Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Seven Students, Seven Cultures

Our work in Guam has a way of reminding me of the great multitude in Revelation 7.9, "from all tribes and peoples and tongues" who are before the throne worshiping the Lamb. The reason for that is simply that our ministry here is entirely cross-cultural. Even though our staff is only now showing signs of diversity, the student body is a panoply of cultures, and our church is another variegated tapestry of peoples.

I guess using "culture" to describe someone's background is a bit slippery, but it's more descriptive than simply identifying what country someone is from. For instance, even if you tell me you're from the US, I still don't know what your cultural background is. So, when I decided to share with you about my current seminary class, I quickly realized it's not enough to tell you that I have seven students from five different countries because the three who are from the same "country" are from completely different cultures within that country. It's really more descriptive to tell you that I have seven students from seven cultures. So, on Tuesday nights, I sit in front of a Chinese, a Chuukese, a Filipina, a Bangladeshi, and three Americans. It's the three Americans who really represent three different cultures. One is a local with Chamorro roots, a culture unique unto its own. Another is Caucasian from Alabama, and the third is of Spanish extraction, raised in a New Mexico town settled by the Spanish in the 1600s. Thus, though he is American, his first language and culture are Spanish, but not South American Spanish! Now, just imagine the dialog we have in class. It is rich as each accented word is shared out of his or her own culture. Categorically, I no longer assume that my cultural experiences relate to others' experiences, which has a distinct way of affecting the application of the theology we study. In a recent seminary class conversation about burnout rates among pastors, I came in assuming that one reason for the burnout is based on pastor's having more people to care for than is humanly possible. I guess I had thought it was a universal problem, until one student explained that in his culture this is not the case because a church of 50 people may have fifteen pastors! Here, it is not trite to say that I learn as much from my students as they do from me.
    Sound interesting? Come out and join us! Seriously. We are in immediate need of undergraduate teachers, especially in the areas of general education. We are looking to establish our budding counseling center with professional counselors (even those working toward licensure); and of course, we need doctoral level seminary professors. The world is becoming cross-cultural, so get in on the trend and join us at PIU!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Divinely-Orchestrated Trial

For Christmas, Eric bought me the study Bible I have been wanting for quite some time.  Filled with maps, illustrations, explanatory notes, historical settings, key themes, literary features, and detailed outlines, I am having a blast!  No longer do I puzzle over obscure meanings or try to remember the English equivalent of a cubit, I simply look in my handy-dandy ESV Study Bible!  Well, this morning I read in Matthew 11 that when John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of Jesus, he sent his followers to Jesus to ask, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?"  What?!  Are you kidding me?!  Isn't this the same guy who eight chapters back in Matthew 3 said he wasn't worthy to baptize Jesus?  Isn't this the same fellow who saw the heavens open and the Spirit of God descend like a dove to rest on Jesus?  Isn't this the same bloke who heard a voice FROM HEAVEN saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased?"  Why the confusion?  How much proof does a person need?!  Enter my wonderful, handy-dandy study Bible!  Hmmmmmm . . . what do the "experts" say about this?  Apparently, poor John the Baptist starts to wonder if he's missed something.  You see, he was under the impression that if he were a repentant follower of Jesus, he would receive blessings; it was the unrepentant who would receive judgment.  Tragically, John the Baptist was wasting away in prison, awaiting a beheading by Herod Antipas.  Not quite the blessing he was expecting.  I actually felt sorry for John.  This guy was really devoted to God.  Wearing itchy clothing, eating locusts, and STILL he ends up without a head.  Certainly not "fair."  

This reminded me of some of the confusion I felt when a week ago I was awaiting results from a double biopsy.  Would I be told I had terminal cancer?  Why would God "call" me to Guam and have me invest in an incredible ministry and then do this?  Even if I lived through it, it was quite inconvenient!  After all, I was in the middle of teaching a college class and now I was packing my bags for California!  This turn of events definitely took me and my prior record of perfect health by surprise.  

But, I have to say, going through this horrible event has been one of the greatest blessings I have ever experienced.  I don't think it is possible to articulate the amazing way I have felt God's presence walking with me every step of the way.  In the midst of the human terror of knowing I may be told I only have weeks to live, I concurrently experienced a supernatural peace.  How can one explain having such divergent feelings simultaneously?  I watched as God provided for my physical needs in miraculous ways.  Rushing to the states on such short notice would normally have cost $1800 for an airline ticket, but a family who didn't even know me GAVE me a round-trip ticket (and it was business class to boot!).  I IMMEDIATELY got an appointment with a top surgeon in California who generally has a long waiting list.  Friends gave me money specifically to help cover the mounting medical expenses.  I was stunned by the love and support I received from family and friends.  I never realized the significant emotional and spiritual support system that surrounds me. 

Throughout those frightening weeks of not knowing my fate, I ALWAYS felt the tender and powerful presence of my Savior.  It was in His comforting presence that I found the security to face my mortality and all aspects of my life, although it was anything but fun.  I analyzed how I use my time, where I invest my energy, and what's important to me.  I didn't like everything I saw.  I was saddened that I hadn't accomplished more.  I wished I could be more like what people expected me to be.  I grieved my inadequacies and earthly insignificance until, finally, weeping on the phone with my mom I sobbed, "Isn't it enough to just love people?  Can't my ministry simply be to try to express the love of Christ to everyone I meet?"  And, that's really the end of the story.  I am infinitely grateful that my biopsies were benign.  I am infinitely more grateful that as a result of going through this ordeal, I am confident of God's call on my life.  My calling is not to be a renowned professor, a brilliant psychotherapist, a famous author, or a pioneering missionary.  My call is to love the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my mind, and to love my neighbor as myself.  This is my full-time job, and I learned this with force during my divinely-orchestrated trial.