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.
Below is the transcript for part 3 of this interview:
Dan: So I want to ask two questions, Van. You can answer in whichever order – how has all that grown you? The second one was how did you learn from the Australian way of doing ministry. What are the strengths, weaknesses that you thought about applying here or not applying?
Van: Okay, so here’s one way that I can promote the blog that I wrote. Well, I did write a blog post when I was in seminary so that would have more depth and elaboration, I guess? People can check that out on the link but um, how do I summarize it? I’m pretty sure I’ve grown in ways even I haven’t fully grasped yet, or am aware of yet. But I think one is just – I think my resolve has increased, I think so, even though I feel older and more tired even though my energy has gone down after just four years I think.
Josh: I think it’s just the weather there. Once you’re back here…
Van: No I feel it here, I feel it here. I do feel like just…
Dan: Maybe you’re just wiser.
Van: Yeah, wiser and tired so –
Joah: The weight of the Word in your mind really –
Van: I hope so! I hope that’s true, not just you know, just getting old, but um – yeah, I think my resolve to ‘see something happen’ in our environment, the Klang Valley, where we are in church, the resolve to see something happen, with all the education that has been put in, you know, for four years and just what God has done in CERC all these years. I wanna see something happen! By something I mean, we see lots of things happening all of time, but you know, God willing, would God please use us, if He would like, and we would like to be a part of this, you know, growing His church, growing a gospel, changing the mindset of Christians, prolonging the life of the desire of robust theology, you know that sort of thing. Yeah, I think being able to study for four years has sort of drilled that kind of conviction into me, I guess. And also seeing what it’s like for Sydney having the heritage they do, um, like I want that! I mean, not identical, but something like “why not us”, something like that.
Josh (to Dan): What about seminary life for you? What were you challenged about? What was different when you came back from seminary? How long was your apprenticeship at that time? you did three years too, right?
Dan: No, I did four, I did a bit longer. Seminary was challenging mainly for me, was on the mind. So my program wasn’t as robust as Van’s, so I wasn’t as challenged. But for me, it was still quite full, learning languages, learning to integrate things, you need to read lots of books, processing all that brain power, more importantly for me, it was a lot of thinking about how all this applies to ministry cause sometimes in seminary – and Van would know this- it feels like it’s irrelevant but we know it is and Pr Robin has trained us to think that all this is relevant. I mean it’s happened in history so it’s definitely relevant. We just have to think about how it looks like, where it would pop up, and how we can be even more faithful, through all this thinking and studying, to prepare for the next generation. So that was difficult for me. I wish I had a longer time in seminary, but yeah, that was mainly it.
Josh: So there are things that you learn which at that point you may think about why would I need to learn philosophy? Philosophy’s like, nothing to do with Christianity. Why did they teach me philosophy?
Dan: I think it’s not immediately apparent in Malaysia, cause Malaysians, I mean, we don’t even talk about these things.
Josh: Yeah so I mean even like languages, I’ve heard comments like “why need to go so in depth your Greek, Hebrew, I mean the English bible already got all the commentaries, like the study Bible. Why push for it?” But from what I see and what you all have learnt I realize the depth needed. It may not be obvious immediately, but as you prepare to preach, as you prepare to go deeper into the text, the amount that we get as people listening is just amazing because of the depth that the knowledge that the pastors have in that language, helps us to understand the Bible better. If not, we too will end up becoming like “Oh okay yeah, Christianity is a happy-go-lucky safe religion” in that sense.
Dan: Hey Van, so what are some of the things from Sydney, the Anglicanism there, the Christianity there, that you processed, that you thought is good, and you probably want to adapt. What are some weaknesses maybe, that you want to watch out for here?
Dan: I remember, whilst you think, I just remembered last time when I visited you, I was in the bus and overheard – I think it was Sunday church, I forgot whether you were in the bus with me, Van, I think you were somewhere else I can’t remember- but I remember overhearing a conversation of just some normal people, in the bus talking about Greek translations. I was like, “This feel like heaven,” like, people on the bus talking about Greek translations.
Van: Probably my classmates or-
Dan: I actually remembered “Wow, this actually never happens in Malaysia”. And I was in the bus, you know yeah, I wish this could happen one day, hopefully.
Van: On that, I’m not sure whether you’re going there, but if you say that then I’m thinking wouldn’t it be good if Malaysia was better resourced? We wouldn’t have to fly all the way, it would be nice…
Josh: Spending 1 million ringgit!
Van: Yeah, having to eat Australian food (sorry!). Yeah, that would be amazing to have something closer to home and yeah.
Dan: I guess that’s part of why we go there, to just get exposed to what could be, what we can strive towards, right?
Van: One thing I remember was the children in the kids ministries that I worked with, they are definitely different from you know, the children of the same age in Malaysia. So that is a reflection of many things of course, not just churches but schooling and parenting, and a whole load of other things.
Josh: DIfferent in what sense, Van? Better or..?
Van: They are more articulate, they ask very clever questions that are helpful if you want to grow them in thinking theologically right? They ask very helpful questions, and just the way that, the amount which they express themselves whether or not in primary school or secondary school. Cause I was exposed to both age groups and also actually, I also managed to get to know some university students who have spent their whole life in Australia, stuff like that. You know, just comparing their ability to read. Yeah it makes me reflect and think about the amount of setbacks, I guess, that Malaysia has, because knowing how to read is going to be very important, isn’t it, for lasting long as a Christian and growing. So yeah, it’s hard because I don’t know what the solution is to that because there are so many reasons why we are what we are and not everything can be solved by being the best church that we can possibly be for Jesus, right? So many factors. Anyway, it was something that make me think a lot. I am trying not to get too discouraged about that because really, when I meet the Sunday School children in Australia, I keep thinking about my kids back at home. I keep on thinking about home and how it’s so different and I don’t really know what the answer is to that honestly. But yeah, it’s OK. It’s good to at least have something of what we could be, what we could strive for, perhaps. We don’t know how-
Dan: -what’s possible at least.
Van: Yeah, seeing children of a certain age speaking and presenting and explaining what they know and asking such clever questions to Sunday school teachers, it just makes me feel so jealous for my own country and church, oh my goodness! We want to get there but how? So without having all the answers, I’m just sharing um some reflections, I’m not even answering the question, am I?
Dan: well, sort of. Indirectly, but you know are there other things that you’ve learnt or at least picked up from Australia that you thought can be applied here with some thought?
Dan: Yeah, it’s tricky, I understand. Like, we can’t apply it wholesale. We have to process it.
Van: Exactly, it’s just a different place and time, right? Obviously time, I do mean time because we’ve had a lot more history and stuff so, I’ve been asked this question a few times now, I’ve written all sorts of scribbles but there isn’t quite an easy answer to this. There isn’t quite a – there’s no “conversation” kind of answer, and it’s also messy. I wish I knew how to organize all of it, that I’ve written down.
Dan: It’s okay.
Josh: Someday maybe, Van. Sometimes, I think after a while processing it, since you’ve just came back.
Van: Yeah, yeah. In that way, in that regard I do still feel quite fresh, you know, like, I feel like, on one hand, I feel like I’ve been here for ages and ages even though its been a month but that’s because it/s just the pace and the life in Malaysia, and the ministry that we do. But on another hand, I think I would probably only so-call ‘cash in’ all those reflections and scribbles and little things that I’ve picked up and put in my notebook. Maybe, I don’t know, 3 years later, down the line, God-willing, not sure, sorry for that. I did think about it, nothing really worth saying at the moment, sorry.
Dan: It’s fine.
Josh: We will revisit this maybe in about a year’s time.
Can: Yeah yeah, I need more time, I think.
Josh: Van I have something to ask you in regards with being a woman in ministry, because I mean, I’m assuming that Moore college is a place where the majority would be male students studyingtheology, so how was it like for you as a lady studying in the midst of them, and maybe that is one, and as a single woman doing ministry there also. So in Australia what was it like?
Van: Yeah um, in my 4th year there were only 2 other single girls because the other 2 whom I met in 1st year got engaged and married and this is common. So it’s common that um, the ladies that come into college they meet someone, they get married, they move out. So there were a lot of goodbyes, it’s very common, its like “welcome to college! Goodbye!” They meet someone and then they get engaged and then they move out. So that’s really common and also lots of weddings and lots of babies everywhere, and yeah, I’m more and more aware of my – I shouldn’t say identity, that’s a little bit much – I’m more and more aware of my sex as I’m in college. But that’s alright. That’s actually a good thing. It’s nice to see how ministry is like in a family cause you know, I get to hang out with married people and um, with children. So I hang out with people who have children, and also get to know people who don’t have children, and the very few single girls um, yeah, they’re not that many girls, that’s one way of putting it. More men. For me, maybe, I don’t know, maybe it’s just me but I’m cool with that because I am going to college to learn. So it kind of doesn’t really stress me out that much, in fact, I think I’m just thankful for the experience overall because it’s nice to see what its like from you know, other people’s lives. I don’t know if that – yeah.
Josh: Yeah I mean, yeah, it helps us to just think about it also.
Van: Yeah yeah yeah, um, yeah if you ask me if I had time to date anyone, if that’s what you REALLY wanted to ask?
Josh: No, I’m asking more of being single in seminary, that’s it. What it’s like, was it difficult being a single lady in seminary, in the midst of being many men in seminary? Friendship, was there the whole inferiority, perhaps?
Van: I think it would have been nice to have pack up some of my girlfriends from here and go there. That would have been nice. To put Penny – that would have been fun, I think. But, yeah, I would like it – this is Penny’s dress. Um, yeah, I think that would have been so fun, I think that would have been different, it’s not like there weren’t any single girls there. It’s just that you know maybe it takes a little bit more time to warm up to people, not just new people, but also you know, even though they’re my sisters in Christ, we just have lots of differences, Australian culture vs. Malaysian culture, just being one of them, right? Also our shared experiences are different, which is good. I mean, it was nice and interesting to learn their background and how they are different, so different it is from me at the same time. From my perspective anyway, there was not a lot of time to make deep friendships. There’s not a lot, you have to be picky, eventually. and everyone knows this, you know, you can be lot more relaxed in the first year, second year, As you keep going you kind of need to build and deepen your friendships. I did make a couple of friends, so, the closest people I got to know was a married family so that was fun. But yeah, I think I’m cool with not having my girlfriends around with me, it’s all good. I have to study anyway so I don’t know any different. I don’t have an alternate reality that I can compare it to so if you wanted to know if it was hard or not I can go ‘hard, yeah, it was hard’. Not that the men in seminary was nasty or anything, they were very nice, and very kind, yeah.