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.

Inspiring people in Cebu mission trip

Michael, Kenny, Stephen, Ansen, Brenda, Seh Chuan, Soo Kheen, Anwen

Ansen, Soo Kheen, Anwen, Michael

This was the first time I went on missions with the Soon family. Michael Soon had been a missions man for decades. He had migrated from Singapore to Perth and the missions passion, instead of waning, burst aflame in the land of the relaxed. He operates in a dependency on the Lord, and makes connections between needs and resources. Thus I ended up on this scouting trip to Cebu island in the Philippines. He and his family were in Cambodia for about a week, and spent a few days of Chinese New Year with relatives in Singapore and then it was off to Cebu. This was one long missions cum reunion trip for them. They traveled budget so that they could pour more resources into the ministries they were helping. They were seasoned missioners: traveling light, no complaints, adaptable, culturally sensitive, encouraging, not patronizing and intent on serving and helping the people.

Soo Kheen, Rose Pastre, Anwen: adaptableAnwen praying for a scholarMichael sharing life

On ferry back from Dumagete, Negros

It looked like his missions passion had rubbed onto his wife, Soo Kheen, son Ansen, and daughter Anwen. Ansen had spent a gap year with Youth With A Mission doing a DTS  in Perth. He had gone to Mexico for the outreach. It was a joy to see this family serving together in missions. Most often in church, family members would serve in different ministries and spheres, and that is okay because God gives different gifts, passions and grace to each one. Missions is one of those occasions when temporarily you can see the manifold grace of God at work through a family. Their strengths, training background, temperaments, spiritual gifts and passions come together like a lively and lovely dance.

Stephen, Seh Chuan, Michael Soon, Kenny

Stephen and I shared the room and it was good to have a partner with you on any trip. Jesus sent his disciples two by two into the field. We could share our reflections and process what we were experiencing. This mission trip was packed. Morning we left the small hotel and we returned about 10 most nights. An interesting first for both of us was taking the night ferry in the tourist section. Told a few distasteful stories of overcrowded sinking ferries to the group but I suspect they thought I was kidding. Anyway the cheaper fare was in the open air bunk beds on the deck, which seemed safer to me, while the tourist fare was below the deck in a smaller air-conditioned section.

I slept wellbunk beds in tourist sectiongetting ready to sleep

Both Stephen and I were impressed with the ministry of Grace Community Empowerment. Sharon and Manny Pastre are the leaders of the ministry. This couple complemented each other and are both vital to the success of the ministry and its outreach. Sharon was born in Singapore, raised in Hong Kong, but a US citizen, and a missionary in Philippines. She sold off her successful architectural practice. She used to design the interiors of hotels, and sometimes the facades of buildings. Now she designs programs to meet the needs of the poor and the proclamation of  the gospel. Manny was an Assemblies of God pastor and had experience working in a community aid agency. He was an ex-Marine and still sported a Marine haircut. “Keeps me cool”.

Seh Chuan & Brenda

New jeans for all

SC doing dental sealantSeh Chuan and Brenda sharingwalking over rubbish

Another lovely Singaporean couple were Seh Chuan and Brenda, who have been following Michael Soon in his mission trips. They retired long ago at around the age my father’s generation retired: 55. (You see in those days, unlike today, the Singapore system did not have scholars running it! Under them, the retirement age is currently 62.) This couple was sincere and generous, and they wholeheartedly threw themselves into all the mission work, especially the dental sealant project, with admirable zeal. They braved the dumpsite visit, the travels in jeepneys and ferry, shared their testimony with the marriage fellowship, and bought about 30 pairs of jeans for all the local workers and “scholars”.

tasty food with great company

Missions has a way of yielding interesting stories. Its always a privilege to connect with people, and be inspired by them. One of the simple joys of missions is to hear their stories of faith, love, failures and successes. Although our intent is to give and sow much, we inevitably receive much too!