Some major life changes come from big, startling invitations--like the time the IVCF Area Director for Boston invited us, over dinner at a national staff gathering, to consider doing campus ministry work at Harvard. It was startling, utterly out of the blue, and eventually seemed to be God's clear invitation through that Area Director. Others come by way of a series of small invitations, which also seem to have the fingerprints of God on their envelopes. I"m guessing you have experienced both of those. Our sense of calling to devote the next 3-5 years to ministry in Southeast Asia has come to us more by the latter route, yet it leaves us no less excited to say yes. I (Lisa) want to share here five of the invitations we've received that lead us to this point:
First, we were invited four years ago to teach at the Nepal Theological Seminary, when its dean was visiting Fuller Seminary. I have taught there once, and Rich twice, for the seminary and for the IFES students and staff; Rich will return in June to teach again. We loved the passion and devotion of the gifted leaders who serve the church in Nepal, which is growing rapidly under gifted leaders who are eager for more training in ministry skills. While we sensed that it would not make sense to attempt to relocate to Nepal due to visa restrictions, we have both articulated a desire to invest in the Church there.
Second, Fuller Theological Seminary invited me in 2017 to teach full time as a Visiting Professor for three years. This is significant to the discernment picture for a few reasons. One is that I absolutely loved it! I had been teaching part-time while pastoring churches part-time for several years, but the chance to devote myself to teaching full time confirmed my sense of calling to the ministry of teaching. Not only did I love it, but I received confirmation from many students that I was quite good at it. My 'ratings' from student evaluations are consistently excellent. For various reasons, that has not been enough to garner a long-term position at Fuller. I have chosen to embrace that as guidance, and began during the second year (2018-2019) to inquire about opportunities to teach where the need was even greater, in the majority (developing) world. As I listened to where responses to those inquiries were positive, South East Asia consistently emerged. Out of all that inquiry, I received a third invitation.
Third, Theresa Lua, the General Secretary of the Asian Theological Association, a consortium of 326 institutions from 33 countries, invited me to attend their triennial gathering in Singapore this past summer. This was an amazing, inspiring event. While there, I connected with deans and professors from schools throughout the region, and gained a clearer picture of how I/we could contribute. I learned, for example, that few seminaries have a homiletics professor. Their faculties are more skeletal, filling the 'crucial' positions of OT, NT, Theology, etc., and teaching homiletics in an ad hoc way. This is why I am not seeking a long-term faculty position at any one school. Rather, I am developing a curriculum that could work in a two-week module as well as a semester-long format, and we expect to itinerate as we build relational trust and receive invitations.
Fourth, coming out of the conference, we did receive a few concrete invitations. One is to teach month-long courses near Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia in July at Alpha and Omega Christian College, followed by a two week module for Asia Theological Seminary of the Philippines in August. While at the ATA meetings, I met half a dozen faculty and church leaders from Malaysia who extended a warm welcome to Malaysia. Considering its cost of living (compared to say, Singapore or Hong Kong) and its relative stability, we believe it is a good place to make our home base.
Fifth, we freely admit that we are also drawn to the region due to the invitation of our son and daughter-in-law to locate ourselves closer to them while they pursue business ventures in Hong Kong. Who knows, they may have thrown that out in jest, not thinking we'd take them seriously, but here we are! We enjoy them very much and are eager to connect more frequently than once a year. While we will be sorry to be much farther from our daughter, son-in-law, and my mom, we do look forward to that.
Every invitation comes with a cost. Jesus told some parables about that. Saying yes involves saying no, to checking on one's oxen or, in our case, to hanging on to the home we've loved for 19 years. (We have come to the decision that it is too complicated to rent it out from this distance for this long, and that the best stewardship of our resources is to sell. We are sad about that, and daunted by the shedding task ahead, but we believe it is right.) But, as 2020 begins, we find ourselves excited and grateful to be able to say yes to the season of fruitful service we believe is ahead for us, and immensely grateful to you, our partners who help us to say yes.