My Students In Penang

by Matthew Raley

Today, after sixteen hours of teaching over four days, I said goodbye to my students. It was difficult for me to do.

I didn’t know what to expect of the class when I arrived. I wondered how extensive their Bible knowledge would be, whether they would have an understanding of doctrine, and what their English level would be. On all points, I was impressed.

To a person, they were deeply engaged in the subject of how to tell biblical stories. Most were experienced teachers, and articulated many problems of teaching the Bible. Their questions showed a keen interest in how to interact with their listeners effectively. They know the Bible well. There was little that was unfamiliar to them, in terms of the basics of biblical history and of hermeneutics. They were ready to move ahead.

I feel that I worked them pretty hard. My ways of analyzing biblical texts to discover meaning and application are in some ways different from established procedures. I ask different questions than many pastors ask. But the class pushed through the concepts and, I believe, understands them quite well.

Several came to me with projects they were working on, or problems they were having in teaching. The issues ranged from preaching to established congregations to developing stories for the children of dockworkers in Taiwan. It was clear that both younger and older students were using my grid to solve their problems, and that was highly encouraging to me.

Between classes, I was able to interact with an American missionary who had been in China for thirty years, and who expressed frustration with Western modes of teaching. For the first time, she said, she found some of the tools she was looking for. One of the most common problems I hear from missionaries is the disconnect between the way Westerners are trained to teach and the way most peoples of the world learn.

Another student was a young architect, who audited the class, sitting perfectly still, watching and listening intently, missing nothing, but absolutely silent. During one lengthy break, she began asking me probing questions, and we discussed the professional world she lived in, and the insular world of churches. She was exceedingly well informed about developments around the world. The fact that Malaysian Christianity has people filled with such cultural curiosity and professional savvy bodes well.

There were young men preparing to be pastors while working to provide for their families, like one young man who is here from South Korea, or caring for parents, like another who was taking his mother for cancer treatments between classes and sermon preparation.

Most of the students were preparing for lay work, which also will be a tremendous source of strength for churches. Many lay people do not have the zeal to gain real skill in God’s Word. But these do, and they are succeeding.

It was hard to leave them today. I am energized by this level of dedication.

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