What had I gotten myself into? I must have been crazy to think I could do a doctoral program. What was I thinking? Now two years into the program, I am actually within reach of a doctorate degree. How was it even possible to achieve this longed held dreamed?
What made this dream a reality, more than anything else, was the consistent assurances of the most amazing team of professors and advisors. I remember my first Advance in London, while being overwhelmed by the flood of information and technical instructions for the program, it was reiterated over and over, that “you are in this program because we believe you can do it!” Further, we were told that the goal of the staff of George Fox staff was to make sure that we finished. I learned quickly that this program was about inspiring and encouraging ministry, and not about competition. As a person in their mid-fifties, long out of school, a little unsure of his place among some amazingly brilliant (and much younger) academic-types, the personal advice and encouraging words provided confidence and strength for the journey, as each hurdle was crossed with affirmation of a work well done. I am grateful for the Lord’s leading me to a program that was dedicated to challenging and developing globally conscience leaders for effective ministry, that modeled Christ-like leadership, where service ranked higher than ambition and intelligence.
GFES Leadership and Global Perspective program has also provided a safe place for me to take my passions and run with them. The parameters of the program are generously board, because it is designed to challenge Christian workers in the middle of their ministries. This wonderfully adaptable approach provides opportunity for participants to focus on real ministry issues and problems, to devote energy to areas that are close to one’s heart. My passion for God’s global mission and for preparing cross-cultural workers was given free reign. My biggest surprise came from finding within my cohort people with similar passions who became conversational partners and fellow travelers. These included fellow workers in missionary organizations, and, even more helpful, those on the receiving end of missions (several from Africa). Through our interaction during our Advances and our weekly chats, I was made aware of aspects of and issues in missionary work that I had never considered. Add this to our weekly readings, which covered such a vast array of topics such as theology, culture, social issues, contextual theology, and history, my perspective on global cross-cultural ministry was greatly expanded and enriched.
While pursuing my dream, I developed a far greater sensitivity and understanding of what Christ-like ministry to people of different cultures, ethnicities and orientations might look like in a truly global perspective. It has caused me to look at the world and people with different eyes, with (I hope and pray) more compassion, better listening and less judgment. It has also given me a deep passion to be more connected with the larger world. For instance, I, a deeply addicted Europhile, was totally smitten with Africa during our second Advance, as I met and interacted with people in a wide variety of situations (from Johannesburg and Soweto, to riding a train for 26 hours to Cape Town, to wondering the townships and visiting the schools and churches). The chance to hear the stories from actual participants and to be at the places where these moving and often tragic stories took place, opened in me a passion for this part of the world.
What I discovered in my travels to Africa is illustrative of the truth I’ve learned during this program: I can do this! Africa, like my doctoral studies, was much too big and too scary for me to every feel at home in or to have confidence to travel. But, I come away from Africa with a passion to learn more of her history, to connect and interact with her people and theology, and to learn the lessons she has to teach me (about myself, my thinking and my culture). But more than anything, it is a place I can’t wait to return to. Africa has sparked in me a deep interest. This, to me, is really the theme of this doctoral program: It is about getting a taste of new things that creates in one a hunger for more. My world has, on the one hand, been made so much bigger, richer and a more interesting, while on the other hand it has become a much smaller place, a place I know I can explore confidently on my own and begin to connect with on a deeper level.
I have three major “takeaways” from this program. My first takeaway is a rich sense of fellowship with those I’ve shared the journey with, who have sharpened me, made me more sensitive, and broadened my understanding. My second takeaway is a better understanding of my own leadership. The program has challenged me to reflect on my leadership qualities, mapping the direction of my life, and pondering the possibilities of what God has in store for me. In this process, I have found rich resources that provide further motivation for my future journey. My third takeaway is a new confidence in sharing my thoughts with others. Two years ago, my writing never saw the light of day. Today, in our weekly posts and numerous writing assignments, there is the expectation that my writing will be viewed and pondered and commented on by others. This is a huge step forward for me. To feel a confidence in sharing my perspective has been a major change for me, where before I never felt sure enough to voice what I thought in a public forum. My dream of writing and communicating ideas with others has become a reality.
It was a longtime dream for me to earn a doctoral degree. Because of this wonderful program, built on a diverse and passionate learning community, that incorporates global experiences, today am living that dream.