The way in which Trinity Western University became a part of my story can be attributed to a series of fortunate accidents. The spring of 2009 found me in Ottawa, as I made my way once again to Canada from my familial home of Brunei, having just completed my undergrad in Science at Waterloo as an international student.
There was a (then new) weekend-long event called Open Doors where historically significant buildings across the city were opened up to the public for a sort of daytime architecture-hopping adventure. I volunteered my time to be a bilingual greeter to whatever location the organization picked. The ornate Booth Mansion, which houses the Laurentian Leadership Centre (LLC), where I was assigned, sparked nary a flicker on my mental radar. In fact, that morning I found myself at another historical residence, the Laurier House, by mistake before having to be re-routed to the right place.
In the eloquent Anglican Book of Common Prayer, there is a collect uttered for those entering the consecrated life; it beseeches the Almighty to “endue them with innocency of life.” I take a lot of pride in engineering aspects of my schedule, yet I remain humbled and refreshed in realizing that it has actually been the naïve, unplanned moments that have been the most profound turning points in my life. I could never have imagined, sitting and chatting with friendly strangers that morning at the LLC as a guide for the Open Doors event, how much my life would be changed by that seemingly chance encounter.
The impact of this serendipitous morning with the LLC would make itself evident very shortly thereafter as both romance and career simultaneously ran aground on the shallow waters of disappointment. It was during this season of life that I became aware of how distance from family is, in many ways, like a handicap you don’t even know you have, until your need for family becomes an undeniable necessity. Solace came through the thoughtfulness of Romalie Murphy, who served at the time as the coordinator of resident life at the LLC. In the midst of many acts of kindness and encouragement of which I was the beneficiary, her invitation to take a road trip to Newfoundland with her brother Josiah, and another friend Adrian Reimer stands out in my mind as one of those unexpected turning points. The haunting peace of the Gaspésie region, the sweetness of Nova Scotia, a ferry-ride the felt like an ocean crossing, a reunion far from home with a childhood friend on the harbour of St. John’s, and the rugged beauty of Gros Morne, all played a major part in calming my anxieties surrounding this tumultuous period of life and created indelible memories for all of us. On my return, I continued to be drawn into the TWU LLC community, compiling some book reviews for Dr. Janet Epp-Buckingham, then hard at work on what would become her historical survey of religious freedom in Canada. It was during this time that I would also meet other members of the LLC community, making connections that would later lead to an unexpected foray into the Canadian political scene.
Over a span of four and a half years, my stint in politics, born largely through my connection to the LLC, included time spent serving as the press secretary to the Minister of International Development. During the majority of the this period, I was still a foreign worker, and my Permanent Residency was granted just shortly after the conclusion of the 2011 federal elections, on which I worked even while not being able to vote. I still reflect on this time with gratefulness for the generosity of Canada, a nation that would allow a newcomer like me to be so intimately involved in its civic life.
Gaining Permanent Residency gave me the freedom to study again without worrying about visas. While pondering the many forks in the road, it was once again Romalie Murphy of the LLC who directed my attention to the interdisciplinary humanities graduate program that TWU offered. I thirsted for setting in which the many seemingly disparate parts of my academic self could be brought together in an academic setting. However, I didn’t want to leave Ottawa just yet, and I wondered how feasible embarking on such a program would be. My scepticism was met with optimism and I was told that excepting core courses that would be offered on campus over a few weeks in the summer, I could complete the major portion of my degree through distance learning. I stayed in the summers with my friend Adrian’s family, met through my connection to the LLC. I revelled in the beauty of BC and gave thanks for both this opportunity and the considerate spirit of my professors who continually sought to help and include me in the classroom despite the challenge of distance learning.
Right before my enrolment in my graduate program, I had launched a literary journal called “Foment” with the Ottawa International Writers Festival, Canada’s “largest independent literary celebration.” As I seek to involve writers from many backgrounds, providing them with an opportunity to find their voice through this medium, just like I did, I can’t help but acknowledge the deep debt that I owe to my coursework and professors from TWU for their aid in furnishing the rather spare room of my intellect with respect to the humanities.
In as much as I value the coherence, and cohesiveness that my education at TWU has brought, I can’t help but ponder Cardinal Newman’s insightful words:
Knowledge is one thing, virtue is another; good sense is not conscience, refinement is not humility, nor is largeness and justness of view, faith. Philosophy, however enlightened, however profound, gives no command over the passions, no influential motives, no vivifying principles.
Overreaching the purview of a solid liberal arts education, as good a good as any in itself can be, occurs even (or especially) in the context of faith-based educational institutions. This education, Newman adds, is “no guarantee for sanctity or even for conscientiousness.” Bearing this in mind allows for a freedom for education to perform what it ought at its best, while realizing that the higher reaches of character formation takes place through worship of God and service to others.
In my own personal life, it has meant the liberation of learning that vocation is a question of being. Who we are is shaped by what (and who) we love, rather than what we know. Whatever we choose to do with our limited time are all avocations. It is with this truth in mind that I resolve, regardless of where the many paths yet ahead may lead, to remember where all true learning and turning points begin and are rooted: in the knowledge and assurance that I am beloved. My time at TWU has served as an opportunity to see how both how strong character is facilitated by the foundation of a good education, how vocation and truth are inextricably connected, and once again, how seemingly chance encounters can actually serve as profound, trajectory-shaping moments.