I am in the Malaysia Theological Seminary (STM) for a few days, to teach an intensive course on spiritual friendship and it made me think of old friends. STM was a school that made me feel welcomed and allowed me to work with them at a very difficult point in my life. I had made some serious mistakes and many in the Christian community were keeping me at arm’s length. I was desperate for every offering of acceptance and grace. STM gave me that. Ezra, the principal welcomed me warmly and the faculty included close friends like Sivin and Kar Yong. In fact, all the faculty and staff were friendly and welcoming. I made new friends here. Grateful for their care I looked forward to opportunities to minister here and I have had opportunities to do various things at STM — teach, lead retreats, and supervise theses, among others. I came to like their basic guest rooms because they were associated with my visits here, and the call of the minaret early in the morning felt like a good-morning welcome.
I haven’t visited STM for some time. They were going through transitions and there were the travel restrictions because of Covid. In that time, my mum passed on and that took a lot of attention as well. I did teach a few courses for them on zoom. But this is the first time in a long time that I have been back on the campus. Of course many things have changed. I can come back to the campus, but I can’t travel back 20 years in time. Ezra is no longer the principal. He and Kar Yong are now research fellows and are not always here. Sivin now serves as the director for Theology, Mission and Justice for the Lutheran World Federation and is based in Geneva. Nostalgia is memory and feelings, but it is not a place.
I have since made new friends here, including Elaine, Dean of postgraduate studies and a fellow Penangite, and Hai Yen, director of the English TEE programme. Spent a good time yesterday evening getting to know Siaw Fung, the present principal. Again, I felt warmly received. Various members of the staff and faculty have been taking me out for meals and I am really enjoying catching up with old friends and making new ones. Last night, I had dinner with Ezra. Among the things that connect us is a common birth date! It was so good reconnecting with my old friend. I took the opportunity to thank him (again) for his kindness and the kindness of the school when I really needed it. We then compared notes as to how we are following Christ at this chapter of our lives.
When we look back on our lives, various individuals and institutions stand out as having  had a major impact on us. I am glad to be able to put on record my debt to STM, both the STM of memory and the present STM.