Training For The Mission Field

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Who Am I?  Part 9

My last article, “Finding a Good Wife”, brings us up to May 11, 1984.  One week prior to our wedding day, I was dressed up for different reasons over the weekend.  This previous weekend was my graduation from Alberta Bible College with my Bachelor of Religious Education degree.  Sadly, my dear grandmother died on that Friday of grad weekend.  I was honored to receive the “Outstanding Student of the Year” award at the banquet, but my thoughts were with my grandmother that day.

Needless to say, we had quite the busy week.  Grad Banquet on Friday, Senior Student’s Service on Saturday, Grad Ceremony on Sunday, funeral for Grandma on Thursday and immediately following that our Rehearsal Party, the Wedding Day on Friday, and then the start of our one-week Honeymoon on Saturday.  And needless to say, Jill and I were exhausted even before we started our honeymoon.

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During our honeymoon, we finally had a chance to talk with each other about our future and what decisions lay ahead.  I had just finished four years of Bible College, and I was grateful for the excellent teaching I received there.  But one thing I noticed during my time there was that the classes and the practical work at ABC was primarily aimed at training young men for pastoral ministry.

Again, I am very grateful for that training.  But my heart’s desire was to return to active overseas mission ministry.  I would have to say that there were times that I got frustrated in my college classes.  Sometimes in class when the professor would ask for questions I would say, “I understand the principles you are teaching, but can you help me apply those principles in a developing country with a non-Western culture?”  And I often got the reply, “That’s a good question, but I don’t have the experience to know how to answer your question.”

It would be at those moments that I knew I would have to seek training elsewhere to fill this gap of knowledge and teaching.  What I really needed was to find another school with a good Missiology program.  We have never had too many options here in Canada, and so I looked toward the only school in western Canada that had a graduate missions program, Canadian Theological Seminary in Regina, Saskatchewan.

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Even before I had finished my degree at ABC, I sent in my application to CTS.  But for unclear reasons (possibly that ABC was not accredited at that time), I was not accepted into their school.  This was quite a challenge for Jill and I to know what to do.  But someone suggested that we try to start some graduate work at Regent College in Vancouver.

And that is what I did.  I spent the first semester at Regent and studied under some world-class professors.  One of my teachers was Dr. J. I. Packer (a brilliant theologian), and another was Dr. Bruce Waltke (one of the best Hebrew and OT professors).  What a privilege that was for me.  The vast writings of both of these men have had profound impact on my life as a Christian.  (Check out my article of how you can order Christian books by men like these.)

At much as I valued the training available at Regent, what I still wanted was some good teaching on missions theory and practice.  So while in Vancouver, I applied again to CTS in Regina, and this time I was accepted, seeing as I had already started a graduate program.  So in just seven months, Jill and I had to pack up everything again and move back over the mountains to go live in the flat, bald prairies of Saskatchewan.

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It did not take very long for me to know that Canadian Theological Seminary was exactly what I was looking for.  CTS is part of the Christian & Missionary Alliance denomination, and they have been instrumental in pioneering mission work around the world for over 125 years.  Many teachers had done some mission work themselves, and almost every guest speaker who came through the halls were veteran missionaries.

The two and a half years that I spent at CTS were some of the best days of my schooling.  Even though I was not a member of the C & MA denomination, pretty much all of the teachers and students there accepted me and Jill as fellow Christians who also shared the same passion for missionary work for God.  It was quite common to catch some of us in the halls or in the lunch room casually talking about plans to go somewhere in the world later that year or the next.

In fact, Jill and I were able to go on summer missions twice while I did my three-year Master of Divinity degree.  We went with Teen Missions as leaders of a team of teenagers to Dominican Republic in 1985 and to Mexico in 1986.  You can read other experiences that I have had with Teen Missions by clicking here and you will see what a great impact TMI has had on my life.

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I should mention that I did not quite finish my full program in three years to graduate in the Spring class of ’87.  I had one course left to do, which I took through a correspondence school.  So finally, in April of ’88, while Jill and I were in Texas (and that will be the next story in two weeks), I received my degree.  And I can still hear my Dad’s funny comment at that time, “So!  Does this mean now that you are a Master Pastor?”

Until next story, may God bless you on your journey of learning and living for our Lord.

Stormin’ Norman

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A Disciple For Jesus

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Who Am I? Part 7

In the last article in this series, I talked about the year I spent traveling with the 1980 Staff Travel Team of Teen Missions.  That year was a very formative year for me as a young Christian, and I am so thankful to God that He allowed me to have those incredible experiences.  My faith was challenged and rewarded in so many ways, there has never been any doubt in my mind ever since then of the existence and the goodness of God.

There were also many opportunities for me to share the good news about Jesus: speaking with people in all the churches we visited, teaching the teens during our weekly classes which were a part of the summer mission, visiting local churches in the hills of Honduras, and having regular devotional periods with the others who were a part of the Travel Team.

In all of these experiences, I came to know and be certain of the basic truths of the Gospel, such as God created and loved all of mankind, but mankind rebelled against God and rejected Him.  This resulted in mankind being eternally separated from God by our sins because He is a holy God and cannot allow anyone tainted by sin to be in His presence.  But thanks be to God, His only Son Jesus came to earth as a man, lived a perfect sinless life, yet died on a cross and so gave His life in exchange for ours.  This opened the way for us to be purified and once more come into a fellowship relationship with God.

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As wonderful as all of this was during that year, I found that there was something missing in my life.  I knew my Lord and Savior, Jesus, but at the same time I realized that there was so much about Him, and the Word of God, that I didn’t know.  I had some incredible experiential knowledge about Christ and the Holy Spirit of power, but I did not have a deep knowledge about all the truths about God and what the Bible says and means.

It was because of this great lack of knowledge that I found I had a strong desire to attend Bible college.  Part of me said that I was quite capable of reading my Bible and doing my own study of Scripture.  But another part of me realized that I would be foolish to think I could do it all on my own, and that I ought to take advantage of the knowledge of skilled Bible teachers.

And so it was within days after coming home from Scotland, the last place that our Travel Team had its ministry, that I enrolled in Alberta Bible College.  This is a college that is a part of the same Christian heritage that I was a part of, and the wonderful thing was that it was also in Calgary, my home town.  Actually, it was on the same street as my parents house, one mile away.  What a wonderful blessing that was for me.

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And so in January 1981, I became a Bible college student.  At first, my thought was that I would just take one year of college, just so I could get a little more knowledgeable in the Scriptures.  And I must say that I did not have the best attitude toward the other students, and even some of the professors back then.  You see, I had “been to the mission field”, and so I “knew” what missions and ministry was all about.  That was my first year.

The second year came and went and I don’t know if my ego had learned much more in the area of humility.  In fact I must admit that I was rather proud that I was at the head of the class.  I had mastered the art of being a student.  But in spiritual terms, I don’t know if I had really learned a lot about being a “disciple” for Jesus.

The way that I viewed life at that time was this: I am a student, and if I work hard and study well for exams, I will “ace” the material and come out on top.  Even though I was studying the Bible, I was not getting the message that “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Matthew 23:11-12)

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It wasn’t until my third and fourth year of Bible college that I started to understand that followers of Jesus are meant to “serve each other out of love”, and that ministers of the Gospel are to offer their lives of service as a sacrifice out of a willing and humble heart.  We are not meant to think of ourselves as better than any one else, or that others “owe” us anything as we serve them.  As Jesus says, “Freely you have received, freely give.”  (Matthew 10:8)

So I think it would have been so much better for me, and others, if back then I had thought of myself as a “disciple for Jesus” rather than a “Bible college student”.  The latter seems to inherently carry the idea of knowledge, prestige, self-sufficiency.  But being a disciple of Jesus speaks more about simply being a humble, obedient learner who remains under Christ.

I can’t say I have yet completely learned this lesson.  But that’s the beauty of it.  God has never asks us to be perfect in this life.  Quite the opposite.  We are called to live a life of simple, humble obedience that is a life-long process.  In that sense, I am still a student in the spiritual classroom of Jesus.

How about you?  Do you feel you have “graduated” and learned all there is to learn about God?  Or are you allowing yourself to still remain under the supervision of Christ and are looking forward to His next lesson in His School of Life?  May we all remain good disciples for Jesus.