An Interview with Vanessa: Van is Back! (Part 2) | CERC Blog | Christ Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC)


An Interview with Vanessa: Van is Back! (Part 2)

Posted on 11 Mar 2022 by CERC News

This is a 4-part video interview with Vanessa Ong, our latest pastor-in-training. Van has just returned to Malaysia in November 2021 with a Bachelor’s of Theology after 4 years in Moore College, Sydney, and CERC is excited to welcome her back! 

In this video interview series, pastor-in-training Daniel Lu and Joshua Johnson (CERC News) have a chat with Van about how seminary has helped her grow and how it has equipped her for ministry back in Malaysia.

Part 2 timestamp:

0:00 – Apprenticeship to Seminary 

5:25 – Seminary experience

8:37 – Ministry while in seminary

Below is the transcript for part 2 of this interview:  

Josh: I just need to ask Van so you did apprenticeship in church right? You did like, 2 years? 3 years? 

Van: I did three years. 

Josh: Do you think that apprenticeship helped prepare you for seminary? Or can I go to seminary without apprenticeship? I mean definitely seminaries out there have no requirements to have an apprenticeship but how do you think it can help you or shape you to be a better seminarian? Or would you say “Nah Josh, even if I went straight also no difference one.”

Van: Yeah no, I actually think they should try to make it a requirement because there are a lot of temptations in seminary to just be so-called “academic” or “intellectual” about things. And obviously the academic part must be there forever and the intellectual part of things must be there forever, I mean all Christians actually. But, there comes a point in apprenticeship when you realize what being a Christian is about more. I mean, the clarity grows. We are here to serve God not to serve ourselves, we are here to serve others and grow in humility and desire to put to death our old selves. So without learning those painful lessons in apprenticeship I think seminary education could be deficient even with all that content, for sure. Because it’s not about knowing so-and-so’s theory of Deuteronomy”, it’ s not about (although that is important) it’s not about so-and-so’s bibliography and having read 7 out of 12 books, in that bibliography, etc. It’s about ‘why are you even doing this’ and how it should be the shape of ministry – what drives it, caring for the local church and its people’s holiness. Yeah, I could say more but maybe I shouldn’t ramble.

Dan: I just want to say that I thought about this question when I was in seminary, “what’s the relationship between seminary and apprenticeship?” For me I would say that apprenticeship largely prepared my heart for ministry, prepared my desire, and what seminary does is it filled me with a lot of knowledge that I need with the right heart to do ministry. Not that apprenticeship didn’t prepare my mind – it did – but seminary just filled it a lot more. I would say that without apprenticeship, seminary sometimes can be harmful. Apprenticeship is pretty important to set your mind and heart, to know what you’re doing, why you’re in seminary, so that in seminary you’re prepared and equipped and you hit the ground running. 

Van: Yeah, definitely what you said but just to add on to it also I think you and I both have had experiences during apprenticeship where we got stuck, right? Preparing for a topical talk and just feeling like ”wow I wish I knew more” and being able to say what needs to be said. I think we were exposed to the questions and the challenges in pastoral care that hopefully motivated us in the difficult moments in seminary because actually if I were to summarize seminary in a word it would be ‘perseverance’. Like you have to persevere and don’t give up while, maybe it’s just for me, maybe other people don’t have to ever feel that, but I think I just have to not give up and trust in the program and just pull through. 

Dan: Can you explain more when you say ’give up’, give up what? What were you tempted to give up?

Van: Give up going deeper, give up receiving the education that I came here for, you know. Give up achieving the learning outcomes, for example. Just because you read something a lot doesn’t mean you’re achieving the aims of the education, do you know what I’m saying? So it’s not easy to be educated right even though you entered the so-called correct institutions. Another way of saying what I’m saying is ‘your education is only as good as what you put into it, just like apprenticeship,’ you know what I mean? Like, we could pass seminary.

Josh: Yeah, doing the minimal to get through and telling everybody ‘Hey! I’m a seminary graduate.’

Van: Or I could have gotten the ‘okay’ grades and like, good, but still not have learnt what I needed to learn, in order to go for it the long haul. 

Dan: So when you say ‘give up‘, you mean not just like pass, but actually doing the whole thing properly, right?

Van: Well, I was trying to, that was the challenge right? Everyday. Everyday. I remember everyday! 

Dan: Can you just give us an image of like, yeah, how many subjects, how is it like?

Van: Oh my goodness! Do we really want to? Alright, well it was so hard because every time I was studying one subject I felt like I needed to be studying the other six, for example. Do you know what I mean? If I’m working on my Old Testament subject I’m panicking about tomorrow’s doctrine lecture I need it to have done the reading and the reading it’s like 45 pages it doesn’t sound like a lot but you only have a few hours to do that because by the time it’s 10 PM I don’t wanna open my eyes anymore it’ s winter. It’s like 10 degrees, you know like… 

Josh: Cover myself and sleep!

Van: Yeah I just wanna go to bed and don’t ever wanna get up again cause it’s so cold but you know, I have to squeeze in before tomorrow and it’s not just about tomorrow right there’s this big assignment that I need to keep working on but I didn’t work on it yesterday so I need to look at it today, that sort of thing. Don’t get me started about the languages, right? I have to keep up with my languages every single day because if I don’t look at my Hebrew or my Greek then the study of my languages yesterday is wasted because it’s all about rote learning and a very disciplined way of putting it in your mind. So if you don’t practice it, then whatever I studied on Monday and Tuesday, if I don’t retain or revise it on Wednesday or Thursday, then it’ s gone by Friday. Completely gone. I’ve just wasted all that time on Monday and Tuesday, for example. So you’ve got languages, you’ve got Old Testament, you’ve got New Testament which you have to prepare for thoroughly, you’ve got doctrine, you’ve got philosophy, you’ve got ethics. I’m just like, I feel constantly like, ”Wow I’m doing the wrong thing at this moment,” all the time, do you know what I mean? Like I should be doing the other thing. And then obviously I’ll get a little bit of a heart attack when I look at my calendar and I look at my deadlines on the screen and then I get a mini heart attack and I’m like ”Oh no!” So on one hand, I’m getting a heart attack about tomorrow, on one hand, I’m getting a heart attack with regards to the upcoming assignment, on one hand, I’m having a heart attack in regards to the sermon that I’ve been assigned to preach at Chapel. 

Dan: You get to preach in Chapel? 

Van: Yeah, so I’ve prepared to preach at the women’s chapel quite a few times, and we also have a proclamation groups thing which is basically learning how to preach, so, I have had the chance to keep my preaching um, skill up a little bit, not quite the same as before seminary but, you know, here and there. You know, then I’ve got ministries that I’m in charge of and doing weekly, so I can’t drop that either. So whatever it is, I just feel like I’m existing wrongly – is that even a thing? You know what I’m saying?

Dan: No we don’t!

Josh: Tell us about your other ministries that you were doing besides studying?

Van: So for example, at one point I taught Sunday School twice a day on a Sunday, for a whole year. And the church is really far from my place. 

Josh: So there’s this one particular church that you’re attending? 

Van: Yeah, so I taught Sunday School twice on that Sunday, and then stayed twice for the evening service at night, so I’ll be in church really early and then come back really late because church is in Penrith, and that will be like an hour plus plus from my place. So I take the train, I take all my exercise books to do my homework there. That sort of thing, and then all the people at that area will be like “Wow look at that hardworking Chinese girl, every Sunday she’s studying.” 

Dan: Ah yeah, the hardworking Asians. 

Van: Yeah, exactly. They’re like this hardworking Asian always in the kebab shop doing her homework. Um, yeah, I just didn’t have a choice really. So I was attached to a different kids ministry the following year, and then the youth ministry the following year.

Josh: Was this the same church or was it a different church?

Van: No, I wanted to get exposure and learn from different kinds of churches, different kinds of ministry. So yeah, I did jump a little bit. So one year, one different church.

Josh: So did you experience four different churches in the four years? 

Van: I did, I actually had a lot more cause I did manage to visit quite a bit, even the churches I didn’t manage to get attached to, I managed to get to know a little bit more. Like the churches of my classmates, right? I get to visit and see. It was interesting to just get to know what it’s like over there.

Josh: So these ministries that you did in the church, was it compulsory to do as part of your seminary education? Or was it something you decided to do because you had the time.

Van: So in Moore college it’s part of it, it’s a thing you do. It’s in the student handbook. All students are required to have…

Dan: Do they check up on you guys?

Van: Well it’s a very common conversation topic probably like the third – probably after asking if you’d like a coffee, after asking ‘how are you?’, they would ask what church you go to, and obviously everyone just assumes that everyone is a Student Minister. That’s what we are called, Student Ministers. It’s just an expected thing.

Josh: It’s not limited to because you’re in Moore college, an Anglican college, that’s why you are in an Anglican church right?

Van: Oh my friends go to Presbyterian churches, independent churches, but yeah the majority would be Sydney Anglican.