As I enter the second year of serving as president of the Sarawak Chinese Annual Conference (SCAC), I can summarize this year in one word: “NEW”, even though the second year is not new, and the book of Ecclesiastes says, there is nothing new under the sun: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” (1:9-10)
But the God who is above the sun, our God, he is the God who makes all things new. When we wait upon him in the morning and seek him, he gives us new mercies every morning. As the Prophet Jeremiah proclaimed even as he faced destruction of his country: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’ The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;” (Lamentations 3:22-25)
Thank God that last year we experienced great blessings of God (Please refer to President’s Desk 2017/12) as we waited upon him and sought him. This year, He poured blessings on us again, so that we received new mercies (compassions). We experienced the “new” individually, in our families, churches, and even the country. Allow me to explain:
Individual and family: New son-in-law, new housemate in my 91-year-old father-in-law, new basketball sports (many competitions in various places, preaching and evangelism at the same time), new discipleship (leading a couple in Bible study and sharing, joining the Kingdom Men’s small group), etc.
SCAC office: New Secretary General (Mr James Lau, he handles matters efficiently and methodically, and leads with much love), new office (Hoover Mission House, thanks to Masland church pastors and LCEC for allowing SCAC to use), new office atmosphere (everyone starts work on time, no delays. We also celebrate one another’s birthdays and share little gifts if we had gone out of town), etc.
Church: New visions (3 of which are “God as food of the people, Do not lose the next generation, the weaker are indispensable), new fast and pray co-workers (The temptations of peanuts, biscuits, bananas brought by co-workers last year on Fridays are no longer present, because the whole office has either joined or understood the Wesleyan fasting and prayer), new videos (President’s Desks are presented in video form, one of the videos – President’s Desk 2018/3, GE 14, Vote for Whom?” – even went viral unexpectedly. Besides president’s desks, the Board of Information and Communication also asked me to talk in videos on questions about faith: 1. Can Christians be possessed by demons? 2. Can Christians exorcise demons? 3. What is being filled by the Holy Spirit? 4. How to recognize and deal with cults?), a new development in the Methodist Book Room case (please refer to the conclusion of book room announcement (4)), new Bible study method in pastors’ school (pastors need to do homework in Galatians before school), new experience at the 4th Methodist Prayer Convention (for the first time the convention arranged a 2-day-2-meal fasting and prayer, focusing on prayers and teachings about prayer. SCAC had 2600 attending the convention, which was a thousand more than originally expected. The convention had a total of 3800 people, from across Malaysia. The only flaw was the combined Sunday Service, not all churches gave full cooperation, so that the number did not reach 10,000), newly painted Centennial Park (internal renovations are desperately needed), newly painted Methodist Theological School hostels, new purchase of the Bintulu Hope Centre shop lots, new Bintangor activity center for youth (will be upgraded into MyCentre for youth next year), new kindergartens (new building e.g. Methodist Chinese Kindergarten, newly started e.g. Peace MC Kindergarten etc), new Religion and Culture Centre (RCC in MTS), new annual conference time (to be finished in 2 days) etc.
Country: New government (also unexpected, 509 election night was a night of miracles, like the Passover night when the Israelites were to leave Egypt. Tun Mahathir and wife did not sleep that night, becoming Malaysia’s “walking miracles”. Like Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, a peaceful exodus was also a miracle. The important thing was not the change of government, but that what the church had been praying and emphasizing “spreading scriptural holiness, transforming the nation” was realized. With a new government, the church still needs to watch and pray. Now it is not only the government party that emphasizes integrity, but also the opposition. After 61 years, Malaysia has changed governments for the first time, slowly moving toward a two-party system. The things that we did not believe were possible, but God says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)
In the coming year: New district superintendents (Sibu North and Sibu West), new Wei Kuok Hall (unfortunately we could not finish it before the annual conference this year), new Victory Home building, new elderly folks home, new mergers (merging churches Teo Guan and Hong Ang, merging Board of Social Concerns and Board for the Disabled), new churches (Agape Grace, City Mall, Betong), new Methodist Convention (new Bible study method, participants must first complete homework in Philippians), new building at MPI, new Short Term Missions School (South), new salary scale (raising pastors and church workers’ salaries to retain talents and also to indirectly encourage more people to become pastors and change the misconception of many – including pastors themselves – that to be a pastor is to live a life where you are never full enough, but not hungry enough to starve. In fact, based on recent estimation, a new pastor’s starting salary per month, including housing, transport, and living allowance, is quite impressive. So as you can see, next year’s new salary numbers would be even more impressive.)
In the new year, pastors and church members need to have new thoughts and ways: Do not use retreats as a pretext to go on vacation (for example a pastors’ retreat needs to be focused on the retreat itself, located nearby, 3 days 2 nights, instead of a lengthy vacation and a long retreat time. This affects the ministries during the weekend, and also makes the church members unhappy. If you need a vacation, plan using your annual leave), do not use short term missions as a pretext for vacation, do not use the church’s name when dealing with personal matters, do not steal the church’s money for your own use, do not waste the church’s time and money (and of course don’t waste your own time and money), when giving church offering to pastors or anyone, do not say you don’t need a receipt. Always get a receipt, because not doing so is tempting the recipient of the money.
Dear pastors and delegates, unless you have believed that Jesus died for your sins and resurrected on the third day, you are still living the old life, so you need to believe in Jesus. When you believe in Jesus, you are a new person, as the Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17)
When we become a new creation, we need to depend on the power of the Holy Spirit to imitate Jesus, as Paul taught: “That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:20-24)
At this juncture, let us revisit last year’s presidential address of “Five blessings and God’s perfect 10”, to see if there are any new discoveries or developments:
Scripture: 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) (Ephesians 5)
Early last year, the discovery of fund embezzlement at the book room was a loud warning, warning the church to be transparent in money matters. We then began to promote SOP in financial dealings. Some churches have begun to implement steps to take great care when dealing with money, including separating those who receive money and those who keep the accounts. Other churches are still working on it.
Thank God that while we did not expect a quick resolution to the criminal matter at the book room, there was an unexpected result. The guilty party was sentenced to 4 years in prison. Some say: “What is the use of this result? Though she is in prison, you still can’t get the money back. Some people won’t even heed the warning, they will keep stealing the church’s money!” Dear folks, whatever the outcome, the church needs to do all it can to be children of light, “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [our] God”.
Besides money matters, the church also needs to be children of light in matters of marriage and power. In marriage: purity before marriage, faithfulness after marriage; in power: pastors need to be faithful, to be good examples in shepherding their flock, to deserve their church’s love and respect. Church members need to be cheerful and willing, work hard, and love their pastors, even those unlovable pastors.
Scripture: 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph 4)
Besides light in money matters, we also need transparency in money matters, to speak the truth in love. Last year we were transparent in telling you the excess of church funds, so that in these 4 years, these excess funds will be used with a clear purpose. For examples, supporting kindergartens (50% of the expenses of founding), helping organizations in need (RM300,000 to the newly built Wesley Methodist School in Penang, RM100,000 to Sabah Annual Conference to celebrate her upgrading), training more people, building the new headquarters (about RM 11,000,000), renovating Wei Kuok Hall (RM 3,000,000++), upgrading Centennial Park, etc.
We said, besides light and transparency in money matters, we also need light and transparency in relationships with people. Whether between pastors and pastors, or pastors and church members, or between church members, we need light and transparency in relationships. We need to speak the truth in love.
When a pastor or church member does something not pleasing to God, other pastors and church members have the responsibility of systematically helping him or her turn back to God, instead of gossiping. Gossip is of the darkness, not something that God’s children of light should do. But bringing people back to God is walking in the light and of transparent teaching in the Bible, using Jesus’ steps as taught in Matthew 18:15-17, including: 1. private admonishment, 2. bring one or two others, 3. the church (15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.)
Scripture: 5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8)
Light and transparency brings open-mindedness. Last year we have tried something more open-minded, which is openly allowing pastors parish relationship committee members and pastors themselves to fill out forms for next year’s appointments. This is as reference, not the final decision, for the president and board of appointments. Since the book of discipline states that the final decision belongs to the president, if the president’s decision does not coincide with the committee members’ or
pastor’s suggestions, they can of course feel angry (hopefully as the Bible teaches, not to let the sun go down on their anger), but there is no need to be discouraged and give up any right of expression in the future. If you give up after the first request, it shows that there is no urgent need, as Jesus talked about prayers of supplication, seeking, and knocking need to be not discouraged and unceasing prayers (Matthew 7:7-11). For example, over a decade ago MPI had expressed need for a full time chaplain. But after the first one or two times, they stopped asking, until last year they requested again. Watch and see what the result of their request will be.
Besides continuing with appointment forms, this year the board of appointments met a month ahead again. Before the meeting, the president and district superintendents prayed and discussed in small groups. A month before the annual conference, the first draft of appointments is decided, in order that everyone may have more time to pray and think. During the annual conference, the board of appointments will hold a second meeting for final decisions. We look to the Holy Spirit to guide us in making appointments that follow God’s will.
It is God’s grace and blessing to be able to handle appointments in an open-minded way. Hopefully everyone will cherish it and use the one month advance of appointments to understand the things of the Spirit and follow the Spirit’s guidance, instead of acting out of the flesh.
Scripture: 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13)
Allow me to repeat: After light, transparency, and open-mindedness, hopefully we will have wisdom in decisions and actions. Wise decisions and actions will then bring even more light, transparency, and open-mindedness.
Last year we already understood: The verses above are about the Antioch church. Fasting and prayer is a wise action for daily life in a church, because through this, they were able to hear the Holy Spirit, to advance the work of missions, to send out missionaries, and to change the church and the world.
Speaking of fasting and prayer, many pastors, church leaders and members have chosen to join the Wesleyan Fasting and Prayer (the fasting starts after dinner every Thursday until 3pm on Friday), receiving the Father’s rewards and blessings (Matthew 6:16-18). But there are some who have not moved forward, who have not taken the action of fasting, or they say they would fast, but do not take it seriously. They fast however they want, without intention, so they do not receive the Father’s rewards.
Some say: “I do not join fasting and prayer, because it is not an activity planned by our church’s LCEC.” To them I say: “If you join fasting and prayer only because it is an activity planned by a committee, you are doing activities for the sake of activities, and you will die in activities. But if you join fasting and prayer because you understand this is the biblical teaching for a Christian life, and you are willing to follow it, then you will live in Christ.”
Some say: “I do fast and pray, not during Wesleyan Fasting and Prayer time, but on another day. Is that possible?” I say: “Fasting and prayer is obviously a good thing, no matter which day it is on. The Bible also does not say that we must fast from Thursday dinner to Friday 3 pm. We don’t want legalism, but so that all pastors and church members can be united, isn’t that a good thing to fast during the same time? Why walk alone? Remember, one person can walk fast, but a group of people can walk far.”
In the beginning of this year, when we held the English ministry forum, we were at Centennial Park discussing and also doing fasting and prayer. After I taught and did the fast and pray, a sister from a church I used to pastor asked me, “Pastor Tie, why did you not teach us how to fast and pray during those years you pastored us? Why wait till now to speak this important truth!” I answered, “In those years I did preach on fasting, maybe you did not hear, but also maybe at the time I believed that fasting and prayer is an individual action, not for public promotion. But now I have ‘repented’, I am pushing this hard, because in the five means of grace taught by John Wesley, fasting is the least important to many people and seldom observed!”
This year many co-workers in the SCAC office joined the fast and pray, all of us together in one spirit and in one step. One co-worker shared: “I used to think that because of stomach pains, I cannot do a complete fast, only a meatless fast. But after a complete fast this year, on the day of fasting, my stomach did not hurt anymore!” Another 80-year-old pastor shared: “To fast together like this is such a beautiful thing!”
In these 4 years, I hope that as we continue fasting and praying, more and more pastors and brothers and sisters will see fasting and prayer as the normal Christian life, to live a wise Christian life, to long for God and to long for Christ’s second coming. (Refer to President’s Desk 2018/1) It was the vision given to me from God during last year’s Dec 6-8 3-day Esther fast)
This year Dec 5-7, we will hold the third annual 3-day Esther’s fasting and prayer, until Friday 3pm. I call upon brothers and sisters who joined in previous years to continue, and I also call upon those who have not joined to join us, so that we can all once again experience the power of God with us.
Scripture: 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2)
Light, transparency, open-mindedness, and wisdom lead to declaration. To declare the light of God to the world is also the most important purpose for our lives and churches on this earth. We must give our all to evangelism, missions, and to the care for our society and country, because once we leave this earth, we will not be able to show God’s love to the people of the earth, and will not be able to lead them to the true God. (Refer to President’s Desk 2018/7)
We do not assume that we are already accomplished in evangelism, missions, and social concern ministries, but we depend on the Lord as we move forward.
In evangelism, we continued work in BM ministry, indigenous peoples ministry, and Drama team. Praise the Lord, the vision of the Hakka ministry is about to be fulfilled. We will soon send out the first pair of home missionaries to the Hakka, hallelujah!
Besides evangelism work in SCAC, let us all be reminded: we continue to help the Iban annual conference in their salaries for pastors. Starting last year, we cooperated with 6 other annual conferences under the Malaysia Methodist General Conference, to donate to the Iban annual conference, so that in a number of years they are able to be financially independent. Today we help the indigenous peoples, tomorrow they will help us (this truth is based on 2 Cor 8:14 – “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality”, also refer to President’s Desk 2018/2).
In missions, we are continuing towards 100 missionaries in the year 2020. Up to now we have sent out over 60 missionaries. Where are the other 30 plus? We believe it is not that God has not called enough people, but that those who were called are rejecting his calling. Including the past 21 years, this year seems to be the year we have sent out the most missionaries, a total of eight. The missions board is worried that the missions offering given by each church has reached the limit, and are unsure how to support so many missionaries next year. But we believe that God will be responsible for his own work and his workers. We also believe that each church will be even more eager to support the work and workers of missions. In the past, we may have offered to missions based on our income, but starting next year, we have the opportunity to learn from the Macedonian church after God’s heart, who “gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.” (2 Cor 8:3b-4)
In social concerns, praise the Lord that over different eras and in different places, God has raised up different social concerns work. This includes 3 orphanages, 3 centres for the disabled, 4 counselling centres, many Dorcas or caring service centres, one institute (MPI has reached 1000 students for the first time this year!), 5 primary and secondary schools, 46 kindergartens (2 new), 3 childcare centres (1 new), 2 youth centres (1 new), one rehab centre etc.
The Victory Home drug rehab center building at 9 mile Oya Road started construction last year is about to be completed. At a cost of 5 million, God has already provided through the generous giving of churches and community, so that we are able to be even more effective in helping those bound by drug addiction to receive the power of the gospel and to live free and normal lives. Hopefully the old Victory Home building will be transformed into a rehab centre for women, to help women in drug rehab. This year, the first student sent to MTS sponsored by Victory Home, Mr Tan Kok Hua, has just graduated with Licentiate, and is able to carry out more responsibilities.
As for private Methodist schools, we have temporarily put on hold kindergarten work at Bintulu Samalaju because no children live there. Other plans for private schools in various areas have also been cancelled due to different reasons. The thunder is loud but there is no rain, it is what it is.
The 14th General Election was held on May 9 this year. Praise the Lord, as salt and light of the world, the church, including the church in Sarawak, made preparations for the election, please refer to President’s Desks 2018/3 and 2018/5. In this election, the church played an important role, especially in prayer, teaching, and providing transportations. This had not happened before. One unbeliever said to a church leader: “The result of this election is because of your church’s prayers.” As I have mentioned before, I want to reiterate: the church is not joining partisan politics, nor joining any political discussion regarding the change of government. Instead the church is proclaiming scriptural holiness, to change and transform the country. The church needs to pray fervently for the community and the country. Whoever the government is, they might walk the wrong path or do the wrong thing, so we ought to follow the prayer that the Apostle Paul taught: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Tim 2:1-2)
Now that I have detailed the new discoveries and developments of the “5 blessings” (light, transparency, open-mindedness, wisdom, and declaration), allow me to do the same for “God’s perfect 10”.
God’s Perfect 10
The 10 things are what God allowed me to see during Esther’s fasting and prayer, which are the greatest needs of the church in the present and in the future. These things must be built up in life, not in activities; in love, and not in performances. May the ever loving Father visit us, may the gracious Lord Jesus compel us, may the all-powerful Holy Spirit move us, to get back our first love, to love God, to love others as ourselves, so that we will not “die in activities, but live in Christ”.
A Christian’s life is a life of loving God and man, as below (we all have more or less of these habits listed, but love needs to grow more, life needs to grow more).
1. More urgency in prayer (please refer to President’s Desk 2018/6)
1.1 This year 18.7% joined prayer meetings, a slight decrease and less than 20% (the mark of a healthy praying community), so we need to work harder towards the goal of 20%.
1.2 The number of those joining fasting and prayer has increased. May we all take fasting and prayer seriously, thirsting to see God’s face, instead of talking about fasting but not doing.
2. More diligence in Bible reading
2.1 This year the pastor’s school was held in the format of small group Bible studies.
2.2 Next year’s Methodist Convention will also be held as small group Bible studies. Hopefully this is the start of 10 years to study through the Bible.
3. More liveliness in worship (please refer to President’s Desk 2018/9)
3.1 We must take note: Not only are Sunday School and fellowship numbers decreasing, but church service numbers are also decreasing in the past few years. I suggest that all related boards, such as worship and music, ministry, evangelism, to review and plan actions to take. Not only to stop numbers from decreasing, but also to increase numbers.
3.2 On the pulpit, the Bible needs to be the main content, the cross needs to be the centre, congregation needs to have applications from the message (need to use more modern and local realistic illustrations, instead of historical and foreign otherworldly illustrations. Also need to be more realistic and concrete, not abstract and impossible applications), a congregation of all ages as listeners, the unbelievers as targets. In this way more will be attracted to Sunday services. But we also need the appropriate and timely care of small groups to close the back door, so that these people will not be lost.
Loving People: internally
4. More focus in discipleship
4.1 Discipleship is not only for the individual, but for the entire family. Parents and grandparents need to be discipled, then they can disciple their children. In this way faith is passed from generation to generation (please refer to President’s Desk 2018/9).
4.2 Today the church has far too many activities and training at all levels. Pastors and leaders are too busy, so that there is no time to do the most important discipling at home. Parents and grandparents hand off the responsibility of training to the church and become passive and lazy “trainers”. The relevant boards, such as Laity, Christian education, youth, family wellness, need to sit down to review and plan how to combine the power of the church and the family, to do the work of the Great Commission.
5. More love in fellowship
On loving one another, we usually choose to love those pastors and brothers and sisters who are more loveable, ignoring those who are not as loveable. We may even hate those who are weaker. Please refer to President’s Desk 2018/10, I mentioned the inclusive kindergarten education, and also that churches and families need to care for the weak, including the elderly, children, special needs people, the forgotten, indigenous peoples, etc.
6. More efficiency in meetings
The annual conference has gone from a day shorter last year, to a day and a half shorter this year. With only two days, hopefully all delegates will be able to give their full attention to join the meetings.
Loving People: externally
7. More dedication in missions
Next year we need all churches to be even more dedicated in missions offering, because there are more new missionaries next year than ever before.
8. More diligence in planting churches
This year, three have requested to be promoted to church status: Agape Grace, City Mall and Betong.
9. More zeal in evangelism
Since we arrange prayer meeting times, we can also arrange evangelism times. The church and families can go to prayer meetings together, and join evangelism work together. If all pastors and church members are willing to go out once a week to share the gospel with relatives, friends, family members, and neighbours, the Word of God will surely be revived, and those who are saved will increase (Acts 6:7).
10. More involvement in social concerns
This year there were many disaster relief efforts in different places. The ones bigger in scope are the Laos floods (AC gave RM20,000), Indonesia Sulawesi earthquake (AC gave 50,000, church members donated about 290,000, altogether about 340,000)
We all long for Jesus’ second coming, when he will establish the millennial kingdom on earth. We long even more for the coming of the new heavens and earth, as the book of Revelation says: “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” (Rev 21:5)
But even now here on earth, we have a foretaste of heavenly blessings, to experience God’s new mercies and compassions every day. Let us wait upon him and seek him every day in unison! As the Bible says: “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him”. (Lamentations 3:25)
Rev Dr Tie King Tai, SCAC President