Don’t Ask Why

Don’t Ask Why

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All 2018 September Vicar Writes

30 September 2018 | Vicar Writes

Don’t Ask Why

By Terry Wong

Imagine. You were holding a bunch of coins. A ten-cent coin dropped to the floor. It rolled under your bed.

Would you crawl under your bed and search for the lost coin? Apparently, you would.

You groped in the dark, sliding your palm and creeping your fingers and dusting your palm across the floor. The cobwebs tickled your nose as it pushed into the bed. You could hardly breathe, choking from the dust and gasping for clean air. You shut your eyes and let your fingers do the seeing. Breathing only when you needed to, your fingers continued to tap, slide and feel.

You thought you felt something metallic. But somehow, your palm sliding and gliding along the dusty floor, gave it another push. It moved further into the darkness of the nether regions of the bed. Sigh.

You sneezed again and then it happened. Your head jerked backwards. Grimacing from the pain, you are reminded of the kind of wood which your bed was made from. Especially if your skull felt the sharp edge of teak wood.

Thinking about the bunch of coins which you had set aside to do this search, any normal human being would have given up, don’t you think? After all, it is just one amongst the many you have.
It would be a nice end to the story if I were to tell you that this lost coin was special. That the bunch of coins you held at the start is a collection of vintage ones. And that the one which dropped and rolled happened to be very rare.

No, as I said, this is a ten-cent coin. It was the day it was minted and has remained so. Common and very normal. It is just change.

But you are anything other than normal. And so, you kept creeping on.

Finally your finger felt something. You quickly slapped your palm onto it. It was not going anywhere anymore. Digging it up with your finger nail and grasping it with your hand, you now slowly reversed yourself out of the bed. Your face was almost touching the floor. Better a dusty face than a swelling head. By now, your white T-shirt had mopped the floor.

You finally stood up. Coin in hand, you proudly shouted and announced to your children that you had found it. They rushed into the room, amazed not by your find but theirs, of a rather crazy, dusty and ridiculously-looking daddy.

This story does not make sense, does it?

You will respond in the same way listening to the three parables which Jesus taught in Luke 15.

Losing one amongst ten silver coins is not worth a troublesome and thorough sweep of the house, let alone announcing the find to her neighbours. She would have been a rather strange woman.

And who would leave ninety-nine sheep alone in the wilderness just to search for one which was missing? We would think the shepherd was negligent. And he has the audacity to throw a party after the successful search. It doesn't make sense.

And what about the unfilial “I wish you had died earlier” son? Squandering all his father's money away and grovelling at the dirt of life the way the man in my story did under the bed, he was a complete shame to his family. Again, he had the audacity to return to ask for forgiveness. The father ran to him, hugged and welcomed him. And like the other two parables, he celebrated his return with a huge feast. Whether we think the father or the son was prodigal (extravagant or rash), the fact is, again, this story does not make sense.

All three don’t, and include my fourth if you like.

The point is, we are only worthy because God deems us to be so. That is how he sees us. Not one amongst many, as if our worth is determined by how many replicates there are. Neither is there any intrinsic value in this lone object or person which deserves such a sacrificial search, extravagant response and celebration. As the song goes, “nothing you can do could make Him love you more and nothing you have done can make Him close the door."

It only makes sense if we realise that our worth is tied simply to how much He values us. That was what Jesus was trying to teach. It is a difficult and slippery grasp, I know.

He loves you. (John 3:16)
He searches for you. (Luke 15)
He died for you. (John 3:16).
He disciplines you. (Hebrews 12:6).
He will marry you. (Revelations 19:7).

You and I mean that much to Him. Don’t ask why. There is no answer to that.

It is just love.

23 September 2018 | Vicar Writes

I think the Dean was right

By Terry Wong

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life,
and have it to the full."  - Jesus Christ (John 10:10)

Have you heard a good talk or read a good book of late on friendship? It seems like it has fallen out of fashion, or relegated to an adiaphorous category, of something that is of little importance or inconsequential.

On the contrary, if you have watched Crazy Rich Asians or similar movies, it seems like romance is essential to life. That love is romance. And of course, sex being integral to that.

I can recall serving in the Cathedral as a young and eager deacon in the early nineties. I was charged with rewriting the marriage preparation material. I wrote up a new lesson on the importance of romance. My dean then was Bishop John Tan. I can still vividly recall how he frowned upon the need for a chapter on romance in a marriage preparation course. I harboured some thoughts in my heart as I quietly reacted: “What an old-fashioned idea! What a funless thought! Romance is essential to a good marriage.”

I can tell you this, as honestly as I possibly can. Twenty eight years later - of which twenty five is spent married to Jennifer - and having seen so many marriages fall apart, I must admit that Bishop John Tan was correct on many counts. Men and women have been bewitched by a misplaced importance on romance. A ten-year-old marriage (or less!) can hardly stand a chance when one party seeks to recreate the feelings of romance and physical intimacy they imagine the marriage should continue to have.

Meanwhile, the idea of friendship continues to fade and human family experience is impoverished. How ironic. The human existence is uniquely housed and structured in a family. It is here that we receive our identities as we are called from anonymity. It is here that we are given a name, a place, and a "mother tongue”. We learn to speak by being spoken to. Further, the language I learn to speak is not “mine" but “ours.” We find our identity within family and community.

Alas, such a family has no chance to grow as one spouse gets bored, distracted and walks out of the home. Children grow in a family-less existence. Meanwhile, glued to American sitcoms, they are told “gleefully” that true love is found in romance. They get married, often after a whirlwind romance. And then sooner or later, the romance fades. As quickly as "one can’t help falling in love”, they couldn’t help falling out of it either. It gets predictable. The vicious cycle continues.

The experience and concept of family disintegrate. And along with that our old friend - friendship herself. The thing is, what truly matters in life are good friendships. Friends whom we can walk together with through life. A community of friends whereby I discover who I truly am, where character is grown in the context of where I learn to be less self-occupied and more centred on the other.

For when our days are almost finished, when we have the luxury to contemplate on our death-bed and recollect life, it will be true friends and family whom we will treasure. Those who have not ravished us for their self gain. Those who have truly loved and given to us, enriching us for here and eternity. Those whom we have truly loved.

I know. It is old-fashioned. As old as the declarations we say every Sunday about the primary importance of loving God and our fellow man - as one would love oneself. Agape sits so strangely in the modern reductionist view of love. However it remains the guiding vision of the Christian life and I should say, “life” without any qualification. It is agape that founds the truly human, moral, and faithful life.

Don’t look for true love. Make your love true. And you will live life truly - and sanely - rich.

16 September 2018 | Vicar Writes

Caring For God’s House

By Terry Wong

"Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses,
while this house lies in ruins?"
Haggai 1:4

In my sermon last Sunday, as a point of illustration, I mentioned the state of our Nave’s facade. I should state upfront that this is a matter of concern for us in the leadership. Sharing personally, monument or not, I have always believed that we should be responsible for the state of our church facilities. Drawing from the principle stated in Haggai 1:4 (though it has a different context), we should treat the church better than we do our own properties.

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In Singapore, we do not let our own homes become dilapidated due to the lack of repairs and maintenance. In part, this also arises from a social responsibility where each home owner knows that the state of their building also affects their neighbours or precinct.

While keeping our grounds clean is easier, and something which is being done diligently, keeping the facade of our buildings new can be a challenge. Some of you should have noticed that repairs were done last year on our New Sanctuary facade and surrounding walkways. The facade of our Nave is another matter altogether. While it may seem like applying a coat of paint should be a simple job, the issue has been the state of the plaster. We have taken a few years to determine the formula for the plaster which can withstand our weather. Comparing notes with similar buildings in the region has been helpful.

For those of you who share our concern, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We have settled on the right formula and work should begin soon. This kind of works can take up to three years to complete. In preparation for next year’s national Bi-Centennial Celebrations, we hope to at least repair some of the external walls.
Along the same note on “repairing the broken walls,” Cathedral also bears the “Mother Church” responsibility. The Church of Christ our Peace will be dedicating their new building in October. We have contributed $500,000 from our property fund more than a year ago. Likewise, we are looking into contributing a significant sum to the rebuilding project of our Indian congregation, The Church of the Epiphany at Jalan Kayu. On top of these, there are needs in various community service and missions organisations which we have been supporting. Some are local and in our Diocese and others are overseas, including the work in our deaneries. Each need is evaluated carefully and prayerfully.

I mean to say that all these are made possible because of the dedication and generosity of each member (and visitor too!). You are trusting the church leadership to steward these resources wisely. Do continue to give generously. We have not been able to meet every request, though some of the needs are worthy of our support as there are limits to what the church can support. Your faithful giving will enable us to respond to more needs.

Talking about responsible stewardship, this is also one reason why we are reviewing the way we receive gifts for our Harvest Festival next Sunday, which will be celebrated in some of our Nave morning Services. In recent years we had growing difficulties managing the gifts in kind which we have received as very few local organisations want them, or have capacity to sort them. Therefore what we will do this year is to ask our children to bring fruits in during the procession. These will be given to our Home for the Aged. The amount will be regulated so that it is manageable and nothing is wasted. On top of that, members can contribute to our Harvest offering in cash or cheques through the use of some special envelopes. With that, we will coordinate with our 289 Fellowship of the Manger to distribute goods to needy families in Batam. We hope in doing so, the spirit of the Harvest festival is kept while a measure of continuity is retained.

9 September 2018 | Vicar Writes

A Breadth that takes your Breath away

By Terry Wong

I had a very full and eventful week. Preparing to teach the book of Revelation was challenging. I should add that the teacher is often blessed as he spends hours studying and digging into the Word. Unusually, I forgot to save my intense work of many hours and I had to restart. So, I was doubly blessed!

I also preached at the weekly chapel at Trinity Theological College on Wednesday. In such an academic setting, everything has to be scripted and submitted for the translator into Mandarin. It was stretching.

There were also side meetings to resolve various ministry challenges. On Friday evening, it was our Connect Group leaders meeting where we were all briefed on how we may organise our CG Christmas outreach and how it fits into our preparations for next year’s Celebration of Hope. Then on Saturday, it was my privilege to show appreciation to our Children Ministry teachers through one thing which I do reasonably well: cooking.

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Children Ministry Teachers' Day Celebration

The usual weekend preaching and leading Services ensued. I managed to sit in for Jeremy Gwee’s preaching at the eleven:30 Service. Being his first, I thought I should be there. Being a recent retiree after many years in banking and finance, he could connect with the congregation in a unique way, and issues of faith in the marketplace came alive. Jeremy is working at helping SAC to start an active marketplace ministry where we can draw alongside Cathedral members who are a part of society’s workforce, which of course includes many of us. We will let you know soon on what is being planned.

In the evening, I attended the 12th Anniversary dinner of New Charis Mission, where we celebrated this important work to youths at risk, the elderly, destitute etc. It was definitely a switch of gear but encouraging nevertheless to see the reach of the Gospel.

This pace was different, coming after a relaxing but moving visit to witness SAC’s PKH work in Cambodia in the previous week.

Meanwhile, the administration work hums along. The “swing the bell" project is making progress. We have heard back from the authorities but we realise we have a lot more work to do. We always say that the Cathedral is a “living monument.” We don’t just preserve past memories and tell them to present and future generations. We are also creating new stories for future generations. Our heritage is not just our colonial past. We are living a “future heritage”, which generations later will "remember and tell.” There will be new role models, added to the likes of Elizabeth Choy and Graham White. We don’t freeze in time and stop enriching the present. Our national monuments should not be just relics of the past and devoid of life and stories in the present. How we think will affect what we do, and it is my prayer that those entrusted with national responsibilities will help create a vibrant, creative and mutually owned environment.

My sharing this week simply points to the fact that the church and her witness is very diverse. There is beauty in this breadth that sometimes takes our breath away. It is not exhaustion, but one being overwhelmed by what the Lord is doing in every facet of life. One sees the beauty and breadth of His work and exclaims, “Let's praise the Lord”, which in Hebrew also means, Hallelujah!

2 September 2018 | Vicar Writes

Our Journey to Trang

By Terry Wong

Last week 39 Cathedral members and friends of Project Khmer H.O.P.E. (PKH) travelled by vans to the PKH Centre in Trang, nestled among several villages in the western part of Kampong Speu Province in Cambodia. For a part of our journey, we travelled through a scenic plantation area.

However, our vans stopped short of our destination when we were about 10 minutes away from the village. As it was the rainy season, our vans could not be driven on the dirt tracks without sinking into the soft mud. We had to cross that stretch on our feet and then rely on 2 four-wheel drive trucks to take us into the village. It was an adventurous journey. Perhaps, a parable of the journey PKH has taken in this frontier missions work.

When you walk into one of the poorest villages in a Third World country, what will you do? Assuming you have the language, you may go around and try to share the Gospel. If not, the translator can help you. The people may nod and smile. Some may even nod in agreement when you ask them if they want to say the “sinner’s prayer.” Whether it was a case of lost in translation, with that, you would think, “job done.”

Thankfully, that wasn’t the approach of PKH. They first visited the area in 2008. There, what they thought was “poverty”, was redefined. The national statistics of Cambodia indicate that in rural places like this commune, 90 percent of the people are illiterate; they have not had the chance for education. Many of these villagers are exposed to shame, poverty and exploitation. PKH was committed to rooting their help on a permanent basis. Short-term visits won’t do.

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The new Mission House in PKH Trang. The flags of Cambodia, Singapore and PKH fly high in this outpost.

After much prayer, reflection and interaction with the locals, PKH started the PKH (Anglican) Centre in Trang on 23 October 2014 to serve the tribal peoples of Suoy origin. This centre provides English tuition and before/after school care daily for over 300 children. Bible lessons and values are taught. The children are also fed and for most, this is their only meal for the day. Most of these children attend a nearby government school. PKH also helped to bridge the involvement of students from polytechnic schools in Singapore. They helped to complete various projects including the building of a new community hall.

When housing facilities were needed for our permanent staff and visiting mission teams, PKH embarked on a project to build a Mission House on the premises of the Centre. With the help of Andrew Tan (Mandarin Congregation) and his team, the construction of the Mission House was completed earlier this year, and it was our privilege to dedicate it to the glory of God, during the trip.

We also distributed food packs to 200 villagers. Some had travelled overnight across rivers and hilly terrain. With a coupon in hand, they collected a pack of a 15kg sack of rice, cans of sardine and soap. Balancing the packs of rice on their heads, they headed back to their homes. Members of our team also visited the homes of the students.

Over the years, some have gone beyond paying the occasional visit to PKH. Lim Wei Inn, on the staff of the Cathedral, is known for her ministry at our Welcome Centre and Cafe. In February, this year, she joined the PKH work at another Centre in Chbarmon which is currently helmed by Susan Goh and team. Wei Inn is very happy and fulfilled serving there.

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Wei Inn (3rd from right) with the trainees at the Chbarmon Centre.

We also witnessed the baptism of over 50 PKH staff and trainees. The annual Alumni dinner was also inspiring as we heard about the progress which some students have made. Officials from the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation were all there, signalling the encouraging support by the authorities.

It is hard to understand the PKH work unless you pay a visit to Cambodia. Reading this is like reading Lonely Planet; unless you experience that place personally, you can only imagine.

My prayer is that more Cathedral members will get to visit this flagship work.