We’ve had quite a few posts here about some of our experiences and special events here in Malaysia, but what is it that I actually do on a day to day basis? What does it mean to be a missionary professor? I’ve now finished three weeks of my first semester teaching here at Sabah Theological Seminary, so I am beginning to figure out what my specific ministry looks like. In some ways it’s a bit like being a professor anywhere – I teach, grade papers, write, etc. But a major part of seminary education is a concern with the spiritual formation of students, and so a significant part of my time is geared towards discipleship-building activities.
Here’s a bit of a peek into the daily routine.
Monday is an official off day for faculty, so my week starts on Tuesday. It is also my busiest day this semester. The workday here starts at 8:00, so I make my long commute around then. By long commute, I mean taking the elevator down four floors, walking across the driveway for the Education Building where our apartment is located to the Administrative Building where my office is, and then walking up one floor to my office. I then have until 9:30 to check email, sort out my plans for the week, and other things like that. From 9:30-11:30, I have language tutoring in Bahasa Malaysia (BM), where I work one on one with a tutor to improve my language skills so that I can eventually teach in the language. When that is done, it is time to head over to the chapel for the weekly BM chapel service, which goes until 12:30. At this point I can generally follow the songs and scripture readings, but I can’t keep up with the sermon for very long.
After lunch I go back to my office. I spend some time practicing the language – I use the website L-Lingo as long as the internet has enough speed, which is not a given. I also put the final touches on my class preparation for my evening class. For dinner, then, the whole family goes to the student canteen to eat with the students and do our best to get in some language practice. We enjoy getting to interact with the students that way, though at times it feels like we are punishing them by making them talk with us in such incredibly simple sentences. At any rate, as soon as dinner is done it is time to get to my class. I teach World Christianity I in English from 7:00-9:45 at night. The class covers the development of the Church in the world through the year 1500. Most of the students are part-time and work during the day, so by the end of class we are all working hard to follow some of the intricate politics or philosophy involved in some of the history.
On Wednesdays I have BM tutoring for two hours. After that is Family Group. Each week, I gather with six students and one staff member for conversation and bible study. This past week, Wendolyn was kind enough to make pancakes for us all at our apartment, but other weeks we meet in some chairs just outside my office. Rather than a time for academic study, this is a time to be Christian community together and promote the spiritual formation of the students.
I have a class first thing Thursday mornings, with two advanced students on Theological Methodology. Then I have a little time for some research before going to Assembly, the main chapel service of the week, where students from the Chinese, BM, and English departments gather together in worship. Songs and hymns switch freely between languages. Everything is spoken in Chinese and BM, and English translation is provided through headphones. There really is a joyous sound to hymns raised up in three languages at once! After worship, I head down to the canteen to have lunch with the students. Many of the faculty members do this on Thursday, so it is something of a whole community lunch. In the afternoon I begin preparing my lectures for the next week.
Friday and Saturday:
Another morning of language study and an afternoon for class prep on Friday, and then finishing up grading and other administrative details on Saturday morning (Saturday morning is considered a work day here – it’s the trade-off for long lunch breaks!). Friday also has the English chapel service. At some point during the week I also am in contact with the two students who I supervise for their field education, where they are involved in hands-on experience learning about ministry within a congregation. They give me a weekly report for comment, and we meet from time to time. Both students are at BM-speaking congregations and write their reports in BM, so it takes a bit of work for me to translate them! I also meet occasionally with the student whose thesis I am supervising.
Some Sundays we have no specific responsibilities, so we go to worship at the English congregation that meets in the Education Building where we live. Sometimes Wendolyn leads music or Sunday School there, and each of us will preach occasionally. Other Sundays we try to go to BM congregations. I will need to visit the congregations of the field ed students I supervise at some point, and this Sunday we are hosting two speakers from Indonesia who are giving lectures about Martin Luther and Lutheranism to the BM speaking pastors here (BM and Indonesian are closely related languages) at a conference sponsored by the Lutheran Study Centre. That will take up this whole upcoming week and throw off this whole schedule, but this is still the “normal” flow of a week.
Right now I am only teaching two classes; eventually I’ll get up to the full load of four and will stop doing the BM tutoring, but this is still a pretty good snapshot of what the week of a missionary theology professor looks like. You can see that building relationships with students, being involved in their spiritual life and development of practical ministry skills is as big a part of the work as teaching the academic material is.