“Departure Points” by Tony Siew: Book Reflection

Reading “Departure Points” was a breeze and I completed the book more quickly than most. The reading overtook some other books which I had started reading a few weeks earlier. I typically read about five to ten books at a time, dipping into any of them as my whim or mood fancies. The language is informal and it was an easy and interesting read. 

I first met the author through reading his blog. Then when he was in Singapore, we had a few meals together, and he also preached in World Revival Prayer Fellowship, the church I served. In our limited meetings and from reading his blog, what impressed upon me is that he is a man of deep convictions, who works hard at teaching and preaching God’s word, and displays great love for the SIB (Sidang Injil Borneo) churches. Reading this book has given me more insights into his gifts and character. I can see how he obtained a well of wisdom in church leadership – both parochial and denominational – from his wide experience and postings in different settings and countries. 

“Departure Points” gives a quick and easy account of the life and ministry of Rev Dr Tony Siew. The settings changed quickly, from local to denominational, from Sabah to New Zealand to Singapore, from urban church to rural church, from rich city church to poor village church, and denominational seminary to established regional seminary. His ministry roles were as widely varied as his settings: pastor, writer, researcher, denominational treasurer and fundraiser, itinerant preacher to rural churches, seminary lecturer, scholar presenting papers at international conferences, and acting principal of a denominational seminary. The book’s title is clearly appropriate. 

I liked the book for its easy read and my interest in this Sabah denomination which began with Holy Spirit outpourings in the mid-1970’s, about two or three years later than the revivals that began in Singapore. It demonstrated the power of the Spirit in missions and evangelism and natural church multiplication. Till today the Spirit’s activity is still part of the DNA of the church and I do pray it stays that way for the tendency is for such DNA to fade into obscurity with the passage of time, and the equipping of seminary lecturers in seminaries that restrict the Spirit’s work.

I admire the work of the foreign missionaries from Australia (Borneo Evangelical Mission/ OMF) who successfully passed on the baton to the local pastors and leaders and left behind a model of church polity that required plurality of leadership. This has given a lot of stability (despite the slow speed of decisions and execution). The history of foreign missions is littered with missionaries that held on the power for too long and did not contextualize polity to suit the culture they had evangelized. But these Aussie missionaries did well. No doubt the Spirit was upon them to guide them.

Through Tony’s report of his story, I have a better understanding of the SIB denomination and the local churches in the city and the rural villages, and how they operated, and the challenges they faced. He is the only ethnic Chinese pastor among the scores of pastors and church leaders (from the major tribal ethnic groups) that fulfilled the many leadership roles in church and denomination. It is grace on the part of the tribal majorities and upon Tony’s ministry that he was promoted to strategic positions and appointments during his sacrificial tenure of ministry in the denomination. 

I could see that while he is multi-talented and very responsible and capable, his strong convictions, sense of responsibility and courage occasionally landed him in no man’s land and within the crosshair of his critics’ rifle scopes. He is a courageous and forthright leader, passionate as a scholar of God’s truth, and as a pastor-lover of God’s church. I cannot help but feel that a mission that suits him and will make a great contribution to SIB is some kind of wide-ranging and influential role in reformation and implementation of the training of future pastors of the SIB.

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SIB Grace: abounding in grace

SIB Grace English service

Elder Thomas teaching the WordSunday worship service

We entered an empty spacious basement car park of the Crown Towers, an office building. SIB Grace leased the 9th Floor auditorium and halls. There was space for 500 but a third of it was used as a fellowship area, while the rest were filled with seats. The attendance ranged from 150 to 200 every Sunday. The newly started early morning Mandarin service, and the Sunday school each has 50 in attendance. The English service started at 11.30am. After the singing and communion, Elder Thomas, taught the Word verse by verse. The topic was the stewardship of the Master’s goods and the believers’ progress. The offering was taken, notices given and a closing song wrapped up the service. There was a sense of restfulness about the service, with no one straining to pump up adrenalin, or make things happen, or worry about “Were the people touched by God during the service?”.

A stunning miracle

The lunch area overlooked a lovely view of the Sarawak river. Over snacks we met Bartholomew, a male nurse who worked in the city’s hospital. He could not attend services as regularly as he would want to because of his shift duties. However, he prayed for patients in the hospital, and had seen a few answers to prayers for healing. Improvements in leg movements and the pain of patients as a result of Jenny, Kenny, Bartholomewprayer. Other times, he prayed audaciously for patients who died to rise, but they never did……until recently. He shared with me, “The doctor had declared a sick patient dead, and the distraught family had cried over him. I was sent to get him ready for the mortuary. I prayed a simple prayer for God to raise him. To my utter surprise he came back to consciousness. The doctor was called back and was shocked to see it. Later, a church elder visited the patient as he recovered in hospital.” This was a sign and wonder. This low-key but stunning miracle reminded me of another memorable story of a brain-dead member who came back to life in the deaf fellowship of World Revival Prayer Fellowship, where I pastor.

Re-installed by grace

Elder AlexLooking for empty seats at the Kuching food festival was difficult. When we finally did, and others went to order different food, elder Alex, who does most of the preaching in church, shared with me about his journey. During the charismatic revival in Kuching in the 1980’s, St Faith Anglican church was the center of action among the Anglicans. There was so much intensity and activity during that revival. The next two decades saw many who suffered burn-out, including himself, a committed youth leader. On one of his trips to Singapore, his cousin brought him to his church, NCC. There God ministered to him through the message. When he returned to Kuching he wrote to the church and it sent him 22 cassette tapes. He studied all the messages. Alex had severe asthma so that even the air-conditioning of a car could result in an attack. After hearing the tapes, he was completely healed!

Jenny, Kenny, elder Alex, Alan, Penny, Richard

Church gripped by a message

Later, Alex met with Thomas and other acquaintances of the charismatic revival. They met above the Crossway Christian bookshop, and had energizing discussions about the books and tapes of Joseph Prince. From there the idea of starting an SIB preaching point began. That preaching point grew and after persevering through difficulties, became SIB Grace, a church that abounds with the grace of God.

(Footnote: The Borneo Evangelical Church or SIB (Malay:Sidang Injil Borneo) is one of the largest evangelical Protestant denominations in Malaysia with membership at about 500,000. SIB Grace is part of this denomination.)

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