Noel Becchetti - "Eastern Voices"
5:38AM Jun 30, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today it's our delight to be speaking with Noel Becchetti. Noel Becchetti is vice president for leader development at Asian access and served as an editor on the project that we'll be discussing today. Eastern Voices, Volume One: Insight, Perspective and Vision from Kingdom Leaders in Asia in their own Words. Noel, it's wonderful to be speaking with you today.
Thanks great to speak with you
know, this is a unique book, you compile stories from leaders within Asia Asian accesses network concerning the lessons that they have learned and some of the challenges that they've faced as they've served the church within the Asian context. First of all, would you be willing to share a little bit about the work of Asian access that's brought to you in touch with these specific leaders
Sure Asian access is actually celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It began as a mission in Japan, working with local pastors, and about 15 years in the founder of Asian access sense that an acute need in Japan was the development and support of leaders, especially church pastors, that so many of the leaders great hearts, great call to serve, but had to they were homegrown, didn't necessarily have a lot of training and did not have a lot of support. And there were a lot of problems that created so the shift began into leader development. And about 20 years ago, people from other countries began to hear about our model and our model is a learning community. Small groups of 12 to 15 leaders will commit to spend two Yours together eight concentrated times over two years. So it's pretty in depth, they build some pretty deep relationships, lifetime friendships, and also, in a sense, learn together and do life on life kind of peer training, in terms of how they can deepen their own personal relationships with God and also how their ministries can deepen and improve. So in the last 15 years or so, Asian access has expanded. We're now we're active in 12 countries with pastoral leader development. And we've got a track now for business CEOs, Christian leaders in the marketplace, and that's active in two countries. So that's in a nutshell, what we do.
know well, how did you how did you identify the specific contributors to this volume?
Well, the vision for this actually came from one of our veteran leaders. He is our Japan national director. And as a A young teenager, his father wanted him to learn English and said, hey, there's a church nearby teaching English you go there. And that's how he became a Christian through the founder of Asian access. So he's been in the movement for 30 years. And he is felt for decades that there are leaders in Asia, who have things to share that are going to be of benefit to the greater Body of Christ. And the challenge is, how do we get their voices out there? How do we get their perspectives out there where people can benefit from them? English is still the international language. So that was a piece of it. And the challenge there is how do you do that? So that it's not lost in translation, that often well, meaning people can try to share what they've they've heard from friends in other countries, but maybe it gets lost in the translation. Just be sort of divine circumstances, a lot of my backgrounds in publishing, so when I got involved with Asian access, they decided what I wonder if there's a way to access that experience. And I began to do work with our leaders in the movement when there were things in English that they wanted communicated. I worked with them on that. So to Kashi tacos, Allah, that director said, You know, I think this might be our opportunity, we've got someone who might be able to work with our leaders, and help them identify what they really want to share to the greater Body of Christ and help them do it in English. So those leaders in that book are all people out of our movement. So they're all core leaders are the spouses of core leaders in Asia and access
and know what is Asian access is specific hope for the result of this interesting volume.
Well, first and foremost, it's the empowerment of those leaders part of the challenge in cross cultural missions, especially historically from let's in this case, let's say west to east is you know, the reality is the West has come in Especially with resources and a sense that we have experience we have training. Our colleagues in the East frankly, they have a lot to teach us. But there's, there's some issues with people in the East feel like oh, yeah, well, all the experts come from the west, all the resources come from the west, who are we, you know, we're sort of second class. It's not true. But that is a perception we're always dealing with. And so, one of the long term missions or visions of Asia and access is it is the elevation of the leaders God has called and raised up in Asia, who will lead the church across Asia and frankly, around the world. So we believe that there are first class leaders there and they've always been first class leaders. Part of it is helping them understand they actually are first class leaders and they do have something to say, and let's get that out there. So first and foremost, our goal was the to continue to generate the legit That sense of empowerment among our leaders. And we knew that being able to get that material out in writing in English where people could access it would be a benefit that way. It's called Volume One for a reason. We do think there are more voices to be heard. And also, we want leaders in Asia, both once we know but maybe once we don't yet know. But they can get that volume, look at it and say, Hey, I could do that. I have something to say. And so we want more and more of the leaders to realize they have something to share, and that the greater ministry world does want to hear from them.
This is really a very exciting project. May I ask if there's specific plans in place for Volume Two, or perhaps others down the road?
There is where we're at in the process is we timed the release of this book with our 15th anniversary celebration. which began in April in Indonesia. We're still in the process of some major events related to the 50th anniversary. The last big event actually takes place this weekend in the United States. When the smoke clears from all of that activity, there's a debrief and kind of future thing planned later in the fall, where we want to sit down and assess what happened with the first volume, what we're happy about what we think could be improved, but we've been also collecting ideas from our constituency to say, Okay, what could the future look like it could include more printed material, but there's also visions for video material, other ways other media that could be used and also are there some in person encounters some leadership, conferences and workshops that could be more Asian led that could be a part of this. So the book is what it is As a book, but it's also hopefully part of a larger process of again, the the positioning of leaders in Asia to take more and more in charge of what's happening in terms of gospel advancement in the region.
So let's talk for a moment about theological education in the Asian context. One of the reoccurring themes of the book is the need for theological education in Asia. What type of theological education is needed today when we use the language of theological education in the West, we have a pretty specific idea of what we mean university level seminary training, what type of theological education is really needed in the Asian context today?
Well, what's really needed and it's mentioned a few different times in the book is the Asian educational context, in general tends to emphasize intellect, rote learning, answering the right questions on tests. And it can be a pretty rigid system. So unfortunately, that rigidity, and intellectual focus spilled into Christian education as Christians came into the region and schools got started. So there's lots of theological education in Asia. But the challenge is most of it is focused on intellectual head, they step very little on the heart, very little on personal relationship with God very little on your inner character. So we have lots of leaders who will say, Oh, I know all the theological stuff, but I have no relationship with God. I have all the intellectual material, but the cultural expectation for a minister in my culture is you're supposed to just totally concentrate on your ministry and you ignore everything else, including your family, and so your families are falling apart, your kids are falling apart. So the biggest shift is the education needs to expand to include heart issues. Character issues, life issues and practical issues in terms of what does it really take to run a church? Or what does it take to lead a congregation or lead Christians now, in fairness, I think those are some of the same issues that Western theological education suffers from. You know, you probably have heard I've heard it a million times pastors ago. Yeah, they call it seminary, but it was really cemetery. That there's the same issues the over emphasis on head knowledge, lack of emphasis on personal character development on your life with Christ, excuse me. So I think it's a global problem. But it is an acute problem in Asia because the culture in general values so much that intellectual process, certificates, diplomas, and not so much the actual what the education can do for you. That would be the key. is really making it more holistic and comprehensive and emphasis on the heart and life application.
Are there specific examples of theological education, education, that Asian access really looks to as exemplary in the Asian context?
Well, it's, it's evolving. For example, Peter Mazumdar, who wrote the chapter in the book on the issues with a lack of Bible teaching that's compelling in Bangladesh, and it's really connected to the educational system. They he runs a student movement, it's in the US, they would call it intervarsity in Bangladesh as part of what they call international fellowship of evangelical students. Well, he's really trying to work with young people, young adults, in making the Bible education, more whole life and more heart based. So the hope is, as those young adults go out, now, many are just going into the workforce, but some are going to go into the ministry. That that's great. To change things up, but it's a it's a tough issue. In terms of exemplary I honestly can't yet give you any examples of that. There's a growing awareness that the good news is generally more and more leaders in Asia are aware that there's a problem. I'm changing it it's gonna take time and you know, humans are conservative by nature that's reflected in Asian cultures, they can be pretty conservative change can come slowly. So it's, it's an issue and it's they're still early in the process.
How am I what institutions Western institutions of theological education best participate in this need for theological education that you identify in this text, Eastern voices?
Well, we are on an informal basis in and just to contextualize who we are, we are what's known as part of a non formal education movement, and there's sort of an element kind of process right now, in the educational world in general, about the effectiveness of formal education as distinct from the effectiveness of non formal and non formal is kind of growing, because more and more people are seeing the limitations of formal. So that said, we've got institutions like Fuller Seminary and Gordon Conwell, who have been very supportive of what we're doing. Both of them have endorsed what we do. Now, they don't give us any credit because we're non formal, but our leaders do go through a graduation process. And so when our leaders graduate from Asian access, fuller does endorse and the president of fuller does sign the certificate of graduation, even though again, just for clarity, fuller and Gordon Conwell, nobody's issuing specific credit. It's just not set up that way. But it's it's part of the whole move toward non formal education and possibly were non formal education. can ultimately be as effective or more effective in terms of producing real ministry results, then sometimes formal education might be able to do.
No. Would you be willing to share with us perhaps one of the greatest surprises that you faced when compiling this anthology?
Oh, absolutely. The biggest surprise was the willingness of the leaders to be honest and to be direct in what they were saying. The Asian context is very indirect. It's very much it's their honor, shame cultures. So preserving your face is really critical. So not offending others is very critical. And so people will avoid anything in terms of direct input or confrontation because culturally that's a huge issue. And in fact, early in the process, just quickly the way that most of the chapters developed because we were asking these leaders to operate in second, third or fourth languages in writing is most of the chapters developed by conversation. I sat down and talked with the leaders. We talked about what was they wanted to share. I took notes would draft things and then come back with them. And we would just keep redrafting redrafting through conversation until they were comfortable with it. Well, what would typically happen is we would have that first conversation, they give me great feedback, I'd write up a narrative, I'd send it back, and they go, Oh, I can't say this. Now, I mean, I can't there's no way I could do that, because now that would hurt people's feelings. And we totally honored that nothing got published that was not with the complete permission of the authors. So there's stuff that doesn't appear in that book because ultimately people you know, weren't comfortable with it and we respected that. But there was the process I'll give you know, Peters as an example because I know he'd be okay with me sharing this. He had that reaction. You know, he shared what he shared Oh, I don't know, I this would hurt feelings. And I said, Okay, understand that we're not here to hurt anybody's feelings. But is this a real issue in Bangladesh? Are you is the gospel being crippled? Because people are not trained to teach the Bible compellingly and the you can't reach people? He goes, Well, yes. Is this some of the reason why this issue exists? Yes. Would you like to see that change? Yes. Is it possible that getting this information out will help be part of that change? Ultimately, he walked through that process and thought, okay, I'm not trying to hurt feelings here. But I see the point, I guess, I'm willing to take that risk. And put that out there, you know, in no way not to try to honor everybody but this is a reality in our culture. And and that was a consistent if you read those chapters, those guys are being pretty honest. And so I know that there's kids out there, that when that book went out, there's going to be feedback and pushback and So I really respect them for being willing to be that honest, especially in writing because once it's in writing, it's out there, you can't take it back. So I really, we're in their debt, frankly.
So I'm very grateful for your explanation thus far, would you be willing to share one or two of your favorite stories from within the book?
Um, well, the opening chapter, you know, that was Wesley Jota, from Myanmar. You know, what, I'm old, I'm a new person in Asian access. I'm just starting my sixth year. So I'm one of the new kids on the block. And when I first came into Asian access, one thing I wanted to do was get to each of the countries and spend time with our directors. When the program was not happening, I mean, just the chance to spend some time get acquainted with them and develop the relationships. And so when I got to Myanmar, it just so happened, it was over a weekend so I was going to be in Wesley's church. And you know, just be there and attend. Now Wesley and you see this in the chapter. He was pastoring, the preeminent Methodist Church in Myanmar, he had worked his way all the way to the top. This was it's the his calling is called the English, you know, medium church. It's where the diplomats go. Basically, you go from there to be Bishop for the Methodist and the whole country and that's what he was being groomed to do. thing was, you know, I'm in the service. And I'm just going, something's not right here. There is a bad vibe in this in this church. And you know, I'll be on I met, I'm a Westerner, I was raised in the Western culture. So I wouldn't say I'm particularly spiritually sensitive. I have sort of that Western skepticism about things. But you know, in the east, you learn fast, spiritual realities in your face all the time. So I've learned that a little more, but this was early on. So I'm like, I'm not the spiritually sensitive person, but I feel a pretty heavy spirit in this church. And as he was even preaching. I found this guy, something's not right. He just looks oppressed. Well, what I did not know at the time is he was in the late stages of going, I'm living a lie. I mean, this is a career but I'm spiritually dead, you know, what am I going to do it all you know, he shares that in the chapter. So when we are getting to the book project, he was going literally going through all that. And I was like, Well, are you willing to this is really the most important thing in your life? Are you willing to share this and he was? Well the thing is, he's a new guy. I mean, Wesley is a new man, it now when I'm there and I'm there fairly easily. It's just like it's a different person. And so you know, just to have met him nice guy, but you know, great guy, everything, get something out right here, figure out what it was and then through the this project, even help him unpack what that was like and then it Again, his wife writes, you know, somewhat of a parallel chapter later in the book from her perspective as a woman leader, but just to actually have kind of walked through that by God's circumstantial grace, and to see what he was like before and to see what he's like now, it's been pretty fun.
Thanks so much for sharing that. No. Is there another story that you'd care to share about the publication process and the surprises you encountered?
Yeah, the three of the chapters in there, you'll note, we don't identify the authors. Because they're in countries we're trying to protect and you know, probably discerning readers are going to catch what some of those countries are, but we're still trying to protect people. But I think one of the most intriguing examples and I think it's the last chapter in the book, and it's the leader he's in, he's in a dictatorial country where if you're a Christian, you're being watched you're being tracked and his whole process of Getting into ministry getting assigned a minder, and then finally gone. Okay, wait a minute, I can you know, most of my friends who are in this situation just they confront these people, they throw Bible verses at them, they're hostile. He goes, What if this police guy who's trying to oppress me What if he's part of my ministry? You know, rather than being this, this this adversary, what if I actually looked into as part of my ministry? What if we actually became friends? And they did you know, and so that you read that story? Because in that country what they do is when they want to start bugging you they scheduled tee times so we're gonna come over and have tea, you know, and then we'll chat Hey, well, how you doing? You know, great how's your daughter who goes to such and such school that we know exactly her schedule is and how's your wife doing at this job and we know we're, you know, it's just a way that they're, they want you to know they're they're tracking you the whole time. Well, they've become these, these friends where these people are now sharing their their own burden. Their lives with this guy, you know, because they're under all sorts of pressure. And and as you excuse me, you'll see in the chapter, the the main guy he was working with. He's not his caseworker anymore. I mean, they took him off the case, and they're still friends. You know, so that was, and that's still ongoing. I mean, that is a real time, that relationship is still in process. And he's seeing how that's good. That, you know, just intrigued the heck out of me.
This is an absolutely fascinating book and a fascinating collection of stories. There are so many stories that are represented here in this book, but there are countless stories that are not yet represented not only in this book, but in any media type. Does Asian access have plans or do you as individually have ideas on how more of these precious stories from Christian history ongoing today could be gathered and shared?
Well, you know, in addition to whatever We hope to do into the future. We would love to see other organizations, other ministries, simply look at the book. And just like individual leaders say, Hey, we could do that. In other words, I would love to see ministries who are committed to Asia, frankly, other places in the global south and so on, that maybe have the the opportunity to say, Can we help get the stories of our leaders into the greater community, which currently, English is the medium that you do that in? Can we help them do that so that we get captured? Yeah. We're very excited to do this book. We're hoping it gets a lot of good reception. We're not expecting to make any money on it. You know, I mean, that's just, that's just the way it is with with something like this. So I understand that it's an investment anybody would have to make, but I think it's an investment worth making because as you say, hopefully, we're not just capturing stories to make people feel good. These folks have perspectives and experience in ministry we think can frankly, be of benefit to others in the world. And a lot of what's happened in the east is beginning to happen in the West as we become post Christian. So in other words, stuff we're confronting in our culture for the first time they've been dealing with in Asia for hundreds of years. So they have a lot of experience to bring to the table, global south, same thing. And so I think, you know, in addition to them being inspirational, and encouraging, I think there's a lot of practical advice these folks have that are going to be of great interest to the rest of the, you know, ministry world anywhere we find ourselves. But it's going to be organic. I think it's it, hopefully people see it, they get inspired to go we can do that to go for it.
That's what we say. And all if I can close with a question that I've been asking everyone on this program and that is this. What would it mean for the church to be united today? How would we recognize this unity? And what is it that we can do as individual Christians to pursue the Unity for which Jesus prayed and john 17
were the first and foremost thing is people actually beginning to trust each other a little bit and let their guards down and become authentic friends. That's just a huge issue. And unfortunately, people in the ministry world mistrust each other just as much as anywhere else. And that's a huge issue everywhere, including in Asia, Asian cultures, in general, you're trained not to trust other people. It's in it's built into the historical cultures. You have lots of oppressive governments where you're also it will because you don't know who's an informer in your midst. But you put all that together. What it creates in Asia, is you have leaders that are elevated and isolated. So they Have a lot of power. There's guru cultures, but they're expected to do everything themselves. And you absolutely are not supposed to trust anybody else. Because if you do, they're just going to try to take your position, they're going to try to undercut you. It's the biggest challenge we have in Asian access. When those groups get together at first, they're not gonna trust each other. That's why we have small groups, and we work over a long period of time. But when they begin to get to know each other, and begin to trust each other and say, Gosh, I can actually have friends, I can actually have colleagues in the ministry. There's people who actually understand my problems and so on. I mean, when that kicks in, like our director in one of our really restricted countries, and we said, Oh, man, you know, we're totally trained not to trust anybody because you know, any group you have, can have informers in it for starters. But he said when we actually realized that we could begin to trust each other and have real friends it goes it's like water in the desert. I mean, when it kicks in It's powerful. Well, from there, then you start going are together. You know, I mean, the Christians in a lot of these countries are really tiny minorities. So it's like, what's the point of being isolated? Why don't we work together? So for example, in southern India, this is one of the encouraging stories, um, the ministry people in Chennai area, but one of the big cities in southeast India, they said, Yeah, let's start working together. How can we come together to reach this community and it was guys out of Asian access, who originally got the idea, but they expanded. It's the whole city includes ministry, people and business leaders. They get together monthly, I sat in on one of their monthly sessions, and they are just constantly trying to figure out collective ministry efforts into Chennai, that they can do public, into the business world and so on. So it's a great example if they're going out better together, you know, when we can become unified, look at all the good stuff that can happen so that it starts with that Initial breaking down the barriers and people willing to let their guard down and begin to trust each other.
It's been our delight today to be speaking with Nova ketty, Vice President of leadership development at Asian access and editor the project that we've been discussing today Eastern voices Volume One, insight, perspective and vision from Kingdom leaders in Asia in their own words. Thank you so much for being with us today. Thank you