IN the past one or two months, the situation at Methodist Book Room (MBR) has led to much soul searching for the church.
Even as our annual conference moves toward the next four years under the main theme ‘A Church After God’s Own Heart’, we find in our midst something not after God’s own heart – the crime of embezzlement by MBR employees. Faced with such a tricky problem, how should we respond?
On 20th January, when I first received the special call from the MBR Board Chairman, my first reaction was, ‘Call the police!’ The chairman also agreed.
But later when we thought about it, it would be a better solution if we could settle out of court, before reporting to the police. Usually the police would also have the public try this as the first step, in order to save trouble. So the board of directors spoke to the two employees who confessed, and also talked to their families, to see if this would work out.
However as the board of directors and the manager investigated, they began to find more and more evidence of embezzlement, until the total was over a million ringgit! This was no longer a sum that the two employees and their families could handle. Furthermore, it was not just a civil case anymore, but a criminal case, and so we had to report it to the police and let them handle it.
Even though embezzlement is not after God’s own heart, throughout the whole yet unresolved matter, I still see incidents after God’s own heart:
1. Confession of the employees: The two employees involved were willing to confess after the crime was discovered, and were even willing to repay the stolen money. Only that the sum was too large, so the consequences had to be more severe. David was a king after God’s own heart, because he obeyed God’s will in everything, including confessing immediately after he sinned, then bearing the consequences, and turning over a new leaf. A person after God’s own heart is not a sinless person, rather it is a person willing to confess and bear the consequences, and change for the better. After confessing, we need to stand up again, to depend on God for our new lives. David confessed to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.” (Psalms 51:4)
2. Repentance of the church: The board of directors and church leaders have conceded that on all levels of the church, repentance is needed in the area of financial management. We must repent of the unhealthy, overly trusting, and lax financial management culture, and change into a healthy, accountable, and strict financial culture. So the Board of Executive have decided to set up a committee to define the rules for financial operations (Standard Operation Procedure-SOP). The Bible emphasizes the need to do what is right in front of others especially about financial management: “For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.” (2 Corinthians 8:21)
3. Justice and mercy: In the process of dealing with this MBR matter, we learn to be just and to have mercy (Micah 6:8). We have decided to file a police report, to do what is just, because this involves criminal fraud, including forging of signatures and embezzling funds. The MBR manager and board directors also have taken up responsibility and consequences. Besides justice, we also have actions of mercy, spending a lot of effort in dialogue with those involved, to understand the truth, to shepherd them, and to encourage them to stand on their own feet again. Whatever the consequences, this was not the end of life, but could very well be the turning point in life.
4. Walking together in humility: This incident pushes the whole church to walk with God in humility (Micah 6:8), as well as walking in one heart, to go deeper in reflection, repentance, bearing responsibilities, crying out to God together, and trusting God’s direction step-by-step. As the Bible teaches us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
May God make our paths straight, as we cry out in prayer with one mind and one heart, and in unity to turn crisis into opportunity, in order that our church is ever more after God’s own heart.
By Rev Dr Tie King Tai, SCAC President
Translated by Joy Tie