Folks at First – Tiffany Lai

An interview with Tiffany Lai by Annabel Robinson

Could you tell us what brought you to First Baptist, and what is important to you here?

When I moved back to Regina in 2015, I knew I wanted to attend a church that was diverse, that had a certain degree of self-awareness about its historical and geographical context, and that encouraged discipleship and not just attendance. I think I was also looking for a different style of worship from the evangelical churches that I’d grown up in. I was initially attracted by how quiet First Baptist felt— there was space to think and reflect. I liked the solemn joy of the music, and appreciated the balance of liturgy, humour, depth, and humanness. I stayed because people made an effort to make me feel welcome.

I understand you grew up in Saskatchewan, though not Regina…

I was born in Radville although my family moved to Weyburn when I was in junior high. My parents are still there, although my sister and her family are here in Regina.

Then what did you do after leaving high school?

I spent a year at the Canadian Bible College in Regina because I wanted to “get grounded” in my faith before moving on to the scary and uncertain world of university. I attended the U of R after CBC and graduated with a BA in English literature. After university, I headed to Japan to teach English with the JET Programme.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your time in Japan?

I was an Assistant Language Teacher in Sendai, which is the largest northern city on the main island. As an ALT, I assisted junior high school English teachers in the classroom and encouraged the students to try out their English skills with a native English speaker.

It was in Sendai that I had the opportunity to become part of a local Japanese church as well as an English-speaking congregation made up mostly of other expats. Both were amazing experiences of belonging to a community of believers: in one, outsiders were brought into relationships within the church despite language barriers; in the other, a diverse group of individuals from different cultures and languages could be unified in worshipping the same God despite their differences. These communities had a significant impact on me. I’d only intended to live in Japan for a year; I wound up staying for three.

Someone mentioned to me that you also went to Regent College in Vancouver. Can you tell us what drew you there? What did you study? In what way do you think you grew as a Christian through that experience? Did you take any classes that made a particular impression on you?

I was mentally and spiritually restless. I still had all the questions I’d had during university. I wanted to know how I could talk about “truth” in a meaningful way when it’s so often been used in conjunction with coercion and violence; how I could approach issues of gender and transgender theologically; how to talk about the gospel in a culture where pluralism and tolerance are the strongest values. Most of all, I wanted to become a Christian who could think well and could explain why she believed what she did.

I applied to Regent because I wanted to attend a school that was academically rigorous. I wound up studying very little systematic theology or biblical history. Instead, I was drawn to courses that looked at how Christianity and culture intersect and eventually finished my degree with a concentration in the arts. It wasn’t until I went to Regent that I learned that lots of people don’t live out their faith the same way I do and that’s okay; that I don’t have to have all the answers; and that building relationships is more important than being able to argue the finer points of theology.

I enjoyed so many of my classes there. Some of the courses that really made an impression on me were John Stackhouse’s class on apologetics, Loren and Ruth Wilkinson’s two-week intensive course on food and theology, Loren’s seminar on science fiction and theology (yes, that’s a thing!), and Gordon Smith’s class on conversion. Fantastic thinkers and engaging teachers, every one of them.

I learned of a breadth and depth to Christianity that I hadn’t been aware of. This changed some of the boxes into which I’d put God.

I used to teach in the Faculty of Arts, and I’ve always believed that an Arts degree is valuable quite apart from any job it might lead to. But you have a job that doesn’t really involve your skills in English. Can you tell us something about that?

When I returned to Regina two years ago, I took a job as a liaison between heavy-duty truck drivers and the workshop they’re bringing their trucks to for repair. This summer, however, I just started working for Service Canada. All the practice I’ve had writing essays for school is finally coming in handy because now I can type really, really fast.

I was delighted when I saw that you had agreed to serve on the diaconate. What particular gifts or skills do you think you bring to that?

I’d really wanted to be involved in the church, which is why I said yes to serving on the diaconate. I don’t know if I have any particular gifts or skills to offer, but I want to help out wherever necessary in whatever capacity, and I suppose that’s a gift. Of sorts.

I sometimes see you around the church with Rob. Would you like to share anything with us about him so that we can get to know both of you better?

Do you know what happens when someone fresh from finishing a theology degree winds up working at a truck repair shop and tells everyone that there’s no way she’s going to date a mechanic? She winds up having to admit her prejudices in the church newsletter! Rob came here as an auto-electrician from Ireland three years ago and is currently in the middle of the rather messy and protracted process of applying for permanent residency, which makes our long-term plans together somewhat complicated. He has some fascinating stories about meeting the wildlife while working in Australia, knows an awful lot about auto-guidance systems on farm machinery, is easily bribed with chocolate, and is learning that Canada’s favourite sport is “hockey,” not “ice-hockey.” (Quiz him sometime. He’ll love it).

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