Pastoral Perspectives

Red and yellow, black and white

I grew up in church singing the Sunday school song ‘Jesus loves the little children’ and there is a line in that song that goes like this: ‘Red and yellow, black and white; all are precious in his sight’. It conveys the truth that God loves us regardless of the colour of our skin, and that the Church comprises of people from different nations. That became a reality for me when I attended the Church of Scotland General Assembly most recently. I had the opportunity to interact with my brothers and sisters from the wider Church, not just those from the Church of Scotland but also those from the different parts of the world – Africa, Americas, Asia, Caribbean and Europe. We were all present as mission partners of the Church of Scotland. It was really an eye opener for me to be able to interact with them and to hear the challenges they face as they do kingdom’s work in their respective parts of the world.

Rev Michal Jablonski from Poland shared that 98% of the Polish people are Catholics but only 20% of them are church goers and the Reformed Evangelical Church which he belongs to only has 3,000 members out of a population of 38 million. They are really in the minority. He believes in the faithful preaching of God’s Word. He does not mix religion with politics in his preaching so that even visitors to his church notice a difference in his pulpit ministry compared to others.

Rev Sandra Reis Oliveira is from Portugal which again is predominantly Catholic. She is the General Secretary of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. In addition, she has responsibilities for community development, working with children and the elderly. She reminds me of what True Way is doing, serving the children and elderly in our community. There is a dire need for the denomination to raise up younger pastors because the present generation of pastors is getting on in age. Sandra therefore sees the need to disciple the young people and perhaps some will answer the call to enter into fulltime pastoral ministry.

There is Jamal Shehade, a Palestinian Christian who lives in Israel. For him, it is a double whammy since he is both a Palestinian and a Christian. He shared about how they have been unfairly treated. He ministers in the first half-way house for released prisoners in Israel, a ministry that he took over from his late father. He has met Rev Timothy Khoo whose grandfather is the late Rev Khoo Siaw Hua, Singapore’s first prison chaplain. Timothy used to be President and Chief Executive Officer of Prison Fellowship International (PFI) which Jamal’s half-way house is a part of. I was of course excited that he knew about Prison Fellowship and shared with him True Way’s involvement in ministering to the families of inmates in Singapore.

Gyula Homoki is a brother from the Hungarian Reformed Church who is doing his Masters at the University of Edinburgh.  He told me that it takes 6 years of theological education before he can become a minister. Many of them have decided to take a gap year or two, doing an internship or, like him, doing another degree in an overseas institution, so by the time they complete their training, it will take 7-8 years. I thought that is a rather long process compared to what I have gone through – just 3 years of theological studies and another 3 years of pastoral ministry before I was ordained.   

I was pleasantly surprised when a pastor from Kenya told me that he knew about Singapore. The reason was hilarious. He had once purchased a fleet of 15 second-hand cars from Singapore and made a handsome fortune after reselling them to his people. Apparently, the Kenyans love Toyota and Mazda cars, especially those with leather seats. I asked him whether pastors in Kenya are bi-vocational, i.e. they hold two jobs. He confessed to me that he was being naughty but said that he didn’t have to leave his church office while he made all those necessary arrangements for the transactions to take place. Everything was done through his computer. Although he no longer does this trade, I am sure he can continue to put his entrepreneurial skills to good use for the kingdom of God!

Then there are those who are concerned about the political situation back home – Israel-Palestine conflict, North and South Korea war (although there is reprieve now, uncertainty still looms), Taiwan-China tensions, immigrants flooding Europe, Christian-Muslim hostilities in some African countries. All of them have to make sense of God’s ways in all these tricky and vulnerable situations which can any time threaten the well-being of their people.

These are my brothers and sisters in Christ who have come from the east and west, north and south. Compared to Christians in Singapore, their challenges in doing kingdom’s work seem to be so much more daunting. There we were, gathered together for worship on Pentecost Sunday. It was so apt for us to hear how the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples while so many people speaking different languages were gathered in Jerusalem that day! They heard the Gospel in their vernacular and many came to faith. This was the start of the fulfilment of the command given to his disciples before Jesus ascended back to heaven: ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1.8). No wonder the apostle John saw in his vision ‘a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb’ (Revelation 7.9). The gathering of people at the General Assembly helped me catch a glimpse of that eventual reality that we all can be looking forward to. In the meantime, the same Holy Spirit that fell on Pentecost continues to strengthen our hearts and hands for the work of establishing God’s kingdom in the different parts of the world.

We thank God that in Singapore there is racial and religious harmony and we enjoy the freedom to worship and to propagate our faith. We are in a good position to send missionaries to other parts of the world but at the same time the world has also been brought to our doorsteps. The size of the foreign workforce in Singapore as of December 2017 is 1,368,000. They come from all over the globe. If they can hear the Gospel and come to salvation in Christ and be nurtured in their faith, they can then take the Gospel back to their people when they return to their home country. So as we interact with them on our home soil as friends, colleagues, our helpers, those whom we serve in the community, let us seize every opportunity to share the Christian faith with them accompanied by deeds of kindness even as we continue to do our humble part in bringing the gospel to the end of the earth.

If we do see people from other nations joining our worship services, let us also be quick to embrace them and to make them feel welcome so that in this congregation we can find people who are red and yellow, black and white, all being able to come together to worship God with the uniting factor being the salvation we share in Christ to whom we are drawn and in whom we are his body, his family, his Church.

Rev Lee Kien Seng

June 3, 2018