Visiting Nepal

It was a good sixteen years ago, in October 2007, when I last visited Nepal on a trek with friends on the scenic Poon Hill trail. You can see the old video HERE. Things have changed considerably in Nepal. We paid toll to communist insurgents to trek through the areas they controlled. Now they are a legal political party currently in power. Once the beloved royal family was in power, but not anymore. Then there was the great earthquake in April 2015, a very painful scar in the memory of the Nepalese. Over 8000 lost their lives, thousands were rendered homeless, and the World Heritage sites I had visited had been damaged severely.

This time round, I visited Kathmandu, a rural village and hiked up to a remote mountain village. The conditions were starkly contrasting. Shopping shelves were filled with all kinds of foods and goods in the city, but in the village there were only tiny family-run provision shops selling essential foodstuffs. Cafes were abundant in Kathmandu, and you get a wide variety of cuisine, but mostly Western, to cater to the tourists, and oh at so affordable prices for us foreigners: SGD$1.80 for decent coffee latte. Taxis were easily hailed in the city but in the small village only two vehicles were available for hire…. and forget about cafes. Opportunities for good schooling and jobs are better in the capital then in rural and mountain villages. The differences were obvious to me. 

It’s a beautiful country of grand mountains, golden grains, and abundant rivers and streams. The people are beautiful too: a hospitable people albeit weighed down by systemic poverty. This became evident when I travelled outside Kathmandu and talked to locals about the standard of living for the majority of Nepalese. It became clear when I shared in their meals, slept in their mud-houses, and used their squat toilets in the outhouse. I have not known such conditions in my childhood. I was born into the era of SIT apartment living, precursor to HDB flats. As much as I felt uneasy, the inconveniences were bearable for it was for a mere two nights. I recall looking at the young people in the remote mountain village and bemoaning the lost potential if they remained stuck in the mountains. This convinced me that student hostels in Kathmandu are a key help for rural young people to have a better education, increased chances of employment, and some hope of helping their family break free from poverty. 

I also met with committed Christians and we were mutually blessed as we shared with one another. I learned several things: 

  • Casteism exists in Nepal (despite its ban) and those in the lower castes are responding to the good news of Jesus Christ.
  • Nepal has a largely Hindu population of 30 million and proselytizing is forbidden by law. However, there are people turning to Christ, and suffering persecution from family and community is not uncommon.
  • The sharing of the gospel was at times accompanied by remarkable healings and deliverances, leading to whole families coming to Christ. 
  • The Nepalese Christians were hungry to know God and his word. Their worship and singing were infectious and inspiring even though I could not understand Nepalese.
  • Sadly, casteism is so ingrained in the culture, that Christians have generally not completely broken free from it, especially when it came to marriage. 
  • The people of God in Nepal need the help, the come-alongside partnerships with the churches outside of Nepal. They need humble spiritual input and prudent financial support, without donor conditions of wanting control and naming rights. 
  • I was inspired to hear about God’s grace among the unreached people, to witness the deep commitment of the gospel workers, and the simplicity of a movement free from institutional barriers. It felt like the book of Acts has come alive in Nepal. 
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Meeting Up With Blogging Friends

It was pleasant to meet up with blogging friends of yesteryears. I have been blogging a long time and in the course of these years I have met some fellow bloggers and chatted with them. Well it so happens I met with a few of them in recent months. 

With one of them, Terence Yeo, we planned morning ride to the Jurong Lake Gardens, culminating with a brunch at Taman Jurong Food Centre. The day was cloudy and pleasant. The weather prediction was that it would rain but thankfully he was already on the way when I informed him of my wet weather plans. Too late. But as it turned out, it hardly rained. 

Terence Yeo and myself

We talked about a range of different things. Terence has always been well informed and has intelligent views on all kinds of information and news whether biblical, extra-biblical, or current news and events. Of course, we also caught up on personal matters and talked about what we have been up to and about our families over a meal of the famous bak chor mee of Taman Jurong. 

A fortnight later I met up with Jeffrey Teo and pastor Joshua Lye, two acquaintances from long ago. We met at the Republic food court at Westgate and caught up after a period of about a decade. I was very apologetic because I had forgotten an earlier appointment with them.

Big changes have taken place since I last met them. Jeffrey Yeo who is one of those serious runners who travel overseas to do races, had moved to an Assembly of God church, and Joshua had planted a church, which meant he was a bi-vocational pastor for several years, until he recently answered God’s call, “left his nets” and went into Singapore Bible College’s Master’s program. I shared with them some of the things happening in the church and I was happy to hear that both of them are still very much involved and interested in the church at large, and what’s going on today in the world.

Pastor Joshua, Jeffrey, and I

Joshua was a participant in a revival among the members of the Lutheran Church of our Redeemer at Duke’s Road. I asked if he minded if I linked him to Galven Lee and Sina who are collecting Singapore revival stories, and he did not mind. I thought such a story is worthy of retelling over and over again, recorded for posterity to read and be inspired at what the Lord can do when hearts are open to him. Just think about it, the Lutheran Church experienced some form of renewal among some of its members the extent of which I am unsure. Evidently it did not spread as widely in the denomination as the renewal that spread in the Anglican denomination.

I have referred quite a few of these pockets of revival in schools and churches to Galven and Sina and they are very earnest and diligent in seeking such stories so if you know of any let me know in the comment box, and I can pass the tip to them.

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Rising Cost of Living & the End Time

I was seated at the Giant supermarket when my wife came to me and showed me some French beans. She said the price has doubled. Later she brought to me another two types of vegetable and told me the amount it increased. Yesterday, I also read in the news that some premium petrol has reached the SGD$4 per litre mark. Unheard of in all my thirty years of driving. It seems that prices have increased more than 50% in many cases. Electricity rates have gone up. Transportation costs have gone up. Food prices have gone up. My wife informs me about price increases. She does the grocery and pays the bills. She knows. 

I sometimes tell her, “Can you quote Philippians 4: 19 “my God shall supply all your needs” at the end of every update of price increase?” God’s promises need to be mentioned alongside news of inflation. It is an antidote to worry and fear. Faith comes by hearing the word of God. 

This inflation looks likely to be set in place for the long haul. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has affected the world. Pandemic lockdowns have caused disruptions of supply chain distribution and will continue to do so as long as China keeps its zero-covid policy. And not to forget: the GST increase the Singapore government had announced it would implement from 1 January 2023 onwards. It will keep its word.

We are living near the close of this age. The black horse and its rider (symbol of famine or food shortages) with the pair of scales in his hand in the Apocalypse (Rev 6:5,6) reminds us of what is to come. “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, or three quarts of barley, but don’t lay a finger on the oil and wine”. What can feed only one person can only be bought with a whole day’s wage. Barley would be cheaper but still the amount would not be be enough to feed a whole family. The poor will suffer. Only the rich can afford what was once affordable for the middle income (oil and wine). Cost of living will skyrocket. So will lawlessness. Only the love of many will decrease, will grow cold (Matthew 24:13).

Where does this leave retirees living off the monthly amounts from their CPF retirement savings? If they receive a monthly payout of SGD$1,000 a month, it will be able to buy one half of what it used to be able to buy in goods and services. The current crisis invites us to trust God to be faithful in providing for us. He who feeds the sparrows knows our need. It invites us to live within our modest means and find contentment and joy in Him alone. It invites the well-off to look out for poor who are in need, and to share God’s abundance with them. The church has the opportunity to truly become the community of love Jesus envisioned. May the world see this and say, “How these Christians love one another!”

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The Joy Of Preaching Returns

It was a joy to preach to the “embodied” church again after mostly doing pre-recorded or online services in most of the last two years. Most of the members have begun to return to the worship gatherings since the government gave the green light and loosened restrictions recently. The timing was good too, for the holy week, Good Friday and Easter services. Most of us were happy to be back and to be able to chat after the service and have two hours lunch fellowship to catch up with people.

The young people have returned too and that is a great comfort to me. During the off and on, back and forth of constant change from online to in-person services, and vice-versa, young people got frustrated and tired. Restricting meals to two persons killed the joy of being with other young people. Now even five or more can sit around a table and have a meal in the coffeeshop or hawker center.

Rising enthusiasm

There was excitement in the air and people were generally enthusiastic about worship (now they can sing with masks on), and receptive to the message. Preaching to real people I know and not a totally online audience is refreshing. You are able to see how listeners are responding to what you are saying. You can sense whether you are connecting the truth with their lives, whether they were attentive or lost in other thoughts, eager or jaded, wanting more or saying with their body language, Please end. Preaching is not all about delivering all you have prepared. You can make immediate adjustments to the content, adding new inspired ideas or completely cutting off a whole main point.

During the Easter sermon I preached from Matthew 28 about the two Marys. I never intended to dwell on their devotion to Christ. In my notes were two main ideas: how God keeps his word and is trustworthy; and the different responses of people (the two Marys, the religious leaders, the soldiers who guarded the tomb) to the greatest event in history: Christ’s resurrection. I found myself speaking about the devotion of the two Marys. I ended up expanding on this line of thought as the Spirit gave me words to speak. A whole main point was added on the spot. It was a pleasant experience of the Spirit’s hand upon me.

This freedom to add and subtract is a healthy freedom. It is not a license to ramble. It gives space for God to inspire and lead me in surprising ways. This can be risky, but exciting. It makes me feel that God is actively involved in the delivery of the message, that he cares enough about his people to intervene to enhance and enrich whatever I have prepared.

Giving space to God

Two things help me to give space to God to move and inspire new thoughts in the sermon. One, I do not use powerpoint presentation. This way I do not feel a need to complete and use everything I have prepared. I can change the order, the content, and the length of the message without distracting the people listening to the Word. I have other reasons for not using presentation slides for sermons but it is not the subject here.

The second thing I do is to preach without looking at my notes too much. I have all the main truths, background information, illustrations, applications thought through, and the main stuff are in note form. I memorise the main points and the illustrations and applications that belong together with each point. I go over them in my mind, rehearsing them mentally. Then when I am on the pulpit, I trust the Spirit to guide the delivery. Some information I researched is unused, some I had read about but discarded, the Spirit brings to mind. I trust that what was subtracted was not meant to be heard, and what was added was meant for someone to hear. If I get stuck or got lost along the way, I go back to my notes and look at the underlined main truths to re-calibrate the route to the destination.

The joy of preaching

Preaching is more fun now that it is not so frequent and I have no other pastoral and administrative cares to attend to. I remember that when I was pastoring, a lot of good intentions, commitments and promises made to people and ministry got buried or neglected by other important and urgent tasks, by my own inner turmoil, or were simply forgotten. Usually I gave the highest priority to preaching preparation, including prayer. “Devote yourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word”, was the apostolic priority (Acts 6). I did not always succeed in this, because urgent ministry matters overwhelm important matters. If a funeral suddenly falls on your lap, or there is an administrative deadline to meet, I found my sermon preparation challenged. I no longer have these things to distract or harass me as I prepare my messages, praise the Lord!

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Church of True Light: Let It Shine

My association with Church of True Light went back about twenty-five years. I first got to know them through a church camp before I guest preached in their worship services. If I remember correctly I took two other camps with them, one in the Cameron Highlands, and another in Johor. The uniqueness of their camps is that both Mandarin and English congregations used the same hotel during the camp but had different guest preachers. During mealtimes and special recreation events they were together for bonding time. It was admirable that they made efforts to be together, and that meant the English congregation had to be sensitive to the affordability of the locations as many in the Mandarin congregation were senior citizens.

With this long, pleasant association, I have a familiarity with some of the members of the church. It was good to see that many of them were still actively serving the Lord after so many years. One of them, Matthew, even became a full-time pastor in the church recently. Others led the service, or led ministries and are involved in different ministry functions. Faithfulness is hard to come by these days but you can find it in this church. 

From Vincent to Aaron

My friend Revd Vincent Hoon, retired from this church and is now serving as an auxiliary priest in St John’s- St Margaret’s, his home church. I was pleasantly surprised that the priest, Revd Aaron Cheng, who took over the English Congregation, invited me to preach at the 4.30pm Saturday service comprising mostly young people (and adults who prefer Saturday worship), and the 9am Sunday morning worship of the English congregation.

The priest was the youth pastor doing part time studies in Trinity Theological College. Groomed by Vincent, he was ordained during the pandemic and began his priesthood in an unforgettable time. In the future when people ask him, “When were you ordained?” “Oh, during the pandemic.” They would nod their heads. He is a positive, cheerful and energetic minister who connects well with his youth and the adults in the church. It warmed my heart to get an email from him and of course I was most willing to renew ties and minister there again. After all, I have had a year of rest and was more than ready to do what I love.

Preaching Adjustment

When the time came I was all ready to preach, having written out my script for the mostly young people Saturday worship. I went ahead with my well researched sermon but my experience was that I could not connect with them and drove home perturbed about it. After a nap, I went to the Lord and waited on Him, to help me understand, to see if there was any adjustment needed for the Sunday preaching assignment. I felt led to use the end-point at the introduction, and emphasize two other points, with a heavier emphasis on application and response. During prayer, I intuitively saw myself leaving the pulpit and walking closer to the audience and giving an altar call to pray in the front. On Sunday, before the service, I got permission for the altar call with the priest. Thankfully, it was the first Sunday after the government loosen the regulations for religious meetings. Altar calls to pray in the front is permissible.

Prayer Altar

In both services I talked about the 1970’s revival and how the move of God renewed the Anglican church and the valley of dry bones became an exceedingly great army of lay volunteers. I challenged them to pray for a fresh move of God. We need to forget the former things, and expect a new move, a new expression of God’s grace and power in the church. I was encouraged to see people come forward to spend five minutes praying in the front at the kneelers and on the carpeted floor. By God’s grace, I felt the message resonated with many of them. It was such a joy and privilege.

Meeting Jude

The bonus joy was meeting Jude, formerly my church member and a missionary in training with YWAM. He had later gone on staff with St Peter’s Anglican church, and then with Covenant EFC’s social arm, and finally landed in Church of True Light with his wife! They tell me that the new Vicar Barry Leong has begun to implement a plan of succession – recruiting young people and calling them out to serve on staff.  There were two other new recruits on staff: a P.K. who takes charge of the young people ministry, and Joey (a YWAM missionary in Thailand back because of the pandemic) who ministers to the children.

After the service, Aaron, Jude and I had teh tarik and roti prata at an Indian eatery directly opposite the church entrance. We talked shop for about an hour. Interestingly, one of their leaders later passed by and told us he had already paid the bill for our meals – what a picture of the grace and hospitality of this lovely faith community. The Lord be with, and bless them abundantly, so that they shine like bright stars in this darkening world.

To read my other church visits, click HERE.

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