[VST] What was a significant memory from VST?
[Joachim Chisanga] I came as an international student, not only from a different country but from a different continent, with significant cultural change. Everything was different. One of the things that impacted me was the level of hospitality and accommodation by the VST family, which of course included their support and empathy. I found myself in an environment where I immediately felt a connection. Regardless of how different I am, the different culture I’m coming from, VST provided an environment that, to me, became home. I was able to connect to everyone. In fact, when I graduated I was awarded the Augustus Award for exemplary interpersonal and pastoral skills. That is because I opened my heart, and that’s what I received from everybody else. Everybody became a part of me, as long as we crossed paths on the VST grounds or anywhere else, there was just this connection. I felt safe, I feel it’s secure, and it provided a good learning environment for me. I have remained connected with Anita, Margaret, and all those people. That’s VST for me, that’s my biggest takeaway.
Can you tell me about how VST’s education impacted you?
I did my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) with Reverend Doug Longstaffe as my teaching supervisor. He’s still there. During CPE, we had one segment called IPR, standing for interpersonal relations. That’s a very safe space where we are being trained as spiritual care providers, but the learning has to start with you as an individual. So we are not being taught about the patients or clients that we will be relating with, we are learning about ourselves. Half the course was about learning self-awareness. During the IPR segment, we engaged on a deeper level. It was a class designed only for a few people, maximum of seven. We’d sit in a circle, the idea being to bring the world inside of you, to the outside. We had to sign an undertaking to that: you hold back nothing. It provided a platform where I was able to empty the luggage, the baggage, that I had been carrying around for a long time.
I’d been a pastor for two decades when I joined the VST. I had never had connections and relations to that depth, where we talk about our feelings, explore our inner world, expose it, and explore it. Well, it was quite an experience because it was the first time I did it, and I cried a lot. For the first time, I was revisiting my past, and bringing it into the present. One of the requirements was for us to write a detailed biography, I’ve had a difficult past, but there is a reason they do that. I wrote out everything and talked about my feelings. My culture does not provide a platform for that, especially for men. We don’t talk about our feelings. That’s private, you keep it to yourself. But this was different. That for me provided a healing process.
I was able to come face to face with things that impacted me and shaped my way of behavior. I was able to bring it out. I began to get healing. In the second unit, I talked about it. In the third unit, I talked about it more. By the time I was done with the fourth unit, I was healed. I was able to talk about myself without having to injure myself.
For my final paper, I titled it Spiritual Reconstruction. I wrote about the experience that I had gone through using the program CPE. My professor was very touched about that.
So I got healing. I’m from Africa, I had no people that could relate with me at that depth. But in Vancouver, coming to Vancouver General Hospital, the healing platform was provided. I was able to laugh, loud and hard, which was never the case. I thank God for VGH and the healing process that is provided for me.
Anything else you’d like to share with the VST community?
I was working five jobs. I left my wife in Africa with four young children. It was quite a price I had to pay. I was separated from my family for three years. For me to support myself of course I’d scholarships and bursaries. I was working as an assistant librarian. Working five jobs. I became so exhausted. So drained. And missing my family. Trying to work so hard to keep up with my studies. I became so stressed. My friend Kathleen, advised me, “Here in Canada there’s such a thing as taking a stress leave.” I was very surprised. In Africa there isn’t such a thing. You have stress, you deal with it, and come back to work. She said, talk to Pat, the Dean of Students, tell her what you’re feeling, and she will probably consider giving you a stress leave. I didn’t know how that would work. I went to Pat, and she listened to me. Pat gave me leave. She said, “Joachim, don’t do your assignments, you’ll do them after one week. Just go home and rest.” I was very surprised. I came from a culture where we don’t do those things. Stress is not something they recognized unless you’re bleeding.
Such was the level of empathy that VST gave me. And they understood my situation. I used to talk to Jason Byassee, as well as Richard Topping. They all would listen to me, they knew my story. They were very empathetic. My circumstances touched them, and they supported me every step of the way. That’s the reason why I’ve stayed in touch with VST. The last time I talked to everyone, faculty, was in May this year . In May I finally got permanent residency. I thought, I owe it to VST, who supported me to achieve this. My family was already here. They came about six months after my graduation. To get everyone permanent residency was not a piece of cake. I wrote an email to Anita, talking to everybody, every faculty, thanking them for their support in this challenge. And telling them that now I have become a permanent resident in Canada.
That is what gives me a continued connection with VST. They listened to me. They treated me with empathy. They cared for me in a very genuine way. And that helped me through. It was like jet fuel, put into the tank, able to take off. VST did that to me.
Joachim Chisanga was born and raised in Zambia. He graduated from Trans-Africa Christian University, Kitwe, Zambia in 1999. In 2000, Joachim immigrated to Botswana, and served as Assistant pastor for Soul Winning Ministries in Palapye. He graduated from VST with a MAPPL in 2017. Joachim is currently the lead pastor at Claresholm Pentecostal Assembly, Claresholm, Alberta. He has been married to his wife, Nancy, for 22 years, with whom he has 4 children.