Friday, January 30, 2009

Preach at All Times, Use Words When Necessary

Look ahead twenty or thirty years. Does anyone expect the next twenty years to be less tumultuous than the last twenty years? Given the changes expected in technology, biology, medicine, social values, demography, the environment and international relations, what kind of world might humanity face? No one can say for sure, but one thing is reasonably certain: continuing challenge will tax our collective abilities to deal with them. Failure to rethink our enterprises will leave us little relief from our current predicament.

Not long ago I had a chance to teach English at a seminary of 150 students in a very remote area in North Sulawesi. The seminary does not have TV or telephone line. And if we want to buy a newspaper, we have to travel for two hours to the nearest town to get a one-day late newspaper. On top of that, the seminary library has limited and outdated books. It means the students have no opportunity to know what’s going on with the “real world”, no sense of connection with the meaning of globalization, no latest information on “the market demand”, and the surrounding problems. And no sufficient resources. The students are alienated from the “world”. Even though they will be the first fore-bearers for the churches, but they simply can’t meet the demand. Well, yes, they can, in their own limited area – but not more than that.

Of course, there are leading seminaries in big cities in Indonesia where the students have all the facilities they can dream on – library with plenty good books, internet connection and various newspapers and magazines. Yet, surprisingly, the outcome is still the same. The seminary students and alumni are awkward when they have to talk about globalization or urban poor. Pair them with businessmen and they are lost. They have no exposure and encounter with the congregation’s struggle. Ask them about corruption, they can quote verses from the Bible well, but it will be too much if we ask them to understand the real entangled society problems.

The situation is totally different with a corporate world. To be able to survive, and become a leading company, one must strive to meet the changing market demand. There is no word for being stagnant. No space for being complacent. Otherwise, one will be out of the business (or, out of a job).

Again, speaking based on my previous job in a conference organizer, our company has to compete with both other local and international organizers. Not only have we to make sure that our destination is worth hosting an event but also our company excels more than the others. We select our staff carefully, train and trim them constantly, put them in a “field” as often as possible to make sure they learn to cope with different situations and cases. Since we are in a service industry, people as well as technology matter most to us.

The industry requirement affects the curriculum and instruction of a tourism school a lot. The school puts balance among theory, case studies and hands-on activities. Working experiences during school period will be a valuable asset for a student’s portfolio. Practice makes perfect is still the golden rule. When the students graduate, they find it easier to adapt with the real work as they have experienced it first hand. Obviously, on-going individual learning will be required to compete with the market demand.

When we talk about Indonesian Theological Education, then we can see it by comparing the demand from corporate market. We, as laities, can see the seminary students from our angles as ‘end users” and “co-workers”. We can ask the same question: do the seminary students meet the need? Are they fit in the marketplace?

”As “end users” – and let’s say their product is their theological point of view and Christian worldview. It is extremely hard for us to buy their products. Their advice sounds alien for our open market competition. The pulpit never touches any subject on the government law on national education, or on environment, or on gender issue. There is a huge gap between the real world and the real Word.

As “co-workers”, we find it difficult to work together with them. We don’t only ask their theological view as their product but also their living examples when they enter the mud pool. Oftentime, they just do not have the hands-on experience. Their survival for the fastest is rare. On top of that, they are not equipped with basic skill such as simple financial or project management so when they work at church as a “manager”, they can’t perform what is requested. Finally, instead of transforming the world, they conform to the world.

There is a long tradition in the Indonesian Jesuit Order. When a noviciat (a seminary student) is in his second year, he has to pass several tests before he can continue to his third year:
He has to work in his boarding house for a month, and do menial job (construction, plumbing, etc). Not as part of student’s rotating schedule, but as a real worker.
Afterwards, his supervisor will send him to work in a grass root level for three months. Neither his friends nor supervisor at work will know that he is a seminary student. The deal is strictly between his spiritual supervisor and the company owner. He can be a garbage collector, parking attendant, construction builder – anything that is of no rank.

Then the tough task will be to walk for 300 km in seven days. A student will walk in pair to a certain destination. They can only bring one shirt and a pair of trousers. Nothing more. They will not only develop relationship between the two of them but also their dependence on God. They literally have to beg for other people’s mercy. They will learn how it feels to be despised and be of low class society. The goal is that before they have the final test, which is the 30-day solitary retreat, they will understand what poverty and disgraced is, They will develop sensitivity of what suffering really means.

The tests are not in their final semester but on their second year. Then, only when they know, only after they taste “poverty”, their head is challenged how to connect the Word and the world in their next classes. They have the hands-on experience before they enter the market. When they say something, they know it not only from the theory or a case study, but really from day-to-day experience. They are not awkward to talk about interfaith openly because most of the time during their 300 km walk they have to depend on their Moslem fellows as their good Samaritans.

In West Java, there is a unique seminary called SAPPI (Sekolah Alkitab Program Pertanian Indonesia, or Indonesian Bible and Agriculture College). The college is set up by two foundations: the graduates fellowship of Bogor Agriculture Institute and one local church. The curriculum is 50% theology and 50% agriculture. The goal is to have farmers and fishermen who can evangelize instead of evangelists who are sent to farmers and don’t know what to do when the stock price is low while the pesticide price is rocketing. The lecturers come from both sides – agriculture and theology. The SAPPI alumni are in high demand because they walk the talk. They understand the substance. They know what it means when the harvest fails. On top of that, because they are equipped with agriculture knowledge, they can survive on their own and even set up as a model for other farmers. Hopefully they can reduce the problem of urbanization and help to revitalize the Indonesian agriculture.

If there are plenty books for the laities to connect the Word and the vocation, such as “the Monday Connection” or “Your Work Matters to God”, then it is high time to have books on clergy vocation and the Monday Connection. If there are books on empowering the laities, there should be books on empowering the clergy. Indonesian theologians should read and write on current issues in developing countries and encounter it with both theologically and socially. Indonesian theologians should be able to produce their local and contextualized books instead of reading books from the Western writers. Not that the Western books or writers are bad, but Indonesia is their own country that they have to shepherd. It has its own uniqueness both in problems and locality (with its multi crisis dimension, no law enforcement, problems of capitalization and consumerism which lead to poverty and third world dependence, race and religious conflicts, etc),

So far, we as laities, often invite the clergy to speak to us and give us insight. We believe it will be very useful if the Indonesian seminaries include and even put balance in having laities as lecturers in seminary. We can have classes on politics, professional ethics and economics. We can set up regular discussions on what is happening in the world. Laities can provide them with practical management skill and ask them to work in a project. We can also change the class structure to having more workshops and discussions. Ask them to “work” in a legal case and scrutinize why a business group can win a government’s favor to abolish a slum but packed area and change it into a fancy mall. Challenge them to find out why a notorious but powerful corruptor can be free while a petty theft gets imprisonment and physical abuse without any legal assistance.

During the internship, do not only send the seminary students to a church or Christian organization, but to a regular corporate. Put them in the finance department where making double accounting in Indonesia is normal. Open their perspective that the problem does not only lies with being dishonest, but also with corruption, competition with the global market, staff demand for higher salary and increasing resources price. When there are workers on strike, send them to the factory. Ask them to assist the human resources and security. Take them to the lobbying between the Labor Union and the company. Challenge them with their theoretical understanding on Marxism and Weber.

Hopefully when they graduate and work as our co-workers, we can all be fishers of men.

Weilin Han

1 comment:

Johan Sulaiman Lai said...

Meaningful and needed reflection, Ms. Weilin. I agree about the glaring need for prepared and accurate spiritual leadership from the clergy, not only at church but also in society, in business, and in civil society.