Research Methods module like durian

The research methods module, held by AGST Alliance at Malaysia Bible Theological Seminary, was like a duriandurian – thorny on the outside but succulent and fragrant on the inside. When I first received the information, the idea of delving in statistics was a thorny No-no. The pleasant surprise was that the lecturers sort of gave us a survey of the statistical tools available. We learned that the best time to actually learn the statistical tools would be after you had actually decided on the research design. However the one week intensive course was immensely helpful on the whole as it introduced you to the world of research methods both quantitative and qualitative. Key research concepts, research design, tools for collecting data, interpretation and ethical and theological issues were all interesting stuff, made engaging by the lecturers Dr Allan Harkness and Dr Jeanie Shim. Now I understand the why the theological, educational and social science journals in the theological library have the rather formal, laborious process and outline.

The campus was located on the granite slopes of Batu Ferringhi, Penang island. The views afforded by such a location was a boost when energies ran low or the classroom became too claustrophobic. All it took was  a look outside  far into the mountains of Kedah and the fishing boats in the sea, and a breath of fresh sea breeze. What a place to study God’s word and handiwork side by side. Have a look at the video.

Spirituality and faith formation at AGST

New eyes

So far the courses I have attended covered discipleship, building formative faith communities and this time round, “Spirituality and Faith Development”. Hands touched my eyes, and I find myself learning to cope with strange light and blurred images, and a new way of seeing how learning can take place more effectively in church. It is stimulating to view the same things from a new framework, and to have clarified in books, lectures, discussions and journal articles, insights and patterns you have sensed but could not give precise shape to. It is uncomfortable too, because you see methodology and philosophy in the church that does not maximize learning, but will require great energy to modify.

Dr George Capaque facilitating discussion

Different Christian traditions and spiritualities

Dr. George Capaque, the Dean of Discipleship Training Center was our main lecturer together with Dr Allan Harkness, the Director of Education programs in Asia Graduate School of Theology. There were eight of us in the group from four countries: Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Philippines.  We were introduced to the different traditions and spiritualities of the church and to the ways our faith is formed and developed, always with an eye to how we can incorporate what we have learned to benefit our respective contexts.

Though academic there was thought put in the program to integrate elements that would impact the heart and behavior. While we examined the six traditions expounded in Richard Foster’s “Streams of Living Water”, we took it down from the cognitive domain to let it work in our hearts and hands. We used the workbook for the first hour of each day to actually discuss where we are personally with respect to each tradition and how we will weave it into our actions through specific applications. The sharing were times of openness, fellowship and mutual encouragement.

Carlos making a point

break out groups

learning by sharing

Ladeq expressing her view

I’m liking it

Besides exploring the contemplative, evangelical, social justice, charismatic, holiness and incarnational traditions, we also examined the nature and contributions of the pietist spirituality, Ignatian spirituality, and John Wesley’s teachings. We looked at how different types of personalities have preferred spiritual pathways, the spiritual disciplines, different types of prayer and how to develop a personal rule of life.

Dr Allan HarknessDr Allan lead us through stimulating discussions on various theories and several paradigms of how faith develops. Some of the stuff here includes John Westerhoff’s styles of faith, James Fowler stages of faith, and Hagberg and Guelich’s Stages in the life of faith. These are interesting stuff that I will need to process and synthesize and reflect in the context of my ministry situation.

The papers we have to do are geared towards our own growth in spirituality and faith, and that of the community we serve and Ee Yiung and Kenny at EAST officefind ourselves in. They press us into integrating the insights and new learnings into our life and ministry context. This is anytime better than doing purely theoretical stuff that does not result in real change in attitude and behavior. True knowing involves life transformation.

Meeting friends

In such courses, we do make new acquaintances occasionally, and when we meet in an intensive 7 days schedule, inevitably friendship grows, and we even discover new things and meet old friends. A new aquantance shared with me theology outside the classroompersonal anecdotes about the late Anthony Yeo that really moved me, and I said to myself, I must write at least a blog post about this great man, even though a book is more appropriate. Another pleasant bonus was meeting Ee Yiung, a member I baptized 21 years ago in the East Coast Park and with whom I keep in touch via….what else but Facebook. It was heartening to see that she has found her place in God’s economy and enjoyed the work she did for East Asia School of Theology, the Campus Crusade’s training center.

Almost two months into the sabbatical

trekking the Bukit Timah hillListening to my body

Almost two months have passed. Physically, I have rested well. This April and May has been months when I listened closely to my body. Whenever I felt tired, I laid in bed and napped or slept. Most mornings I do not force myself to wake up. So it has been usually 8.30am or 9am when I have my breakfast. They say this is the best way to know how much sleep you need. My tentative conclusion is that I need about 8-9 hours of sleep each day.

Though I began with walking and jogging at the Chinese Garden, my preferred form of exercise and recreation is still trekking. So I have revived my Saturday trek with friends, and above that, during the weekdays I try to trek once or twice at Bukit Timah Hill or MacRitchie.  Such treks are gentle on the knees and on the heart. The air is great and the forest sounds and sights perk me up. Over the several weeks, I have been gradually trimming down and firming up.

Outside enrichment

The AGST MTh(Ed) modules were fun and the subjects and readings, lectures and interactions have been fruitful learning experiences for me. Forcing myself to research, reflect and write my papers have also been pleasantly smooth riding, despite my early anxiety.

Helping out as a facilitator once a month with the Focused Leaders Network (Church Resource Ministry Singapore) together with James Creasman, Bishop Moses Tay, and Rev. Walter Lim has been enjoyable. This is a platform for me to journey with pastors, in this instance, pastors from the Foursquare denomination in Singapore.

Spiritual refreshment

More time also meant more time for meditation, reading, reflection, prayer and journaling, and listening to sermons with my wife, mostly Paul White and Andrew Wommack. This last month I have been slowly nourishing my soul on Psalms 42 and taking time to pour out my heart or be quiet before Him.

Visiting churches as a layman is so nice, so nice. To be free from having to preach or minister and to fuss over program or people problems is like one prolonged sigh of relief. It was plain good, a cosy and relaxing change. It was pure indulgence: like peering into the horizon with sunglasses, and sipping watermelon juice at a beach, as white clouds quietly tiptoed by. And then being able to indulge my spiritual palate in different church services and sermons, like a wandering charismatic, has become a prolonged epicurean feast I hope I do not become addicted to.

Anxiety squashed by word

Even as the days passed, colourful as they were, with a Kuala Lumpur jaunt and a chest thumping week of witnessing the Singapore election, anxiety about whether the days were productively spent bugged me for a while. For a Singaporean, even resting and restoration is an objective to strain for. So as the days passed quickly you wondered if God will get everything done that I wanted Him to get done in me. Mercifully, some peace prevailed after the Lord gave me a status update, “Enjoy each day as a gift and trust Me to accomplish in you all that needs to be accomplished by the end of the sabbatical”. That is so assuring and going forward, I will rest on that word.

Google reader

Recently, I have also learned how to use the Google Reader. Transferred all the blogs and websites I usually read from my blogroll and Favourites and moved them all there for efficient access and pleasure. This has been available for some time, but I am usually a late adopter when it comes to such things. I am still not on Twitter.

AGST MTh(Ed) at Bible College of Malaysia

Bible College of Malaysiadormitory and apartments behind the basketball court

Living room: great to have two TVs but no programs worth watching!great to have two beds but no companion!

The 5th module of the AGST MTh(Ed) program was held at the Bible College of Malaysia. Finding my way there from Bangsar station was simple and it was a treat to have a comfortable and spacious apartment all to myself. Pastor Benedict Muthusamy, my good friend was supposed to be my roomate, but he withdrew from the course at the last moment,  and I was left all alone but I was not complaining. The solitude was strangely pleasant.

Raju Indian restaurant - sedapI got roti planta instead of roti prata

This Aussie was highly adaptable: even tried durian

The college was having a trimester break so it was quiet and we had to eat out for all our meals. Turn right and walk for 10 minutes and you have a row of shops with the famous Raju restaurant. Several meals, both breakfasts of roti chanai and thosai, as well as banana leaf lunches and dinner were had here as well as at Kanna Curry which was nearer, just a 3 minutes walk to the left of the college entrance. No more Indian food for me for a few months. Another famous restaurant was the Ipoh Ngah Chai Chicken, and its neighbour coffeeshop which sold exactly the same stuff but cheaper.No more chicken rice for me in the next few months. After a week, I felt great empathy for the grumbling Israelites wandering in the wilderness for 40 years on a highly restricted menu.

Allan Harkness(Dean), Arthur Brown(guest lecture), Dr Perry Shaw

Indry, Khanattha, Arthur, Winnie, Perry, Ladeq, Kenny, Lina, Derrick

interaction, presentations, lectures

discussions, question and answer

lots of  10 nminutes teabreaks to perk us up

It was an enriching learning experience for me as the lecturer Dr Perry Shaw guided us through a wealth of materials to equip us in “Building formative faith communities”. Arthur Brown began with a theological basis for community rooted in the Dr Perry: skilled teacher, culturally sensitive, considerate and caringTrinity. From that theological base, Dr Perry Shaw continued to build an understanding of the self; group dynamics; hidden curriculum; form and meaning; understanding church culture and its interaction with the community; and the dynamics of change. The unfamiliarDerrick Chong: my Tung Ling classmate material which employs tools from social sciences, social psychology, and anthropology was challenging but fresh. It gave us an introduction to tools by which new insights and perspectives could be gained when we intentionally build faith communities.

It was lovely to see the same batch of students and to renew acquaintances with them. In addition, I met an old classmate of Tung Ling Bible School, a short term training I did in 1979. His name was Derrick Chong. It was such a pleasure to catch up with him.

AGST MTH(ED) – Making Disciples (4th module)

recreation area at Malaysian Bible Seminary in Kuang

Studying is a spiritual discipline – one that helps you to grow spiritually in grace. Yet it was with some apprehension that I entered into a formal program of study. After all it had been over twenty years since I wrote essays with endnotes and bibliographies. And the sight of students studying in the Trinity Theological College’s library always evoked feelings of pity in me for them. The Asia Graduate School of Theology Master’s in Theology (Education) is the only post-graduate course that appealed to me and stoked my long dormant affair with education. Only that my interest had shifted long ago from school to education in the faith community. So the challenge felt like climbing Mt Kinabalu: it’s doable, but you may not make it, and it called for preparation, sweat, money, and perseverence.

Kuang, the town where the Malaysian Bible Seminary(MBS) campus was located is 45 minutes north of Kuala Lumpur Sentral by KTM. MBS had bought over and renovated what was formerly a leisure farm/golf country club. This would lend the MBS the my hostel roomdistinction of being the only bible school in all of South East Asia with a swimming pool! The hostel room I stayed in was once a golf driving range and its door open to an open field. There was even a very large indoor stadium for basketball and badminton. The grounds were large and breezy: I liked it immediately on arrival. Though the furnishings were spartan, they were clean and there was an attached bathroom and airconditioning. The AGST program would move among its several  affiliated member theological institutions in Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand.

While we were there, the Petaling Jaya Evangelical Free Church was also using the grounds for a two week intensive vacation bible school for school leavers. There were about 30 of them studying the Word in depth in the mornings; workshops in the afternoon and ministry at night. At the end of the school they would take all the services in the church over the weekend, except preaching. Another group that used the place was SIB KL’s worship ministry having a 2 days retreat.

S- Rev. Benedict Muthusamy; myself; Ms Winnie Chan; Ms Ladeq Mutang; rev Carlos Pena. Seated- Ms Lina Kristo; Ms Khanittha Panam; Dr Sylvia Collinson.

The lecturer was Dr Sylvia Collinson and she had written her thesis on Making Disciples which was then the basis of her published book, “Making Disciples: The significance of Jesus’s educational methods for today’s church”. Having read her book as part of the preparation I was keen to interact with her and the other students. The students were of different nationalities and ethnicity: Thai, Filipino, Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean. They are theological lecturers, pastors and leaders of parachurch groups. We were all at different stages of the course, some near the end, others at the middle, and me and Carlos just at the beginning.

The readings before the course were beneficial and since reading and writing are pleasurable activities for me, doing the reading report and the class presentation were as easy as climbing Bukit Timah Hill. Its the formal essay requiring research, footnotes and bibliography that presents a psychological barrier. To help me overcome that, Benedict installed in my laptop a software called “Endnote”.

lectures and interaction

We began at 9am each morning and typically ended around 4.30 to 5pm, including Saturday. The course was marked with a good balance of lecture, small group discussions, class presentations. Everyone contributed to the learning but the lecturer was the main contributor and facilitator as well. I look forward to the next course in April on Spiritual Formation. But first I need to complete an essay for this course by the end of February.

CarlosLadeq MutangKhanittha PanamBenedict MuthusamyMrs Winnie ChanDr Sylvia Collinson

Meal times were leisurely and the food was good local fare. Breakfast was mostly Malaysian, and only on one occasion we went Western with bread, bacon, eggs, sausages and baked beans. The banter were usually stories, discussions over lectures and getting to know you stuff. All were mature people with a sense of purpose. It was enjoyable.

good Malaysian food