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Jun Tan

Whitley helped me on my faith journey because it gave me permission to explore alternative ways of understanding who/what God is, what the bible says, and what faith is about. Others have said ‘Whitley does not tell you what to think, but it helps you to learn how to think’. This was my experience. I remember Keith Dyer telling his class that he didn’t mind at all if he received an essay that expressed a view that he didn’t share – but if it was well thought through, using sound exegetical methods, you’d get a good grade.

Our stage of life is ‘the empty nest’ but this is not accurate.

While we only have one child and he’s working overseas, the nest is occupied by our two mothers. With two mothers there is lots of fun. We are never short of stimulation!

My name is Jun Tan and I am the senior pastor at Balwyn Baptist Church, in Victoria. I studied a Master of Theology at Whitley, was ordained in 2013 and finished my degree in 2016. I am now also an adjunct lecturer at Whitley, in the STFE unit. I am married to Xu Ping Liu.

How did I come to be at Whitley in the first place? I already had a theology degree from another bible college and was the pastor of a Chinese Church. We were holding our services at a Baptist church and there came a point when our two congregations combined. I became the associate pastor. When I look back on it, it was more a marriage of convenience!

Then our (Chinese church) leadership said, ‘look we’ve gone through this whole process, but actually, we don’t know much about these Baptists’. It was decided that I would go and do the ordination program. So I was sent in as a spy to learn about them and report back!

There are two main memories I have from Whitley. The first taught me about grace. It was a Tuesday-morning small group gathering and I was going to do the Power Point slides for the worship songs.

I was usually very organised, however on this particular occasion I simply forgot about it. I couldn’t forgive myself. I was very embarrassed. Without me saying anything, my peers and the teaching staff could see from my face what had happened.

Immediately everyone responded with ‘what can we do’. Someone jumped on the internet to search for songs, and a faculty member printed out the music sheets from her office. The sheets were then handed out at the door when everyone arrived – as though it was planned that way.

That taught me about grace and to treat these things as opportunities to learn and grow together. I learned how to see mistakes, my own and that of others without judgement. I realised that ‘mistakes’ can offer opportunities to be helpful and to learn and respond in a way that is life giving.

The other memory is learning through case studies. Lived experiences of students who would bring a case study for us to look at. Something which happened in their ministry or in their life that stirred them.

They’d present what happened, what they were thinking and how we can read this situation. The whole group would then pose questions, challenges and share insights. And in the end we get new light into the situation!

In the past, I learned how to handle situations. How to teach people the Bible, how to solve a problem. But with case studies, I was taught how to read myself, how to find what God is working in my life, and how I can respond so God can bless others. Moreover, my life is being transformed in this process.

Surface things, like the colour of the skin and the culture that you are raised in, from a particular church, are all shallow. When we did life together in small groups, on a Tuesday morning, all of a sudden I discovered that deep down we are all the same. What connects us together is much stronger, much deeper than what separates us.

Whitley, and in particular former principal Frank Rees, really challenged my faith. They took me out of the castle where my faith was safely tucked away, and encouraged me to explore and find my own meaning, creating deeper faith foundations!

I tend to read non-Christian books! I like reading about people who are doing life, reflecting on them, and applying what I’ve learnt in the Bible. And seeing what God is doing in their life.

I also like walking and jogging, as well as going to parties – to people’s homes where we can enjoy a meal together!