Unapplied faith is meaningless

Naga DDB Tribal chief creative officer Alvin Teoh credits his parents, Andrew and Andrene Teoh, for instilling a deep-rooted Catholic faith in him by the way they live their faith.

Feb 24, 2023

Alvin Teoh and some members of the Fellowship of Praise prayer group at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Setapak.

Naga DDB Tribal chief creative officer Alvin Teoh credits his parents, Andrew and Andrene Teoh, for instilling a deep-rooted Catholic faith in him by the way they live their faith.

Although the 55-year-old has cut back on serving in the church due to work commitments, he continues to lead the Fellowship of Praise (FOP) at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Setapak.

Established in 1997, the Fellowship of Praise is held in the church on Sundays after Mass, and everyone is welcome. Each 90-min session is engaging with Praise and Worship, the Word of God, and sharing of faith stories. It is aimed at drawing parents waiting for their children to finish catechism classes. Attendees per session range from 20 people to 60 or 70 sometimes.

“We don’t start from a high place of theology. Instead, we start with humanity and work our way up,” said Alvin.

The main focus is to create awareness about faith and application. It teaches participants how to apply faith to treat humans better. A combination of vertical and horizontal faith forms the cross, with our eyes looking towards heaven, feet firmly planted on the ground, and hands reaching out to help people.

The father of three exuberantly voiced his concerns about the larger group of faithful who focus on the vertical relationship with Christ but forget horizontal spirituality. He elaborated that vertical spirituality is the relationship between you and God – attending Masses and novenas, reciting Rosaries, going for Confessions, displaying holy pictures, etc.

“But we need to remember, the purpose of vertical spirituality is horizontal spirituality. We should be useful people. Not just people who know the religion but behave self-righteously and judge people.

“Many of us are guilty of not witnessing properly. We tend to be very ritualistic; we don’t understand Scripture or how the Spirit works. When we are not grounded in faith, the things we say don’t bear witness to the true beauty, power, and potential of the Catholic Church.”

He added that we must be able to witness our faith to people of other beliefs by meeting them on common topics so there is understanding and unity, and we can draw them into our world rather than impose our faith on them.

“As St Paul says, if you obey the law, you are bound to sin but if you understand the spirit of the law, you don’t need the dos and don’ts as you will practise it by conviction,” said Alvin.

With FOP as his base, Alvin ran youth and confirmation camps at various parishes for about a decade. As he was a scout for five years and a scoutmaster for six, Alvin incorporated religious teachings with a dose of scouting to try and highlight the beauty of the faith and its applicability to daily life.

Before work got the better of his time, Alvin worked on multiple short-term projects over the years.

One of them was Kita Kawan Mah — a social collective on Facebook, put together after General Elections 13 when racism became public and rampant on social media. He said it was intended to promote unity by getting people to be friends via projects and creating content promoting these themes. “In the early days, while attracting support, we were also harassed by people with very toxic and racist views and it caused me a lot of anxiety,” said Alvin. The project was active for two years. Another project under Kita Kawan Mah was Ride the Light.

Stop Nursery Crimes was an agency initiative for PS the Children, an NGO involved in the sexually abused underaged. To spotlight the taboo subject of paedophilia in Malaysia, a series of films and a website were used to raise awareness and ignite conversations. It was also to encourage parents to arm themselves with knowledge in the area and know how to respond, should they find themselves in this mess.

Another project Alvin served with for four years was the Street Shepherd Outreach, a ministry focused on helping people who live on the streets. Founded by Catherine Thong, this project spread to several other parishes and is ongoing.

He also ran Catholic cell groups at the advertising agency for about five to six years. They meet weekly for Praise and Worship, breaking of the Word, and intercession. As the sessions were open to non-Catholics and non-Christians, they managed to sign up five people for RCIA.

Alvin’s parents are long-serving active parishioners of the Church of the Good Shepherd. They were part of the pioneer group that promoted Marriage Encounter throughout Peninsular Malaysia in the late 70s and early 80s. They are currently part of the Theology of the Body and Family Life Ministry where they help conduct Catholic Marriage Preparation Courses.

They led their four children – Alvin, his two sisters, and his brother by humble examples of living their faith, vertically and horizontally.

“Growing up, I witnessed how my parents, deeply hurt by individuals in the church, didn’t retaliate but instead spoke about forgiving them and praying for them. They have borne the pain for a long time but their actions were never rooted in negative reactions, instead, it was rooted in grace.”

While Alvin leant these graces at the feet of his parents, he didn’t take on the faith like old clothes. He fought his way and continues to find his path.

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