Coming Full Circle: From Fuller to Hong Kong
When in the summer of 1982 Jean-Paul Heldt (PhD '02) took his first course at Fuller, entitled "Introduction to the Study of Religion," he never dreamed that he himself would be teaching the same course 25 years later--in Hong Kong! Heldt came to Fuller initially just to take a single class; but that class, taught by the late Dr. Paul Hiebert, made such an impact on him that he returned to Fuller to pursue a PhD, writing his dissertation on the topic of the Biblical Sabbath as a Judeo-Christian Worldview. "Before taking Paul Hiebert's summer class in 1982, I barely knew how to spell the word 'worldview,' let alone understood its meaning," Heldt says. "That summer my life was changed, in more than one way."
After completing his PhD, Heldt spent four and a half years teaching language, history, and culture classes at East China Jiaotong University in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, in southeastern China. "A favorite course for both my students and me was an audio-visual course," Heldt says, in which he incorporated movies designed to give students "a better understanding of the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of Western history and civilization." He also had the opportunity to give occasional lectures on a wide variety of subjects--everything from physical fitness to business communication to "A Day in the Life of French People"! "Once you graduate with a PhD," he muses, "you may be expected to teach just about anything."
In 2006, while in mainland China, Heldt had the opportunity to spend the Chinese New Year with a Chinese family who lived in a remote village without electricity or indoor plumbing. "I will always fondly remember the warm-hearted hospitality of these rural folks who shared their 'best bed' with me, and would have given me the last morsel of food," he says. "Experiencing the boundless Chinese hospitality always humbles me, even puts me to shame, knowing in my heart that I could never reciprocate in kind."
In February of 2007 Heldt moved to Hong Kong, where he is currently teaching courses in religion, philosophy, mission, and culture at a small Christian college. "Teaching new courses is always challenging and exhilarating, draining and invigorating, and stretching for both the mind and the spirit," he says. The move from mainland China to Hong Kong has brought about many other changes for Heldt as well: "In China I had classes as large as 90 students," he explains, "but in Hong Kong, my biggest class is 12! In China I felt like a fish on dry sand since I am not fluent in Mandarin, but most signs and documents in Hong Kong are bilingual in Chinese and English. A haircut in Hong Kong, however, costs 20 to 40 times as much as it would in China, with only a modest increase in disposable income! Life in Hong Kong is indeed expensive."
As Heldt's vocation unfolds amid all of these changes, he is beginning to come full circle: One of the four courses he is teaching this term is entitled "Roots of Religious Faith," which covers virtually identical subject matter to the landmark course he took at Fuller with the late Paul Hiebert more than two decades ago. And, in looking back on his time at Fuller, he is especially grateful for the training he received in research methods and in curriculum development, which he is now able to pass on to his own students. "I love to teach, I love China, and I love history, mission, and religion," Heldt says. "Fulfilling these three dreams has been a lifelong pursuit, which is now coming to fruition."