Dr. Stephen Chambers spent two weeks in Southeast Asia in January. This was his second stint as visiting professor at Luther Institute-Southeast Asia (LISA), after a March 2008 visit teaching Christian Worship. The topic this time was Romans. “It was a challenge to cover the whole book in a week,” he reflected after returning home. “We had to move pretty fast, covering four chapters a day.”
The LISA classes operate very differently than CLS’ seminary program. The students are already serving as either pastors or deaconesses in their home communities, and travel to one of the two seminary locations (Bangkok, Thailand, and Phnom Penh, Cambodia) for week-long courses, four or five times a year. Pastors and seminary professors from North America—mostly from LCC but also from the LCMS—fly in to lead each intense, high-energy course.
The Romans course was the 11th in a series of 14 courses, which LISA students will complete by March 2010. At that point, each of them will be able to formally join the emerging Lutheran church association in their nation, as a rostered churchworker. Already, most of the students in both countries have indicated that they plan to do this. “Each course in the sequence helps them understand Lutheran theology a little better,” Chambers said. “They’re coming to see, more and more, that what we teach and practice is drawn straight from the Scriptures.”
An obvious difference from teaching at CLS was the need to use a translator. “Following a foreign teacher’s ideas and translating them into Thai and Khmer is hard work,” Chambers said. “In both places, two translators took turns spelling each other off, so neither one would get too tired.” Learning to slow down so the translator time could keep up was sometimes hard for the professor, too.
Often, though, the greatest challenge wasn’t just translating words, but crossing cultural gaps. “In Cambodia,” Chambers said, “students were fascinated but also deeply troubled by Paul’s command in Romans 13 to submit to the governing authorities. In light of their country’s horrific experiences under the Khmer Rouge and then during the Vietnamese occupation, they really struggled with these ideas.” In that sense, the professor learned as much from the experience as did his students. “I came home with a deeper respect than ever for the need to read the Scriptures contextually—taking into account not only their original context, but also our context. We don’t all hear the Word in exactly the same way.”
Serving an emerging church… and enriching his own ability as a teacher. “These are the two big reasons I’m so excited about teaching overseas,” Chambers said. “Considering how small CLS is, it’s absolutely amazing that we get these kinds of opportunities, both to serve and to grow.”
Funding for CLS involvement in Thailand and Cambodia is provided byLISA. Dr. Edward Kettner has also taught in both locations. Discussions are underway for possible MDiv student involvement in CLS's contribution to the churches in Southeast Asia.