Missions Sunday: three congregations, one shared focus on missions

This 2019 Missions Sunday brought together the English, Mandarin and Deaf congregations together. It was a pleasure to see the three congregations together. I was proud of the co-operation and effort each congregation put in for their presentations of their mission work. the presentations were interesting and later pastor Thomas Tan, the speaker made the observation that all three congregations have works involving outreach to Myanmese people groups.

DFF congregational pastor Barnabas Phua sharing about deaf missions.

One of the highlights was seeing the deaf congregation pastor Barnabas sharing about the great need of the deaf people in South East Asia. He has been involved in missions trips in Myanmar, Laos, Indonesia and Malaysia.

A second highlight was to hear Jean Lim share about her passion to work with the Thais and Myanmese in Maesot area in Thailand. I am thrilled to see young people venturing by faith to serve in missions.

I left feeling wonderful about this first time combined missions Sunday. We ought to have done this years ago. It’s a regret. Nevertheless, we can start a new tradition henceforth.

Visit to Lao Chai village, Sapa

Surrounded by colourful women

This village was farther away.  We took a cab there. The moment we arrived and got out, we were surrounded by four colourfully dressed tribal ladies who wanted to sell their wares. Earlier in the car, in the hope we would be left alone, I told everyone to avoid eye contact and to not entertain them. But this was not to be. Truth be told, they did not badger us but quietly accompanied us down the concrete path, try to make conversation by asking questions, “Where you from?”, “Want to buy?”, “Handmade”. But somehow it mildly frustrated us as we could not carry out our conversations and take the photos we wanted.

Joined by Hmong escorts
Padi planted on terraces

22 Years with three kids

Curiosity got the better of my wife and she started conversing with one of the young women of about 22 years of age. She spoke English. She has three children and in the early morning her husband and herself would work on their rice field. In the afternoon, the husband would look after the children while she went out to try to sell handmade craft. “Where did you learn your English?” “At the Hmong tourism training center”. This was one of the good things the 75,000 Vietnamese dong fee (SGD$4.50) to get into the village goes to. And by going out to speak to English-speaking tourists, her conversational English must have improved more quickly than those who learned it in the classroom only.

Lao Chai village

A bargain struck

The four ladies followed us all the way into the Lao Chai village. We had stopped there after about forty minutes of walking, having relished the scenic green rice fields against the background of mist-shrouded mountains. In the restaurant, we ordered drinks, with the rice fields a metre away from where we sat. My wife bargained and bought their handmade stuff, She bought a few things she would never really use except possibly the pouch the size of a mobile phone. From then on, the ladies left us to look for new customers.

Bargaining and buying
Taking a rest in front of green padi fields

Lost and found

The grocery shop owner next door said it was about 2 km to the next village where we could get a cab, and if there was none, to get a bus. So we walked on as we thought it would be good exercise. However after about 40 minutes of leisurely walking we found ourselves in front of a family home at the end of a path. Lost. We got some advice and headed back and by the grace of God found a taxi that had just sent a customer to a homestay place we passed. He got us back to Sapa town for about the same amount as a Grab cab would charge, a mere 20,000 VND (SGD$1.20) more than Grab. I was praising God because my absence from the regular hiking group, has made my hiking fitness suspect. The only way back to Sapa town was uphill and we passed many hikers. My estimate is that it would have taken us a good three hours to do that climb back to Sapa.

Elaine did all the planning and booking. On top of that we took it day by day.

Sapa by night: the town square

We went out from the hotel at 8pm. We wanted to see what Sapa felt like at night. This was our first evening out. Like all the other nights, it drizzled.  At the town square we saw young people playing  chapteh, where instead of kicking a ball, a group in a circle would kick an object made of feather tied to a base of rubber discs. The idea is to keep the chapteh in the air.

Playing chapteh in the square
Dancing at the side of the town square

Dancing in the dark

While the youths were chatting and playing chapteh, we spotted a group of middle aged people dancing. We were captivated and saw these people dance about three different kinds of dances. Some of them were good, some looked like they were still learning. It was fun watching but when the drizzle got bad, we headed for a nearby restaurant for our dinner. It was easy to look for dining places that are recommended when you have online access to TripAdvisor. We found one a stone’s throw away from where we were. After dinner, even though we had to walk back in the drizzle, we enjoyed the night. Thank you Jesus!

Pray for Historic Summit in Singapore

President Trump & President Kim

I was caught in a roadblock on Sunday (see my Instagram). At first I thought it was an accident or some roadworks ahead but the wait was so long and drivers started coming out of their cars and so did I. Later we found out that President Kim Jong Un and a large security entourage with many traffic policemen in escort was passing by on the way to the St Regis Hotel in Orchard Road. I think it was at least 30 minutes from the start to the time we were cleared and the traffic flowed smoothly and quickly.

The historic summit between President Kim and President Trump will be held tomorrow at a hotel in Sentosa. Two powerful but unpredictable leaders meet with hopes of denuclearisation of North Korea, and a cash injection of American dollars to bring economic aid to a nearly broke country.

I feel far removed from all the concerns of US security and North Korean poverty.   I am sceptical of any deal made for the North Koreans have a track record of renegading on agreements. Yet I cannot help but pray that some good will come out of the summit, and pray with hope I will. My hope is President Kim will open up the country to direct foreign investment in its economy, which will alleviate poverty, and bring modernity as well as the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ. My prayer is for the Spirit that broke down the bamboo and iron curtains to break down this last fortress of isolation and let God’s people go in to serve and bless the North Korean people.

What are your hopes for this summit?

Malaysian election victory for opposition, victory for righteousness

I met the Chuas after church. They visit our church English service once or twice a year when they are in Singapore. They are Malaysians. I was preaching in the deaf congregation. So I went up to the English congregation hall and met them. And they were so excited.

Over a long lunch, I chatted with Chua and he was talking about the exciting, stunning election win of the opposition party alliance, Pakatan Harapan (“Alliance of Hope”), over the then ruling Barisan Nasional party. The unexpected had happened. It surprised a lot of people. It was like Trump beating Clinton – nobody saw it coming.

Chua said, “The Malaysian Christians have been praying for the downfall of the tyrannical and corrupt government and the installation of a righteous government. God has answered their cries.” I rejoiced with the Chuas, and all my friends in Malaysia.

This is wonderful news and I hope that positive and powerful changes would be made to make Malaysia a great country where corruption and injustice is stamped out, the economy produces jobs for all, and all races and religions are respected without favour to any particular one. May the opposition alliance stay together and be united for the long haul and bring about a renewed Malaysia.

Over this week, besides “arsenal news” I often typed, “Malaysian news” on Google search, to see what else God is doing in Malaysia to overthrow injustice and corruption and establish peace, order and honour.

God bless Malaysia!

Chloe: my cute grand-daughter

S. Beryll, my sister, is with the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Darmstadt, Germany. Recently she requested pics of my grand-daughter, who is her grand-niece. I have asked her to get on Facebook for then she would be able to access what’s happening with her brothers, nephews and nieces and grand-niece. However, learning new internet stuff is a big leap for her. She reads my blog though. So I have prepared a video, which I originally sent her but she could not open it. So here is the video, sis.

By the way, S.Rubina visited us at home and spent some time with Juyoung and your grandniece. She was around for her parents’ birthdays and she had to make some arrangements for rapid response as they live on their own. It was pleasant to catch up with her.

S. Rubina with Juyoung and Chloe
S. Rubina with Juyoung and Chloe

Agape Methodist Church camp: walking the ancient paths of prayer

Agape Methodist Church wanted to introduce their members to the spiritual disciplines. Their ministry staff member Jeremiah Singh remembered how I introduced the lectio divina and examen to their church group two years earlier in another church camp. So they invited me to lead their retreat. When I met Rev Vincent Goh, and immediate kinship bound us as we were among a handful of pastors who have done the Ignatian 30 days silent retreat. We were on the same wavelength and talked the same language. We met for fellowship a few times before the actual church retreat from 11 June to 13 June in Pulai Springs Resort.

View from the hotel
View from the hotel
View from my room
View from my room
Meeting point at the church worship hall at Yung Ching
Meeting point at the church worship hall at Yung Ching

The meeting point was at Agape Methodist Church at Yuan Ching Road, formerly an NTUC Club building directly opposite the now defunct Tang Dynasty theme park. The church partnered with the Lakeside community services to lease the building and reach out to the surrounding households of the Jurong West area. The Chinese congregation and English congregation went together to Pulai Springs but each had different camp speakers and so did the children’s church.

Ice breakers that got Chinese and English congregations to mingle and play
Ice breakers that got Chinese and English congregations to mingle and play

Agape Methodist Church is a family church. The members were warm, friendly and easy going. I quickly felt at ease and relaxed with them. I enjoyed their fellowship and got to know people during the several meals we had together. Quite a number of the members were founder or pioneer members who were with the church from the beginning when it first started as a preaching point of Faith Methodist Church. One of the members that I renewed acquaintance with was Jason Foo, someone I knew from before, who still has fire in his heart for missions.

Singing to the Lord before the talks and practice sessions
Singing to the Lord before the talks and practice sessions
The hotel gave the church a hall that could seat 800
The hotel gave the church a hall that could seat 800
Rev Vincent doing holy communion at the last session
Rev Vincent doing holy communion at the last session

There were six talks with practice sessions or group sharing and prayer. I was pleasantly surprised that I had been thoroughly prepared for this camp. I must confess it had not been so at other times when I did camps for other churches. I was thus pleased with my sustained effort in preparations. The topics covered spiritual practices like slowing down, silence, lectio divina, and examen (the review of the day). The big picture topics covered the “Six stages of the life of faith” and “Journeying through the Wall.” I enjoyed doing all the talks and the practical sessions that followed. It was fun to facilitate these practical sessions and see people take to the different ancient paths of prayer. I could see that they too enjoyed trying out these “new” paths.

I told them many Christians are in a large stuffy room with numerous windows of prayer. But most have opened only a few of them: intercessory prayer, petition prayer. Naturally the room is stuffy. More windows of prayer need to be opened so that the wind of the Spirit can freshen up our stuffy church lives. I believe they understood this vivid image and began to open some of the other windows. They had a good introduction to the disciplines and I trust they will go on to incorporate some of these means of grace into their lives. I was pleased that the young people were eager and open to learning such ancient ways. The Lord bless and empower them.

It is really sad that though the Christian church was one church in the first thousand years and it had many good as well as bad traditions, but some of the good traditions (including these ancient ways of prayer) were rejected and thrown out the door together with the bad traditions by the Reformation.

I left the retreat tired from doing six sessions in a three days two nights camp but gratified that I have deposited something worthwhile that can be followed up on by the church members themselves with the continued support of the leaders. May Agape Methodist Church continue to be the friendly and compassionate church, and rooted in the rest and love of God.

J I Packer said, “It has often been said that Christianity in North America is 3,000 miles wide and half an inch deep.” It is the same with the Singapore church and we do need ancient paths of prayer (and persecution) to help us deepen our lives.  How wonderful it would be to do something similar for other church camps too.

Rev Vincent Goh (Ps in charge), myself, Rev Mee Hee, Jeremiah, and Stanley
Rev Vincent Goh (Ps in charge), myself, Rev Mee Hee, Jeremiah, and Stanley

Singapore’s high speed rail terminus in Jurong East

The Jurong Country Club will be the site for the terminus of the high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. This 67 hectare plot of land has been acquired by the government. This was announced recently on Monday, 11 May 2015.

The high-speed rail project has been in the works since September 2010. Official agreement from both countries came in 2013. It made sense as it would increase options of travel modes between the two cities. At a speed of 300 km/hr it would take an hour and a half for the trip. Currently travelling by road takes 5 hours; by railway it takes 7 hours; by plane it takes about 4 hours (including travel to airport and check in and other procedures). Most people welcome the option of a high-speed rail. But what will it mean to have the terminus at the intended location for people who live in Jurong East?

Jurong Country Club and Science Centre and the green belt beyond the foreground of a school.
Jurong Country Club and Science Centre and the golf course beyond the foreground of a school.

The Jurong East and Lake area has been earmarked as the second business district of Singapore. Altogether it is the size of the Marina Bay business district. Already there are five shopping malls, one large hospital, one hotel, two condominiums (still being built), and the older International Business District. Some government ministry will be occupying the office towers above one of the newer malls. Roads are also being built and widened in anticipation of increased traffic congestion. It will be very congested when all the plans are realized and the people occupy the offices and hospitals and hotels, and when the high-speed rail starts operation in seven years. What will it be like with the high speed rail terminus situated at the Jurong Country Club?

For one thing it will be sad for the members of the country club as they have to leave by November 2016 and after investing heavily in redoing the greens recently. I hope they get compensated well, but it is always difficult to satisfactorily compensate fond memories and intangibles like prestige and status. But then golf courses are enjoyed by the privileged not the majority. And though I enjoy the luxurious slice of green from my apartment window, and the peace and quiet and low density of their land usage, I must agree that for Jurong East to be a second CBD, the golf course looks like underutilized space. It was only logical that the terminus be located there and its surrounding land be developed into valuable mixed recreational, hotel, residential and office space. The development of Singapore is marked by the tears of many landowners.

A few friends told me that this would raise the values of residential property around the development, including mine. However this is nothing to yam seng about because it is mere paper gain for those of us who will be living in our apartments over the long term. Even if you sell it to realize a profit, where do you go to live, since living in a continually dynamic and progressive environment can be quite heady.

Panoramic view of Jurong Country Club golf course from the Jurong Lake park connector
Panoramic view of Jurong Country Club golf course from the Jurong Lake park connector

From my cycling of Jurong Lake park connector, I now get to enjoy a serene piece of green – the golf course. Sadly this will be replaced by buildings and other infrastructural development for the high-speed rail. I have to start savouring this green stretch across the lake and say my goodbyes before the golf course is taken over.  In addition, the view from my apartment will change too as new buildings tower over where the country club now stands in stately dignity. Well, that’s life in Singapore. Unblocked views are never guaranteed.