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.

A Stunning Campus

by Matthew Raley The school where I'm teaching in Penang is on a ridge overlooking the ocean, with the mountains of peninsular Malaysia in the distance.

When I say it's on a ridge, I don't mean on top. I should say it's built into the ridge. The campus is almost vertical. The dean gave me a tour last week, which involved endless stairs from terrace to terrace -- all of which had to be blasted out of the rock.

The students park at the bottom and hike up to the classrooms, a climb that keeps them hearty. Driving up puts a strain on all the engines. One of my students, Chloe, picks me up in the mornings, the outside of her car windows dripping condensation because of the air-conditioning, and flies along the coast road. When she reaches the campus driveway, her fellow student Heng switches the air-conditioner off, and Chloe guns it to reach the top without have to stop.

Another of my students, Teri, took me home yesterday. To reach her car, I followed her down a seemingly ancient trail of steps, worn and fantastically steep.

But the nice part is, when I step out of my classroom, I see this:

First Teaching Experiences in Penang

by Matthew Raley On Sunday, I preached in an international church in Penang, the beginning of an intense week of speaking.

The church meets in a hotel ballroom, and is a diverse group, reflecting the variety of people who live here. I met a professor from Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, a Malaysian Chinese who had been a student in the U.S., a South African couple, and several Canadians and Indians. There was also an American student who had grown up in Penang, but is now attending Simpson University, just an hour north of my home.

It was especially encouraging to see the open communication in this body of believers. There was a time of testimony in response to my sermon that set the tone for many conversations afterward. People hung around to talk for quite a while -- always a good sign for a church.

This morning, I spoke for about five hours at Malaysian Baptist Theological Seminary, with some short breaks. I did the first four sessions of my class on story-telling and biblical literature, and also preached in chapel.

My students are superb. They are Chinese, Korean, and Indian, with one American -- all ages, men and women. I am impressed by their understanding of the art of teaching, of the English language, and above all of the Bible. Right away they were asking pointed, informed, and perceptive questions. I haven't had such a good time teaching in a long, long while.

My sermon in chapel was my first experience speaking through a translator (Chinese). It took me a while to get the rhythm of it, but by the middle I felt that Miss Koh Tan Peng and I were working smoothly. The place was packed with people from all over the world, and Bridget and I were given a warm welcome.

Three things were of great help to me today: water, air-conditioning, and immediate unity with this body of believers.