The final instalment of “Mark’s Malaysian Adventure”
Posted on 14 Jul 2011 by Mark Leong
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Welcome to the latest instalment of Mark’s Malaysian Adventure, which happens also to be the last one from Mark the FES staffworker. There is plenty for me to update you on in this letter, so I’ve increased it from its normal two pages to four! I hope you enjoy reading it and find it helpful in giving you a good sense of what to thank God for and how you can support the work of the gospel in Malaysia.
Staffwork update: IVSTR, Monash CF camp & 1-to-1s
At the end of May, sixty or so students from university campuses across Peninsular Malaysia made their way to one of Malaysia’s favourite highland holiday areas, Cameron Highlands, for a five-day camp. The camp is officially known as the Inter-Varsity Student Training Retreat (IVSTR), although the Mandarin name for the camp, 启航 (pinyin: qǐ háng), means to set sail or begin a journey. IVSTR is the only camp that FES runs for the Mandarin-speaking students it serves. This year’s IVSTR was the third one to be organised by FES, which runs IVSTR every few years. I was part of the staff team running the camp and although I was not able to help with the teaching due to the limitations of my Mandarin, there was no lack of work for me to do – running ice breakers, organising games, chopping vegetables, participating in small group discussions and doing PA. I was able to converse reasonably well with students one-to-one and in small groups, but found that understanding the talks in the main sessions with their uncommon Bible words quite hard.
Almost exactly a month after going to Cameron Highlands for IVSTR, I went there again for another camp. This time it was for the annual Monash University CF camp (27 June to 1 July). This trip brought my total number of visits to Cameron Highlands in the past twelve months up a grand total of six! The camp was a good chance to get to know some of the students better and I am thankful for the opportunities I had to talk to some of them about Christianity and the gospel.
Of the guys I meet up with to read the Bible, most are now on their long university holidays. Bible studies with the others have continued up until last week. I may continue to meet up with some of these guys after I finish with FES as they have been benefitting from our studies and live or study fairly near where I stay. I recently met a non-Christian guy at an evangelistic event who is interested to read the Bible with me. Although we’ve tried a few times to arrange a meeting, nothing has happened so far, so please pray for our availability to coincide and for a fruitful time of reading God’s word.
Yesterday was my official last day with FES. As I put the finishing touches to this letter, I feel as though the year has gone by in an instant and am amazed at how fresh the memories are of turning up for my first day at FES in August last year. About halfway through my year with FES I was asked to consider applying to extend my contract as a staffworker beyond the initial one year, but I decided not to do so as I believe that in the long-term I have more potential to serve the growth of the gospel in Malaysia by doing church ministry.
To this end, I plan to enrol on my church’s ministry training strategy (MTS) programme in the not too distant future. MTS starts with a two-year church apprenticeship, where the apprentice is exposed to much of the work that is done by a pastor of the church. This is both to train the apprentice in doing ministry as well as for them and the church to determine their suitability for the work. If at the end of two years the apprentice is deemed suitable, they will do a further one year of preparation for academic theological training before going off to seminary. This may seem to some like a fairly long way round for training pastors, yet its merit is that it avoids spending lots of money on seminary fees for someone who will not be suitable for the work, as well as allowing the trainee to make better use of their time in seminary when they do go.
While I wait to start MTS, I will be working in the IT industry. Well-paid jobs that match a person’s abilities are not always easy to find, so I am very grateful for the job that God has provided. Since my third year at university I have been doing a bit of freelance web design and programming in my spare time – sometimes just for fun, sometimes to help friends and other times for paying clients. Earlier in the year I was contracted by a fairly large company to do some web programming – not particularly complicated work, just too time-consuming for their in-house programmers to do. At my first meeting with the company’s IT manager, he said that I should give him a call if I was ever looking for a full-time job. About a month ago I wrote to him inquiring about vacancies coming up in July or August; his reply was an invitation to a job interview! The rest, as they say, is history, and I am now signed up to start work as a web programmer next week.
If you have been supporting me financially over the last one or two years and would like to continue giving to support the growth of the gospel in Malaysia after I finish with FES (or even if you haven’t but would like to start doing so), I can recommend the church that I am a part of, Christ Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC), as a worthy recipient of your support.
CERC is a young “independent” church, now in its third year, yet one that traces its theological roots back to the Reformation. The elder of the church is Pastor Robin Gan, an ordained Anglican minister who trained in Sydney at Moore Theological College. At our Sunday gatherings there are usually about 70 people, around half of them university students and the rest working adults. With such a high proportion of students, it will probably not be a surprise to you that the church is short of money. What it lacks in money though it certainly makes up for in people who are passionate for the gospel and ready to make sacrifices for it. The church currently has both the people and the opportunities to extend its ministry, but is held back by a lack of money.
One of the constraints is that it is fast running out of space to meet in. At our Good Friday evangelistic meeting, we ran out of both seats and standing space. You can see from the photo above how packed the hall was. As church problems go, not having enough space is probably one of the best ones to have, and yet a problem it remains. To give the church room to grow both in number and in its ability to support itself financially, it is looking to move into a bigger building later in the year. The new place is just down the block from where we are and will give us roughly three times the floor space. The difficulty for us with moving to this new rented premise is that (unsurprisingly) the rental is more expensive and we will need to renovate the place to make it useful for ministry before we can start using it.
Long-term however, covering the expenses of building rental and renovation are not the only reason CERC needs financial support. Significant as these expenses are, they pale in comparison to the cost of training new church elders, who will be needed for planting churches in the future. CERC is elder-centric in its church polity and desires to give its elders-in-training the best possible theological training. The church can and will make do with sub-optimum facilities and beg or borrow used musical instruments rather than buy new ones, but it won’t skimp on investing in its elders. In our context this means sending potential elders to Australia, the UK or the US for theological training, which sets the church back by RM400k to RM500k (£80k to £100k) per person. At present the church has two guys on its ministry training programme that hope to proceed to seminary in a couple of years. This won’t however be possible if we can’t find the money to send them to study. Depending on how MTS goes for me, I may also be one of the ones hoping to go to seminary in a few years’ time.
If you would like to know more about CERC, or if you have heard enough and would like to contribute financially, please send me an message via the contact form so that we can discuss the matter. You could also listen to a sermon or two to get a sense of the gospel it preaches and the things that it holds dear. CERC is a church that proclaims God’s glorious truth, resulting in people being converted, Christians growing in Christ-likeness and the people around being blessed. Every dollar/ringgit/pound that is sent its way will be one used in the service of the growth of the gospel in Malaysia.
CERC: Christ Evangelical Reformed Church | CF: Christian Fellowship | FES: Fellowship of Evangelical Students | MTS: Ministry Training Strategy | UCCF: University and Colleges Christian Fellowship