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"People call me Pastor when they see me"
"Beep!" On the court, a group of young and vigorous teenagers tried their best to chase a basketball!
The 18th Perlis "Praise Cup" basketball tournament officially kicked off! It was also the 18th consecutive year that Kaki Bukit Praise Centre (Church) HISTEAM 7979 Care Station had organized a secondary school basketball tournament in the community.
Pastor Lam shared: "The Church wanted to reach out to the teenagers. Apart from the fellowship meetings, we would personally get into the basketball court and played with them." Other than the "Praise Cup", they have Sunday School and tuition classes for the children, and “Praise Dance” for the adult. These community’s activities had introduced the church to 10 Chinese new villages in Perlis. During the festival, the church would hold celebration gatherings and celebrated with the villagers. Pastor Lam has always see "the Church as a member of the community" as ultimate goal, and through these community activities, he has integrated the church into the community.
Perlis state is located at the most northern part of West Malaysia and is the smallest state in Malaysia. Perlis, a state with only 10 Chinese new villages is a place full of rural customs, its’ people live a simple lifestyle in wooden houses that build side by side within a close-knit neighborhood. "People call me Pastor when they see me," Pastor Lam said. The church is accepted in the village. Besides from community activities held by the church, when someone passed away in the village, the Pastor would attend the funeral and consoled the bereaved family too.
Go the extra mile to help others
In 2018, the church set up HISTEAM 7979 Care Station to provide care and practical resources to help those in need in rural areas. Regarding the long-term assistance to under privilege families, Pastor Lam said, “There are many reasons for poverty. If it is caused by bad habits, there is nothing we can do but to guide them to a new life.” While assisting these families, the church also teaches them Biblical values of life and shares the Gospel with them.
In the past, the church was very active in the community and had a good relationship with the neighbors, but it was still difficult to develop closer relationship with them. Since the beginning of the Community Care Ministry, the church began to visit every household in the community. "Over the past four years, the church had reached out to and assisted 20 Manna Food Bank cases. We spent at least one year to assist each family”, shared by Sis. Yang Bi Ling (Pastor Lam’s wife). These families were not starving, but they were still poor, and with the aid of Manna Food Bags they were able to save at least a little money on food.
"I feel very peaceful, thank you for coming!" Whenever the aid recipient expressed gratitude and felt peaceful, Pastor Lam’s wife felt comforted and happy. Besides that, there is a grandma who always prepared tea for Pastor Lam and his wife whenever they visited her, she also prepared fruit as a return gift, her actions really encouraged them. In our ministry journey, there are many incidents where things would "just happened to be." When the foreign bride child's milk powder was about to finish, Pastor Lam’s wife "just happened " to deliver the Manna Food Bag to them; Another family was about to run out of diapers, and again Pastor Lam’s wife "just happened" to drop by to deliver the Manna Food Bag to them. The supplies that were delivered “just in time” again and again, were actually all deliberate and proactive care.
"When we hold community events, people come to the church; But when we deliver household supplies (Manna Food Bag), we are the ones who go to the people, "shared Pastor Lam. When compare with community activities, community care is more like going the extra mile to help people; although we may not get any feedback, but at least they are willing to open their house’s door.
There is no hard work when there is a calling
On ordinary days, there were very few young adults in the community, reflecting a common rural phenomenon - the exodus of young people. "The church is mostly filled with old people, teenagers and children, as for the young adult they choose to leave the village." When the young adults left the village for further study, most of them chose to remain where they are for further development. The site of Pastor and his wife’s figures moving from house to house was like the epitome of the countryside.
"Pastoring a village church is like a farmer planting and harvesting crops every year and giving them away at the end. Urban churches are like factories that need to manage the harvested crops." Pastor Lam shared his feelings of 30 years’ service in Perlis, and finally said with a smile, "There is no hard work when there is a calling."
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The Penampang branch of Basel Christian Church of Malaysia (Panampang Church), which celebrated its 44th anniversary is located at Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of Sabah. Since 2008, the church started its “Agape” ministry to care for the poor in their community.
In 2019, the church set up 7979 Holistic Care Station to enable their volunteers to receive proper training. Meanwhile, through systematic caring strategies and 7979 Family Crisis Intervention program, the church could be more involved in providing holistic care to the poor. The following year, the church set up “Dream Centre”, with the intentions to increase the efficiency of all the community projects under their wings, so that they are able to reach out to more people outside the church, hoping that they’ll not be too defensive whenever they hear the word “church”. During the initial stage of Dream Centre, it already encountered a massive challenge – the “Pandemic”. The volunteers were kept busy with disaster response, bread and vegetables deliveries, setting up of quarantine house and COVID-19 Self-test Kit deliveries. The impact of Dream Centre was extensive to the extent that they received SOS calls from Peninsular Malaysia.
They are not hungry for food
but for hope
Year 2020, amidst the pandemic, 7979 Manna Food Bank program reached Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, the distribution point happened to be Dream Centre. Two years later, Kota Kinabalu of Sabah became the distribution point with the highest number of Manna Food Bank’s aid recipients; there were 116 cases for Penampang Church alone. The number of volunteers had been increasing, together with the number of cases. At present, there are 66 trained volunteers. Esther, a volunteer shared, “7979 programs have clear direction in terms of providing systematic care to the aid recipients, it teaches us what is holistic care.” The church wanted to provide genuine quality holistic care services to the aid recipients rather than putting emphasis on quantity, so that they would recover and get back on track, instead of living on charity handout or financial aid. Henceforth, the scopes they cover are living environment, children’s educations, job engagements, families’ relationships, physical health, soul and spiritual cares. This is the church initial intention, hoping to bring gospel to their midst, and leading them to Abba Father.
Although food had been delivered to the aid recipients, Esther felt that they are still hungry, “They are hungry not because of no food, but they are hungry for hope, they have yet to experience solid love. There is not much we can give, and our giving is of more superficial. However, you may notice that once God’s ‘present’ is felt in a family, then the contented feeling will flow out naturally. Although lives still remain the same, but they are fill with joy.” This is the motivation factor that drives many volunteers to strive forward.
A Beautiful Picture
When we talked about the journey of ministering, Esther shared that after each encounter with the needy, her emotion will become so overwhelmed and she ended up crying to God, “What should I do? You brought all these needy to me, what should I do?” She expressed, providing a holistic care and continue follow ups with a family is not an easy task, we need to spend a lot of effort and time. As a volunteer, we need to handle our emotions carefully to prevent emotional breakdown. Actually, this kind of caring work is more suitable for a full time worker to perform. “If we intend to truly walk into a family, then there will be many areas for us to intervene and assist, as the scope is very wide.” Sometimes, the aid recipients would contact the volunteer at different times, such incidents would require a full-time worker to follow up.
“We have a wonderful team”, Esther shared, sometimes it may seem like she is out alone at the frontline in contact with the aid recipient, but that is not the real picture, actually there are different volunteers handling each area when comes to helping an aid recipient. Whenever, a volunteer felt incompetent to do the task, another volunteer will come in to help. “You will soon find out, when you are willing, many people will be drawn to get themselves involve. This is truly a beautiful sight.”
The Transformation of Church’s culture
Penampang Church’s atmosphere is gradually changing as the church becoming more and more involve with under privilege families. When those aid recipients accepted Christ and join the church, the church members would come in contact with and become acquaintance with people who are of different background.
There was an incident, where a youth in our church who had never come across with a person of under privilege background, got to know a poor little boy, he was thinking of paying them a visit with a gift. After much thoughts, he decided to buy two cups of bubble milk tea and KFC for the boy’s family. One part of their conversation had brought tears to the youth:
“I am very thankful that Penampang Church are willing to accept and care for these children and families who are very different from them.” Esther shared. The church environment that is too comfortable, had brought a complacent attitude to the church and it loses its vitality. With the joining of under privilege families, they are learning to be hospitable; as for the children, it’ll be a good opportunity for them to learn to appreciate what they have and living a simple lifestyle.
“In the past, when we had mission trip at other places, Sabah’s local needs always came to our mind, there are plenty of needs here that needed us to work on. We should deal with the needs here first, before we move on to help people at other places.” Expressed Hannah, the Volunteer Manager. Furthermore, when the church is involves in social concern, the influence and changes that come along gradually become the church culture.
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Heavy downpour continuously for few days, Grandma Hua’s (pseudonym) house was again drenched by rain water. The living hall’s wall which was built out of thin wooden plank collapsed one year ago due to lack of maintenance, it was then replaced with a sheet of canvas. Since then, Grandma Hua’ s house will surely be affected in every downpour.
One day, a volunteer came to deliver some bread to Grandma Hua, they were surprised to see that there was no wall.
“Grandma, how long has this wall collapsed?” A volunteer asked.
“It had been a long time already…” Grandma answered with a smile.
“Why didn’t you inform me about this?” the volunteer asked with a hint of heartache.
“Oh! It’s nothing.” Grandma Hua still answered with a smile.
The volunteer didn’t waste any time, she contacted her team immediately upon returning. They brought few sheets of Zink sheet over to Grandma Hua’s house on that day itself, preparing to reconstruct a wall for Grandma Hua’s house two days later.
Grandma Hua is 69 of age, the smile she carries with her is her best cosmetic. She married Grandpa Zhang (pseudonym) at the age of 18, now she is taking care of her grandchild who was left behind by her deceased son. The three of them living in a wooden water house. Although the wooden house is not spacious, 3 of them living together with a lot of stuff and never felt lacking in anything.
Grandpa Zhang was a fisherman; he used to wake up at 5 am to go out to the sea to fish. He would be back around 3pm, Grandma Hua would wait for Grandpa Zhang return and together they will go to market to sell their catch of the day. The income received from the sale of their catch was sufficient for them, however as Grandpa Zhang getting older by the day, fishing had turned out to be a job that was too tough for him, coincide with year 2020 MCO, he decided to quit fishing and thus lost their income source.
Living on monthly meager monetary supports from their married children living outside, and some government subsidies for the elderly, it was merely sufficient for the three of them who live simple lifestyle. When Grandpa Zhang’s relatives came to know of their condition, and they happened to be the church member of Malaysia Basel Church Penampang branch which has 7979 Holistic Care Station, they requested the church to send volunteers to visit and care for Grandpa Zhang’s family.
Not long after that, Esther, a volunteer contacted Grandma Hua for permission to visit them. “I have not seen a living environment which is worse than this.” This was Esther’s first impression when she stepped into Grandma Hua’s house for the first time, she was shocked by what appeared before her eyes. From then on, the church started to care for Grandma Hua and her family through 7979 Manna Food Bank program.
Grandma Hua is very cute, even though at the age of close to 70, she still catches up with the latest news by following on Facebook. Hence, she became friend to Esther in Facebook. Whenever she sees Esther is out in the rain, she would call Esther to hurry her to get home. Occasionally, when people gave some fresh fish to Grandpa Zhang’s family, they would immediately call Esther and request her to go over to their house to pick up the fish. “We wanted them to be happy and don’t feel offended, so we’ll take whenever they are willing to give.” Esther also shared that, it is a joy for being able to share.
In July, 2022, when Esther delivered some bread to Grandma Hua and discovered that their house’s wall had collapsed, she shared: “My heart was aching badly, if I just got to know them, maybe I would not felt so strongly; but now whenever it is raining, I’ll be worried sick for them.” She added, on the length of time she spent with each aid recipients, it will determine how strong her feeling towards them. As for Grandma Hua and her family, Esther cares for them like her own family.
Not long ago, Esther found out that Grandma Hua’s birthday was approaching, she bought a bouquet of flower, KFC and a cake secretly and headed to their house. Upon reaching there, Esther demanded RM1 from Grandpa Zhang, as a symbolic meaning that the flowers were given by Grandpa Zhang to his wife, after much searching and digging, he only managed to come out with 20cents, he said: “No RM1, is 20 cents ok?” Esther took the money and passed the bouquet to Grandpa Zhang and said: “Make sure you kiss Grandma Hua …” “Catcha!” When the precious moment was captured, everyone in the house bursts into cheerful laughter. Later, when Esther shared the pictures with Grandpa Zhang’s relatives, they feedback that “they have never celebrated their birthdays before …”
Grandpa Zhang and Grandma Hua being able to live a simple life together up to their old age and remain loving is precious. Sometimes, even the wealthy could not enjoy this kind of love. “Of course we still quarrel, but we forget easily and do not keep it in our hearts.” This was what Grandpa Zhang told us. The relationship between individuals should base more on giving rather than taking.
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Roller Coaster speed up as it moves down
Uncle Yong and Aunty Chen used to operate school’s canteen, they were hard workers and serious in earning their living, they were not wealthy neither lacking. Uncle Yong and his wife have 5 above 60 years old elderlies under their care, they are their parents, an uncle and a 92 years old grandmother, and they also have 2 children who are still schooling. Every day, uncle Yong’s parents and his uncle have to wake up before day light to sell beverage in their central wet market, everyone in the family played their own role and live harmoniously and happily.
When our government declared MCO, another of his uncle who lived in Brunei moved back to stay with them. During that time, everyone had no income, Uncle Yong’s burden were getting heavier with the increase of living expenses. In the end, they started from delivering bread to receiving Manna Food Bags as aid recipient. They had experienced the joy of delivering breads to others, but when they were at their lowest points, their hearts were comforted when they received the Manna Food Bag instead. Malaysia Christian Basel Penampang branch 7979 Holistic Care Station had built close ties with Uncle Yong and his family by giving regular care and encouragement.
On one afternoon, when the sun was shining bright, the volunteer had a talk with Aunty Chen in the car. “Our lives are already very difficult, furthermore we have 5 elderlies and 2 children …” Aunty Chen poured out all her worries, she was worried that Uncle Yong would lost interest very quickly while using up all their savings, life would get worse. The volunteer shared her thoughts after they prayed over the issue: “If God allows, then you will not be able to stop it. Things will go on smoothly, and the outcome can be out of our expectations.” Thereafter, Aunty Chen’s heart was comforted, and she agreed with Uncle Yong.
Roller Coaster Climbing Up Slowly
Uncle Yong encountered many challenges in the progress of setting up the coffee shop business, it was not an all smooth sailing. However, God’s blessing is unstoppable, whenever need arises, there would surely someone there who would offered to help, just like the incident where Uncle Yong worried about the startup capital, then one church member was willing to contribute for investment purpose.
Looking back at one particular incident when it was close to opening, where Uncle Yong was worried and troubled over the deteriorating condition of a very expensive roast duck oven. However, they chose to believe that the God who had brought them through all their lowest points will bless them once again. Aunty Chen told Uncle Yong: “You will in-charge of searching for our new oven, I’ll in charge of praying.” Very soon, somebody sold an unbelievable low price roast duck oven to them. On another occasion, when the business was bad due to pandemic, many of their workers left, that left Uncle Yong and his wife to handle everything. When the church heard that, and so coincidentally there was one public holiday during that period of time, the church brothers and sisters went to the shop to help up by taking and delivering orders. Uncle Yong and his wife were so moved by their deeds. Later, an orphanage in that community closed down, a youngster from the centre had no way to go, he ended up working at the coffee shop.
At present, Uncle Yong and his family slowly catching up to their previous days, his parents were also back to the Central Wet Market to sell beverage. “Just like the roller coaster rides, it goes up and down, it seems like dangerous, but God is just like the rail track that hold us firmly, preventing us from falling …” When we talked about the lowest point of their lives, Aunty Chen expressed that although running the business was difficult but with God’s blessing and caring from church’s members, she still felt very thankful, and thus named the coffee shop “Happiness”.
Holding on to each other, Uncle Yong and Aunty Chen weathered the storms and received the blessings of God, they have grown closer and became more harmonious with each other. Meanwhile, Aunty Chen also insisted to bring their children to church, their daughter had slowly turn from a rebellious teen to a teen who is close to her parents, she shared everything with them, in return gaining trust from her parents.
The Roller Coaster Moved Slowly
On one early morning, Happiness Coffee Shop ….
“This is a large poor community, we have to cook 200 packed meals!”
“Good! The yellow noodles that we ordered is on the way, I’ll pick it up ….. and also eggs.”
“Please tidy up the table outside, we are going to pack the food on it.”
“Who can buy soya sauce, we need it for the fried noodles?”
The conversations went back and forth as the volunteers busied themselves at Uncle Yong’s coffee shop. Happiness Coffee Shop was the business that Uncle Yong took over earlier, now it had become the community hot spot that spread out Happiness to every needy family.
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Today, I read a shocking story of a father who led his three children to suicide which resulted in 3 deaths and 1 survived with serious injury.
This incident happened in KL, a male Burmese refugee led his three children to jump from an overhead bridge which resulted in 3 deaths and 1 survived with serious injury.
At the news comment column, some netizen wrote: “The father was not being cruel, he was just worried that once he is not around, the children livelihood will be in jeopardy, the only choice he left with was to bring the children with him.”, “There is no father who doesn’t love his children, we can only say that he has been cornered by life!”. Some people also said: “He should persevere no matter how difficult it was.”; all these comments stirred up more responds from the netizens: “When life is really difficult, you’ll not be able to utter such words. Nobody is able to experience what others felt if they have not yet experience it first hand.”
This incident really struck my heart. Me as a father to a child, I can’t imagine what kind of mental turmoil or struggle the father had experienced before he takes such action. The cause of this incident is still under investigation, but this family tragedy already happened in our society.
Maybe, they didn’t have 3 meals lay out on the table, or his SOS’s call was not answered, after losing face and exhausted all his energy, he hits the bottom and became totally devastated when he faced our ruthless society (i.e. people). The worst scenario would be that he was being cheated and exploited by heartless bandits, thus failed to live up to the honor of a father’s dignity.
If the problems that he had been struggling with can be solved by money, then our society need to be more merciful; if the issues cannot be resolved by money, then we need a higher justice.
I hope people who resides on this land, especially churches who are known as children of our Father in heaven, the least we can do is not being absent in matters regarding mercy, but a better alternative is we can be more proactively involve, in issues regarding foreign labor and refugees to display the grace of hospitability. In Deuteronomy 24:14-22, where God instructed us:
Why in verse 18-22, God said: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt …, that is why I command you to do this.” Our ancestors were foreign labors who lived in a foreign land before, therefore today when we treat those foreigners with kindness, it is also depicting a heart of thanksgiving and gratitude towards our God.
“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.”
“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, …”
This is Jesus’s teaching on the mount, it is the living standard require from Christian!
We pray to God to send more volunteers to walk among the suffering poor in our communities to care and be their companies.
The second half of year 2022, Manna Food Bank expanded to another 3 regions. i.e. Klang Valley, Kluang and Malacca. Amidst tremendous pressure from life and inflation, let us come hand in hand to instill hope into our society, because our simple act may prolong the beating of somebody’s heart.