Dr. George and Dr. Anne Harper are missionaries in the Philippines where they teach at Asia Graduate School of Theology – Philippines (AGST). George teaches church history and historical theology. Anne teaches courses on missions and spiritual formation.
George writes, “Culture shock is not just for missionaries anymore. In fact, if you have ever spent a few weeks in an unfamiliar part of the United States, you have probably had that experience yourself. That is a milder version of what our students from other Asian nations go through when they first get to Manila. Even in moving from one Asian nation to another, there are major cultural differences to be dealt with. For example, our students from Myanmar have never experienced life in a major urban center. They all comment on the dense crowds, the clogged streets, the constant cacophony, the dirt and grime, and the high prices.
“There is quite a large group of Burmese students in Manila studying at local theological institutions. Burmese culture is very tight-knit, so perhaps it is to be expected that these young people so far from home would do what they could to fill the void left by distant family and friends. The result is an urban variation on the life they have left behind, the close proximity allowing them to ‘bear one another’s burdens’ (Galatians 6:2). They also share the little they have in order to help newcomers weather the initial impact of culture shock. The AGST staff do their best to provide our students with an additional measure of support, offering a weekly Bible study and prayer time and regular parties to help build a sense of community.
“But one thing these students ultimately have to face on their own is researching, writing, and defending their thesis or dissertation. Even with that we do as much as we can to facilitate their work. We have recruited United States-based copy editors to help those whose written English is a little shaky. But in the end, their thesis or dissertation is theirs and theirs alone. At the defense that concludes the process, their readers will hold them responsible for every word on every page. This is unlike anything they have experienced before, and most of them find it quite daunting.
“I am working with several students who feel the pressure of the impending dissertation defense. A couple of them will graduate in March, I am pleased to report, but others have concluded that they need more time, anywhere from a month or two to half a year. One whose thesis seems especially promising has experienced a crisis of confidence and will be petitioning my committee for an extension of his program.
“I am looking forward to my Historical Theology 2 class, when I will help the students come to terms with a big chunk of material by Martin Luther. I appreciate Luther’s reminder that we work, not in order to earn God’s grace, but because that grace has empowered us for service.”