Pastoral Perspectives

Journeying Through Spring

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

                                                                                                 Robert Frost (1874–1963)

Technically speaking, spring is supposed to be here because the days are longer – we can see dawn breaking in as early as six, and light completely retreating into its closet only after eight in the evening. Though most plants are still looking bare, except for the evergreens, the fields are sprinkled with an array of colours.  Flowers of all kinds are making their debut after their hiatus – golden daffodils, royal purple crocuses, pure white snowdrops. Leaves are beginning to bud from the tip of crooked finger-looking twigs. I have even seen a rather unusual sight – a tree covered with a canopy of pink flowers with no leaves on it at all. In the highlands, patches of white can be seen scattered across the brown surface of the mountain side. While winter has its uniformity in all its bareness and whiteness, spring brings with it a whole variety of colours and smells. However, this year’s spring is exceptionally cold, even the locals say that it is strange to experience such cold weather at this time of the year. It brings to mind the above poem – – and I feel like I am being transported back to winter except for the tell-tale signs of light and colour.

I am witnessing a spiritual spring arising within the souls of the people that I have met. Mike, a boyish looking British young man, works part time at Barclays and is a full time student in the same university as me. When I went to open my bank account, he attended to me. He noticed that I was reading my textbook entitled ‘Pastoral Theology’, took an interest in what I was doing in Cambridge, and that gave me the opportunity to walk across the room. We were able to connect partly because he was studying Economics and I used to teach Economics – we had a common topic to chat about. Subsequently, we kept in touch and met a few times for tea during which we had fruitful conversations about faith matters.  He shared with me that he felt a sense of emptiness even though he had everything going for him. Initially, he thought what he lacked was a girlfriend, but even when he had one, the emptiness persisted – he was then convinced that there was something more to life. I shared with him about the God-shaped vacuum in our hearts which only God can fill. He kept reiterating that the crossing of our paths was a bizarre thing. I told him that it could not have been a coincidence but a divine appointment. However, when I tried inviting him to church, he was not keen. I sense that his studies and his impending banking career are still his priorities. I am afraid that he may gravitate back to his spiritual winter after showing signs of spring – the cloud of distrust and the wind of distractions are setting him back. I pray for God to have mercy on Mike.

I was also overjoyed in seeing a spiritual spring coming upon the participants I met in the Christianity Explore Class. This class is somewhat like an Alpha class except that the talks are delivered by various people, live, and although a curriculum is mapped out, there is much freedom given to the speakers as to how they want to explain a range of topics – ‘How we know God exists?’ ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ ‘Who is Jesus?’ ‘Why he has to die and rise again?’ ‘What it means to be a Christian’. We would start each session digging into a delicious home cooked dinner prepared by hospitable volunteers. After our physical needs were taken care of, the spiritual feeding would take place. The talk would last for 45 minutes followed by another 45 minutes of group discussion. I co-led one of the groups with a Scottish sister. Many Asians attended this round of Explore class and so I felt very at home with them, sometimes even using Mandarin in our conversations but interspersing it with English whenever I was lost for appropriate Chinese words due to my limited vocabulary.

Some of the participants were hungering for answers regarding Christianity. We had a few visiting scholars from China who found it so liberating to be able to explore the Christian faith outside their country. They asked many questions. It is something which they will not be able to do back in their home country where communism is still very much entrenched. Surprisingly, one lady had been teaching English in China using the Bible as her text. She was especially familiar with the Old Testament but treated it as a story book. Although what we had been discussing over the weeks made a lot of sense to her, she confessed that it was difficult for her to put her faith in Jesus because of the many years of indoctrination; it would require a great paradigm shift on her part. Another person was a Korean young man who had been shown a lot of love by Christians whom he befriended in Cambridge. He was even staying with a Christian family and admitted that there was something positively different about Christians. He understood why Jesus had to die and he was convinced that He rose from the dead, but when I asked him what was holding him back from embracing Jesus as his Saviour and Lord, he bashfully said, ‘My mind tells me I should believe but my heart finds it difficult to do so!’

I pray for these people that their spiritual spring will not regress into winter again but by the grace of God, the seeds sown would be harvested in His beautiful time and season. I long for and anticipate the warmth of spring, but I long for and anticipate the salvation of these people even more.

Pastor Kien Seng

April 14, 2013