One Heart, One Mind – An Interview with Rev Dr Michael Chu, Assistant Professor of Practical Studies
Widely known by his abbreviated Chinese name “Chu Mook”, Rev Michael Chu has actually earned a new nickname “Long Ma Fung” just less than a year after returning to his alma mater, when students could not help associating his name with the world’s highest “Mount Everest” (note: “Chu Mook” rhymes with the first part of the Chinese translation of “Mount Everest”).
After graduating from CGST in 1992, Pastor Chu went to Australia to serve at a local church for 25 years before returning to Hong Kong in 2017 and joining the faculty team in Practical Studies at CGST. He shared candidly that this move felt a bit like uprooting his entire life because after all, it was hard to leave the co-workers who had experienced all the ups and downs with him and to give up the friendship that had existed from the moment he landed in Australia, “They knew very well what my strengths and weaknesses were, and had always complemented me. They had undoubtedly added so much joy in my pastoral ministry! But it had been 25 years, and I felt like I had exhausted all my talents [laugh]. If I had to force myself to stay, I am afraid I would end up stifling the growth of the church. On the other hand, my departure would allow my successor to have a lot more freedom to do his job, which I think is good.”
Having left his home town for many years, he has decided to return to it. This was driven by mixed emotion: He wants to seize the opportunity to serve the church in Hong Kong while he is not too old. And more importantly, he longs to share his years of pastoral ministry experience with the younger generation, hoping to inspire them to have compassion for their own pastoral ministry, “It is this wish that urges me to come back.” However, to actually fall in love with pastoral duties in this day and age is a daunting task with huge challenges, “I'm not too worried about it. But the students are coping with the macro environment, so they may need to face criticisms from outside and be more conscious of the circumstances. Nonetheless, you may also look at it from a different perspective, as this would in fact be able to test how resolute they are as far as “loving the church” and “loving pastoral ministry” are concerned!”
One Heart –Wishing to Return Home
The pace of life in Australia has accelerated in recent years. However, compared to Hong Kong, Australia is still easily being left in the dust. Pastor Chu laughed, “It’s not even close! If you really want to be on par with Hong Kong, it would be very tiring!” Indeed, Hong Kong is responding to demands and bombarding everyone with information at such an enormous speed on a daily basis: Going after the news, commentaries, social topics and academic excellence. “My job is very different today. I used to teach the Bible in the church. Now I have to teach others how to teach the Bible. It is one thing when you are preaching on your behalf. But when it comes to teaching others to preach, you would need to regroup and adjust your thinking, which is definitely way more challenging!” He described himself as a “junior” with “seniority”. In CGST faculty team, he is an older member with the least experience, “But this is a good thing because I get to learn from the younger teachers when interacting with them. Thanks to their acceptance and patience, I was able to quickly blend into the group.”
If you have ever seen how totally involved Pastor Chu was when he was jumping rope with the students, you would be convinced that no factors such as age, time and geographical distance can cause any gap that is too huge for him to bridge: “As long as these are the people the Lord entrusts me with, I can always engage with them no matter what their age or backgrounds are. My years in the pastoral ministry have trained me well in this regard.” And this brought him back to his memories of Australia, and the hard lessons learned during the first few years there: “I was then in Australia by myself. It was not easy to get in touch with teachers and friends from CGST, and I did feel lonely. So when I was faced with any interpersonal conflicts and hardships in pastoral duties, I would force myself to learn, hoping to unravel the reasons through observing, listening and thinking carefully. And on top of these, I would remind myself of the importance of being understanding. This is because an understanding attitude changes everything! During those years, I had spent quite some time thinking about this.” But it was not his mental toughness or fearless mind that motivated him to take the first step to make peace and resolve conflicts. He did it all with just one wish on his mind: “I am a timid person by nature. My English was not even fluent at the time. However, since God put us together as coworkers, He would not want to see us sadly divided and fall apart. By putting us together, He expected us to work it out in harmony with mutual trust. I think maybe it was this belief that had led me to become a peacemaker without even knowing it.”
One Mind – Committed to Cross the Boundary
Pastor Chu is well aware that the sky isn’t always blue in our interpersonal relationships. We are bound to have occasional conflicts and people do make mistakes. “How can we be flawless all the time when dealing with others? Sometimes we stumble and fall. Other times it is simply due to our own differences. The question is whether or not we are willing to give others a chance to gracefully back out of the situation. Or even give them the benefit of the doubt?” When we train ourselves to think like this, we can learn to be more forgiving and gracious. When we conclude that someone is a bad person, that he is “hopeless” and “unapproachable”, we are essentially saying, “I am not able to resolve or overcome our differences.” As Pastor Chu deeply believes, we need to give the new leaders room to grow and even make mistakes, so they can learn and reflect upon their own mistakes, and eventually collaborate with people who are different from them. This is what we need to do to build up the new generation, and is consistent with the concept of Reflective Collaborators (RC) introduced by the newly reformed curriculum CGST launched this year.
It takes time, however, to cultivate this kind of mind and ability, and our time at school is fleeting. Pasto Chu said with a witty smile, “I found this amusing! Students of different ages and backgrounds are spending three years together here. This is in itself a platform for them to learn to get along with all kinds of distinct personalities. You don't need to wait to learn it in the future!” But in order for RC to be implemented successfully, he believes the students must first be prepared in their mind to “come and learn to collaborate”, “This is because the presumption of the concept of collaboration is the fact that we are all different.” And the other key factor is the teachers, “We also need to lead by examples of harmonious collaboration. When the students see it and find it admirable, they will naturally want to replicate it. This ripple effect allows the teachers to influence their students, who in turn will influence the congregation they will serve in the future.”
While this lesson cannot be fully learned and accomplished overnight, what we do now is just sowing, preparing the soil and hoping to open the door for them to learn. Pastor Chu hopes that when the students become alumni, they will continue to practice in their ministry field, knowing that they will always have the support of their CGST community, “I have spent a quarter of a century on this lesson. Am I done yet? No! I am still learning as I haven’t mastered it. I think that’s why God has brought me back here at CGST so I can keep learning.”