Monday, 22 July 2013

Orang Asli Mission

I spent a few days with the Revd Lizune, who is pastor of Shalom Anglican Church in Gopeng.  Shalom Church has a special ministry amongst the Orang Asli, and as well as Shalom Church in Gopeng, they have churches in twelve Orang Asli villages situated in the jungle.  In addition Shalom Church has a mission amongst villages over four hours from Gopeng, up unmade jungle roads, and he also at the request of the Anglican Church in Batu Gajah started a new Malay service on a Sunday evening.


Shalom Church in Gopeng - meeting in a converted shop unit

With such a large area to cover, Lizune is assisted by Orang Asli lay pastors, who live in the villages, and look after several churches each.  As the only ordained priest, Revd Lizune visits a different village each week to conduct communion services. 


Typical Orang Asli village

This ministry amongst the Orang Asli was started by Bishop Moon Hing when he was priest at St Peter's Church in Ipoh, and St Peter's continues to provide financial support for this ministry.


Pastor Lizune talking to a villager

In addition to Sunday services, on Wednesday evening's they hold prayer and worship services in the various villages, and on Friday's the cell groups meet.


Cell group meeting

The only way to access many of these villages is with use of a 4x4, as the roads widening up through the jungle are narrow and at times steep.  Although the preferred mode of transport for the Orang Asli themselves is by moped.  It's common to see three or even four people on the back of a moped, and the wearing of helmets is very much optional, especially for children!  

Preferred mode of transport for the whole family!

Some of these villages are very remote, one village we visited had no direct road access, and so the only way to reach it was by walking twenty minutes through the jungle along a small track.  

The only way to access some villages is by foot

In many of the villages churches have been constructed (I gather with money from Korea), and where no church exists, the members meet in one of the houses.  The majority of the Orang Asli prefer to live in their traditional bamboo houses.  The government are building new houses for the Orang Asli, but I'm told many of them prefer their traditional style houses because they are cooler.  

This house is used as the church meeting place.  The couple who live here want to give this house to the church, and construct a new home in the village.  The man seated on my right is aged 90 or 100.  He couldn't remember is actual year of birth, but was 20 or 30 when the Japanese invade Malaysia in 1942.

As well as visiting a number of Orang Asli villages, I also have the opportunity to attend a prayer and praise service in one of the villages.  It started with a worship song, followed by a short talk based on a Bible reading, before moving into a time of extended worship, where people started praying in the spirit.  The sense of God's presence in that church was incredibly strong, as everyone lifted their voices together in prayer and praise.  The people were also divided into groups and given topics to pray for, and they also offered pray for healing for those who needed it.  The sense of deep love and devotion to God was obvious to see.

I also got the opportunity to attend a cell group meeting in one of the villages.  Again there was a time of worship, followed by prayer and then sharing.  At the end of the meeting there was the obligatory meal!

Orang Asli village church

The impression I got from my brief visit to Shalom Church and the Orang Asli is that the church has a very strong and vibrant presence, and although not all the Orang Asli are Christian's, many clearly are.  It was a great honour and privilege of being able to experience their worship and sense the power and presence of God at work in these jungle villages.  It was also encouraging to see Orang Asli villagers being equipped and trained for ministry, and taken on leadership roles within the church.   

Ray of Hope Ipoh


The Ray of Hope is a non profit, non religious multi racial centre set up by St Peter's Church and St Augustine's Church in Ipoh, which would be best described as a Christian Social Enterprise.

The mission of Ray of Hope is to provide people with learning difficulties creative and meaningful educational programmes that will enable them to reach their full potential.

To provide vocational training and sheltered employment for young adults with learning difficulties.

To increase public awareness on people with special needs and encourage greater community support.  


The Ray of Hope is a truly inspirational place to visit, and the driving force behind it is Aunty Mary, a truly inspiring lady who has given her time free to seeing Ray of Hope built up, and whose love and concern for the students who attend Ray of Hope is clear to see.  

Ray of Hope provides a range of programmes:

Early Intervention (age 6 months to 6 years)
This programme serves to promote cognitive development and prepare special children for mainstream and special education.

Supplementary (age 7 to 12 years)
A specialised and holistic educational programme designed to maximise learning.  Innovative lessons and fun filled activities are conducted to stimulate greater interest in learning.

Pre Sheltered Workshop Training (age 13 to 18 years)
Advanced living skills and vocational training to equip special needs youths for greater community social interaction, self reiance and gainful employment.

Bakery Training (age 18 and above)  
Young adults receive practical hands on training to enable them to produce various types of marketable cookies and cakes

Sheltered Workshop Cafe (age 18 and above)
Provides sheltered employment and vocational training to empower young adults with learning difficulties.  They also aim to equip them with relevant working skills in preparation for open employment.

Aunty Mary's great pride and joy is the Cafe that Ray of Hope runs. The fun is of very high quality, and the Ray of Hope Cafe recently made it into a book celebrating Ipoh's best eating establishments. Standards are exceptionally high, and they have one awards for being the cleanest restaurant in Ipoh, something Aunty Mary is justifiably proud of.

The students at Ray of Hope help prepare some of the food that is sold in the cafe (alongside a professional chef), and they also help wait on the customers.  The aim of Ray of Hope is to give these young men and women the skills that will enable them to find gainful employment else where once they graduate from Ray of Hope.

Amongst other activites run at Ray of Hope includes functional literacy and numeracy, computer lessons, story telling, art and craft, music and singing, community mobility, bakery skills, personal hygiene, vocational training, money concepts, role play and drama, dance, home management and living skills, hospitality and catering, personal safety and job placement.

The facilities in Ray of Hope are really good, and upstairs there is a large meeting room which on Sunday is used as worship area for a church - the room was specially designed with this in mind, and was part of the vision to plant a new church in this part of the town.

But for me the most inspiring thing about Ray of Hope is Aunty Mary, who is the real driving force behind this amazing church initiative. Her faith in God is apparent for all to see, and she makes no apologies for the Christian vision that lies behind this project. 

Worship at St Peter's Ipoh

St Peter's is unmistakably charismatic evangelical in it's worship, and provides quite a contrast from the more traditional Anglican worship that I experienced at St Barnabas in Klang.  

There are four different congregations that meet at St Peter's, based around various languages, English, Cantonese, Mandarin (which meet on Saturday) and Malay. Altogether the combined attendance at these four services averages around 400 plus, with the English and Malay services attracting the largest congregations - closely followed by the Cantonese service.  The worship is very modern, and very contemporary.  The English service begins at 9am, and starts with between 30 to 40 minutes of band led worship.  One of the worship leaders is an extremely talented 19 year old called Joshua Loo, whose passion and zeal for God is amazing to behold.

After a time of worship, they move into a time of intercession. This however is not the the quiet style of prayer that you'd find in most Anglican churches, but very passionate, praise and worship, usually leading into a time of praying in the spirit (in tongues), and with everyone praying allowed together.  More worship often follows, before the congregation say together the collect and then a simple declaration of faith before the Bible readings are read.  This is then followed by the sermon which generally lasts around 45 minutes, and often is followed by a time for more ministry.

If it is a communion service, communion is celebrated before the talk.

In addition to the congregations that worship at St Peter's, St Peter's has planted various churches around Ipoh and beyond.  These include Shalom Church (in Gopeng), Shekinah Church, Agape Church, Hallelujah Church and Charis Church. Attendance at these churches along with St Peter's is between 550 to 670 people per week.  

What is most striking about the churches I've visited in Malaysia, is how many of them have planted new churches.  Whereas church planting amongst the Anglican Churches in the UK, seems to be still fairly rare, and only undertaken by the very large Anglican churches, in Malaysia church planting seems a very natural thing to do.  In addition the church plants soon seem to be planting churches of their own.  For example originally St Peter's was a church plant of St John's Ipoh, but has now planted many churches of its own (and in size has outgrown its mother church).

Youth and Young Adults Ministry At St Peter's

Blessed Kids

St Peter's runs an effective youth and young adults ministry.  On Sunday afternoon they run 'Blessed Kids', for younger children, organised by Chew Kim Bee (attendance 40+). In style and content there are similarities between what they do at Blessed Kids and what takes place in a Messy Church service, with the main difference being that this is for children only (and not their parents). Blessed Kids includes a mix of activities, games and songs around a clearly defined theme.  What is most interesting about Blessed Kids is that many of the children (who the church bus in) come from non Christian families.

St Peter's also runs a Youth Fellowship (spcipohyouth.blogspot.com), again like Blessed Kids, many of the teenagers who attend SPY come from non Christian homes, I gather that attendance can fluctuate quite significantly, and they lose a lot of young people when they go off to study in college of University outside of Ipoh. Sadly I'm told that many of these young people when they go off to study elsewhere tend to gravitate to non Anglican churches, presumably because they provide the style of worship that appeals to them.

Many of the young people who attend SPY have recently completed the Youth Alpha, and are now going through 'A Life Worth Living' course on the book of Philippians.  The session I attended started with a couple of games (ice breakers), then a time of modern contemporary band led worship, led by the young people themselves, and then they had a talk given by the Vicar of St Peter's, the Revd Frank Lin.  What surprised me about this talk was that it was a fairly straight 20 minute talk, without using any tools other than simple powerpoint slides (no video clips, etc).

SPY is led by the very inspiring Joshua Loo, who shows incredible maturity beyond his 19 years, and is an extremely gifted worship leader.  Joshua is also supported by Pastor Kelvin Lee and his wife Sandi.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’

Ezekiel was born in 622BC, and at the age of 25 was amongst 3000 Jews who were exiled to Babylon. So he is writing and prophesying to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. 

The proverb, ‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’ (Ez 18:2) was probably used by the exiles to exonerate themselves of responsibility for their situation. 

The proverb is saying that the children suffer the consequences of their parents' actions. So they are claiming that the problems they are facing (including the exile), are not down to any fault of their own, but due to the sins of their ancestors. 

But God says “you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.” (Ezk 18:2), Jeremiah 31:29-30 also rejects this same proverb.

Why does God reject this proverb? After all we do know that there is profound truth in this proverb. One generation’s sins can manifest itself in the suffering of the next generation (see Exodus 34:7). The reality is that we are very much the product of our upbringing. 

For example, alcoholism, domestic violence, sexual abuse, lack of love, inevitably impacts the next generation. So people can and do suffer the consequences of their parents sins, and it can have a ripple down affect which touches more than one generation. 

But the reason God through his prophet rejects this proverb, is because he is calling us to take responsibility for our sins. To recognise the times when we fail God, and not blame others for our mistakes. 

Whilst we may be shaped by our past, the message of this passage is that we will not suffer for the sins of our parent’s wickedness, nor will we benefit from our parent’s righteousness (Ez 18:9, 13, 17). “It is only the person who sins that shall die" (Ezk 18:4)

Verses 5-24 go on to mention a righteous father, a wicked son, and the righteous grandson, and breaks the basic premise of the proverb. A wicked son does not benefit from his father's righteousness, nor does he jeopardize his son's chance at life.

In this passage God calls us to take responsibility for our own actions and lives, and not to blame others for our mistakes. It calls us to take stock of our lives. To bring our lives into the light of God, to examine what areas of our lives we have still to turn over to God. 

It reminds us of the seriousness of sin, that without repentance sin leads to death. As Paul in Romans 6:23 writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”But if we were to go on reading this passage a bit further we’d read: “But if a 
wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die.” (Ezk 18:21)

What becomes clear is that God’s greater concern is with the preservation of life. We are able to change the course of our lives. Through recognition of our sins, and repentance we can receive God’s forgiveness. ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ 1 John 1:9

Because all life belongs to God, even the lives of the wicked, the future remains open for all of us. But ultimately God leaves it up to us whether we want to chose the way of life over the way of death. The choice is always ours, this freedom to choose is extremely important. Whilst God desperate for his people to come to him, it always has to be our choice. But God’s desire is clear, at the end of this chapter God says “For I take no pleasure in the death of 
anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezk 18:32)

So this passage contains a very powerful message of hope. God rejects this fatalistic proverb, that there is nothing we can do about our current situation, that we are the product of our ancestors. Instead we see the heart of God, who delights in life, and longs for his people to turn to him, to turn away from the sin that leads to death, and to embrace life.

Reflection on 2 Corinthians 11:16-33: When and How to Boast

When people are boasting, it tends to be something that paints them, or their families, in a good light. It might be boasting about where we’ve been on holiday, someone famous or influential we have met, about our new car, or latest gadget, or how well our children are doing at school. Or in Christian circles we might boast about how much the church has grown, the impact of our ministry, some experience of God we may have had – we sometimes do 
this in the guise of giving God the honour, but in fact it can sometimes be ourselves we are wanting to be praised. Therefore it is a strange thing for Paul to say if he is going to boast, he is going to be boast in the things that show his weakness.

Most of us would rather hide our weaknesses from others – this is particularly a problem amongst Church leaders. We want to be seen as being successful,making an impact, full of faith, and growing in the Lord. We like to be seen as being successful. But Paul says “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Cor 11:30)

How often do we talk about the times when we have fallen on our faces and have failed? 

Paul reaches back twenty years into the past to this rather remarkable incident that occurred shortly after his conversion, and he says, If I must boast, this is the kind of thing I am going to boast of. He boasts about the things that show his weakness. He talks about times when he was a complete failure at what he was trying to do. The reason he boasts in these things, is because it was through these incidents that Paul learnt important lessons. 

It’s good to know that things didn’t always go smoothly for Paul. That amidst all the success he had, there were times when everything seemed to fall apart. I find this encouraging! 

He also came to realise that despite his best efforts, his Hebrew qualifications and brilliant mind, that alone was not enough. He learnt a great truth, that his natural gifts are not what qualified him as a servant of Christ.

We tend to think our natural abilities, the ability to play an instrument, to preach and teach, etc are the things God desires the most and will use. But Paul came to realise that the only thing that matters is depending on Christ working in him. 

It’s Christ that makes our efforts meaningful and valuable both in God's sight and ultimately people's. That is the great secret that Paul learned.

Do we see the value of our failures as part of God's curriculum for training us in humble trust? Do we trust Him to redeem our failures?

The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

Sermon preached at St Peter's Church, Ipoh, Malaysia on Sunday 14th July 2013


INTRODUCTION

Bill Hybels, who founded Willow Creek Community Church in America, tells the story of how
one day he was challenged by a member of his congregation in the car park after a church service.

This man was clearly very upset. 

He had met someone in need of food and a place to stay, and so he'd tried phoning the church
office. But even though he phoned many times, there was never any reply. This man looked at
Bill Hybels and said "Don't you think the church should have been there for people like this in
their time of need?" 

Bill asked the man, "What did you do?" To which he replied, well I got him some food, and
provided a place for him to stay for the weekend. Bill Hybel's replied, "It sounds to me as though there church was there for this man."

Through baptism, each one of us is called to full time Christian ministry and service. This calling
is for all God's people, irrespective of age, race, background or gender. To love God and love our neighbours as ourselves. To help illustrate this Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. 

WHAT MUST I DO TO INHERIT ETERNAL LIFE?

A lawyer wanted to test Jesus and asked him, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life." 
Notice how the question is phrased, "what must I DO to inherit eternal life." Underlying this
question is an assumption that eternal life is something that can be earned by good behaviour,
going to church, praying regularly. As if we can buy our way into heaven by what we do. 

But the question is flawed. "What can I DO to inherit eternal life?" The answer is NOTHING.
Eternal life is not something that can earned, it's a free gift.

I'm the father to three boys, Tomek, Adam and Henryk, they are my heirs. When I die they will
inherit from me, not because they have earned it through good behaviour, because they tidy their rooms, or do as I ask them, but because they are my children. Inheritance by its very nature is a gift. 

Through faith in Jesus we become sons and daughters of God, adopted into God's family. Paul in our Romans writes “you received the Spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. And if children, then
heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:15-17).

You receive your inheritance on the death of a relative or friend. It is because of Jesus' death and resurrection that we can receive this gift of eternal life.

ETERNAL LIFE - PRESENT REALITY FUTURE HOPE 

So what is this gift of eternal life? When we talk about eternal life we tend to think about it in
terms of life after death. But eternal life is both a present reality and a future hope. 

In the story of the prodigal son, the younger son decides he can't wait to receive his share of the
inheritance, and so demands to be given it, and goes off to a distant country to squander his
wealth. It is only when the money runs out, and that his friends abandon him and he hits rock
bottom, that he comes to his senses, and realises that the servants in his father's household are
better off than he is, and so he returns to his father, in the hope he can be accepted as one of his servants. But as soon as the father sees his son, he is overjoyed, and puts puts sandals on his feet, a ring on his finger and places a new robe around him, and then throws a big party. But when the older son hears the sounds of celebration coming from the house, and learns that his younger brother has returned, he starts to bitterly complain, and says to his father "For years I have worked for you like a slave and have always obeyed you. But you have never even given me a little goat, so that I could give a dinner for my friends. This other son of your wasted your money on prostitutes. And now that he has come home, you ordered the best calf to be killed for a feast."(Luke 15:29-30) To which the father replied, "My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours." (Luke 15:31) The point is that the inheritance that these two sons would receive was already theirs, it was already made available to them.



Because of the victory won for us on the cross, we are already receipients of this gift of eternal
life, through faith in Jesus Christ. The gift of eternal life is the relationship we can have with
Jesus Christ, and the blessings that come from that relationship. Jesus said "I tell you the truth,
that everyone who hears my message and has faith in the one who sent me has eternal life
and will never be condemned. They have already gone from death to life." John 5:24 

The gift of eternal life is ours to enjoy now today, it's not just some future promise, but a present
reality to be enjoyed. 

LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD AND YOUR NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF

In reply to the question, what must I do to inherit eternal life, Jesus responds by asking the lawyer a question in return. "What is written in the law? How do you read it?" To which the lawyer replies, "You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and
with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself." To which
Jesus commends the response and says, "You have answered right, do this and you will live." 

The command to love God, comes from Deuteronomy 6:5, and is known as the Shema, and the
command to love our neighbour comes from Leviticus 19:18, together these two commands are known as the Golden Rule. There is no other commandment greater than these, they sum up the law and the prophets. 

What these two commandments reveal is that Christianity is all about relationships. First and
foremost it is about our relationship between God and ourselves, and out of that flows our
relationship with our neighbours. 

Emphasising love of God and then love of neighbour, reminds us that God must always come first, others second, and ourselves last. But at the same time we recognise that we fail in this task. Many of us struggle to accept and love ourselves, let alone God or our neighbour. So we need to ask for God's help, in loving him, and loving our neighbour, because it is no easy task. 

WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR?

Seeking to justify himself further, the lawyer asks Jesus, 'But who is my neighbour?' In response
to this question Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The road between Jerusalem and Jericho winds its way through 17 miles of rocky and dangerous terrain, and even as late as the 1930s, it had a reputation for being a dangerous road, where travellers would often be attacked. Although Jesus doesn't say that the man who is attacked is a Jew, it is clear from his story that he was. He was attacked, and left half dead on the road.

Not long after, a priest travelling down the same road, saw the man lying injured, but instead of
stopping to assist him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite came across the man and like the priest passed by on the other side.

Why did neither the priest or Levite stop to help this man? Surely that was the right and
compassionate thing to do?

Both the priest and the Levite worked in the Temple in Jerusalem. The priest was on his way
down the mountain from Jerusalem to Jericho, where many of the priests lived. The priests would go up to Jerusalem for a two week assignment and then return to their homes in Jericho. This priest probably was returning from the temple. 

It was probably not clear if this man was dead or alive. The jews believed that if you touched a
corpse you would become ceremonially unclean. Therefore if the priest or Levite touched the man and discovered he was dead, they would became ceremonially defiled, they would need to return to Jerusalem and undergo a week long process of ceremonial purification. Meanwhile during this time the priest would not be able to eat from the tithes, or even collect them. The same would be true for his family and servants. Distribution to the poor would have also been impossible.

Furthermore, if the victim wasn't a Jew, then the priest and Levite were not responsible under the law to do anything to help this man.

There may have been other considerations. It could have been possible that this was a trap to lure them in, and the man on the road was only pretending to be injured, with his accomplices lying in waiting to ambush anyone who would come to his aid. And even if it wasn't a trap, there was the real risk that the robbers were still in the vacinity, and therefore the priest and Levite would have been keen to have got to safety as quickly as possible. The priest in particular came from a prestigious and elite class in Jewish society, and would have made an attractive target for thieves.

Then there is also the inconvenience that would have been created if they had stopped to help this man. 

It's easy to stand in judgement over these two people, but this story challenges us to consider what excuses we make when it comes to helping others? Am I any better? I'm sure the priest and Levite felt justified in what they did, I have to recognise that there have been times when I've also justified my lack of action on behalf of others, because it would be inconvenient or time
consuming. I think of the times when I've seen people begging for money on the street, homeless, and often showing the ravages of alcohol and drug addiction. And I'm ashamed to say, too often I turn the other way. I avoid their gaze, I cross the other side of the street. Am I really that different to the priest and Levite in this story? 

The third person to come along was a Samaritan, but unlike the first two people this person
stopped, and took pitty on the man lying on the road. 

The fact that Jesus should make the hero of this story a Samaritan would have been a shocking and unexpected twist, because the Samaritans and Jews hated one another. 

WHO ARE THE SAMARITANS?

The Samaritans lived in what had been the Northern Kingdom of Israel. There capital Samaria,
was located between Galilee in the north and Judea in the south. The Samaritans were a racially mixed society with Jewish and pagan ancestry. Although they worshiped Yahweh as did the Jews, their religion was not mainstream Judaism. They accepted only the first five books of the Bible as canonical, and their temple was on Mount Gerazim instead of on Mount Zion in Jerusalem (Jn 4:20).



Because of their imperfect adherence to Judaism and their pagan ancestry, the Samaritans were despised by ordinary Jews. Rabbi Eliezer a contemporary of St Luke said, "He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like one who eats the flesh of swine." Rather than contaminate themselves by passing through Samaritan territory, Jews who were traveling from Judea to Galilee or vice versa would by pass the area, even though it meant a longer journey. 
Today there are still around 300 active practioners of the Samaritan religion in Israel. 
If it had been a 'good' Jew assisting a Samaritan, it may have been more accetpable to Jesus' listeners, rather than the other way around. 

1) Saw 
The first thing the Samaritan did was that he saw the injured man, but unlike the two travellers
before him, he did pass by on the other side of the road. Instead he had:

2) Compassion
It clearly didn't matter to the Samaritan who this man was, he saw someone in need, and
regardless of his own safety or convenience, he stopped to help the man.

3) Treatment
He bound up his wounds, and poured oil and wine on them - which were mixed to form a
medication for wounds. 

4) Transport
The Samaritan then transported the wounded man to an inn within Jewish territory, probably in
Jericho. 

5) Spent money on him
And took him to an inn, and paid the inn keeper two denari, which would have covered the bill for food and lodging for at least one or two weeks, and promising to pay more on his return, so his care didn't end here it continued. It is often overlooked in the story, but in doing this the
Samaritan was placing his own life at risk, because such was the hatred and distrust that existed between the Jews and Samaritans.

What we see from this story is that the Samaritan uses all his available resources (oil, wine, a cloth wrapping, animal, time, energy and money) to care for this wounded man, and that he was
prepared to do the things the priest and Levite were not willing to do, and that he did it expecting NOTHING in return.

Of the three travellers on the road, the Samaritan demonstrates what it means to be a true
neighbour. The challenge of the parable for us is to "Go and do likewise."

What this parable reveals is the true nature of costly love, the love that we are called to have for
our neighbours, no matter who they are. It also demonstrates the life changing power of costly
love, which Jesus himself would demonstrate on the cross.

In telling this story of the Good Samaritan challenges us to think not only about 'Who is myneighbour', but also 'who should I be a neighbour to?' The answer is that your neighbour is
anyone in need, regardless of language, religion or ethnicity. 

The challenge for us is profound. Can we learn to love people like this Samaritan? In the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew's Gospel Jesus commends those who feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, looked after the sick, and visited the prisoner. He said "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:40). When we reach out in love, it is Christ
we are serving.

Mother Theresa, who was famous for her care of the poor and disadvantaged in Calcutta, was
once asked “How can you keep serving the poor, the sick, and the dying with such vigor? What's the secret? How do you do it?” To which she answered, "Whenever I meet someone in need, it’s really Jesus in his most distressing disguise.”

Jesus in the child abandoned by the road.
Jesus in the beggar hoping for a meal.
Jesus in the leper whose limbs have turned to dust.
"It’s him I help—him alone."

Are we able to see Christ in our neighbour. 

STORY OF THE STREET PASTORS IN WALSALL - IMPACTING LIVES

OUR FRONTLINE

It doesn't matter who we are, whether we are old or young; healthy or infirm; rich or poor;
employed or not, married or single, parents or childless. Whoever we are, as Christians, we have at least one thing in common: we each have a Frontline.

Your Frontline is the place where you spend the majority much of your time - that might be at
work in the office, at school, college or university, it may be looking after children, or caring for
elderly or sick relatives. 

Your Frontline: is the place where you will meet your neighbours, the people who don't know
Jesus. 

Your Frontline: the place God where God wants you to serve your neighbours. 

We each need to identify where our frontline is, because this is the place where God wants to use you, and the place where you can make maximum impact. 

A man was standing one day on the platform waiting for a train to take him to work, when
someone came up to him and asked, 'What do you do for a living', to which he replied 'I'm aChristian, thinly disguised as an accountant.' For this man his frontline was at work and he
realised that his primary calling and vocation was as a disciple of Christ in that place.

Think for a moment about how you spend your typical week, and the people you meet as you go
about your business. How would it change things if you started to see this as your place of
ministry, and looked for opportunities to show love to the people you meet day in day out. How
would it change the way you interact with people in that situation? 

Imagine the impact we could have if we saw our frontline as the mission field, as the place God
wants us to minister in, amongst our friends, neighbours, work colleagues, at the school gate or at the shops.



It's on our frontlines that we can each make a real impact, because it's the place where Christians and non-Christians are able to meet and are subject to the same cultures, and the same pressures, and it's one of the few places where a non-Christian can actually see the difference that knowing Christ can make to a life, week in, week out. It's on the frontline that we get the opportunity to serve our neighbours, and to demonstrate real practical love for them, as the good Samaritan did for the injured man.

It's on our frontlines that we will all be in contact with people at important points in their lives, for example when people are facing divorce, illness, bereavement or unemployment, or at happy times in their lives when people get married, when children our born. It's on the frontline that we have the opportunity to show these people Christian love in action. Because these people are our neighbours, the people we are called to love and serve.  

What we see from the parable of the Good Samaritan, and also from the example that Jesus set for us, ministry is person centred. Imagine the impact we would have, if we seek to love and serve these people, as if we were serving Jesus himself. Imagine the impact if we like the good Samaritan were prepared to go the extra mile, to care for others. Imagine the impact if we gave, epecting nothing in return. Because Christian service and ministry doesn't demand, it gives! Our expressions of love for others shouldn’t have any strings attached. 

If we want to change the world, we do it one person at a time. Mother Theresa said, "We can't all do great things, but we can all do small things in great love."  


Teresa of Avilla was an 16th century Camelite nun and mystic, she wrote:  

Christ has no body now on earth but yours, 
no hands but yours, 
no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion  
is to look out to the earth, 
yours are the feet by which he is to go about doing good,  
and yours are the hands by which he is to bless us now. 

We are all part of the Body of Christ on earth. Are you prepared to be Christ's feet to carry from here the Gospel of peace to your neighbours? Are you prepared to be Christ's hands, to serve those in need? Are you prepared to be Christ's eyes, to look with compassion on the world.  Let us pray

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Cameron Highlands Orang Asli

I had the opportunity to visit the Cameron Highlands with members of St Peter's Church in Ipoh.  On the way to the highlands we visited two Orang Asli villages.



The traditional Orang Asli houses have a very distinctive design, they are raised up on stilts.  There are several reasons for this design, firstly it is practical, it helps keep the houses cool in the heat and humidity of Malaysia.  But the other reason the houses are raised up, is because the Orang Asli are animists.  They believe that spirits inhabit the trees, plants and animals, and that these spirits move about on the ground.  So this is one of the other reasons why the houses are raised up on stilts.



Many of these villagers gather their food from the surrounding jungle, and hunt monkey's for meat.  They also sell some of this produce to the passing motorists making their way up to the Cameron Highlands - a popular tourist destination in Malaysia.  

One enterprising family however have created a fish pond, and also keep goats, to help supplement the families diet and income.


Fish pond, with goat pen in the background

The church has an actively seeking to reach out to the Orang Asli villagers, although Pastor Lizune who ministers to the Orang Asli (as part of St Peter's outreach ministry) admitted that many of the Orang Asli find it hard to let go of their traditional religious practices.  


Village elder (holding child) and Pastor Lizune in the Orang Asli Village


Anglican Church in the Orang Asli village

Myself, with members of St Peter's Church and Pastor Lizune visiting the Orang Asli village

The church is very actively engaged in reaching out to the Orang Asli, conducting services and Bible studies, etc.  Because the Orang Asli worship spirits, a very important aspect of the churches ministry amongst them is in deliverance ministry.  

Pastor Michael from St Peter's Ipoh and Revd Simon of All Souls Church, Cameron Highland ministering to a young Orang Asli man

In one of the other Organ Asli villages we visited, we were asked to pray for one man who had been hearing voices.

In this house up to a dozen people gather each Friday for prayer, worship and Bible study.

 Gathering for a time of worship

Saturday, 6 July 2013

St Peter's Ipoh, House Blessing

I arrived at Ipoh station to be met by the Vicar of St Peter's, the Revd Frank Lin.  Frank's passion and zeal for Jesus is immediately evident.  He's spent much of his life in in Ipoh, and before being appointed to St Peter's three years ago, served for twelve years as the Vicar of St Michael's in Ipoh.  

Whereas the congregation at St Barnabas Church in Klang is predominately made up of Indian's, St Peter's Church is largely made up of Chinese.  They have services in English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Bahasa Malaysia (Malay).  

In the evening after supper, I joined Frank and his wife Su-Lin for a house blessing.  It was very different the house blessing I had expeirenced whilst in Klang.  Firstly it was a lot more informal - whereas Viji had worn robes, Frank was in a normal shirt, and for sprinkling the house with water he used a bowl from the kitchen.  In Klang I was able to follow the service because it was in English, but the house blessing in Ipoh was in Cantonese (Frank speaks five languages, and has no difficulty switching between them).  They began with a time of very charismatic worship, and then used a short service of house blessing which I was informed was taken from the Alternative Service Book (ASB), with a reading from Psalm 91.  We then proceeded to pray in each room of the house, with Frank getting members of the church who had gathered for the house blessing to pray in the various rooms.  As we moved from room to room there would be more singing.  After the house blessing was completed, some Chinese soup and cakes were served.  

The house blessing was a less formal affair in Ipoh, with fewer people present, but it was none the less a very powerful service.  

This house blessing was for a family who had moved into a new home.  But Frank told me that because traditionally non Christian Chinese people have shrines in their homes, he is often called upon to cleanse houses once people become Christians. Deliverance ministry is clearly an important aspect of Frank's ministry, particularly amongst those who are new to the Christian faith. 

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

House Blessing & Wedding Blessing

I'm occasionally asked to conduct house blessings, which normally involves me praying around the house with the owners.  If I'm lucky a cup of tea is usually offered!  So when Revd Viji said we were going to a house blessing in Klang I assumed it would be similar to house blessings in the UK, but I was wrong.  

When people move into a new house they will often ask for the local minister to come and bless it, and it becomes an opportunity for a big celebration.  At the house blessing I attended, the house was packed with friends, neighbours and church people.  We started with half an hour of informal worship, and then Viji gave a short sermon on the theme of God's blessing.  We then proceeded to go around the various rooms of the house and bless them (like I would normally do).  Because this is Malaysia, after the blessing was over, a large Indian meal was provided for the guests.

Tonight I attended a wedding blessing for a bride who is getting married on Saturday in Kuala Lumpa.  It is traditional - particularly amongst the Indian Christians in Malaysia, for the bride and groom to have a service of blessing in their respective homes before the actual wedding.  

Again I assumed this would be a small affair, but the house was filled with relatives, neighbours and church members.  We began with a time of worship, and then Viji gave a sermon (lasting approximately 20 minutes) on the theme of marriage, and setting our eyes of God.  After this people were invited to gather around the bride to be, and to pray for her.  Once this was over, we were invited once again to share in a wonderful Asian meal, which outside caterers had been brought in to specially cater for.  

I found it a very moving ceremony - the groom was doing something similar at his home, and the sense of placing God at the centre of the forth coming marriage came across very strongly.  

Sadly I'm not going to be around for the wedding, but I'm told they have 1000 guests attending - which is apparently quite normal for Asian weddings!

Sadly I didn't take my camera to these blessings, so I can't show you any photos.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Discipleship Challenge

Reflections from Transforming Discipleship by Greg Ogden

Transforming Discipleship by Greg Ogden provides some challenging reading.  He focuses on the failure of churches (particularly in the West) to disciple people, and poses the question if we had three years left in our ministerial post, what could we do to ensure that discipleship continues once we depart?  He looks at the example of Jesus, and also Paul.  Jesus spent three years teaching and training his disciples for the task of ministry.  Greg argues that most of our discipleship programs are ineffective, and that we expect people to be discipled by listening to sermons, or attending meetings.  He argues that our understanding of ministry is that the vicar/minister is there to provide pastoral care to the church, and to disciple the congregation, but it limits the effectiveness of the church.  Greg argues that the most effective form of discipleship is in groups of three people, over a period of a year or two, where close relationships can be formed, and where people can hold one another accountable.  He believes this is the primary ministerial calling and responsibility of the clergy, to be discipling a couple of people at a time, who then in turn will disciple others.  

Greg gives this challenge in his book: 
Here is a challenge to all pastors and Christian leaders.  Where are the men and women in whom we are multiplying ourselves so that ministry carries on long after we have gone?  How would your minister be different if you placed the highest priority on selecting, motivating and training lay leaders that could carry on as much as possible the mission of the parish after you were gone?  Take a moment to evaluate how your ministry would be different if you made a few the priority, as Jesus did.  What if you adopted Jesus' model of training a few... to the point where their ministry was not reliant upon you?  How would the way you spend your time change?  How would this affect your weekly schedule?  What would you have to give up doing in order to train people?  What skills would you have to acquire that are not currently part of your repertoire?  
Jesus employed an empowerment model of servant leadership and training.  Whereas pastors and ministry leaders today tend to be satisfied in having people become dependent upon their teaching and care, Jesus wanted self-initiating, reproducing, fully devoted followers.  Today's pastor often looks at the church as the context in which he or she can minister while gathering a congregation as the audience.  Jesus, by contrast, through that multiplication of ministry in a chosen few was the measurement of success.  I'm sorry to say that what Coleman prophetically wrote in 1963 is still largely true: 'Jesus' plan has not been disavowed; it has been ignored.' (Coleman, Master Plan of Evangelism, page 112).  If we want to see self initiating, reproducing, fully devoted followers be the mark of our ministry, we must adopt Jesus' method of investing in a few as the foundation upon which to build our ministry. (Transforming Discipleship, pages 97-98)
I find Greg Ogden's book very challenging, and it is making me reflect on my priorities as a minister, it's worth getting and reading for yourself.  My question is what do others think about what Greg writes?  Have you invested on trying to disciple just a few people, in the hope that they will then go onto disciple others?  Please do comment.