August 14, 2019

Rain in Rangoon

‘Mingalaba!’ from Yangon, Myanmar (the city formerly known as Rangoon, Burma). ‘Mingalaba’ is one of the small handful of Burmese words I’ve learned in my two weeks here. It means something along the lines of ‘auspiciousness to you.’ It’s basically a cheery hello, and I both hear it and use it a lot. So many friendly, helpful Burmese people. So many mingalaba’s.

I’m in Yangon teaching biblical hermeneutics to sixteen MTh students, all men, at the Myanmar Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (MEGST). Everyone I’ve met is absolutely lovely. And I have a feeling that Yangon can be lovely, too – at some other time of year. It’s monsoon season, with a typhoon nearby thrown in. I’m spending a lot of time trying to avoid rain, walking in rain, planning around rain, and/or getting wet in spite of my umbrella. I’ve been looking longingly from a distance at some of Yangon’s major tourist sites, including the iconic golden Shwedagon pagoda, which I can see out the window from MEGST. So far I haven’t found a long enough break in the rain to visit it. Instead I’m on an indoor tour of Yangon’s restaurants. One local speciality is laphet thoke, fermented tea leaf salad. Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s actually amazingly good.

Each morning I walk 5-10 minutes from my hotel to MEGST’s location in a high-rise building at a busy intersection, picking my way along the crumbling sidewalks, which of course are streaming with rain water, and through the relentless traffic. I climb five floors up a narrow dark stairway, and suddenly I find myself in MEGST’s lively main office. MEGST purchased several apartments across three floors in this building and opened them into each other to create their campus. It’s a little circuitous getting from one part to another – up some steps, down others, through one classroom into another – but I’m starting to figure it out. By the time I get to my classroom at 8:30am my students are there waiting for me.

We have three hours of class each morning. It’s hermeneutics (biblical interpretation), so we’ve been talking about how to make use of historical-cultural background material in interpreting the Bible; how to do word studies; differences in interpreting different genres in the Bible (narrative, epistles, prophesy, Revelation, etc.); the unconscious filters we each bring to our own interpretation of the Bible, and so on. Monday we talked about wisdom literature and the book of Proverbs and I enjoyed getting them to share with me some traditional proverbs from their various regions of Myanmar.

These students include pastors, youth ministers, missionaries, Bible school teachers, and Bible translators. They’re passionate about the Lord and eager to learn, but as a whole not quite at the level of academic or English ability I was expecting. MEGST faculty members tell me that most of their top students still go outside Myanmar for their MTh program (which usually comes after an MDiv degree, and is often a sort of pre-PhD). My students are the ones who did their previous studies somewhere else in Myanmar and have come to MEGST for an academic top-up.

In the next year or two MEGST will cap its annual student intake, becoming more selective so that they can more and more serve as a center for advanced theological training for Myanmar. In that sense they’re modelling themselves on the larger, more established school in South Asia that I visit each year (not named here for security reasons). A number of the MEGST faculty studied there – including the current head of MEGST’s Biblical Studies department, who was my MTh student at that other school more than ten years ago! I'm excited to be part of what God’s doing in this next phase of expansion of theological education into a much less resourced part of Asia.

Meanwhile my current students are struggling a bit to keep up with the course content, and struggling a lot to keep up with my English, nobody's first language and probably the third or fourth language for most of them. Several times each class period I say, “Turn to your neighbor and say, ‘I think what she meant was…’” They laugh and then chat for a few moments in Burmese or Chin or Kachin or Karin, or who knows what else, and try to clarify anyone’s confusion, and then we move on. I’m not sure they’re learning everything I’d hoped, but I can tell that everybody’s learning something.

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to be here, helping shape this group of Christian leaders from all over Myanmar, these "faithful ones who are also qualified to teach others" (2 Tim 2:2). And I can see the strategic value of helping MEGST continue to grow into the advanced regional training center it is becoming. But I certainly couldn't do it without you. Thank you for being here with me through your unstinting support and whole-hearted encouragement!



MYANMAR EVANGELICAL GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY

My walk to work each morning. Setting out from my hotel... Trying not to get run over by traffic... Waiting to cross the big scary intersection... Arriving at MEGST's entrance and climbing the stairs to the fifth floor...





Hermeneutics class with my hardworking students




June 14, 2019

London Calling

Greetings from London! As I write I’m sitting in a room with a bunch of Serge UK interns who just arrived for the summer and All Souls Langham Place apprentices who are finishing up a year of ministry training. This group of young leaders has come together for an intensive week of spiritual formation using Serge’s ‘Sonship’ material. As our workbook explains, “It’s a course about grace, love, and transformation. It’s a course about embracing the truths of the gospel so deeply that you’re released from the bondages of self-effort, self-righteousness, and self-focus, and released to the freedom of love, forgiveness and mission. It’s about gaining a greater understanding of one of the central biblical images of the Christian life – that of our adoption in Christ – and letting the reality of that adoption inform our being in a way that transforms our lives.” That’s a lot to absorb, but we’ve been working through various pieces of it over five days in large group lectures and table discussions, over lunch and during tea breaks, and in one-to-one mentoring sessions.

This morning’s speaker just made a great statement about Galatians 5:16, “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” He said he used to read it the other way around: ‘Not gratifying the desires of the flesh means I'm living by the Spirit.’ In other words, ‘If I try really hard not to sin, the Holy Spirit will stay with me.’ Which of course doesn’t work because we never fully manage not to sin, so that approach just leads to self-created condemnation and defeat. He suggested that instead we correlate Gal 5:16 with Paul’s very similar statement in Rom 8:15-16, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” In other words it’s about turning our eyes away from ourselves and our own sinful desires to focus our attention on what the Spirit is doing in us and in the world around us. We get to 'keep in step' as God’s Spirit changes us and through us touches others. That’s the sort of thing we’re talking about this week.

Since Serge Ireland isn’t hosting our usual internship program this summer two of my teammates from Dublin and I were invited to ‘pop across’ to serve as extra hands for this Serge UK training event. My part has been to give four of the lectures, write daily devotional materials on Galatians, and mentor one of the All Souls apprentices through the week. They gave me a young woman from Kenya to mentor, a special treat for me! Each afternoon we pick a coffee shop and sit together for an hour or so over a latte (hers) and chai (mine) to talk about how the Lord is stirring her heart in response to the teaching on ‘sonship’ and grace. I love my job.

But it’s London, so yes, it’s been raining. It has rained rather steadily and at times unusually hard this week, and my umbrella drips onto my shoes as I try to fold it up and squash it under my arm whenever I get on a bus or the Tube. Fortunately, before the dreary weather settled in I had a glorious rain-free weekend revisiting a bunch of my favorite spots from years ago when we lived in Cambridge and I did my PhD studies here in London. I’ve also gotten to tick a few more things off my London bucket list – cycling in Hyde Park, a canal boat tour, Camden Town Market, Kensington Palace, a trip to the theatre, and crossing the Thames on the Millennium footbridge!

This weekend I’ll have a quick turnaround at home in Dublin before I fly to Virginia on Sunday to meet my new little granddaughter Annelise, who was born a week ago Monday. (See pics below!) Then about ten days from now I’m back to Ireland through the end of July – a blissful long stretch in one spot, during which I hope to rest a bit and catch up with some study and writing. The first week of August I’ll be in 
Myanmar teaching hermeneutics to MTh students at the Myanmar Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (MEGST). This is my first visit to Southeast Asia – not quite sure what this course will involve and still trying to coordinate logistics, so I definitely appreciate your prayers for that! And then to South Asia for the month of September, where I’ve been so many times before and love being with the friends there. The other big news is that our new Theologians Without Borders website is now up and running! Click here to take a look.

As always, in all of this thank you so much for your encouragement, prayer, and faithful support. So grateful to God to have you with me on the journey!




'Sonship' Week in London

Hanging out this week with a great group of Serge interns and All Souls Langham Place apprentices. Good questions, thoughtful discussions, lots of reflection and growth happening as grace grabs hold of us. 

 


 

And yes, I did manage to have some fun! Cycling in Hyde Park on a surprisingly sunny Sunday afternoon.


"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life."
(Samuel Johnson, 1777)