From Alien to Pastor; Pastor to those alienated

7th November 2019

In 1960s China, seven-year old Jun Tan was put up on a stage with his family in front of 3,000 angry men. Young Jun was gripped with fear. His American-trained pilot father had been targeted and the family was ostracised and humiliated wherever they went. The Cultural Revolution placed Jun and his family in great danger.

Jun Tan reflects on this tumultuous time as preparation for the years to come – years where his atheistic beliefs would be challenged, his longing for purpose would span decades, and his identity as someone who was excluded from the community would ultimately be met by God and be the motivator for his ministry.

Having studied at a top Chinese university, Jun became a highly regarded scientist, who was part of the communist army. “As a young person in China, I truly believed that communism is where contribution is according to one’s ability, and distribution is according to need.” Jun was one with much to contribute. His intellect opened doors to Australia in 1987 where he began a doctorate with a scholarship at Melbourne University. Jun’s scientific career was flourishing.

However, by 1989, Jun had become disenfranchised with communism and lost hope in all he believed to be true. He was an alien in this new country, and now in search of a completely new understanding of life and its purpose. He soon became drawn to the Western ideals being lived out by those around him – to work for oneself and fight for one’s own rights and interests – a marked departure from his communist roots.

He decided to leave his studies to start a business, keeping him busy for almost a decade. In the milieu of competing world views and personal circumstance, Jun found his life dramatically lacking. “My business got me to where I wanted financially. Suddenly I realised that I had what I had always wanted – freedom as an Australian citizen, a family and a house. I had fulfilled my dream but I still felt empty.”

Jun states it very simply, “I had everything, but I couldn’t find purpose in myself or in life.” Once again, he felt alienated.

Finally, the resilience of his youth, coupled with his insatiable longing for purpose, turned Jun squarely towards God. To say that Jun had exhausted all options before learning of a loving God would be to deny the evident hand of God throughout this life to this point. While studying in China, Jun’s American English teacher gave him a Bible. Wanting to know the beginning of the story and how the world would end, Jun read Genesis and Revelation. And again, upon his arrival in Australia, Jun was introduced to a loving Church community by some Christian friends. The community impacted him deeply, where the ideals of sharing with those in need and contributing according to ability were genuinely lived out. However, the attraction to this community was momentary.

And now, having achieved his dream, but feeling the pain of his purpose shattered, Jun got in his car, and drove around aimlessly. He happened upon Northcote Baptist Church; a community introduced to him weeks earlier by one of his staff members. “I remember sitting in my car thinking that it is ridiculous to say that there is a God. It goes against everything I knew as a scientist. So, I asked God, ‘If you are real, I will give you three months to prove yourself to me. Tell me why I am here and explain all the things that are happening to me!’”

He entered the church and without speaking to anyone there, Jun sensed God speaking directly to him through the services. He returned week after week and within only a short time, he felt called to be baptised but his wife was against it. He persuaded his wife to follow him to church and two months later, she made the same decision. The transformation in Jun’s life was the catalyst for her own belief. He had changed in many ways. He learned to apologise; he grew in sensitivity; he abandoned drinking. But transformation was not on his mind. He reflects on this time, “I don’t even know what Baptism means but I knew I wanted to respond to God.”

Eight months after first sensing God speaking to him through the services at Northcote Baptist Church (NBC), Jun was baptised. His desire to hear from God was deepened further. “I felt a strong desire to seek God. I felt safe when I was talking to God. In fact, I talked to God continuously. It was the last thing I did before going to bed and the first thing I did when I woke up. I didn’t know that I was praying. I thought I was just talking to God.”

Jun began serving as a Sunday school teacher at NBC and one day, he taught the children about finding God’s plan in their life. “I realised it was too hard for the young ones to understand and more importantly, I realised that I’ve never asked God the question ‘what is your plan for my life?’”

Through the counsel of friends, a vision to repent and an invitation to attend a Theology class, Jun started his journey towards becoming a pastor. Jun quit his business and began full time studies. While fellow students talked about ‘calling’ and their hopes for their futures, Jun admitted to knowing nothing (even the term ‘calling’) except his desire to know God and his plans for Jun’s life. Jun graduated in 2005 and stepped into the role as part time pastor to the NBC Chinese congregation.

In August 2018, Jun assumed the role of Senior Pastor to the Balwyn Baptist community. His focus is on the alienated – those who may find themselves ordinarily excluded. Where society’s culture can seek to exclude, the Kingdom Culture that Jun fights for is inclusive – where people belong before they believe; where communion is offered, and individuals decide if they’ll accept.

Balwyn Baptist Church seeks to follow Jesus’ example and include people in their community regardless of their belief. Jun goes to great lengths to ensure people know they are welcome. He pre-records Sunday sermons in Chinese, which are played in parallel with the sermon delivered in English. It is unsurprising that many new migrant families are finding their home and finding their feet in this community.

We may use the term multicultural to describe this gathering in Balwyn, but Jun hopes the phrase will lose its currency. ‘Multicultural gatherings’ are simply a matter of life. Kingdom culture, focused on the redemption won by Jesus, includes everyone.

Jun Tan and his wife Xu Ping
Rev Jun Tan also serves as a member of BUV Ordination Discernment Group and as a tutor for Transformation at Whitley College.