Pastoral Perspectives

End of the World – Panic or Party? /Obituary or Opportunity?

According to the ancient Mayan and Hopi Native American calendars, the world was supposed to end on Dec 21, 2012. You may choose not to take it seriously, get yourself all geared up to party or to be ready to meet with your creator. After all, the ancient Mayans themselves perished centuries ago and the Hopi were unflinchingly exterminated by the incursions of white colonialists in North America.

            The world has not been getting better with more impending natural calamities. With global warming and icecaps melting to swell oceans, some people would have taken it as a sign of a doomsday sort of destruction. Fears seems to be running across the globe with the national and international media reporting panic buying of items like matches, hoarding weapons and stocking bunkers that people believe might help them survive the end. This caused government authorities to issue a statement that the world was not going to end on December 21.

            The US government has put a notice on its website affirming and reiterating that the world will not end on Dec 21, 2012. Scientifically, the winter equinox of 2012 is supposed to be the date that the planets, including the Earth and the sun, will align in a straight line. Such an alignment it is argued will interfere with satellites and navigation systems and cause changes in geological events such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. A Reuter’s survey of nearly 16,000 people in 21 countries found that at least 10 per cent of people believe that the world will indeed end that day. Another poll, conducted by Ipsos, suggested similar fears, i.e. nearly one out of seven people believes that the world will end in their lifetime.

            The end of the world, after all, has been a favourite topic for centuries of human existence, and the fact that these words are written and read are in themselves proof that doomsday dates have come and gone with the world stubbornly just going on. Geoffrey Braswell, an associate professor of anthropology and leading Maya scholar at the University of California, San Diego said: “I think this tells us more about ourselves, particularly in the Western world, than it does about the ancient Maya,” At least two men in China are predicting a world-ending flood. They’re both building arks. Lu Zhenghai has spent his life savings of some $160,000 building the 70-foot-by-50-foot vessel powered by three diesel engines. “I am afraid that when the end of the world comes, the flood will submerge my house,” the 44-year-old ex-army man was quoted as saying. China’s most innovative ark builder, however, may be Yang Zongfu, a 32-year-old businessman in eastern China. His vessel, Atlantis, a three-ton yellow steel ball 13 feet (four meters) in diameter, is designed to survive a volcano, tsunami, earthquake or nuclear meltdown, according to the state-run Liao Wang magazine.

            Jose Manrique Esquivel, a descendent of the Maya, said his community in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula sees the date as a celebration of their survival despite centuries of genocide and oppression. He blamed profiteers looking to scam the gullible for stoking doomsday fears. “For us, this Dec. 21 is the end of a great era and also the beginning of a new era. We renew our beliefs. We renew a host of things that surround us,” For Esquivel and other modern-day Maya, Dec. 21 is a chance to raise awareness about rescuing the planet, not preparing for its demise. People all over the world need to focus on the very real damage people have done to the Earth, he said, and sound the alarm about growing catastrophes, such as climate change. “We’re putting in danger the existence of our world,” Esquivel said. “It’s our goal for this date to create consciousness about our Earth. We want to say to everybody that the Maya live and we want to gather our strength to save the Earth.” Along this concept of saving the planet, allow me to put forth the same line of thought that should the world come to an end today, what would be the last thing you would do?

            Would you be like the Mayans, all geared up to seize the opportunity to save the Earth NOT the way they would do but in saving lives through the proclamation of the Good News. As a church, we believe life is worth exploring! To help us explore the meaning of life, we’re looking at adopting the ALPHA Course where people can come and relax, eat and talk about “real life stories”. It is for everyone interested in discovering what Christianity is about and to explore the meaning of life together.

            Unlike the Mayans, the Alpha Course has been running for over 26 years. It began at Holy Trinity Brompton in central London, United Kingdom in the late 1970s, initially as a means of presenting the basic principles of the Christian faith to new Christians in a relaxed and informal setting. By 1990, when former lawyer Nicky Gumbel took over the course, he realized how this simple course could also appeal to non-churchgoers and he adapted the course to give it the kind of feel that would suit this group. There are now over 60,500 courses worldwide in 169 countries and it is supported by all the major denominations.

            The Alpha course is designed primarily for people who aren’t churchgoers and each course is open to everyone who would like to attend. Guests attend for a wide variety of reasons – some want to investigate whether God exists while others are concerned about what happens after death. Some people have particular questions that they would like to discuss while others want to understand other peoples’ beliefs or would like to explore what the purpose of life is. The course is based around small groups of 8 to 12 people, hosted by one or two leaders who facilitate and encourage discussion. Most are evening courses, typically lasting 2 hours. Each session begins with a meal or refreshments. This is a chance to get to know others in the small group. Then there is a short talk, which looks at a different aspect of the Christian faith each week. This is followed by a time of discussion in the small groups, where everyone is welcome to contribute their opinion, ask questions and discuss with the rest of the group. The emphasis is upon exploration and discovery in a relaxed and informal environment.

            Christianity Today reported: “Alpha has succeeded in many cases in turning faithful churchgoers from an inward focus on church work to an outward focus on evangelistic outreach…” Times-News, North Carolina: “Alpha, one of the world’s fastest growing methods of evangelism.” Tony Campolo, Professor of Sociology Eastern College, Pennsylvania, USA said: “The Alpha course is intelligent, biblically based, and incredibly interesting. I am convinced that when historians look back on the last few years of church history in the twentieth century they will have to acknowledge that the Alpha course became a significant instrument in bringing thoughtful people to a faith in Christ and into the church. For the inquiring mind, there is nothing better around than the Alpha course.” and J.I. Packer, Professor of Theology, Regent College, Vancouver, Canada added: “The Alpha course is a most engaging way of passing on the basics of Christianity. It is a tool for evangelism and nurture that I highly recommend.”

            Should the world come to an end today, can we safely say that our last thing is to lead someone one-step closer to Christ? Let us not be fearful like those without hope but press on in this New Year 2013 for Christ and His Kingdom.

Pastor Cheng Huat

January 6, 2013