Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words that Baruch wrote at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which King Jehoiakim of Judah has burned.” Jeremiah 36:27-28
This past week I (Lisa) had the privilege of serving as part of the faculty for a three-day retreat of doctoral students from all over Asia. Since few schools here have the bandwidth to field a Ph.D. program of their own and since some students are working in countries without any seminary, they have creatively combined forces to offer one as a consortium. The work of the Asian Graduate School of Theology (AGST Alliance https://agstalliance.org) is so strategic. The students are highly self-motivated, working mostly on their own and with their doctoral mentor, so these three days together each year are much-needed fuel for their journeys. Their stories inspired me, their wide-ranging topics intrigued me, and as a cohort they filled me with hope for the future of theological education in Asia. I offered devotional reflections from Scripture each day. One day I led us in learning from the model of Baruch.
Baruch is the patron saint of writers and re-writers. He faithfully wrote all of Jeremiah’s prophecies into a very lengthy scroll, then boldly read it to the people. When the king got wind of this, he asked for a private reading, at which time he callously burned the scroll a section at a time. What must this have been like for Jeremiah and Baruch? They may have had high hopes for how their (the Lord’s) words would be received. Like many writers (including some of you, in writing or other fields) who put their workout there with vulnerable hope, they experienced a huge setback. It must have been devastating, and hard to understand. They may have assumed it was the end of the road. I imagine it may have been nearly as hard to then hear the words, “Take another scroll…” We talked about the perseverance and faithfulness that it takes to write--and to rewrite-- after a setback. Several students have had life or ministry challenges that caused them to put their projects on hold for weeks or months, and they resonated with the courage it took to reopen their document and begin again.
This passage speaks to me personally as well, as we have experienced a season of setbacks that have been hard at times to understand. The end of term and the summer break (which is very brief here) did not roll out as we had planned. As most of you know, my appendix ruptured, and I was hospitalized for several days.
Here’s the part we haven’t yet shared: I was fully recovered in time for a rather ambitious itinerary we had planned for early August--a week in Hong Kong with our son and daughter-in-law while we graded and taught final sessions via Zoom, then a flight back to KL with connecting flights on to the US for me and India for Rich. But as the plane from Hong Kong landed in KL, Rich experienced a severe bout of dizziness (vertigo) that made him too unsteady to walk to the next flight. This plunged us into a series of interesting adventures learning about how airport ambulances work here (not well, let’s just say), cancelling tickets, communicating with pastors in India and family in North Carolina, etc. The upshot is that Rich is fine—we met with an excellent ENT back in KL who pinned down the problem to nasal inflammation and got him on good medicine, with no recurrence of dizziness. He did not go to India, but the training events went on, with a key leader in whom he’s been investing doing from all reports an excellent job teaching the material he's developed. We were happy to learn that, but at 3 AM in a small-town hospital outside KL, our well-laid plans in tatters, it certainly felt like a Baruch moment: a confusing, disappointing, and discouraging setback.
This week, we are taking up our scrolls again—the AGST retreat will be quickly followed by the beginning of the term at SPTC. Rich has an exciting new opportunity to offer weekly leadership training to some of the many Burmese church leaders who for now call KL home, in addition to ongoing Zoom training in India. On September 16, we will head to Nepal and each teach intensive courses for Development Associates International’s MA in Organizational Leadership.
One form of persisting and resilience for Rich has been his foray into the realm of video! The recent illnesses have reminded us both of our limitations and caused him to think about creative ways to extend his reach beyond physical presence or even the synchronous presence of a Zoom class. While I was in the US with family and friends, he hunkered down and learned some video editing skills, and I think the initial results are quite good, and even fun! Check out several recent videos here and subscribe to his channel for more:
Successful Failure https://youtu.be/MjXZX814w9Y
A Leader Leads by Serving https://youtu.be/-ZmQaIBh71U
A Leader Serves by Leading https://youtu.be/WVcCLw83gU8
(If you do watch the videos, please click on the “LIKE” button as it helps me with visibility. I am really just starting this channel, but of course I hope people begin to notice these—from Rich.)
One of the things that struck us at the doctoral student gathering was how much the Lord valued Baruch’s writing project. God’s word to him about the king (vv. 29-31) is that he would have no lasting legacy. But Baruch’s life still speaks to us today, calling us to be faithful, resilient, and tenacious.
Please pray for us as we enter the fall, a bit sobered by our recent reminders of our finitude, but still eager to give ourselves wholeheartedly to the people and the work to which we’ve been called. Pray for health, stamina, and wisdom. We’re grateful to God for preserving and protecting us and for giving us good work to do, and as always, we are so grateful for each one of you, and for the prayers, financial support, and friendship that makes our work here possible.
Rich and Lisa
Rich and Lisa Lamb