An Interview with Vanessa: Van is Back! (Part 1)
26 Feb 2022
This is a 4-part video interview with Vanessa Ong, our latest pastor-in-training. Van has just returned to Malaysia in November 2021 with a Bachelor’s of Theology after 4 years in Moore College, Sydney, and CERC is excited to welcome her back!
In this video interview series, pastor-in-training Daniel Lu and Joshua Johnson (CERC News) have a chat with Van about how seminary has helped her grow and how it has equipped her for ministry back in Malaysia.
Part 1 timestamp:
0:00 – Back to Malaysia
4:00 – Seminary
7:54 – Seminary vs Apprenticeship
9:57 – Daniel’s Point of View
11:28 – Preparedness for Malaysian ministry
Below is the transcript for part 1 of this interview:
Josh: Welcome back to Malaysia! How has it been so far?
Vanessa: Good. It feels like my life from college is like long ago, when it’s only been a month or so. A month and a couple of weeks.
Josh: Since you came back, its about a month plus, yeah?
Josh: How long has it been since you were away from Malaysia?
Van: I was away for 4 years, in Sydney, studying theology.
Josh: Theology, in Moore College right?
Josh: I don’t know about you, but for me, 4 years seems very fast cause’ I still remember sending you off at the airport. It doesn’t feel that long ago at the airport saying goodbye to you (a whole group of us), and now, 4 years later, Van is back. We also met up once in Sydney in the middle of your studies.
Van: Everyone says that! it’s not much time for them here. I guess nobody missed me very much but then it felt like a long time while I was there. I guess there were a lot of new things and difficult things so yeah, different experiences, I guess.
Daniel: How has it been since coming back?
Van: I like that I am here. It felt like I’m at the right place, you know what I mean?
Daniel: No I don’t, explain more.
Van: Doing ministry, of course! That’s why I went to Moore College, right? To study, so that I could be here and be part of this crazy hustle that we call ‘ministry’ life, church life, um, yeah, I missed it when I was there. And now that I’m back, this is where all the action is at. Woohoo!
Josh: Where are you now currently?
Van: I’m in Anna house now, this is where all the girls doing ministry, they’re living here.
Josh: So this is the living room?
Van: Yeah we’re in the living room and there’s always stuff that does not belong to us in this living hall. Like boxes of decor items, fake grass, random Christmas lights – these are the most random-est things. I don’t know, we just live with it, but that’s alright, we have our own rooms, so yay!
Daniel: So you’re settling in fine right, Van?
Van: Oh yeah, I think so.
Josh: What was the first ministry-related matter that you did since you came back? Or what were you assigned to do?
Van: The most memorable one would be Christmas Eve. We did some sort of virtual thing last year while I was in Australia, but this time I get to be here and I think yeah, spend more time thinking on it and meeting the people. I’m having lots and lots of rehearsals. So that was the Christmas Eve production, by Christine Chong, one of our apprentices, together with myself and the big team. So that was a challenge, but still fun.
Daniel: Sounds like you hit the ground running!
Van: I think so, yeah, I think so, pretty much. There were other things in between but even though it was just like this month and a few weeks ago I can’t remember anymore cause there’s just so much going on, you know what I mean? There’s just so much going on, it feels like so long ago but then I can see it as just a couple of weeks on my calendar and I’m like ‘huh? That was just 2 weeks ago?’ It’s good. I’m thankful to God that we have such a ministry.
Daniel: Yeah, it’s great to have you back too. Anyway Van, tell us about seminary!
Van: Um, what do we want to know about seminary? Challenging – I think I’ve said that already.
Daniel: How was seminary life? Can you just describe how life was there?
Van: So there’s lectures in the morning, meal times, everything is regular, right? So much unlike ministry, everything is so regular. Um, sort of. Wake up, we’ve got chapel/chaplaincy group – I’ll say a little bit more if you want to know what that is, and then after that, classes, and after that meal times, sometimes we have a class after lunch, and then after that either I’m hardworking enough to review my lesson or read up the next day or doing assignments or something. Something will come up and then the day is over, it’s dinner time and then I’ll try to keep my eyes open to read some more before I sleep. So how much can I read before I sleep is sometimes the question cause there’s just so many things to read and learn and know every single day cause there are a lot of subjects and they are all new and not new at the same time.
Daniel: Was it good? Your said it was a regular – was it a good thing for you, Van?
Van: I must admit, I felt like, what was the word ah? Itchy backside? I felt too restless in the first year of seminary. It was really hard for me cause I just want to – cause I was used to apprenticeship life by then, I was used to ministry life, and then now I’m thrown into this thing where I’m like, just shut up and study. Keep quiet and think and ask questions, don’t DO, you think and study. So first year was difficult for adjusting. I think by 2nd year I got into the groove already, I would say, more or less. 2nd year, 3rd year, I’m already like, “I’m part of – I’ve done it already”, and yeah. 4th year was challenging but more rewarding, I think.
Daniel: Do you want to just explain a little bit more the difference between apprenticeship life and life in seminary and whether life in seminary has helped you now that you’ve gone through all 4 years?
Van: Whether seminary life has helped me?
Daniel: Yeah, that whole like sitting down there being regular, you know. Do you think that’s changed you now?
Van: Um, yeah. I think it’s drilled in me. Not just the regular life I think but just um, going through the experience of working out what I don’t know. Because I didn’t know what I didn’t know when I first entered seminary, do you know what I mean? So um, when I entered into seminary and then after many months, many years, I think there were a lot of gaps in my thinking that became clearer to me and so yeah, I think the time in seminary was valuable because I must hit the books, I must not just say whatever I feel like, I must engage with others who have similar opinions but different nuance or completely different opinion but in fact they are quite similar – I don’t know if you know what I mean, but it’s um, it’s all very helpful because we are handling theology, some sophisticated complex stuff, we are handling God, you know, so you can’t cincai-cincai la, is one way of saying it.
Daniel: Compared to last time, your apprenticeship time?
Van: Well, it’s not like I was trying to be irresponsible in apprenticeship life. We did study, we did prepare when we had to do our thing – our preaching schedule, our Bible studies – it’s just I was not exposed to the different levels of knowledge, or in my case, ignorance, different levels of ignorances and even then I’m still discovering it now, but at least now, I’m aware of how much more I need to learn and grow in, and although that itself was very discouraging during seminary, because I was like “wow, is there really any point in me learning this? Because you know what? There is a lot more to know! And I feel like I’m just touching the surface and I’m already in 4th year!,” sometimes I’m feeling like that. However at the same time now I’m um, yeah, excited because God has – and the church, and the supporters watching – I’m thankful because I have a chance to grow deeper. I can grow deeper because I haven’t actually touch the “ground”, you know if it was the pool, the ground. Or like, I’ve not covered everything. There’s more to know, more to discover about our God and His reality. That’s good. Because can you imagine if you know, we studied and start to get bored and like “OH I know everything there is to know about Jesus Christ as Lord, that’s it la,” I wouldn’t want that and yeah, there’s so much more to discover and know about everything so that’s exciting and good because that would help me, you know, when I’m preparing for a kids talk, or whatever it is that I’m preparing for, it gives me the energy to – that this is great, fun stuff.
Josh: As I was listening to this, I was thinking of you actually, Dan. So I was wondering whether you are having deja vu moments or feelings because you went to seminary and it has been like what? 2 years? Do you resonate with some of the experiences that Van is saying?
Daniel: Oh yeah, definitely. I mean going to seminary, you’re exposed to so many things that you didn’t, that I didn’t know, and in the past, I didn’t think about, but seminary was a good place for me because it gave me the space to explore ideas and what sometimes in ministry, you might think “okay, this is not very relevant, but actually it’s interesting,” and I just didn’t have the time to go through it. But in seminary I get to explore and it also gave me the time and space to just think how this might affect ministry and how uh, people might actually think these thoughts, just not fleshed out that logically. Seminary is just a place where we are pushed to the end – we think logically about certain things, we think how you know, these things might affect us. And so, yeah, I think that was helpful for me. Coming back here, even though people don’t normally talk about these things, but then you start to see that in a lot of what people say, they have underlying thoughts that we have studied in seminary that are just underdeveloped. But when we double-click them, it helps for ministry.
Josh: That’s very interesting to hear both of you speak about it and the experiences that you all have got also in seminary. Our 3rd one back from seminary. Awesome!
Dan: Van, I just wanted to ask – Now that you have came back from seminary and your first gig, right, the big one, was Christmas. How do you think that seminary helped you, this time in preparing for it?
Van: I actually felt like I was, I was put back several steps behind, like as in, because of all the stuff I know now, I was like “Wow, how do I do a kids talk?” So I’m just like, “oh my goodness there’s so many things that I need to say”, like, I feel like I’m hearing my lecturers’ feedback to me now. Like, I’m daydreaming my lecturers saying, “what? You left that out?” You know that sort of thing, and it was so hard, actually I’ve always found um, talking to kids very fun, and I think I kind of do it intuitively. Um, but then I didn’t study education for children or anything, but yeah, after going to seminary it’s now so much harder because there are so many important concepts that in fact are quite important for Christmas, and I have to do the hard work like in seminary of working out what I shouldn’t – what I don’t need to include, I need to have some self-restraint and be like, “I only have this amount of time, the children can only take about this much, so just hold your horses.” It was actually really challenging but good because then you know, why would we want (and I definitely don’t want) shallow children’s syllabus, right? You don’t want to teach children like close to nothing. It’s not like you don’t know that the baby is Jesus – they know that the baby is Jesus! You want to repeat that 20 times? They gotta know the significance of it, they gotta know what it means for them, they gotta know why he even was sent! What’s the background behind it? And as you know, some of you already know this, but um, children can actually absorb so much more than we actually expect – suddenly they spout it out and you’re like, “wow you were listening! Wow you can understand, I’m so sorry I underestimated you”. But um, yeah so, we want faithful and clever and incisive and robust children’s curriculum and I’m just praying that God would help me to do that, cause it’s really challenging. But it was good, I’m very thankful for the opportunity to have done it. And I’m already thinking about next year’s script because there was this Isaiah passage that I wanted this year but that was just no correct place to put it so i’m gonna shove all the material that I didn’t get to use for this year. And I’m excited about that. Yay! Thank you CERC for letting me do that! Because I’m pretty sure that you know, it’s not common to have churches that want to, or allow for that amount or quality of teaching. Sometimes we just say right, let’s just keep people happy, you know let’s just celebrate Christmas and give tons of presents and don’t need to teach so much, don’t be too stressed about it? But I’m really thankful and I’m sure that’s just the way it should be that you know a church of God can say, “let’s really celebrate Christmas with the theological truths,” and give it to them as best as you can, as easy, as fun, as accessible but still trying not to compromise, which is really a theme of our church. That’s just what we are trying to do in any ministry not just kids, so thank you God for CERC and yeah, I think seminary education is going to well, help me, although in the initial stages, I’m sure, like in my recent experience it has made it a lot tougher and yeah I’m expecting that that’s going to be the case for a while. I feel a bit rigid, lack of confidence a little bit, because there are so many possibilities now, compared to last time where I was like “just say only” because that’s all I knew! It wasn’t like I was completely incorrect but maybe imprecise at many points or lacking depth of knowledge and knowing what else could be said, that definitely influenced the way I say things and what I said. Stuff like that. Sorry if I’m rambling, but you get me.
Dan: I feel like I’m seeing the same Van back but with more depth.
Josh: Yeah, that’s awesome!