That all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity of 2019 was hosted by the Crossway Community Lutheran Church, Mont Kiara in Kuala Lumpur. Premised on Deuteronomy 16:18-20, the theme of 2019 echoed resoundingly, “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue.” In tandem with the Order of Service prepared by the churches in Indonesia, the programme throughout the service aligned to bear significance of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples. Thus, the clarion call in John 17: 21, “That all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe” must be heeded.
Christian leaders from various denominations gathered for the annual prayer event. The Catholic Church was led by the present Archbishop Julian Leow, the retired Archbishop Murphy Packiam, and Cardinal Soter Fernandez. The Anglican Church was led by Archbishop Ng Moon Hing and Rev. Joshua Ong. Bishop Aaron Yap, Rev. Marcus Leong, and Rev. Sivin Kit (Organising Pastor) led the Lutheran Church. Rev. Yeo Chek Chee (Moderator of GPM), Rev. Richard Tok, Elder Mok Cheh Liang, and Elder Steven Fung represented the Presbyterian Church (GPM). Pdt Dinna Putranti is from Gereja Kristen Berbahasa Indonesia (GKBI), an affiliate member of GPM. Rev. Mathew Punnose represented the Syrian Mar Thoma Church. Pastor Ram is from the Kingdom City Church. Rev. Herman Shastri and Rev Tan Chew Mae represented the Methodist Church, where the former also represented the Council of Churches Malaysia. Elder Tan Kong Beng represented the Christian Federation of Malaysia and Rev Andy Chi the National Evangelical Council of Malaysia.
The introductory speech by Rev. Marcus Leong, the Host Pastor, cannot be timelier to exhort and inspire the congregation. Against the fragmented socio-cultural landscape of the nation, he championed the pursuit of unity for the cause of justice and the flourishing of life:
“As Christians from separated communities, we gathered to pray for unity. The theme is imperative due to the recurring situations that bring divisions and conflicts. As we pray together, we are reminded that our calling as members of the Body of Christ is to pursue and embody justice. Our unity in Christ empowers us to take part in the wider struggle for justice and to promote the dignity of life.”
At the Prayer of Repentance, we were reminded to repent of our failures in various spheres of ministry and Christian living. We need to be cognizant over how “we sometimes behave unjustly towards the people whom [the Lord] have entrusted to us by prioritizing those who have higher social status, ignoring strangers, the poor and the least in society, fearing to defend the oppressed and misusing church resources.” How we have failed to live our Lord’s commandment of love by “regarding those of other churches as rivals, being hostile to each other and slow to forgive, focusing only on our personal interest, ignoring the needs of sisters and brothers, excluding others who do not share our point of view.”
The GPM’s regulations or mandate to its member churches is that “we share our resources together and pray that the whole Church family will be enriched as we mutually challenge, encourage, and equip each other to share in God’s mission and to be an inclusive community that affirms unity in diversity and commits to mutuality, equality and interdependence”.
The sermon was delivered by Rev. Dr. Hermen Shastri, the General Secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, who underscored unequivocally the significance and impact of espousing justice. This collective social action potently forms the very bedrock of Christian unity irrespective of differences in ethnicity, language, nationality, theological persuasion or inclination, locality, and status. Rev. Shastri then invited us to contemplate on the imperative by Jesus in John 17:21, “Is there anything greater than the desire of God for a united Church of Truth?” – “they may be ONE so that the world may believe.”
He narrated a vivid encounter experienced at a WCC Conference in 1983 in Vancouver, Canada, where Archbishop Desmond Tutu, before a press conference, was asked, “Can the Church make a difference in the world so filled with insurmountable injustices?” Tutu’s unflinching response cannot be more pithy when antipodal ideals are juxtaposed, “When the Church is divided, injustice thrives and the world wins. When the Church is united on Gospel imperatives of justice, the power of oppression will be dethroned in the name of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world.”
Rev. Shastri reaffirmed these tenets of unity and justice and proceeded to accentuate the imperative of Christian living to cohere with the very spirit of the Lord’s Prayers. These, being non-mutually exclusive, when practised demonstrate the integrity of Christianity that exemplifies unity in diversity:
“We cannot compromise, Jesus does not allow His disciples to compromise on Kingdom values. We pray the Lord’s Prayer in many languages and in many contexts. That shows the diversity and it is no threat to unity, we can live with it, but if the Lord’s Prayer is not lived out in just living, then it threatens the very core of what it means to be a Christian. Christians that pray the Lord’s Prayer pledged their allegiance to Christ who promised he had come so that we may have life and live in its abundance.”
The sermon continued with Archbishop Julian Leow highlighting the perennial scope of unjust practices plaguing the nation. “We all know from experience, trying to get into universities, quota systems, trying to purchase properties and you don’t get special discounts. Employment, it is difficult to get into certain sectors – army, police, and the list can go on, many social injustices.” This forlorn recount was not without hope and he beckoned us to embark on a brutal quest of honest self-scrutiny:
“But, here we are, I would like to look within ourselves. Am I acting justly? Am I loving tenderly? Am I walking humbly with the Lord? It is good to look at myself first. Whether I am living justice. Am I pursuing not justice outside, but am I living it in my own life? Am I behaving? Am I prospering my neighbour? Or am I too busy accumulating just for myself? And, so justice, and only justice we must pursue.”
Against the stark realities of injustice, Archbishop Leow confronted the congregation over the choice of justice system: Retributive (eye for an eye) vs. Restorative justice. As he led us to meander vicariously along the paths of the destitute, he provoked us to a series of profound introspection: “Why are there poor on the streets of Kuala Lumpur? Homeless. And what am I doing as the Church looking after my neighbour? Are we as the Church doing enough?”
He ended with the needful reminder to prize restorative over retributive justice and cautioned against the profound different repercussions arising from them. Archbishop Leow was confident that this chasm can indeed be optimistically bridged and invited all to contemplate and embrace the nobility of love:
“Let us as a Church today that we pursue restorative justice, not retributive – not an eye for an eye for they will all be blind. Because of retributive justice, I think we are worse off today. The spiral of violence, and violence begets violence. The only answer I believe, though it may be naïve, is love conquers all.”
The prelude “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” was movingly rendered by Lisa Ho on the piano. As the procession was ushering in, Nixson Rudd, Chita Mulyaningtyas, and the GKBI Choir sang “Holy Holy Holy.” The GKBI choir – led by Pdt Dinna Putranti and Samuel Adrian – presented two songs, “Mereka Perlukan Tuhan (People Need The Lord)” and “Agnus Dei”, both thematically tugged at all to love God and seek unity.
A group of Myanmar refugee children from the Ruth Education Centre, led by Michael Moey, then presented two provocative songs, “Let My People Go” and “Benedictus.” This continued with two refugee children telling us their heart-wrenching accounts of agonising struggles with inhumane treatment and the relentless challenges of life as a refugee.
Some East Malaysian natives led in prayers for the people.
Cantus Musicus soulfully rendered two poignant choral anthems, “All Praise to Thee” and “O Love”, where the rapt congregation was stirred by the meditative thrust to contrition, gratitude, and divine grace.
Wrapping up the night, leaders from various denominations engaged in a time of intercession where they prayed for repentance and for the people and the nation.
The congregation then adjourned for fellowship and were treated to a delightful dinner generously given by the host church and its pastor Marcus Leong.
Others who participated in the service include: Rev. Lim Siew Pik, Tan Sri V.C George, Andrew Siew, Bona Hasiholan, Jason John, Chan Ee Lynn, Joy Appukuttan, Patrick Low, Josie Tey, Christian Fung, Jorjee Ting, Jacy Ting, and students from Seminari Theoloji Malaysia.
The Organising Committee comprised of Rev. Sivin Kit, Rev. Marcus Leong, Rev. Mathew Punnoose, Rev. Tan Chew Mae, Neo Boon Kheng, Chua Chee Oon, Chan Ee Lynn, Mike Tan, Annie Lam, Diana Kuah, Eria Lourdes, Maria Yan, Michael Moey, and Steven Fung.
Written by Steven Fung. Edited by PL Yeoh