The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

The Student’s Desk Newsletter – December 2012

2012 saw the end of a course of study that began in July 2002. To think I entered PTC timidly, concern I wouldn’t meet the standards required of a degree, to come out the other end being able to debate interpretations of the Bible from the original languages, along with other abilities, has truly been a blessing from God. It was also the kind of year where meeting an Ewok look-a-like Cavoodle that did meerkat impersonations didn’t seem all that out of place! More of the dog later.
I began the year with optimistic valour. I thought, “Just a language to learn, and a thesis to write. How hard could that be??” I had to ask… When I learned Greek,  I thought that was hard. But, compared to Hebrew, Greek was a walk in the park! Or should that be ‘a walk in the λάχανον’? Anyway, I found Hebrew extremely difficult, and I can now understand why everyone I spoke to discouraged me from doing it. But I had to be stubborn! In the first 3 weeks, while my classmates were flat learning the language, I was flat out learning how to access the language.
Not being able to use paper and pen means doing everything via a computer. At the start of the year, my main computer was my Windows laptop. Changing from English to Hebrew and back again wasn’t as straight forward as one would hope. So then I tried my Mac which, thankfully, was much more streamlined. Then I found sophisticated word processing applications (like MS Word, Mac Pages) couldn’t handle right to left text (Hebrew runs the other way to English). So I had to buy a word processing application that could handle bidirectional text. Then I found many of the processes and methods I had developed for learning Greek weren’t going to work for Hebrew.
At every step in the journey, I incurred frustration. I seriously pondered whether I needed to withdraw. But, I was told of some vocabulary applications for the iPhone, and they pretty much made all the difference. Then I was left to struggle with the same issues as everyone else – vowels that changed for no apparent reason, and vocabulary that had no bearing with English. But now, I am ever so pleased I had taken on the challenged – and succeeded! The strange thing is, while Greek was easy to learn, it’s hard to read, Hebrew is hard to learn but easy to read. Many others have made the same observation.
As for my thesis – ey! Emotions are still raw as I write this. I only submitted it in recent days – for the second time! It was toward the end of November. My thesis had been submitted 3 weeks prior, my final Hebrew exam had been completed, and I began to celebrate. My studies were over! So I thought. Alas, those celebrations were short lived. 4 hours later, my thesis came back. Not good.
    The topic I had chosen was ‘The work of the Holy Spirit in the person with a disability, and their relationship with the church’. Now, if you ever wanted a challenging topic to write on while adhering to the Reformed theological tradition, this would be one of them. I chose this topic for 3 main reasons. Firstly, my Pentecostal friends often speak of the Holy Spirit, and I wondered if he really did some of the things they claimed. Secondly, I wanted to provide a theological basis for disability inclusion. I have come across disabilities ministries that are completely segregated from mainstream churches. They do a wonderful service in ministering to people with disabilities, but I wondered if they capture God’s vision for his people (there’s only one!) and the ministry of reconciliation. Thirdly, as a would-be Presbyterian minister, I wanted to state very clearly what my theological agenda is from the perspective of disability – I want to see people with disabilities included in the life of main stream churches as an expression of God reconciling all things to himself through Christ.
So the thesis gave me an opportunity to explore these issues. Unfortunately, the examiner wasn’t happy with my arguments (and rightly so, I’ll readily admit), although they applauded my efforts. So in the past month, I’ve had to come up with a new argument, and rewrite half my 8,000 word thesis. Not to mention attending several speaking engagements, organising a Christmas service, and going to Melbourne for 3 days during the process. Now, 8,000 words may seem allot, but when you have a mind as hyperactive as mine, I can assure you it’s not! My biggest frustration was cramming all my ideas under the word limit. I have enough discarded bits and pieces around here to publish a book. That’s before I develop them any further so a nonacademic could actually understand! Of course, I’m happy for people to read my thesis, so long as they’re prepared to contend with Greek, and a bit of Hebrew. As I write, I still don’t know whether I’ve actually finished my studies. I’m still waiting for the result.

2012 also saw plenty of opportunities for me to speak and teach, which I’m most thankful for. In March I preached on John 9 at St. Clements Anglican Church, Mossman. The same sermon was delivered at Temora Presbyterian Church in June where I also spoke to them about how they could be more inclusive of people disabilities. This is where I met this strange dog that would frequently sit upright on its hind legs with its front paws drooping downward, and have a good look around the room. It was quite funny to see. I was able to preach the same sermon again to Buxton community church, which was an eye opener into the workings of community churches in December. In October a ministry for people with intellectual disabilities called ‘Jesus Club’ invited me to preach at their supporters night on Matthew 28:16-20. This was a great opportunity to meet new people and encourage them.
Raising the awareness of disability also kept me busy as I introduced the Luke14 program (a disability inclusion initiative by Christian Blind Mission), to Anglicare in Campbelltown in May. I was also able to speak to the Presbyterian Women’s Home Mission Committee in June about the needs of people with disabilities and their families, and my desire to equip churches to meet this need. Similarly, I had the opportunity to speak about disability at the ‘Flourish’ Presbyterian Conference in July. St. James Anglican, Turramurra, had a disability awareness Sunday asked me to speak for 10mins on ‘Loving People with Disabilities’ in relation to 1 John at all 3 morning services in December. This also was very well received. My answer? We love people with disabilities the same way we love anyone – the way God has loved us in Jesus.
My last college mission saw me going to McClean on the north coast of NSW. There, I was able to give my testimony to the local Presbyterian Church. One of the members saw an opportunity, and the next thing I knew, I was off to Grafton Christian School to give my testimony there as well. It was very encouraging to see how the students responded to what I had to say. I think I’ve remembered all the speaking I’ve done… My apologies if I’ve left out anyone!
Aside from these opportunities, I continued to teach year 2 Scripture. This has been an extremely valuable experience for me in learning how to relate to kids. It’s always interesting looking at the lesson in the teacher’s manual thinking, “That’s not going to work for me…” Then coming up with my own approach. Computer produced find-a-words based on a Bible passage and colouring in pictures from the internet have come in very handy.
Church services at the Allambie Heights Cerebral Palsy Alliance continued this year, and it was great to have so many willing volunteers to help me out with the ministry. This year we went through Genesis 1-12, looking as some of the fundamentals of the Christian faith: that God loves us, he provides for us, he wants to restore us and the rest of the world from sin, and we need to trust him in that regard and obey him. Recently we’ve been going through the Sermon on the Mount, understanding it as an appropriate way of responding to the grace God has given us. At the end of the year we had our Christmas Service. A number of people got a band together so we could sing carols. Everyone involved put in a huge effort. People came to the service who don’t usually come, and they were able to hear about how Jesus gives us peace with God, which is where peace on Earth starts. It was a really encouraging time.

So, all that was quite allot on top of my studies. Pending the response to my thesis, I’m assuming the formal part of my studies is over. So what happens next? In a word: DUNNO! However, I’m hoping to be licensed to preach on the 3rd January (again, pending the thesis result). This does not mean I’ll be ordained, it’s just one of the last steps toward ordination. How and when ordination will happen remains a mystery. Nothing has been planned in terms of employment for 2013 (that I know of!). There are a couple of leads I’ll be chasing up in January. Apart from this, I’ll continue teaching Scripture, running the church services at Allambie Heights, and providing a bit of pastoral support. I’m hoping that the opportunities I have to speak and teach around the place will continue, and develop into something sustainable.
Apart from this, I have a small stockpile of books to keep me occupied. In many ways I feel I’ve only done the preliminary part of my studies, and now I’m free to get on with the real work. There’s a number of issues I’d like to address, as well as developing my thesis further. In terms of further formal study, I’ll be taking a break to recover from the prolonged pressure of study, and to discover what ‘normal’ now means for me. But the possibility wont be too far from my mind. As such, The Student’s Desk will remain, even though my former studies are over (for now). I look forward to exploring and learning even more.
It’s been a really, really long journey, and I’m thankful that so many have stayed with me on it. Especially those who have been with me from the beginning. Whatever happens now, I feel hugely blessed by, not only in being able to do theological studies, but to actually excel in them. This is a privilege and a grace.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2012

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December 24, 2012 - Posted by | Newsletters, Site News

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