DUMC raid: it’s about what’s right for the marginalized

Shock at DUMC raid by Jais

Already there had been issues that had risen in the recent decade with rights of Muslim converts to Christianity to change their designation on their ID, the Alkitab issue, and the accompanying bomb blast at a Kuala Lumpur church. Last week, with shock I read that the Damansara Utama Methodist Church(DUMC) was raided by 20-30 Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) officers. Just June, last year, I had been at dumcthe Petaling Jaya megachurch. The church’s community arm, Harapan Komuniti was holding a dinner event to thank its donors, leaders, volunteers and the beneficiaries of the NGO that assists the poor and the needy, including women, children, and victims of HIV/AIDS and natural disasters, regardless of race or religion. Most governments would be happy to see volunteer organizations raise funds and mobilize volunteers to help needy citizens. But reportedly, having received a complaint, the religious officers had gone to the Aug 3 event at 9.45pm to check if there were Muslims present which is not allowed under the Syariah Criminal Enactment (Selangor) 1995.

The Singapore way

Without patronising or saying that we have a better way of managing such matters in Singapore, or that I endorse it, inter religious harmony legislation has been accompanied by comprehensive pre-emptive monitoring of the relations between the religions. It is common knowledge among pastors of megachurches and mullahs of popular mosques that in their audience there may be plainclothes intelligence  officers taping and listening for speeches that may incite inter-religious trouble. Complaints from the public are followed through judiciously. Phone calls and appointments have been made to give caution. Hands have been slapped before, public warnings have been issued, but never an intrusion of such expression nor proportion.

Searching for political capital instead of the capital’s marginalized

When the politicians came into the picture to squeeze some capital out of it, the issue seemed to have developed a life of its own . It is certainly fascinating for a Singaporean like me to follow the ongoing news reports, though for a Malaysian it would probably be viewed with consternation and frustration. To have an idea of how different parasites are feeding off this situation, read Wyngman’s obsevations in his blog post of how six “blinded” parties “see” the raid: The DUMC raid: are we forgetting someone?

He concludes with a poignant appeal for everyone to focus on the real issue, and he is right:

In a word, the politically motivated see only what they want to see. But what they can’t see is that segment which they must be most responsible for i.e. the least of ‘the people’. I’m talking about the homeless, the AIDS victim, the drug addict, the retarded, the orphan, the widow, the handi-capped i.e. the very people for whom the DUMC dinner was thrown – who sees them? Only, it seems, DUMC and Harapan Komuniti.

The drug addicts and homeless are those which society doesn’t enjoy seeing, so all the more reason why our leaders must take a good hard look at how they came to be. The orphans are the ones for whom GE13 will make hardly a whiff of difference, so it’s critical that voters make a difference at GE13 bearing these children in mind. The handicapped are the ones who will continue to suffer after the media shit’s been cleaned (off the fans and the surrounding ‘areas’), so we need to bring them to the top of our political priorities lest it makes our talk of justice and a ‘high-income society’ full of shit.

A Muslim cleric who sees more clearly

Blogger James Lim in a blogpost cited a report by the Malaysian Insider that Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, an influential Muslim cleric and former Perlis mufti said it was not a sin for Muslims to receive aid from non-Muslims and questioned the efficiency of the distribution of zakat(alms) to the poor. He is reported to have said:

“Where have all our wang zakat (alms) gone? Collections of hundreds of millions of ringgit are announced every year,” said Asri in an essay sent to The Malaysian Insider today.

“Is it not enough to help the poor get out of their poverty without them having to ask others for help?” he questioned.

“Why is there so much red tape blocking the poor from getting alms? There is so much red tape just to get even RM100 to RM200. This is despite the zakat offices looking opulent, the high salaries for officers and bosses, and advanced equipment,” Asri lamented.

“Is the high cost meant only to find donors, but without sufficient willpower to find suitable recipients?” he asked.

“It is the right of anyone to help whomever they want. As long as rules and laws are followed, one can help another regardless of race or religion,” said Asri.

“There are many questions that Muslims must ask themselves before blaming others,” said Asri.

True religion

The tragic fact is that after all have been said and done about this issue, people are going to assert that they are in the right and others are wrong, and the marginalized will continue to be the neglected marginalized. But it’s not about who is in the right, but it’s all about what’s the right, compassionate thing that Malaysian society are going to do about the marginalized. Will all currently interested parties step in to contribute their abundant gifts of energy, time and money to help them?

Only they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (Galatians 1:10)

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to9 keep oneself unstained from the world.(James 1:27)

The New Covenant Church: this is how church is meant to be

Pastor Peter and Kenny at Duck Inn, PJ

Grace happenings

Pastor Peter welcomed me warmly with a dinner on Friday evening at Duck Inn- a place where the lowly duck has gone four stars. Eusoffe and Joey and he regaled me with story after story of how God had been at work in the New Covenant Church. Changed lives, healings, answered prayers, and marriages in reconciliation. The last time I was here was January, but the stories they told animatedly were mostly fresh. From 8 we talked, or rather they talked and I wah-ed, till 10.  A distinct thought Eusoffe n Joeycame to mind – This is what church is meant to be. There should be wondrous grace happenings that are not cooked up by human shoving and whipping. Where Jesus was exalted, and the actors felt they were privileged to be in the front row to watch what God had done. This is what church is meant to be: people focused on what God was doing and not on what the church was lacking.

More grace happenings

The next day, Simon Yap brought me out for lunch. We wanted to eat from a famous K.L. “all black” Hokkien mee stall, but it was closed. As it turned out, we had food to eat that was better: stories of faith and God’s grace in action. He shared his journey and Kenny n Simon(how can a Spurs fan wear Barcelona?)some interesting grace happenings that took place some years ago and some as recent as a week ago. Ahh…another immersion in wonder.  God’s grace is amazing. Again I thought, This is what church is meant to be. Exciting. Christ-exalting. No one taking the glory. Believers who were deeply satisfied and caught up in one lovely surprise after another. When I sensed  a “cloud” of his presence settled, I told him- I want to be alone to process this and spend some time with the Lord.

Sitting quiet in the bible college apartment, I whispered – Lord, this is what church is meant to be. This is what church is meant to be.

Bow bent, string drawn

The rest of the day was spent to order the thoughts for the message for the church on Sunday. What have I to say to these people who seem to be experiencing the early showers of a book of Acts downpour. I was too smart to have accepted this invitation, I thought. Should have told Peter I was on sabbatical, period. However, by evening, all was ready, and the bow was bent, and the string was drawn.

Sunday, Facebook, and healing

At Sunday breakfast, Peter was sharing a pastoral case, as he didn’t want me to get the wrong idea that there were no problems. Being with the New Covenant Church was comfortable because I was there before and because of Facebook. Wanted to see friends I had added, but wondered if I would recognize them if they had not introduced themselves. As it happened, I could not.

praise team

The praise and music had progressed and there seemed to be an enriched sense of God’s presence. The worship leader, Karen, was Karen caught up in Himwith it, and in it, and caught up in Him. This was followed by holy communion, which they served every Sunday. Later Chermaine testified how she had been suffering from chronic pain after giving birth to her child twelve years ago. The piercing pain would shoot down her back to her legs occasionally when she stood up. One night she was prayed for and she felt a lasting warmth on her back. After a Chermaine: healed!!!few days she discovered she was completely well and could even jump about for joy. It was no small thing for her to be set free completely.

Baptized in the Father’s Love

The title of the sermon I preached was “Baptized in the Father’s Love” and I dwelt on two key passages: Mark’s account of Jesus baptism, and Zephaniah’s famous 3:17-

“The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you in His love, He will rejoice over you with singing”.

It was a gradual build up, and their warm response to what I was saying, and the anointing, lifted me beyond self-consiousness, and I felt the message was getting through. I told the Sunday morning crowd, which seemed fuller than three months ago, This is what church is meant to be: where grace happenings fall like gentle rain week after week. We ended up with a beautiful response: we stood and worshipped, and the Lord  soaked us in His love.

Billy, Kenny, Alex, Simon, Amy

E-book

They served lunch every Sunday and I caught up with the people I knew like Aileen Tan, Billy, Simon and Alex. Talked for quite some time with Billy, an entrepreneur who had just recently ventured in an online business. What perked my interest was that he had already been selling an e-book and audio book online for some time, and I found out more. Lord give me an idea for an e-book.

the New Covenant Church in KL- from strength to strength

new worship premises at Wisma TA

improved worship dynamics and equipment

In about one year, the New Covenant Church, in Kuala Lumpur  has outgrown the premises at Atria Shopping Centre and has moved to the Wisma TA on the 1.1.11. They seem to have nearly doubled in six months.

The improvements were visible and audible. The four forbidding video cameras, theIan Chong mood-shifting lighting, the projection systems and the understated tasteful interior. So has the music, with a worship leader with stage presence, and bold and anointed vocals. These certainly increases the appeal of this church to working young adults. And there were visibly more of them than six months ago.

Saw some familiar faces from Facebook and my previous visit. It was nice just to meet Simon Yap, and catch up with Alex and Karen. This church preaches the Alexgospel of grace but has many “law”-yers. Alex remarked that since experiencing God’s radical grace, he has been more excited, blessed, more active in ministry, and gave more than he had ever in his whole Christian life. Talking about giving, this church does not pass offering bags around and nobody is paid. There are offering boxes around, but giving is a low key thing. Even when they needed more than RM$600,000 to move to this new premises the amount was raised within three weeks without much drumbeating.

Barnabas Mam preaching

The message blessed my heart. It was pastor Barnabas Mam from Cambodia who gave a verse by verse expository message on New Covenant transformation. It was enlightening, helpful, inspiring. Interwoven into the explanations and catchy outline were stories from the church planting fruitfulness of Cambodian indigenous church planters trained and supported by the institute, and regularly  supported by the New Covenant Church through teaching teams and finances.

Kenny, Barnabas, Peter Sze, Simon Yap, Yew Chzon

Later, we had a relaxed sharing over coffee with pastor Peter and his daughter, Joey. Barnabas was amiable, perceptive and unassuming in person despite his stature as one of the notable leaders of the Cambodian Church. Peter and I talked quite a bit about the church. When asked about what caused the recent growth spurt, he replied that it was God’s grace. Whatever humanly analysed factors you deduced would be of no use if not for the grace of God. In another place or time, with the very same factors present, the growth may never materialise. He was concerned that tNCC became a community, not just a large collection of individuals. He felt that’s an important element in any church that preaches the gospel of grace. That also came across strongly in the course lectures and interactions in class about making disciples I had been attending. The culture in a Christian community is so strong it influences and shapes the groups and individuals in the church: it disciples them.

The Sze extended family of 4 generations

The extended four generations Sze family celebrated the one year birthday of Esaias at a country club. Well my timing was good. Four nights confined in a hostel room reading and doing my assignments had made me shamelessly bold. So I joined them for makan and they later graciously sent me back to Kuang, not Kluang, not Klang, but Kuang.

Now driving me back was something because Kuang, as I now know, is not part of Kuala Lumpur, but is a town north of the city. The Malaysian Bible Seminary bought over this country farm/golf club and it is located in an ulu kampong area (countryside) that needed three Szes, a Volkswagon and an iPad to locate. The daughter Suzanne was driving to spare the tired father; her husband, Yew Juan was navigating with the iPad; and Peter should have stayed home to rest, but accompanied me. So how do you think it made me feel? I wasn’t even the preacher!  Like the labourers in the vineyard who came to work late but got the same wages, I got what I did not deserve.

“Should I feel guilty or what?”, I asked Peter. “Just be grateful to the Lord”.

And I was, as I laid my head on the stiff pillow at 1am that night.

A sketch of west Malaysian churches

map of west malaysiaA pleasant surprise awaited me in the dimly-lit basement car park of Trinity Theological College. Rev Benedict Muthusamy, my classmate, a Presbyterian moderator and the pastor of a church in Kulai, had come for some business.  We had some coffee in the canteen and our conversation turned interesting as he gave me his personal sketch of the west Malaysian churches.

Big cities

There are many churches in Kuala Lumpur and the biggest ones in the country are there too. Penang is not far behind. English congregations thrive there as they have a ready pool of English educated people. Here are the resources, the networks, the seminars and conferences . There is no lack. The Bahasa congregations are also doing well what with job seekers, used to worship in Bahasa, coming from Sabah and Sarawak.

Small towns

The Chinese speaking congregations are stronger in the smaller towns like Muar, Kluang, Sitiawan, Gua Musang, Kota Baru, Kuala Trengannu and others. They often have an offshoot English congregation but these are getting weaker with the brain drain to the capital city and the little red dot. The Indian churches: they suffer from feeling inferior and small, and are usually financially in the shadows. However, the bright spot for small town churches is that the fellowship among pastors in these places are strong and that is great.

Well this is just one pastor’s off the cuff opinion of the general church scene. If you can help fill out the skeleton, do make a comment.

Visit to DUMC and experiential learning workshop

DUMC dream centre auditoriumMalaysian cell church conference

Pastor Chua Seng Lee was invited to conduct a workshop titled “Experiential Learning in Cell Group” in the 14th Malaysia Cell Church Conference hosted by  Damansara Utama Methodist Church. Evidently after Faith Community Baptist Church had transited into the G12 model, the mantle of doing the cell church conference had fallen on the shoulders of what is now the largest Methodist church in Malaysia. We had just held our own church camp in Petaling Jaya, and my wife and I were generously sponsored by Pastor Chua and Josephine, to accompany them to the workshop. The whole group stayed three nights at the Hilton Hotel, Petaling Jaya.

DUMC ‘s birth

The DUMC is 30 years old and has an attendance of 4,000. They started as a small church plant of Sungei Way-Subang Methodist Church, a rare Methodist church with a passion for church planting. Twenty two young professionals in their 20s and 30s, with an evangelical IVCF background, started services in 1980 in a first floor shop lot under the leadership of Daniel Ho and two other leaders.

Three waves of the Spirit

The cell church strategy was the main vehicle of growth, but it was fuelled by three waves of Holy Spirit revival, according to their 30th anniversary coffee table book. One was the charismatic touch that manifested healings, deliverances, visions and prophetic words. The second wave was triggered by the pastor’s return from the Toronto Airport Vineyard Christian Fellowship. It was a revelation of the Father’s love and holy laughter that refreshed the church. The third wave was a revival of “first love” and devotion to Christ.

DUMC's Dream Centre

The Dream Centre

By 2007 they have settled into their Dream Centre, a former warehouse on 5 acres of land, renovated into a church indoor sports centre/ fellowship hallfacility for about RM$40 million, inclusive of the land. They have moved three times and this was their fourth move. Dream Centre has a seating capacity of 3000, a total built up area of 200,000 square feet, a fellowship hall that doubles up as an indoor sports centre and parking space for 200 cars. The church kept growing and the vision of the church is now focused on equipping God’s people to be salt and light in the world. They seek the transformation of the city of and society and God knows and every Malaysian knows that Kuala Lumpur and Malaysian society needs transformation by the grace of God.

Pastor Chua Seng Lee explaining experiential learning

Ps CSL giving instructions for "traffic jam" activity

Pei Ee, Kenny, Jenny, Veronica

Experiential learning

discuss, discuss and discussThis course was one many would regret that they did not sign up for. The workshops were held in the afternoon after lunch when participants would find it hard to stay the course or pay attention. It was not to be so in this workshop. Pastor Chua was succinct, clear in explanations and instructions, employed several specially designed activities or “experiences” and demonstrated how these could be used for reflective learning. As he conducted the workshop, I gained a better understanding of experiential learning, and saw how it is underutilized in most churches’ teaching and discipleship methodology. The participants were trained to facilitate and actually had some hands-on experience in doing so. This is why workshops  are called workshops: the participants were put to work, and they learned by doing. We had an enjoyable time and I have uploaded a video of  a sample activity  to give you a better idea of what took place.

Pastor Chua and son John

Pastor Chua

Pastor Chua Seng Lee, in his early forties,  joined the church pastoral team in February this year. He came to us after having served in a megachurch (FCBC) for nearly two decades. The perspectives, philosophy, competencies, insights hugging familyand ideas he brought along has been like fresh air in a stale room and we have been greatly blessed as a church by his input.

It was wonderful to have these few days of meals together. My wife and I had a wonderful time chatting with his wife Josephine, daughter Rachel, the huggable son, John, and two of their disciples Veronica and Pei Yi. The family is close-knit and warm. They are a hugging family and that’s a great model. The Chinese family stereotype of cold formality and unexpressed affectionate love should be thrown into the shredding machine. Amen!

Relatives with Veronica (right)

Addidas expensive World Cup soccer boots

Makan, shopping and makan

We were treated to warm Malaysian hospitality. Veronica’s niece brought us to an authentic Hakka meal in a restaurant at Jalan Apa Saya Tak Tau, where we had a meal with her relatives. Then she brought us to the Pavilion and we stayed around that shopping area for the whole afternoon. We bought some clothing at bargain prices – thanks to the good exchange rate.

birthday seafood meal

It was Chua’s birthday so we went back to the hotel and had a seafood meal at a coffeeshop nearby. The food was not as tasty-great, but at the price we paid we ain’t got no complaints.

TA Tuesday Fellowship in Kuala Lumpur

TA tuesday fellowship

The TA Tuesday Fellowship meets in the TA Building at Kuala Lumpur, in the heart of the marketplace. The meeting serves to equip marketplace Christians to shine as light and be salt in their workplace. It reminded me of the Christian lunch fellowship that met at UIC building at Shenton Way.  There were about a hundred people who sang, heard God’s Word preached, and encouraged one another over lunch. It was a privilege for me to speak on “The Righteousness of God: revealed and received” , a doctrinal talk on justification by faith, not the typical inspirational lunch talk. The meeting has been going on for about 14 years, and is still going strong.

Tony and AliciaTA group is a successful Malaysian stockbroking and property listed company owned by Datuk Tony and Datin Alicia. They are committed Christians who give of themselves in ministry. The Datuk has taught on Wealth Creation in the Eagles Leadership Conference and other places. They have also given marriage talks that won scores of people to Christ. The Datin, who loves to sing and led in the worship, enthusiastically shared how the Lord provided the huge finances needed to purchase the Merchant Court Swisshotel, giving glory to God spontaneously.

the New Covenant Church: by grace through faith

New media networking

An exciting weekend gave me further encouragement to blog. The invitation to preach at the New Covenant Church came through the new media. Peter Sze had been reading blogpastor.net for two years and we became friends on Facebook. He announced one day that he was starting a new church and I politely mentioned that I would love to visit it when I visited Kuala Lumpur. He said, “Better still, why don’t you preach?” That was late last year, and now seven months later, the church has grown remarkably to an attendance of over 200. And I had preached there the Sunday before I had my own church camp in Glenmarie Holiday Inn, KL.

Warm Malaysian hospitality

Kenny, Alex and Karen with daughter

On the balmy Saturday evening of our arrival, a couple, Alex and Karen, two lawyers who had  just joined the church, brought me out to taste the best bak kut teh (pork ribs soup) in all of Klang valley. It was so good that it was sold out by the time we arrived. So we went next door to a restaurant designed to benefit from the spillover crowd….. folk like us. Nevertheless my wife and I tasted warm Malaysian hospitality that night and throughout our short stay there.

By grace through faith

The New Covenant Church is located in the suburbs of Petaling Jaya, in a shopping center that had seen better days. It was cavernous  for a new church plant, with a large fellowship hall, that had a staircase that led up to an auditorium that seated over 300. When you start with 30 people, leasing such a big space requires quite a stretch of one’s faith.

the new covenant church in worship

The service began at 10.15am. The songs were familiar and one was a song from a New Creation Church album, “I see grace”. Standing in the front, I noticed a little Indian boy lingering in the front to be held by the pastor. It was the third time the family had visited the church. Then it was announcements, testimony and the Holy Communion, which they served every Sunday. No offering was taken. Those who were moved could put their offerings in several offering boxes on the walls. The sermon I preached was titled, “The Church of the Prodigal Son”. There was a spiritual liberty and the message connected with the congregation, and we had an impactful time of prayer ministry at the altar. Thankfully, the message was well received. Lunch was food cooked by people and brought to church in trays and pots. There was no roster. People cooked as they were blessed and wished to contribute.

makan fellowship

No barriers of race, wealth or status

During  the fellowship, I had my first experience of meeting datuks at close quarters. I had supposed most datuks were unhappy, snobbish people but Datuk Tony and Datin Alicia, and another Datuk Roland, were all smiling and happy and without airs. This new church and the gospel it preached had drawn people from different races and social status together. The Nepali security guard may sit next to Chinese lawyers; Indonesian maids worship with businessmen; and the datuks lunch in the same hall with the struggling widow and the marginalized of society. What I saw there, was what Jesus came to form: an “odd” company of men and women fitted together by grace, indwelt and united by the Spirit. It can be called a Jesus community- like the people who gathered around him when he was on earth, a mix of disciples and seekers and needy.

Giving birth at 58

Fifty eight isn’t the right age for someone to birth a church. Then again, God is used to doing the exceptional. Peter Sze, a busy managing director of a large Malaysian company with a multi-national presence, had been a committed Methodist layleader for years. Together with external circumstances, something had been gestating in him to thrust a church is born!him out into planting a new church, but it was a confirmation through a prophecy  from “down under”, that propelled him to take immediate, concrete steps of faith. Having been convinced of the gospel of grace, Peter envisioned a  church that majored on celebrating the Christ and the finished work of redemption. Their early sermon series on “The New Covenant”, expository studies  on the book of Galatians, and currently a series on Joseph, reveal an sunday school attempt to be more systematic and expository in their approach to the message of grace. Even the small children’s church are being taught the “indicatives” of who Christ is and what He has done, rather than the typical moralistic tones of most Sunday School content.

No traffic jams

One of the reasons for the rapid growth of this church is that he does not face traffic jams in decision-making. Very quickly the church was set up: leasing, renovations, audio-visual system and musical instruments, stage, CDs duplication, and online presence through Facebook and a dedicated website with podcasts – all within 6 months. They have also begun to venture into missions partnership with workers in Cambodia and a missionary in Muslim Africa. He also has the kind of confident trust in God that enables him to make decisions without unnecessary dithering. The Kuala Lumpur traffic crawl is more descriptive  of those who prefer the traditional perfect will of God route, than the highway of God’s  love he is happier to travel on. Move in faith and the Lord will direct your steps. God is so big, there is nothing to fear.

Peter Tze, See Fen, Kenny, Jenny

Complementary partners

Peter and his wife, See Fen, are complementary in personality and ministry. One is into the big picture and the communicator, the other has great compassion for the down and out and demonstrates a down to earth love for members living in the margins. Their marriage was recently featured in the newspapers, and from what I read, the the engineer figured it out-1000 letters!engineering student inundated the “most beautiful girl in Segamat” with 1,000 letters and won Joanna- the daughter, with grandchildrenher over.  See Fen has this large reservoir of patience and love for the powerless and needy and this has rubbed onto Joanna her daughter, who at one time was working full time with the poorer Malays and Indons in the low-cost housing areas of Subang.

The future of this church is very bright from what I have seen. Its response to the message of the gospel is remarkably balanced in the breaking of distinctions of race, wealth and social class; its involvement in missions; its care for the needy; and its concern to preach and teach grace in a systematic, Bible based, and comprehensive way that included modifying the children’s curriculum.

I heard there are other “grace-based” churches in KL and Kuching. God willing, I would like to visit and blog about them too.

It’s fun to discover small churches and make them known, to give them a face and a voice. It gives the larger body a sense of the richness and diversity of the church of Jesus Christ. There are many great small churches of all denominations and sizes in the east coast and west coast of Malaysia doing unrecognized tasks for the kingdom and God willing, I’d like to visit them.