle assignments and work.
The whole package created a learning environment that befits the degree we pursued. To be a good practitioner would require that I patiently and diligently seek what I learned to what I am doing. It comes from reflection-action-reflection in the journey of change. But the burden and speed of ministry means you do not have the time to reflect sufficiently to design something that is customised. It is always easier to find a package and use it. Besides having time, I only wished I was able to apply the insights gained with a coach’s or mentor’s help.
I must confess that towards the end I struggled a great deal with studying part-time. My grades were above average most of the time. But the tougher assignments at the tail end took a toll on me. I needed to dig deep, ask my friends for prayer support, and cry out to God for grace and wisdom and motivation to get over the line. By the grace of God, I finished the course, and graduated. It gave me a great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment, but it makes me think twice and pray thrice about taking out any further courses.
What’s a colloquium? That was my first question mark when I was invited to the AGST Alliance Doctoral Colloquium. It turned out to be an informal exchange with an academic slant. So the three theology and seven education doctoral candidates were there in Bible College of Malaysia in Petaling Jaya to share our progress or the lack thereof with the program director Dr Allan Harkness, and other expert AGST Alliance officials/ lecturers/ like Dr Perry Shaw and Dr Rosalind Lim-Tan and other experts.
In the first session we were presented with the estimated time and the deliberate process of completing a dissertation from the acceptance of a focus area to the submission of the finished work to external examiners. It was an eye opener. It looked like the promise land with its giants and impenetrable fortresses. I needed to take it step by step and each step by faith.
There were three other helpful sessions. One was a review of what was expected in terms of the research question, and the rigour of the research methods that matches the research to be done. The other was a session on expectations and roles of the supervisors that have been attached to us.
The most helpful session lasted a whole day. Each of the doctoral candidates had to present the research they had done thus far and receive specific advice and input from the experts and their peers. This was most helpful for me as I saw what was expected in concrete cases and what was taught as general principles became clearer as it was set in the specific context of each person’s research question. There were educational research questions on the ethos of a Christian school in Malaysia; on faith formation in Chinese speaking Christian families in Sarawak; theological reflection of pastors in Singapore; the different outcomes arising from Christian workers relationships with their fathers; and the equipping of the young old in Singapore churches.
The main lessons we learned were that in order for our research to be useful for the kingdom, we needed to narrow down the sample population, justify the research methodology used, be more specific with the research topic.
We stayed in the La Salle hostel. Each room had two bunk beds and an attached toilet and a balcony for laundry. I stayed in one at $60 ringgit per night. Lectures were held in BCM which was a 15 minute walk. There were quite a number of popular Indian restaurants and a well-known
Ipoh kway teow and bean sprouts and chicken rice joint nearby and we had most of our meals in these places. Travel was a good 4.5 hours bus ride on First Coach from Novena to Bangsar, and from there, a kind classmate, May drove us to BCM.
Now that the colloquium has ended I need to process it and the input they gave to my research idea. The way I look at it. I am now at the entrance of Timpohon Gate and about to begin my trek up the steps and slopes to Loh’s Peak. It’s going to be a test of endurance and faith, but I am going to replicate what I have always done with trekking: take a deep breath and move my feet one step at a time.
We were mistaken about the street food. It was a public holiday. So all the night stalls in the streets were closed. But on all other nights the stalls were open and we tried out the barbecued squid, pork satay, phad Thai, and Thai salad for supper. Cheap and good.
After lunch at the Thai bible seminary, we would troop out and look for brewed coffee at 40 baht (SGD $1.50). This became a daily affair as we needed the extra kick to keep awake over the afternoon periods. We got to know each other better and we discussed different matters raised or triggered by the lessons. Three guys I got to know better are Peter, Michael, and Philippe – wonderful folks with a love for the Lord and a vision for his work.
The pre-campus reading comprised two books, “The Leadership Challenge” (Kouzes, James and Posner)and “Leading Congregational Change: A practical guide for the transformation journey” (Herrington, Bonem, and Furr). We wrote 5 reflection papers on the former, and posted them online on lore.com for peer comments.
Long morning walk
Then we came together for the on campus sessions. We arrived at Bangkok Bible Seminary at 8.30am. It was a 30 minute walk with backpacks weighed down with heavy laptops.From Bangkok Christian Guest House where most of us stayed, we trudged through narrow and interesting side streets and back lanes to the meeting place. By the time we arrived my dark blue short-sleeved cotton shirt was wet with perspiration from the exertion in humid weather. The lecturer, Dr. Pieter F. Theron, a South African, later told the class of 13 adult learners that there was no use for laptops!
Play to Learn
After a whole morning to introduce the subject, we played a simulation game that teaches change leadership in education through a board game. We were to imagine we were members of a team appointed by the superintendent of an imaginary school district and tasked to transform a few schools into continuously learning communities. How would we go about bringing about transformation? We were given in random order a string of leadership steps. Each step we decided on would draw from a limited resource of bits, and would receive feedback that determined how quickly the many game board pieces moved towards the final stage of renewal. After each school year, played over two hours, we had a debriefing, and we reflected on what we learned about leading change.
Searching for street food
Lunch was at the bible institute but looking for relatively cheap food for dinner was difficult. At Silom Complex, we could not find an air-conditioned food mall like the one available at the top floor of MBK.Then some of us searched for cheap street food on the opposite side of Silom Road but found nothing.So we settled for a Thai restaurant along the main road. Later a few of us went farther and walked two kilometres in search of local street food along the main road but skirting the R.A. streets of Patpong 1 and 2. Later we finally found one street hawker who occupied a whole narrow lane with a row of about 15 tables with chairs. We saw mainly local customers. The prices were half those of the restaurant. We will patronize that stall one of these nights.
There was no assignment tonight so we were relaxed. From Tuesday onwards we will have an assignment for each night. The wireless in the guest house was pathetic and I write this blog post which I can upload tomorrow using the wireless at the bible institute.
We were looking at different orientations towards curriculum development. In an article, Orientations to Curriculum Development for Church Education, Burt Branius listed 3 orientations: the preservative, productive and the participative approach. The preservative is focused of transmission of a highly valued content. The productive is oriented towards developing a curriculum that produces a certain kind of disciple or worker or community. The participative is centered on the learner and his needs and what he is most in need of at that life stage or situation. It is participative in the sense that the learner is more involved in the development of the curriculum. The conclusion of the discussion was that the ideal would be for most Christian faith communities to have some combination of all three. As a church we do have a faith to transmit(preservative); we do have growth outcomes we want to see in our members and in the community; and we do want to minister to the learners’ needs, both felt, hidden or developmental.
Meeting interesting people
Two persons that I was surprised to meet were Cheng Eng Hoon, pastor of Praise Evangelical Church, and Lau King Lang. In the course of conversation I found out that Pastor Cheng Eng Hwa was a brother of two committed lay leaders I knew from Church of True Light, Dr Samuel Cheng and Catherine Cheng. Small world. It was even more surprising when during lesson I heard a familiar name of a fellow blogger, Dr. Anthony Loke, affectionately called the “reb” as in rabbi, by his seminary students. He was mentioned by his wife King Lang during discussions in class! He blogs at Old Testament passion but I must add that Facebook has left quite a number of blogs like the walls of Jerusalem during the exile. Anthony also inherited my Arsenal jersey, when I almost gave up on Arsenal last year. 🙂
Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary in Penang. Air Asia and a shared cab brought me here at 1pm. The room is large and for two persons but I asked for a single room and there were none left, so they gave me this double room with a million dollar view from Batu Ferringhi. The AGST MTh(Ed) module I am attending is titled “Curriculum Design and Development in a Christian Faith Community”. In the three quarters- filled plane, I was speed-reading a borrowed book, “Mapping Out Curriculum In Your Church”, and once I settled in, I continued till I finished it at about 6pm. Having a phone camera is useful as I could take pics of some of the useful and more important charts and tables in the book.
Now it is close to 12midnight. I have had my dinner at the street hawker’s and it was cheap and delicious. I had met up with a new student, a mature Singapore pastor who had just joined the program(Welcome to the club of seniors in life long learning!). I had bathed and made sure all my pre-course work had been done. I feel tired and done for the day. Lord, may I awake completely refreshed and energized for the packed days ahead.
Five are Bible college lecturers, four are pastors, two are in para-church organizations, two are in transition. Five are Malaysians, four are Singaporeans, two are Filippinos, one an Australian and one Thai. All were here for the AGST Alliance masters/ doctoral module on Education, Spiritual Formation and Discipleship in Christian Faith Communities: Interdisciplinary overview and rationale. Yes it is a rather massive and ponderous title for a module, and we took a morning to unpack the lexical complexity, and overlapping concepts of the terms. This was much needed work as this module is a core and foundational course upon which the course superstructure would be built upon. I found the course immensely useful and stimulating. We looked at the subject from different perspectives: philosophical, biblical, historical, educational, technological and architectural. Sounds quite intellectual, and it was. But it was also interactive, collaborative. We had two guests, an architect and a Singapore Bible College lecturer who was an “Apple evangelist”. The course was mentally draining, and the assignments were practical, designed to achieve the stated outcomes. They look challenging, but should be doable. Having done the course just before Holy Week, I have hardly had time to digest and process what I learned or to start on any of the assignments. The comfort as I juggle ministry and study, is that the assignments given are all relevant to the community I am in, and require me to do further research, and understand and apply what I have learned. In addition, the study is relevant to the ministry at hand, and could be a basis of actual change action. On the whole I liked it, and it was nice to get to know more of the Lord’s servants in South East Asia. It was nice to get acquainted with Rev Winston Tan, whose late wife was my TTC classmate, and Ying Kheng, a popular lady speaker with Campus Crusade, and Sonny, a Singaporean of Filippino descent, who has pastored in a few countries and is bi-vocational.