At first, I thought it was a joke. It in fact had all the trappings of a joke.
Eng Han doing a pre-jail Mas Selamat was not how I'd conceived this sad saga would end.
Eng Han doing a pre-jail Mas Selamat was not how I'd conceived this sad saga would end.
Then, I thought it might be fake news. That is, how truth has been twisted to increase readership.
But then, the source was from CNA – a reputable name in news generation. And that got my attention. That was Wednesday.
And Thursday morning came with a front-page news fleshed out in the Straits Times. My incredulity slowly turned into believability.
On Friday, Eng Han was charged in Court. He was wearing glasses and clad in a blue polo shirt and dark shorts. He was expressionless, according to reports. By then, I accepted it as an unassailable fact.
The travails of Chew Eng Han being nabbed trying to leave Singapore with two similar kayaks in tow and a sum of $5000 cash was on the news since Wednesday to yesterday.
Eng Han claimed that he was fishing. They had their fishing gear in the sampan. They were still in Singapore waters when they were caught by the Coast Guard.
But what was jarring to common sense in the police coast dragnet was the cash of $5000.
I mean, who would bring that amount to a fishing trip in a sampan?
Alas, this was the same person who said that "he was going to "pray, pray, pray" to prepare himself for jail."" He even added that he was relieved that the whole legal saga was over.
This was also the same person who appeared to be mentally prepared and said it was "okay" to go to jail, according to a friend - who was also his witness at the trial - namely, former church executive member Jean-Jacques Lavigne.
And finally, this was the same person who said with entrenched resistance, "if he truly felt he was guilty, it would be easier to serve the sentence."
He also added, "But here is nothing I can do about it, of course. If I did misappropriate money, I would see the sentence as a way of repenting."
Even his family (he has two children 17 and 27) found it hard to accept the ruling.
Lesson? Just one.
Up to today, Eng Han still thinks he is innocent. He felt that he had done nothing wrong. He insisted that there was no personal gain. He was doing it for the church. He was doing it for God.
In his previous appeals, he posed ten questions to the Apex Court as a final bid to challenge the verdict in the lower courts.
Each of the ten questions was exhaustively dealt with and they were accordingly dismissed.
The CA held that he was in the thick of it all, in the eye of the storm.
In the justices' words, Eng Han was the "primary financial architect" of the sham bonds set up in order to channel church funds meant for the church building out of the church to fund Sun's ambitious, if not deluded, music career.
Unauthorised use was the keyword - whether for personal gain or otherwise, whether one's motive was for the greater good of His kingdom or not.
To cover their tracks even further from auditors and lawyers, the accused persons (with Eng Han playing a key role) came up with a series of fraudulent transactions (round tripping) aimed at removing these sham bonds from the CHC accounts so as to hide their dishonest conduct.
Over the seven years, the trial judge and eight justices were convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused persons have been dishonest with the church by their stealth, deception, cover-ups and lies, whether it is concerning album sales, bond rates and transactions, the popularity of Sun Ho, or the goals and effectiveness of the crossover project.
Yet, while the other five have accepted their fate (since all legal avenues had been exhausted by them), Eng Han's latest offence demonstrated a deep-rooted defiance against it.
What's even more incomprehensible is the bail money of $1 million and the dire fate of his bailor who might come to certain financial ruin should the court order a full forfeiture.
I guess what made it all so complicated for the accused persons, particularly Eng Han, was the perceived theological legitimacy of their intention and actions.
The crossover had effectively duped everyone involved into believing that it was the Great Commission 2.0 for the modern church. And they all thought that what was good for evangelism was good for the church.
So, as long as the numbers are up (reaching tens of thousands per service), the means by which such growth are achieved are clearly secondary to the host of angels celebrating in heaven for one lost soul being added.
When Jesus said to make disciples and count the cost, the former CHC leadership however turned that on its head to make the numbers at all costs.
In today's world, the convergence of easy money, religious tribalism and an obsession for mindless growth have turned some megachurch pastors into corporate ranchers shepherding the flock with the pastoral staff in one hand, and with the other, milking them for popularity, money and unquestioned allegiance.
Alas, this post may appear to be about Eng Han's bail violation pending a proper hearing, but in essence, it is not.
He is just part of or a pawn (willing no less) in a systemic culture that takes pastoral exploitation and personal indulgences to the extreme. This extreme has its embedded roots in the shallow soil of culture than the bloodied soil of Calvary.
In essence, this post is about the excesses of religion. It is about how religious leaders can be blinded by their own ambition for growth in quantity rather than quality.
It is about how - up to a point - leaders start to believe in their own invulnerability, and this imbues them with religious chutzpah to expect that every word they say over the pulpit is what God would have said from the burning bush.
It is also about how church members in a tribalistic trance can easily surrender their mental faculty in unquestioned support to a delusion they conveniently treat as synonymous with godly revelation.
And last but not least, it is about how jaded the believing/secular world is with the pretentiousness of some megachurch pastors who uphold with staged reverence the biblical virtues of self-sacrifices, humility and devotion to the cause, and then go about justifying their private mansions and lavish lifestyle preaching about a god who loves a cheerful giver; especially one who pours directly into their personal coffers.
After Billy Graham passed on at 99 on Wednesday, tele-evangelist Benny Hinn came out to admit that he was wrong about the prosperity gospel. He said that he is guilty of taking it to the extreme, referring to his living large and in excesses (like the many prosperity preachers living amongst us).
Benny added: “Did Jesus drive a car or live in a mansion? No, he had no lack. How about the apostles? None lacked among them. Today, the idea is abundance and palatial homes and cars and bank accounts. The focus is wrong — it’s so wrong.”
Well, I don't know whether we will see a transformation after his admission. Or, is it just another publicity stunt to project remorse that rides on the passing of a respected evangelist?
Only time will tell, and I won't hold my breath.
But at this juncture, the words of the late Billy Graham speak more deeply to me.
He once wrote this:-
"Why is it that money, success, and pleasure brings no lasting satisfaction? Why don't they provide us with a solid foundation for successful living, especially as we grow older? Because they ignore one of life's greatest truth: we don't have just bodies and minds, but we also have souls, also called spirits. If we ignore this truth - if we feed our bodies but starve our souls - our lives will be incomplete and unfulfilled, and we will find ourselves weak and unprepared for life's inevitable challenges."
Truly his words speak for itself. He lived a life unlike the prosperity preachers of our age. He led without the controversies that dogged many who lived extravagant lives while their flock struggle in poverty to out-give one another.
While they preach about being rich in God and live a life by increasing their net worth on earth, Billy Graham preached the same but lived a life by increasing his rewards in heaven.
In quiet servitude and a humble spirit, he pursued hope, faith and love in the best way he knew how. He was not beyond reproach though (who ever was), but for all the imperfections, it was his enduring faith that eventually led him to the narrow road his Saviour once took.
In the end, he passed on exemplifying the salt and light of the earth both in human frailty and in His unsurpassing glory.
So, whether you look at it from scripture or the whole picture, Billy Graham had fought the good fight and completed the race.
Now, I can't end this post without returning to Eng Han. I am sure we will hear the last of him after his last sampan antic. He is now in custody (bail denied naturally), and for the next three years (or more) will be serving time.
My hope for him is that he will eventually find peace. Because for a man who refuses to take responsibility even after eight appellate justices have unanimously found him guilty of all charges, running away (if proven) and serving time will not bring about any closure.
Alas, the greatest obstacle to closure for Eng Han is not so much about contending with the bars of prison. It is about unlocking the bars to his heart. Cheerz.