I had been given every extension the school could give but I had struggled to finish my final project for my Fuller Doctor of Ministry (DMin) programme. My last submission was deemed not of doctoral standard and I had no more time. They understood the struggles I had — my first wife had battled cancer and subsequently passed away; I had a difficult second marriage which subsequently broke down; I was a single parent; then my father’s health failed and he passed away; and I was scrambling to rebuild my life and ministry. They were sympathetic. They said I had fought the good fight, but they could not give me any more time. Another setback in my life…
However, since I had not applied my courses at Fuller to any degree, I could apply 50 percent of my course work to a similar programme in another school. I was thinking of what school to apply to, in another attempt at completing a DMin programme. I wasn’t fixated on the need to have a doctorate but I had been in ministry for some time and wanted a structured programme to retool myself for my work going forward. I was no scholar but the DMin was a doctorate that focused on the practice of ministry. And with so much sadness in my life I was looking forward to completing the programme.
I subsequently received an email from Fuller that said that they were aware of the circumstances and gave me another three months to finish my final project. I was very surprised. I later discovered that my mentor, W. Ward Gasque, had gone to bat for me. He had written to the president of Fuller who had been his classmate in seminary and appealed on my behalf. Later he told me that he knew I could do the work if I had a bit more time and he was disgusted with the thought of my wasting time and money to begin my programme afresh in another school. By God’s grace and with the help of a certain Bernice Lee, I managed to finish my final project and obtained my degree.
I share this memory of my friend and mentor W. Ward Gasque to honour him. He passed away on December 29, 2020. He was 81 years old.
The above is only one of many instances when he had “gone to bat” for me. I had first gotten to know Ward when he guided the writing of my ThM thesis when I was at Regent. I was working in the area of the New Testament and he was a New Testament scholar. Most of our consultations took place over pizza, cider, and Spumoni ice cream. I went away from such consultations “well fed” and suffering from food coma. Under his guidance and encouragement, I finished the thesis. He also encouraged me to write and publish, which I did later in life.
He also had a great sense of humour. When I left Vancouver to return to Malaysia, he passed me a note and said that it contained a special Bible verse for me but I was to read the note only when I was on board the plane. I was excited to learn what special biblical wisdom my mentor had for me. When I read the note, it said 1 Timothy 5:23 which included the suggestion to drink a little wine for the sake of my stomach. I did.
He and his wife Laurel loved me generously through the years. When Bernice and I were on our honeymoon in North America he arranged for most of our accommodation, including a few nights in a beautiful hotel in Victoria (Vancouver Island). He challenged me when he thought I was dwelling too much in the past and in self-pity. He opened up doors for ministry for me, especially in Canada. He and Laurel were always looking for ways to support me and my work. I owe him and Laurel big time in so many ways and for so many reasons. Bernice and I were delighted that we could honour him by helping to publish his festschrift which was presented to him on his 75th birthday, Serving God’s Community.
His legacy in my life include:
- the key role of Scripture for life and ministry;
- empowering and equipping the laity for ministry;
- recovering the proper role of women in ministry; and
- the centrality of relationships in spiritual formation.
(From Laurel we were challenged to have a proper view of the arts in the life of God’s people.)
I have long been aware that we are who we are because of people who have invested in us as we journey on in life. Who are your mentors? Who went to bat for you? I suggest that you list down their names and do two things. One, thank them if they are still around. Most mentors don’t invest in people for the thanks they will get but it gives them great joy to know they have blessed those they have tried to help. Two, pass it forward. Look for opportunities to walk with people to help them be their best. I am grateful when someone tells me that my involvement in their lives was instrumental in their growth. But then I learnt from the best.
So goodbye Ward, my mentor, my friend. Vancouver will not be the same next time I visit. I will miss you even as I know you are now in a place where you are truly alive. Thank you. Till we meet again.