Wednesday, December 9, 2009

25 years before and after

While waiting for Constance to wash her hair at Bianco hair saloon, I took a diagnostic test for my hair. The hairstylist used a gadget, which has a magnifying power of 100 X, and he placed it gently at the spot of my head, which I would not be proud of. What I saw on the computer screen was a picture of arid desert. It looks like ozone with a hole in it. At the rate of hair dropping, in the next 5 years I would resemble a Franciscan Monk. The hair saloon has gigantic mirror as a wall. Everywhere I went, it reminds that I have my prime, once upon a time. Mirror does not lie to you.

The hair stylist ably covered Constance sparse hair with curly perm. The brunette look dye on her hair makes her young. She is elegant.

The one thing I kept reminding myself is to grow old gracefully. Something else is much more important as one aged.

I dated Constance yesterday evening. It was our 25th wedding anniversary. We invited our son Sam to come along. Sarah and Sam always remind us that they are part of the package. So we celebrate anniversaries & birthdays as a family. Sam was at first reticent about the idea of him coming along. He felt that he might intrude into our romantic evening. Obviously we have different definition of romanticism. We went to a Hakka restaurant, nothing romantic about the place. But the food, we both enjoy. The evening went by so quickly. When the waitress came with the bill, Sam offered to pay. Constance and I were touched by his gesture. It is not a small amount for an 18-year-old boy. Sam is generous. We wish that Sarah were here with us.

Later in the evening we spent our time in IKEA testing out potential chairs for the new church. The price is fabulous – RM 35 per chair. 9 years ago we bought the customized chairs for RM 90 when we planted the first church. This one from IKEA came without cushion but it is no less comfortable than the previous one. Alvin and Fern, a young couple from the church planting team, were with us in IKEA. Their wedding anniversary happened to fall on the same day as ours. They were excited too about the church plant.

It was twelve o clock midnight and yet Constance was wide-awake. She kept engaging me with the design of the layout for the new church. I was worn out after a long day. Never a night person, I struggled to stay awake. She turned off the light and finally I went off into the dreamland. Constance is as every bit as engaged in ministry. For 25 years she has been a great companion, a faithful ministry co-worker, a trusted confidante, a wise counselor, and a supportive wife. She helps me to raise two wonderful children. Sam and Sarah arise and call her blessed; I also, and I praise her. She is the Proverbs 31 woman. Each day it dawns on me that I married a great woman. People said that I should thank my lucky star. But I said that God is gracious. He gave her to complete me.

Now 25 years down the road, at an age when people think we should be easing up, Constance and I are on the verge of planting another church. Our passion of serving God deepened as the years go by –undiminished. We are undaunted by the task because of the grace of God in our lives. I am strengthened in my resolve in planting a church because I have Constance by my side. For we know whom we believe. Jesus never fails us.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A dream half comes through

Education is more than shaping the mind. Calvin College in Grand Rapids has consistently produced outstanding graduates in America. But what I like about this college is also its ethos of molding the hearts of the students. John Calvin’s words are imprinted on the wall plaque “My heart I offer to you Lord, promptly and sincerely.” The mind and the heart redeemed by Christ and offer back to Him in loving service are what John Calvin expounded in his theology. John Calvin is noted for his brilliant mind but not many know that he has a great heart. In the 16th century he reached out to the thousand of refugees who flocked to Geneva. The legacy of his reformed theology has influenced the world until today.

I never dreamed that Sarah would one day be studying in Calvin College. I had the rare opportunity to observe her professor lecturing Russian literature in her class. Soaking in every word the professor said, I realized that God has chosen the college for Sarah. My desire is that Sarah’s mind and heart will be molded according to God’s purpose and to become competent intellectually and compassionate emotionally. Education is more than downloading information and scoring with distinctions. All the professors I met praise Sarah for her academic excellence and her lovely character. I was joyful but humbled by the grace of God. I know the destiny that God has for Sarah -to walk in His way, to make Him known and to glorify Him wherever God may call her to be.

Seeing Samuel walking side by side with his sister Sarah in Calvin College gave me immense joy. Sam is intelligent, witty, creative and fun to be with. He has a kind heart. I found out last night when I was driving him home that he spent hours just to be with his friend consoling and counseling him. His good friend went through some tough time because of family problem. Sam would often help strangers in the public place when he saw their plight. The other night he was queuing for a taxi so that he could allow a Malay woman with her children to get into it. Others jumped queue and deprived the woman a chance to get a taxi home. Sam did not need the taxi as he was waiting for me to ferry him home. I still remember an incident in which Sam asked me to stop the car so that he could get out to retrieve a ball that was lying on the road. No passerby bothered to help while the children inside the police compound looked on. Many nights I overheard conversation that Sam had with his friends counseling them. One time he talked his friend out from committing suicide. He gave sound advice to his friends who went through puppy’s love.

I believe that Calvin College will be a perfect place for him. Sarah concurred. The admission director, Rosemary interviewed him and was impressed with this young man. It will be my dream comes through if I can take another photo with Sarah and Sam walking side by side in the campus. This photo posted is just a rehearsal. I will take exactly the same pose at the same spot on another day. It will certainly be my day.

“My heart I offer to you Lord, promptly and sincerely”

Friday, May 15, 2009

No Little People in Bozeman

The first time when I set my eyes on the snowcapped mountain in Bozeman, I was captivated by its majesty and awesomeness. Bozeman is literally surrounded by mountains. It is naturally a touristic town. Winter is giving way to spring and holidaymakers are still coming to ski and to snowboard. The more serious mountaineers are scaling the steep slope, challenging nature with the view to conquer the summit. Such a place normally produces tough-minded people.

Having conversation with Pastor Jeff Hamling in a cafĂ© was a delight. I was intrigued by his story of pastoring a church in Bozeman. Jeff was a youth pastor at Rocky Mountain Community Church in Billings. He left Billings to plant a church in Bozeman. I could see in his sparkling eyes that he enjoys what he is doing. Church planters are no ordinary people. They have to surmount unbelievable obstacles in order to see a church planted. It is equated as a spiritual mountaineering, only the determined one will want to venture out to the unknown. Jeff presented to me a DVD of a 5-day vacation Bible School Program “Peacemaker Clubs for Kids.” He has been conducting the Vacation Bible School for the kids in Bozeman since he came to this town. He loves the people particularly the children. He is helping the children to be peacemakers, teaching them to deal with conflicts in their lives. His is a quest for transformation of the town- one child at a time. Such calling causes him to stay on passionately doing his work. Jeff’s story was not known and was not told. But there is another story which was written into a book and it became the US No. 1 bestseller.

The first time when I saw the cover of the book “Three Cups of Tea- One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a time, I knew intuitively that this is not an ordinary book. I bought it and I have been reading it and enjoying it immensely. The author Mortenson is from Montana. When I googled to find out more, I discovered to my pleasant delight that Mortenson is also from Bozeman. It’s a fascinating story of how the failed attempt to climb K2, the second hardest mountain to climb in the world, Mortenson drifted into an impoverished Pakistan village in the Karakoram Mountains. Little did he realize that his encounter with the hospital village folks in Korphe changed his life forever. What he saw was the pathetic condition of the village school, in which the children studied in the open space without any proper facilities. The children didn’t even have pencils! Touched by the inhabitants’ kindness, he promised to return to build a school. For more than a decade Mortenson worked tirelessly raising funds, buying building materials, sourcing teachers and he succeeded in building not just one but fifty-five schools in this forsaken region of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Here is an American who through education counters the forces of terrorism. He offers every student an opportunity to be educated, to know what is good from evil, rather than to be influenced by the extremist madrassa. The war of terror is not won through military might but by winning the hearts of these Muslims children one at a time.

I find the moral and spiritual congruence of these two ordinary men who hail from the same town, Bozeman. They give their lives that others might live in peace.

God brought me to Bozeman that I might be changed.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Danny Martin talked about his past how as a young boy he was sexually abused. He had been in jails for 13 years. As he shared about his time in Vietnam War, I could sense his deep pain. Danny is a big man and he was crying throughout the time when he narrated his story. On several occasions, he nearly died because of reckless driving. He came to Rocky Mountain Community Church and the gospel of grace had impacted him.

Trey too went through traumatic period when his parents divorced. He was only four years old. During his teenage years he rebelled, smoked marijuana, and used alcohol as a form of escape from the reality of pain. He was diagnosed with cancer but God healed him. Then he heard the gospel and responded to the grace of God. He came to Rocky Mountain Community Church and found grace among God’s people. Just as he is getting on in his Christian life, the doctor discovered that his cancer came back and has spread to his lung. His cancer is at an advance stage and the prognosis is bad. I could see his calmness and restedness. He is obviously not afraid of death. He kept thanking God for forgiving his sin and giving him life. He does not blame God at all.

Bill was also traumatized by the Vietnam War. His friend who was suppose to return from Vietnam stood in his place for the last duty got himself killed. Bill lives with great sense of guilt. He hated the government for the war. Since then he withdrew himself from people. A member of Rocky Mountain Community Church reached out to him and extended her friendship. He joins the church and the small group. He feels totally accepted by the people in the church.

Jerry was once a pastor. He spoke with great pain about his marriage failure. He lost his ministry and had since carried the guilt. He is also impacted by the gospel of grace through the preaching ministry of pastor Alfred, the pastor of Rocky Mountain Community Church.
One by one in the room, the twelve men took turn to share their stories. Each has a common thread and a common theme. All have gone through brokenness and all have experienced the healing touch of God through the gospel of grace. Christ came to us at the intersection of life when hell broke loose. Sin is not just a doctrine to be studied. It is real because it ravaged our lives. But God’s grace abounds.

We ended the evening session praying for one another. It is the highlight of my time in Billings, Montana. God showed up tonight.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The End of One Chapter

Standing at the Podium and with a sense of great relief, I handed over the Synod seal to the incoming Moderator, Rev. Kong. Yesterday afternoon marked the end of a significant chapter of my life. This was my second term as the Moderator of Gereja Presbyterian Malaysia. The first time when I was elected as the Moderator, I was relatively young.; perhaps the youngest Moderator in GPM history. That was 12 years ago. The learning curve was steep then. The stress was unbearable. I could hardly sleep the night after I was elected. I had a great team and we had brought significant change and impact to GPM.

Now at the age of 54, although gained more experience in the ministry but in no way less stressful. The Presbyterian system is queer. A Moderator is expected to function in full-time capacity and yet his main work is with the local church. Bishops of other denominations serve full-time and they do not pastor the local church. No one will understand the difficulties face by the Moderator of GPM except the previous Moderators. But God’s grace is totally sufficient for His servants.

Rev. Kong shared his story with the delegates that must have sent chills to our spines. Just a week ago before he was inducted as the Moderator, he found out that his blood pressure shot up unbelievably high. When he was smiling, he noticed that one side of his face was stiff (expressionless). He did not realize that it was a sign of stroke. The two years ahead will be daunting. This is his second term too as the Moderator.

I am on my way to Billings, Montana. It’s not frequent that an Asian pastor gets to be the keynote speaker at the Mission conference. The PCA leaders are gracious and they give me the privilege to take the rostrum. Their gesture speaks more of their graciousness than my ability or credential. I am looking forward to speak what God has taught me all these years in His mission. It will be a great time to do networking for my church CDPC.

The bonus of this trip is that my son, Samuel will accompany me. We will be camping at Changi airport tonight before the next flight at 6am. We have a lot to talk and to catch up. Sam is expecting me to let down my hair. Good thing that I still have much hair. I will compensate for the lost hours during my tenure as the Moderator, its pay back time.

Sarah is at Vancouver representing her college in the women chorale. She is having the whale of time. We will see her soon in Grand Rapids.

Constance is just contented to be at home. She loves her work at the Pre-School. She tries to learn the computer at the last minute hoping to catch us in Skype. We manage to get batik silk for our hosts in our last minute frantic shopping. She is ever so thoughtful.
We will miss her.

NB: The article was written just the day I stepped down from being the Moderator. The same night Sam and I flew off to Billings. But the photos were uploaded after the trip back to Malaysia to show the great time Sam and I had in Billings and Grand Rapids. What a big load was off from my shoulder. No more carrying the burden of the denomination!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Precious Thing Called Friendship

30 years ago we graduated from the same university and on the night of Valentine we met at the Cricket Club in Hong Kong for a reunion. These are my friends since Dundee’s days. Some of us were even baptized in the same year by the same minister, Rev. Eric Watson. Edward, a dentist, pulled out a photo of Eric Watson and his letter, brought us back to the good old days. Eric Watson, if he knows that we are still keeping our Christian faith, will be beaming with pride. It’s all about God’s grace that has sustained us through thick and thin. I was a fresh convert in 1977, and I have been a pastor for 22 years. I never have imagined that one day I would become a pastor instead of being an engineer. Nothing in those days had prepared me for the ‘Full-Time Christian Ministry.’ Nobody in those times had any inkling or premonition that I would become a minister of the church.

I noticed that Edward, Peter and Yip’s hairs are greying. They insisted that I must have dyed my hair black. I told them that it’s the genes. But they finally concluded that it has to do with my vocation as a pastor – stress free. Pastoral ministry is not as easy as people think. They are many pastors whose hairs are white as snow and bald as a balding eagle (no offense to the pastors who are bald). The deduction is simply not full proof. I feel good after seeing their white hairs. We did let down our hair as the evening glided on. My friends were very generous in treating me with sumptuous meals. These are difficult times economically.

Edward remarked: “We may have lost financially during global economic crisis, what has not been lost is the precious 30 years friendship.” Something in life cannot be placed on the economic scale. I went back to YMCA hotel pondering over what he said about the preciousness of friendship. That night I offered my thanks to God for his grace. I randomly chose Dundee and met these friends in the Christian Fellowship when I became a Christian. I look back I know now that it is never by chance. God engineered the whole thing.

Our children are about the same age. Some of them are studying in the universities. We have common topics to talk and common worries to frown upon. Yip has one girl who just went to England to study. Edward’s two girls are also in England. Peter has three girls, all studying in England. Two of them have graduated. They all have girls and deduced that it has to do with Dundee’s water. I think it has to do with stress – a dentist, an engineer, and a microbiologist’s profession is more stressful than a pastor. I have a girl and a boy. So I conclude that my work is 50% less stressful than theirs. What has stress got to do with all these stuffs? Everything. Ask the doctors, there is medical reason for it. When you have stress, you get a girl!

I was particularly touched when I heard that James, an architect, rushed back from Beijing to attend the dinner function. The gesture speaks volume about his value system.
My friends are successful in their careers. They have raised wonderful families. They are also greying gracefully and with godly wisdom. I am glad for my friends. Who said Valentine Day is for the couples only. I had a good time with them.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The man endured the cold, sat forlornly on a bench and dozed off in the morning. It was winter in Shanghai and passers-by hurried off to work. I noticed that no one bothered to stop to find out what happened to him. Did he have a family? Was he out in the street to beg? Why was he dozing off so early in the morning? There are hardly any beggars in Shanghai.
I stopped and wanted to chat with him. The group I was with was moving very fast in front of me. They were heading off to the headquarter of Three Self Patriotic Church. My colleagues were calling me to keep pace with them. I knew that if I lingered on, I would have lost sight of the group. Reluctantly I moved on and took a picture of this lonely old man. I could not even see his face as it was covered.
When I was in Shanghai 14 years ago, during those days the streets were teeming with cyclists wearing Mao’s style of dress – drab navy blue dress. Gone were the cyclists and the communist dressing. Now I could not tell the difference between Shanghai and other modern cities in the world. I thought I was in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.
Shanghai is modern and sophisticated. High-rise buildings dotted the skyline. Women adorn fashionable dresses rivaling that of Paris cat walking with elegance. I was told that Shanghai is an expensive place to live. That old man was a rare sight.
When we reached the headquarter of the Three Self Church, we were warmly received by the host. The president was a young man who spoke English fluently. Later I found out that he had his theological degree from a seminary in America. Three years ago, I was visiting the same place and the president was an elderly man who needed an interpreter to communicate with us. What a change. English is more widely spoken in China these days. Some of them are well versed in English. I shudder to think what might happen to China when the majority of its citizens are conversant in English. One does not anymore need to learn Putonghua (Mandarin) in order to do business with the Chinese. Some of them speak better English than the Malaysian students.
The Bible Press had printed and sold 60 million copies of Bibles. There are just simply not enough Bibles in China. The hearts of the Chinese hunger for the living word of God. The Cultural Revolution that took place 40 over years ago had left a huge moral and spiritual vacuum in the nation. Christianity is growing so rapidly that there are not enough pastors, seminarians to train the people.
Our mind was overloaded with information from the Three Self representatives. Every one was eager to ask questions. We wanted to reach China for Jesus. But I think sometime God just wants us to reach one person at a time. I thought of the lonely old man.