I had been preparing the messages and workshops for a Methodist church retreat in June. It is a preached retreat to introduce fervent evangelicals to a few spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation. The topics include Slowing down, Silence, The six stages of the life of faith, Journey through he wall, The review of the day (examen), Devotional reading (lectio divina). I was preparing the talks, the Powerpoint and collecting material. Then I chanced upon this beautiful poem in Chee Soo Lian’s Facebook entry. As is often the case, the Lord has his way of bringing suitable materials to help me teach. This is a poem by Pablo Neruda, Nobel prize winning poet and writer. In one of the sessions in the preached retreat I will lead the people into a great silence or grand silence – a lengthy period of keeping quiet usually practised in the monastery. Imagine young people doing this! I will use this poem as a summons to launch the grand silence.
by Pablo Neruda
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
One of the most popular speakers for church camps must be Pastor Benny Ho. He took our camp at Batam this year and mentioned that he had six camps to do during the June holidays. The theme he spoke to us was “Life on the Top” – a series of four messages that speaks to life issues. He also gave the young people an informal workshop on dating and courtship. We were blessed. I was curious about what he thought about speaking at church camps and how it was different from church service sermons and what speakers needed to take note.
Things to note
One of the important things is to be aware of is the physical and mental state of people during a camp. The ups and downs of energy and interest levels have to be observed and given attention to. He found that using humor is a help as it catches and maintains attention levels when campers get tired. Camp talks have to facilitate an encounter with God, as that is what people are positioned for and need during a camp. People have taken time out of busy studies or work, and they are more ready to hear God and experience him. The concentrated time allows for a theme to be fully developed and expanded. It would also be good for the camp speaker to work closely with the pastor and help the church rally together and work in unity for the common good. This would entail mixing around with the people and getting to know them too, especially during meal times.
Some personal observations
His preaching was well-received by the campers. I observed his preaching during the camp and here are some things I noted down. Trust this might be helpful when you get invited to do a church camp somewhere:
Topical (more accessible, I suppose) though two years ago he did an expository series on Joel with us
Clear, coherent and easy to follow outline
Pithy quotations from well-known writers and preachers or anonymous sources.
Apt use of words and synonyms and a sprinkling of original Greek or Hebrew
Its church camp season again. Malaysian hotels lay out the red carpets to Singapore churches and rake in the Singapore dollar. This time round our church camp was held in Bayview Hotel at Batu Ferringhi in Penang. When they proposed Penang it seemed an organizational jungle and obstacle course. That was a year ago, now it’s past tense and the organizing team did a great job of delivering one of our best camps ever.
Pastor Vincent Lun was the camp speaker and together with his wife Jenny they brought to us an appreciation of what it takes to be church that welcomes sinners the way Jesus did. They have left what could have been a comfortable pastorate at Riverlife Church and have pioneered a unique missional outpost that reaches the outcasts and rejects and despised of society. They share what it meant to do ministry among such precious but forgotten people. We were blessed by their open sharing of their lives and ministry.
We keep our church camp sessions light. Those were the days decades back when 6-8 sessions is the norm. Now together with revised goals we have a revised program with four preaching sessions, two light sessions of icebreakers and games, and one session of holy communion and group sharing. We introduced an interesting idea: we got 4 young preachers to preach sermonettes of 10 minutes each. One thing we small churches can choose to excel in is to handcraft and develop emerging leadership.
Of chendol and durians
There was time for us to go tour Penang and shop twice. The memorable one for me was when we were dropped off at Komtar Shopping Mall and from there four of us went in search of the Penang durian and chendol. We found the famous chendol stall and there was a constant crowd. The sun was beating us down and the humidity was worse than in Singapore. I was not that impressed with the taste. I prefer my chendol with thicker coconut milk- a stronger punchy gula malacca in it. Beware the other store just opposite which has more signs to claim they are “the real thing”. Where there is genuine, there is the counterfeit seeking space. This happens in the spiritual as well as in the natural.
Searching for the durian was quite a task as we had to ask locals for direction and it was after 45 minutes of walking that we determined Singaporeans finally found the stall opposite some UMNO building. The first durian he sold us was more sweet than bitter, something we could have found in Singapore. Then he tempted us with a red marked durian. It looked a pale yellow. But when we put it into our mouth it was smooth, creamy and not mushy nor dry but of perfect constitution. The taste was a perfect balance of sweetness, bitterness and a hint of wine. I have stumbled upon an unforgettable durian experience. I couldn’t figure out his Hokkien accent and though we asked him to repeat a few times the name of the durian variety we had just tasted, the closest it sounded to my ears was “Capri”. Durian has gone upmarket and Italian.