Let’s come together as one nation

COVID-19 is a crisis that has enabled us to display who we really are as Christians. Serving and loving others as Christ Himself has served us through His death and resurrection is central to our faith — even when it involves personal risk and cost.

Apr 17, 2021

My dear friends in Christ,

This past one year can be described as unprecedented, challenging, unnerving, filled with anxiety and uncertainty. All of us experienced disruption in one way or another, something that we never thought would happen.

COVID-19 is a crisis that has enabled us to display who we really are as Christians. Serving and loving others as Christ Himself has served us through His death and resurrection is central to our faith — even when it involves personal risk and cost.

The Church is called to sacrificially care for the vulnerable because, as Scripture reminds us, Christ first loved us and died for us that we might be forgiven and reconciled to God. We love others because we understand just how much God has done for us and how He then calls us to live in light of that love. That is what Christians were known for centuries ago — caring for others.

This message of caring for others is laced throughout Scripture and is central to the very fabric of our Christian faith. In the Bible, we find commandments like “bearing one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). For us as Christians, how well we endure in sacrificially serving the vulnerable is one of the greatest indicators of how deeply we have understood what Christ has done for us.

The Bible’s teachings don’t let us choose who to serve. In one of His most famous parables, Jesus uses a Samaritan to show how we are to love even those whom we might otherwise see as our cultural enemies. In essence, how well we are able to love others is a direct indication of how well we know Christ and what He has done for us ? at its most basic level, it means caring for others in their times of need. The gospel gives us only one condition: serve the hurting.

Stepping back for a moment, it is worth asking why the Church has and is, now again, called to live in such a sacrificial way.

The answer in part is the description of Christians as “citizens of heaven” (Phil. 3:20). That is, our hope is not in this life but in the one to come.

In one famous example, the church historian Eusebius describes a fourth century epidemic that swept through the Roman Empire. Far from fleeing the cities or shutting off their homes from others, Eusebius records that “all day long [Christians] tended to the dying and  to the burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.” As a result, Eusebius concludes, “[the Christians’] deeds were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the god of the Christians.”

Faced with what was likely a far more severe pandemic than our own, 4th century Christians modelled a faith that is truly compelling. So, we ask ourselves today, who are we as followers of Jesus? Are we driven by a desire for self-gain or are we able to show and share the love of Jesus in the midst of this ongoing pandemic?

Social distancing is necessary but relational distancing is not. Let’s seize this opportunity to bind together as one nation to fight this pandemic. Despite our political or religious differences, let us reach out in solidarity to all Malaysians and stay united in the fight against COVID-19. Let’s build a relational bridge where the virus wants to create a social moat.

My dear friends, some people have remarked that 2020 was a wasted year because they were unable to do anything productive. While CFM’s calendar was full for 2019, we had to scale down our activities and events and conduct a majority of our meetings online from March 2020 onwards. Nevertheless, it was a rather fulfilling year for us, as elaborated in the Honorary Secretary’s Report which will be presented shortly.

One of the events that recently thrust the local Christian community into the spotlight is the Jill Ireland case in which the High Court ruled that the use of the word ‘Allah’ by nonMuslims all over Malaysia is allowed. Though the ruling is in our favour, we cannot gloat in  triumph or do a victory dance because the use of the word ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims still remains a contentious issue in our country. We must endeavour to find a common ground of mutual respect and understanding with our Muslim brethren. We need to give them an assurance that there is no malicious intent on our part in the usage of the word Allah amongst our Bahasa-speaking and native Christians.

Interestingly, I came across an opinion piece written by our very own Eugene Yapp (former secretary general of NECF) which appeared in ‘Christianity Today’. In an article entitled Christians Need Win-Wins with Muslim Society More Than Wins in Court, Eugene speaks of a missional response as we seek for ways to engage in peaceful dialogue with our Muslim friends.  Allow me to read some extracts from this article: 

While acknowledging that there are legitimate fears and concerns between Christians and Muslims in this longstanding Allah debate, it is imperative for the Church in Malaysia to move beyond fears to find avenues for the concrete expression of the Christian redemptive story. To this end, Scripture reminds us that we are to love our neighbours in affirmation and understanding, not simply tolerating them. Mutual understanding requires adjustments and therefore, moderation, in the interests of social harmony.

It is in this sort of dialogue that embraces the ethos of diversity and differences as the norm that an acceptable outcome and solution may be found. This form of dialogue and engagement also seeks to enhance relationships and build trust with those whom we often say cannot and will not agree with us. The building of trust and relationship should not be for utility but because God commands all believers to love our neighbours. As we genuinely love and respect our neighbours, suspicion and caution will be minimized and openness created. This presents the Christian and Muslim with the opportunity to search for acceptable solutions. Admittedly, this is a formidable task for both sides. Yet it is one in which Christians in Malaysia must necessarily take the lead.

This is one baton which I am admittedly passing on to the new Chairman and EXCO with a heavy heart, but with great hope and confidence that we will be able to make positive inroads towards acceptance, mutual understanding and the freedom to worship in our way. I would like to acknowledge and thank each  and every one of you who have been with me each step of the way. Together we have ‘fought battles’, some in which we celebrated victories and others where we comforted each other when in defeat. I want to recognise what I know everyone understands – that the CFM EXCO that I was fortunate to work with is one of the best – a diversified group with different talents and capabilities. I may be the person whose signature appeared first on every statement and press release, but this has always been a joint effort and I will always be grateful to this dedicated team.

I would also like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication put in by the outgoing principal secretary for the Catholic Church, Fr Clarence Devadass, who has been a familiar face with CFM since 2010.

My dear friends, if we only look at the present and the immediate future, we may feel helpless and perhaps even hopeless but to see the past, the present and the future through the eyes of faith can make us hopeful once again. Our hope is based neither on false pretences or on deceptive charades. It is a real hope that is anchored in Jesus Christ which calls us to see things supernaturally through the eyes of faith.

We are all familiar with the Book of Job, and as much as it is an extreme example of trials that Job endured, it is also an extreme example of deeply rooted faith. Job had no idea what was going on in Heaven. He did not know that he was a ‘wager’ between God and Satan.  And yet he gave God the benefit of the doubt. He knew who was the potter and who was the clay, and as the clay he didn’t say to the potter, “Do you know what you’re doing?” Rather, he was able to be cracked and battered about because he trusted that he was still in God’s hands. He trusted in the purposeful providence of God.

We will continue our struggle for justice and peace in our land, for mutual harmony and up-building of the aspirations for our nation. Thank you to all and we will continue to serve together in various capacities.

Most Rev Julian Leow Beng Kim
CFM chairman (2019-2021)
April 12, 2021

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George ThomasGtgeorgethomas01@gmail.com