Reflections on My Life Journey & Experience in Hong Kong and DSCCC

Article—Issue 23 (April, 2018)

Chananporn “Oan” Jaisaodee
McGilvary College of Divinity (MCD), Payap University (PYU)

Greetings. May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My name is Chananporn “Oan” Jaisaodee. I am a faculty member of McGilvary College of Divinity (MCD), Payap University (PYU), located in Chiang Mai, the Northern province of Thailand. I teach courses in the field of Christian education and its related subjects. Besides teaching fulltime at MCD, I also serve in a pastoral ministry at Nong Bua Sam church, a local church in a small village in Chiang Mai.

By God’s grace and the support of so many people, I was blessed to receive theological education from both Thailand and the United States. I obtained a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and a Bachelor of Theology (B.A. & B.Th.) and a Master of Divinity (M. Div.) from the McGilvary College of Divinity. I received a Master of Arts in Christian Education (MACE) from Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education (Union-PSCE) and earned a Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) and a Ph.D. in Practical Theology with an emphasis on Christian Education from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Through my theological education and training, I was introduced to a new way of thinking about practical theology. First of all, practical theology is not applied theology or the study of theology for the purpose of applying it to real life. Instead, practical theology is a form of theological reflection and interpretation that is grounded in the life of the church. It explores and shapes theories and practices that aim for social transformation.

This process takes place when people pay attention to what is going on around them, are involved in social issues, interpret and reflect on their particular situations to discern what God requires them to do, and come up with concrete responses to the situations. Without a doubt, practical theology is inherently interdisciplinary, bringing theology into conversation with other fields. It is an area or discipline of theology whose subject matter is Christian practice and whose purpose is to bring theological criteria to bear on contemporary situations and realms of individual and social action.

Living in a country that has a small number of Christians and is still deeply rooted in patriarchal culture, I have felt God charging me with the responsibility to advocate for Thai women and to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ to others. I am particularly interested in the role of the church in providing guidance for the transformation of gender roles in Thai society. I would also like to encourage the Thai church to promote equal companionship between men and women and explore some possible actions to help transform gender practices in Thai society and the church community.

My greatest passion is to strengthen Thai Christians, especially Thai Christian women, in their spiritual formation. Because spiritual or faith formation is always connected to the lives of people and the community in which they are a part, I would like to encourage the Thai church to empower women in their struggles, provide a safe space for them to speak out, enable them to share their life stories, and assist them in deepening their relationship with God. This passion and interest emerged out of and was inspired by my belief that being a Christian is not about choosing a religious belief but about choosing a way of living—a Christian life. It is the way of living that follows what Jesus Christ did—putting God’s love into actions.

My participation in the 2017-2018 United Board Fellows Program has led me to Hong Kong. This program is arranged by the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia to prepare mid-career faculty and administrators for future leadership in their home universities and colleges in Asia. I have been blessed to be one among twenty Fellows from the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Thailand, South Korea, PR China, Vietnam, and Taiwan, chosen to participate in the program. Over the course of the program year, Fellows attend a three-week intensive Summer Institute at Harvard University in the United States in July 2017; a two-to-four-month placement at an Asian higher education; and a one-week leadership seminar in Asia in June 2018.

I was very pleased to be informed by the United Board that my Asia Placement would take place in Hong Kong at Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) from mid September to early December 2017, and since my academic field is practical theology, the United Board has paired me up with the Divinity School of Chung Chi College (DSCCC). I have been very thankful for Prof. Simon Kwan, who has generously agreed to serve as my mentor during my placement.

My main goal for my learning during the three-month Asia Placement was to craft and develop my own leadership skills. The topics or areas that I was particularly interested in learning about were whole person education, curriculum design and development, teaching and administration, and leadership and management skills. I also wanted to observe the academic and community life of the university, as well as explore and participate in other learning opportunities, such as classes, public lectures, campus and community events, and dialogues.

By the help and supervision of my mentor, Prof. Kwan, I was able to connect and set up interviews with key administrators or staff in the Divinity School, Chung Chi College, and also Chinese University of Hong Kong. Through my interviews and interactions with various people, I gained knowledge and broadened my understanding in areas such as higher education management and leadership, academic departments, admissions, quality assurance and teaching learning enhancement, student services and student life, academic research, international affairs, institutional advancement, and university leadership.

Through my interviews, observation, and gathering of information, I see the importance of higher education institutions implementing whole person education. After all, the main task for university and college education is to develop our students as whole beings. Leaders and teachers must not forget that education is more than just providing students with professional knowledge. We must aim to foster spiritual, intellectual, humane social integrity, perseverance, and a sense of responsibility for themselves and others.

What I learned and gained from participating in the community life of DSCCC and sharing experiences with some faculty members, administrative staff, and students has reinforced my vision in doing theological education in Asia, which emphasizes that theological education is a form of faith formation. To do theological education, we must always keep in mind that we must not make a claim to know God completely and to provide answers to every question. Instead, we must give room for students to ask questions and ponder those questions together. Furthermore, in addition to fostering critical thinking and theological reflection in students, we must expose our students to Asian sources of wisdom, cultures, and religions, and encourage them to be in dialogue with one another and with people from other faiths.

As a form of faith formation, theological education acknowledges a collaborative divine-human interaction. The teaching ministry of the church and seminary must encourage, form, re-form, and enable people to live a life of faith in response to what the triune God has done, is doing, and will do. We, church leaders and seminary educators, must provide teaching that helps individuals become sensitive to and cooperative with the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives and discern the gospel they are called to embody, as followers of Christ, in their own time and place.

The United Board Fellows Program has given me exceptional opportunities to be equipped to be a better educator and leader in my own context. I am confident that my placement at DSCCC, CHUK plays an important role in equipping me for my teaching ministry and future service at MCD and PYU. Participation in this program also allows me to seek opportunities to build networks and establish future collaborations with DSCCC, CUHK and others institutions, as well as local churches in Hong Kong.

I feel blessed to have had this time of learning and exposure in Hong Kong. To me, Hong Kong is a vibrant and fascinating city with so much to offer. It has a certain charm to it, a combination of old and new, amazing architecture and structures, beautiful natural scenery, a great diversity of people, an outstanding education system, and wonderful resources in religious and cultural studies. Hong Kong embraces an excellent world-class literary festival, a topnotch Arts festival, many cultural and educational activities, concerts, theatre, and sporting events. I think that’s what makes Hong Kong special. I am also impressed with the public transportation and security systems in Hong Kong. It is probably one of the safest cities in the world. Moreover, the people of Hong Kong are very friendly and helpful.

I was touched by the kindness and hospitality of many people in DSCCC. I am thankful for Dr. Tobias Brander who graciously picked me up at the airport and welcomed me to his home. He and his family have made me feel at home right from the start. I am grateful for my mentor, Prof. Simon Kwan, who warmly welcomed me and gave me a helpful introduction to CUHK and DSCCC. Within the first few days of my arrival, I was able to find my way around the campus by the kind assistance of the United Board staff and DSCCC administrative personnel, as well as through the CUHK Mobile application, which provides campus information and latest news to students, staff, alumni and visiting guests.

I cherish all of the conversations, meals, and fellowship times that I shared with everyone here at DSCCC. Words cannot explain how much I appreciate the friendships, encouragement, sharing of experiences, and kind support that I received from many people during my stay in Hong Kong. Thank you very much for showing God’s love to me in many ways, and for being such blessings in my life.

My heartfelt thanks and gratitude go to the United Board of Higher Education in Asia for providing me with this great opportunity of learning. I am grateful for the DSCCC community for warmly welcoming me into the family, providing an educational and supportive environment for me, and allowing me to share my reflections in this newsletter.

Even though my Asia Placement in Hong Kong has ended, the friendships and wonderful memories that were built here will always remain closely in my heart. As I continue to learn, develop, and discern what God has in store for me, I hope and pray for future collaboration between DSCCC and MCD. May God bless you and your ministry abundantly.