2004 Alvin Ung
Leadership Consultant • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
On Campus 2003-2006 ∙ DipCS ’04 & MCS ’06
I run a small consulting firm with my wife, Fern. Our son, Andrew, is ten years old. My work involves facilitating retreats and coaching leaders throughout Asia to create purpose together. I also serve on the faculty of the Royal Institute of Governance and Strategic Studies in Bhutan and teach courses at Regent as part of the MA in Leadership, Theology & Society program.
Life after Regent:
The most important thing Fern and I did was making the decision to return to Malaysia after Regent. That was a really good decision. Looking back, I realize that the insights we learned at Regent were like fertilizer that needed to be spread and shared, especially in barren places where people and culture and institutions need to experience the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.
More From Alvin
How I got to Regent:
Before I came to Regent, I led a team that developed mobile data and phone applications for a large telecommunications company in Malaysia. Fern worked in a bank. While driving to work one day, we were reading Scripture and were both struck by Jesus telling his followers to “launch into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” It was as if he were speaking personally to the two of us. We quit our jobs and thought of Regent. Fern and I had friends who had graduated there—we liked them, they liked Regent, and so I applied.
I remember writing an admissions essay that laid out three goals for my time at Regent. When I look back at my four years as a student, I didn’t achieve any of those goals. God wanted to something more important than the things I had in mind.
Most important lessons:
Before coming to Regent, I thought of paid work as something different from spiritual work (preaching, worship, cell groups, prayer meetings, and so on). At Regent I learned that God is already at work, and we are invited to participate in that work in all aspects of our lives. This enabled me to see work as mission, missions, and spiritual formation.
At the same time, I also learned how to work and rest—though not without help. One day during my first year at Regent, while I was busily preparing assignments for my six courses, my wife read a line from Marva Dawn’s book on Sabbath aloud to me: “If you’re not practising the Sabbath, you’re taking yourself too seriously.”
I didn’t respond at the time. I had too many theology papers to prepare. But those words pricked and prodded at me for a week. Finally, I yielded: Fern and I decided to cease work of any kind for a 24-hour period.
Practising the Sabbath saved me that semester. I’ve since discovered that the more intense work is, the more I need Sabbath. I’m often overwhelmed by the “muchness” before I enter Sabbath. After Sabbath day, I take time to remember the good work God is already doing in my life, and in remembering I am re-membered. I’m also more able to sense God moving and working in ways I don’t understand to reorder and redeem the work that I do.
How Regent made a difference:
The people I met and the books I read at Regent reframed my understanding of work, marriage, and the spiritual life. It was slow work. Just before I graduated, Paul Stevens (Professor of Marketplace Theology at the time) invited me to co-write a book with him. I accepted eagerly, and we divided up the work. A year later, Paul had drafted all of his chapters. I, on the other hand, was crippled by anxiety and writer’s block. I hadn’t written a word.
Instead of giving up on me, Paul invited me back and hosted me in Vancouver. We sat together in a windowless room, writing six hours a day for six weeks. I remember Paul pecking at the keyboard with two fingers. Like a village chicken pecking grains of rice, he kept going: peck-peck-peck-peck. While he pecked, I felt shipwrecked.
Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. Forget writing beautiful sentences—just peck away, I told myself. So, I did. And on the final day of the sixth week, I held the manuscript in my hands with a sense of awe. That experience of writing with Paul has stayed with me as I’ve continued to work and write over the past ten years. Whenever I get stuck while writing, I think of Paul pecking away like a chicken and force myself to keep going.
In short, every single work experience since I graduated has been shaped by the theology and spirituality of work I gained at Regent College. And my most powerful experience of theology and spirituality of work was embodied in a person: Paul Stevens.
Things that would have surprised me when I was a student:
1. After investing so much time studying spiritual theology, I would never have imagined that I’d now be running a management consulting firm that works in government, business, church, and non-profit contexts. I also wouldn’t have expected that the wisdom of the desert saints (hermits living in the fourth century) would inform how I coach leaders working in fields such as government, ecotourism, and artificial intelligence.
2. I would be flabbergasted to see myself as a storyteller in a children’s library. I had no interest in children back then. But now I love telling children’s stories to children—and especially to the adult leaders I work with.
3. I didn’t expect to return to Regent. When I graduated in 2006, Fern and I left Vancouver with a note of finality. I am profoundly grateful to find myself teaching here every year.
Why I support Regent today:
Having studied, prayed, and taught among Regent College students, I am amazed by the quality of the students who enroll here. So many students have responded to the College’s original vision of providing theological education to the laity—and they’ve gone on to make a significant difference in the lives of many women and men around the world. They are like seeds sown on good earth, yielding much fruit. Regent is a great place to invest time, skill, and money.
Best Regent memory:
I will never forget an experience at Regent’s Fall retreat. On the final morning of the retreat, the doors to the meeting hall were shut. We had to wait outside. Suddenly, the doors were flung open. We streamed in. We gasped. We oohed and aahed. At the far end of the hall there was a long table filled with loaves of homemade bread, flanked by goblets of wine and juice and lit by dozens of candles. Red, orange, and yellow leaves were scattered artfully across the lustrous tablecloth. It was the communion table—but I’d never seen such beauty and abundance. I could even smell the bread. It was like a glimpse of heaven on earth. I remembered crying tears of joy as the choir sang, “Come to the table, Christ’s covenant table.”
Favourite Regent class:
I treasure the classes that took us outside the classroom. I loved the spirituality classes that were held in the Westminster Abbey, or the marketplace ministry classes that required us to visit companies and interview executives. I also enjoyed classes that required us to read, discuss, and pray through ancient classics of spirituality. These types of classes shaped my mind, heart, and hands.
Favourite place to study:
Under a tree in Trimble Park during summer. It is a joy to feel the breeze, smell the grass, and take that (inevitable) nap.
Favourite things about Vancouver:
1. Walking in provincial parks, through the UBC endowment lands, and along Fourth Ave. I love the trees and tree-lined avenues.
2. Borrowing P.D. James mystery novels from Vancouver Public Library in West Point Grey. That small library was like a portal to millions of other books throughout the country.
3. Going to Bowen Island. We have a friend who has invited us to her home there. In the summer we’ve picked blackberries and collected driftwood.
1. While working as a journalist, I was once chased by dozens of starving pigs.
2. I spent three years being trained by Jesuits as a spiritual director.
3. Everyone in my family knows how to solve the Rubik’s cube.
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