history5Last Wednesday I had the privilege of speaking at the DTC (Discipleship Training Centre) chapel. I met an old friend there, Thomas John. He teaches some courses for them. It gave me the opportunity to thank him again for the critical role he played in my going to Regent College for my theological education.

Regent College was actually my second choice. The school that I applied to first, a school in the U.S., had turned me down. They said my references were very good but they didn’t think that, academically, I would be able to cope with the studies if I were to enrol in their school.

I had a degree in dentistry from the University of Singapore. Professional degrees in the University of Singapore, such as Law, Medicine and Dentistry, were graded on the basis of whether you were deemed competent to practice the profession. Many had passing grades, some had B’s. Very few had A’s. In contrast, American and Canadian liberal arts programmes tended to grade vey differently. If you were a good student and able to pursue graduate studies, your transcripts would have A’s and B’s. A simple passing grade would not be deemed as indicative of academic potential.

My grades in dental school weren’t that great. But I graduated with my Bachelor of Dentistry and had practised for three years before I began applying to seminaries. The admissions committee of the first school couldn’t interpret my transcript. They compared my grades to those of a typical North American undergraduate and my application was rejected.

What I didn’t know was that the admissions committee at Regent had also come to the same conclusion. They were about to send me my rejection letter as well. I can’t remember the details, but I believe the Senate of the school was meeting, and Thomas John, who was already a student at Regent, happened to be walking by. They called him in to get his help in interpreting the transcripts of those who had professional degrees from the University of Singapore. He explained to them the difference between professional degrees from the University of Singapore and the typical North American liberal arts programme. My grades were not good but they were not that bad either.

Regent accepted me. The four years in Regent not only prepared me for ministry, they prepared me for life. What the school didn’t tell me was that my acceptance was a conditional one. They would look at my suitability again after my first term. I had all A’s in my first term and I guess that was that. (I am fully aware that academic excellence in a theological school is no indication of spiritual maturity and readiness for ministry.)

I have often wondered what would have happened if Thomas had not been walking by when the Senate was considering the matter. Of course, kudos too to the Senate for going the extra mile to try to understand transcripts from a different educational system. I had no inkling of the drama that led to my acceptance at Regent. I found out the details — my original rejection, the Senate’s relooking at the issue, the key role that Thomas John played, my provisional acceptance — long after it had all happened.

It reinforced my conviction that we should live our lives in faith, doing the best we can through joys and disappointments, confident that the Lord is working behind the scenes whether we are aware of His work or not.

Recently my quiet time readings have been from Genesis and I am looking afresh at the life of Joseph. Here is what he says when he reveals himself to his brothers when they meet up later in life:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. (Genesis 45:4-7 NIV)

Joseph’s life had been marked by one horrendous injustice after another. But he had persevered, and now later in life he understands why he had to go through all the pain.

As I grow older, I appreciate more and more Soren Kierkegaard’s statement that: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Which means that, often, when we are going through times of pain and disappointment, we may not understand why, or what God is up to. But if we believe that God is the author of our lives and of history, we can continue to live our lives with courage and grace knowing that one day, on this side of heaven or on the other, things will be made clear.

We may be surprised that the times when God seemed to be absent, He was doing significant things behind the scenes. Like a Thomas John walking by at the exact moment when the Senate was meeting.