Sunday, July 24, 2011

MSPM: Another story of endless possibilities

(This message was delivered by my 17 year old daughter Dazen Dawn, on my behalf, during the Conferral Ceremony for Master of Socio Pastoral Ministries graduates on May 1, 2010 at Ajuy Christian Development Academy, Iloilo,Philippines. Still bedridden during the event, I only have a glimpse of the proceedings thru recorded video)

Today, we are witnesses to another story of endless possibilities. Overcoming the tests of times and circumstances, our pastors in North Iloilo and Negros will receive with joy and pride, without necessarily being boastful, their hard- earned certificates in today’s Conferral Ceremony. The choice of the date for this event, which happened to be Labor Day, was more circumstantial than intentional. However, viewed in the context of the long winding road trod by students and faculty to sustain the MSPM program, the date has become doubly significant. With gladness, we can shout on this Labor Day that our labour is not in vain, after all.

The biblical account of the feeding of the 5,000+ serves as inspiration to the MSPM story. Aware of the needs of the time, a boy offered whatever he has to respond to the call for service. He was not disturbed by overwhelming discrepancies and limitations, even criticisms. His voluntary spirit made a difference. Amidst reservations, if not downgrading of the modest offering, Jesus made use of what was available and another miracle happened. An inspiring story to remind us that our labor, no matter how small and simple, will never be in vain in the Lord. Let me stress this point because it appears that our past experiences of difficulties or disappointments have made us callous and apathetic for change, especially as far as organizational or institutional life is concerned. Sometimes, we cannot even start any good project or movement because we are already overpowered by the difficulties and perceived problems or impossibilities, even before we give it a try.

The MSPM Program has a foretaste of this experience. Since its start in 2007, some downgraded the voluntary effort while others already expressed skepticism of its sustainability, even before it is tested. Worse, there were those who consistently campaign against it when the program was well accepted by pastors, even to the extent of recruiting those already participating in the MSPM program to join the program they promote. In our response, we dared the critics to a debate whoever they are and wherever they want. We argue that MSPM has been designed with quality not inferior to what CPU offered in Master of Social Work program which was patterned to that of UP Diliman, yet friendly and affordable for pastors. The faculty are more than qualified. The only difference is compensation because in MSPM, we teach voluntarily, gaining the love and respect of pastors, not monetary profit.

Favorable conditions

Conglomeration of events have been favorable for the design of the MSPM program. A couple of us tried the distance education program of a state college in Iloilo for our doctoral degree which met once a month. Some were also teaching, once a week, in Korean seminary in Iloilo City which offered Master of Arts in Missiology. Moreover, we were inspired by the successful revival of the Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) program in CPU which produced the first graduate, after 30 years. We even opened an extension class with weekly meetings at Convention Baptist Bible College for Negros students. Those aforementioned favorable trends served as signals for us to entertain the questions: Why can’t we design similar approach for a graduate studies program for pastors? If it was successfully implemented in professional social work courses, why can’t we do the same for pastors? But, how?

My previous sad experience has also served its purpose. When elected as president of CBMA, I continued the term of my predecessor in the committee which was tasked to study and recommend to the CPBC Board cases of pastors undergoing graduate programs from other theological institutions. The arguments were overwhelming against recognizing the degrees from other schools not affiliated with the CPBC and related affiliations. The most that I could do at that time was raised the question: Can CPBC provide alternatives?

The break came when through the pastors’ support, I was elected in the CPBC Board in 2006 and chaired the Theological Education and Ministerial Concerns (TEMC) Committee. By divine guidance, the first document that caught my attention was the CPBC Strategic Plan for 2000-2010 which highlighted the TEMC program. Finding the missing link, I started advocating the program, trying to bridge the gap through voluntary involvement in its implementation. My wife also volunteered to teach in theological institutions in Negros to strengthen the TEMC program. Studying previous initiatives of various organizations related to continuing theological education, eventually the CPBC Unified Theological Education System (UNITES) was conceived and gradually implemented. Two breakthroughs were undertaken, namely: Formulation of Standardized Curriculum; and the MSPM program. From its humble beginning at NNBBC in July 2007, the program got its boost when Dr. Domingo Diel, Jr. suggested during one TEMC meeting to offer it to other theological institutions. Approved by the CPBC BOT on November 9, 2007, the program has become an integral part of the CPBC UNITES.

Peculiarities & Mechanics of MSPM

But why MSPM? As registered social worker and holder of master of social work, I can only offer a degree program within my area of specialization. My exposure to development work and community service has also shaped my holistic perspective. Likewise, pastors who were enrolled in Master of Social Work in CPU encouraged me to integrate social work courses in designing a masteral program for pastors. Comparing the curriculum of divinity and theology masteral programs with that of social work and other masteral programs, the relevance of MSPM appears convincing in terms of meeting the needs of pastors, its practicality and length of time for studies, as well as usefulness to their work in church and community.

The mission of the Master of Socio-Pastoral Ministries program is to prepare pastors for leadership roles in church, church-related institutions and community. Specifically, it is geared towards a healthy and balanced pastoral leadership in church and community services. For we have a holistic mission and ministry exemplified by our Lord and Master Teacher, Jesus, the Christ as he put into action the avowed mission in Luke 4:18-19.

Under the CPBC UNITES, MSPM classes are conducted in provincial centers by TEMC and CBMA. Participating theological institutions will grant the degree. Enrolment can be done simultaneously while attending classes or later. The program is student friendly and very affordable, with only P500 as payment per semester/ summer plus contribution for transportation expenses and food of the faculty for four semesters and two summers.

More than another story of endless possibilities

Today’ s event is not just another story of endless possibilities but also a tribute to those who believe in the cause. Like the little boy, they shared their respective contributions. Foremost, is our General Secretary,Rev. Job A. Santiago, who courageously provided the necessary support from the start to the finish, amidst pressures – the extent of which he only knows. For this, he deserves our applause for this legacy, which can be considered among the benchmarks of his administration to be looked upon by future generations that, as the CPBC celebrates its diamond year, it has initiated a program that produces the first MSPM graduates.

Secondly, my wife, who made the crucial decision to volunteer full time in implementing the TEMC program, whose commitment, labor and sacrifices are beyond comprehension which only few of us were able to appreciate –closed friends, Rev.Santiago, our maninays and maninoys and ihados included, apart from our children and the students who directly benefited from her voluntary endeavors. Of course, our volunteer faculty/lecturers for MSPM- ACDA Center, as follows: Dr. Lucy Catalogo, Atty. Nicias Alameda, Pastor Francis Neil Jalando-on, Pastor Elizer Geromiano, Rev, Joniel Howard Gico, Rev. Jerson Narciso, Dr. Melvin Mangana, Pastor Melchor Lariza and those in other provincial centers. Special mention to Dr. Domingo Diel, Jr., and other members of the Theological Education and Ministerial Concerns Committee, especially the heads of theological institutions at that time- Prof. Josita Alpha Jalando-on in CBBC; Prof. Ruth Valencia &Pastor Georem Gutierrez in SONBI; Pastor Stephen Gallenero in NNBBC-for their support. Pastor Gallenero took an extra mile, even the risks to continue the program amidst persecution. To all pastors and lay who have been praying for us. Lest I forget, Dr. Juanito Acanto for allowing me to implement the program during my term as director of the University Outreach Center, CPU.

Lastly, but not the least, the MSPM students - the important characters today, the survivors- who serve as our inspiration to tell the whole CPBC that the program is feasible. Without them, MSPM has never been materialized. They were able to sustain the momentum, sacrificing their free days and overcoming difficulties of time and finances. Of course, with the support of their respective families, church officers and members, and the administration of Ajuy Christian Development Academy and Ajuy Baptist Church that opened their doors to us.

Today’s event carries a very strong statement to the skeptics and critics, but good news to other pastors who also dream for an alternative continuing pastoral education, affordable but qualitative, without necessarily leaving their pastorate and families. Its message to the whole CPBC constituents is clear. Nothing is impossible if we only share. Our pastors can earn masteral degrees if we pool our resources together. The CPBC, with the help of our theological institutions and volunteer faculty – our pastors and lay leaders can liberalize the educational opportunities and improve the plight of the pastors. Because education is not an exclusive property of the privileged few. It is the right of every individual. Continuing quality education is the right of all pastors.

Of course, the program is not perfect. Just like any other new programs, it needs refinement and improvement. Undeniably, however, we made a breakthrough. A benchmark which no skeptic or critic can deny or take away. Whichever angle one looks at, no matter how dim or gleam, irregardless of arguments, nobody can deny the fact that MSPM is another story of endless possibilities. MSPM is comparable to the story of the KATIPAN Hall at Camp Higher Ground. When we started the project, there were various reactions of skepticism, disbeliefs, and criticisms even from pastors themselves. Understandably, because of the mindset that pastors are always in the receiving ends. But we have proven them wrong. The KATIPAN Hall and MSPM are living testimonies that whenever we start sharing whatever we have, God will work more stories of endless possibilities.
MSPM: Agent of Change

But MSPM is not just another story of endless possibilities. Thru MSPM, a new movement of change has started. From these graduates, will spark the fire of change and development that will benefit our churches, institutions and even communities. Because these pastors have committed to pursue the long time dream here in North Iloilo - to establish a training institute for pastors, youth and lay, as group project. I am confident they will succeed because our relationship does not end today. Unlike the traditional school system which commences in graduation, our partnership will continue even after today’s event. For MSPM is not merely another degree program. It was designed to change the pastors’ perspective and way of life which will subsequently trickle down to the lay leaders, youth and whole members of churches in respective pastorate. In fact, we have organized LIFE (Learning Institute for the Fullness of life and Empowerment) to sustain our gains and support the initiatives of our MSPM graduates so that they, too, will have more stories of endless possibilities. God’s blessings for all!

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