I’m glad to finally manage to give my contribution on the theme of citizenship for the Micah Mandate here. I pretty much penned down this piece in once breath, with some pauses here and there 🙂 Straight from the heart .
* * *
On September 16, I decided to fly the Malaysian Flag. To be more precise, I used the one coloured by my 3 year old plus daughter and displayed it on my car. So much has been happening since the March 8th General elections, and in the light of more recent events of the use of ISA to detain citizens of Malaysia without trial, some have quietly advised me to stock up some food at home, there’s also a loud silence in the Christian community with the exception of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters which disturbs me.
Do we stock up and shut up? How can we ordinary citizens respond? What can the Church as an instrument of justice and peace do?
Some would choose to break out of their comfort zones stepping into the streets, and stand in solidarity with fellow Malaysians through the emergence of numerous peaceful candlelight vigils like the “Remember September 13” event at Bukit Aman organized by Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA (GMI). I know of one denomination leader who participated in the candlelight vigil organized by the Democratic Action Party (DAP) at their headquarters. Some might criticize such an action as aligning oneself with a political party. Personally, I am proud of this leader who was willing to show his solidarity with the ISA detainees and was not so much thinking of political alliance. Let’s face it, we do not have the luxury of time to debate which event we can or cannot join, by the time we finish our theoretical ramblings, we would have done nothing.
I chose to go to the Malaysia Day Celebrations at the Kelana Jaya Stadium. There were many Christians who sat and stood with fellow Malaysians of all races and religions. Church members told me how singing the “Negaraku” at the closing brought tears to their eyes. One of them shared how a fellow Malaysian standing next to him told him that this is the first time the national anthem meant to much to him until he could not hold back the raw emotions. This is where the Church as a sign, foretaste and instrument of the reign of God, or another way of putting it the people of the way of Jesus, identifies in concrete ways with the concerns of our neighbours. We need no doubt to be on guard against uncritical patriotism, or blind allegiance to any form of ideology, but the fact God became flesh and lived amongst us, as his body on earth, we live amongst the social realities as well.
Besides the various expressions on the streets and in the stadium, quietly but surely there was the contribution of the Church calling people back to in the words of Father O.C. Lim, “the power of prayer and silent witnessing”. The worship sanctuary which for many could have been a place of escape from all the troubles of the world, is now transformed into a space where the “worldly” concerns are humbly and silently brought before God.
“Our country enters the phase of naked display of aggression. When a regime is morally bankrupt it will use immoral means to hold on to power. We might be weak but we still have the power of prayer & silent witnessing. . The unjust may break our bones but they can’t break our spirit. " – Father O.C. Lim
As a pastor I felt inspired by the words of Father O.C. Lim, that we can play a role in guiding fellow Christ-followers to integrate spirituality with social engagement. Thus, our church decided to organize a prayer vigil on September 16 evening to open up another avenue for us to express our concerns and even protests in a peaceful (non-violent), purposeful, and prayerful manner.
The prayer vigil was nothing fancy, there was no hype no hysteria. There was only an honest, humble and hopeful posture before God, and one another for the sake our ourselves, our children, our neighbors, our friends and our future!
Our coming together for prayer though might have been sparked off first by the string of recent developments especially the latest arrests under the ISA, but we gathered also for more long term and deeper reasons , that is,
- to remember all those who have contributed with their sweat, tears and even their blood to the formation of this space we call home, and our identity as Malaysians.
- to remember the highs and lows as well as achievements and setbacks of our common historical pilgrimage together.
- to remember the past with honesty and humility and look forward to the future with hope.
- to remember the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the forgotten as well as those who have been laboring hard in showing them concern and advocating for them and with them thus far.
- to remember those who are in authority and bear the responsibility to ensure institutional instruments are functioning rightly guided by the constitutional framework.
- to remember the last, the least and the lost.
- to remember our creator, liberator, and life-giver who is the true author and director of history, giving thanks for the privilege we have a role to play and participate in the unfolding of each page, and renewing our commitment to walk humbly before God in our speech, thoughts, relationships, and every human activity. This is a timely reminder we responding to his grace towards us, are stewards (not rulers who abuse and exploit) who faithfully manage the gifts showered upon all of us by the almighty.
During a segment of the prayer vigil, we gathered in a circle to share one word which was occupying our minds. Justice, Trust, Hope, Anxious, Faith, Shadows, Light ..
We sang a song from Taize which captures the desires of our hearts, and aligns us beyond the urgent and the immediate.
The Kingdom of God is Justice and Peace,
And Joy in the Holy Spirit
Come Lord, and Open in us the gates of your kingdom.
We heard from the words of Jesus from Matthew 5:3-12:
3"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
After mutual sharing of reflections on recent events and meditations from the Scriptures, we prayed together a prayer published in the Herald before closing with the Lord’s Prayer and a Benediction.
A prayer for our nation
Let us proclaim the name of the Lord;
And ascribe greatness to our God!
Lord your work is perfect.
And all your ways are just.
Let Your voice be heard today
by all the nations!
O God, Judge of the nations,
Put fear into our hearts
So that we may know that we are only human.
Father, the whole of creation
groans and labours
to be delivered from the bondage of corruption,
into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Lord Jesus, send forth Your Spirit of Truth and let this Spirit prove to ‘the powers that be’ how wrong they are about sin, righteousness and judgement.
O Lord, declare the power of your works to Your peoples and let us be filled with the knowledge of Your glory as the waters cover the sea.
Gather us O Lord in Your name and may all worship the One True God. Amen.
(A prayer composed from various Scripture verses of the Bible)
I believe we need a multifaceted approach to the problems and challenges before us in these “crazy times”. I’ve grown to appreciate the prophetic dimension of God’s calling upon us as a Church through individuals and even institutions. I believe all of us can play a role as voices for justice and instruments of peace. I do not think this is the time for fragmented actions draining our energies from a more integrated efforts. We need to value every single effort by every person.
And we must not underestimate “the power of prayer and silent witnessing”, as an important contribution to participate in what God is doing in the world. As people of faith, we trust that God is moving way before we even decided to do anything. We are discerning how we can join Him, more than getting Him to join our causes. At it’s best, prayer is not a means to escape the troubles of this world, it’s a way to engage the world with our total being before our creator, liberator, and life-giver! Authentic prayer energizes us while clarifying our cluttered feelings and thoughts, so that we can discern the will of God, and act in faith accordingly and humbly.
With the help of church member, we managed to set up a “virtual” Prayer Wall after the prayer vigil, signifying the prayer does not end when the doors of the church is closed and the last candle is blown out. Our prayers and actions continues and more can join in, even if it means for a start, to say a little prayer.
* * *