March 7, 2010

Three Cups of Tea, Three Joyful Celebrations

Things get done over cups of tea in Asia—whether it is a social break between lectures, a time for faculty to strategize decisions, or a way to protract dinner conversation—the more tea together, the more relational capital is being built up. Normally an inveterate coffee drinker, I have enjoyed sharing tea with Myanmar friends as an expression of respect.

These last days have been filled with events to treasure for years to come. Saturday morning began early with travel to the MIT campus for commencement. The service is actually held in an open air hall on the adjoining Karen Baptist Theological Seminary campus. It was bustling with excitement as families had traveled long distances to see the 150 graduates receive their degrees. Colorful in its pageantry, the academic processional was long and dignified as we wound through the crowd pressing in on all sides to catch a glimpse of their treasured student. People spilled out of the hall into external seating, and many stood at the back of the hall.

The service was long—not because I was long-winded in my charge to the graduates; indeed, I was mercifully (some would say uncharacteristically) brief as I sketched the contours of faithful ministry. The length had to do with how much there was to celebrate. There were seven different degrees awarded; there was a brief address by a gifted young woman who drew from her Th.M. research on new imagery for God; there was wonderful music in abundance; and then there were all those graduates! A lusty rendition of “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations” concluded the service, and I was drawn back to my childhood mission education. How grateful I am for that heritage and the continuing learning of the shape of mission for our day.

A special reunion followed. A former student of mine at Southern Seminary, Pastor James Tial Dum, traveled for two days from the Chin State to greet me and take me and my colleagues to lunch following commencement. I had not seen him since May 1987, the day of his graduation. Leaving his wife and four little sons as well as his pastorate, he journeyed to Louisville to pursue his Master of Divinity. I remember his nimble mind and gentle spirit; most of all I remember his courage in undertaking this further preparation for ministry. He has been a distinguished leader in the Myanmar Baptist Convention in the ensuing years and is revered as a wise pastor.

MIT has a custom of hosting a banquet for the Board of Trustees and other honored guests the evening of commencement. It was a lovely occasion, a time to celebrate the completion of the academic year and the satisfaction of seeing students sent forth brimming with desire to serve. Once again, the Burmese hospitality overflowed as they made our group from Central welcome. More tea and more celebration concluded our joyful day.

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