Beware The Ides Of March

The fall of the ten-month old Pakatan-led Perak state government came fast and furious in high Shakespearean tradition. In the drama-play, Caesar, betrayed by his friend, dies with the words, “Et tu, Brute? (You too, Brutus?)

The plot against the Pakatan-led Perak government went way back just after it won a shocking victory over the incumbent Barisan Nasional coalition in the 8 March general elections last year. The fact that it took so long to find a Brutus willing to plunge the dagger is testimony to both the staying power of the new government as well as the increasing difficulty to find a Brutus to plunge the knife quickly.

Whenever the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition runs the risk of losing a state government in the past, most times it succeeded in finding a Brutus who would do the hatchet job so that no state government fall into opposition hands. Perak and Selangor in 1969, is a case in point. Even in East Malaysia, it was not difficult to find a Brutus or two. Remember Sabah in 1994?

So who is Brutus in Perak now?

The Ides of March is 15 March in the Roman calendar best known as the date that Julius Caesar was assassinated, in 44 BC, the story of which was dramatised in William Shakespeare’s classic play, Julius Caesar.

After declaring himself dictator for life of Rome, Caesar summoned the Senate to meet on the Ides of March. A soothsayer warned Caesar to guard against a great threat to his life on that day as Caesar was on his way to the senate-house: “Beware the Ides of March!”

As the Senate met, Caesar was attacked and stabbed to death by a group of senators who called themselves the Liberators who claimed they were preserving the Republic from Caesar’s ambitions.

The conspirators had to move quickly. Caesar had plans to leave Rome on 18 March for a military campaign. The threat Caesar posed to the republican system was clear to Marcus Brutus, who master-minded the assasination.

Brutus, however, was torn in his allegiance to Caesar given his close affiliations with Caesar. His mother, Servilia, was one of Caesar’s lovers.

Scholars disagree on whether Brutus was a villian or a patriot. The fact was, Caeser was dealing with very brutal and ruthless men on both sides.

Indeed, in the current conspiracy in Perak, there are very brutal and ruthless men on both sides. And they had to move quickly.

Who is Brutus?

Anwar Ibrahim, the de facto leader of PKR? After all it was he who announced on the eve of the Year of the Cow that Bota assemblyman Nasarudin Hashim was quitting Umno to join PKR, bringing the total number of state seats held by the Pakatan Rakyat coalition in Perak to 32, versus Barisan Nasional’s 27.

Who is Brutus?

Is it Nasarudin who defected to PKR then within ten days he re-defected to Umno? In his first defection he said he was doing it in the interest of the people, especially his supporters and voters and that he was confident in PKR’s commitment to protecting the rights and interests of all races.

On his second defection, he said he was doing it because he wanted to see the setting up of a strong and stable government in Perak. He has collected from both sides of the divide now.

Who is Brutus?

Could it be Behrang Assemblymen Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi and Changkat Jering Assemblyman Mohd Osman Jailu, both from Parti Keadilan Rakyat as well as Jelapang Assemblyman Hee Yit Foong from DAP? All three have left their parties to become independent lawmakers. Following their departure from the Pakatan, the 59-seat Perak state assembly is now hung with both the Pakatan and Barisan having 28 seats each but the three has promised Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak they would throw their lot with Barisan.

Who is Brutus?

Could it be PKR Ipoh Barat division head Fauzi Muda who recently accused Umno deputy president Najib Abdul Razak of trying last year to induce him with RM50 million to secure the crossover of two Pakatan Rakyat representatives in Perak? This was three days after the general election that drove BN out of the Perak government, and brought a Pakatan coalition into power, although with a slim majority of five seats.

Zainal Abidin Zin, the former deputy defence minister, has confirmed that he took PKR leader Fauzi Muda to meet Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak at his official residence in Putrajaya. However, the Umno veteran denied that any monetary offers were made during the midnight meeting.

Regardless of who Brutus is in Perak, the fact remains that Caesar is not quite dead in yet. Never mind about Brutus now. The Sultan of Perak is the real king maker. The new Caesar depends on the Sultan for his life. But, whoever the new Caesar is, the margin is still too close to call. Brutus will still be around. Beware the Ides of March! Et tu, Brute?

A Night To Remember!

by Fr. Paulino Miranda
originally published in the December 2008 edition of Catholic Asian News

Fr. Paulino Miranda“Aah, you, you ketua! Saya tahan you!”

These were the words of an angry, loud and bold uniformed officer, who ran towards me, when he tightly grabbed held of my right arm calling me . I did not resist, handed my lit candle to a friend who was nearby and I was whisked away towards the Black Maria, accompanied by another uniformed officer who held tightly to my left arm. Hence, I had the privilege of having two officers, as if being pulled by two hound dogs leashed to my sides, thrusting me towards the Black Maria which was about 50 meters away.

It wasn’t a dream, I kept saying to myself, “It’s really happening… Paulino Miranda you’re being arrested!” I walked up the truck which bore a registration number WJN 7696. As soon as I stepped into the police truck, I noticed that I was not alone. In the dark truck,(perhaps better termed now as the Dark Maria) there were already so many others whom I could not make out, as it was rather dark. Emotions were running high.

In the background I could hear the voices of Police officers and the FRU screaming their heads off, scaring people off by their squeals of intimidation. Police siren, yells, the sound of the Federal Reserve Unit’s boots thumping on the road coupled with the noise that came from their batons hitting their shields.

Such intimidation and fear tactics were used on innocent people who got together to commemorate the first anniversary of the “BERSIH” rally. A campaign championed by the Rakyat exactly a year ago believing that elections in Malaysia must be free, fair and clean. The assumption is pretty obvious; that the elections of the recent past have been wanting and lacking in sincerity, fairness and freedom.

Peace & Chaos

As I sat in the Black Maria, I remained very calm and composed. I was experiencing peace amidst chaos… and I knew somehow that this peace was none other than God’s abiding presence. I had so much courage that knew no fear, for I had done no wrong. So why should I be afraid or be intimidated by such foolish display of terror and brutality? In silence and in solitude, it was the presence of God. His promises holds true as the Psalmist sings, “Be still and know that I am God!”

I kept praying the Lord’s Prayer and kept that prayerful silence as I drew strength repeating my mantra: “Jesus, I love you”. There were shouts of protest by those detained.

No sooner, as the truck began to move, I got to know that 22 of us were arrested. I felt very comforted to know that among us were other ordinary citizens and professionals.

Phone Contact

We did not know where we were being taken. I knew from having read of experiences of past detainees that their mobiles were confiscated and thus I had to quickly inform at least a friend that I had been taken in. Just then my mobile rang and a parishioner of mine had called to ask if all was well. I said that I had been arrested.

A priest friend called and assured me not to worry, (I told him I wasn’t and that I was okay!) and that Catholic Lawyers were being contacted. My phone kept ringing henceforth. Some I could answer others I could not as I felt the need to be present to the situation.

Police Station Scenario

The truck came to a halt. And somebody from among us said that we were at section 8, PJ police station. We were kept in for a good half hour before we were asked to get out, into the assembly courtyard of the police station. The court yard was surrounded by the FRU personnel, lining on both sides as we got out.

We were instructed to move towards a makeshift stage. Seated on stage were the Selangor Police Chief Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar and two other officers. The Chief Police Officer walked down the stage and informed all of us that we were arrested under section 27 for unlawful gathering. He told us to cooperate with the police in order to record our statements.

Meanwhile, Mr Ronnie Liu, the State Assemblymen of Pandamaran, who was present at the gathering, came by, a little later after we got in the Police station to clarify matters with the CPO, but to no avail. In fact, it was there that Mr. Ronnie Liu too was arrested.

Later, by God’s grace and the efficiency of the Bar council, we were glad to have 15 lawyers who had taken so much trouble to lend assistance and give legal advice. Food and drinks were brought in thru their kindness to us, organised by the P.J. councilors…Thank God for small mercies….we were very hungry!

Police Station Vigil

It was a very long night. We weren’t sure if they were going to release us. Instructions were coming from the top. The delay tactics were quite obvious. We were asked to switch off our mobiles, but we kept them on silent mode and continued to receive and make calls.

There was a huge gathering of concerned citizens awaiting our release outside the police station. Mr Charles Santiago, the MP from Klang too managed to offer us support at the police station.

I was moved when the Chief Minister of Penang, Mr Lim Guan Eng who was speaking to Mr Tony Pua, stole a moment to offer support and strength to me asking me to offer strength to the others. A fine gesture, I should think of a God fearing politician and a good statesman. God bless you Mr. Chief Minister of Penang.

Besides him, the Archbishop Murphy Pakiam too spoke to me via the mobile of Lawyer Leonard Teoh. His Grace said, “Fr. Paulino, Be strong!” I was glad that the Archbishop was rather supportive. My mobile kept buzzing…calls and a SMSes filling up the in-box. Battery was running low.

Waiting Game

The hours were ticking away; it was close to 12.30am when the lawyers got in. By the time the police recorded our statements, some allowing the presence of lawyers, others by themselves. The inspector, who recorded my statement, was one Anis Saiful, 28 years of age. Later I received a body number – 944 – for a photograph (mug shot). I felt like a criminal. I was assigned the number to fit the face. It was close to 5 am.

We waited and waited and we waited….and finally only at about 7.30 am, we were all released (except for one, who had an outstanding arrest warrant), on police bail.

Special mention and thanks to the Catholic lawyers who kept vigil with me until the moment of my release from the police station. I wish to thank lawyers Joy Appukuttan, Mabel Sebastian, Leonard Teoh and Annou Xavier. Syabas too, to the other lawyers who stood tall for all of us.

Unacceptable Abuse

It was one long night. I felt that it was all a sheer waste of precious time and tax payers money spent on such operations carried out by the police personnel.

At the same, we can forgive the police and FRU because they were under instruction from the top, yet I speak for myself that I shall not accept the abuse of power by those who instructed them to act in this manner.

In spite of all that has taken place, I have said this to others, and I shall say this again that I was not shaken nor threatened by this intimidation but as Malaysians who believe in democracy, we shall press on with God’s strength that Justice and Truth will prevail in Malaysia.

I wish to thank all my friends, concerned citizens, priest-friends, family members, loved ones, members of the Catholic community of the Church of the Divine Mercy, good people near and far, for your continual support and presence to all the 23 of us that were arrested on the night of 9th November 2009 … a night to remember!

Note
Photograph from Malaysia Today

Season’s Greetings From The Micah Mandate

We would like to take this brief opportunity to wish everyone a very happy Chinese New Year and may God continue to bless and guide us to His truth and light in Epiphany and always.

Even as we prepare for the celebrations of the Chinese New Year, may we remember that all we have is God’s ..

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen

– A New Year’s Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition (UMH 607)

The Palestinian Tragedy: One Christian’s Response

I am a Christian. As such my response is one Christian’s response to the Palestinian tragedy. I speak for myself. I have asked no one or group permission to speak. I represent no one or group but myself.

My birth year coincided with the UN resolution which brought statehood status to Israel which unfortunately also contributed to much of the problems faced by the Palestinian people. Hence, my personal interest and concern for the Palestinian people has been over a long period of time beginning as soon as I became educationally of age.

The Palestinian tragedy encompasses tragedies of various categories and combinations.

First and foremost, the current situation in Palestine is a humanitarian tragedy with many lives lost and families separated and properties damaged and serious threats of fearful diseases. The Gaza strip is experiencing a colossal complex humanitarian emergency which requires immediate and continuing large-scale humanitarian response. Such a humanitarian response should and must be supported by all regardless of ethnic, religious or political persuasions. Humanitarian response supersedes any and every loyalty we human beings may have. There are many Christians in Palestine. But I would have responded (in speech and deed) even if there were only Muslims in Palestine. Regardless of ethnic origin, religious creed or nationality, as human beings we must respond to the sufferings of other human beings.

Humanitarian tragedies have human causes. We should be wary of blaming humanitarian tragedies merely on nature or the devil. We human beings are often to blame for the tragedies which plaque other human beings. A mixture of arbitrariness and injustice and arrogance and a good measure of ignorance combine to bring about human tragedy.

Let me illustrate with the declaration of war on Iraq. George W. Bush citing (unproven) WMD and Iraqi complicity with Al Qaeda’s attacks on USA launched a war on Iraq ending his speech with “And may God bless America”. As a Christian I was appalled and incensed by such narrow self-serving partisanship. You are about to visit a country with the state of the art weaponry and wreak havoc and calamity on its people and all you could think of is your own country? God should only bless your people but not the people you are about to bomb?

God is brought into the picture. God is on America’s side. America is blessing the rest of the world by carrying out God’s agenda. According to some sources, the American president had even claimed that God had spoken to him about invading Iraq and Afghanistan. Bringing God into unethical, unwise, and unfair decisions is religious blasphemy (not religious truth). As a Christian I don’t want any leader of any nation to hijack my religion and force God Almighty into his particular smallness of heart and mind. You want to make war do so in your own name and take responsibility for it yourself. Don’t drag God into the equation to justify your own human decision.

Israel without American backing would not have been able to do what they have been doing to the Palestinian people over so many generations. I am appalled as a believer in Jesus Christ at the fact that in giving undying support to Israel, America has the backing of so many American Christian churches and people.

I believe that many human tragedies including the Palestinian tragedy have arisen through a combination of misplaced patriotism on the one hand and mistaken religious theology on the other hand. These are deadly combinations resulting in untold hardship and misery to countless human beings.

Misplaced patriotism is the cause of wars throughout human history. It gives rise to chauvinistic arrogance and irrationality. Other people commit wrong not us. It is these other people and nations who do bad things not us. Blame the other person or people and take no responsibility for yourself or your nation. I can do no wrong and the other person can do no right.

Unquestioning Christian support for Israel is the result of weak bible knowledge resulting in bad theology. For me as a Christian the “new Israel” expounded in the New Testament of the Holy Bible is not synonymous with the political Israeli state of today. Israeli membership with the United Nations isn’t the same thing as the aspiration and intention of biblical prophecy. To believe that the belligerences of the Israeli state today is somehow sanctioned by the God of both Old & New Testaments of the Holy Bible is simply bad theology and does not represent Christian Faith and Truth. As a Christian I owe the present Israeli state no allegiance of automatic support. Like all other nations, the Israeli as well as the Palestinian states must accept their own responsibilities for whatever wrongs they have humanly committed. The good which any nation commits is to be credited in the same way as any wrong they commit is to be summarily condemned. Let no nation claim biblical status and act against the very values and principles which God commands of every human being.

Lest it should be said that as a Christian in Malaysia my views on the Palestinian issue is influenced by an Islamic-centric view, let me quote an American Christian source. In 2002, a letter was addressed to the US President from over 40 evangelical Christian leaders. (I apologize for its length but it is only fair to quote them in full.) In it, the evangelical Christian leaders wrote:

Dear Mr. President,

We write as American evangelical Christians concerned for the well-being of all the children of Abraham in the Middle East – Christian, Jewish and Muslim. We urge you to employ an even-handed policy toward Israeli and Palestinian leadership so that this bloody conflict will come to a speedy close and both peoples can live without fear and in a spirit of Shalom/Salaam.

An even-handed U.S. policy towards Israelis and Palestinians does not give a blank check to either side, nor does it bless violence by either side. An even-handed policy affirms the valid interests of Israelis and Palestinians: both states free, economically viable and secure, with normal relations between Israel and all its Arab neighbors. We commend your stated support for a Palestinian state with 1967 borders, and encourage you to move boldly forward so that the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for their own state may be realized.

We abhor and condemn the suicide bombings of the last 22 months and the failure of the Palestinian Authority in the first year of the intifada to stop the violence against Israeli citizens. We grieve over the loss of life, particularly among children, and the suffering by Israelis and Palestinians. The longer the bloodletting continues, the more difficult it will be for both sides to reconcile with each other.

We urge you to provide the leadership necessary for peacemaking in the Middle East by vigorously opposing injustice, including the continued unlawful and degrading Israeli settlement movement. The theft of Palestinian land and the destruction of Palestinian homes and fields is surely one of the major causes of the strife that has resulted in terrorism and the loss of so many Israeli and Palestinian lives. The continued Israeli military occupation that daily humiliates ordinary Palestinians is also having disastrous effects on the Israeli soul.

Mr. President, the American evangelical community is not a monolithic bloc in full and firm support of present Israeli policy. Significant numbers of American evangelicals reject the way some have distorted biblical passages as their rationale for uncritical support for every policy and action of the Israeli government instead of judging all actions – of both Israelis and Palestinians – on the basis of biblical standards of justice. The great Hebrew prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah, declared in the Old Testament that God calls all nations and all people to do justice one to another, and to protect the oppressed, the alien, the fatherless and the widow.

(Among the signatories of this letter were such recognizable names as Richard J. Mouw, Tim Dearborn, Ronald J. Sider, Leighton Ford, Steve Hayner, Luci N. Shaw, Richard Stearns, Peter Kuzmic, David Neff, Philip Yancey, a few of whom I know personally.)

The role of religious belief in the affairs of state is a given but this being the case, leaders of nations as well as religions (Christian and Muslim) must do their homework and ensure that their knowledge of their respective Holy Scriptures and the theologies based thereon must be more sound and accurate. Otherwise, their “religious” conclusions and pronouncements can only sow discord and incite divisions and inspire unending conflicts. (Chauvinistic stance and rhetoric can only make matters worse and postpone further the day of liberation. I believe that a chauvinistic stance hurts more than it benefits the Palestinian cause in the same way that a chauvinistic Israeli stance hurts even the legitimate Israeli case.)

Let us pledge our support to alleviate the undue sufferings of all human beings in West Asia. Let us pray for peace not war. Let us strive for solutions beyond our rhetoric.

(An address given at the recent C.O.M.P.L.E.T.E. (COALITION OF MALAYSIAN NGOS AGAINST PERSECUTION OF PALESTINIANS) event on January 18, 2009 in Kuala Lumpur)

Note

The following documents were distributed by the booth operated by the Council of Churches of Malaysia Youth Committee and Friends in Conversation during the COMPLETE event on January 18 2009 :

Musalaha Update: The Conflict In Gaza

To both Israelis and Palestinians, the current conflict in Gaza has brought nothing but pain and suffering. It has also caused friction among some believers as they choose to pledge sole allegiance to their own people group. Some are even expressing an unabashed hatred for the other side through articles, e-mails and graphic content on Facebook.

From the Israeli point of view they pulled out of the Gaza Strip in the name of peace and an Islamic regime took over. Israel’s justification for going to war was to protect its citizens against Hamas launching rockets on the communities in the Negev. Soldiers continue to mobilize along the Gaza border as they prepare to defend their people and country against terror. They claim that others would have acted more quickly and aggressively. Their reasoning is that it is necessary to attack now before Hamas has longer-range missiles.

The Palestinians claim that though Israel left the Gaza Strip in 2006, the army is still controlling the borders making it the biggest open-air prison in the world. In the last 18-months, 1.5 million Palestinians have been under siege and were prevented from receiving sufficient water, medical aid and food supply. For the Palestinians, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza was just an excuse to expand their control in the West Bank and build further settlements. The Palestinians also believe they have a right to self-defense. For them, the Israeli reaction is disproportionate. The number of Israelis killed cannot be compared to the hundreds of Palestinians killed.

Each player in the conflict places the full responsibility of the cycle of violence on the other side. There is a general unwillingness to enter into peace talks on ideological or political grounds. For example, Israel will say Hamas is an ideological religious organization that doesn’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Palestinians, on the other hand, say the Palestinian Authority has entered into concessions and nothing substantial has evolved; all that increased were settlements and checkpoints.

So, what is our role as believers in this situation? How can we be a model of Messiah as we move forward in the reconciliation process? Are we too busy challenging the moral and ethical position of the other side that we are unwilling to take responsibility? Because our societies have chosen war and violence, there is a great need for reconciliation. We can accomplish this through taking on a priestly role of intercessor and prophetic role of speaking the truth.

While the conflict has divided some believers, there are those taking a stand and fulfilling their priestly role. I was greatly encouraged last week to hear a Messianic pastor lead his congregation in a prayer of repentance, especially emphasizing that in a time of war, repentance is necessary from both the Israelis and the Palestinians. We must begin by examining our own sins, failures and shortcomings and seek God’s forgiveness and direction.

Applying Joel 2, he read,

“Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (Joel 2:12-13).

God desires us to grieve from within and turn our hearts back towards him. As we as believers intercede on behalf of the people in our societies we need to invoke the nature of God and beg for his mercy and compassion to fall upon us because we have sinned before him. We must also cry out for God’s mercy and compassion to fall upon the other side.

In time of war we are also called to take on a prophetic role. The prophet was a representative of God who brought a message primarily to effect social change. The prophet spoke the truth and reminded us to care for the widow, orphan and stranger. When speaking the prophetic word, we need to be blunt without any hidden messages, and we need to have the courage to speak out when our people are wrong. In the prophetic role we are reminded that we must not only speak out against the injustice which has been committed against our own people, but also against others. We have a duty to speak out against the misuse of power and the blood of the innocent shed whether it is Israeli or Palestinian.

The world views war as war. Some will say, “in war the innocent also die and we cannot help it.” My son was greatly distressed when his friend told him exactly this. I shared with him that in war we need to speak up for the innocent. We cannot justify the act of killing innocent people and say it was in self-defense. Yet, we cannot justify killing someone with a weapon just because they’re holding a weapon. Even killing in war for self-defense should be taken with caution and reverence. The enemy carrying the weapon is also a person who has also been created in the image of God. Especially in a time of war we need to speak louder and clearer against the misuse of power by our governments and their justification of power and violence. War doesn’t mean giving a free hand without any moral and ethical boundaries and limitations.

So, while we are in the midst of war, we need to honestly seek the will of God and be discerning. We must become intercessors for our nation, our leaders and the other side and ask God to pour out his mercy and compassion. We must also become the prophet and convey that message of injustice happening in our societies. We need to attempt to relieve the pain of the innocent even if we feel our side’s reasoning for war is justified. Instead of pointing the finger, let us look within ourselves and repent. Then let us look at the other side with compassion and love, with a love that transcends societal boundaries, rocket fire and airstrikes.

Salim J. Munayer, Ph.D.
Musalaha    •    مصالحة    •    מוסאלחה
www.musalaha.org

Be S.M.A.R.T. in 2009

If somehow 2008 has not been quite manageable to some of you just as it was for me, maybe I should share something with you that just came into my inbox:

Start your new year S.M.A.R.T.

“The righteous keep moving forward…and…become stronger.” Job 17:9 NLT

Whoever said, “Procrastination is the thief of time,” was right. We keep postponing, promising ourselves we’ll do better. Be honest, how many of last year’s resolutions did you keep? This year do things differently. Make your goals S.M.A.R.T. In other words, make them:

(S)pecific: Get up 20 minutes earlier in order to read your Bible and pray before going to work. Not work past 7:00 so you can be with your family. Exercise for 25 minutes a day. Take care of your body; it’s God’s temple (See 1 Cor 6:19-20).

(M)oderate: tackling more than one project at a time dilutes your focus and makes it harder to stick with. When you start too much you finish too little. Start small and build on your successes by mastering and maintaining one thing at a time.

(A)chievable: don’t try to swallow the whole elephant in one bite. Baby steps are the name of the game. Paul said, “One thing I do” (Philp 3:13 NKJV). Talk in terms of what you will do instead of what you won’t. For example, instead of saying, “I’m not going to be so critical,” say, “Today I’m going to look for something good in everybody I meet” (See Philp 4:8).

(R)ecordable: You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Documenting your progress (or lack of it!) makes you accountable, shows how far you’ve come and what you need to work on.

(T)ime-specific: review your goals weekly (or daily if you’re struggling). That way you can troubleshoot early, and change direction when necessary. The Bible says, “Throw yourself into your tasks so…everyone will see your progress” (1 Tim 4:15 NLT). Come on, make up your mind, get up off the couch and go for it!

God bless.

Thanksgiving

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all his people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

(Ephesians 1:15-23)

We have come to the end of yet another long and stressful year. Despite the indominable optimist that I am, come 2009, I dare say we will all slide into a recession that the world has not seen for a long, long time. For some of us, it would be our first experience of recession together with all the sufferings that come along with it. Yet Paul, tells us in his Epistle to the believers in Ephesus, there are enough reasons for us to give thanks despite the impending gloom.

Ephesus in Paul’s time was a thriving trading hub in the ancient world much like what New York, London, or Shanghai is today. Without a doubt, the economy then would have had its fair share of the pendulum swinging between gloom and boom. If there was a booming economy at the time of writing his letter to the Ephesian believers, there is no evidence he was giving thanks because of the prosperity. Conversely, if there was a recession, he was still filled with thanksgiving in spite of it. So in good times or bad, Paul found enough reasons to give thanks.

1: 15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 1: 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

Theirs was a faith that was recession as well as inflation proof. Thank God such measure of faith still survives today and in our midst. Think of the suffering church. Orissa, in some African countries and even some nearer to us. That their faith survives against the odds will surely prompt us to, like Paul, be in an attitude of thanksgiving and remembering our brethren in prayer that they and us also, will know God better; see hope clearly; live in resurrection power of Jesus; and acknowledge Christ as Lord.

Like the believers in ancient Ephesus, we live in the shadows of false gods of greed, deceit, indifference, hatred, violence, selfishness, and much more. In contrast, we are called to live differently; to act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with God and man. So when we look around we are gratified that faith is alive and well in our world.

But, like Paul, we cannot stop with being thankful for hearing about faith, we must continue to support that faith and the faithful with our prayers .

Thank God faith is alive. But continue to pray that we will all know God better, see hope clearly, live in the resurrection power, and acknowledge Christ as Lord of all. That’s a thanksgiving prayer we can all pray. Yes, we will live through 2009 by His grace.

Christmas Need Not Have To Be A Paradox

Each year the world splashes billions upon billions on Christmas shopping and binging yet on Christmas Day itself, just as on any ordinary day, 25,000 will die of hunger or a related cause. By the time you finish reading the next sentence, another person or two would have died because of hunger or poverty. Unfortunately, as the United Nations World Food Program points out, it is children who die most often.

Almost all of the deaths from this can be prevented. It really takes very little to stop the crisis. In fact, if only rich countries would contribute less than one percent of their annual income, or 0.7 percent to be exact, these deaths can be averted.

Why the 0.7 percent? Well, according to a simple yet ambitious global plan called the UN Millennium Project launched in September 2000, it takes just US$195 billion a year to fix the problem. So in March 2002 a group of 22 of the world’s wealthiest countries agreed that each of them would give 0.7 per cent of their national income to the poorest countries to combat the plague. This means that these countries need to donate just 70 cents out of each US$100 they earned.

Five countries were quick to meet the 0.7 percent goal: Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweded. Others pledged to do so within specified dates while others still were reluctant to even set a target date for their contributions.

Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United States were the most reluctant to make their commitments. Japan and the U.S. are the smallest donors, falling far short of the 0.7 percent target. Yet last year alone Christmas spending in the U.S. amounted to an estimated US$474.5 billion. Because of the financial meltdown in Wall Street and the current recession, Christmas spending in the U.S. this year is expected to drop by half. But even then, there’s still plenty left to meet the 0.7 percent aid amount as prescribed by the UN Millennnium Project to prevent unnecessary deaths due to hunger or disease.

The reason for setting up the Millennium Project by rich countries is because efforts by international relief and aid agencies and individual country initiatives are not enough to solve the crisis.

Poverty deprives. And we need not even have to look far to see this. For instance, in Myanmar it will take many, many years for the cyclone survivors to recover what they have lost. People can continue to live with a bare minimum but access to safe water supply is still crucial for survival. The world’s most prolific killer is diarrhoeal disease. Father Christmas won’t be there or near anywhere where death stalks the living dead.

But many others, mostly international aid agencies, are again playing Santa quietly. You and I can make the difference between the living and the dead by joining them by cutting back a bit of our Christmas shopping this year and donating it to relief efforts. There are many agencies to choose from.

One of them is a local NGO, World Outreach Malaysia. It has responded by providing a simple device called “LifeStraw” to ensure that the Myanmar Cyclone victims have access to clean drinking water.

The aptly-named LifeStraw is a personal, low-cost water purification tool that transforms contaminated water into safe drinking water and reduces the risk of diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases. The small hand-carried patented device, no bigger than a small bicycle pump, requires no electrical power, batteries or spare parts and can easily be mass-distributed in areas where drinking water is polluted. It has a life time of 700 litres, or about one year of water consumption for one person. (Please visit www.wointl.com for details).

LifeStraw can be your one-off gift as it is easily affordable at only RM60.00 each. Your contribution by cheque should be made payable to “World Outreach (M) Berhad” and designated on the reverse side “LifeStraw Project” and sent to

P. O. Box 8541
Kelana Jaya
46792 Petaling Jaya

Sixty bucks, that’s all it takes to save a life. You can get to play Santa Claus too. Christmas need not have to be a paradox. The living need not have to die because of hunger or a related cause.

(Jesus said) “For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.” (Matthew 25:42,45 Holy Bible New Living Translation).

Guests of Grace : Creating Kingdom Revolutionaries

I’ve been privileged to play a small part in the Nepalese Migrant Ministry my church runs. This year I’ve been inspired by what I’ve seen: in their worship, their service, their enthusiasm, their hard work, their communal sharing. Also, I’ve been touched by their giving back to those who’ve blessed them.

Their example cries out to be emulated by other migrant groups in the country.

It hardly needs to be said, but if you’re a migrant worker then you’re an alien in a strange land. This isn’t merely a geo-national fact, it’s also a sociological problem (which Malaysia has of late elevated into an international human rights issue).

You probably don’t speak the national languages very well. You do the jobs the locals don’t want. Because you can’t communicate too good, your learning sputters along. Because your CV will hardly be top-notch (unlike that other kind of ‘migrant-worker’, the expatriate), your future isn’t exactly a shining star.

And you’re far from home. Christmas, under these circumstances, may not feel very Christmas-sy.

This is why the Christmas story, for the migrant worker, may need to be heard (by both migrant and ‘native’) for the hopeful-revolutionary potential it possesses.

Jesus was a heavenly baby of light sent down to embrace, redeem and heal those who would linger in the darkness. To those who didn’t recognise nor receive Him, He was an alien – in a hostile land, sent to be a bringer of hope. We need to inspire our migrant-worker friends to also be hope-healers and peace-makers in this alien-land of Malaysia.

Jesus, like a migrant/exile, was far away from His true home (where His loved ones awaited). We must remind our homesick friends about this!

If, in quiet and kind ways, they consciously seek the welfare cum shalom of the city they live in, migrant workers could start off a sublime coup d’etat of grace. Via hard but creative work, they can be living reminders cum symbols to the locals of the need to embody hope, heal relationships, to forgive. This message can potentially and gradually reverse the sense of under-privileged-ness and hopeless in their hearts, even as it challenges the locals (us!) to ‘see’ them less as “people who need our help” but as “people who, with our help, can heal the nation in a fresh way”.

I recall Tom Hanks’ character in the Steven Spielberg movie, Terminal, an exile in an international airport, bringing new joy and new looks to the people and property. Here was a stranger who sweetened his surroundings. There are many more strangers who could do the same for our country.

This revolution can start (and is probably starting) in the migrant churches we find sprinkled around the cities. The critical thing to do now is to continually remind them of their role as ‘revolutionary exiles’ and equip them with whatever resources they need (spiritual guidance, personal development tools, education, etc.)

We need to help them start a gentle bonfire which they can keep on burning so the country is warmed. The Malaysian community could be enriched and blessed from this most unlikely source. That would be a good Jesus-jab to the powers that be. (It’s also not an unprecedented occurrence, as last year’s news of migrant workers in rural Scotland reports).