Sunday, 28 May 2017

Remember Ahok & Pastor Koh.

These are real lives with real families. They are not celebrities, flamboyant politicians or billionaires that the world's spotlight is always shining on with excessive glare. They do no bathe in the limelight. They work and sacrifice quietly away from it. 
Missing pastor Raymond Koh and jailed Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama ("Ahok") collectively stand as a shining testimony on what they believe in. 
In my book, they come closest to what Christ has commanded, "To love one another."
For Ahok, he has given much more to Caesar than anyone can ever imagine. He decided not to appeal. His wife in tears said that her husband has dropped the appeal for the "good of the nation and of the country." 
She continued, "I know this is not easy for all of you, let alone myself, to accept this reality. I want to thank all of you who have been supporting me, for all the prayers, cards with well wishers, letters, books and even the candlelight vigils...Let us show that we believe God is sovereign and in control of every nation’s history. We show that we are people who believe in God Almighty who loves his people, who will surely uphold truth and justice for all people."
And it has been 100 days now, and Pastor Koh is still missing. His wife, Ms Liew, is worried because it reports that she claims that the "police chief is "diverting" the focus of investigations into her husband's abduction to Mr Koh's alleged attempts to convert Muslim youth."
She lamented: "The victim is being investigated? Why? How will this help find him or bring his abductors to justice? The question of whether or not he was proselytising Muslims keeps on coming up...all this "Christianisation" smoke is to divert attention away from the abduction and the abductors, to blame the victim. This feeds into the story told by those trying to excuse this abduction - that Raymond deserved this because he tried to convert the Muslims." 
She pleads, "What my children and I want most of all is the release of my husband safe and sound, and for the abductors and their accomplices to be brought to justice."
Lesson? Just one.
It is about the cries of love. The love for husbands treated unfairly, persecuted for their faith and yet, standing tall as an example for all - never giving up. 
It is also about faith and hope, not so much in religious rituals, organizations or authorities, but on the simple acts of humanity, assisting the poor, protecting the weak and sacrificing for those at the fringes of society. 
Pastor Koh and Ahok have done their part ceaselessly to help those who are forgotten and discarded by the wayside as the world plunders through towards blind ambition, covetousness and self-enrichment.
And most importantly, it is about the love of families, of wives who stand by their husbands, and of children who miss their father dearly. 
These are the priceless treasures of society that deserve our preservation and protection, that is, the acts of forgiveness by Ahok despite being treated unfairly for his belief. And Pastor Koh’s acts of charity to the drug addicts, broken youths and HIV sufferers in society.
The world needs more of these people, not less. The world needs to let them continue their work, not incarcerate or abduct them. And the world needs to be inspired by their unassuming character and pass on their legacy, not crush or suppress it. 
They don't live to be popular, but to make a difference. They don't desire to be rich or powerful, but to help a life. And they don't wish to hog the limelight, but to do to one of the least of them without any fanfare.
Veronica Tan could not control her tears as she read out her husband's letter to drop the appeal. And Ms Liew and her children have been crying silent tears for their loved one to return to them.
These are real lives who pray and yearn for the exercise of simple virtues from society like justice, understanding and mercy. 
And I repeat, this is not about religion, at least not the way the world sees and uses it. 
This is on the contrary about the common bond we all share, whether religious or irreligious, godly or godless. It is the bond that holds us all together. It is the bond that unites families and friends as one. It is the unity of love, hope and sacrifice. No one however how high up the echelon is exempted from this common bond. 
So, let's hope that the society will reach their hands out for another and take this journey together towards a world that is united by this common bond - and not divided by their differences. Cheerz.

Will Sun Ho say sorry?

This week's announcement by COC that the six convicted leaders of City Harvest are "permanently barred from having general control and management of any charity" kept me thinking about the leadership of the church, especially the mega-City Harvest Church.

Here, I recall what one CHC member said: "If there is a Crossover launched tomorrow, 15,000 of our congregation will still support it." Wow, that's what I call devotion.

Now, I know one swallow does not a summer make, and that lone member's voice does not necessarily represent the church it its entirety.

More pertinently, his gung-ho statement may not represent the intent and object of the CHC 2.0 leadership under the newly minted Sun Ho.

Yet, I believe the zealousness of that member can be found quite readily amongst the congregation. You throw a pebble in a weekend service crowd of tens of thousands and you are sure to hit one of them most of the time. I guess that is how congregational mechanics work. The issue here is not with the faith or belief, but with mass allegiance, and that is something you underestimate at your own peril.

History has shown that the mob instinct is quite prevalent, and even universal. And history has also taught us that most times, we learn nothing or little from it. As such, the gripe that "history often repeats itself" is not a cliché, but a darned reality.

So, when it comes to mass adulation, which is made worse by religious intemperance, the default position is to gravitate towards zeal on fire and brain on ice.

And although that member's Jericho-like chant is not representative of the 15,000 that he so cavalierly boast about, the legal saga of CHC over 7 years and the members' unquestioned support of their leaders' innocence even after the verdict and sentence clearly go to show that the fire-and-ice fanaticism is what makes a megachurch a formidable force to reckon with in society - whether for good or for bad.

Needless to say, the leaders play a crucial part too. It always takes two to tango. You can't have a leaderless mob because someone up there has to start the fire before the mob fans it out of proportion. Here, the leader's fire is what makes the people's unruly desires.

This brings me to what COC has to say about leadership of charities. "Good governance, accountability and transparency are fundamental principles for the proper administration of charities...Leaders, especially, have an even greater responsibility to uphold these principles as they are appointed and entrusted by their members." 
Apparently, the permanent bar on the former CHC leaders shows how serious and strict COC is when it comes to preserving and protecting the integrity and accountability of leadership for charities.

And now that Sun Ho (who has so seamlessly made the wardrobe  switch from pastor to Asian pop star and then back to being the lead pastor again) is taking the helm of CHC 2.0, one has to wonder whether she has an "even greater responsibility to uphold these principles as they are appointed and entrusted by their members." (note that that applies to a charity, what's more the church and the spiritual head).

As her husband and the others are serving time, I too wonder whether Sun Ho has anything (or anybody) she is held accountable to and desirous to be transparent with in respect of the now defunct Crossover project. 

Although she was not criminally charged, I trust she can't in good conscience say that she has not in any way or at any time started the fire, or at least the first flint, that formed the premise for the charge, trial, conviction, sentence, appeal and incarceration of the six  accused, right? The Crossover is practically and spiritually her brainchild after all.

Let me be clear. I am not talking about legal guilt or some form of proving it beyond reasonable doubt. There's nothing technical here.

I am however talking about searching one's redeemed conscience to see what needs to be done or said to the church since her husband had done the same, and it has taken him 7 long years and two penultimate staged apologies to finally come to terms with the ultimate apology that intimately admitted to his failings as a leader to the church and the public at large.

So, as a leader, a spiritual one at that, the question is this: Does Sun Ho owe any responsibility to her members, donors, supporters, fans and followers for what the six accused, the church and the faith as a whole have gone through? 

And if the Crossover is synonymous with Sun Ho and Sun Ho is synonymous with the Crossover, so says Justice Chan, is Sun Ho really innocent of, and absolve of all blame for, the flaws and failures of the church leadership that her husband had particularly apologized for?

Mind you, Kong Hee had on many occasions attributed his leadership successes to Sun Ho, and openly admitted that he has taken advice from her. As such, his deeds or misdeeds could have very well been a byproduct of taking her advice into consideration.

If so, is it fair for Sun Ho as the leader of CHC 2.0 to conveniently distance herself from Kong Hee's leadership failures, while quietly taking credit for his successes in the past?

Apart from the fact that they are husband and wife, they are also co-founders joined at the hip. As such, shouldn't one presume safely that most, if not all, important decisions concerning the Crossover and its financial arrangements were made jointly, and therefore the responsibility and accountability have to be shared jointly too?

Putting aside her excesses and extravagant lifestyle, it is a fact that Sun Ho has (or would have) benefitted financially from the Crossover.

And whether for evangelism or otherwise, she will not only profit from the royalties, but also become a huge international pop star if it all works out surreptitiously for her. This alone would have made her the raison d etre for the Crossover, and therefore share part, if not most, of the blame for its downfall.

Yet, after all's said and done, and after the conviction, sentence and apologies, Sun Ho is blissfully elevated to the highest leadership position without so much as a hint of remorse or apology. Everything seems to be swept under the charismatic rug for her.

And the irony here is not lost on the discerning reader in that Sun Ho is the appointed head of CHC, where she will have a say over church funds, and she is also synonymous with the Crossover project, where church funds were misappropriated to finance her music career.

If you put the two together, you would not be blamed if you too wonder whether the COC's permanent ban on the six accused had gone to the root of the issue. And based on the audacious proclamation of the member that "if there is a Crossover launched tomorrow, 15,000 of our congregation will still support it," will we then ever learn from history?

While I do not expect Sun Ho to be "permanently barred from controlling and managing a charity" since she is not the subject of a charge, conviction and sentence like the six accused, I would at least expect a public expression of contrition and admission for the indispensable role she had played in the Crossover project.

On this, I would like to clarify that it is not a matter of her members pardoning her. I am sure they would do it in a heartbeat. The member above is even willing to speak on behalf of 15,000.

But it is a matter of what is expected of a leader, especially one who professes to stand in the gap between the people and God. Curiously, I am reminded of what Uncle Ben told Peter Parker. But I shan't repeat it here as it would be too trite.

So, will Sun Ho apologize to the people? Will she admit to the pivotal role she had played in the Crossover project? And will she learn from it since the debacle has caused so much grief, tears, hurt, time and money thus far?

I guess for now the ball is in Sun Ho's court, and whatever she does with it, I hope she will give the matter much more thought and make a decision benefiting of a leader she already is by virtue of what I can only guess has more to do with marital default and the preservation of power than a claim to special anointing. Her dream is after all to be an international pop star, right? Cheerz

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Pastor Lee Jong-rak - the baby box.

When Richard Dawkins was asked about what to do if one is to discover that her unborn child has Down syndrome, the atheist extraordinaire tweeted: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

That Trump-like tweet is partly defensible because he said that many had done just that. Every year, worldwide, hundreds of fetuses are aborted on that ground. It is one painful reality that parents understandably don’t want to talk about.

But it is the second part of Dawkins' tweet that is harder for me to come to terms with. He charged parents who decide to keep the child as making an immoral choice.

When his tweet was met with protests from moms with children with Down syndrome, it reports that Dawkins "defended his view, saying he would not apologize “for approaching moral philosophic questions in a logical way.""

To Dawkins, it is more logical to end the fetus' viable life since the parents still have a choice rather than to allow the parents and child to suffer together (or worse, become society's burden). Dawkins' cold logic has a somewhat mythical Spartan feel to it where defective or unhealthy births are rumored to have been thrown off the cliff.

This brings me to a pastor in South Korea named Lee Jong-rak. I recently watch a documentary about his life and ministry. He saves babies, especially newborn. His house church called Jusarang (“God’s love”) Community Church has a baby box at a discreet sidewall where abandoned babies are placed to be taken care of by him and his wife.

Above the baby box is a scripture that reads: "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in." (Psalm 27:10).

Pastor Lee started the baby box in 2009 and thus far, he has taken in more than 600 abandoned babies. He does not take this calling lightly. If not for his tireless devotion to care for the babies, they would freeze to their death on the streets. At one time, Pastor Lee had as many as 20 adopted children under his care. And mind you, this is not an easy ministry.

Most times, the teenage mothers abandoned the newborn in the night or early in the morning. This means that Pastor Lee has to forgo his sleep to pick, pray and prepare the babies by snipping off their umbilical cords and washing them up. You can thus forget about having an uninterrupted sleep. But that’s not the hard part.

They are unwanted babies born out of wedlock and most of them have some birth defects. They have disabilities like Down syndrome, encephalitis, congenital facial deformity, blindness, deafness and missing hands and fingers.

So, it is a full time job round the clock to care for them, bring them to the hospital, medicate them and give them the love and attention they need. And Pastor Lee’s passion for them is exceptional in this department.

This is on top of taking care of his son, Eun-man. Pastor Lee's son (now in his late twenties) was born with crippling cerebral palsy. Eun-man spent about 14 years of his life in a hospital and Pastor Lee had to sell off his house to pay for his son's medical fees. For a period, he practically stayed and slept in the hospital to accompany Eun-man.

If there is a Christian who had counted the Cross and carried it with him in this long heart-rending journey, Pastor Lee is one of them. His life and sacrifices are like a bright city on the hill.

In the 2014 documentary, Pastor Lee expressed his concern for the future. He said he is getting old, at about 60 then, and his health is failing him. He is afraid that he has no one to pass the baton over when he is no longer around.

Alas, his heart is always with the babies whose mothers have left behind. He once made a vow that he will give his life for them. He would be their parent, guardian and mentor.

When asked why he adopted them as his own, since they are more than a handful to take care considering their serious disabilities, Pastor Lee simply replied that it was because God had adopted him as his own.

Christian author Donald Miller said this about Pastor Lee: "I can't think of another modern example that so perfectly encapsulates Christian faith." Pastor Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love, remarked: "Exposes us to a true hero and a worthy example to follow."

Let me return to Dawkins' tweet in the beginning of this post as I bring it to a close. Recall he said, “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

Now, I am not trying to compare Pastor Lee and Professor Dawkins. Neither am I putting Christianity and Atheism together for distinction, as that would be unfair. God knows that such exercise is often self-defeating, self-serving. Callousness cuts across both domains. Sometimes, you just can’t tell an atheist apart from a Christian or a Christian from an atheist.

Anyway, it is really not about religion or how religious one acts. It is not about the big gleaming churches and the masses that come in tens of thousands to worship their God. And it is also not about how rich and impressive the churches or messages are.

If the simple life of Pastor Lee has taught me anything, it is that love conquers all. Like Jesus said, love overcomes. And he comes closest to demonstrating how love transforms, regardless.

There is no delusion in love. It never gives up because love is not motivated by results as the world sees it. It is driven by the intangible – that is, faith, hope and even joy in suffering.

To love, a life is a life. It is precious and treasured not because it is physically and mentally perfect. On the contrary, it is because of his/her imperfections that love abounds even more.

And love changes things. It changes circumstances, deepens our humanity and gives us extraordinary strength and resilience. In the end, the difference that love makes make every choice we make morally courageous, morally inspiring and morally empowering. It is therefore love that makes all things perfect.

So, the second part of Dawkins’ tweet is what I do not agree. It is not an immoral choice to keep the child. Ultimately, the parent has to decide and it is a respectfully private matter. It is the parent who has to confront the challenges ahead, and not us. They can sure try again, and it is a choice only they will have to make.

But keeping the child is not an immoral choice because Pastor Lee kept his son and many others whose parent(s) have given up on. And most of them do not come in as a “perfect” bundle of joy. Yet, he took them in with undivided love and nursed their body, soul and spirit back to health. He gave each and every one of them a home, hope and community.

He admits that accepting his son was difficult at first. He even asked God why he gave him Eun-man? He wasn’t at all grateful for him. But things and feelings changed subsequently. Eventually, Eun-man transformed Pastor Lee’s life more than he transformed his. And these transformations bring out the joy, love and hope in him and his faith.

That is why Pastor Lee named his son Eun-man, which means “full of God’s grace.” Because far from being an immoral choice, his love for his son and the abandoned babies turned his life around for good. If anything, it was a moral victory for humanity as a whole.

In an interview with Risen magazine, Pastor Lee concludes with this:- 

“My ultimate goal through this movie is that the baby box would be closed, meaning that it would no longer be needed because children would not be abandoned. The unborn need to be protected. The mothers need to be taken care of. That kind of world and society is what I dream of.”

Although I can’t say in all good conscience that his dream will ever come true in the world and society we live in, I can however say without a doubt that Pastor Lee’s selfless spirit is what this world and society desperately need. He is one pastor who goes the distance to make a difference. And his life is a candle in the wind that lights up every dark corner of the world and the society. 

Such a passionate candle can never, ever be blown out. Cheerz.

The cry of the heart of society.

Goh Lee Yin is 36, an engineer and suffering from a disorder called kleptomania. 
Her run-ins with the law started in 2005 to 2007 for theft. She was placed on probation then after being diagnosed with kleptomania. 
But she did not (or could not) stop her actions. She continued to steal in 2011 and was jailed 6 weeks. 
Yet, she stole again 3 months later and was jailed 9 months. Mind you, the amount stolen was not small. The items were worth $30k and $110k. 
Her recent offence was for theft and fraudulent possession and was scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday. 
Lesson? I do not have enough facts to comment on Goh's case. But in 2013, Dr Winslow testified at her hearing, saying that "if Goh was put in prison without therapies..., we are actually condemning her to a long term because we will be seeing her forever and ever again." 
Tragically, we won't. 
Lee Yin was found dead at the foot of a block of flats at Sengkang on Monday, a day before her court hearing. 
Even more tragic is that Lee Yin ironically took the one decision she finally had control over, that is, her own life.
It is reported that "40 people attended a 50-minute Christian service" at her funeral. Lee Yin left behind her husband and a 15-month-old daughter. 
Alas, it is arguable whether it was her uncontrollable impulses to steal or the society's lack of understanding of her condition that was the proximate cause of her death. 
Most likely, it's both. But let me digress a little and comment about our society at large.
We live in a largely tone-deaf society. It is tone deaf to the rallying cry of the minority, especially those whom we consider "abnormal" because they are not like us. 
Our default go-to mode for personal safety and security is that anything or anyone who is different from us is not normal. So, we pigeon hole them. It's our social rule of thumb.
It is like we have an exclusive club in our mind and entry is by membership only. If you are normal, you qualify. But if you should have some unfamiliar ticks or embarrassing quirks that we don't understand or don't have the time to understand, you are rejected outright from the mind club of the majority.
However magnanimous we project to the public, the discrimination, condescension and indignation are palpable and deeply felt by those who are struggling with grades, those who are ashamed of their mental disorder, those who are shunned by society because of their past, and those who are thinking of suicide due to the unspoken stigmatization.
An eight-year-old suffering from a behavioural disorder once wrote this: "Make me have a mum and dad that love me and start my horrid life AGAIN and not have so much sadness in my life." 
I think that's the same cry of the heart of those who yearn for society's understanding, care and help, but have sadly only received judgment, discrimination and abandonment. 
Thomas Jefferson once said that the care of human life and happiness is the only legitimate object of good government.
Let's hope that our society (and government) is kind enough to see beyond the differences and embrace each and every one of us regardless of our past, our stages of development, and our socioeconomic background. 
More importantly, let us all learn to see and nurture the hidden potential in a life, and not just judge a life at a moment's folly, or judge them for that which they are struggling real hard to avoid. 
Sometimes, for some people who are deemed "different" from us, they just need a little more understanding and patience from us to reintegrate and bloom. Treasure every life, and not just our own until we are blind to the beauty of the lives of others.
We should therefore shut down our exclusive mind club for good and keep an open mind to receive all without the labels, stigma or conditions. Cheerz.