September, 2001

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In Quiet Moments

It’s just after midnight on Friday evening; I was- as usual- mulling over many things whilst having my evening jog an hour ago, such that after I ran back home, I decided to put down some of these thoughts in my mind.

Just yesterday night, after returning from my evening lecture on Software Engineering, I chanced upon a person also waiting for the train at Raffles City. As many of my friends- and certainly my students (!)- would know, I have a great interest in knowing people, mixing with them, and finding out how they are and what they do. She carried a bible, was speaking to another friend; and as I watched, I was struck by the radiance in her person that I rarely see in others. She exhibited great joy in her warm smile and animated gestures as she spoke to her friend. I was so moved that I ventured later to introduce myself- the first time I’ve ever done this as a stranger- and we had an email conversation the following day. It wasn’t a particularly long one- maybe perhaps she was too busy with work, or didn’t see any need to be speaking to total strangers anyway. But I did learn from her that she’d just returned indeed from a study of Moses, which she attributed her joy that night to.

That set me thinking for the rest of the day. As my closest friends would know from my person and the music I write, my life as a Christian has rarely ever been characterised by joy. Instead, I feel a continued sense of comfort and assurance that everything- everything- in my life is part of a great, perfect plan of my Lord’s. But why is this so- that I find it difficult to feel the joy that this newly found friend showed in abundance?

I’m reminded of a conversation I had an afternoon in 1994 with my mentor in NTU. She was patiently listening to my confession that I felt a great burden for the world around me, and that I get easily stricken by physical and human destruction. The Middle-East terrorist group Hamas had just bombed another bus in Jerusalem, killing dozens of innocent civilians- and she sensed the sorrow I felt after learning about this incident in the front page of Straits Times (I had a copy delivered to my Hostel room every day). She thought for a moment, and said with great conviction, that after I graduated, I should be an “evangelist and preach to the masses” instead of joining the IT work force.

At that juncture I’d already received my call to human service, but I could not understand why my mentor would suggest such a role. At that point in my life, apart from the burdens I felt, I was a typical 23 year old male, struggling through my studies, trying to get enough ECA points to remain in the hostel, and going through and coming out poorly in relationships. Even now, I’m not sure if my life’s such a great testimony either. In fact, ironically, I thought my mentor would be a far better person to take on such an evangelical role, given that she is so greatly loved by her students and her friends, and is the most deeply affirming and gentle person I’ve met in my life. And I asked her about this. At that juncture, she said these words that I always remember to this day

“Chek Yang, some of us- myself included- will be contended to just simply change the lives of those immediately around us. We don’t feel the great sense of burden you clearly are feeling. But for me, if I can just simply be a good Christian to my students and the few immediately around me, I would have felt great satisfaction at having made my little imprint in this world. But for you, you must go beyond.”

Those words sounded as wise as it would be from a Jedi Master to a Padawan apprentice! But there was always that small part of me that hoped that her words were just a casual remark. But just recently when I met her for lunch in NTU, she reminded me again of her convictions by saying I really should drop all I’m doing, and mission and church plant instead!

I guess this continued awareness of how complex our world is right now- amidst the recent tragic terrorist destruction of the World Trade Centres in New York- has thus made me the more acute to demonstrations of complete, innocent joy that I saw in this new friend just yesterday evening.

On the one hand, I long for a total abandonment of concerns that are outside my immediate circle of worries. I mean, holistically speaking, as tragic as the upcoming war against terrorism will be, how does it in any way change my immediate life? My ex even ventured to say a long while ago why do I care about the troubles of world anyway- it’s not as though I can immediately do anything about it. But this is precisely the part that bites. As Christians living our lives in this complicated world, though we share a simple, consistent joy in knowing our Lord, I wonder are we also guilty occasionally about living our faith within a small circle about ourselves, caring little for what goes outside it… how our faith matters in the larger world. I consistently have to remind myself that we as Christians in Singapore are a tremendously lucky lot- we are not persecuted, and enjoy tremendous stability with a reasonable and responsible government. And because of this, the more is our responsibility to do more than what our safe, comfortable zones would normally allow us to.

At this juncture, I don’t know what the future holds in the respect of the burdens I feel. I’m still cheered greatly by the words that my mentor shared about changing lives, and it is her principle of firstly doing that little bit for those around me- my students and friends in particular- that gives me the impetus to treat each lecture I present as a new experience and opportunity to improve matters around me. But I wonder whether at some juncture, what she said would come to fruition; that I would be called to greater responsibility. And when it does, will I be able to live up to it?