The benefits of long-term
Posted on: 1st March 2021
CMS missionary Andrew Buchanan, married to Abi, has taught in Indonesia for two decades. It has been continual learning.
A few months ago, I taught a Masters’ level class on the New Testament in Toraja. We looked at a number of issues such as honour-shame, rituals and taboos, even literacy, to highlight the areas where local Toraja culture connects with the world of the Bible in ways that Western interpreters are not that interested in. For all students, the material connected with their perceptions of their culture. For some it was eye-opening. It was a contrast to my initial classes in Indonesia.
Eighteen years earlier, towards the end of my first semester of teaching, I had a delegation of students complaining about my Indonesian and most of the students were confused.
God has been at work.
Long-term brings learning
Teaching has been a process of continual learning for me. My first six years saw my language get to reasonable fluency, and the gap between my expectations about academic process and those of my students narrowed to a workable idealism.
The longer I am there, the more possibilities there are for God to work surprises.
Many of my students from those times are now in ministry jobs, teaching Christian studies in schools or in congregations. Every now and again I meet one who speaks of how my lectures helped shaped their thinking—even from those first few semesters! But my sense of teaching from my own agenda and not connecting adequately with local pastoral issues has grown, even as I make progress.
My PhD studies, which began with a two–year break in Australia and then continued back in Toraja, gave me opportunity to reflect on what I had observed with deep theoretical thinking in areas of culture, philosophy, and theology. When teaching the Masters’ class was offered to me in 2020, my trouble was limiting what I wanted to talk about.
Long-term brings unique qualifications
I wouldn’t be able to teach a Masters’ subject without my PhD. But the fact that I am being asked to teach is the result of longstanding relationships. The government Christian college, which is running the masters’ program, actually grew out of the denominational theological college of the Church of Toraja where I started teaching.
Many of those in leadership are former colleagues; a couple were junior lecturers that assisted me in my early days of teaching. Others have positions in the church hierarchy. I am a known quantity. In 2016, I visited the newly elected General Secretary of the denomination with a CMS pastoral visitor and discovered that I was being moved from ordination training back to campus. In a positive sense, I am an asset at the church’s disposal.
Long-term brings surprises
My most well-known ministry, however, has no official standing of any kind. Each year the church produces a handbook with set readings and notes for each Sunday (among other things).
When I came back to Australia in 2008, I started writing some sermon notes for the ministers’ Bible study group I’d been leading, to help them with sermon preparation. In the 12 years since, I’ve produced over 500 blog posts on the set passage (see https://tomentiruran.wordpress.com/), majoring on exegetical notes but also with wider theological and pastoral connections. It has become a fixture used by many preachers in the church at least occasionally. I aim to provide an alternative that sets the passage in the wider biblical context with a focus on what God is doing.
More than once I’ve met someone for the first time who knows me as ‘the blog person’!
Long-terms brings knowledge
Being involved long-term brings greater knowledge of the situation, including the weaknesses and sins that are found in all human institutions.
I started out with an activist mentality, that with the right teaching I would see change happening. God was pleased to use what I did in students’ lives and this past decade to work more widely in the denomination to bring openness to evangelical ministries (such as Langham preaching and one–year Bible reading programs).
But more and more I have reflected on hope in the midst of brokenness. The good that is happening can often seem to be outweighed by people acting out of a limited vision or in pursuit of ungodly ends. It is only God at work that brings hope. What God will work through me is not under my control. My blog is a good example of something that has borne unexpected fruit. The longer I am there, the more possibilities there are for God to work surprises.
Are you a teacher or an academic? Do you have skills in IT or engineering? There are opportunities with CMS for people with many different professional backgrounds. Contact your branch to talk further.