As I have moved with my family for this semester from Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois, United States, to Southeast Asia Bible Seminary (Seminari Alkitab Asia Tenggara, or SAAT), in Malang, Java, Indonesia, I have had the privilege of participating in the start of a new semester in an institution new to me. In this post, I will briefly reflect on the good beginnings to the spring 2018 semester I have encountered already at SAAT (pronounced as a single word with two syllables, by the way: Sah-aht). In particular, I want to share my initial impressions of what kind of institution SAAT is based on my experience of the seminary’s three (yes, three!) convocation ceremonies which were attended by all students, staff, and faculty on the Friday and Saturday before classes began.
While I do not presume to know very much yet about this community, these three ceremonies have convinced me that SAAT is intentional about beginning well and about crafting their beginnings to communicate their institutional identity. To me, the following five characteristics of SAAT were clearly evident through their convocation ceremonies.
- SAAT is an institution grounded in Christian worship and in the Bible. Not only does SAAT begin the semester with three convocations, but these three convocations are in fact services of Christian worship filled with biblical proclamation and teaching. SAAT begins well by beginning with the worship of God and the Word of God: in songs, in prayers, in Scripture reading, in preaching. The seminary clearly communicates its identity as a worshiping community that proclaims biblical teaching.
- SAAT is an institution that connects worship and Bible study with academic study. As a seminary, it is natural that SAAT focuses on worship and Bible study. But SAAT also connects such worship and Bible study with academic practices and disciplines. This was particularly evident in the sermons, each by a different member of the faculty, each very different in style, and each clearly reflecting the academic discipline of the person speaking. In addition, at several points in the convocations, those leading specifically linked points of worship or biblical teaching with the work the students, staff, and faculty are preparing to take up in the new academic semester.
- SAAT is an institution that receives the gifts of its campus community. SAAT’s convocations featured a large number of students, staff, and faculty fulfilling many different roles, from preaching to leading music to praying to translating to operating audio-visual equipment to reading Scripture. The convocation ceremonies grew out of this particular community and the gifts it holds in the persons who make up the community.
- SAAT is an institution that values each member of the community. Such receiving of the community’s gifts is one way SAAT communicates how it values each member of the community: each person is gifted, and each is encouraged to share those gifts. Another tangible way the seminary communicates that it values each person is that each ceremony is presented in both Indonesian and Mandarin. All PowerPoint slides are in both languages, and all spoken word is offered in both Indonesian and Mandarin. The dual language of the ceremonies welcomes the two student populations at the seminary: the majority of the students are Indonesian, but the seminary also offers a track in Mandarin for students from China.
- SAAT is an institution that sends its students out for service to the church and the world. SAAT is a tight-knit community, with most of its students and many of its faculty living on campus. In many ways, SAAT calls its students to a secluded place so they can focus on their studies and on their Christian commitments. As a seminary, SAAT is primarily focused on training pastors for churches in Indonesia and China. Through its programs in theology, music, and counseling, it similarly seeks to train students for other roles in Christian ministry. And then it sends them out, first to year-long internships and then to a life of Christian ministry. And it sends them out with encouragement, prayer, and blessing: in the first convocation, the students departing for their internships were called to stage and prayed over by individual faculty members and by the whole community.
After being here just a few days, I can attest that SAAT begins its semesters well. And by intentionally beginning well, SAAT reminds itself what kind of institution it has been and wants to be.
As I reflected on SAAT’s beginnings this semester, the words of Trinity Christian College’s founders come to my mind, words proclaimed in 1956 as they dreamed about the college that would be Trinity: “If we begin with Christ and continue with Christ, we have the assurance that we will be blessed” (https://www.trnty.edu/about-us/history-of-the-college/). May we likewise begin well, and begin with Christ, in each task we undertake.