Jesus Going Ahead of Us
Simon and Seani (above) and Paul and Steph (below). Simon and Paul are colleagues with Lisa teaching at St. Paul’s Theological College in Kuala Lumpur.
“He is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there…” Mark 16:7
Rich and I have just finished co-teaching a course in the gospel of Mark at St. Paul’s Theological College (SPTC) here in Kuala Lumpur. We always enjoy watching students grapple with the final chapter of Mark, with its stark, unsettling, and to some ears unsatisfying, ending. I won’t go into the hotly contested theories about the final verses here, but will say that on this reading, I was struck by the promise in verse 7. The angelic messenger assures the terrified women that they and their fellow followers of Jesus will find him in Galilee. Now, we know that ultimately the disciples came together in Jerusalem and that the fledgling church began from there, but it seems that there was a brief season where they returned home to the ordinary, slow pace of life in Galilee. That may have been a relief after the traumatic, chaotic ordeal they’d been through in Jerusalem, or it may have been an anticlimactic disappointment. They went back to fishing and to family squabbles and simple joys. And Jesus met them there. In fact, he went ahead of them there, like a host preparing a good meal for them. He promised they would see him there—they would discern his presence and work as they lived out ordinary faithfulness right where they lived.
Being in India this summer felt like a whirlwind. We wrestled with new customs, spicy flavors, and colorful sights and saris daily. Plans changed quickly based on deluges and electrical outages. We saw the church’s amazing growth, inspiring grit, some inevitable dysfunction within, and some huge challenges without. In contrast, returning to Kuala Lumpur this time felt more ordinary, somewhat to our surprise. KL is a bustling city, but the paths we walk to get to our typical sites of school, church, and grocery stores are by now familiar. It was a return for me to staff meetings (with Simon and Paul pictured above, among others) where we get granular about issues like lateness penalties for assignments and how to boost internet as we attempt both to return to the classroom and accommodate those who must join from afar. These things matter, and those discussions are had with colleagues who have become quite dear to me, let me hasten to add! These past three months have felt like a season of steady faithfulness in the familiar. And we have seen how Christ has gone ahead of us to make this a fruitful time.
Let me share one example of a behind-the-scenes, unglamorous, yet I believe important role I’ve embraced recently around scholar development in Asia. Towards the end of our time in India, I pulled back from the pastoral training we were engaged in that week to sit at a small desk in a simple guest house for six hours over two days, listening via Zoom to doctoral students from throughout Asia and the Middle East share their dissertation proposals and progress, and offering feedback along with a team of (mostly Asian) faculty. The projects spanned a wide range, from highly theoretical to more practical, and from highly developed, four-years-in, to just out of the gate. Some of these students are working in countries where they face heavy headwinds as Christians. It was a lovely opportunity to celebrate the progress students had made in the previous year and help them set direction for the next. I attended as a provisional respondent and have now been invited to join the ongoing Ph.D. committee of the Asia Graduate School of Theology Alliance. This is a real privilege and feels central to why we are here. We love to teach, but we are much more eager to empower others to teach. We are happy to add, but we really love to multiply.
A striking example of that for Rich is in the teaching he does weekly with a young man I’ll call Arjan, whom we met at a seminary in India where nearly every student comes from a background of real poverty. We spent more time with him than any other student because he was so eager to learn and asked excellent questions. He is a leader in a network of rural pastors, and he saw the value for them of the leadership course Rich taught. When we returned to KL, he rallied them for a weekly gathering via Zoom. Rich loves investing in these pastors, but he views a significant goal of the time as training Arjan for a lifetime of leadership. Most weeks they linger after the others have left the call to discuss a ministry issue in Arjan’s life.
This past week we each taught intensive courses (8-10:30 each evening) for SPTC; Rich was teaching Ephesians and I was teaching Preaching the Old Testament. These are tiring but highly rewarding weeks! Rich also continues to teach multiple formal and non-formal courses in Malaysia, India, and China.
We are returning to the US earlier than we had hoped since the long-term visa has not come through. We trust God for the timing of that and are confident that he has gone ahead of us to North Carolina and California and that we will see him there, as well. We leave here Nov. 14, and plan to return around the first of the year, ready to teach another intensive teaching week starting January 3.
If you live in Southern California, we arrive Dec. 3 for four weeks, and we’d love to see you!
As always, we love it when you hit reply--we’d love to hear about the ordinary place or activity where you are seeking the Lord’s presence these days, or any other quick update you’d like to share.
With gratitude for your friendship, financial partnership in our work, and prayers,
Rich and Lisa Lamb
PS: We met up with some unlikely fans in Kuala Lumpur. We were waiting for the elevator after church last Sunday. An SPTC student came up to us and introduced us to his friends. They said to me (Rich) “Are you the Richard Lamb that wrote, Following Jesus in the “Real World”? I said yes. Our new acquaintances then told a story of how they had read the book and used it for years as a small group text book for groups of 20-something professionals in Malaysia, based on observing the same things I had. People newly in adult life often had difficulty transitioning to a working schedule, getting meaningfully involved in church, experiencing community and satisfying relationships that helped them grow in their faith. They said that they had used the book with hundreds of people in their ministry over more than a decade. We were able to connect more with this couple over lunch after church and hope to be able to visit in person a gathering of their network to share with them and hear from them stories of God’s work in their lives when we return in January. Below see a pic snapped by Lisa of fans Alvin and Fern with their very minor celebrity author.
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Rich and Lisa Lamb