In 32 years of ministry, this is the first time that I have had the opportunity to apply for a sabbatical leave. In July of last year, 2011, I completed 7 years of ministry with ABCNJ. The number “7” is the symbolic biblical basis of the church’s tradition of recognizing the significance of Sabbath in our ecclesiastical life. This underlies the prescription in the Torah for the year of Jubilee, the end of seven cycles of seven years (49th year); or the shmita, known also as the “Sabbatical Year”, the end of the seven-year agricultural cycle when the land is laid fallow and “rested”, as it were; or the creation story proclaiming that on the 7th day, God “rested” and declared the day “holy.” For this opportunity I am deeply grateful to Rev. Dr. Lee B. Spitzer, executive minister and senior regional pastor, and the Personnel Committee of ABCNJ for their support and encouragement.
I am envisioning this sabbatical leave to be a time of study, teaching, spiritual and personal renewal, “listening” and discernment. I aim to accomplish these goals within the larger context of offering myself in service to others, and in so doing clarify and renew my call and vocation in ministry. After some considered thought around my staff responsibilities and the needs of the region, I am spreading my sabbatical leave across two successive years, in order to cut its length (four months) and minimize overload on the other full-time regional pastors who will be left covering work responsibilities during my absence.
The first part is this year, 2012, during the months of July and August. The second part is next year, 2013, also during the months of July and August. So this year's sabbatical will constitute the following:
- I will be spending the month of July teaching and studying at Central Philippines University (CPU) in Iloilo City, primarily in its School of Theology. I will also be working with the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches (CPBC), also headquartered in Iloilo City. During my time there in the region, I will also be engaging in dialogue with CPBC national staff, sharing experiences, insights and hopes around common ministries, and learning from their wisdom gained from living out their discipleship in their particular context. I will be conducting seminars and workshops for CPBC pastors in Iloilo City, the provinces of Aklan and Capiz. I will also be doing the same for students at the Convention Baptist Bible College (CBBC) and pastors in Bacolod City, located on Negros Island two hours by ferry from Iloilo City (see map on right).
CPU is one of the historic institutional legacies of American Baptist missionary work in the Philippines, and the first Baptist university in the country. It is the second American private university to be established in all of Asia. It was first established by ABCUSA missionaries in 1905 as a vocational and industrial school for orphan boys. It is now one of the premier and largest universities in the country with a student population of over 12,000. It is affiliated with CPBC.
The CPBC is ABCUSA’s missionary denominational “offspring”, having been formed in 1935 by Filipino pastors and leaders brought to the Baptist faith through the ministries of ABCUSA missionaries. It is composed of over 800 churches, and a membership exceeding 106,000. As a fourth generation Filipino Baptist, the CPBC is my spiritual home.
A second major component of this July leave will be a rendezvous in Iloilo City with a mission team from our our own ABCNJ regional ministry staff team! The ABCNJ staff team was invited to lead the annual Christ Emphasis Week (CEW) from July 16-20, 2012. This is a major event in the life of CPU. Christ Emphasis Week or CEW is a one week event in Central Philippine University every semester where students attend evangelistic convocations. In that week, class periods are shortened in favor of a two-hour convocations, one in the morning and another in the afternoon for college/community. The high school convocations are held at first period in the morning daily, and elementary in the afternoon.
The ABCNJ staff team who volunteered to join this mission opportunity are: Rev. Dr. Lee B. Spitzer; Rev. Sue Royle and her daughter Katie, who has been heavily involved with her in their mission projects in Haiti; Rev. Vernl Mattson; Rev. Dr. Frank Reeder; and Dr. Karen Jackson-Weaver. In sum, ABCNJ will be pastors to the entire CPU student body of over 12,000 students for the entire week! While there, the ABCNJ team will also be conducting an all-day joint pastors' conference for the pastors of Iloilo and the province of Antique. They will be visiting other major institutions related to the ministries of CPBC and CPU. Pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us into exciting mission partnerships in the future!
- The second component of my 2012 sabbatical is to spend a time of study and retreat at the Sider Center, with the Evangelicals for Social Action, based out of Palmer Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Named after renowned American theologian and social activist, Ron Sider, the Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy was established by Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University to promote holistic ministry and faithful public engagement. Through Evangelicals for Social Action, a think-tank founded by Dr. Sider which seeks to develop biblical solutions to social and economic problems, it offers coaching and materials on holistic ministry for congregations, opportunities to enable Christ-shaped public policy, holistic ministry and culture, conferences, and extended dialogues. The Center educates and equips leaders to do holistic ministry, work for social transformation and challenge others to do the same.
I will have the privilege of working personally with Dr. Ron Sider himself and his associate, Dr. Al Tizon, who heads the Word & Deed Network, ESA’s program of holistic ministry in and through local congregations, in developing a training module for our ABCNJ congregations in the area of missional holistic ministry and social engagement.
Dr. Spitzer and Rev. Mattson will cover the pastoral and congregational needs that I traditionally serve. I will give of myself fully to my sabbatical goals, joyfully mindful that I am being buoyed by your prayers!