In a few months I’ll turn 50, a number that is high enough to mean I’ve crested the hill and I’m proceeding down the other side. Why in the world would one take on another responsibility, another degree, when the majority of my professional life is already behind me? What’s the point? Adding to such tension is the all around angst that has for me always come with academics: some people are better equipped for and enjoy academia than I am. I came into this Doctoral program with such tensions and the weeks prior to the first Advance in Cape town only served to amp up the stress. I can still remember my first Amazon order with Bayard’s book on “How to talk about books you haven’t read” with its postmodern perspective and suggestions that seemed ethically ambiguous at best and unrealistic – was this some kind of joke? Pink’s writing didn’t calm any nerves – while ethnography sounds cool, something I’d enjoy, but her vocabulary was so academic I had to constantly go to my dictionary to sort through a paragraph. What in the world had I signed up for – heading to my first advance I was seriously considering withdrawing from this program.
What surprised me was my change in perspective: from filled with doubt and tension to confidence and camaraderie. The Advances, my cohort, my mentor, and GFES administrators made this into one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. Years earlier I had joined DMin program from another school that was academically weak, where the teaching, for the most part, was disappointing. I really didn’t want to spend years working on something I wasn’t going to be proud of. I’m proud of the learning that’s being gained and the relationships being built through this program.
Relationships make all the difference between wanting to quit and wanting to succeed. This was especially true in my cohort. All of us found plenty to enjoy during our time in Africa and Hong Kong; for example, the fun meals in great restaurants like the one on the pier in Cape Town where we relaxed and enjoyed learning about each other. I remember the somber walk around Robben Island, and trying to keep it together on the crossing back to Cape Town. Hong Kong was a different adventure; we had been friends for over a year, so we were more of a community, looking out for each other, learning together. And of course meal times in Hong Kong are naturally a cross-cultural experience. Wherever we traveled we processed together what we were seeing and experiencing – the emotional, cultural and spiritual impact it was having. I know the Advances include structured learning through seminars, with local ministers, business professionals, academics and societal leaders, but for me the structured leaning was the framework for these relationships to deepen and flourish and take the learning to a deeper level.
“Deeper” is another thing that surprised me. The pace of a book a week was initially frustrating; I didn’t see how we could possibly read it all in the time allowed. Skimming for me had always meant shallow reflection. But I soon realized that the mentor lead chats actually made the reading for more impactful and allowed for deeper reflection. Each member in the cohort had a unique perspective on the reading and eventually certain kinds of reflection (contemplative, pragmatic, ironic, insightful, earthy) came to be expected from different members. It was natural that we saw things from difference perspectives. I believe that ultimately meant deeper reflection, if it was at a break-neck speed. Jason, being brilliant, and having reflected deeply on each of these books, also allowed us to glean insights that only come with academic rigor.
The first two years of this program are finishing up and all that lies ahead are months of writing, rewriting, and defending the dissertation. The “me” from two years ago would look at the challenge of a dissertation with self-doubt and no small amount of worry. Today, I have a measure of confidence because of everyone that surrounds me in this program. Thank you, friends; with you this has been a rich and meaningful experience, and without you I wouldn’t have persevered. At the outset I rather sarcastically ask “what’s the point of a doctor of ministry”? I would now respond to a better question—“What will you gain from this program?”—with a simple answer: friends.