July 2018 Issue-Worship@Work-CEO

by Mr Neo Ban Sang

 The world crowns success, God crowns faithfulness.
 His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (Matthew 25:21 NIV)
 
We are taught to be faithful servants. Moses was called a faithful servant. Our work is a worship to God, 24/7, for from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. Therefore, we are to “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service”. (Romans 12:1 NKJV) Wherever we are, whether it is church, home or the workplace, God is always with us. Not everyone is a CEO but we see ourselves as CEO wherever the Lord leads us and guides us.
 
C (from Him) -- your calling  
 
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1 NIV)
 
Walk worthy of your calling. What is this calling? This calling is an answer to the invitation from Jesus to first of all, come to Him all who are burdened and heavy-laden and He will give you rest.  We are first called to the Master and then, to the mission. We are first called to come before we GO. Before Jesus called us to go, He called us to come to Him for communion. Communion precedes commission. Many Christians go before properly coming to the Lord to have communion with Him.
 
Why is it important to have communion before going? Because we may end up going in our own strength, our own agenda, priorities, finances and even in our own time. Devotion precedes duty or even donations. That is why our quiet time cannot be compromised for us. Our quiet time is such a precious time because having spent so much time in the world, the business world with all its transactions, challenges, priorities, values and systems, it is in the quiet time before the Lord that we bring respite to our life. Our Father’s business takes precedence over our business.
 
 
E (through Him) -- your empowering
 
Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the Lord has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills — to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts.” (Exodus 35:30-33 NIV)
  
The phrase “filled with the Spirit of God” is often used in the office of kings and priests but here, it is used in the context of craftsmen. It means that we are filled with or empowered by God in our calling. We are not second-class citizens in the kingdom of God because our calling as we go forth is for the glory of God. We are not called to full-time or part-time work but all-the-time -- all the time for the glory of God. So, when we go to work, we know that God is with us and He directs us. We can see work from three perspectives -- as sustenance, as satisfaction and as stewardship.
-       Sustenance is very biblical because the Bible says that if anyone does not work, let him not eat and if he does not provide for his own and his own household, he has denied the faith and he is worse that an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 1:8 NIV)
-       Satisfaction -- King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 2:34 (NIV) says: “A man can do nothing better that to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God…”. Pastor, business person and author Professor Paul Stevens says that God at the end of His creation says it is good. What is there to stop us, who are created in His image, to say it is good as we complete our work?
-       Stewardship -- for all that God has entrusted to us. For those of us who are business owners, stewardship means that we do not see our business as profit and loss. Instead, we are to see the people who worked for us and people we deal with, as people created in the image of God to whom He has entrusted to us. We always think of adding to shareholders’ value in our company and forget that there is one shareholder that is more important -- GOD, a jealous shareholder who will not share His glory with any one.  Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NIV) says: “though the fig tree does not bud……. yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour”. In our difficult times in our work place or in our business, we can look to these verses and say: “… yet I will rejoice in the Lord”.
 
O (for Him) -- your offering  
 
 “Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; foryou serve the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:22-24 NKJV)
  
Scriptures exhort us to obey our masters in all things, not as men-pleasers but in sincerity of hearts, fearing God and whatever we do, do it heartily as to the Lord and not to men. This is because we know that our reward is from the Lord because we serve Him. Ethics and integrity at the workplace do not begin with us and our customers; it begins with us and our God. We should be more concerned with the approval of God more than the applause or accolades of men. Look to the reward from the Lord. Well done, good and faithful servants, enter into the joy of the Lord. Press forward, nothing should be able to stop us as we look to the reward.
Live your life as CEO at the marketplace -- understand our calling, our empowering and our offering to the glory of God.
 
(Mr Neo Ban Seng is Managing Director, KAPP’s Consulting. This talk was given at the GCF Dedication Service at Fairfield Methodist Church on 18 January 2018)

July 2018 Issue-Jesus Our Teacher

by Prof Freddy Boey

Prof Freddy Boey was the keynote speaker at the Teachers’ Dedication Service organised by Teachers’ Christian Fellowship, NIE Christian Fellowship, and Fellowship of Evangelical Students (FES) on 26 May 2018 at the Multipurpose Hall, Church of the Ascension, St Andrew’s Village. He is Professor of Materials Science & Engineering and Senior Vice President for Research Translation and Graduate Studies at the National University Singapore. He previously completed his seven years’ appointment as Provost of Nanyang Technological University.

A Bible teacher for 30 years, Prof Boey spoke on “Jesus, Our Teacher”. His message was in two parts.  The first was generally about the subject of teaching and learning while the second part focussed in on the life and example of Jesus Christ as our teacher.

Learning by institution, inspiration and interaction
He noted that one could learn by institution, inspiration and interaction. 
Institutional learning comes with the discipline of learning from and the development of the culture of the particular institute; both of which may not exist when one self learns.  St Andrews, for example, with its Christian values and openness to students from all walks of life taught him about institutional learning.
 
He shared how inspiration lit a fire in him, which caused him to want to learn on his own.  He was the sort of student who, if feeling bored at a lecture, would wander over to another lecture to see what it was about. It was the experience of hearing an inspiring lecture on materials science that caused him to change his study to this field. “You can’t quite follow the teacher but you are so excited that you learn by yourself,” he observed. 
 
Finally, he noted that the most impactful learning happened through interactive learning, where the process or journey of learning with fellow students is as important as the content learnt.  Prof Boey chose to focus his message on this last point – learning by interaction.  
 
He invited us to focus on our students and not on ourselves as teachers, and to ask: “How can the kids learn better?” rather than to ask: “How can I teach better?”
 
“The human brain is wired to learn by trial and error,” Prof Boey pointed out.  He asked us to pay attention to how fast the brain can work when it is allowed to work.  He asked us to focus on the “how” of learning and in particular:
-            how to process knowledge;
-            how to relate to people; and
-            how to relate knowledge to others.
 
Prof Boey reflected on the nature of learning at university.  He sked: “What did I actually learn at university? The knowledge could have been acquired in less than two years. But that does not mean that a university education should only take two years.  Two years more are needed for an education.”  He pointed out that one should not merely get a degree, but should have an education.
 
He summed up the point of education as “learning to see yourself in society”. To educate a person was to see him become a useful member of society.  He reiterated the feelings of many that Singapore has become so examination-focussed and expressed concern that we are “getting cleverer at examining learners rather than educating them”.
 
He pointed out that there was a place for assessment – formative assessment and that there were exciting ways in which technology could support this through enabling truly formative assessment.  For instance, artificial intelligence (AI) and large data analytics could be leveraged to gather data on the learner as he made attempts, sought solutions, and got stuck in progressing through an online course.  Technology today can enable very interactive and dynamic learning, in contrast to passive lecturing. It can also track every individual’s learning journey and adjust the pace and depth of the course to the individual better than a classroom teacher could.  Both will lead to significantly better learning efficiencies. He also surmised that with technology, one can actually do away with conventional examinations, since we have the technology to assess the both the pace and depth of understanding of the learner, even while he is interactively learning.
 
There is, of course, still a need for human teachers (perhaps now better called facilitators or mentors).  The teacher’s role is not going to be an examiner but an educator, which it should always have been.  One key role remains for a teacher/ mentor -- teaching our students to fail well. “Fail quickly in order to succeed fast,” Prof Boey advised.
 
“The grace of God is that we failed in a setting in which there was someone to pick us up. We have the “parakletos” – the Holy Spirit – alongside us,” he said.
 
Prof Boey shared that experiencing a positive relationship saved him as a young man.  “I came from a poor family one of 11 children.  We lived in a hut in Kolam Ayer.  I went to church for the first time at the age of 12 and was welcomed at the door by Mr Tan Song Thiam.  He stretched out his hand and shook mine and even gave me a little King James Version (KJV) Bible.  No one had ever shaken my hand before.  Crumpled and old clothes with a bit of a smell – these things did not bother Mr Tan. And I still have that little Bible he gave in in 1968!
 
Jesus’ example as a teacher
 
a)        Demon-possessed man

 Turning to the Bible, Prof Boey read from the KJV the account of Jesus healing the demon-possessed man. (Mark 5:1-20)
 
He painted a picture of the life experiences of the young man.  Possibly beginning to behave oddly, he was at first kept at home.  After a while, his behaviour may have caused his family to keep him in some shelter and removed from the house. 
 
Rejected for his strange ways, he was soon cast out from the village. In fear, they tried to confine him to the graves on the hillside, tying him up there. But in his rage and agony, he tore free of his bonds.   “And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.” (v5) In his crazy state, he nevertheless knew who Jesus was “and when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him”.  Prof Boey reminded us that this was a Jewish demon-possessed man.  For him to cry out that Jesus was the Son of God would have gone against everything he had been raised to believe – you do not worship anyone or anything but God.  Yet, he recognised the Son of God.
 
Jesus spoke with him and cast out the demons into the nearby herd of swine.  The people were afraid because when they came to Jesus, they saw the young man “that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind….” (Mark 5:15)
 
Prof Boey observed that the demon-possessed man went on to become the first missionary.  “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.”
 
“ And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.” (v19-20)  Prof Boey drew our attention to the purpose and the commissioning of Christ upon this troubled young man.  Jesus restored him and sent him forth as His missionary. Jesus turned a failure and discard in society into a man with a godly cause.  He asked us to reflect on what that commissioning must have done for this young man, who had been rejected by everyone.
 
b)        Woman with haemorrhage
 
Prof Boey then drew our focus onto the woman whom Jesus healed of a haemorrhage. (Mark 5:25-34)  He alerted us to the fact that Jesus did not force people to come to Him.  He waited for His students to come to Him.
 
When the woman touched Him and power left Him, after identifying her, He said to her, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.”(v34)
 
Prof Boey drew our attention to Jesus calling the woman “daughter”.  He alerted us to how much it must have meant to this lonely woman whose “unclean” condition would have denied her the comforts of a relationship with others.  He said that Jesus told her with just one word that she had someone who cared.  He observed that for many of us, we remember our teachers not because of what they taught but because of what they meant to us relationally.  He said that the late educator, Dr Ruth Wong had done this for him.  She paid attention to him, a total nobody when young, and inspired him to do something for God and society.
 
c)     The leper
 
He gave another example of the leper whom Jesus healed with His touch (Mark 1:40-45).  He drew our attention to the fact that the leper, in keeping with Jewish laws, would have called out to Jesus from a distance.  Lepers then were forbidden on pain of death to come near to other people.  He pointed out that to touch and heal him, Jesus would have needed to walk some distance just to come up to the man.  He asked us to reflect on the impact it must have had on the leper, who had to keep his distance from others all his life, to have Jesus walked to him and reached out his hand to touch and heal him. We too should learn to walk towards our students to establish a relationship, which will inspire and educate them.
 
Communicating worth
 
Prof Boey invited us to recognise that the interaction with teachers which brings about true inspiration, comes about not by teachers saying clever things.  Rather, it comes when a teacher communicates worth. Jesus was saying to the demon-possessed man, the woman with bleeding and the leper: “You are worthy.”  His commissioning of the young man, His calling the woman “daughter” and His reaching out and touching the leper all communicated the worth these individuals had in His eyes.  As teachers, we must do the same.
 
He recounted his experience with his economics teacher at St Andrew’s School.  His first experience was being humiliated by her in front of his class when he answered a question wrongly.  He noted that after this episode, his appreciation for the subject of economics dropped not to zero but to about minus one hundred.  But then, his classmate, the captain of the school, Samuel Owen, somehow let the teacher know that the young Prof Boey was a new boy who had been sick for a while.  The economics teacher took him under her wing and taught him after school every day.  Later, when he received the top student award from the school’s board of governors, they observed that he should take up economics as he had done so well.  The impact of this teacher finding worth in him changed his whole outlook on her subject.
 
Allowing failure in order to succeed
 
Prof Boey came back to the earlier theme of failing in order to succeed.  He said that educational institutes are supposed to be safe environments -- the best place to fail was in schools. What happened to people after they failed (and everyone will fail, sooner or later) was vital.  When the disciples completed their three-year course with Jesus, they did not get a degree.  They received a commission. 

Peter failed and failed again and in his final examination, he failed big time.  Jesus never once mentioned about Peter’s failures.   Prof Boey asked us what Jesus said to him afterwards:  “Do you love me?” He asked, not “What are your grades?” And Peter’s response was a heartfelt: “You know (deep inside my heart), I love you...”

What our Lord asks for is a heart orientation towards Him and not an absence of failure. 

Teaching for life

Communicating worth and allowing failure were hallmarks of our Lord Jesus as He taught.  A third characteristic was that He taught for life.  He asked: ” This meant that we were called to walk with Jesus for life with or without the miracles -- the calling upon us is for a lifetime through thick and thin – because of our love for Him, not because of what we can get from Him.

Prof Boey reminded us that the purpose of our walk is for His name’s sake.  “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3) And the promise is that we will have two sheepdogs called “mercy” and “goodness” that will walk beside us all the days of our lives (v 6).  As we had a tendency to behave like sheep, we really needed these sheepdogs.  John was one of the two sons of Zebedee.  He and his brother James were also known as the sons of thunder because they would do things like ask Jesus if they could call down fire on the unbelieving villages of Samaria (Luke 9:54)!  However, these failing young men were given worth in Jesus’ eyes and He taught them for life.  If we walked with the Lord with our hearts oriented towards Him, we could aspire to be like the apostle John, who at the age of 90 could recall with crystal clarity what he had touched, seen and experienced at 19.  
 
Let us be like John at the end of a long life of walking with Jesus, our teacher, amazed not by the miracles but by His love.  And let us teach by communicating worth, by allowing failure and by teaching for life.
 
Questions and Answers
 
The talk concluded with questions and answers. Among the questions Prof Boey responded to were two on the emphasis on summative assessment in our education system and on how to change the culture of the place where you work.
 
He encouraged the teachers to be persistent.  He observed that he was an optimist.  In his life, he had often found himself stuck and unable to change the way things were but that if something is good, then it will happen.  We had to believe in that.  So in areas such as the obsession with summative assessment or other aspects of institutional culture which we felt should change, we should not lose heart but persist in following Christ.  The changes that needed to happen would happen in His time.   
 
(This talk was given at the Teachers’ Dedication Service 2018)

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

January 2018- Issue-The Challenge of Young Graduates’ Ministry Today

by Dr Tan Soo Inn

When I was growing up, there is only children, youth, adults and seniors. There is no “young adults” thing. This is a relatively newer phenomenon. The usual markers of adulthood involved having your own steady job, marriage, children and some degree of control over your time and money. These are the usual markers of adulthood and this is how society then looked at someone who has arrived. The reality is that in the last 10-20 years, the journey between youth and adulthood has been lengthened because the usual markers of adulthood have been delayed.
 
Rise of a new demographic - the young adults
 
When I was in my final year of dental school, I already know what I want to do -- have a serious girlfriend whom I am going to marry, which church I will be attending and what I am going to do for my career. Before I graduate, all these are already in line. But in today’s world, the young, 18-30 years old, the steady job thing is very elusive. I have not found THE job in which I am going to build my career ladder. In fact, the working world is changing all the time. There is no more life-time job.  Marriage is pushed back, marrying later as they try to find some stability in their work life first. This leads to pushing back having children even amongst Christian couples. It is a longer leeway as they established their careers compared to our or their parents’ generation. This has given rise to a new demographic -- the young adults. They are no longer youth but not yet fully adult as defined by the usual markers of adulthood.
 
Key essential questions of life
 
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Young adults have more space and time to think and answer about the key essential questions of life. What is the meaning of life? This is true especially with the second and third generations of children. The older ones have a crisis of conversion, choosing between Christ and other religions. 
But our children go to church because we ask them to do so. Whether they buy into the Christian faith, we are not sure. Many actually walk away. Even if they are still Christians, do they have a robust faith and understanding of what faith is all about? The question of faith is -- what is ultimately true and why should I follow Christ? There are several troubling questions that young adults struggle with today.
 
a) Question of identity and gender -- who am I? In the world now, there are many forces bombarding them. Who am I? Is it based on my gender, nationality or my job? 
 
b) Questions of meaning and vocation -- what am I call to do? For the young adults, one of the main things that will help them will be that we are called to work, and we need to teach them of their calling and help them to find a job that will activate their passion. This concern for vocation will be coupled with the realities of this world. They may want to follow their passion but find that there is no such job. We need to help them understand what they are going to commit themselves to in terms of work life, and what will give them meaning, and not purely working for money. There are many young adults who are willing to take jobs that pay less but give them more meaning, I believe that if we reach out to them properly, they are willing to die for Christ but we have to understand their world and their language.
 
c) Question of community -- who do I walk with? In Singapore, the issue will be on how do they relate to key communities such as their family of origin and the local church? Unless they are married, most of them stay at home with their parents. How should we reconcile following Christ with the reality of their family of origin? For the church, they are now exposed to so many influences from the outside world so consequently, they have many ideas of what a church should be. Now, they are tired of the institutional church running programmes and seeing them purely as service providers. How do we help them shape a role in church that makes sense to them?
 
d) Questions of decision-making -- how do I make good God-honouring decisions? We need to help the young adults in making solid decisions. But theirs is also an age of distractions. Plugged into the Internet they are “on” all the time. So while they should be using their time to ask the big questions of life, they are distracted by the things the Internet can offer. Their attention is dissipated and fragmented by the way life is mediated to them through the Internet.
 
Relevant Bible teaching & caring mentors
 
Effective ministry to young adults today and that includes ministry to young graduates, needs at least two components:
a) We need to provide relevant Bible teaching. While Christians will always need general grounding in the Scriptures, young adults need cogent biblical answers to the existential questions they encounter every day. The hot button issues such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issue that they encounter on Facebook, Twitter etc. What does the Bible has to say about these issues, not just general teachings, which are much needed? The young adults are constantly confronted by their non-Christian friends and we need to provide credible answers to these issues.
 
b) We need to provide sensitive and caring mentors. In many ways, young adults no longer need those older to provide them with information. In fact, they have more information than the older generation.  They do not need information providers. What they need are role models, older Christians who are still sold out for Christ and faithfully walking with God in their professions. They need safe relationships where they can process their questions. They need mentors who can help them with their questions in life and not telling what to do, not managing their lives or keep talking down to them. The young adults need a safe place where they can process their questions in life. The GCF Sectional Groups will have to take the lead in mentoring the young adults. 
We need to take seriously our duty to help the young graduates make a good transition into adulthood. The stakes are high. It is not just about wanting our graduates to continue to faithfully serve God as they journey on in life. It is about faithfully passing on the faith to a new generation in a time of major cultural change.
 
(This talk was given at the GCF 63rd Annual General Meeting on 15 July 2017 at 47 Chee Hoon Avenue) 

July 2017-Issue-This is GRACE not a RACE-

by Kevin Pang & Lucy Toh

Mrs Chua-Lim Yen Ching, an alumna of St Margaret’s School, shared that coming back to her old school brought back fond memories, which meant a lot to her.  She shared that her father, although not a Christian then, wanted her to study in a mission kindergarten followed by St Margaret’s Primary and Secondary because of the good values taught and, it was here in St Margaret’s Secondary that she became a Christian. She asked the audience to reflect on who we are, why we are where we are, and why we are doing what we do. It is important to stay grounded and be reminded that even challenging times are meant to be a season of growth.

 

A calling from God

 
Mrs Chua shared how in her own life, teaching has been a calling from God referring to her personal philosophy of what it means to be called by God as summed up by the acronym, G-R-A-C-E.  The following is a summary of her sharing.
 
1.     It is God’s will
 
We often ask others: “How do we know we have made the right decision?” Mrs Chua shared that in truth, only we ourselves could answer that question because only we could experience the peace of mind. No one could tell us what truly God’s will was for us.
 
She recounted how in 2006, she contributed as a resource person for the conceptualisation of NorthLight School. A decision was to be made on who should head the school, and Mrs Chua shared how she was keen to take up the role, as she had the heart to work with this profile of students. However, she was worried that she did not have the experiential empathy and might not be able to fully understand the challenges faced by the students.
 
As a result, Mrs Chua prayed about it, and sought advice from her father. He advised her not to take up the post as he feared that she would get discouraged and leave the public service. However, she was not deterred as she continued to harbour a deep desire to serve this group of students, but was apprehensive of what it could entail.
 
Mrs Chua continued to pray about the decision, and asked God for clarity. Just at this moment, she received a note from a person from Malaysia, someone who had attended one of her talks. The note was on how when God called Moses to bring people out of Egypt, Moses did not ask so many questions, but simply took up the job. This was very clear to her and she offered herself for the role.
 
She recounted how earlier in 1997, she was the leader of a project team to explore ways to better support the EM3 and Normal (Technical) students. This was one of the 32 project teams under Thinking School Learning Nation, initiated by then Permanent Secretary Mr Lim Siong Guan.  At that time, the project team had already suggested starting up a specialised school to cater for this specific group of students. However, while the idea was good, the timing was not ripe. And indeed, it was only 10 years later that NorthLight School was set up in 2007.
 
2.  Importance of Resilience
 
We may ask ourselves: “I am very tired, how long do I persevere?” However, it would be important to never let a bad situation bring out the worst in us, but rather choose to stay positive. We can be the strong person that God created us to be.
 
3.  Importance of Authentic Leadership
 
A question that is often asked: “Why do my colleagues at times misunderstand my actions and intentions?” Mrs Chua shared that while our intentions are invisible, our actions are the only area that is visible. When people simply look at our actions, they may not appreciate our deeper intentions.
 
She shared that though there were difficult times, there were also many rewarding moments. In 2007, a very generous donor donated Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to all in the school. Ten years later, one of the students who benefitted from the gesture came back to school, and bought 850 cups of ice cream to give to every child. The ex-student shared that while the ice cream was no big deal, he could never forget the important experience of being cared for by the gesture, and wanted to create the same experience for others. In the same way, Mrs Chua asked everyone in the audience to keep focused on our mission. Teaching is about touching lives. We all can make a big difference, if we keep authentic and remain focused on our mission.
 
4.  Belief in Collective Relationships
 
Collective relationships were Mrs Chua’s core theory of success. She shared that as educators, we must collaborate. We should not look to compete, but to recognise who our true boss is.
 
Success at work need not be at the expense of friendships or character. For ultimately, it is not material things, but eternal character we want to strive towards. In an organisation, we are part of a bigger whole and the collective wisdom is important.
 
Mrs Chua shared the example of an ex-student of NorthLight School. He aspired to be a graphic designer, but when he could not clear his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) twice, he gave up his dream. He shared his aspiration with his teachers in NorthLight School and with their support and encouragement, he did very well and went on to pursue his education in the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).   He eventually graduated and did well in ITE and then, progressed to Nanyang Polytechnic. Now, he shared that he could see his aspiration coming back to him. The collective relationships and leadership of the teachers in NorthLight School had made the difference in him.
 
5.  To be an Exemplary worker for Christ.
 
It was important for all of us to not only talk the walk, but walk the talk. To reiterate this point, Mrs Chua shared a humourous story of how she had showed a lack of faith when first organising a briefing to teachers, who were interested in applying for a position in NorthLight School. She was keen to rally people, who were fully passionate about the cause so she wanted teachers to apply rather than to be posted in.  However, at the last moment, she got cold feet, and fearing that there would be a very small response, she requested to shift the briefing from the large-sized auditorium to another venue of 80-person capacity. The aim was to make the gathering feel more crowded and generate a more positive buy-in from the potential applicants.
 
However, Mrs Chua was caught by surprise when eventually 150 teachers turned up at the briefing. There were insufficient chairs and teachers were made to sit on the steps and the floor during the briefing.
 
The following Sunday, she was to lead Sunday School in church. The passage to be taught was on how Peter showed little faith when Jesus asked him to cast the net for fishes.  She found it difficult to teach the lesson with conviction, when she herself had displayed the very lack of faith that Peter was rebuked for. 
 
Mrs Chua encouraged all of us to always persevere in being exemplary workers, and always have faith in walking the talk, thus inspiring other teachers to have the same common spirit in helping the children we serve.
 
Conclusion
 
To conclude, Mrs Chua shared that with God in the picture, our journey was not a RACE, but blessed by God’s GRACE. She shared God’s provision for her family while enduring a recent personal crisis after her daughter suffered from a fall with internal bleeding in the brain. God was present throughout the ordeal, and despite the many times she found it hard to keep faith, God was faithful and did not let her be tempted beyond what she could bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). In the end, her daughter recovered and she not only understood God’s sovereignty but also experienced it.
 
Each time when we felt that we were self-sufficient, Mrs Chua encouraged all to remember His provisions, and to reflect on the lyrics of the song, “Follow Me” by Ira Stanphill, the second verse of which says:
"I work so hard for Jesus" I often boast and say, 
"I've sacrificed a lot of things to walk the narrow way, 
I gave up fame and fortune; I'm worth a lot to thee," 
And then I heard Him gently say to me, 
"I left the throne of glory and counted it but loss, 
My hands were nailed in anger upon a cruel cross, 
But now we'll make the journey with your hand safe in mine, 
So lift your cross and follow close to me." 
 
With His grace, we can look at the past without regrets, manage the present without anxiety, and face the future without fear.
 
To end her address, Mrs Chua presented all with a gift of a bookmark with seeds embedded. Mrs Chua encouraged all to plant the seeds in soil, and “bloom where they are planted”.
 
(This talk was given at the Teachers’ Christian Fellowship Dedication Service and Seminar on 27 May 2017 at St Margaret’s Secondary School)

July 2017 Issue- Peace & Conflicts:Theological Resources

by Vinoth Ramachandra

Many of us live in societies wracked by bloody civil conflicts. Is there no way of breaking the destructive spiral of violence? Many others are recovering from decades of such conflict and face the painful task of national reconstruction. They ask the question: “How should we deal with the past if it is not to recur?” 

Unmasking violence

Violence is covert as well as overt, collective as well as individual. Even where naked aggression and physical injury are absent, violence can be institutionalised in structures of discrimination and oppression. Long before intentional acts of violence happen, there is usually a history of covert violence. For instance, genocide is preceded by a period (sometimes quite lengthy) of racial stereotyping, public ridicule, misrepresentation and physical segregation of minority groups. Nationalist histories are written which nurture an uncritical loyalty towards national leaders, a  scapegoating  of others (either foreigners or members of another local ethnic group) for whatever misery experienced in that society, a mythical recreation of a golden age  of peace and prosperity, and a depiction of the  other  as either inferior human beings or not human at all. Much of this has been evident in the narratives of local history taught to children in many countries torn apart by sectarian hatred. Not only does this create a climate for violence, but it is an act of violence in itself -- violence against children (brain-washing), and also violence against the other, the “alien”.

Violence is also self-perpetuating. Acts of violence are often responses to violence suffered. It has been observed, sadly, that children who have been victims of sexual abuse are often (but not always) likely to abuse other children. Those who have suffered neglect or domination at home are often (but not invariably) those who want power to dominate others in turn. In places such as Palestine, Iraq or Syria, society is trapped in the spiral of revenge, which is always the result when people choose to meet violence with violence. It is what makes people justify every act of violence (their own) -- they can point to another act of violence, which seems to legitimate what they have done. Yesterday’s victims become today’s victimisers and today’s victimisers become tomorrow’s victims. When violence becomes entrenched in our collective psyche, and no social or political ends can be pursued without resort to violence, then we inhabit a political culture of violence.

Some theological insights

The biblical understanding of sin gives us unique insights into the nature of human conflict. Sin is a theological concept before it is a moral one. It signifies a rejection of God’s call to loving friendship. We make ourselves and our desires the centre of things. Trapped in such aspirations to deity, we see others as competitors to be suppressed, or as simply means to further our own ends, or as threats to our well-being. We have an innate bias towards defending and advancing our own interests. Consequently, we tend to speak of the wrongs we have suffered at the hands of others, but very rarely of the wrongs we have ourselves done to others. This estrangement often turns inwards, so that we even become strangers to ourselves, not understanding our motives and passions, let alone the true ends for which we exist.

Creating a culture of non-violence is impossible without addressing sin in all its social, economic and political manifestations. On the political level, it cannot be separated from the building of a more participatory style of decision-making at all levels of society. For such democracy, as opposed to its caricature in many states that call themselves democratic, is the institutionalisation of non-violent argument, negotiation and compromise. In British statesman and political thinker, Edmund Burke’s famous words, those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable. In situations of ongoing conflict, we must resist all moves to misrepresent the motives and actions of others. We must be in the forefront of all attempts to draw into dialogue the perpetrators of violence, and to debunk both the romantic images of violence and the politico-historical myths that perpetuate violence on all sides. 

The church, with its cultural and political diversity, can also become a laboratory within which civility, argument and participatory democracy can be nurtured in the wider society. Every local church should provide a living context within which people from very different backgrounds are encouraged to share their stories, their suffering and fears, their deepest concerns in a way that contributes towards the re-building of trust.

Such restoration of trust is vital in situations where violence has become entrenched in a nation’s life.  The church must support refugees from all parties to the conflict, and ensure that it denounces all atrocities and violations of human rights. Churches are often tempted either to issue bland calls for a “peace”, that ignores the demands of justice or else to demand justice as a pre-condition for peace. We need to learn to practise what the South African theologian John de Gruchy has called the “dialectic of reconciliation”, namely, understanding reconciliation as a path to achieving justice and as the fruit of justice. (John W. de Gruchy, “The Dialectic of Reconciliation: Church and the Transition to Democracy in South Africa” in Gregory Baum and Harold Welly, eds., 1997, “The Reconciliation of Peoples - Challenges to Churches (Geneva: World Council of Churches). The goal of all Christian approaches to justice must be both the liberation of the oppressed and the restoration of the humanity of the oppressors.

Truth is as important as justice if nations are to be renewed. Indeed, practising justice and speaking the truth are inseparable. For justice to be done, the past has to be faced with honesty and humility.  For societies recovering from many years of state terror and civil conflict, some recapitulation of the history of the conflict has to be undertaken, however painful for all concerned. The demons of the past have to be exorcised if new relationships are to be made possible and the nation move forward together.

Why should we remember the atrocities of the past? Writers such as Elie Wiesel, the Jewish Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate, have never tired of pointing out that justice for the victims and their families demands that we remember their sufferings. To forget is to add insult to injury. But, it is also to condemn ourselves and our offspring to repeat the evils of the past. In a speech to the German Reichstag on 10 November 1987, 50 years after the infamous Krystallnacht, when mobs on the streets of German cities destroyed Jewish properties and propelled the country towards the “Final Solution”, Wiesel observed: “We remember Auschwitz and all that it symbolises because we believe that, in spite of the past and its horrors, the world is worthy of salvation; and salvation, like redemption, can be found only in memory.” (Quoted in Miroslav Volf, 2006, “The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World”, Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, pp.19)

The historic Christian claim is that the One through whom the universe came in to being and is held in being has Himself become a victim of torture and dehumanisation. Thus Christians, of all people, are never surprised at the extent and depths of violence in human affairs. But, they should always be distressed by it. Violence is not a normal aspect of human nature, as some socio-biologists have claimed, but rather an ugly distortion of our humanity. Christians affirm that God is loving friendship, living in self-giving relations of Father, Son and Spirit. And human beings have been created in His likeness for loving communion with God, with each other and with the whole creation. Peace, friendship, and goodness are both the beginning from which the world was created and the telos (Greek for an end or purpose), toward which all things are striving.  But the message of a crucified God also gives us a realistic, clear-eyed portrayal of the very real misery, evil, and violence that afflicts us in this world.

In many situations of unending and senseless conflict, leaders of either side lack the humility to acknowledge their mistakes, let alone their moral guilt. They are willing to sacrifice countless more human lives simply to avoid what is deemed “loss of face”. For those of us struggling with the pain of victimhood, to be loved unconditionally by God redefines our identities. It enables us to love the other, including those who have harmed us. But this process cannot be short-circuited. Theologians and pastoral counsellors have warned that there is a “cheap forgiveness” that does more harm to victims by failing to work properly with memory. It is expressed in the facile advice to suffering victims to “forgive and forget”. To forgive like God is to face honestly the wrong that has been committed and to condemn it. But it is to separate the wrong from the wrongdoer and to offer the latter release from his guilt. To forgive a guilty person is not to declare that he is not guilty but to declare that the person will be treated as not guilty. It is to say to him: “What you did to me was evil, but I will not hold it against you or treat you the way you treated me.”

Medical doctor Sheila Cassidy who was raped and tortured by General Pinochet’s soldiers in Chile in the 1970s, writes of her own bitter struggles to overcome humiliation and desires for revenge: “I know what it is like to be powerless to forgive. That is why I would never say to someone: “You must forgive”. I would not dare. Who am I to tell a woman whose father abused her or a mother whose daughter has been raped that she must forgive? I can only say: however much we have been wronged, however justified our hatred, if we cherish it, it will poison us. Hatred is a devil to be cast out, and we must pray for the power to forgive, for it is in forgiving our enemies that we are healed.” (Quoted in Walter Wink, 1998, “When The Powers Fall: Reconciliation in the Healing of Nations”, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, pp.24)

However, in Christian perspective, the healing process is not complete until it includes the relationship with the one, who has inflicted harm (if he or she is identifiable and still alive). Any healing of the wronged without involving the wrongdoer, therefore, can be only partial. The primary reason we pray for the power to forgive is not that we can sleep at night without medication or heal our memories, but that we can reach across the great divide that separates us from those who have wronged us. Gregory Jones observes: “Forgiveness is not primarily a word that is spoken or an action that is performed or a feeling that is felt. It is a way of life appropriate to friendship with the Triune God.” (L. Gregory Jones, 1995, “Embodying Forgiveness: a Theological Analysis”, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp.218)

When a person has been shamed, honour has been lost. If it is not retrieved, the person remains reduced and dishonoured in the eyes of his or her community. Shame cannot be forgiven, and honour can be regained only by means of revenge. Forgiveness and guilt replace honour and shame by introducing the possibility of change -- change in the relationship between the offender and the offended. Guilt and forgiveness together liberate human beings from the sense of fate.

Reconciliation with the enemy is thus the goal of forgiveness.  “To reconcile” is to bring enemies into a state of friendship, to overcome the alienation. To be reconciled is not to paper over the cracks and pretend that the evil or evils never occurred. The Greek term which is translated “to forgive” in the New Testament is aphiemi, “to let go, loose, set free, acquit, dismiss, remit”. Notice that the direction is all toward the other, not toward oneself. By forgiving, we set the other free. How? By removing from her or his shoulders the burden of our hatred and desire for revenge. We free the other to deal with God. Justice rights wrongs; while forgiveness aims to mend broken relationships. Both are thus necessary in human relationships.

Political leadership in post-conflict situations

In recent years, in countries such as South Africa, Chile, El Salvador, Haiti and Rwanda, some form of Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been set up in the aftermath of tragedy. The setting up of these commissions surely reflects the biblical conviction that repentance is the basis of genuine reconciliation. Those responsible for disappearances, torture and murder must be prosecuted. If that is not possible, because records have disappeared or witnesses have been killed or intimidated, at least they should be subject to public shaming. The victims must be allowed to tell their story, and the victimisers brought face-to-face with their victims.

Is there a place for international courts of justice before which to prosecute and punish war crimes? Certainly. It has long been a Christian conviction, and recognised as such by the legal community in recent years, that crimes against innocent non-combatants are violations of international moral norms.  If national courts are unable to act against the instigators and perpetrators of such crimes, owing to lack of political will or inadequate national legislation, then the “international community” has an obligation to act in the interests of justice. But here again, the credibility of such courts depends on how far they retain their independence and do not follow what has come to be called “victors’ justice”. The latter will always be perceived as a form of collective revenge, rather than as impartial justice, as long as members of the “victorious” group are exonerated from prosecution. The famous Nuremberg trials against Nazi officers and their collaborators were never followed up by a tribunal to investigate allied war crimes (and post-war atrocities on German soil committed by Western and Soviet troops). The refusal of countries such as the United States of America (USA) and China to recognise the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court is a serious obstacle to the prevention of such crimes against humanity.

Conclusion

A Christian understanding of reconciliation stems from what has already happened in the history of the world. The bridge of peace is already there. We are called to cross it, not build it. The situation between God and humanity has been changed decisively, something objective has occurred which has made everything in the cosmos different. Those who have experienced that reconciliation through penitence and trust are called to point towards that bridge, to declare what has been accomplished, and to convert our politics to that gracious reality.

But the Christian faith is also realistic. It recognises that reconciliation between people rarely happens, whether as individuals or collectivities, we prefer to live with our bitter memories, bathed in self-pity, nursing our resentments, or refusing to accept our acts of wrongdoing towards others. Uneasy co-existence is usually the norm, not mutual repentance, restitution and reconciliation. 

There will be a final day of reckoning. It will be when the Judge of all the earth will bring us face- to-face with the wrongs we have tried to cover up as well as face-to-face with our victims and those who have victimised us. Those who have escaped human courts will face a divine court of perfect, transparent justice. In the here and now, justice is hardly ever attained; hence we remember wrongs suffered. In the world to come, justice will have been done; and, therefore, we will be able to let go of memories of wrongs suffered. In the here and now, healing is always partial, and even forgiveness does not remove the emotional scars and the physical pain. Hence, we live with a sense of irreparable loss. In the world to come, our humanity will share fully in the resurrected Christ; and, then, we will experience the completion of our healing. 

But how should we remember? Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf notes that remembering by itself cannot be redemptive. Victims often remember in a way that nurses resentment, even hatred, and stirs up deep longings for revenge. Such bitter memories are what often fuel long-standing conflict, as families and communities pass on stories of suffering to future generations. Individuals and entire communities can be so obsessed with their memories of wrongs inflicted that they even define themselves in terms of victimhood and become paralysed by the past.  

Volf argues correctly that memory is logically linked to truth.(Quoted in Miroslav Volf, 2006, “The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World”, Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, chp.3) Built into the claim that we are “remembering” an event is the assertion that, to the best of our knowledge, our reported memory is true in the sense that it corresponds in some way to events as they occurred. Psychologists have uncovered the phenomenon of “false memories”, stories told so vividly that they leave an indelible imprint on the victim as much on his or her hearers. What makes these stories false, however, is that although believed passionately by the sufferer (and the more the story is told, the more “true” it becomes for the latter) independent testimony does not validate the claim that the event in question actually occurred. 

So we should remember truthfully. To remember truthfully is to render justice both to the victim and to the victimiser/wrongdoer. Truthful memory neither downplays nor exaggerates the harm inflicted by the wrongdoer. It also refuses to depict the latter as totally evil. In my own Sri Lankan context, for example, it is not uncommon to find those minority Tamils, who have suffered at the hands of the majority Sinhalese people (either mobs or soldiers) and have fled to Western nations, speaking of the entire Sinhalese ethnic group as brutal chauvinists; and never mentioning the many instances of Sinhalese people who have risked their lives to save Tamils. Thus, a commitment to truth-telling on the part of victims and perpetrators -- and in most situations of protracted conflict the line between them is blurred -- requires that all consciously strive to listen to the accounts of the other as well as honestly share their own. 

Volf writes: “Seekers of truth, as distinct from alleged possessors of truth, will employ “double vision”- they will give others the benefit of the doubt, they will inhabit imaginatively the world of others, and they will endeavour to view events in question from the perspective of others, not just their own.” (Quoted in Miroslav Volf, 2006, “The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World”, Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, pp.57)

All of us are formed as human persons by what we have experienced, including sufferings we have borne. This is especially the case with those, who have suffered severe trauma as a result of violence inflicted on themselves or on those close to them. But we are not just shaped by our memories; we ourselves shape the memories that shape us. We are more than what we have suffered, and that is the reason we do not have to passively surrender to our memories. We can do something with our memories, refusing to let them define our future. 

(This talk was given at the IFES East Asia Graduate Conference on 7 August 2016 at Cha Am Beach Hotel, Thailand. Vinoth Ramachandra is IFES Secretary for Dialogue & Social Engagement

 

July 2016 Issue-A Different Direction: Following Christ in Workplace Decisions

by Mr Philip Ng

More than 120-odd students turned up on 3 March 2016 to listen to “A Different Direction: Following Christ in Workplace Decisions – a Talk with Philip Ng” at a lecture theatre at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

With the goal of helping students transit better into the workplace, the Business and Finance Executives Christian Fellowship (BECF) partnered with business and accountancy Christian Fellowship of the NUS to host this talk. With the publicity under the banner of the Varsity Christian Fellowship for publicity and logistic reasons, the Fellowship of Evangelical Students and Graduates’ Christian Fellowship supported the event through publicity and outreach. It was truly an evening to rejoice as we believe the many students, who turned up were truly blessed and left with much to ponder about.

Mr Philip Ng, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Far East Organization (FEO) started the evening with some light-hearted sharing, touching briefly on his life’s experiences as a student in Anglo-Chinese School when he  was not yet a believer.

He went on to share that organisations that exist in the marketplace are usually commercial enterprises formed with the purpose of making profit. Some will do it at any cost and processes may not be as important. However, there are organisations that value profit and reputation so they pay a little more attention to processes.

FEO as a Christian Enterprise

FEO which operates in a very competitive arena, understands that profit is very important. As a Christian Enterprise (CE), process is also important to FEO. Mr Ng explains that a company is constituted by people where its philosophy and operating ideas cannot be put together without at least one to two people to drive them. He hopes that it will be Spirit-led as the Lord has impressed upon him that being a CE is the way to steward the organisation.

He shared that company ideals are not just concocted randomly. Christian Enterprises such as FEO recognise that values are the most important and outcomes will have to come after that. He believes that it is not biblical or scriptural to say that the company is going to be more profitable because it believes in these values. He referred to apostle Paul’s teachings where to live is Christ and to die is gain. Paul was thrown into many situations where he suffered. Being a CE does not mean that just because we are faithful to the principles of Christianity, we will be blessed. It just shows that the most important thing is our relationship with the Lord our God. As a steward running FEO, Mr Ng believes that his life and work must be led by Christ.

In sharing how his family has personally experienced the grace of God and His unmerited favour, he and his family have been impressed that all the blessings come from God. As most of the family came to Christ, they had a conviction to make FEO a CE. Just as a Christian belongs to Jesus, he believes that a CE also belongs to Jesus.

Mr Ng recited the enterprise statement which differentiates FEO from other organisations as it seeks to be set apart as a CE:

Far East Organization is a Christian enterprise. We seek to be a community of love and a workplace of grace that welcomes Christians and non-Christians alike to work joyfully together. As we join hands to build a garden of enterprise that endures (to honour the vision of our late founder, Mr Ng Teng Fong), we want to do good business and to do good in business.

As a Christian enterprise, we embrace the eternal truths of God’s Word. We apply these truths to our business as these are words of life and business is, after all, a part of life itself. Thus, we operate our business on the solid foundation of our values and our rock who is Jesus Christ. Our core values are Business with Grace, Unity, Integrity, Love, Diligence and we practise these values alongside the teachings of Jesus. Our Christian identity is integral to the brand of Far East Organization.

Our focus is on fulfilment, governed by the principles of Stewardship and Grace. Fulfilment entails fulfilling our mission, our objectives and our lives in the Way of Jesus Christ.”

As a CE, FEO emphasises a lot on values and processes. There are things which man can control such as values, and a lot of things man cannot control but God is in control. It is more important to be process-driven, values-centred, and ultimately, Christ-centred and leave the outcome, whatever it may be, to God. All of us desire a good outcome. However, the values have to come first.

Love in the workplace

FEO talks a lot about love in the workplace, a topic very few companies talk about in Singapore. However, as believers, it is important to show the love of God to the people we deal with. Mr Ng wants people who join FEO to know that they are a CE and will talk about Jesus and love, the gospel and whatever in the Bible that is good to share. In  FEO’s core property operations of approximately 2,500 employees, he estimates that at the most, 500 are Christians. He hopes that believers can first show that they belong to Christ, by answering the question “who is Jesus Christ” through their actions rather than words so that others will want to know our Lord and Master. It is therefore incumbent for believers to show that we belong to Christ. Jesus told us to go make disciples of all the nations so that is a call for Christians, in that when we are doing our work, we have to show the love of God.

Managing difficult situations

In response to a question from the audience, Mr Ng talked about managing difficult situations such as staff termination due to cheating. As a CE, they do want to show grace to the undeserving. However, clearly, the rules must be met in the sense that if people are blatantly dishonest, they have to let them off in as merciful a way as possible. This situation can become very difficult. If a person is downright dishonest, FEO cannot write a false testimonial letter and do in the next employer. It is a struggle, especially for human resource (HR) officers.  A CE has to recognise that it is about individuals and not just statistics and numbers. FEO has its policies and rules but it also recognises that at the end of the day, there are individuals involved. In such situations, FEO gets its staff to go for counselling and encourage them to turn over a new leaf, for “he who has been stealing must steal no longer….” (Ephesians 4:28 a)

Resistance in transforming the organisation

In talking about the resistance faced in changing FEO to a CE, Mr Ng mentioned about introducing the concept in stages, starting this transformative process as early as 2008. It took some time to get to the core of things in a large organisation, which has been successful in doing things a certain way. So while they did not want to be disruptive, they wanted to create a fabric that is Christian. The Lord does not promise financial success and they were not doing it because of better financial outcome but because it was the right thing to do. The Lord availed the resources for this journey and did not leave the team to the vagaries as they walked with Him. Resistance came from various places, even from some Christians. In previous places where some Christian worked, they did not have to walk the Christian walk. They were there as professionals, doing what they would but now, they have to do things the Lord’s way and it became very difficult as people do not like change. The FEO management also received comments from staff that they are plied with so much Christian talk but these feedback did not come as a surprise.

Advice to students

Next, Mr Ng addressed the students directly about how their current lives may be very comfortably sheltered from the harsh realities of the world. As they enter the workplace, they have to understand that business is a part of life and it is very hard to compartmentalise between work and faith in the real world. For all of us as Christians, in marketplace or otherwise, we have to keep reminding ourselves to live for Christ and our enemies are often our own selves and not people who work with us or our customers. Even if they are, we are to be obedient and love them. Even if we are not in a CE, as Christians we should not compartmentalise our lives as we will be very torn if we end up as only weekend Christians.

He encouraged young people to discern the advice to “do what you love”. Doing what you love can be self-centred and we need to be careful as Christians that it is not about self but about God. We should serve, love and obey. As salt and light, we should not do what we love but love what we do and love as we do.

He explained that if you do what you love, you may not care about others or what others may think. But for those who belong to Christ, we must love what we do as we are given tasks from the Lord that we may not like. He compared it to Jesus’ command to love our enemies as ourselves. If we only love our neighbours, we are no different from the pagans.

Question-and-answer session

The following are some highlights of the question-and-answer session where Mr Ng was joined by his staff, Mr Benjamin Peh and Ms Yeo Min Qi. Mr Peh, a NUS graduate in Real Estate Management joined FEO in 2011 after graduation and is now in FEO estate management department. Ms Yeo, who graduated from NUS two and a half years ago, had an internship with FEO and worked in land acquisition. She is now in customer service.

Q: You mentioned about business with grace. If you are not a Christian, you would not have heard of it. You may know what it means but how about the newer and younger staff? Can you share thoughts on how business with grace looks like at your level on the ground?

Benjamin: When I just joined in 2011, the values were already built - Business with excellence, Unity, Integrity, Loyalty and Diligence. Then, it was still quite corporate. I saw the change from 2011 to 2013. Our CEO would spend time sharing on applying Christian values. It took me some time to understand and practise these Christian values. When I was a student, in terms of school work, it was “God is with me” and I can do my work better, pass my examinations and so on. Work is a whole new ball game. Part of my job is to meet customers and I have seen some angry ones and seen resistance. Trust takes a lot of effort to build. Sometimes, with customers, we face issues such as during sales when some promises were made. We try to be understanding. Sometimes, all these customers need is an apology, a listening ear, and may be a little bit of help. Business with grace to me means when faced with an issue, I do not say “this is a bad customer” but with grace, build trust. This is not the old FEO I know but the new FEO I know.

Min Qi: I started in land acquisition and it is not always about numbers and money. Our values speak louder when we go overseas. When we show and prove to our business partners that our values matter, they take us more seriously and more people want to work with us. Now that I am in customer service, the values still hold. It is the same thing but just a different part of the business. We do meet angry customers as expected. I can see from our actions and our dealings with our customers that the company is committed to deliver what has been promised. We always try our best to go out of the way to help whenever we can.

Philip: I am also hearing new things from Benjamin and Min Qi. The Lord has indeed availed resources. It is very encouraging to hear from both of them. Grace is very difficult to understand. I was very candid when I talked about grace to my senior management. One senior manager asked: “How do we operationalise grace?” I thought it was a very good managerial question but if we could operationalise it, it would not be grace. Grace must come from the Spirit. God will teach. I replied: “I do not know myself.”

Q: Grace cannot really be expressed until you are expressing it in a context. But how do you work grace in your policies? Or do you keep it separate and grace is applied more discreetly?

Benjamin: I work with many management councils, which try to serve their fellow residents. Sometimes, when they face issues, they come to us for help. We ask: “What help do you need?” If they ask for funding support, I have to talk to my immediate supervisor. If I believe that we ought to do it due to safety and security concerns, I will put up a recommendation with my supervisor, bringing this issue to the attention of the Head of Department, and eventually to the CEO, depending on the amount involved.

A lot of things need to be considered. Legally, we may not owe them anything but we want to help because it is a safety issue. Perhaps that is grace in terms of processes.

Min Qi: As a developer, we run a business so although not everything is about profit, it is important. We use Christian values but do not use it in a way to harm our business. The Bible talks about being harmless as dove but wise as serpent. This has helped me a lot in my work life. I have to work with lawyers to come up with term sheets and contracts. I will try not to bully people into bad contracts. My friends asked if we as a developer chase people out of their houses like in the Hong Kong dramas. We do not do that but we need to do our calculations to make sure we are not getting into a bad deal but also make sure that we do not hurt anybody.

Philip: When we talk about business with grace, we do not just rely on the contract or the law or be so transactional. In Singapore, we are very rules-based and transactional, so we tend to be guided by rules. In the marketplace, when we are too transactional, we become very hard and fast, black and white, and there is no grace. That is not how life is meant to be lived. If your life is so transactional, you only do things for people who do things for you, and that is very sad. There is where we want to be different as a CE -- by not just being too transactional. There is a lot of room for interpretation. Grace cannot be prescribed or indoctrinated. It does not work if one “memorise the 10 rules of grace”. Grace must come from the heart and of the spirit.

Q: Have you ever been burned out? How do you pick yourself up?

Min Qi: About three years back, like most of you, I was wondering what to do. I was not as lucky to get a scholarship and I was feeling very confused. After starting work for two and the half years now, there have been ups and downs in work life, which is normal. Sometimes, it can be very hard. For me at least, I leave it to God and trust that everything will be OK. I know that I cannot achieve anything by my own strength so I can only lean on God.

Being a Christian does not mean life will be smooth sailing. In fact, it is the opposite. By proclaiming ourselves as a CE, we are held to higher standards. It can be very difficult for staff and it is easy to get burn out with a lot of emotional stress. By saying that we are a Christian company, we want to care for our customers and also be sympathetic to our colleagues as far as possible. It important to have our own support group, always be there for one another, and providing a listening ear.

Benjamin: Some of us have been through national service, and the day when we enlist, we start to learn new things. We go to the jungle, we feel lost. It is the same when we enter a new workplace. Like swimming, when we first start, we struggle and panic. That is how I felt when I was in my job for a while. Thankfully, I am a Christian and the values are very important to me. I go back to the word of God. My mom encourages me, and I pray and meditate on God’s word. My favorite verse is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”.

You have to believe in the power of prayer. Before I meet a customer, I pray for favour and let what I speak be right. God brings me through. It is still challenging. We must believe God is with us as Christians. When faced with issues, like the 12 spies, we can be like the 10 spies who say they are all giants or be like Joshua and see them as grasshoppers. The Bible is our best self-help book. Read Proverbs to live life and we do not need to buy more self-help books. The Bible also teaches us to treat people right. I hope you continue to meditate on God’s word. God told Joshua to mediate on His word day and night. It will also help in your examinations.

Philip: The issue of burnout is a very real one in the workplace. This is where the heart and spiritual wisdom must be there, and it can only come from God. I hope that our Christian leaders recognise the symptoms of burnout and apply grace and the right judgement. All of you will feel it in a fast-paced workplace. For us as developers, we go through boom and bust. During boom periods, there is so much work. Customer service is the most difficult and challenging and people do burn out. This is where we must recognise the fact that burnout can happen. People do fall sick, do have issues at home, and sometimes, even go through depression. We have to identify and help colleagues. Our HR policies are structured such that we help as many as possible. There must also be understanding and care shown by leaders. They must spot the burnout and do something about it.

It is important to have the right people with the right values and put them in the right positions. Sometimes, we have to tinker a bit to find out where they belong. It must be a two-way street in terms of communication. The burnout issue is very real. There are certain front-line sections that really face the heat. For us in real estate, it is customer service because of the focus on delivery. The market situation is such that the market is a bit soft so prices may be lower than what customers paid for, resulting in some unhappiness. It is important for us to recognise that there must be a right fit for the people. The people who do not fit in will not enjoy or love what they do.

(This talk was given on 3 March 2016 at LT27, Faculty of Science, National University of Singapore)

 

 


January 2016 Issue-The Mission and Identity of the Church in a World of Global Flows

by Dr Calvin Chong

I wish to extend warm congratulations to the Graduates’ Christian Fellowship (GCF) on this very special milestone in your history and give thanks with all here for GCF’s special role in Singapore over these last 60 years. Sixty years on, we can only say that we live in a very different world…a new world order. This is a new world of fluidity and flows where we find, in the words of social theorist George Ritzer, “increasing liquidity and the growing multi-directional flows of people, objects, places and information…” (Ritzer 2011, p. 2) This is a new globally connected world in which life straddles an expanded ecosystem of geographic and digital spaces. This is a new world in which our continents, communities, congregations, and children are situated. This is a new world which has introduced deep level, irrevocable changes to how everyday life is experienced, how habits and values are formed, and how things are done.

Times of fluidity and change

Whatever continent you find yourself located in, whatever community you belong to, whatever congregation you are from, whoever our children are, no place and no one have been left untouched, unaffected, or unaltered by these shifts, accelerations, and movements. Of course, the impact of globalisation and global flows affects different people differently, depending on your social and geographical location. But whether it is First World or Third World problems that are introduced, we all observe increasing vulnerabilities, uncertainties, stresses, conflicts, inequalities, displacements, and worrying next-generation-concerns.

It is at a time of great world changes that God’s people are called to take a global-local perspective to life on earth and to look deeper, farther, and harder at what is happening in our continents, communities, congregations, and children. Times of change and dis-equilibration provide great opportunity for God’s people to clarify what they exist for. Times of change and dis-equilibration provide great occasion for us to discern what external trappings to shed and what internal core to preserve. In times of change and movement, no one and certainly not the church want to be like what the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras has become. If you know that story, the bridge was built over the Choluteca River. When Hurricane Mitch swept through in 1998, the bridge was left intact but the river’s course shifted away from the bridge. Now, the river is alive and running a different course but the bridge stands – a monument to irrelevance, present where the action was, away from where the action is now. Its presence and preservation do nothing to address the realities, needs and challenges of everyday life in the new world.

The title of my address this evening is “The mission and identity of Christians in a world of global lows”. What the title captures is how God’s people’s response to the changes experienced in the new world we live in. One of the things I want to say is that given current realities, the body of Christ that wants to keep relevant and responsive must intensify missional efforts. More so than ever in the history of the world, missions need to be at the forefront of the life of the church and believers.

Defining integral missions

But by this, I do not mean missions in the traditional sense, which are captured in the mission policies in our church, that is, you have to leave your job, get trained in Bible college, leave your country, and do evangelism and church-planting in Bonga Bonga Land. Here, what I am referring to is what the leading missiologists and church historians in our generation have been saying for some time already. Amongst them include scholars such as Messrs Rene Padilla, Samuel Escobar, Andrew Walls and Christopher Wright and Ms Cathy Ross. Perhaps, I will use the more familiar Mr Chris Wright to speak on behalf of these missions thinkers.

In the opening page of his 2010 book, “The Mission of God’s People”, Mr Wright penned these words:

The Bible tells us that God did send many people. But the range of things for which people were sent is staggeringly broad. “Sending” language is used in all the following stories:
• Joseph -- to be in a position to save lives in a famine (Genesis 45:7)
• Moses -- to deliver people from oppression and exploitation (Exodus 3:l0)
• Elijah -- to influence the course of international politics (1 Kings 19:15-18)
• Jeremiah -- to proclaim God’s word (Jeremiah 1:7)
• Jesus -- to preach good news, to proclaim freedom, to give sight for the blind, and to offer rel
ease from oppression (Luke 4:16-19)
• The disciples -- preach and demonstrate the delivering and healing power of the reign of of God 
(Matthew 10:5-8)
• The apostles -- make disciples, baptise and teach (Matthew 28:18-20)
• Paul and Barnabas -- famine relief (Acts 11:27-30) and evangelism/church- planting
 (Acts     13:1-3)
• Titus -- ensure trustworthy and transparent financial administration (2 Corinthians 8:16-24) and competent church administration (Titus 1:5)
• Apollos -- skilled Bible teacher for church nurturing (Acts 18:27-28).
• Many unnamed brothers and sisters -- itinerant teachers for the sake of the truth of the gospel (3 John 5- 8).

So, even if we agree that the concept of sending and being sent lies at the heart of missions, there is a broad range of biblically sanctioned activities that people may be sent by God to do, including famine relief, action for justice, preaching, evangelism, teaching, healing and administration. Yet, when we use the words “missions” and “missionaries”, we tend to think mainly of evangelistic activity. What will our biblical theology have to say to that? (Wright, 2010, p. 24)

What Mr Wright and other great missions minds, keeping their eyes on the changing conditions of the world, are talking about is holistic or integral missions – missions which have five complementary facets all of which announce the good news of Jesus Christ. You see, in a world so full of very, very bad news, the good news of Jesus Christ not just need to be proclaimed, it needs to be demonstrated. The good news need not just be heard as words but experienced as works. Which is why missions need to include evangelism, teaching, compassion, justice, and creation care-missions directed at the church, society and creation.

Challenge to be missional

What then is the invitation to you and I then? To be amongst the sent who understand, embrace, and offer the transformational hope of the gospel in the different arenas of church and society. To be God’s agents of hope through evangelism, teaching, compassion, justice, and creation care.

But what are the arenas of society where God’s people can be missional and not just articulate but also flesh out the good news? From a sociological point of view, we think in terms of the pillars of society, which support the functions of every society’s everyday life workings -- family, religion, business, law and government, education, arts and entertainment, and media and communications. All these pillars of society are not untouched by the reach of globalisation and all these traditional institutions are arenas where witness of and for Christ is so pressing and critical.  Friends, isn’t this the everyday world you and I live in today?
 
Several years ago, I challenged a group of Varsity Christian Fellowship (VCF) students with this question about their contribution in society. My question was: “How do the most educated in society best contribute to integral missions?” Today, I place that same challenge before GCF members and friends: “How do the most educated in society best contribute to integral missions?” I suggested to them some possibilities
-- providing leadership and direction, foundation funding and expertise, guidance in areas of policy/legislation/governance, creative innovations, helping to network, providing perspective and having open mindset, educating, shaping, and mentoring.

Friends, I work in a seminary and as many of you will know, we are set up to train preachers, pastors, missionaries, counsellors, music directors, and others, who typically fill up the paid positions in our churches. I have been in the industry for more than 25 years now, and the more I serve in seminary, the more I really enjoy my work there. But here are some hard facts – in terms of our core business, seminaries only directly train a very small percentage of the church population, probably less than 1 per cent.

How about the rest? Which is the reason why I feel so strongly that the missional task of the church lies in your hands, in the hands of the whole people of God engaged in bringing the whole gospel of God to the whole world to your everyday world and to somebody else’s everyday world.

Friends, the task ahead is too big for traditional pastors, full-time workers, and missionaries to even make a little dent. But you have unique skills and platforms that offer unique access to every possible arena of life.

The fact that some who are not in the “pastors, full-time workers, and missionaries” category are working on upstream and downstream battles against sex trafficking and exploitation, and others are at the forefront of ministries serving migrants and the displaced. Some are civil servants who are working on policies which are shaping the landscape for divorce, elderly, handicapped, the poorest of the poor, and that others are teaching, researching, funding initiatives, creatively designing for hope, moulding lives and thought, involved in second chance ministries, fostering kids, loving the difficult and the unlovable, or faithfully keeping faith alive for the next generation.

All these indicate that we get it and already have on our hearts God’s missional purposes for Christians in this generation. All these flesh out the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 25:40: The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

But to point to the missional task of the church is only one half of what I think is important for me to say today. Those who are teachers and educators amongst us are familiar with the work of writer Parker Palmer especially his now famous book, “Courage to Teach”. One of the striking paragraphs in the opening chapter of his book goes:

Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse.  As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together. The entanglements I experience in the classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life.  Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to my inner life. (Palmer, 1998, p.2)

What Mr Palmer seeks to do for us is to point to the fact that whatever is within us finds its way out in ministry and that the state of our inner landscapes matter. If the condition of our soul and the core of our identity are nurtured in the garden of self-giving, long-suffering, integrity, authenticity, purity and absorbed in the imitation of Christ, then these virtues will overflow in ministry and missions. But if the condition of our soul and the core of our identity are bathed in insecurities, jealousy, greed, impatience, dishonesty, ambition, these will spill out in ministry and missions. I often tell my students: “In our youthfulness, we want to get on the large stage, plug in our electric guitars, and leave people stunned by our mastery!”  But I also tell them: “Before you play your guitars, tune your strings first because up on stage, every dissonant note will be amplified a million times and will have an active afterlife.”
 
Our missional efforts are therefore stained by our inner disorders and dysfunctions, our inner delusions and deceptions. Couple Palmer’s quotation with another insightful quotation. Again the quotation is about the inner struggles we carry in our very beings, but this time it is by the theologian Kevin Vanhoozer in his book “Everyday Theology”. There he writes: “The gospel – the power of God unto salvation – can transform culture; culture, however, is only too happy to return the compliment.” (Vanhoozer, 2007, p.7)

Friends, the human heart is stained by the fractures and deformities of our inner being. At the same time, the human heart is coloured and blemished by the pressures and seductions of our culture and the neo-liberal economy upon which it is built. What can we say then?  The task before us is so urgent, the mission of God is so pressing, and yet, God’s people are so inadequate for the job!

Empowered by the Trinity
When all seems lost and the odds seem so impossible, we are reminded that the work before us is fuelled by grace, kept alive by the Lord Jesus Christ’s deep commitment to spiritual failures and losers like you and me. The work before us is propelled forward by the power of the Holy Spirit, advanced by daily acts of dying to self and depending on His mighty hand, anchored in the Lord God’s everlasting care for the lost, and buttressed by a network of well-wishers, prayer supporters, and accountability partners.

May we never forget this, may we build on this foundation, and may these qualities of grace, empowerment by the Spirit, our mutual dependency on each other and on the Lord, the Lord’s commitment towards His people and His love for the world will take GCF, its ministries and its member safely and securely into the next year and into the next 60 years.

(This talk was given at the GCF 60th Annual Thanksgiving Dinner held on 23 October 2015 at the National University of Singapore Society Guild House at Kent Ridge Drive)