Dr. Gloria Tseng shares her insights from taking on a challenging climb last year and what it illuminated her publishing process. She is the editor of Cross-Cultural Encounters: China and the Reformed Church in America, a text that includes research from Hope College History graduates.

Dr. Tseng climbing in Colorado, 2021.

“Hmm…, this experience is so far out of my comfort zone, I don’t quite have the words to convey it,” I said, sitting in my cousin’s car on our way back to his home from Eleven Mile Canyon, a national forest about an hour’s drive west of Colorado Springs. “It’s a metaphor for life,” he replied in his usual laconic fashion. We had gone rock climbing that morning, or more accurately, I had tagged along with him and his friend on their outing. They wanted to go rock climbing. I happened to be visiting from Michigan, so they invited me to join them. We got to a cliff by the beautiful South Platte River. Upon their friendly nudging, I put on a pair of rented climbing shoes and the extra helmet and harness brought by the friend. After a few minutes of crash coaching, I said a silent prayer for courage and started on the “easy” route they picked, my first and only time on a rock. To my own amazement, I eventually reached the anchor at the top of the route, and after some more coaching shouted from the ground by my cousin, who was belaying me, I started back down. When my feet stood on firm ground again, I thanked the two men and spent the rest of the morning recovering from my wired nerves and the mental and physical exertion involved, admiring the beauty of my surroundings and the strength and grace of these two climbers who went on to climb several other routes on the same cliff.

This was the second summer of the pandemic, a milestone in more ways than one. A project that began in the summer of 2013 with the first of two cohorts of students doing research in the Joint Archives on Reformed Church in America missionaries to China finally came to fruition. The research was conducted in the summers of 2013 and 2014 by a cohort of three students each summer, resulting in six essays. The students—Eric Dawson ’14, Rebekah Llorens ’15, Madalyn Northuis ’14 DeJonge, Katelyn Dickerson ’15, Victoria Henry ’15 Longfield, and Claire Barrett ’15—have since moved on to the next adventures in their lives. What followed for me was six years of painstaking editing, fact-checking, and revision. When I first embarked on the task of preparing these essays for publication in the fall of 2014, I did not know all the twists and turns the process would have. I signed a contract with Wipf and Stock in January 2017 and submitted the final manuscript in August 2019. After the publisher typeset the manuscript in December 2020, it had to be proofread. I returned the proofs with final corrections and changes in July of this year. This month the book, entitled Cross-Cultural Encounters: China and the Reformed Church in America, appeared in print.

Dr. Tseng nearing the top, 2021.

“Focus on the window where your arms and feet can reach. Always be thinking of your next two to three moves. Where your hands are in your current position is probably where your feet should follow next.” I hung on every word during my climbing crash course. Until I was almost at the anchor, I couldn’t see the end of the route. I only saw the rock and barely where my hands and feet could reach. Every move brought me a little closer to the top, but it was not a straight trajectory. At one point what looked like a good ledge for my next move just above was too far for my arm to reach. I had to back down a distance to go up a different angle. Finally, the anchor came in sight, and once at the top, the view was beautiful!

This project was about more than the final product. At its core were three professors and six students partaking in the labors of research and writing and the wonders of discovery together, like an invitation to go rock climbing. And in life, we all have opportunities to be both coaches offering crash courses and students saying a silent prayer for courage. 

You can read more about the student research project that led to Dr. Tseng’s book here. Dr. Tseng is teaching IDS 171 – 03 and IDS 171-05: Jews, Pagans and Christians: The Ancient and Medieval Worlds Reconsidered this semester. To learn more about Dr. Tseng, you can check out her faculty feature blog here.

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