This is Josip with me

Josip is a pastor of the Protestant Christian Church in Sabah, Malaysia, and he is one of the students with whom I recently worked at the Sabah Theological Seminary (STS) in Kota Kinabalu. Josip is working towards his Master of Divinity, and my task was to act as his tutor in a guided study unit on Lutheran perspectives of pastoral care.

In the process, however, I came to know Josip a little, and was moved by him and his story. In many ways, I felt an affinity with him. He is young and enthusiastic. How well I remember those days! Now I am simply older and a ‘realist’. Josip loves study and the challenge of new learning – as do I. He is married with a young daughter, and dearly loves his family – as I do mine.

At the same time, though, I was acutely aware of profound differences between his situation and mine.

Like me, Josip is a Christian pastor. But he lives in a country in which Christians – although they are not persecuted – are often discriminated against. This usually happens in very subtle, but nonetheless painful, ways. It is ‘wrong’ for a non-Christian to become a Christian, for example. Christians also find it difficult to get jobs over non-Christians and to be granted visas in certain situations.

When someone new becomes interested in Christianity, their choice is a tough one in ways that we in Australia can only imagine. And I, for one, find it impossible to be critical of anyone who, in that situation, might choose to become a ‘secret’ Christian.

Like me, Josip is experienced in Christian mission in isolated contexts. But the challenges he faces are far greater than mine ever were. He lives in a village in a somewhat remote area of Sabah. He and his people are poor, with houses that have no running water, either no electricity or unreliable energy supply, and hence no washing machines, no air conditioning for stifling weather conditions, and no other of those conveniences that we take for granted, no matter how isolated any of our congregations might be.

Like me, Josip is interested in Lutheran theology. However, his theological context and background are embedded in Reformed theology: ‘Lutheran’ is new and different for him. And so when, as happened in our working together, he encounters the Lutheran perspective on sacramental theology, for example, this creates considerable tension for him.

He is attracted to that which is Lutheran. On the other hand, he is committed to his own theological and spiritual roots. What are the confessional and pastoral implications for one who becomes torn between this view and that? How do he and his church come to terms with those differences? And here in Australia we struggle with not even always being able to agree on what might be Lutheran over against Lutheran!

One day, Josip hopes that he may become a teacher in his church’s seminary, as I did in mine, and I pray that hope is realised. I admire him for his commitment and dedication but then, these seem to be qualities typical of Christians in Malaysia.

It was a wonderful, rich experience for Rae and me to spend six weeks with these people, our brothers and sisters in a church that faces challenges similar to ours – but with a ‘cutting edge’ to those challenges that we don’t have.

I was also impressed by the creative and daring ways in which they are addressing their challenges. I came away from the experience convinced that, as much as we might visit and work with them, we in Australia have as much, if not more, that we can learn from them about what it means to be ‘church’ in today’s testing world.

Pastor Bob Kempe, accompanied by his wife Rae, served as a volunteer lecturer at the Lutheran Study Centre at Sabah Theological Seminary in February and March 2018. Your support for LCA International Mission has made it possible for this opportunity for sharing the gospel cross-culturally.

This story was also published in the August 2018 edition of Border Crossings, the magazine of LCA International Mission.

If you would like to consider the opportunity to serve as a volunteer in mission, serving in practical ways, teaching English, teaching in the seminaries and institutions of our partner churches, or in local churches, you are invited to phone Nevin on (08) 8267 7300 or email For more information, go to

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