CMA – Going all out to test myself
It’s been a year and 4 months since I started in the Church Ministry Apprenticeship (CMA) programme in July 2017. This blog post has been a long time coming, but God’s harvest and work has been plenty, keeping me busy. CMA is like a bullet train that once started, doesn’t stop. The bullet train is still running, but thank God there’s some time to finally get down to writing a post!
There’s so much that I’ve learnt and benefitted from in this programme, of which I will highlight a few later. But since this is my first post – first things first, let me tell you the story of how I got here.
An ambitious high-achiever
I grew up in a home with two teachers as parents in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. I did well in my studies throughout my primary and high school years, and my consistent grades in secondary school awarded me with an ASEAN Scholarship. This led me to further my studies in Singapore, where I studied in St Andrews Junior College for 2 years. After Junior College (JC), I was convinced that I wanted to pursue medicine. I made applications to universities all over the world. Though I had hoped for better, I eventually settled with studying at the International Medical University (IMU) on a twinning programme with the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.
I had dreams of being a top physician and plans to migrate to the United Kingdom. I wanted a prestigious job and the “life” that came along with it – financial stability, a lovely family, a comfortable life all-in-all. And I was most certainly on my way to achieving that.
Meeting God through His Word
But my medical ambitions were drastically changed in my first semester of medical school, when I started reading the Bible with a dear brother named Jerome Leng. Even though I had grown up in a Christian home, it was only then that I began to realise that the Christianity of my childhood did not tally with what I was confronted with in the Bible. My Christianity was all about “ME”, whereas the Bible’s Christianity was centered on Christ and His Gospel.
Passages like Mark 8:34-35 really challenged me.
“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he (Jesus) said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
I was trying to save my life and to have “the life” that I wanted, and I understood that God’s and Jesus’ primary role were to work together to “help me” achieve that.
I was crushed – I wasn’t building God’s kingdom, but rather was caught up with building mine. Behind the piety and involvement in church was a self-serving, idolatrous, evil heart. This made me question my Christianity and my loyalty to God and His Kingdom.
By God’s grace, I didn’t end up giving up on Christianity (which was what I was tempted to do), but rather I found true Christianity in the words of the Scriptures. I discovered a far greater, sovereign, predestining God who demonstrates a much greater love through His Son’s death (than what I understood previously). I understood the depths of my sin and utter depravity AND at the same time, the beauty and glory of God’s justifying work in His one perfectly obedient Son. I was undeserving, and I still am, but by His mercy my heart and mind were then slowly changed bit by bit through the faithful preaching and studying of His Word at my church, CERC.
Building God’s kingdom, not mine
Eventually, the Gospel became the most important treasure to me. I wouldn’t trade it with anything else in the world and I wanted to dedicate this one life of mine towards seeing it grow and grow. My obsession with achievements died down as I came to terms with my idolatry and its futility. On the contrary, I wanted to dedicate my time into building His kingdom.
That’s when I started being a lot more involved with ministry on campus and in church. I was involved with IMU’s Christian Fellowship and with various campus ministries in CERC. Instead of spending my free time going to the movies or playing sports, I ended up doing 1-on-1 Bible studies with friends and uni mates.
Medicine was a respectable job in that I could help people with their illnesses; but I wanted to do more! I wanted to help them with their heart problem, and that was what I found most joy in. After a whole week of work, all that I would remember and look forward to would be for opportunities to preach the Gospel to my patients. Having clarity in the Gospel made me realize that no amount of chemo or successful surgeries could save someone, but only God’s glorious Gospel truly saves lives. I told myself that if there is one job on earth that’s worth slogging for, it would be full-time-paid-ministry because that’s where the real life saving is being done!
And so eventually, over time, as I got more and more involved in ministry, I was made to see (by my leaders) that I had some gifts of teaching and discipling others. Also, a heavy burden rested on my shoulders that more labourers were needed in God’s harvest field in Malaysia; especially in the work of faithful pastoring, teaching and preaching of God’s word. I reflected on my misled Christian upbringing and was determined that others including my children (one day) should not suffer the same.
So I started considering full-time-paid-ministry.
But there was so much for me to give up on if I were to be a pastor-teacher. I had put 5 years into medical school and another 2 years into completing my housemanship; and I had just started earning good money. I was offered a good job opportunity in Aberdeen, which would offer me the possibility of migrating over to the UK – and imagine the lifestyle that would follow that! I had to disappoint a hopeful set of parents who had invested so much time and money into grooming their son to become a doctor. I had to bring unavoidable “shame” to them, should the larger family and friends get to know that they have allowed their son to give up his much prestigious medical profession to become a pastor – a job which SPM graduates who don’t have much to do with their lives usually end up doing.
This verse that Paul quoted in Philippians kept my head and heart straight.
Phil 3:8 “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…”
If I were to leave the career any later, it would be progressively harder given how I would have spent another 4 more years specializing and who knows if I would be willing to give up my medical career then as a medical consultant since I would be earning way more money! And the excuses of having a family with children to support and loans to pay would build up.
I wanted to give my best years to Jesus.
And thus, I came up with a plan (which I thank God my family was eventually supportive of). I wanted to go all out to test myself for ministry.
And so, committing these things to God, I made plans to come back to Malaysia and commit to a faithful local church. I hoped to marry a woman who would be committed to serving God in the Klang Valley, and to get married before I started my ministry apprenticeship so that we would start our marriage with the pattern of ministry set from its inception.
God was gracious in directing me in these plans of mine.
In June 2014, I returned to Malaysia and committed to CERC as I began my housemanship as a junior doctor. After 2 years, I completed my housemanship and married Jou Ee, a fellow church member. We then started our CMA stint in July 2017.
Shortly after our wedding, God blessed Jou and me with a lovely son named Ethan Josiah Pan, who was born recently on 20 July 2018. Indeed, He has established and blessed me with my little family and altogether, has made my CMA stint a full one!
A completely worthwhile year
After more than a year’s worth of ministry apprenticeship, I have learnt a whole lot more about God and about myself – my gifts/strengths and my weaknesses/inadequacies. I have learnt how difficult a task it is to be an overseer, and how one must be loyal to Jesus and His Word above all. I have learnt of the joys of serving others and watching them grow; and at the same time the pains of opposition and the loneliness of speaking the truth. I have learnt the tension of loving my wife and son in a way that does not overshadow my love for God and His church. I have learnt to keep working when no one else is looking and to gain contentment from pleasing God and Him alone.
I have many more reflections, but perhaps it would be more fitting to give them room to breathe in subsequent blog posts to come.
Apprenticeship in CERC has been truly helpful – superbly challenging but nourishing to the soul. Jou Ee has found this period challenging as well, but has learnt to grow in godliness as we serve God together.
And so we (myself, Jou Ee and Ethan) will press on in this programme for another year- God willing, to arrive at a thorough and honest truthful assessment of my suitability for eldership.
As I always remind myself and my family: Apprenticeship (or rather being an overseer) is a privilege – a privilege to serve just as our Lord Jesus has modelled it for us.
Please do support us in prayer and in whatever way possible as we seek to use our lives for His glory. God bless!
Till our next blog post,
Elden, Jou Ee and Ethan
Posted on 28th October 2018