October 4, 2019

Namaste from Richmond!

Namaste from… Richmond, Virginia! Here’s my report on September spent somewhere in South Asia. Because of continually increasing sensitivities in that region I don’t send it until I get somewhere else. And I’m not going to mention the name of the institution I visited. You and Ralphie can use your Orphan Annie Secret Society decoder pins to fill in the blanks.

In fact, due to those increasing sensitivities my friend Teresa travelled with me from Ireland this time and we started in Mumbai, India, at the end of August. Since we were traveling on tourist visas we had a great time touring, shopping and drinking tea in various locales. Just two cheerful old ladies enjoying the local attractions! Then as I’ve done so many times before, I got to spend the month of September doing biblical hermeneutics with another new crop of emerging leaders in a first-tier theological training institution in the Majority World. I was curious to see that this year’s students trended somewhat younger and more urban than before. Which meant stronger educational backgrounds, so I was able to challenge them a bit more academically. But I also missed the village-based experiences and ministry contexts that the older students so often bring with them. Still, a great group of thoughtful South Asian believers committed to taking their place in God’s mission in their own contexts. One of the privileges of visiting annually is that I get to track with them from year to year, as well as catch up each September with former students and with friends from the local church I attend. Precious relationships! I'll include below a few of the sweet thank you notes I received from this year’s class.

I left South Asia to fly to Wilmington, NC, in time for the quarterly meeting of my EPC Mid-Atlantic Presbytery. A rare treat for me to get there. I invited them – and you're invited, too! – to come to Ireland next summer to join me for Serge’s Irish Prayer Summit, July 25-Aug 1, 2020! As you’ve probably heard me say, the Republic of Ireland is considered the least evangelized English-speaking country in the world. The percentage of evangelical believers is something like 2-3% of the population. Irish church planters and leaders often work in challenging and isolated situations. We’d love for you to come meet some of these leaders on site in and around Dublin and Cork. You’ll learn what God’s doing in the Irish church as you intercede for and encourage our Irish partners.

And then finally, finally, last weekend I arrived at my new townhouse in Richmond, VA. So exciting! No, I’m not moving back from Dublin, just establishing a homebase in the US near family with an eye toward eventual retirement. After 30+ moves in my 60 years as a Navy child and then international worker, I’m awed to think that, God willing, this is my ‘forever house’ – specially chosen to grow older in comfortably. If your life is even somewhat as mobile and transient as mine is, you can imagine how good that feels. There are boxes everywhere to unpack, walls to be painted, and an endless ‘to do’ list, but it’s really HOME.

I plan to be in Richmond until mid-January, punctuated by visits to partner churches in VA, NC and SC, along with a trip to Thailand, November 4-14, to help with a theological education program that brings groups of pastors from a less-accessible country for training. A little later in November I’ll be in San Diego, CA, representing Theologians Without Borders at overlapping meetings of three big academic theology organizations, SBL, IBR and ETS. If you’re planning to be at any of those, message me and let’s meet up! I’m also teaching New Testament Introduction online this fall for Fuller Seminary, which fortunately I can do from just about anywhere. (And fortunately the Verizon guy installed my wifi this morning!) But mostly this week I’m just excited about unpacking those boxes, getting ready to paint a few walls, and starting to work my way down the new-house ‘to do’ list…

As always, a deep and sincere thank you to all of you who join me on these journeys though prayer, encouragement, and financial support. “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (2 Cor 9:12). I'm looking forward to catching up with many of you in the coming weeks and months!

South Asia highlights

Playing tourist, elephants that suddenly paraded by, classroom time, and hanging out with my church home group

Sweet memories with these students!

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!


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