29 Sep Integrating our Christian Identities in Public Education
It is often said that the true impact of CF can only be seen in the way students lead their lives upon graduation. Here are the stories of two graduates who, having grasped their Christian identity in an integral perspective in their CF days, chose the road less travelled in their journeys as teachers in public education.
Having grown up in a Christian family and attending church from a young age, I had accumulated much ‘head knowledge’ by the time I entered university. Being in CVCF helped me to apply what I professed to know and built up my personal convictions. I remember my staffworker, Loe Joo, who constantly challenged me to see my Christian identity as my primary identity on campus, more so than a student. This question of identity has since continued to stay with me.
My biggest growth in CVCF occurred during my time in the Exco. There was a great sense of responsibility as we had real autonomy as student leaders. Each decision we made was carefully weighed. I learnt from such decision-making that there was no ‘sitting on the fence’ – we cannot simply follow the crowd, but had to instead decide whether we want to follow the way of Jesus or not.
These lessons then influenced my teaching career as I had to ask myself the same questions of identity and purpose. When presented with a choice to apply for an academically higher-achieving school or a lower-achieving one, I chose the latter. I saw that to be the more faithful option. Consequently, upon my assignment to a neighbourhood school, I was given a misbehaving, academically-weak class, which I struggled very much to teach.
However, I remembered that as a Christian teacher, my mission was to teach, impact, and influence my students positively. At the encouragement of another Christian teacher, I began to work at building relationships with my students, then understand and engage them as individuals. This meant some sacrifice, as my workdays were significantly longer than those of my colleagues in the ‘good’ schools. But I saw it as my mission for that year: to love my students and to help them see purpose in life. My formation in CVCF helped me to understand that.
Elijah Ong served in the NUS Chinese Varsity Christian Fellowship (CVCF) Exco in 2007/8 and as the chairperson in 2008/9.
In my first year in VCF, the focus of the curriculum was ‘integral mission’. It was the first time VCF had selected this as its focus. I remember significant confusion in my Contact Group (CG) as we discussed this concept in our Bible studies. It significantly impacted me, though. I was still a young Christian, having only been one for about two years. I became aware of how my understanding of the gospel was incomplete. Going through the Fellowship Teachings and the CG Bible studies helped me see that the gospel needed to interact with my studies and with real human communities around us. In other words, I had to live out the gospel and not confine it to only certain parts of my life.
The word ‘integral’ in integral mission can have two senses. The first is that of combining one thing together with another. The second is that of having integrity, to be consistent in both what we preach and what we do. These viewpoints about integral mission were what I took away that year.
There are several ways in which this has shaped my teaching career. While training to be a teacher in NIE, I was presented with a choice between two schools of polar academic quality. I believed that choosing the academically-poorer school would more faithfully integrate my life’s values and my service to God within my career. I committed to reach out to the students who needed more support. Accordingly, I have been spending much time helping my students with various socio-emotional issues.
I also strived to inculcate in my classrooms a sense of equality between me and my students in our social interactions (without erasing professional boundaries). Some of these students have never had the experience of interacting equally with a person in authority. They tend to find themselves in a disadvantaged position, perpetually on the receiving end of discipline. I would say that my effort to relate differently to them has made a difference in their socio-emotional well-being. Suffice to say, the lessons I learnt from wrestling with integral mission made an impact not only upon my choices, but the people around me.
Kwan Qi Xiang served two terms in the NUS VCF Exco, the first as Teaching and Programmes Coordinator in 2011/12, and as the chairperson in 2012/13.