Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Article 9 and Peace in Asia

“Article 9 of Japan Constitution states:
(1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.
(2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

It is heartwarming to see Japanese Christian leaders as well as other religious groups in Japan stood their ground against the revision of Article 9 in their constitution. There is an attempt by the Japanese government to move in the direction to make amendment to Article 9. Already revision of textbook had taken place to portray Japan as a victim instead of being the victimizer in the Second World War. China and Korea protested vehemently to the distortion of history. These are the two nations, which had suffered the most during the brutal regime of Japan.

At the consultation which was organized by NCCJ (National Christian Council of Japan), delegates from Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, India, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Germany, UK, USA, Australia, and Japan listened to key note addresses and panel presentations and unanimously stood in solidarity with the majority of Japanese not to revise Article 9. Any attempt to revise Article 9 will pose as a threat to regional security and peace. Peace can never be achieved through military violence but only through promoting a culture open to patient dialogue and diversity that promotes justice, equality, and respect.

Transformation of society involves active engagement with national agenda. Although Christian population in Japan is very small but they are active in political and social engagement.

An elderly Japanese (probably in his mid 80s) spoke about the wars with deep sadness and remorsefulness. He obviously had gone through the pains of seeing the Japanese soldiers brutally killed and raped the victims of the wars. I could sense the great guilt carried by the Japanese Christians on behalf of their nation.

I remembered reading Iris Chang’s book “The Rape of Nanking” which described the atrocities and brutalities of the Japanese soldiers. It was estimated that 300,000 civilians were massacred. Thousands of women were raped, tortured, humiliated beyond words to describe. It was a national shame to China to be humiliated to such extent. The Japanese government denied the historicity of such event in spite of the presence of thousands of documents, photos, and eyewitnesses’ accounts. This singular colossal tragedy happened in 1937, the precursor of the Second World War. China has recently published an eight-volume list of 13,000 victims of the Nanjing massacre in which it says invading Japanese troops killed 300,000 civilians. The Chinese publications, released to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of massacre which is known as the “Rape of Nanking”, include the names, ages, sex, occupations and residential addresses of the victims, which Japanese army unit was responsible and how the victims were killed. To deny the reality of the historical event on the part of Japan is tantamount to murdering the victims twice. No wonder the people in China still harbor deep resentment over Japanese wartime atrocities.

“Women suffered the most,” Takokoro, Kozo, a former soldier in the 114th Division of the Japanese army in Nanking, recalled. “No matter how young or old, they all could not escape the fate of being rape. We sent out coal trucks from Hsiakwan to the city streets and villages to seize a lot of women. And then each of them was allocated to 15 to 20 soldiers for sexual intercourse and abuse.”(Iris Chang “The Rape of Nanking” p.49)

In 1941 when Japan invaded Malaya, Philippines and other South East Asian countries, army brothels were set up to service the sexual needs of the Japanese soldiers. The women were forced into prostitution and they were later known as the Comfort Women. In fact many Korean, Taiwanese and Chinese women were forced to become Comfort Women. This was the response of the Japanese government to the massive outcry from Western nations to the wholesale rape that took place at Nanking.

It was estimated that 200,000 women were forced into this giant underground system of military prostitution. To this day, many Comfort Women who are now in their old age are too ashamed to even talk about it to their families let alone to come out to make public statement. But there are those who were persuaded to make public press statement and to sue the Japanese government for compensation.

Germany could move forward because it had confessed and acknowledged its sin and compensated the Jews for the holocaust. But Japanese government still lived in denial. The previous PM of Japan periodically visited the shrines of the war criminals to honor them. Japan government has not publicly apologized to the nations, which were brutalized by the Japanese soldiers during the wars.

One lady panelist from Philippines narrated the story of his aunt being beheaded by a Japanese soldier at the consultation. There was a dead silence in the audience.

If Article 9 is changed and Japan begins to arm itself, militarism and militarization rears its ugly head again, I wonder what will be the implication for the security and peace in Asia. Hence, Christians in Japan see its role to resist the government.

As I participated in the consultation, I sat there wondering: “what was going through the mind of the teenage Japanese soldiers who were handed rifles and bayonets that propelled them to commit such atrocities?” Have the Japanese learned from wartime history? What would be our collective responsibility in halting Japanese government to revise Article 9 of their constitution?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

No better place than to be in Grand Rapids

"Sarah, Dad is here." I called out to Sarah when I spotted her at Grand Rapids airport. "Dad." She ran towards me and gave me a hug. Sarah was obviously excited to see me and her smile took away all the tiredness of a very long journey. You got to be a father to understand the heart of a father. I was in Charlotte airport at 12pm and I was re-routed to Cicinnati instead of Cleveland because of bad weather. It was the eve of the Thanksgiving Day and every airline was overbooked. I had to wait at Cicinnati for 4 hours. When the plane finally touched down at Grand Rapids airport, it was 9pm. It was really cold in Grand Rapids as compared to the warm climate in Charlotte.

Arriving at Sarah's dormitory, she was very proud to introduce me to her friends. "Akiko, this is my dad." I was equally pleased to meet her friends in Calvin College. "Dad, this is Theresa, my good friend." "Dad, this is Jiyea, my roommate." "Hi, Akiko, hi Theresa... Jiyea, Aun Yong Har Seh Oh (Korean)."

Sarah has forgotten that her dad has seen them before. She posted their pictures on her blog. I thank God for enriching her life with friends from different nations. I could sense that living in dormitory is fun - interactive and engaging.

"Sarah, look at all the stuff that your mum has bought for you." "Here is the Indon Mee, the 3 in 1 instant coffee, the Alcafe (given by Grace Chong - the bride of David Chong), the Sushi stuff, Bak Kut Teh paste..." Sarah has been generous in sharing whatever Malaysian food with her international friends. She is a good ambassador for Malaysia. Patriotism comes in all shapes and sizes. One size does not fit all!

When I went to Scotland 31 years ago, I was all alone. Dundee's winter was bitterly cold. Malaysian foodstuff was nowhere to be seen.

It was so good to catch up with Sarah. We talked for hours the next day. It thrills my heart to know that she still has the conviction to come back to Malaysia. I am so glad that she really enjoys her study in Calvin.

We celebrated first time (its first time for Sarah as well as first time for me) Thanksgiving in Chicago at her friend's home. As the Americans thank God for His blessing of providence and protection upon the puritans, their ancestors, I thank God for His grace, mercy and love for sarah.

I cried silently with tears of joy and thanksgiving because God has been so good to us.

I never expect to see Sarah so soon. She has grown in just a few months. She is in the hand of God whose heart as a heavenly Father is gracious, generous and gentle. I can trust Him, his wisdom is above mine. He knows what is best for Sarah. My vocation as a father is simpler - to be a good, loving and godly father to my children. This is my gift to Sarah and Samuel.

"It's not where you are at but whom you are with that makes the difference." - Anonymous

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Unfinished Business

I stood on the land which once was owned by Jim Bakker. Its a vast land that is beautifully landscaped and new houses are being built. I could still see the remnant of its former glory when Jim Bakker developed it as a theme park with hotel facilities and other amenities. Many retirees bought houses with the understanding that eventually a Christian community will be developed. Many Christians in America particularly those in Charlotte gave generously to fulfill Jim Bakker's dream of a Christian center that will be a blessing to the city and the nation. Jim Bakker's dream turned out to be a nightmare. He was imprisoned, his wife Tammy Bakker left him, his son became wayward. His whole life and ministry collapsed. In his book "I was wrong", Jim Bakker regretted preaching the gospel of prosperity. In his own confession he knew that it is not the correct doctrine. He had since been released from jail. His prodigal son came back to God. In his lowest moment, many Christian leaders deserted him. But Billy Graham and Ruth stood by him. They embraced his brokenness. On the day of his release from imprisonment, they brought him to their church and Ruth was seated beside him. It was a very healing moment for Jim Bakker.

The 2000 acres land was once called "Heritage." But there was no trace of any heritage being left behind, what remains are trails of broken lives, wounded hearts and anger. Many Christians felt they had been cheated of their money. They felt deep sense of betrayal. Christian testimony was destroyed and Christian community worldwide became a laughing stock when CNN, Time Correspondence carried the news of defrauding.

My host Ruth who few years ago served in the county of North Carolina was involved in the case. She was instrumental to get the different counties to link up the trails across the land for public usage. The Heritage land criss-crosses across few counties and its 300 acres of land is located in the flood plain. The Northern Carolina county wanted that portion to be set apart as a trail and park with rivers serving as a natural dam in the event of flood. Jim Bakker had sold it to Jerry Falwell who in turned sold it to MUI chairman, Datuk Khoo Kay Peng. The Malaysian Christian tycoon became the rightful owner of the land. This land with hotels, houses and other properties were later sold to some American developers. Ruth and her husband Ken were excited when they discovered that I am a Malaysian. They asked whether I know Datuk Khoo or not. I told them that I knew the man (Vice President of MUI) who was sent to manage Heritage many years ago is a good friend of mine. He had since left his job and became a pastor. Ruth narrated the story of how she heard the voice of God telling her to ask the owner of the land to give back 300 acres to the public and used it as a trail and park. Ruth wasn't sure who is the rightful owner of the land now. But the present developer refused to give it to the county.

Ruth and I stood on the soil adjacent to the chapel and we prayed for God's healing to be upon the land. I felt that restitution ought to be done. The Christian owners should return part of the land (300 acres) to be used for the interest of the public since the land was initially purchased with money from public donation.

Just as we were about to leave the place, we saw a car pulled over and an immaculately dressed young man came out from his car headed to the chapel. We thought he went there to pray. Ruth sensed that God wanted her to talk to the man. She hesitated, wasn't sure whether its the right thing to do. I told her she should obeyed the voice of God prompting her. As we talked to the young man, it turned out to be a situation of divine appointment. He is a real estate agent. His boss was the one who acted as the broker selling the land to Datuk Khoo. He could arrange Ruth to meet his boss to ascertain who is the actual owner of the land so that Ruth could proceed to ask that person to donate the land to the county for public use.

I suggested to Ruth that the Christian community should invite Jimmy Bakker back to Charlotte to make public confession to ask the Christian community to forgive him. The Christian owner should give back part of the land to the public to be used as a trail and park as a form of restitution on behalf of Jim Bakker. The land can be healed. The community can be healed when justice and mercy is done.

"Pastor Wong, you are an angel sent by God." Ruth commented in all seriousness. I nearly freaked out by the whole event. I was supposed to stay with Ian. He put me to stay with his church members, Ken and Ruth. And they believed that God has sent me to their house to resume the unfinished business. God spoke to Ruth several years ago when she was serving in the county. She had the nagging thought (restlessness) that God wanted her to accomplish his purpose -that the name of Christ be honored and glorified through righteous actions.

Do I believe in divine appointment? I bet you.

My devotion this morning reads:

"Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:16).

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Eph 2:10)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Another Surprise from God!

I was once again overwhelmed by God's surprise. I did not plan to visit Charlotte in my itinerary. I did not know that Billy Graham is from Charlotte and that the Billy Graham library is located in Charlotte. In fact the library just opened to the public in June. It is sited in a 60 acres land which looks like a park. PCA MTW Enterprise invited me to speak at the seminar in its global mission conference, the venue is in Atlanta. For 3 days I was soaked in the whole atmosphere of worship and sermons. Dr. Richard Pratt's exposition touched my heart deeply. I am grateful that God gave me an opportunity to be refreshed. Wanatabe and many others thanked me for my seminar and felt that God has used me to speak to them. I thank God for the little role that I could play in the conference. But most of all I thank God for his servants Dr. Richard Pratt and Dr. Paul Kooistra for their challenging message. I did not know, certainly did not even expect that God would lead me to Charlotte in order that I may have the opportunity to visit Billy Graham Library.

In the Library (not the library where books are housed) Ian and I sat there watching and listening to Billy Graham preaching to the crowd (Video Presentation of Billy Graham's life ministry). We moved from one room to another, each showed the different period of Billy Graham's ministry. Its amazing to see how this one man could influence so many people in the world with the Gospel of Jesus. Billy has been and is singularly devoted to the cause that God has called him. His faith in Jesus and the Word of God marks him out to be the man of God. His success could also be attributed to Ruth, his wife who is faithful to her calling as a home maker raising their 5 children for the Lord's service. Billy is surrounded by an excellent team which is loyal to him and gives him their utmost support.

Billy Graham is 89 years old. His residence, the cove is just two and a half hours drive from the Billy Graham Library. I was told that he is very frail but strong in the spirit. Ruth Graham died 5 months ago. Her grave site is situated at the serene garden just a stone throw away from the Library. The inscription on her tomb stone reads: "End of Construction. Thank you for your patience" Ruth referred to her chosen burial place as her "launching pad." Its a timely reminder that we all are Work In Progress until such time comes, the Construction will be Ended. Our grave sites then will be the launching pad to our eternal home.

I have great admiration for Ruth, a Presbyterian whose parents were missionaries in China. Ruth was a strong woman, intelligent, articulate, devoted to God. All her life she gave Billy Graham her utter devotion by supporting his ministry. She almost singlehandedly raised her children because Billy Graham had to travel extensively preaching the gospel across the globe. Ruth and Billy had been married 64 years. Ruth was Billy soul mate and best friend. With her passing away, a big chunk of his life is removed. Time Correspondence interviewed him how he was coping since her death in June 2007. "I realize now," Graham replied, "in a way I never could have before, that a very important part of me has been taken away."

I told Ian, an American missionary kid, that he too can be greatly used by God. One man who loves the Lord wholeheartedly, believes in the power of the gospel for the salvation of the world, possesses full faith in the authoritative word of God can change the world. Billy Graham is coming to the end of his life and ministry. God is looking for another man or woman whom he can use just as the way he uses Billy and Ruth.

What a visit!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The cobbler in the streets of Seoul

During my trip to Seoul few years ago, while walking back to Centennial Building of the Presbyterian Church of Korea, I saw a shoemaker reading his Bible on his working bench in broad daylight. He was so engrossed in reading the Scriptures that he did not notice me staring at him.

I thought of William Carey, a cobbler in England who lived in a different century (1761-1834), made his living by repairing shoes in a different locality from this Korean. I wonder whether there is any similarity between these two men. When customers brought their shoes to William Carey, they probably thought that this man was an uneducated simpleton. Who would have imagined that William Carey went on to become the father of modern mission? He went to India to preach the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ in spite of being put down by the church mission board.

How could God use a shoemaker to impact the Indians who spoke totally different tongues? History has it that William Carey translated Punjabi, Sanskrit in both New and Old Testament. He even completed a dictionary of Bengali and English.

Back to this Korean shoemaker, I decided to squat beside him and capture potential history with my digital camera. Who knows this cobbler might one day turn out to be the missionary whom God uses to change another country with the gospel of Jesus Christ. A maker of shoes may turn out to be a maker of history. I discovered that he too like William Carey is an ardent student of Scriptures. I have yet to meet such a shoemaker in the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The boy who parkours his way to Mt Kinabalu

Sam is a unique person, unconventional is a better word. He could never sit still from young. The only time he can be still is when he is reading novel that captivates him. He could read and read until he finishes reading the whole book in one setting. Even if it means without having to sleep. Otherwise he is always in motion. He loves parkour. It has become an art form. Kind of poetry in motion. Probably this had to do with the 40 jabs he got from Dr. Lim one week after he was born.

"Dad, we are now walking down from the summit of Mount Kinabalu." Sam was elated. Maxis connection was powerful. It can claim total coverage in Malaysia including Mt Kinabalu. I could not believe what I heard because Sam hardly trained for the climb. I had been nagging at him since the day when Jason and Christina invited him to go along with them for the 'expedition.' The only serious training he had was cycling with me in the neighborhood. Sam had altitude sickness yesterday when he arrived at two third of the climb. I told Constance that he might not be able to make it to the top. I told Sam not to push himself if he could not do it. Imagine my joy when he called to say he is coming down from the summit. He is my boy after all. I am proud of him.

Sam is a very persistent person. He will not give up once he made up his mind. He can wear down anyone with his 'never say die' attitude. I think his mental toughness more than compensate for his lack of physical fitness. Most people would train 3 to 6 months for the climb. But Sam, oh my goodness. Walking up the stairs in the house is not training!

When Jason told me a while ago that they took the longer and harder route, I nearly fainted. If I knew earlier, I would not have allowed Sam to go. It is like getting someone to run 40km marathon straight away. Sam is just too gun ho. Constance and I worried like mad and yet we had to act cool before Jason and Christina. Both Jason and Christina had been jogging, training hard for the climb. Sam did not know how tough the climb can be.

Now Sam would show off his certificate ($12 only). We are happy that he managed to climb up and 'climb down' in one piece. Cert or no cert is immaterial. His certificate is too big for my cabinet. Knowing Sam, he will persuade me to squeeze his 'trophy' into my display unit. This 'achievement' is hard to knock down.

If Sam were to tell us that he is making plan to climb Mount Everest, I believe him! He is outrageous and one of a kind. This time he better knows that its not a stroll in the park.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The manhole man

There on the stage of Ulanbataar Orchestra Hall stood a man impeccably dressed in a western suit. He was giving his testimony to the church audience of 200 people. This man was once a drunkard who lived under the manhole in the street of Ulanbataar. The thousand of manholes are like land mines from the aerial view. They represent the underground world where the scum, the filth and the rejects who live in isolation from the mainstream society. It is like a colony. There are thousand of drunkards and homeless poor taking shelter inside the tunnels of the manholes.

It was an eye opening experience. The poor everywhere share certain commonalities. I had seen the ‘cardboard’ poor who live under the overhead bridges in Jakarta. If a heavy truck were to slam on them, hundreds would die tragically. The squatter camp condition in Suweto, South Africa is deplorable. You probably can’t find anything like that in Malaysia. Once could see thousands of tiny huts made of Zinc material where the entire family is being squeezed into 180 square feet space.

The news in the capitol city of Mongolia on the day of my visit highlighted a man who died of heart attack because of severe cold – the temperature at night was sub zero degree centigrade. Every year, many who live under the manholes world have their limbs amputated because of frostbites.

This man who stood on the stage was lucky because Pastor Nara, the senior pastor of a church in Ulanbataar found him in the manhole. The church people washed him, clothed him, fed him, and housed him. He was literally snatched from the manhole.

This redeemed and restored man told the audience that his mission is to go and save people like him. He could have died in the manhole. But he had been rescued from physical hunger, from bitter cold winter, from a hopeless existence.

I was spellbound by his sharing.

Nara, the senior pastor who introduced and prayed for this man, was his friend. Nara found his friend dying in the forsaken world.

Nara himself was once a notorious gangster who went to jail for 4 years because he stabbed 3 people. It was in the prison that he heard the gospel. Nara was deeply touched by the Bible verse “Jesus came to save the sinners and not the righteous.” It was like an arrow shot right into his heart. He wept and gave his life to Jesus. Since then Nara has gone to the fringe of society to search and reach out to people just like him – sinners who need the grace of Jesus.
Nara has gone into the manholes many times.

I never got to know the name of the man who once lived in the manhole. But his story tells me of the power of gospel in transforming lives.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


I met Sokreaksa Himm at a ‘Leadership Seminar’ and immediately I was captivated by his testimony. He was recommending his book, which tells his story how the Khmer Rouge soldiers killed his family. I was surprised that there was no tinge of vengefulness in this man. What I saw was a quiet, serene, unassuming person who seems to possess a sense of confidence and peace. Without hesitation I bought his book. I told myself that this is the man I want to talk to.

For the next few days during the seminar, I probed him and listened intently about his testimony. His memory went back to the day when he saw his father, mother, four elder brothers; one elder sister, one younger sister, four younger brothers, a sister-in-law and a nephew were killed by the soldiers in 1977. The family was marched to a grave ready dug in a jungle clearing; one by one they fell as the hoes hacked down. Sokreaksa, severely wounded, was covered by the bodies of his brothers and sisters. He was nearly choked to death by the pool of blood covering him. The murderers walked away, laughing.

Sokreaksa survived miraculously, but the nightmare of haunting memories tortured him for years. How could God exist to allow such colossal injustice to take place? He almost lost his entire family except another sister who too escaped death. His Buddhist belief collapsed and so was his personal world. His guilt compounded when he was told that all these evil things happened to him because of his bad Karma. The people in his village commented that he must have done many wicked things in his previous life. Now he was merely reaping what he had sown. For a thirteen years old boy, it just did not make any sense. His young mind and fragile emotion could not cope with the emotional trauma let alone the philosophical teaching about suffering. Into the depth of despair he plunged. He wanted to take revenge but was powerless to do so. After all at he was only a small boy. He wanted to die but could not. He vowed that one day he would kill all the murderers. For years the worms of anger, bitterness and vengefulness gnawed at him.

In December 1978 Cambodia was invaded by Vietnam. Pol Pot regime was dismantled and it was estimated that 3 millions out of a population of 8 million people were massacred in the killing fields. Life could not be back to normal because not a single person in Cambodia was unscathed by the trauma of brutality inflicted upon him or her. Though the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror was over but the many continued to suffer from Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder. For years Sokreaksa suffered from deep depression. He had only one aim in life. He vowed that when he grew up he would search for the killers and cut them into pieces. So he joined the police force and managed to track down the person who killed his family. The killer begged his forgiveness, he refused to forgive but he was unable to trigger the pistol and kill the one kneeling before him. Life was difficult; finally he left Cambodia and ended up in a refugee camp in Thailand and for 5 years he drifted through life aimlessly. The Christians in the refugee camp tried to reach out to him but he remained unmoved by the Christian message. Eventually he applied to migrate to Canada and his application was accepted.

In a new country Soreaksa began to rebuild his life. It was the persistent love of Christian workers from World Vision that finally won him over to Jesus Christ. For the first time he understood the meaning of suffering when he read about the crucifixion of Christ. He felt that God understands his suffering and pain because he too went through it at the cross. Soreaksa went on to study theology in the Bible College and obtained a Master degree. He returned to Cambodia and became a lecturer in a Bible School in Phonm Penh. Later on he decided to return to his village Siemreap and planted 3 churches there. It was there that he again met up with the person who killed his family. This time he was able to forgive the killer and released him of his guilt.

I was spelled bound and deeply moved by his story. I have read and heard sermons about forgiveness. I too had struggled with wrongs and injustices inflicted upon me but nothing came closer to what Soreaksa had gone through. Here was a man who truly knows forgiveness. Christianity makes sense because the truth is fleshed out in real life.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Sweet aroma

"Pastor, do you like coffee? Can I make you a cup of coffee?" Veronika came into my office with a broad smile that could melt the Arctic glacier. "This is Hainanese Coffee, very good coffee." Veron talked very fast before I could respond to her. "Pastor, give me your cup. Let me serve you." Talk about God-moment. I felt respected, honored and loved by a member of the church. I sensed God's presence. I bowed my head and gave thanks to God for Veron. It was a little act of kindness. Veron serves quietly in the youth ministry. She is also a pastor's daughter like Sarah. She must have seen servanthood in her father's life.

When I sipped the coffee, it really tasted better than 'Blue Mountain' from Jamaica. My tiredness vanished and I felt rejuvenated. Was it the effect of coffee or the feeling of being respected?

I was actually in the midst of going through my sermon script.

The sermon is about an unnamed woman gatecrashing into Simon's house party, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume for Jesus. She wanted to show her gratitude and love for Jesus. She stood behind Jesus and suddenly she was overwhelmed by a strong emotion. She began to weep and her tears began to wet Jesus' feet. She wiped Jesus' feet with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. It was really an outrageous act, something quite out of character in that culture. Who would kiss a man's feet? She couldn't be bothered by what people thought of her. She just wanted to show her love and gratitude to Jesus. That was all that matter. But her action was sneered by a Pharisee. Jesus then told a story of a moneylender who cancelled the debts of two debtors. One owed 1.5 years wages while the other 1.5 months wages. Both of their debts were cancelled. "Which of them would be more grateful?" Obviously the one who had the bigger debt cancelled.

Jesus drove home the point. The one who had been forgiven much loves the most deeply. Because the woman's sins though many and ghastly were forgiven, therefore she showed deep gratitude and love.

Veron came into my office was a good interruption. Her gesture of kindness might simply be that of showing her thankfulness to Jesus who has loved her dearly. It's her way of showing gratitude to Jesus.

Veron offered to wash my mug, served me the best coffee and wished me a good day and left my office quietly so that I could get on with my sermon. That afternoon, my room was filled with the strong aroma of sweetness. It was a sweet fragrance to Christ.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Protest monk in prison - Peaceful Christians in church

When I met Rev. Ring at the Bangkok Mission Consultation, I immediately asked him about the political situation in Myanmar. "Did you and the Christians in Myanmar go to the street and protest?" Ring was horrified that I would asked such a question. "Of course not, who would be so silly to risk his life." His denomination leader who is a General Secretary commented: "In fact before I left Yangon, the military junta sent someone to warn me and instructed me to tell my fellow Presbyterian Christians not to participate in street protest." I know both Rev. Ring and Rev. Lauengzava well because I have been helping the Presbyterian Church of Myanmar (PCM)since 1995. I risked my life by going to Kalaymyo (the headquarter of PCM) to train their leaders and to bring resources to their seminary. The flight from Yangon to Kalaymyo is always fraught with dangers. The pilot flew the plane as if it is a jet fighter plane. He taxied down in full speed! On one occasion, a friend who went with me on the mission trip vowed that he would not go back to Myanmar again. I looked at Rev. Ring and Rev. Lauengzava with disbelief. "I thought you would identify with the people. Look at what the military junta has done to your people. This would be your best moment to identify with the nation to protest against your government. The Buddhist monks are providing spiritual and intellectual leadership. They are willing to lay down their lives for a worthy cause." They shrugged their shoulders thinking that I am out of my mind.

The Star reported that a Buddhist monk has been jailed for seven and a half years for taking part in mass protests against Myanmar's military junta. Eik Darea, 26, was the first monk known to have been sentenced for his part in protests. He was defrocked and could end up in labor camp. Many monks were brutally beaten to death. 3000 people had been arrested and sent to unknown destinations. Soldiers raided 20 monasteries, arresting many monks. The military junta aimed at striking fear. But the monks were not cowed by these actions. They had certainly demonstrated moral courage for such a time like this.

It would be silly for Myanmar Christians to remain silent. A day would come when the country is liberated and they would not have a voice in nation building because they failed to show solidarity with the people.

We may cull from the lessons in Germany during Dietrich Bonhoeffer's time. He had the moral vision and courage to stand up against Hitler's totalitarian regime. He saw clearly what others viewed dimly. Many Christians then could not see the evilness of Hitler. Bonhoeffer died a martyr's death. But his spiritual legacy lives on. There is a price to be paid for speaking against injustices, for going against evil regime. John the Baptist's head was sitting on the platter for speaking against Herod the tetrarch. History is repleted with such horror stories.

I am a great admirer of Aung San Suu Kyi. She had been under house arrest for 18 years. She did not even attend her husband's funeral because she knew that once she left Myanmar she would not be allowed to enter into the country again. Her British husband had been told by Aung San Suu Kyi at their wedding day that her love for the country takes precedent over everything else. He understood and supported her. She firmly believes that a day will come when Myanmar will be liberated. I believe so as I have been praying that God will work in such a way that the generals will fight against each other and one of them will seize power with the support of the people and then turn the country over to Aung San Suu Kyi's party which won the election in 1998.

I have been asked why the Chin Refugees fled their country and trespassed two national boundaries and landed in Malaysia - the answer is obvious. They prefer freedom rather than living under oppressive military junta's rule. Young men and women from Chin state living in fear in our Malaysian jungles hiding from the Rela's harassment. What an irony! They have exchanged one form of oppression for another. Thank God that Malaysian Christians are reaching out to them with love.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Mission Consultation in a most unlikely place - Asia Hotel in Bangkok

The recently concluded Mission Consultation in Bangkok was an historic event. 11 Presbyterian Denominations from Asia came together for the first time. Presbyterian Churches in Asia were founded by Western Missionaries since 19th century. This single gathering of leaders from 11 nations was a dream fulfilled. Each national leader shared his or her country report and collectively the delegates discerned what God has been doing in the region. We shared similar church structures and Presbyterian distinctive and yet the growth is varied. Presbyterian Church of Korea has about 2.7 million members. Presbyterian Church of Taiwan has 270,000 members. Even Indonesia (GKI) exceeds 200,000. The youngest among us is the Presbyterian Church of Vietnam which has a history of only 6 years (2001). The story of Presbyterian Church of Vietnam (PCV) is interesting.

I interviewed Rev. Khoa and his wife Lien. These were their words: "The Holy Spirit swept through Vietnam in 1994. We began as a house church movement. At that time we had 1000 Christians. We were constantly harassed and persecuted by government officials. Most of our churches are in rural areas and the people are mostly farmers. We do not have a legal status with the Vietnamese government. I went to America to study in the seminary (Rev. Khoa) and I was very impressed with John Calvin's theology and his formulation of church government. My interest in Presbyterianism grew and I felt that I needed to organise the house church into a more formal structure. We opted for Presbyterian identity and structure. We have since grown to about 7000 members." Lien is conversant in English and acted as her husband's translator. Rev. Khoa is the Moderator of PCV. He is the key leader of the denomination. As the church is relatively young in history, it has only 10 ordained ministers and 11 licensed preachers. The acute shortage of pastors present a need for leadership development. They need experienced pastors who could teach them exegesis, biblical studies, and leadership development in the Asian context. When they found out my credentials, they immediately invited me to go to Vietnam and to train them. I told them that I am most willing to serve them but I have a tight schedule to fulfill. "Why don't you come at the end of Oct?" "No I can't. The earliest date is second week of December." "Ok, lets confirm the dates then." Talk about determination. These Vietnamese leaders are most persistent. I could see that their circumstances have trained them to be dogged in whatever they do. They love Jesus, they love their people and hence the urgency. Would such spiritual hunger be found in Malaysian churches? We have so many conferences, seminars, training workshops in KL that Christians in Malaysian particularly those in KL are inundated with abundant opportunities. We can become spiritually constipated!

I was pleasantly surprised when Saruon from Cambodia Presbyterian Church gave an outstanding PowerPoint presentation of his country report. It was easily one of the best among the delegates. Given the fact that Cambodia is not as technologically (IT) as savvy as Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia, yet Saruon floored us with his superb PowerPoint's. A very gentle, amicable personality, Saruon spoke good English and came across as a humble leader. At the close of the consultation, we broke bread and sipped communion wine to celebrate our oneness and unity in Christ. Saruon requested prayer for navigating through the new Bangkok airport. It was his first trip to Bangkok and the gigantic airport awed him. After all Saruon is a Cambodian kampong boy. His simplicity and childlike faith is inspiring. His country had gone through the nightmare of killing field and an entire generation was massacred by the Pol Pot regime. He kept asking us to help them in Children education. Many children in rural areas do not go to school. The literacy rate is very low indeed.

As I reflect on the sheer needs of these two nations, not to mention Laos, I think of City Discipleship Presbyterian Church (CDPC). I do not know how to impress and inspire the church to serious discipleship. I think of the many talented and gifted and well endowed individuals who could spare their time to go to these nations and help. I could see that many are so busy with their careers. They have been squeezed dry by their companies. They have to take care of their family needs. They are involving in church ministries. How to create additional time for mission?

I came back from Bangkok physically exhausted but renewed spiritually. I slept in the airplane (probably snoring). It was good to be home. It was good to catch up with Constance and Sam. On my way home, I witnessed to a taxi driver. Ben Wong opened up his misery (his second day as a taxi driver) and I seized the opportunity to share Christ with him. The gospel seed has been sown. It will be another story another day.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

MAS is not the best afterall!

Staring at the big poster which proudly proclaimed to the passersby "KLIA - World's Best Airport for 15-25 Millions Category, I was wondering how authentic the claim is. Our flight was cancelled. We had been made to wait for the next flight for 3 hours at the airport. I am supposed to chair the Mission Consultation at 4.30pm in Bangkok. The next flight is 3.15pm. I could see the outburst of anger and the irritation displayed by some passengers. The ground crew had to invent silly excuses to appease the wrath of passengers. Apparently the cancellation of flight has been a normal occurrence. MAS could not have enough passengers to make it economically viable to fly to Bangkok. So conveniently the staff were instructed to cancel the flight. Its a vicious cycle. The more frequent MAS does it, the more it loses its customers. At the end its an issue of integrity. In the eyes of the passengers, MAS is no longer trustworthy.

When Idris Jala first took over as CEO of MAS, I have been praising him sky high. He does a good job by turning the airline around. But the recent episodes of constant delays and cancellation of flights do not augur well for his reputation. It is not what an organisation claims itself to be, what matters is how consistent can one lives up to its claim, ethos, mission and vision statement. This applies not only to MAS but also to any organisation including church.

I decided to make the best of time. Instead of ranting and grunting, I cheered my friends who travelled with me to the consultation. I blogged at the airport. I read and slowed down my pace of life. I thank God for the free lunch compensated by MAS. I was hoping for the opportunity to be upgraded to Business Class. But there were too many (25 passengers) passengers to be compensated for. I was contented to have the next flight. Often we are not in control of life situations, but we are always in control of how we respond to events. I chose to be positive, to look at the brighter side of things, to believe that God is control of my life. I do not need to make a fuss of the delay of flight. The 3 hours delay gave me the opportunity to have good fellowship with my colleagues in the ministry. We have a good time.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Special Invitation to Mines Resort for a worthy cause

The Mines Resort Golf Club is a premier golf club in Malaysia where membership is by invitation only. The membership comes with a price tag of RM $1.2 million. When Pastor Sam and I rode on the same buggy cruising along the buggy track and into the fairway, we were like two 'Shuaku' (hill turtles) stepping into a brand new world for the first time. We decided to enjoy the scenery and the beauty of the nature around it instead of putting on a combating stance in the golf competition. We were both invited to participate in a charity golf to raise funds for Calvary Convention Center. Pastor Sam is a good golfer with a handicap of 18 while mine is 22. No one gave us a chance to win the tournament. We are after all pastors supposedly good in preaching and pastoral ministry.

The 18 flights (72 golfers) started at the same time at different holes. Sam and I had a par each for the start and the other two golfers (lay members from Calvary Church) nearly freaked out. Albert is a 12 handicapper and yet he was not playing well. I think he was pressurized by two amateur pastors/golfers. "I thought pastors are not suppose to be good at golf" Hebert, his buggy mate interjected. Sam and I were as cool as a cucumber. "We are to pursue excellence in everything regardless whether we are pastors or not." We sounded very spiritual and professional.

Steward Ginn, the Malaysian Golf Open Champion for 2 occasions greeted us at a par 4 hole. He was specially flown in to grace the occasion and to conduct a golf clinic. He asked us to tee off so that he could give us his critique. The four of us teed off like a pro and he was very impressed with us. "You are good, pastors" Ginn exclaimed. A comma made a big difference. "You are good pastors." That would sound even better! Ginn then proceeded to show us the power of his drive. His tee off was easily 80 meters ahead of us. We then took a photo. I commented to Ginn: "Though we can't play like a pro, at least we look like a pro!" His smile was as broad as his shoulder. After he left, I had a birdie at that hole. Talk about 'golf anointing.' Was it skill or transference of power?

At the prize giving, my name was called out. "Rev. Wong Fong Yang, handicap 22 is the second runner-up (third placing) for Medal C (handicap 20-24). The whole room cheered loudly. They were rooting for a Presbyterian pastor! Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew was bemused. Prince Gunaratnam, the senior pastor of Calvary Church was surprised that a pastor could play golf well. Pastor Sam too came up second runner-up for his category Medal B (12-19). It was gratifying to see that pastors could compete with other golfers at their game. These golfers obviously spent much more time honing their skills than the pastors. I played only once a month at the most.

Calvary Convention Center manged to raise RM $120,000 from the charity golf. The video presentation showed that the church still needs RM $55 millions for the construction. It has managed to raise only RM $45 millions so far. It is a huge project with a big vision. My prayer is that the members of Calvary Church will see their giving as to giving to Jesus. There are many rich tycoons in that church. If they see themselves as stewards of God then the resources that God entrusted to them will be released to His work. The hearts must be touched first before the pockets can be opened. Fund raising through charity golf is only an awareness campaign. RM $120,000 is not much considering the number of rich golfers who played on that day. The piling work for the Convention Center has already begun. The pressure of raising the remaining sum is mounting each day. Rev. Datuk Dr. Prince Gunaratnam needs to pick up the golf game to de-stress. He might get a hole in one as a beginner!

The latest trophy, the golf ball with Steward Ginn's signature now sat in my cabinet for display. Its not for self glory because there is nothing to boast about. Every single item in the cabinet represents a life time memories of what God has brought into my life. It tells the story of God's goodness and grace. I could not afford to play in Mines Resort. Neither would I dare to dream that I would set foot on the lush green fairway. I do not know any member of Mines Resort who would sign me in as a guest. But God owns the cattle of the thousands hills including Mines Resort. He invited me to enjoy his creation. He seated me on His table with spread suited for a king. I received His kindness with thankfulness. I still look forward to the Messianic Banquet!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Honoring a man of God

When Dr. David Gunaratnam & Christina walked into Wang Restaurant, the crowd applauded their presence and spontaneously sang 'happy birthday' song. David was astounded to see 150 friends crowded in a room with expression of appreciation written all over their faces. Russel and Dee and their two grown up children Joy and Andrew came from USA to grace the occasion. Joy later gave a speech to thank David for having impacted her parents. She had heard so much about David from Russel. Now she knew why her parents have so much admiration for this man of God. It was a night of great memories. Most of us have been impacted by David's life and ministry one way or another.

Fatt Sian & Teo Chew, who were TAR college students 27 years ago, took turn to narrate their stories how each has been mentored by David. David and Christina had not only opened their home to host many students but also shared their lives. David took pain to study Bible and guided them in decision makings. His professional, family and church life was a model. Today Fatt Sian, Teo Chew & many others are leaders in their own right because of the godly influence of David.

Pastor Tony Lim presented to David a book 'The Soul of Mission- Perspective on Christian Leadership, Spirituality & Mission in East Asia' edited by Dr. Tan Kang San. Kang San too was a mentee of David. Way back he was just a college student. He is now head of the missiological department in Redcliffe Mission Organisation. This book is a unique book with essays written by Western & Asian theologians, missionaries and pastors in honor of David Gunaratnam who celebrated his 70th birthday. I contributed a short article sharing my reflection on the impact of David's ministry on mentoring a young generation. His leadership is relatively a quiet one and yet impactful.

In an age where the public applauded celebrities, platform charismatic leaders, David's quiet leadership offers a new perspective and freshness of spirituality. We thank God for a man like David. He is indeed God's gift to His church.