Be grateful for the years of learning in Singapore

This morning at breakfast I mentioned to my husband John that my regular article for the Monroe News was due out today. “Why not write about gratitude? ” He asked. “EVERYBODY writes about gratitude. It’s Thanksgiving season! was my answer.

So I started to think about what gratitude meant. Author Diana Butler Bass, in her insightful text “Grateful”, begins her book by quoting a French proverb: “Gratitude is the memory of the heart”. What are some of my “heart memories” that I am grateful for?

One of the most difficult memories I have had was attending Trinity Theological College in Singapore. During my two years in the Master of Divinity program at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., I spent my weeks alternating between intensive and joyful college work during the week and then happily returning. every weekend in Grand Rapids to be with my then husband. , who ran a furniture factory there. I had been ordained a deacon in The United Methodist Church. We had applied for adoption and were expecting a match, which would likely happen in 1 to 3 years.

One weekend my then-husband shocked me when he shared that he had been recruited to a job as a quality control manager at a furniture factory in Singapore. He wanted to take the job. We both dreamed of living outside of the United States for a while. It would be a great adventure! But now?

One of my professors at Garrett-Evangelical discovered that there was a seminar in Singapore that I could attend that would meet academic standards for transfer credit to graduates. I could finish my classes at Trinity Theological College. I could do some field training at a Singaporean Methodist church. With great anxieties combined with wonder, we sold our house, packed our bags and made the 30 hour plane trip to “City of the Lion”.

I found myself sitting on a bus going into downtown Singapore, counting the stops to where Trinity was then. Amid the whirlwind of languages, smells and colors, I found myself on the verge of panic. What if I miss the stop? What if I can’t find the school? What if …?

I found Trinity, then perched on Mount Sophia, one of the highest points in the city center. As I entered my first chapel service, I quickly discovered that I was the only American, the only Caucasian, and the only ordained woman in their master’s of divinity program. Looking at the syllabuses for my classes, I felt like a total stranger. How can I authentically contemplate the Christian ministry in Asia? What business did I have even being there?

I quickly discovered that I had a lot to learn and a lot to share. Many of my classmates were as curious and anxious about me as I was about them. Some of the professors previously had bad experiences with Western students and (as I found out later) didn’t want me to get into college.

But there were also allies who became dear friends. My field education internship was with Dr. Rev. Lorna Khoo, the first woman ordained into a Christian denomination in Singapore. I found solace in a ‘family’ group, led by my academic advisor, Dr Wu, who helped me connect with eight other students as we met weekly for meals, support and education. pray. The academic and spiritual foundation I received at Garrett Evangelical was fundamental in helping me be open and curious about this new place and what God had to show me.

My favorite photo from my Garrett Evangelical degree in 1996 shows me in my cap and dress, holding my 2 year old daughter Kara in my arms, adopted by the Singapore court system. I stayed in Asia for a total of nine years, finding that God was opening the doors of ministry in always amazing ways.

Was living outside my comfort zone difficult and sometimes painful? Oh yes. Did it shake my cultural and theological foundations, and did it show me new perspectives on everything I had assumed to be normative? Oh yes. Looking back, I wouldn’t change it. I am truly grateful for this memory from my heart.

Melodye Surgeon VanOudheusden is the pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Monroe. She can be reached at [email protected]

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