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.