Goh Ewe Kheng: servant leader

GOH EWE KHENGThe session of the Pastors’ Conference organized by Tung Ling had ended. Pastors and leaders stood up to stretch, look for the restroom, or just stand around and chat. A grey haired man went about with a carton of packet drinks to serve the pastors. He dressed simply and looked ordinary, though he was a very wealthy businessman and notable church leader. He was a great influence in the local and wider church and in the marketplace. He was one of many pioneers who unknowingly could be modelling a bi-vocational church and marketplace leadership that will increasingly needed in the decades ahead. He is Goh Ewe Kheng, one of my favourite sermon illustrations of humble and faithful servanthood. So when I read an article about him by Edmond Chua in the Christian Post, I just had to link it. He wrote:

Elder Goh Ewe Kheng is the quintessential minister in the marketplace. He started church ministries, preached, co-founded a denomination and participated in the governance and activities of over 30 committees, all while running a business. The passion of the 87-year-old Founding Elder of the 7,640-member Church of Singapore passion to serve God began at an early age.

Continue reading about the personal and family life of this inspiring marketplace and church leader HERE.

Spiritual exercises: retreat, restore, re-configure

Room 212 balcony view

Nature’s  welcome

Despite divine assurances that this lengthy retreat would do me good, it was with some apprehension that I settled into the room 212 that would be my home for thirty five days. Air Asia had flown me into Chiang Mai, Thailand, at about eleven plus, and I was glad to be at the Seven Fountains retreat centre before midnight. All the rooms in the block had been renovated with attached bathrooms and I was the first guest to enjoy it. When I awoke the next day, a beautiful balcony view welcomed me. A huge raintree and a flame of the forest spread their gracious branches to hug me. Energetic squirrels, mynahs and butterflies looked for breakfast. This is the day the Lord has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Gregory, Kenny, David Townsend, Peter

Together with others on a journey

The last meeting I had with David Townsend was in November 2010. He was directing my ten day retreat. My apprehension still lingered as we caught up with developments in the centre and what’s been happening with me. He gave me a well known passage to meditate on. It’s about God’s care for us and our value in his eyes being much more than birds and lilies. Another passage from Psalms said, My meditation of Him shall be sweet, and that was the word that dissolved my apprehension.

Later in the day, I bumped into the other two retreatants, Gregory Chan and Peter Anthoney, both Malaysians and final year seminarians. Over time a bond would develop amongst us, despite the solitude and silence, for we were going through a similar retreat program.

Many wonder how people can be in prayer, solitude and silence for many weeks. Most cannot keep silent for even a day.  I too wondered. Thus my early twofold anxiety: Will I be able to bear the lengthy solitude? Will it bring about the rejuvenation of a burnout pastor? Will the Lord accomplish his gracious restoration work?

Momentum of prayer

room with a viewThe schedule of each day was rhythmic. Three to five periods of an hour or more each were set apart for meditation, prayer and journaling. Meditation was mainly on Gospel passages and a few other contemplative exercises. The daily 40 minute morning meeting with David, my spiritual director, would be followed by one period; after lunch there would be two periods; and after dinner, one period. Meals were at 7am, 12 noon, and 6.30pm. Filling in were the naps, the jogs and walks, reading Men in White, a book about Singapore’s ruling party, enjoying nature at the grounds and at the Huay Khaew reservoir. The mind and heart were gently and imperceptibly led into a momentum of prayer that gave me a sense of progress, and gave me a booster when I hit the wall.

Weekends were welcome as they seem to give a feeling of lightness and change. There were the Sunday services in Thai and English in the chapel of the retreat center. It was different from the weekdays: more people both expatriate and Thai could be seen on the grounds. The food was sometimes very special or way below par.  The streets and Chiang Mai university seemed empty and sluggish. It felt less intense during the weekends.

School of discipleship, prayer and discernment

How would I personally describe the retreat program? It was a school of discipleship, prayer and discernment. God’s love was revealed through creation and redemption. This love was magnified as it was contrasted with human sins and weaknesses disfiguring all of creation. The meditations and prayer covered creation and fall, incarnation, the life and ministry of Jesus, the passion week, the resurrection appearances, the ascension, the coming again and Pentecost. A persistent focus was on seeing Jesus more clearly, labyrinthloving Him more dearly, and following Him more nearly. At several points in the retreat the challenge of discipleship came to the foreground: as you have viewed and experienced God’s vast love in meditation and prayer, what is your response? Romans 12: 1 was in operation: in view of God’s mercy, I offered myself as a living sacrifice. Consecration of all that I am and have naturally followed when I experience the grace of God afresh. It was both struggle and grace as I came to finally pray, as Jesus did in Gethsemane, Father, not my will, but Yours be done.  To be willing to do whatever He wills, at whatever the cost, for the greater glory of God was the end point intended.

It was also a school of prayer as I would learn to pray with the imagination, with honest feelings, with reverence and depth. There were no “How to’s” or techniques taught.  Prayed as you can, not as you should or must, is one of the memorable gems that the My cup overflowsdirector underlined in one of the sessions. So with whatever knowledge or experience I had thus far, I went on my knees or sat and prayed.  Learning to discern the spiritual movements in my heart and how to make better decisions is another growth area for me. This was relevant and interesting and it helped me see the important role of discerning of spirits in the church, and resulted in a strong personal desire for this grace-gift.

Restoration and re-configuration

The Lord was gracious and faithful and He ministered to me directly in prayer and meditation. Like a shepherd He tended to me. He made me lie down in a restful atmosphere and feed on nutrient rich pastures and still waters. He restored my soul. He showed me the right path to take and promised to be with me through thick and thin. He dealt with the past, filled me with His presence, and gave me hope for the future.

The immediate effects of the prayer retreat is best described metaphorically. It felt like a Celebration at Tsunami - we Finally did it!spiritual re-configuration had taken place. Changed focus, increased knowledge and awareness, spiritual aliveness and alertness, and rejuvenation of my desires to serve God’s people. A better operating system was installed. To change to a geographical metaphor, the tectonic plates of my soul have moved and the fault lines have closed. Revived, re-configured re-commissioned, and ready to go in peace and serve the Lord.

It took thirty five days to complete my retreat program. The first few days was for preparation and the last one or two was for reflection on and thanksgiving for what the Lord has revealed of Himself and had done in me.

Having my wife around and Juniper Tree

a Juniper Tree chaletMy wife joined me for a short prayer retreat and vacation at the tail end. It was wonderful to have her with me as I unwound in the last few days. She enjoyed her three day prayer retreat with another director, Puspo.  At the same time, it was good I could show her around some of the interesting places outside Seven Fountains,  and fete her with Japanese food at the popular Tsunami restaurant nearby. Later we moved to another place in Chiang Mai called the Juniper Tree. From there we idled, and shopped at the large Airport Central Shopping Mall and the night bazaar. The Juniper Tree was a small hotel with a swimming pool bought over by a ministry that sought to provide a place for cross cultural missionaries to rest, recuperate, and be refreshed.enjoying a foot massage after shopping Elijah suffered burnout and sat under a juniper tree and the angel fed him with food and he slept under the tree. Many of the missionaries I saw there were Caucasians serving in various countries in Asia. Many came to rest and be refreshed and unwind from the stresses of their cross cultural work. Some came because of medical needs, and two were about to deliver babies. One or two came to renew their visas.

The path ahead

Back home I continued in my reflections and readings of books on the spiritual dynamics of the retreat program, spiritual direction, and the discerning of spirits. A friend, pastor Seng Chor had given me a book titled, Sacred Listening – James Wakefield, a Protestant  adaptation of the retreat program for lay people who cannot take a full 30 days retreat. The program runs for 6 mothns requiring an hour and a half everyday the path aheadfor the exercises. Adapting what I experienced for church use would be a useful project for me to work on. Furthermore, recently, the recommended book list for my third AGST master’s module (Spirituality and Faith Development) arrived and I am now beginning to read and enjoy the stuff:

To Know As We Are Known – Palmer

Streams of Living Water – Foster

Exploring Christian Spirituality – Collins

………..and many other readings. Looks like another enjoyable and enlightening module awaits me in the middle of September. That would be the last month of my sabbatical. October first, by the grace of God, I will be back shepherding the flock with renewed heart and mind and body.

Chapel of the Resurrection: one of the most productive churches in Singapore

COR-pic

Most productive church in Singapore is Anglican

The Chapel of the Resurrection(Anglican), now pastored by Canon Daniel Tong, is definitely the most productive(or “reproductive”), and yet unrecognized, church in Singapore’s church history. It has pioneered a path that few local churches can claim to have neared. Its glory is that it is the mother of many churches, a few of them, much bigger than herself. A few have lost their Anglican roots, two of which have become large, autonomous and independent churches. COR is just short of being a church planting movement, as  the churches that were birthed and matured have not gone on to birth more new churches.

This blog post is based on conversations I had with Christiana Tan(current secretary of retired Canon James Wong) and John Seet from Century Christian Fellowship. They have been with the Chapel of Resurrection when she was under Canon James Wong, when she experienced this remarkable spiritual movement and mobilization of the church members. More facts are needed to give a better picture but what I have is sufficient to give a sketch of the greatness of this Anglican church.

The womb that gave it birth

The fertile womb of this reproductive spurt of several decades was the charismatic revival of the early 1970’s. The then Bishop Chiu Ban It opened the heavy cathedral doors to the Holy Spirit and the fresh wind swept away all the cobwebs hanging from the candlesticks to the altar and the pews.  Wherever the Spirit was welcome, He left behind pulsating Anglican congregations, alive in Christ and hungry to realize their full potential as the animated body of Christ. In fact, the Anglican church, was like “an exceeding great army”. The bones had come together, the flesh had clothed the skeletons, and the breath of God had just filled their lungs. They were eager for battle. For too long they have sung their songs in the prison of dead orthodoxy. The Chapel of Resurrection was birthed as two fired up Anglican house groups from Holland Village and Depot road were welded together to form a formidable weapon.

Rev Canon  James Wong

“There was a man sent by God….”

The impetus for all this came from a robust, daring, visionary priest- a man filled with the new wine of the Spirit in the 1970’s. He was convinced the new Anglican wine, a laity filled with the Spirit, needed new wineskins, so that the newfound bubbling energies and overflowing life, may have new open structures for expression and extension.  For him, the answer was planting new churches. He was going to put his doctoral thesis into practice. The timing was perfect, and for such a time as this, this “sent one” was the inimitable  James Wong. God had a new weapon in His hand, and the weapon of choice was a battering ram!

Mother of many

Here is a list of the Anglican churches and church plants initiated by the Chapel of the Resurrection or in partnership with other Anglican extensions:

  1. The extension in Whampoa became the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.
  2. The extension at Bukit Batok extension married with Jurong Christian Centre extension and became Westside Anglican Church.
  3. Two extensions(Orchard City Church and St Andrews Christian Centre) married and became St Andrew’s  City Church.
  4. An extension comprised of four youth cells from Chapel of Resurrection married an extension of Church of our Savior in Woodlands and became the Light of Christ, Woodlands.
  5. An extension started in 1991,  mainly meeting in Pasir Ris, is the Century Christian Fellowship.
  6. The extension at Bukit Timah became Chapel of Christ the King which meets at St Margaret’s Primary School.

A legacy of manifold benefits

The benefits of the legacy of this productive spurt in the Anglican denomination are many: a “can do” spirit of faith in the Anglican ethos, not existent before then, and now spilled over into missions in the region; depth and maturity of clergy and lay leadership in strong local churches built to last, over against an over-dependency on the rare and “many talents” charismatic leader;  harnessing and releasing thousands of revived laity into ministry and maturity, who otherwise might have left for other more dynamic, open structures at that time, namely the Calvary Charismatic Centre; it cemented the Anglican denomination’s position of being the third largest “church” in Singapore after the Roman Catholics and the Methodists; and without doubt, the Anglicans have long had an “apostle” in its midst, with the credentials, though not the official title.

( This is no research paper, just a blog post. However it is the digital age, so do fill in the comment box with information that will enhance or increase the accuracy of what was written.)