43307600He was one of my lecturers at Regent College (Vancouver). A pastor of many years experience, he led a key church in town. He was about twice my age. And he invited me for lunch at the faculty club.

As we chatted I had the strangest feelings. Here I was, a kid of 28, in seminary to prepare for church ministry. And there he was, a senior minister. But as we talked it became clear that he treated me as an equal. He took my ideas seriously. He took me seriously.

If you are from the West, you may be wondering what is the big deal here. Well, just think of all the kung fu movies you have seen. If you have seen any, you would know that in Asia, there is a big gulf between sensei and disciple, teacher and pupil.

Pupils are to accord every respect and deference to their teachers. I suspect that this happens because of the influence of Confucian culture, which is inherently hierarchical. Therefore, the fact that a senior faculty member would treat me as an equal blew me away.

I knew I wasn’t his equal. I knew that he had eaten more salt than I had eaten rice. (More ketchup than I had eaten fries?) The experience of being treated as a person, of being taken seriously, was very empowering. It made me want very much to be all that I could be. I wanted to be what I was being treated.

It has been almost twenty years since I graduated from Regent. But such encounters with some of my Regent professors have left their mark on me. As I think back on those encounters at this point of my life, I begin to understand what the professors were doing. They saw me in terms of what I could be and not just in terms of what I was. Perhaps the exchange was a bit more sophisticated. They saw what I could be in what I was.

In this regard I can now better understand why Barnabas treated John Mark the way he did in Acts 15:36-41. The true humanity of the apostles was on display here as we see Paul and Barnabas having a serious quarrel. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with him and Paul on their next mission trip. Paul said no because John Mark had let them down before. I am sure both Paul and Barnabas had good reasons for their respective decisions.

Paul saw John Mark as he was. But Barnabas saw John Mark in terms of what he could be. As it turns out, Barnabas’ decision helped John Mark to develop and grow so that later, even Paul acknowledged his worth (see Colossians 4:10 and 2 Timothy 4:11).

In a world that is moving increasingly faster, we often have to size up people quickly. In doing so it is easier to judge a person on the basis of what he or she is. And was. It is harder to take the longer view of seeing a person in terms of what he or she could be.

But none of us come ready made. We all start out as unrealized potential that takes a lifetime to unpack. We all need Barnabas’ who will see us and treat us in light of our potential if we are to grow into that potential. We need folks who will not view us purely from the perspective of our mistakes but from the perspective of what we can be.

Unfortunately an increasingly competitive and fast moving world gives little encouragement for such a grace. If people do not shape up quickly they are written off. This is a sad paradox because an increasingly complex and needy world actually needs more creative and mature people in every sphere of human endeavour. But often, we first encounter such people as rough diamonds.

Therefore I think that this is one of those matters where Christians of all ages, and at all stations of life, must choose to treat people Christianly. It means a deliberate decision to treat people redemptively and developmentally.

There will be those who foolishly take advantage of our grace. There will be times that, in spite of our best intentions, we find that we have been casting pearls before swine.

But there are also many John Marks out there who need time and forgiveness and encouragement to be all that they can be. There are many whose best moments come later in their lives. It is just plain foolishness and sheer waste to write such people off.

Therefore I pray that you will have some Barnabas’ in your life. I pray that you will choose to be one to others.

When people ask me why I seem to have some success in working with young adults, I reply that there really is no secret method. I just love my friends and treat them as my equals and my betters. Because they are.

Just one of the lessons I learned many years ago, at my lunches at the faculty club.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan