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30 July—5 Aug 2007
Issue No. 28
Biblical GRADUATE school of theology
BGST This Week
In November of 1993, we loaded the contents of our 5-room flat into a 20-foot container, and saw the truck drive off. In January of the following year, we were on the island of Maui in Hawaii, standing in front of a two-storey house, waiting for the container to show up. Except for a broken cup, every item arrived intact.
The journey was not as simple for the four of us. Our two daughters in their teens missed their friends, and did not appreciate having to study American History in school. Jenny, my wife, took up a teaching position in a pre-school and found the approach to education different and liberal compared to that in Singapore. I moved from pastoring a local church to serving in an international, inter-denominational organisation.
We enjoyed the scenic mountains and rainforests, beaches and ocean, and threw ourselves into the ministry of Haggai Institute. Every year, a few hundred leaders from developing nations came to spend a month at the training centre. Over the 11 years, we met thousands of leaders from more than 150 nations. Our lives were immeasurably enriched and our horizons expanded.
We found a church and stuck with it despite a number of upheavals. During one year, after the pastor resigned, I stood in for the pulpit teaching. We made friends, saw our daughters graduate from high school and university and travelled to all five continents. Jenny grew from teaching children to training adult leaders in child evangelism. I completed my doctoral studies. We all experienced life in all its rich diversity, and now look back with no regrets.
However, after more than a decade living abroad, we felt a stirring in our hearts for home. When my boss retired, I was promoted to Vice-President, International Training, overseeing the training in both Maui and Singapore. That was when we started making trips to Singapore. Each time we came back and met with families and friends, amidst familiar surroundings (and of course, the many changes), we felt at home—as if we had never left.
Ironically, around that time, we had bought and enjoyed a beautiful two-storey, 4-bedroom house, set in a quiet neighbourhood, with the mountains behind us and ocean in front. We sold it, and in 2005, made our way back home, this time with only a 10-foot container. A garage sale disposed of all our furniture and stuff. What did we learn from the years of living abroad and why did we return?
Firstly, we found a clash of values. We witnessed the breakdown of marriages of friends we knew. Few of our children’s friends came from traditional families, i.e. with two biological parents married to each other. Part of it, I suppose, came from an individualistic approach to life. For example, we find it strange for a family of four to have four cars, and each person driving his or her own vehicle to church. In the cities, we hardly saw a car with more than one person in it.
We grew up in large families (6 siblings for me, and 9 for my wife), and have always cherished family, friends and community. While we made many new friends abroad, there is nothing like old friends back home. We appreciated the fact that we could call on any of them at short notice and go out for a cup of coffee or a meal.
Secondly, my promotion meant an increasingly administrative role. I was one step removed from the training seminars, and missed the one-on-one, face-to-face interaction with seminar participants. I was travelling 40% of the time, usually to attend business meetings stretching into days. I felt I was not fulfilling my calling as a pastor-teacher (Eph 4.11).
Also, living in Hawaii and travelling in the US, I felt I was missing out on a lot of the action taking place in Asia and the developing world. Where we lived and operated, it was easy to become insulated from the rest of the world. The American news media generally carried news only when it is related to US interests. In 2005, we requested to be relocated back to Singapore.
Finally, we realised that Singapore is our home. One year, the National Day’s theme resonated with our spirit: Home@Singapore.World. While the world may be our field of operation, our home is still here in Singapore. Sometimes, we have to travel far and wide, to arrive at where we started.
I belong to those born soon after the Second World War, the first generation of National Servicemen, who sang three National Anthems (British, Malaysian, Singaporean). We saw Singapore grow from Third World to First, kampong huts give way to highrise apartments, black-and-white television replaced by colour, and swamps transformed into parks and gardens. Someone described patriotism as the memory of what we ate when we were children. I find that definition intriguing and true. Our life and identity come essentially from memories. Having spent my first 40 or so years in Singapore, and having the memories of that part of life imprinted, it is hard to find home anywhere else in the world.
David Wong: Travelling Far and Wide to Come Home
We are about to celebrate National Day. I’m still not too hard-boiled for it not to bring a lump to my throat and moisture to my eyes when that convoy of helicopters fly overhead with our flag, and we stand to sing “Majullah Singapura”. So in keeping with the “patriotic” spirit that is in the air, we give you a personal account of what Singapore means to Rev (Dr) David Wong, who after a decade of living abroad, chose to return home. (Editor)
How the tembusu
upright and stately,
rigid trunk shooting
above the green of common grass.
And though the elements
sustain their pressure
hard on the shoot
down to the root,
the great tree
still upholds its versatility,
turning and twisting
in every limb
and then resumes
in some quiet hour
Tembusu—Ee Tiang Hong
I may be a little “tree-struck”, but really, trees feature very much in the stuff of my memories. I remember trees from my childhood, my student days, my parenting times and even now, they continue to lend pleasure and delight, creating new memories.
In the recent return of the Bukit Timah Campus to the National University of Singapore, the TREES were chosen as the content of a commemorative book. The alumni couldn’t agree more with the choice.
Ee Tiang Hong’s poem pays tribute to the Tembusu, a tree whose name many may not know, but a tree which must have at some time, some place given us some good memories and made us feel Singaporean.
Perhaps in the time ahead, as we approach National Day, you may want to take time to revive memories, and think about what it is that matters to you as a citizen of Singapore. What does it mean for you to live your faith in this country you call home?
Dr. David Ravinder, visiting BGST as guest lecturer. again addressed us. He began by speaking about Jacob’s encounter with God at Bethel (Genesis 28), suggesting that Jacob might be described as the Old Testament equivalent of a ‘third-generation Christian’, the son of believing parents and the grandson of believing grandparents. The encounter with God at Bethel was perhaps the occasion when Jacob first came to realise God’s reality and power for himself. ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it... How awesome is this place!’ (28:16–17) God had his plans for Jacob (28:15), and this meeting with Jacob was one stage on the road to the fulfilment of these plans.
Dr. Ravinder went on to speak about some of his own life experiences: born to Christian parents, with a grandfather who had converted to Christianity from Hinduism, he was at first luke-warm towards Christianity. When he was 15, his parents made it possible for him to attend a Christian camp, but he skipped almost all the meetings. Fortunately the leader of the camp had noticed his absence and personally asked him to attend the evening meeting on the final day. It was then that he committed himself to Christ.
Looking back over his life since that day, Dr. Ravinder spoke of the excitement and fulfilment of knowing God, and pointed to examples of God’s remarkable provision for him in the course of his theological education and ministry. His comment was that when you make it your policy to do things God’s way, then God will open doors and supply the necessary resources.
Dr. Ravinder’s address was an example of ‘biographic theology’ or ‘theology as biography’. A narrative of a person’s experiences of God is often exciting and inspiring in a way that a doctrinal discourse cannot be. Few of those who heard him speak will forget the story of the 15-year old boy who for six days of a church camp absented himself, preferring to take bus rides all around Madras (Chennai) just to find out what the city was like; but who on the seventh day found faith in God.
If you missed Chapel, why not borrow a copy of the sermon from the Library?
(Dr Philip Satterthwaite)
Courses Starting Next Week:
· Religions of Asia (TENT module), Dates: Aug 7, 14, 21 (Tue), 7.20-10pm.
· Communication Skills for Speakers, "Preachers" & Church Leaders (AT232, 1.5 credits), starting Aug 8 (Wed), 7.30-10pm. Lecturer: Rev Ng Seng Chuan
· Biblical Hermeneutics & Interpretation (HE101, 3 credits), starting Aug 10 (Fri), 7.30-9.30pm. Lecturer: Dr Augustine Pagolu
ATA Triennial General Assembly, Manila, 6-10th August — Dr Ng Peh Cheng will represent BGST and Dr Quek Swee Hwa will present a paper on “Theological Education for the Marketplace” at the General Assembly. They would appreciate your prayers for an effective and fruitful time.
We invite you to worship with us and hear Dr Douglas Milne speak this Wednesday and the following one. Chapel begins at 12 noon and usually ends before 1 p.m.