TRAC President's Address (33rd Session, 2008)
Rev. Ong Hwai Teik
Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC),
Methodist Church in Malaysia
We welcome all our delegates, representatives, participating officers and friends who are with us. We gather as family, partners, colleagues and co-workers in the same team of the Lord in this Annual Conference session. It is a joy to meet others in our TRAC family and network but we especially welcome those who are attending an Annual Conference session for the first time. We also extend our heartiest congratulations to Bishop Dr Hwa Yung, who was re-elected our Episcopal head at the first ballot in the 9th General Conference of the Methodist Church in Malaysia, in September this year. We shall uphold him in prayer as he serves and leads the church.
Much had happened since our last Annual Conference session. We had then geared ourselves to face the 12th General Election of 2008 such as through the workshop on “Current National Issues and our Response”. God in His sovereign grace had surprised us with the “political tsunami” that ensued as five states are now in the hands of the Pakatan Rakyat. It was most heart-warming to read of the article- “Land titles for 10,000 Orang Asli in Perak” in the New Straits Times on 8 October 2008. It is reported that each household will receive 3.3ha within three years, as the state seeks to raise the economic status, supplement household income and increase productivity of the Orang Asli. This announcement was made by Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham, state Finance, Infrastructure, Public Utilities, Energy, Water and Non-Islamic Affairs Committee chairman and senior state executive councilor. He had also addressed us in the Methodist Prayer Convention 2007, to facilitate our praying for our beloved nation. We are also glad to hear that the government has finally granted an allocation of RM 50 million for mission schools “as a means to boost efforts to upgrade their infrastructure and facilities” (The STAR, 6 November 2008). Malaysia continues to be in the exciting throes of possible change, but not without its struggles and challenges that still need to be surmounted.
We continue to vigilantly look to the Lord as well as be proactively involved in this season of rebuilding in the life of this nation. We aspire together with our outgoing Prime Minister, to see reforms and advancement in key institutions and fundamental agenda items in our beloved nation’s life. We look forward with hope that the judicial system, corruption, racially-based politics, the review (and if necessary repeal) of unjust laws, aid to the poor regardless of race and religion, fundamental religious rights and issues (eg the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims, a decision which is still pending in the courts) – will be meaningfully and transformationally addressed so that Malaysia will achieve a tangible breakthrough of progress and prosperity in our nation building. We in TRAC are pledged to praying and working towards unity, integrity, justice, truth, godliness, continuing sustainable modernization, technological advancement, robust economy and growth, and a developed nation status - for Malaysia.
We have much to be concerned about in terms of the world stage, such as the global financial crisis and meltdown that the world is currently facing, and the industrial chemical melamine released into the food chain that affected many nations, killing babies through tainted milk products. This only serves to show all the more the relevance of the weeklong Bible reading marathon initiated by Pope Benedict XVI on Italian television. The intention of the program, according to the Pope is that “The word of God will enter the homes and accompany the lives of families and individual people” (The Star, 7 October 2008 – Pope Starts off Bible-reading marathon).
And in TRAC, we have much to thank the Lord God Almighty, as we look back at the close of this quadrennium…
||Looking Back… With thanksgiving
||Assessing our present journey… the 5 Essentials
||Moving on…Some current “works” still in progress
||Looking ahead…About the future
I. Looking Back… With thanksgiving
1. Missions: we see that there are more of our churches getting involved in the adopted countries of Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam and Nepal. This in part is precipitated by our churches getting involved in reaching out to such migrant communities locally. There are now Vietnamese and Nepali speaking services in our midst. TRAC has about 15 congregations or ministries that are other than English speaking, including BM, Hokkien, Cantonese, Nepali, Tamil, Telugu, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Myanmarese. Let us not tire of preaching the Word and Gospel of Christ. John Calvin aptly described this when he said that the word of God has its own sovereign power in our soul.
2. In placing a greater emphasis on the Youth ministry, we have begun witnessing the re-establishment of District Councils, Jeremiah School alumni facilitating/contributing to youth training camps, the TRAC University and College Students gathering monthly, an improved network that had connected with those from our churches coming to study in the Klang Valley, annual TRAC Youth Prayer Conferences and outreach mission trips to Sarawak and Myanmar. Our ministry in schools such as the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades have also grown. The TRAC Annual Officers Consultation/Retreat for both the GB and BB was started last year. There is also an effective renewed concern that our children should be encouraged and prepared for the Bible Knowledge SPM paper, and many have signed up and done well..
3. The establishment of church planting and outreach ministries such as the launching of Whispering Hope Preaching Point in HELP University College in May 2008, the founding of Life Methodist Church, Puchong and the street ministry projects such as the Light House Community Center in Ipoh by Canning Garden Methodist Church which is meant to lead to the planting of a church among the needy in the street in the long haul..
4. The TRAC Millennium Ministry Fund has enabled us to extend and expand the TRAC HQ premises as a “centre that empowers”. The final leg of the renovation, Phase II, (which had to do with the more minor exterior items) was finally completed in October this year.
5. The slow but steady emphasis on prayer in our churches, as this become better organized and participated in. The School For Intercessors started in 2006 have been helpful, spurred on by the Methodist Prayer Convention 07. On 13 September 08 the monthly second Saturday 6.30 am – 7.30 am (in KL Wesley) TRAC Shekinah Prayer Hour for our Klang Valley churches was launched.
6. The Institute for Christian Ministry (ICM) was launched by TRAC last year and we now have a ICM Director, who together with the ICM Interim Board and feedback from our TRAC pastors and leaders, have begun to formulate crucial training programs to address the strategic needs of spirituality and leadership in our Annual Conference.
7. The Local Preachers Licence program has enabled more of our leadership to be trained with a few of those who have graduated now serving as approved supply pastors. (Of course we still need more to be trained in the seminary as well to join the pastoral work force).
8. In terms of properties and “space for grace and Gospel”, TRAC had dedications of 8 premises which are either new or extension projects. The latest blessing is Grace Methodist Church, Sentul had just renovated and dedicated an old school workshop on the 26 October 08 as a Life Training Centre for young and old. It is a joy to be in the Closing and Commissioning Service of the 19th PMS Session on the 6 November 08 conducted in the newly dedicated church premises of Kampar Wesley. Many of these have seen God’s intervention, providence and leading from birth to finished product. It is only in a season of peace and “rest in our own land” that we are able to enjoy divine blessings of fortifications within that lead to expanded space for greater ministries.
In all these areas, while we have cause to be thankful to the Lord, yet we continue to seek the Holy Spirit’s blessing and empowering to go even further, as we do have some way to go in each of them. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
However, I am thankful for all our members, leaders, ministry staff and pastors who have worked hard during this last quadrennium, for contributing to the accomplishments in these various areas, both named and unnamed. Often you have had to plod on with minimal encouragement and affirmation, save your wanting to please our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is indeed, a most fortifying experience to see how so many in our churches have remained loyal to the cause of Christ over so many years and decades. This includes the life of our late brother, Pastor Tan Har Yong, who had grown up in Penang Wesley, and served there, as well as at Annual Conference level, until his sudden death on the 10 August 2008.
II. Assessing our present journey… the 5 Essentials
The past 4 quadrenniums have enabled us as an Annual Conference to jointly stay on “the same page” of focus as TRAC adopted the common Essentials as our broad goals for development and growth in our local churches. The Essentials provided us a more biblical value-based pursuit consonant to our life and mission as God’s Church. They are designed to enhance the life of our Annual Conference as a whole through a common focus over an appreciable period of time. What we may need for the future is perhaps a more “measurable” overall theme/ vision (as was the case with for eg “74 By 96” for 1992-1997) and also a process of planning whereby a greater base of consultation is used. Hence we are having 4 workshops at this session of Annual Conference which will be based on the coming General Conference theme of Spreading Scriptural Holiness, Transforming the Nation. The 4 Essentials that are evergreen and applicable to the life of the Church are: Evangelism and Church Planting, Discipleship, Church and Society, and Missions. Your participation, contribution and feedback will be most needed so that the next Executive Board can be helped in looking forward to what is in store for our Annual Conference - in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. A brief survey of the current Essentials under the theme of this current quadrennium of Open Heavens, Global Missions - shows the following.
1. Leadership Development :
We are thankful that we have 286 (the 2006-2009 target was 160) currently enrolled in our LPL program. At least 5 will be completing their LPL course by the end of this year. Currently, there are 5 STM students from our TRAC churches. Our target set for 2006-2009 is to have 10 candidates for the Ordination Track, with a shortfall of 6 to date; 16 to be approved supply pastors but we have a shortfall of 9; to have 30 new ministry staff but we have a shortfall of 25. We thank those of our local preachers who have availed themselves to travelling to the remote and smaller congregations especially in the Eastern and Northern Districts. Recently Seremban Wesley at her 93rd Anniversary honoured Dr Chan Kook Weng and Mr A Kovalan for their 31 years of faithful and conscientious ministry as local preachers. We bless the Lord for these stalwarts of His church. We also thank God for the more than 32 years of ministry of Ms Aileen Khoo as a Diaconal Minister in TRAC. She will be retiring at the end of this year. TRAC thanks her for her long and faithful ministry.
2. Community Building :
The key means to building community within our churches so that we can grow in our relationships by “knowing others and being known” is through the small groups (which includes Bible study, care and cell ministry groups). The Conference Statistician reports that in 2007 there were 670 such groups with 7034 attendees, which is about 48% of our membership (of 14662) then. Up to June 2008, this has dropped to 554 groups with 6643 attending (which is about 45% of our total membership of 14725). Our churches need to keep a watchful eye on this important area. The increase of more common and joint events by the Boards, especially among the youths, at District and national levels has also helped build “connectional community” in TRAC.
Building community externally and touching society has also seen progress such as Persatuan Berdikari Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, formerly the Pusat Berdikari Seremban of Seremban Wesley until this year when they became a registered society. The PBSNS trains slow learners to be as self-reliant as possible; 5 of their trainees are now employed by Giant Supermarkets and 1 in the Garden Pharmacy, Seremban. This year Canning Garden Methodist Church also set up the Light House Community Centre (street people community ministry), and Puchong Life Methodist Church is in the process of establishing a sewing training centre for single mothers.
Our average church attendance (10306) as of June 2008 is about 70% of our membership (14725). We need to proactively seek out and “restore” the missing 30% in our community.
3. Missions and Outreach :
TRAC churches have mission connections with at least 9 countries. At the local level, TRAC churches are involved with the migrant workers from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. We are now in consultation with a limited number of foreign Methodist Church connections in the area of their seconding workers to meet the needs and engage in outreach to the migrant groups on our soil. A few more of our churches have connected to support the 4 TRAC adopted countries of Bangladesh, Myanmar, N Vietnam and Nepal.
The cyclone Nargis relief project in Myanmar this year had also provided an unexpected opportunity for TRAC combining with the TAC, CAC, SPAC and SCAC to not only engage in humanitarian aid programs, but also along with this open the way for establishing relief ministries (medical, educational, reestablishing livelihood projects etc) that will lead to planting churches in the target areas of our response. This Christmas, tracts and possibly the New Testament will be among the items included in the gift pack for families in the adopted areas for relief.
TRAC has now at about 15 “non-English” speaking congregations, in line with our emphasis on reaching the “nations in our nation”. This is one area of outreach we can engage in, as there are approximately 2 million migrant workers (and an estimated same number that are illegal ones). To consolidate and advance further this all important outreach work, our Annual Conference will now seriously look into the establishment of a TRAC Missions Society. Let us continue to pray for the availability of a TRAC Director of Missions.
We shall continue to fufill our support for both the Persidangan Missi Sengoi (PMS) as well as the 7-year financial support for the Sarawak Iban Annual Conference (which began in 2006 with a sum of RM 20,000, with subsequent annual diminution of one seventh in each succeeding year).
4. Discipleship and Spirituality :
It is encouraging that organizing annual prayer retreats has grown in TRAC churches. While there is a proliferation of good discipleship training programs, we must watch against falling into the consumerism mode whereby church members are “forever learning but are unchanging”. There is growing strength in the “informing” aspect but this is not matched commensuratively by “conspicuous sanctification” – the fruit of a transformed and holy life.
The Board of Christian Education has over the years helped systematize our teaching and training curriculum for our local churches, organizing “road shows” to motivate and train personnel in different Districts. The Board of Worship and Music has been actively providing training for worship enablers and producing devotional and liturgical materials for our Annual Conference use, the latest being the revised resources for funerals.
5. Family: Children, Youth and Seniors Ministries.
We have 2730 children in our Church/ Sunday School (compared to 2866 in 2007). Currently, 4 of our smaller churches do not have any church/ Sunday School. We must continue to place emphasis on this ministry. It is commendable that a few Districts have conducted joint Sunday Teachers training with the help of the KL Wesley Kids Church team.
Through the persevering hard work of the Youth Board over a number of years, we have witnessed some growth and progress in our youth ministry in terms of quantity and quality. It is of great joy to us to see the Whispering Hope Preaching Point at HELP University College and the outreach to the KTAR and UTAR campuses in Kampar making progress. Nevertheless, Youth Ministry Workers are needed. We continue to keep track of the graduates of the Jeremiah School, YLDP, College Camps, National Youth Prayer Conference, Mission Trips participants etc. We have the older ones who are now helping out in our youth programs, training events and forming our TRAC youth district councils. A few have helped to form the core leadership team of the monthly TRAC University-College Students Gathering which brings together TRAC youths studying in the Klang Valley, and attempting to enfold them in the TRAC family.
Due to the diligent effort of the more recent leadership in the seniors ministry and the help of the part-time Director of the Seniors Ministry, they have put together a holistic developmental “road map” that incorporates the spiritual, physical, discipleship, outreach and ministry spheres.
III. Moving on…Some current “works” still in progress
1. The ICM: we thank the Lord that we are able to appoint Ms Ng Wai Ling as full-time ICM Director this year. The ICM Interim Board together with our TRAC churches is continuing to work at shaping the syllabus to strategically give training and input to strengthen the ministries of our churches as a whole. Currently, courses are being offered in the areas of leadership and spirituality. Do contact the ICM Director for further information and inquiries. The ICM Interim Board has worked hard to make this vehicle a reality. We thank our churches for the continuing support in making the ICM an empowering conduit for the advancement of the work of the Kingdom of God. Please note the equipping and training events from ICM viz the Public Lectures as well as the Spiritual Formation and Leadership Weekend, for 2009. We appeal to TRAC churches to send participants (including budgeting financial support for them, if necessary), and also support the ICM ministry financially.
2. The Bupyeong Methodist Church (Korea) Connection: we thank the Lord for the generous ministry and exposure that this church has offered to TRAC. The first group of 40 that went in 2008 was very blessed in their prayer life. They were deeply touched by the fruits of conspicuous sanctification in this Korean community - servanthood and generosity of spirit – lived naturally as life-style values in their various ministries in that church. This church is sacrificially ministering as a servant to churches world-wide by their generous hospitality and willingness to share their ministry trials, blessings and journey with the Lord, with others. The liaison and organizing church is Life Methodist Church, Puchong. This year is the 2nd trip (7-12 November 08). The 40 who went came from 8 of our churches. We intend to organize this on an annual basis for small groups from TRAC churches who we pray will experience renewal as they encounter the Lord’s presence in a fresh way, and share that on their return to the local church. Our Korean brethren are also most willing to share their resources and experiences with us in other areas of ministry such as worship, missions etc.
3. The strengthening of the Prayer Movement: the imperative and non-negotiable place of prayer is caught powerfully by Henri Nouwen when he said, “A spiritual life without prayer is like the Gospel without Christ.” He goes on to express the more classical view of prayer by saying that “To pray… means to think and live in the presence of God.” Cultivating this living in the presence of God in each of our personal life as well as in our individual congregations continues at a slow pace in TRAC. We now have more prayer coordinators and “activities of prayer”. It is hoped that in time to come, we can have TRAC churches coming together to pray such as the TRAC Shekinah Prayer Hour which was launched on 13 Sept 08. This has brought Klang Valley TRAC churches together to pray on every second Saturday of the month in KL Wesley (average attendance of 35-40). Mrs Maria Wong is the TRAC Prayer Coordinator who helps to link the ministry of our prayer network and intercessors. We are also linked to the Malaysian National Prayer Network which was birthed earlier this year. Together we need to pray that the Lord will give us revival within the church, empowered evangelism and church planting, and a prophetically relevant touch to transform this nation of ours at this historic juncture. Up to 2008 June we have 117 groups comprising 703 persons of TRAC’s total membership of 14725 or about 5%. Let us aim to double this to at least 10% in the next quadrennium. Only 3 churches reported not having prayer groups. We want to be an Annual Conference of prayer..
4. The on-going rebuilding of the Youth Work and Ministry: our Annual Conference continues to put emphasis on this ministry, although much more can still be done. Let us together continue to love and co-invest in our young people, being opened to inputs from all quarters, including the young themselves. We are also encouraged that some of our youths are also interested in doing mission work and open to the call of becoming missionaries in the future. The TRAC University-College Students Gathering team will be compiling a list of our churches that have contemporary services, to share with our young people and to connect them with TRAC churches in their new places of study.
5. The Persidangan Missi Sengoi on-going partnership: the TRAC Executive Board has set up a small team to help our Sengoi brethren in reviewing and reforming their financial situation, in preparation for the day when they shall become a Provisional Annual Conference. The General Conference through the Area Executive Council (Peninsular Malaysia) will also be looking into “topping up” the PMS Endowment Fund from the current RM 2.2 million to RM 5 million in 2009. However, the principal sum of this Fund is strictly to be kept untouched. There is also a need to review the sustainability of the current way in which PMS full-time workers are supported, and how they can recover a greater emphasis on outreach, evangelism and missions again.
The Orang Asli population has grown from 92, 529 (1993 census) to 113, 541 (2000 census). The three main groups (with multiple sub-groups in each) are: the Negritos (found mainly in the north), the Proto Malays (south) and the Sengois (central). The PMS is largely from the Sengois group(comprising of Temiar, Semai, Semoq Beri, Che Wong, Jahut and Mah Meri). But they are now reaching out to the Jakuns (21,484 found in Pahang and Johor, the largest sub-group of Proto Malay) in Pahang, with the support of Kuantan Wesley. The PMS is also breaking some new grounds in reaching families in Cameron Highlands and the Simpang Pulai area. Of late, workers (who are Orang Aslis) from other denominations have enrolled in the Sengoi Workers Training Center, Kampar, indicating their desire to join the PMS in outreach and ministry in the interior.
Apart from helping the PMS take more concrete steps towards arriving at full Annual Conference status, TRAC churches (through the PMS HQ in Kampar) can also continue to help them in planting congregations by building chapels/ multi-purpose halls (for kindergartens etc). There is also now a tangible and growing need (since 2001, I am told by the PMS Exco) for an Education/ Scholarship Fund to be set up. Their children are now beginning to enroll in colleges for diploma-level studies, but a few are also aiming at studying in universities. They are also seeking help to have local tuition classes conducted in their residential centres such as Kampar. These are positive developments which TRAC can partner and help the PMS, as education is a key to overall upliftment of this marginalized community. TRAC will also continue to help them in the Bible translation project that they have undertaken in collaboration with other concerned parties.
They remain grateful to our Annual Conference for providing support and guidance in Kingdom life and ministry. The specific partnership help from local churches has been empowering for them, in particular their relationship with Kampar Wesley at local level.
IV. Looking ahead…About the future
1. Some Critical Issues: among those that the TRAC Executive Board had preliminarily identified, the Task Force on Critical Issues had followed up on the following three challenges as a matter of priority. a. The “missing generation” – young adults ministry: this important group of young adults (early twenties to mid-thirties) is sorely missed in our churches. Currently, only 3 churches have Young Adults Fellowship with a total of 87 members. They are the generation that provides change, greater energy level, creativity and continuity into the future well-being of the church community and her mission. An open, fresh and new approach is needed to reach and incorporate this highly mobile and time-strapped group who face many demands especially vocationally and domestically. Our congregations must be especially sensitive and sensible in our caring for this age group that is most vulnerable to the powerful forces of disconnection which are peculiar to them, leading to their high “drop-out rate” in our faith communities. As such, a Young Adults Convention is planned for 29-31 August 2009. Our goals are to create the awareness that this is an overlooked group that needs to be put back into our local church “agenda”, to gather young adults and interested parties to share and discuss both direction and needs at local and national levels, and to facilitate the establishment of local young adults’ communities and a network at TRAC level. Let each of our local church identify, encourage and send the relevant people to the YA Convention 2009.
b. Family and community: family wholeness is essential to the overall well-being of the church. Fragmentation in society, neglect, misplaced focus and priorities are but a few of the reasons for the pervasive breakdown and dysfunctionality of families in our modern world; the church households are not immuned from this as well. The family is the very basic unit of community and society. It is the significant foundational nurturing, instructional and practical training ground for spiritual and emotional growth, as well as character, values and living skills formation. The suggestion is that focus be given to this important subject of Nurturing Wholeness in the Christian Family under the essential of “Discipleship” (which is one of the 4 Essentials of the 2009-2012 General Conference theme of Spreading Scriptural Holiness, Transforming the Nation). We will further require the help of the Board of Christian Education and the ICM in providing the resources and training in this crucial area of church “healthiness” and well-being.
c. Lack of pastors/ increasing the work force: this has been a longstanding need. I am thankful for all the various expressions of concern and helpful suggestions that are shared and offered to deal with and improve the situation. Our Annual Conference continues to nurture, prepare and challenge our younger generation to be available, open, and ready to answer this call from the Lord of the Harvest, when it comes. As we move on, we shall need to tweak the existing programs (viz. Internship at local churches/ target institutions to include college vacations, Youth Leadership Development Program, Jeremiah School, revive Christian Vocation Camps etc) with the help of evaluative feedback and inputs, as well as to seek new means of addressing this situation. Of course the call to Christian vocations is not limited to the youth generation alone. The Annual Conference needs experienced older adults who have proven ministry records at local church level, spiritual maturity, apt giftings and who have grown through life’s experience – to be available to answer the call to pastoral and other Christian vocations. At the very least, we must make ourselves available to join those who are already heavily involved in the various ministries of the local church. To honour the Lord and facilitate Kingdom growth in touching more lives and transforming communities, we must mutually resolve to build a strong and bigger ministry leadership team with all means possible, including the effective use of the Pastoral Care Team, where possible.
Along the way, we must also address obstructive factors such as lack of conducive work environment and culture, working and team ministry related issues, the need for long term vocational development (“career”) road map, remunerative and well-being of staff issues.
2. Setting up of a TRAC “Mission Society”: at the 26-28 September 08 TRAC Joint Board in STM, this issue was raised and those present felt that we should take the necessary initial steps to establish it. This will consolidate the efforts by our different churches in the support of our four adopted countries and in some ways to also know what the “larger picture” is in terms of other countries that our churches are supporting. It will also facilitate the coordination of the outreach ministries by our congregations to the “nations in our nations”. In this regard, we now have to liaise and oversee workers that other overseas Methodist Churches are sending to work among migrant communities here. We welcome such partnerships in missions. The time will be coming soon when we shall want to send out our own TRAC missionaries, especially if the younger ones answer that call. There is also the need to work more closely with our PMS brethren in reaching other unreached people groups in our own land. This will entail careful study and planning, a process which will be spearheaded by the Board of Missions and will require adequate time. Such a Society will enable TRAC to systematically consolidate, expand and boost the work of missions both globally and locally. .
3. Space for training and retreat: developing Parit Buntar premises and sharing existing facilities available among our churches. There is now an opportunity following the Council of Education sale agreement with Parit Buntar Wesley Methodist Church, for the Annual Conference to help develop the facilities there with a view of making it a facility for training and retreats in the north.
It should also be noted that there are a number of churches in TRAC with facilities for smaller groups (eg of youths) to hold retreats such as Ipoh Wesley, Grace Methodist Church, Sentul and Life Methodist Church, Puchong – during school holidays. If any of our churches would like to offer such services to bless the others, do please inform our TRAC HQ with the necessary details (eg contact person, period available, facilities offered, possible charges etc). In this way we not only extend space for grace and exercise the key Christian virtue of hospitality, but also nurture our bond of fellowship and connectionalism with one another.
4. Evangelism and “Congregation” Planting: our Annual Conference will continue to pray and seek the Lord to plant congregations in Perlis, Trengganu and Kelantan. There was an inquiry as to the possibility of TRAC providing pastoral help to a small group in Kelantan earlier this year, but there has been little progress from the “inquirers” since then. Some of our churches have been led to start new congregations by way of reaching unreached groups such as the migrant workers community, or through family and friendship connections to plant Hokkien (Penang Wesley) and Tamil (Sentul Grace MC) speaking congregations! There are other unreached people groups in our land that need the touch of the love of God and hear His Gospel. A small number of our churches have also begun by starting street ministry outreach, with the possible view of planting congregations amongst such needy folks later on. The Board of Evangelism has helpfully prepared and distributed CD resources (at the Joint Board in September 2008) for what is hoped to be an improved repeat of Gospel sharing over this Christmas period, following the format of the Celebration of Hope Malaysia, which was celebrated nation-wide in 2007.
Do contact Rev Henry Yong for the resources and training if necessary. May we all continue to pray, work at and give due emphasis to evangelism in our local churches; it is most encouraging, for example, to hear of the 32 confession of faith this year in Sitiawan Wesley. We thank the Lord for His work of grace, and the hard work of the pastor and lay leaders especially among the youths there.
Nonetheless, from January to June 2008, in our Annual Conference only 14 churches reported net growth, 11 indicated no growth and 14 had a net decrease. Overall there were 64 persons added (0.4%) to our membership. Let us pray for the harvest, and be actively involved in the harvesting process through the Lord. .
5. Maintaining relevance in our fast changing world of today is important, even though we have an unchanging Gospel message to proclaim. The United States will have, for the first time in her history, a 47 year old African American as its 44th President in 2009. America is wrestling with changes that are relevant and needed for her today. In its article The 50 Best Inventions of the Year, The Time (November 10, 2008 issue) listed as number 40 the Vatican’s 7 new deadly sins. They are “bioethical sins, morally dubious experiments that harm human embryos, drug abuse, polluting, social injustice, accumulating excessive wealth and creating poverty”. This is the Vatican’s updated “7 deadly sins” relevant to today. It is a commendable and necessary effort that speaks to the world that we live in, where the broad issues of life are found. We must learn to address both sides of the hard questions we face in an ever more complex world. The distinguished professor of preaching, H W Robinson calls for preachers who would preach with authority to recognize the complexity of issues we face today. He points out that all truth exists in tension and that this has to be acknowledged (such as God’s love exists in tension with His holiness). Even though there may be no easy answers, yet we can still point people to the Bible and its message.
Of immediate concern to us is the current situation in our nation. We must be in touch with and responding relevantly both as individuals and as God’s people to the current developments in all spheres of our nation - be they political, religious, economics, judiciary, clean governance etc. Given the more openness and space under our present Prime Minister, there are now more writings available such as the publication by Malaysiakini – Religion Under Siege? Lina Joy, the Islamic State and Freedom of Faith (Edited by Nathaniel Tan and John Lee); Failed Nation? Concerns of a Malaysian Nationalist (by Rustam A Sani); Tipping Points (23 thought provoking articles compiled by The Edge, edited by Oon Yeoh) etc, not forgetting the internet and relevant websites as well.
5. “Larger Connection” Issues
a. General Conference (GC)
There are some legislative decisions that TRAC and all the other Annual Conferences will have to vote on subsequent to the 9th GC held on the 15-20 September 2008 in Kota Kinabalu. The 9th GC had also approved a major updating revision of the “Social Principles” section of the Methodist Book of Discipline to reflect the relevant current issues that the Church faces.
The Chefoo Methodist Centennial Centre, Cameron Highlands (closed from Jan-June 2009) and the Methodist Centre, Port Dickson (closed from Jan 2009 till further notice) will be undergoing renovation and re-construction respectively.
The GC will need our prayers as it works towards producing an agenda for the road-map for the Methodist Church in Malaysia for the next decade or longer, putting together a common Methodist Book of Services and a Catechism of instruction for new members. The other areas will be shared by Bishop Dr Hwa Yung later in this Conference. TRAC is glad that one of our members, Mr Tung Kam Seng, had ably and faithfully served as the GC Secretary for the last 3 quadrenniums, and he will retire at the end of this year from that position. He is succeeded by Mr Anthony Rao (TAC) whilst Mr John Ting (SCAC) was re-elected the GC Treasurer.
b. Council of Churches (CCM)
Let us as an Annual Conference continue to support the CCM in its building project. The Ground Breaking Service took place on 9 October 2008. The project cost has escalated to RM 8.2 mil. CCM has also appealed to all its constituent churches to contribute at least RM 100 annually towards its administrative budget or to take an offering for its work.
c. Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM)
In the Presidential Address last year, I had shared that CFM needs funds to establish a credible and efficient research centre to study religious and political issues so that the Malaysian Church can be informed and engaged in timely responses. Events subsequent to the 8 March 2008 12th General Election have proven this to be all the more imperative. A full time Executive Secretary, Mr Tan Kong Beng, has been appointed on 1 November 08 to get this task going.
I thank the Lord for the privilege of serving as the President of our Annual for the last 7 years. I thank all of you for your prayers, support and co-ministry especially for the last 4 years. Our leadership has laboured with commitment and faithfulness; many have been serving for many years both in official/ designated positions as well as in quiet “behind the scene” capacities. We thank all our Conference Officers, Board chairpersons and members for their loyal services rendered during this quadrennium. Our team of pastors has worked hard and provided extended pastoral coverage as best as they can in the light of the shortage of full-time workers. In addition, I thank the Lord for a group of TRAC members who have shared in the vision of our Annual Conference. They have faithfully and generously provided financial resources for subsidizing the TRAC payer ministry, Jeremiah School, church planting, TRAC HQ Extension project, staff costs and in the purchase of a new vehicle for the office of the President this year. I must especially place on record my deep gratitude to those who intercede for me, our pastors, leaders, churches and TRAC; your prayers have made the difference for me and our Annual Conference in experiencing and serving the Lord of lords and King of kings. I seek the forgiveness of our Annual Conference where I have not been able to serve TRAC as expected. Let us once again dedicate ourselves to the Lord and His service, being prepared to give our fullest support, co-operation and prayers to the new team that will be elected to serve in the next quadrennium. I am grateful to the Lord for the many in TRAC, who would fit what the author of Hebrews (3:1,2a) described as “brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling”, and whom he exhorts to “consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses also "was faithful in all God's house." We are now living in a time of great opportunities and possibilities. Even the United States of America had voted in a black President-elect for the first time in her history. Let us not miss or be “passed by” in this season of opportunity for advancing the cause of the Kingdom of God and His Gospel locally and globally. May these words of the prophet Isaiah quicken our spirit to seek and expect great things from the Lord God in the new quadrennium:
Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. Isaiah 54:2
Thanks be to God.
Amen and Amen.
Rev Dr Ong Hwai Teik,
Trinity Annual Conference
The Methodist Church in Malaysia