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.