Peter Claver patron saint of slaves…and retirees

I have never heard of Fr Peter Claver, a Jesuit priest-missionary,  until we passed by the town he was born and grew up in during the Camino Ignaciano. Born in Verdu, Spain into a rich farming family, he was well educated and intelligent. He later joined the Jesuits and was sent as a missionary to Colombia, at that time a newly established colony called Kingdom of New Granada.

Statue of Peter Claver with African slave child

There he became a priest and served the slaves who were cruelly brought in by shiploads from Africa and sold to landowners and mineowners who needed labourers.

Peter Claver humbly served among them offering care for the sick, speaking up for them to the owners, and catechizing them in the faith. Through his hard work, compassion and solidarity with the slaves, it is estimated that 300,000 were baptized during his 40 years of ministry in Cartegena. To me this is amazing, even if you factor in the pressure on slaves to comply because of their fear of their owners.

A simple minimalist chapel at his family home, now a shrine

The irony is that after years of faithful service, in his 70s, he fell ill, and while assigned an ex-slave to care for him, Fr Peter Claver was sadly neglected and largely forgotten till the day he died. Only at his funeral was there a deeper gratitude and appreciation for his years of service, as “a slave of slaves forever”.

This story stirred in my soul feelings of sadness, and the fear of being forgotten and neglected after I retire from my position as senior pastor.

It made me recall now, with some regret, that I had somewhat forgotten and neglected my predecessor pastor P.J. Johney, after he retired. In my immaturity and obsession of trying to fix the church and move it (as though this could be done by human effort and wisdom- what audacity and stupidity!), I had not taken as much time to honour, love and listen to him as I could. I was too into growing the church, when I should be growing myself in love and compassion.

I wonder what it would be like when I step down. Probably the same: forgotten and neglected. I had better prepare myself emotionally and mentally for this. There will obviously be dimunition of one’s power and role in decision making, as well as status and honour. Its the same for retirees in the working world. During this retreat I could with the help of the spiritual director, attend to these emotions and let it sink, and process them by talking about them to the Lord and receive His peace and joy, which surpasses all logic and human manufacture.

Thank you Fr Peter Claver! Perhaps you should not only be “the patron saint of all slaves”, but also of all retirees!!

Serving men from the marketplace

The pastors initiated some pastoral care when we found that a number of men were between jobs. They were mainly professionals  in manufacturing, retail, finance and service industries. We formed a WhatsApp chat group with Wai Tuck as a co-ordinator. We called it Men In Transition. We met them for prayer and meditation (lectio divina), sharing, and meals periodically.

Reflection, lectio divina, sharing and prayer

Last week Tom Cannon and I met them for a few hours of reflection on their vocational history. We got them to draw a timeline and reflect on the high and low points of their years of working life. We asked them to ponder how God was present in their careers, using Old Testament Joseph’s timeline as an example. It opened their eyes. Then Tom led them in a lectio divina on the passage Isaiah 43:1-7. This was followed with a time of sharing their reflections. We listened to their stories of pain, victories, struggles, weaknesses and wrapped up everything by bring these to the Lord in prayer. The Lord was present to impart peace and comfort.

Men in Transition having lunch at The Ranch

Then we proceeded to The Ranch for a $10 set meal. Lovely morning; wonderful fellowship! To do work that encourages, enlightens and give hope to people you care about is such a satisfying thing.

Aaron Lee and Namiko Chan Takahashi: Caring for Culture

Expanding the vision

I was looking for someone who could expand the congregation’s vision of how God is present and active in the creative arts to reveal His glory and power. I found such a person in Aaron Lee, an award-winning poet, bi-vocational pastor-lawyer, and a leader in the arts ministry. I first got to know him through Facebook. Later I got to know his wife, Namiko Chan– again on Facebook, and found out she was an award-winning portrait artist, and a Hula dance teacher. They are together the founders of Laniakea Culture Collective.

Made-in-the-Image-300x193

Aaron Lee and Kenny Chee
Aaron Lee and Kenny Chee

Sunday sermon: Made in the Image of the Master Artist

I invited them to take the Sunday morning message and the afternoon workshop. Aaron preached a message of how we are made in the image of the Master Artist and how we needed to submit to the ongoing work of the Master Artist as He shaped our broken lives into something glorious. The masterly and creative and precise use of words and videos were evident in his sermon. After all what do you expect from a wordsmith?

Kit Chan: I should have recognised her

I thought one of his guests looked like Kit Chan but she did not look like the glamourous Kit Chan seen on TV and the news. I could now see why the Jews had missed the Messiah – they had misconceptions of what the Messiah would be and do. The congregation was as clueless about her identity. And I lost a chance to get a picture with her.

Presenting a gift to the host (Photo: Lynne)
Presenting a gift to the host (Photo: Lynne)

 

The ho'okupu (token of honour)
The ho’okupu (token of honour)
Inside the wonderful gift: five stones (a reminder to "play")
Inside the wonderful gift: five stones (a reminder to “play”)

A creative gift

After lunch, Aaron and Namiko-Chan began their workshop with an interesting piece of Hawaiian culture. They presented a makana (gift, or ho’okupu “token of honour”) to the host, WRPF church, represented by my wife and I.  It looked like banana leaves and flowers tied with straws. It was actually lovingly made the night before with ti leaves and some flowers. Inside the leaves were five stones – a reminder to actively “play” throughout our lives.

Beng Choo and Deborah dancing
Beng Choo and Deborah dancing the prayer song (Photo: Aaron)
Namiko hulas to the prayer song. You could feel the presence of God as she moved with grace
Namiko hulas to the prayer song. You could feel the presence of God as she moved with grace (Photo: Aaron)

Enthralled by their stories

Then they shared their journey in the arts. The congregation was enthralled by their stories of how they were called and mentored into their ministry in the creative arts. Namiko’s story of how the Lord led her into learning the hula from a Hawaiian master, and how God used their 10,000 Profiles project to serve the orang asli were reminders of how God leads and uses us with our unique gift-sets.

During the workshop, Namiko got the whole congregation involved in expressing a prayer song in movements of our hands and arms. Then she gave her hula dance interpretation of the same song: it was anointed and captivating. I sensed the presence of the Lord conveyed through the dance.

Creative journalling

After a short break, Aaron gave us some tips on creative journaling. Doodling is one the interesting items on his list. There is hope for those who dislike writing. They can doodle! We ended with an open-ended exercise in journaling, a fitting closure to the workshop. For some, their journey has begun with this workshop, I hope.

After the meeting, people were still interacting with Aaron and Namiko.
After the meeting, people were still interacting with Aaron and Namiko.

Mind the gap

One takeaway for me was Aaron’s portrayal of the challenging gap of a lack of mutual acceptance and appreciation between the church and creative artists. Will creative out-of-the-box artists feel comfortable in a church that values respectability, conformity and acceptability? What would it take for a church to be more friendly for people of the creative arts to thrive in the church community?

FGB Gatekeepers’ 40th Anniversary Dinner

Beautifully laid table in Fullerton Hotel ballroom
Beautifully laid table in Fullerton Hotel ballroom
Wonderful gathering of people many of whom have served side by side with each other in FGBMF Spore
Wonderful gathering of people many of whom have served side by side with each other in FGBMF Spore
Celebrations began appropriately with songs that harked back to the heydays of FGBMF Spore.
Celebrations began appropriately with songs that harked back to the heydays of FGBMF Spore.

The new face of FGBMF Singapore
Full Gospel Business Gatekeepers Singapore: this is the new name of what was once the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship Singapore ( FGBMF Spore). They were celebrating their 40th anniversary together with the launch of a book titled: UNFOLDING HIS STORY. The dinner celebration on 2nd September was well attended at Fullerton Hotel with most receptionist and volunteers manning the tables under 40 and most people attending the event over 50 years of age. On the stage that night the old and young represented the future of this middle-aged organization injected with a new zip in its movements. This partnership of young and old, hand in hand, is the new face of a miraculous but God-supervised transformation (or as businessmen would term re-invention) of the mid-lifer that was FGBMF Spore.
From dry bones to mighty army
The FGBMF Spore was at one point dehydrated and lacking vitality, if not moribund and breathing its last breath: words I dared not use if the organization was still like that today. It was like an organization that had lost its way. They had done their God-given mission so well that the churches they touched were so strong they did not need the organization’s help any more. Their heydays  were in the 1970s and 1980s. They were the bearer of the transformative experience called the baptism in the Holy Spirit. As people touched by the Lord returned to bless and strengthen their own churches, the role of FGBMF Spore became like the remains of a charcoal pit, covered with glorious ash, but needing some stoking for the fire to be reset. They needed a new purpose and that was found in the outworking of the theology of the kingdom of God in the world, the marketplace. Once a valley of dry bones, it’s now an inter-generational army infused with a clear mission and strategy. Thus they have changed their name to Full Gospel Business Gatekeepers Singapore to reflect the new mission. Some FGBMF national organizations in other countries are coming to Singapore to catch this fire too.

THE UNFOLDING STORY about to be unveiled and launched with prayer
THE UNFOLDING STORY about to be unveiled and launched with prayer
The book with photographs of the newspaper stories of speaking in tongues among students and several WRPF photos is inside
The book contains valuable photographs of the ST aritcle headings of speaking in tongues among students and several WRPF photos
Pictures of my predecessors: Pastor Johney and Bro A.M. Mathew (seated L-R)
Pictures of my predecessors: Rev Dr Johney and founder pastor Rev A.M. Mathew (seated L-R)

Unfolding His Story: new book
The highlight of the celebration was the launch of an interesting book titled UNFOLDING HIS STORY, written by a father and son team, Georgie and Galven Lee. It is the story of the charismatic movement in Singapore with a special eye on the contribution of the Anglican Church and FGBMF Singapore. Even though the writing team directly involved was father and son, it was a pleasure to see the whole Lee family, including the mother and daughter, involved in the production of this book.

With Galven who did a
With Galven Lee who did his NUS research on the charismatic movement in Singapore and was conferred a first class honours for his work. Unfolding His Story used the extensive, thorough research of his dissertation.

I remember being interviewed by Galven Lee, one of the authors. He was then a NUS history research student with a voice recorder and notebook. I shared with him what I knew of our story in the meta-narrative of the charismatic revival of the 1970s. It had to do with many students of many schools being filled with the Spirit. Our little story started with the Holy Spirit pouring out his power upon a group of students behind the science labs of the lowly Dunearn Tech Secondary School, along Bukit Timah Road. What began as students speaking in tongues behind the science labs became a crying revival and finally became the church, World Revival Prayer Fellowship. This not insignificant event was mentioned in the book.

With Rev Michael Teh, Vicar of Chapel of the Holy Spirit
With Rev Michael Teh, Vicar of Chapel of the Holy Spirit

Enjoyable evening
At my table, I sat beside Rev Michael Teh, the vicar of Chapel of the Holy Spirit, an Anglican church that was planted as a result of the spiritual renewal among the Anglicans in the 1970s. We had a nice chat and could connect easily. He is the pastor of the church which originally started in the Lee family’s home. The fellowship was good and so was the food and service but later during the meal I had cold Coca Cola spilled over me. I left for the restroom to clean up and on the way back to my table there was the apologetic head waiter and the waitress apologizing profusely and offering free dry cleaning service. Wished they offered me a free night’s stay at the hotel with breakfast. Good thing I was wearing a Mandarin collar long sleeve not a jacket. It was a long but enjoyable night.

May the Lord continue to bless the FGB Gatekeepers. I have nothing but good things to say about them now and what they have to offer to churches. If you wish to learn more about how they train people to make disciples in the marketplace you may want to read this blogpost I wrote earlier about one of their programs.
THINE IS THE GLORY, THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE.

Pastors’ & Marketplace Leaders’ Retreat

Pastors' & Marketplace Leaders' Retreat Aug 2015
Pastors’ & Marketplace Leaders’ Retreat Aug 2015 organized by Love Singapore

What was the retreat about
The Pastors’ & Marketplace Leaders’ Retreat on 23-25 August 2015 at the Changi Cove four stars hotel began with an atmosphere of anticipation as senior pastors and marketplace leaders mingled over a 5.30pm Sunday dinner. Catching up and talking shop with acquaintances and fellow pastors made for relaxed banter and laughter.

Benny Ho sharing the Perspectives on Marketplace Ministry
Benny Ho sharing the Perspectives on Marketplace Ministry

This retreat was organized by Love Singapore movement in collaboration with Arrows Resources. At the first session, Pastor Benny Ho, founder of Arrows Resources, mentioned the earlier retreats they had. The first was a pastors’ and marketplace leaders’ roundtable luncheon at Orchard Parksuites. This was followed by a second retreat at Changi Cove where the senior pastors sat down and came up with a common framework to lubricate future communications. I missed that retreat. The fruit of that retreat was a booklet titled, “Perspectives on Marketplace Ministry”, which was given to every participant in this retreat.
I was accompanied by Francis Shin (Board President) and Donnie (a youth leader), and the others in our roundtable were from River of Life Community Church, and Revival Centre Church. We had lively discussions, and the mutual sharing from our respective contexts aided our understanding of localized challenges. We remained in the same group for all the sessions.

Francis, Donnie and me
Francis, Donnie and me

What I learned
Here are a list of things that I learned over the six sessions, each comprising a short 20 minutes talk, and 45 minutes discussion.
1. The “Perspectives on Marketplace Ministry” provided a common framework of understanding about the kingdom of God and it’s relation to the marketplace. It gave us working definitions of words like marketplace and clarified the purpose of Christians in the marketplace. It put everyone on the same page as to how we view the marketplace and the types of Christians in the marketplace. At the end of the retreat, it was decided that some of the material needed clarification.
2. There are different types of Christians in the marketplace and one way the church can help equip Christians is to help them evaluate themselves and tailor a curriculum to help Christians in each stage move to the next level. The types of Christians in the marketplace are: struggling>surviving>stabilizing>succeeding> significance attained. The idea is to do a kind of questionnaire to help people evaluate themselves like a “spiritual gift inventory”.
3. I saw that for the church to help people be salt and light in the marketplace there needs to be an intentional disciple-making process established in the church. In addition, the church needs to proclaim a full incarnational gospel of grace. Unless Christians are walking in faith, hope and love there will be no Daniels in the marketplace. What we will have instead are the dry bones of Christians eaten by beasts in the gladiatorial politics and temptations of the workplace.
4. The church needs to examine and trim off the fats of church ministry and involvement that overtax the member and nullify his effectiveness in the marketplace. Christians are too church-chained as they labour for numerical growth, that they hardly have time, and are often too jaded to serve the needs of people of the marketplace. The mind shift needed is to focus on equipping, encouraging and supporting members to be effective salt and light out there rather than focus too much on attracting prebelievers to church, as though it were the church activities or pastors that saved souls.
5. I loved the idea of designing an interactive session for people who are entering the workforce for first time. It’s purpose is to orientate all young adults and others who are entering into the workforce and seeding them with a vision of the kingdom and of discipling in the marketplace.

Panel of marketplace leaders who shared how they were salt and light in their respective context
Panel of marketplace leaders who shared how they were salt and light in their respective context

Interactive format great for learning
There was hardly any breaks, but short talks and more interactive learning has helped make this round-table a great learning experience: engaging, stimulating, and interesting. The seminar format keeps you awake and helps you digest, assimilate and apply the truth and ideas.
Thank God for the sponsors. The cost was generously subsidized and the rooms were very comfortable without being luxurious. I almost missed this retreat. I was still having a slight problem with a lingering vertigo attack. I was glad that by the grace of God, I made it through all the sessions.