Diary of a pastor in part- time studies 1

nice room with seaview

calming view of the sea

Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary in Penang. Air Asia and a shared cab brought me here at 1pm. The room is large and for two persons but I asked for a single room and there were none left, so they gave me this double room with a million dollar view from Batu Ferringhi. The AGST MTh(Ed) module I am attending is titled “Curriculum Design and Development in a Christian Faith Community”. In the three quarters- filled plane, I was speed-reading a borrowed book, “Mapping Out Curriculum In Your Church”, and once I settled in, I continued till I finished it at about 6pm. Having a phone camera is useful as I could take pics of some of the useful and more important charts and tables in the book.

Now it is close to 12midnight. I have had my dinner at the street hawker’s and it was cheap and delicious. I had met up with a new student, a mature Singapore pastor who had just joined the program(Welcome to the club of seniors in life long learning!). I had bathed and made sure all my pre-course work had been done. I feel tired and done for the day. Lord, may I awake completely refreshed and energized for the packed days ahead.

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Update on the New Covenant Church, Petaling Jaya

Breakfast with pastor Peter Sze

It was a good time of catching up with the founder of The New Covenant Church, Pastor Peter Sze. It’s been some time since I wrote about the church that I have tracked since it opened its doors almost 3 years ago. Here are some interesting and amazing facts about the new church in Petaling Jaya.

It is the fastest growing church in Malaysia. Starting with a few families and some friends it has multiplied and having maxed out their previous sanctuary, they recently expanded and leased a whole third floor besides the floor they were at.

Despite its size there are no full time pastors or administrative staff. Everyone chips in as they best can, including the pastor, who holds a busy managing director’s post in a Malaysian multi-national company.

Shangri-la sophisticationThe pastor was a Methodist lay leader who has “been there, done that” in every charismatic wave from spiritual gifts, church growth, worship, to prayer warfare, and missions and cell group system, etc. What finally liberated and gained a permanent grip of him was the message of grace which he first heard from Joseph Prince’s tapes. They ran with the message but at the same time made it uniquely theirs.

There is no personality cult and the pastor is a level headed, humble, unassuming and wise leader who also welcomes and allows others with gifts and maturity to help in the task of serving God’s Word and His people. He has built a strong team of preachers and teachers of grace.

He is discerning and wary of doing church the way he used to, having seen the futile and frustrating fruit of human-reliant efforts. So he observes the motions of grace and life in the congregation and facilitates their expressions, rather than imitate whatever is currently popular in the conference circuit, or merely adopt best practices of bigger churches. “Want to” instead of “have to” is one such sign of such movements of grace within the church. The church is growing naturally and organically and at a pace that does not become a yoke of burden.

The church does not teach tithing and believes that it is part of the Old Covenant but believes that new covenant giving comes out of gratitude and overflowing life and the amount given should be as a person decides in his own heart. There are no offering bags passed around but there are boxes located at different parts of the facility for those who wish to give.

They teach the Bible systematically in their services working through books of the Bible or topical themes and highlighting and explaining how the texts point to Christ, the new covenant and the grace of God.

They have informally networked with many other “grace-based” churches in Malaysia and are helping a network of churches in Jakarta, in addition to their partnership with Cambodia’s Barnabas Mam’s church planting movement.

You can read my other reports on the new covenant church in these links:

Jun 2010 report

Jan 2011 report

April 2011 report

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Do not look at man

“Do not look at man, look to God” seem to be the recurring theme at the belated welcome lunch for the new addition to our staff. There were three pastors and two lay leaders and I had asked them to give a helpful piece of advice to Ethel Shin the youth worker.

They knew that in her calling she would have to deal very closely with people. People of all sorts including leaders and pastors. People with different personalities, backgrounds, expectations and values about how to do church or be church. Some of them may be  difficult to deal or work with. She would also know pastors and leaders who she thinks are good and godly, but as she gets near, and works with them, their imperfections will appear like cracks in the wall. She may get disappointed, disillusioned, hurt, discouraged or even worse cynical. Keep your eyes on the Lord, not on man.

Its good advice for everyone. The seeker searching for God. The searcher looking for a church community to call home. The faithful die-hard member and the active member serving in increasing capacities in different spheres and levels of involvement. The newly elected board member or addition to a leadership team. The new addition that joined  a cell group. Keep your eyes on the Lord, not on man.

Someone said, There is a snake in every garden. We think the church is a garden and there won’t be any snakes in them. They are safe to walk, play and relax and lie down on. We leave our handbag around and $50 is missing when we get home. “I thought I have a $50 note inside, where has it gone?” Why should we expect the church to be full of Mother Theresas? The church is full of all kinds of people at different junctures in their journey and development. Even the Mother could be difficult for some to handle. The fall of man has its residue in the church and as long as there are people in church its good advice to look to God and not to man.

If we have to look at man, and Paul does ask his readers to follow his example, look at the positives, the praiseworthy, the good, the noble, the godly characteristics that we could be inspired, encouraged and blessed by. Look for the Christ in them and praise God that if we look with His eyes of faith and hope, we can see many encouraging signs of God’s transforming grace and love in them. Do not look at man, look at God, is good advice. And when you look at man, pay attention to how Christ has graced him with goodness and mercy.

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Blogpastor’s BPL 2012-13 football season predictions

The transfers are almost done and all the teams in the English Premier League have played three matches. Now is a fair time to make some predictions of the teams that will make it to the top six. Here are my predictions:

Man cityChampions:  Manchester City will retain their title. Depth of the squad is a very important indicator of championship potential. The number of matches played by a club in the premier league is legion, more than any European league. Wear and tear, fatigue and injuries is not uncommon. Man City has the best squad. Their forwards are all fearsome internationals. No other team has as much firepower, or should I say, petro-power in attack, midfield and defence. Now with Tevez looking like scary demon he was before, I expect them to be the biggest goal-scorers. I think they will go beyond the Group of Death but not to the semi final stage of the UEFA Championship.


Runners up would be Arsenal. This is a surprise pick, ya? I think with RVP this team had a chance at being champions. But without him, they should be satisfied, indeed elated if they could grab a close second. Their defence is growing in confidence and if they keep being mean and stingy, they will lose less points to lower ranking teams. I believe all four cylinders will be firing consistently within a month or two.  I hope to see Abou Diaby do a Van Persie this year – be injury free for one whole season and be a Goliath in the midfield, even as Carzola plays the Davidic part.

chelseaThird will be Chelsea because the midfield has been completely revamped and they seem to be already playing telepathically and creatively.  Drogba is gone; Lampard is aging; Terry gets injured more often; and Petr Czech no longer seem unbeatable: change is in the air, and this means they will lose points. But I expect the the Torres-Eden axis to be toxic and hazardous enough to get them to third.

Fourth will be Manchester United. Rooney and Ferguson are not in bed together and this is disastrous. Furthermore, Ferguson Man utdkeeps praising Van Persie to goad Rooney but this tactic may backfire due to the distrust in their relationship.  Will their purchase of injury-prone Van Persie from Arsenal, become a 24 million dollar mistake they will regret? Probably, expect an injury to restrict his time on the field. Their midfield was the strongest in the league whenever they were champions and now it does not look as formidable and creative. In addition, their defence has been as injury plagued as Arsenal’s two seasons ago. Is Man Utd being in fourth position shocking? Yes it is. Fourth position will be the unthinkable torpedo that will sink the career of Ferguson……….finally. The hairdryer will move up to the boardroom, and Pep Guardalio will replace him.

Fifth will be Tottenham Hotspurs. They should have kept Harry Redknapp. Now instead of a man motivator they got in AVB,  a player destroyer. But they have good players so a fifth to them should be worth celebrating.

Liverpool fans should take comfort that the painful change the team is undergoing will land them a creditable sixth this season, so they will get into the Europa Cup games in the next season.

You should disagree with all of the above if you are a real fan. Yes my predictions is more fire than cold logic. Of course it has to be. We are talking about the BPL not accountancy. Like to hear your predictions in the comment box.

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Trans Gopeng Cameron trek: what a wonderful world, what a wonderful God

The Trans Gopeng Cameron trek

It was planned a year ago and booking began in January. It was far from the two videos we saw on YouTube.  The Trans Gopeng Cameron trek looked like a long walk in MacRitchie Park merely requiring endurance and a steady pace. Yes we were going to stay overnight in an “orang asli” attap hut deep in the jungle and that was touted as the only hardship.  The trek was anything like the videos – and we soon found out why.

Gopeng Rainforest Resort

We flew from budget airport by Firefly to Ipoh. The hundred-seater propeller-driven plane got us there is just over an hour. We were served peanuts or cake and some juice. The Ipoh airport was small but it was being renovated. David and Janice Foon welcomed us there and we went to town for timsum and bought some supplies for the trek before heading for Gopeng Rainforest Resort.

Do not be fooled by the name. It was no resort. Basic facilities in what was once a durian plantation. However the hospitality and the food made it feel more like a home stay. Warm, friendly, helpful and patient and close attention to everyone’s needs, David and Janice did their utmost to make the stay as pleasant as possible.

Trek began at dawn

The next morning we woke with the dawn, got ready, had our breakfast and headed out in the dark to the orang asli settlement from which we would begin our trek. It was about 6am and each of us had our headlamps on.  We would begin early with the first day’s trek of about 18 km up and through the Kinta jungle so as to reach the hut before it gets dark.

The Kinta jungle

The trek is not a well traversed one so the tracks were not well marked out. Without orang asli guides we would definitely have appeared in the Sun’s morning papers, SINGAPOREANS LOST IN KINTA JUNGLE, or something like that. More than once we lost sight of faster team members ahead and had to stay where we were, and wait till the guides who were behind with the slower ones reached us. Most times we re-grouped to keep all 14 together.

Bamboo groves, streams and leeches

At times it felt like Bukit Timah Hill, but for a few differences. One is that there were many streams to wade or step across. Secondly, there were many giant fallen bamboos across our route and we had to bow low with our haversack to get under and through them. If we had known we would have done more duck-walking for our preparations. Third, there were leaves, bushes, branches and grasses  stroking and brushing against your arms and legs as you walked through. Fourth, there were leeches. No matter how we prepared ourselves against them, no defence worked: leech socks, salts, tobacco leaves, covering yourselves thoroughly. Everyone yielded some blood to those thirsty Kinta leeches. We feared them before the trek began; we no longer feared but hated them by the time it was over. Fourth, whenever we came across bamboo groves, we smelt the pungent urine boundary markers of wild boar.

We had been training on Saturday mornings for months with several prolonged outings which I usually missed because of ministry commitments.  This preparation helped everyone. Quite a number of us have crossed the 50 mark. Others are in their forties. And just one in her thirties and one in his sixties. We have been together for some years so we were harmonious. We trekked regularly so we knew how to listen to our bodies and maintain a comfortable personal pace. We called ourselves “Easytrekkers” because we were kiasi, kiasu, kiabor and were easy with each other’s differences and peculiarities.

Back to basics in overnight stay

Reaching the orang asli hut at about 6 pm while still daylight was important as there was no electricity at all. A bulky solar power machine was meant to provide electricity but now stood sentry next to the entrance, a silent testament to miserable Malaysian maintenance. There were no proper toilet and bathing facilities. Toilet was anywhere in the bushes where you can find privacy. Bathing were two taps at knee height out in the open. One was made into a temporary hut with temporary walls from plastic sheets, so that sanitized Singaporeans who must bathe, can bathe. I just wiped myself up with a wet towel, and powdered myself generously army-style, and got ready for cup noodles and eggs for dinner, and got into my sleeping bag on the bamboo floor. Tired as I was after 12 hours of trekking in the forest, I could not sleep as well as I had thought I would. It was the same for others. I was later to appreciate the exquisite comfort of the bed and the warm showers in Ipoh’s Regal Lodge hotel.

Second day of trek – two steep hills

Dawn came but too slowly. Breakfast was two cups of cereals for me -those convenient 3 in 1 packets. Then everybody got ready. My socks could not dry in time and were still drenched (and I had forgotten to pack that extra dry pair),  so I was thankful when someone lent me her black knee high football socks. Too bad it wasn’t Arsenal; but any pair of dry socks, even Man Utd’s one is better than a soggy one.  By 8 am everyone was ready to go.

The second leg of the trek was devoid of leeches as it was cooler and higher.  But the steep gradients of the two major slopes we had to clamber were challenging. One hit us immediately after we began. It was a clear path the orang asli used to get to civilization to buy their supplies but it was a steep 70-80 degree gradient and went on and on like a staircase to eternity. Then it was down again and an awkward climb upstream using both hands and feet to negotiate up a rocky stream for about 1-2 km. The final steep climb was sandy and required all our hands and feet and trekking sticks and the hands of others. We felt such a sense of relief, joy and accomplishment when we finally reached the top: marked by a concrete cement boundary stone and a sign showing directional arrows of the two states of Perak and Pahang. We lazed there for close to 45 minutes, just enjoying the scenery, the cool breeze and fresh air, and chatting about the tough trek and nice weather. I was praising God and just eating energy bars and nuts and chlorinated stream water for lunch. I thought, The worse must be over. It should be downhill from now on.

What a wonderful world, what a wonderful God

After a good rest we moved on or rather downhill to a more developed Kampong Ubi with nice low cost housing along a road that led to the Bharat tea plantation. We would trek all the way to the teahouse atop a hill offering splendid panoramic views of the tea plantation. When we reached the tea house it rained heavily. We gave thanks to God – it was not co-incidental that the two days trek was marked by wonderful weather; nor that two persons, Dave and Choong, iron man and  trail runner, were there to join the trek and be such a help to us all.  We had a nice cup of tea, were picked up by David and Janice, who then took us to Tanah Rata for a delayed lunch of banana leaf curry rice and naan. Then it was to Ipoh where 3 star luxury awaited us. Frankly, after the hardship of the trek, any hotel would be a luxury.  Any warm shower would be a bath in Paradise.  What an enjoyable and challenging trek! What a wonderful world and what a wonderful God.

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