JACKSON, Tenn. – Jan. 25, 2013 – Five men with preaching ministries in Southeast Asia spent two weeks in January at Union University, becoming the first of the university’s Doctor of Ministry in Expository Preaching students from Singapore to visit the campus.
An agreement with Baptists in Singapore allows Union to make its Doctor of Ministry degree available to Singapore students, as well as exchange faculty for teaching and research.
Poling Sun, president of Baptist Theological Seminary in Singapore, also visited Union in January to renew the partnership, first established three years ago.
Sitting around a small conference table at Union, the Doctor of Ministry students shared their conversion stories with one of their professors – Todd Brady, Union’s vice president of church relations.
None of their stories sounded like testimonies likely to be heard in an American church, nor were two stories alike.
Thiam Hong Tan, the oldest in the group, recounted how he became a Christian at a Bible camp in Singapore in the 1960s at age 18. He later was a missionary in China and a successful businessman.
As a child, Cho Ma Na Ling (called Peter) said he lived with his uncle, a high priest of the spirits of the forests and mountains for 137 villages in Burma (also known as Myanmar), a country between China and Malaysia.
Ling said even at a young age he valued education, for years walking four miles each day to a school in the next village. At age 10, Ling’s uncle announced he wanted Ling to fish instead of attend school, so the boy would not return empty-handed each evening.
“I ran from my home and went to this Buddhist monastery,” Ling said. “They were recruiting students who could not afford school.”
Ling said he became a staunch Buddhist and was training to be a monk as a teenager when he walked past a Christian preaching on the street.
“He was standing there and preaching, ‘Jesus loves you,’” Ling said. “I started thinking about the Creator God. Such things we didn’t have in Buddha scriptures.”
Though Ling first ridiculed the preacher, he later returned and opened his heart to the gospel message at an American Baptist church in Burma, he said.
Since then, Ling has planted churches in Burma, been a pastor for 23 years and established six churches for Burmese refugees in Malaysia, where no such churches previously existed.
“I want to preach seven days a week,” Ling said he told friends.
Each of the men ended their personal stories explaining their passion to learn more about preaching, with a concern for faithfulness that Brady said encouraged him.
“These guys are motivated by a desire to (be more faithful to the text) in their context,” Brady said. “They believe that this type of preaching — expository preaching —is a way to do that. ... The role of the preacher is to proclaim not his words, but God’s words.”
Before spending a week discussing sermon content and delivery with Brady, the men met with Gregory Thornbury, dean of Union’s School of Theology and Missions, for a week of classes focused on preaching the New Testament.
They didn’t have to wait to return home to practice what they were learning in their classes. The men each preached a sermon one Sunday morning to congregations in Tennessee and surrounding states.
Many said the highlight of their trip was visiting Union’s Steven Olford Center in Memphis, Tenn., named for a champion of expository preaching in the United States and around the world.
For student Charlie Lee, visiting the Olford Center was literally a dream come true.
Lee only had one chapter of a dissertation left to complete for a doctorate through another school when he felt he should leave the program, not knowing what he should pursue next.
“Then, I saw a picture of what the Lord wanted me to do,” Lee said.
Lee dreamed one night that he was in a room with a cubicle and several windows overlooking a grove of trees. In the dream he knew the Lord wanted him to be at that place, wherever it may be, he said. Soon after, Lee received a call from a friend suggesting he enroll in Union’s doctorate program for Singapore pastors. Taking it as a cue from God, Lee signed up for the program.
With the dream lingering in his memory, Lee said he had searched without success for a room at Union that matched the one in his dream — until the men visited the Olford Center. Lee walked into a room in the Olford Center that looked just like the room in his dream, cubicle and all.
His response: “My goodness, what a great, mighty God.”
By Samantha Adams (’13)