An interview with James Bowden– Bachelor of Ministry Graduate (2009)
Matt Gray: What did you do after leaving Tabor?
James Bowden: The year after I finished at Tabor I worked for Baptist Care SA (as a live-in support worker for refugee youth). At the end of that year, my fiancée, Carly, finished her degree, we got married and a few months later we went to live in Jordan for about two and a half years. Now we’re back, and I’m working for Churches of Christ in SA as their State Youth Minister.
MG: So, you worked with refugees before going to Jordan, and I believe Carly works with them now. Obviously, that’s been something that’s on your heart quite a bit.
JB: Now you mention it, I suppose it has been! It’s something that comes up again and again, but without us seeking it out. At least in our contexts, some of the most immediate ways to experience and grow in love, kindness and generosity has been through our interaction with refugees.
MG:This thing of interacting with people from other cultures has obviously been a big blessing for you. Was that a part of your studies at Tabor?
JB:It was, through one of David Turnbull’s subjects on intercultural ministry (Christians in a Multicultural World).
MG:How has your actual experience of intercultural interactions confirmed or developed what you learned during study? What surprised you or was different from what you’d learned?
JB: In the most part, yes, it confirmed it; especially, around how fundamental and significant some of the differences can be between cultures. There were some things I felt to be a little different. When you teach this stuff, you can’t help but make it sound a little monolithic: ‘All Arabs require guests to completely eat what is on their plate, etc.’ In reality – and as you could probably guess – a lot of things change from person to person and family to family. I also didn’t account for the fact that in an effort to be polite, my hosts would often ‘let things slide.’
MG:That highlights the strong aspect of hospitality that is in the Middle Eastern culture. Is that an example of the difference between theory and practice for you? From the sounds of things, hospitality is something you learn from doing.
JB:That has certainly been my experience. Hospitality can be wrapped up in lots of questions (‘Am I giving enough? Am I giving too little?’), which guidelines and rules don’t help you with very much. With a lot of things like this, you need to be able to think on your feet, and the best way to do that is to follow someone’s example. To ‘live’ with them as they do it, pick up their patterns and character. A lot of ministry and mission (if not all) is not a skill to be taught, a program to be run or a lesson to learn, but a person to grow into.
MG: So, given the importance of lived experience, do you still think that your studies were worthwhile?
JB:I shudder to think what it would have been like to start without my studies as a background!
I certainly wouldn’t be talking about my experience overseas or about ministry like this without the frameworks I picked up in my study. We often get worried about study being the entirety of the answer with no room for anything else, or experience and character being the whole answer without anything else. I’ve found both study and experience immensely helpful.