Monday, July 7, 2014

The Strange Church Anniversary

When Samuel invited me and church leaders to come to the front for a photograph to commemorate the 14th Anniversary of the church, I hesitated for a while feeling a bit weird. I just did not want too much attention on us. The church is the whole congregation and each one has a part in building the church to what it is today. Everyone should share in its honor. As Samuel nudged the congregation to sing happy birthday song to CDPC, Julia, a long-standing member of the church, whisked a blue color cake on a four-wheel cart to the stage. It was a like a crescendo, the worship service reached its height, because the congregation was soaking in the atmosphere of praising God for his faithfulness. I was given the knife to cut the cake. I thought to myself: “Are they testing me to see whether I could multiply the cake like Jesus feeding the 5000?” True enough, everyone had a piece to sample and I wonder how it happened that a small cake could feed 200 people.
Suddenly something completely unexpected thing occurred. Samuel again invited the congregation to sing birthday song to Nagarajah. Again a chocolate cake was brought to Nagarajah who was seated at the back row of the church hall. Nagarajah, a homeless poor Indian man, who has been coming to the church for a year now, was completely bowed over by the generous gesture of the church. Never in his wildest dream could he imagine that a middle class church comprising mainly Chinese would welcome him like Jesus welcomed the marginalized of the society. Probably no one has ever celebrated his birthday for him. Nagarajah speaks only a smattering English. Yet he felt so loved by the church people. Almost every Sunday, different members of the church would take him to where he stayed. His home is at the corner of the shopping mall where he could go to the toilet for bathing. There is just enough covering to shelter him from the rain. Nagarajah is a very clean person. He would put Talcum powder before he comes to the church. He would also wear a white T-shirt and a short trouser. He walks with a limp because of an accident several years ago that rendered him jobless. He would sit quietly at the back of the church hall and worships God with us. We usually give him essential items for him to take home. After the service Nagarajah stays back to have a meal before members take him ‘home.’
To me the celebration of the church’s Anniversary reached its climax when the church honored this homeless poor publicly, one of the least in the society who is considered by some to be unworthy to live in our beautiful and affluent city. This young church made me proud.
I firmly believe that the greatness of a nation is not about its military power, technological advances, economic prosperity, or highly educated populace, but rather how its citizens treat the weakest, the voiceless, the poorest, the marginalized and the scum of the society.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Amazing City

When I handed two cones of ice-cream to the two Bengali girls who were squatting in front of the hotel entrance, you should have seen their eyes sparkle and glitter, their mud-stained faces beam with smiles. The shopkeeper probably overcharged me. RM 10 does not mean much for most Malaysians. But one can get a lunch for RM 2 in Kolkata. The older sister gingerly tore open the ice-cream cover for her sister. They both licked the ice-cream slowly very much like the way I lap Haagen Daz. They know how to savor every moment of it. The children in Kolkota seem happy even though they live in abject poverty. On several occasions, some of them pulled my hand and asked me to take photos of them. They would pose for me and after that want to see the photos. But they never once want me to give them some money. They were just satisfied to look at their faces in the photos.
When the taxi sped past the street teeming with people, I saw a woman washing her hair by scooping the running water from the drain. She was happy to wash away the dirt from her hair with the not so clean water. It’s all she could afford. Every now and then we see men bathing in the public from the tap and some women washing their clothes downstream with the bathed water. No one seems to complain. The Bengali in Kolkata are able to take whatever life throws at them.
There is something about this city that had produced 5 Nobel Prize Laureates. Mother Teresa who won the Nobel Peace Prize (1979) came to Calcutta in 1948 and worked among the poor. She started the Missionaries of Charities, a small Order of 13 people which now consists of 4000 nuns. The Missionaries of Charities believe in caring for the unwanted, the uncared and the unloved in society. Kolkata streets are full of people making the five-foot ways their homes. I saw a family of 3 generations living under one roof that has no protection from strong wind or torrential downpour of rains. I visited the home which housed many unwanted children and infants. I was talking to a nun who has been working there for 15 years and all I could see is a woman of faith, of love and of hope. Many of them go about their work, doing mundane things without drawing attention to self because they have seen Mother Teresa living her faith, loving Christ and serving the least unassumingly for 49 years. When Mother Teresa said that she is just like a pencil in the hand of a mighty God, she meant it with all her heart and lived it out beautifully. When she said that “we must do small things with great love”, we see her feeding the poor and caring for the dying day in and day out for nearly 5 decades. Her words take on new meaning.
Being a tourist in Kolkata for 4 days and living here for 5 decades is a world of difference. One can stomach the filth, the stench, the noise, the pollution and the crazy traffic in Kolkata for a few days but to work here for a few years is a different story. I began to understand why hardly any Malaysian Christians ever felt called to migrate here. We neither have strong stomachs nor great hearts.
Stepping into the home turned museum of Rabindranath Tagore immediately made me feel that I am in a totally different environment from the world outside. Within the enclave and inside the many rooms hang Tagore’s personal paintings, manuscripts of his poems, prose and the music he composed. The first question that came into my mind was how a place like Kolkata could produce and nurture a polymath who had profoundly impacted not only Bengali literature and music but also its region. Tagore was the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize of Literature (1913). When I saw the oil painting portrait of Tagore in Victoria Memorial Hall, I had goose pimples all over me. He looks like Jesus of the Western paintings.
Sarah, my daughter, laid her hands on whatever Tagore books she could find in the second hand book stores or the first class book room in the streets of Kolkata; in the process she helped me to empty my wallet! When Sarah was born, I gave her the name in Chinese meaning poem/literature and melody/music, hoping that one day she would use literature and music to serve God. It has become a reality. When she said yes to Rema to bring 75kg of English Literature books (mostly Shakespeare) to be given to Jadavpur University where her late husband Professor Lim Chee Seng once taught as adjunct professor, little did I know that it turned out to be an adventure of a significant kind. We were impacted by this great city Kolkata which has produced 5 Nobel Prize Laureates.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The man who walks with a limp

I met Nagarajan as he was holding on to the walking chair about to cross the road with cars speeding by. It was a hot afternoon and nobody took notice of this insignificant, unemployed Indian young man who lives at the edge of society. I called out his name: “Hi, Nagarajan.”   He turned his head when he heard his name. He gave me a broad smile.  I told him that I would like to give him some food items. For several months I have been taking the food from the church CareBank to give to the poor, a person like him. Nagarajan met an accident few years ago and his one leg was badly crippled. I discovered that a freak accident affected his mobility severely and reduced him to poverty because he could no longer work. He told me that a stranger rented a room for him just opposite the church building. I first noticed him last year when I saw him often sitting at the corridor of a walk way alone. He wasn't begging for money. He wasn't seeking for sympathy. 

After receiving the food items, he pulled me aside and told me that he would like to come to the church. I told him the he might not be able to understand the sermon in English (we converse in BM). He looked at me puzzled and asked me “you mean Jesus cannot understand my Tamil if I pray to him. I want to come to your church to sembayang.” Then it dawned on me that he wants to come to church to worship Jesus. He wants to just sembayang (worship). I stood there speechless. Nagarajan wanted to come to church not so much to listen to the sermon, he just wanted to meet Jesus to thank Him.

Tears well up in my throat, I knew that the Holy Spirit has moved him through the ‘hesed’ (loving kindness, grace, mercy) that God has shown him through me over the months. It dawns on him that the Jesus Christians follow and preach about must be real. Why would anyone bother to talk to a person like him let alone share food items with him repeatedly? Why would anyone show him respect and treat him as a person of worth and dignity? Nagarajan knew that the Jesus I preach in my sermon on most Sundays is the God who cares for the poor. The church that I serve is located above the five foot ways (pedestrian walkways) that Nagarajan sits there every day alone. Hundreds of people would have walked past him every day. 

One day as I was walking on the way out of the office complex to find a place for my lunch, I heard a loud voice calling out may name: “Pastor.” I turned around and saw Nagarajan beaming with a broad smile walking with a limp while holding on to his walking chair toward me. He was happy to see me. He didn't ask me for food or money. He was just happy to see me.  I broke out with a grin as wide as the five foot ways. I am proud to be a friend of Nagarajan.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Homeless Poor

On the night of Feb 27 2012 after bidding farewell to Yong Yi and Sharon who were flying off to Beijing for their new posting by Shell, Sarah, Sam and I walked to the car park machine to pay the coin. I discovered that the coin chip kept falling off from the slot. Both Eu Joe and Beng Kiat had earlier paid their money and used the machine and there was no problem. Beng Kiat told me to press the “Batal” button. I pressed the cancel button sign and suddenly I saw $5 dollars note kept coming out from the machine and dropping into the trough. I took out a stack of $5 notes from the machine and Sam counted that there were altogether $75. I told Sarah and Sam that there were not for us and we need to return to the owner. At that hour, already past 12 o clock midnight, the airline authorities’ personnel was nowhere to be seen. We waited for a while and no one came back to claim the money. The rest of the party who came to say goodbye to Yong YI were slowing moving away to their cars. As we walked to car park, we discovered that we came to the wrong block. Earlier I parked my car at Block “C” and we came to block “A” to pay for the car park. I have been to KLIA countless time, and there is no way I could have make such mistake. Beside Sam was with me and Sam is noted as someone who possesses a better sense of direction than the best of GPS. Sam was also bemused. Beside, Bernard, Olivia Chiam and Julia whom we met earlier at Block “C” when we first arrived at KLIA carpark went back to Block “C” and they saw us moved to Block “B” and none of them said anything or told us that we had gone to the wrong place. I believed there is only one explanation. The Holy Spirit directed us for a purpose. Someone else had been careless and he might be in a hurry to go off, being rich he just could not border about the change and he left the money in the machine slot. This is my speculation. Sarah and Sam and I decided that we will give the money away to someone needy and we were thinking about the homeless people.

The next day when I was in the church office, I received a call from a missionary friend from Finland who said that he is bringing along a friend to come and visit me. In the afternoon at 3pm, "V" came with 2 persons, a man about 50 years old and a woman in her early twenties. When they walked in, there was a strong Talcum powder smell mixed with some odor which I could not quite figure out what it was. "V" introduced his two friends to me and I found out from their stories that they are homeless poor who sleep in the shop walkways in Kota Raya, Kuala Lumpur. I asked how they get money to live. They both answered that they scavenged for tin cans, cardboard and metal things to be sold and each day they can get about RM 20. With that they buy food. I asked where they take their bath. “Satu ringgit bayaran unto mandi di public toilet.” In Kota Raya alone there are 300 homeless poor living there eking out their existence each day with very little.

I told them my story how I got RM 75. I proceeded to give the man RM 40 and the woman RM 35 and told them that its God who gave them the money and not me. They were both very touched. The missionary was also very moved because God has called him to reach out to these homeless poor. He felt its God’s affirmation of his calling. These two homeless poor were in a daze that God could do such a thing like this that he loves them enough to look into their needs for that day.

When they left, I knew I was standing on holy ground in my office. The presence of God was real though the office was filled with a mixed sense of odor very much like the one when the Son of God was born in the manger.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Turning 21 marks the beginning of a new chapter in life. It seems not too long ago when I pushed Samuel then aged 3 into a 20 feet long concrete tunnel for him to walk through on his own without me at his side. He already showed sign of bravery at that age. But it also revealed that he trusted his dad. When Samuel was 5, I took him tho the park and cajoled him to climb to the top of the fishnet-like structure that was about 18 feet high. Without second thought, Sam climbed up nimbly like a monkey. To this day, rock climbing is his favorite sport. His friend commented when they saw him climbed the wall: "You mean this is the first time he is doing the climbing? He is like a pro already." Sam always thinks that he was born with the natural ability for parkour and climbing. My view is that nurture takes 80%.

Sam has a unique gift of assembling things. When we brought back wooden shelves be it bed or book shelves from IKEA, before I could finished reading the instruction manual, Sam usually finished assembled the whole structures. He is DIY person. Most of the handy works stuff in the home were fixed up by him. His adeptness and love for assembling things also originates from the earlier years of training. I gave him complex gazettes and toys to assemble, difficult puzzles (Complicated pattern and design) to solve. Sarah normally could reach level 4 whereas nothing to stop Sam from attaining the highest level that even adults sometimes found them difficult. His brain works in a spatial concept. Take him into any new city, he can remember exact location and place and finds his way back. Sam is our sure bet whenever we have difficulty locating our car in a huge car park even without any clear sign. Sam thinks that he was born with that natural instinct. But my view is that nurture accounts for 80%.

When comes to cooking, baking, Sam excels. He approached these activities like a scientist doing his experiments in the lab. Because he is daring, adventurous, creative, he is not afraid to try new things and new ways of doing things. Not many of his friends know that Sam is an Origamist. The origami that Sam did are usually intricate and exquisite. If grade 8 is the highest that one can go in Origami, I would rate him as level 7. I told him he could make a living out of this trade.

Sam learns most things on his own through observation, reading books, asking good questions (soliloquy). When I found him day dreaming, he was actually spending time thinking aloud of projects that he wanted to embark on. He aspires to be a polymath. That itself is a worthy pursuit. Constance and I pulled him out from school when he was in form 1. Since then he has been pursuing knowledge through reading books, learning through Google and You-Tube and having interesting conversation with people who are knowledgeable. Sam is so knowledgeable that sometimes I thought he was bluffing his way through! But when I checked the subjects that we discussed, I discovered that he knew far more than me. His education came mainly from non formal and informal learning. Ask him why he is so good in photography and cinematogrpahy. His answer might surprise you. Sam is full of surprises. There is never a dull moment with him. The only problem is that you will wonder how come Sam knows so much given that fact that he did not even go to University.

He is a bundle of joy and the live wire in the family. If I were to be marooned in a deserted Island, I would love to have him with me. So I can be entertained by him, I don't have to cook, I don't have to worry how to build a wooden house. We can just talk all day and all night and drink coconut juice from a straw made from the leaves. Sam would make all kinds of Origami and build obstacles for sports. He might even make a wooden golf stick for me to tee off a wooden golf ball. Sam showed me the other day how to light a fire using two sharp objects that he bought from on-line. 10 times out of 10 when he struck the objects against each other, spark of fire flew before my face. "How does this work?" I asked him. He gave me a 5 minutes scientific discourse that impressed me.

I did not choose him to be in my family. God did not give me a menu to choose what I want for a boy. In His wisdom and graciousness, God gifted Sam to be my son. A loving brother to Sarah, Sam and his sister often sings duet beautifully. I would normally sit in a corner, savor every moment, thanking God for these two wonderful gifts.

I would not trade Sam for any boy in the world.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The End of the World

Sarah graduated on May 21st 2011

My host Jim Rouston showed me the news paper that had the caption "End of the world on May 21st 2011 at 6pm." I told Jim that I would be attending my daughter, Sarah's graduation on that day as predicted by Harold Camping to be the end of the world. Many of Harold Camping's church members sold off their houses and property and camped in a remote place in America waiting for the end to come!

As the plane flew from Billings to Grand Rapids, I knew that the end of the world would not happen for the simple reason that no one will know the sudden coming of Christ. Jesus already told his disciples that "no one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come." (Matt 24:36-42). It is baffling to me how a veteran pastor like Harold Camping could come up with a calculation of the exact date of the return of Christ. It is equally mind boggling to see so many mindless Christians who bought in Harold Camping's prophecy when the teaching of the Bible is so plain for all to see.

Sam and I sat there in the sport stadium where thousands of parents, friends of the graduands and the graduates eagerly awaiting the commencement of the opening service. When Sarah's name was called and she went forward to received her scroll, I clapped the loudest and shouted for joy unashamedly. That's what parents would do that for their children. Sarah had done us proud. She has always been a high achiever in schools. She graduated with honors degree and was on the Dean's list for every semester in all the four years! Her professors were full of praise for her, not only her academic excellence but also her attitude and posture of learning. Sarah is a keen student, possesses sharp mind and yet humble. Calvin College professors had shaped her mind and heart to love God and to serve others with humility.

I thought I would never be able to send my children overseas for their tertiary education. God had demonstrated his faithfulness by providing more abundantly than I could imagine and ask of. God poured down his blessing from heaven and we were soaked in His grace.

Since coming back on May 2011, within half a month of her return to KL, Sarah was offered a job in a local college as a lecturer. She has always wanted to teach and to mentor students. She knew her vocation and she is passionate about teaching English literature. I am so glad that she has found her sweet spot. I know that even if the end of the world would come tomorrow, Sarah would still methodically, joyfully drive the old Proton Wira that her mum has kept for her to the college early in the morning, beating the traffic jam and fulfilling God's calling in her life. Never mind the meager salary, never mind the long journey from home to the college, what matters is God has called her to be faithful. I too would want to be found faithful, devoted in preaching of God's word, the shepherding of God's people, mentoring young people and planting churches even if tomorrow is the end of the world.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Do Small Things With Great Love

Many people want to attempt big things and achieve great success, Christians are no exception. I find that many Christians would not want to do small things in the church. Mother Teresa’s philosophy of life came as a big shock to many. She advocated that “one can do no great things, only small thing with great love.” She was merely echoing what her Master had said long ago. “If you are faithful in little, you will be faithful in much.” If we can do little thing with great love, we will invariably be found faithful.

When I first conceived the idea of starting a Children’s library for Puchong Community, a handful of women were supportive. Little did I know that when I handed the book “1001 Children’s books a child you must read before you grow up” to Alicia, the passion rubbed on her. She spent countless hours from designing the logo of the library, buying books and cushions, wrapping nearly 1000 books, labeling them, getting book shelves from Ikea, arranging the books and doing thousand of little things with joy and gusto. I can’t ask for a better church administrative assistance than Alicia. Other women came around and make the dream comes through. These are the quiet disciples of Christ who show their love for their Master by doing small things with great love.

The Children’s Library was launched last Saturday. Many parents brought along their children and they were not disappointed. Colorful, high quality and award winning children classics lined up the brand new bookshelves. Amidst the noise and adults chattering, scores of children sat on the rug and couch engrossed in reading books. The younger ones had their mum and dad reading to them. The highlight of the day was the story telling session. Joshua Lye was in his element, reading the story with animation and sound inflection that had the children mesmerized.

The church served plenty of yummy kuih and cakes. No one asked how much he must pay. It is absolutely free of charge. There are no fees for borrowing the books to read, for listening to the story narrated, for a cup of hot coffee or tea with curry puff and kuih. The ambience is great although the noise level is a bit high for a library setting. No one was complaining, as the celebrative mood was obviously loud. I overheard someone commented: “How I wish I had all these books when I was a child.”

While many are lamenting that the English standard of Malaysian students is appalling, this small church (City Discipleship Presbyterian Church, Puchong) that was started a year ago, embarked on a journey to inspire lifelong readers, one child at a time. Imagine the children from Puchong Community who walk in to the Children’s Library, who are enthused by the great stories of the children classic and begin to develop and acquire a love for reading, invariably their proficiency of English will be raised.

Manning the library, reading story books to little children, picking up books from the floor and sorting them out and putting back on the shelves, buying refreshment, cleaning up after the library hour is over, these are so mundane and nothing great about them. But when they are done with great love and with great passion and vision, the ripple effects on touching the lives of the children cannot be measured.