Injustice is our problem: Why indifference is not an option

Have you been bullied in school or witnessed someone getting bullied?

I have.

Have you met employees who have been unfairly treated – not paid their hard-earned wages, not given adequate rest, mentally abused, physically abused?

I have.

Have you ever spoken to a foreign lady who was promised a job as a waitress in Singapore only to find herself working as a prostitute?

I have.

Have you heard from a person whose loved ones have been attacked, thrown in jail or even killed for their faith?

I have.

Have you ever ostracised someone — whether because of race, beliefs, dressing, mannerism, language, disability, gender or the colour of their skin?

I have.

I hope you see then we have a serious problem of injustice. Social injustice. All around us, there is injustice.

This has been the case since the fall of man in Eden. The first story we read of after humanity’s eviction from Eden is the murder of a sibling. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” was the defiant defence of the murderer.

Today, we are seeing unprecedented levels of modern slavery and human trafficking. The number of people displaced by conflict is larger than that during World War II. Wealth and income inequality are at an astounding level, with 1% of the world owning 99% of the world’s wealth. In Singapore, many migrant workers are systematically and individually unfairly treated, certain people groups like people with disabilities are economically marginalised, and yet other groups are socially marginalised.

The sobering news is that we are all participants of the injustice.

Today, the number of people displaced by conflict is larger than that during World War II. Wealth and income inequality are at an astounding level, with 1% of the world owning 99% of the world’s wealth.

We who lust after women and consume pornography act by the same cause which drives human traffickers exploiting women and girls for sex.

We who greed for that little bit more wealth, for that harder bargain, act by the same cause which drives exploitative employers and perpetrators of forced labour.

We who perceive people different from us with disdain act by the same cause which drives terrorists to kill people who do not share their same views.

We who say or do nothing about unfairness and injustice to people around us act by the same cause which resulted in the Holocaust: The genocide of about 11 million Jews, Poles, people with disabilities, people with same sex attraction, people with differing worldviews.

The worse news is that those of us who try to rectify the injustice are still doomed to be partakers of the injustice.

“WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF YOU?”

Henri Nouwen wrote that in fighting injustice, we will realise that the wounds and needs underlying the injustice we fight against are the same wounds and needs – insecurity, bitterness, desire for affirmation, etc – underlying our own actions. “We too are part of the evil we protest against,” Nouwen wrote in his book, Peacework.

Throughout the time of God’s relationship with humanity, God has constantly demanded that they seek justice. The prophet Isaiah relayed God’s word: “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17)

The prophet Micah summed up all of God’s demand of humanity as follows: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

The bad news is that none of us can meet this demand for justice. We are ourselves partakers of injustice.

There is however good news. Very good news. The good news is that since as long as humanity has been steeped in injustice, God has promised that a perfect King would one day come to bring perfect justice.

As Christians, our response to Jesus’ gracious sacrifice and salvation must be grace-fuelled justice-seeking.

This King is Jesus Christ. He was perfectly just. In all his relationships, he did right. His love for people brought inclusion and restoration.

Even so, that doesn’t solve the problem of pervasive injustice. King Jesus’ plan to bring justice to the world is this: By bearing the suffering, shame and spiritual consequences of injustice through bearing and dying on the Cross on behalf of the whole world, he released those who are found in him from God’s demand for justice. They are then free to pursue justice in the world in response to his grace. In other words, Christians are justified in Christ to be just.

This justice is to be first established through the community of King Jesus’ followers. Because they shall be transformed inside out by his grace.

The just community is then to go out into the world to establish justice and bring others into its fold.

Cosmic justice enables social justice. As Christians, our response to Jesus’ gracious sacrifice and salvation must be grace-fuelled justice-seeking.

WHERE THE CHURCH COMES IN

Look around us. All the brokenness and suffering and oppression is not meant to be. Throughout God’s word to his people, he calls for free and full inclusive participation of every person into a community which dwells with him.

As people of his covenantal community, this is our integral mission: The proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel of King Jesus, the manifestation of the Gospel by good works and good words, that all may be saved into a community of perfect justice and peace with God.

The early Church understood and practised this. When a deathly plague settled on the land in the Roman Empire, the non-Christians threw out their own sick family members to die. The Church not only cared for their own sick members but also the non-Christian people around them. The pagan Emperor Julian was affronted and ashamed by how noble the Church was.

This spirit of justice continued in the Protestant Reformers like John Calvin who established in Geneva, institutions, policies and efforts to care for the poor and sick through hospitals and the creation of employment for poor and refugees.

In Singapore, the early missionaries in the 1800s started with humble efforts of establishing small medical dispensaries for the poor locals, schools for all including girls many of whom were abandoned by their Chinese families, and shelters for the coolies who had been trafficked and exploited. Many local beneficiaries became Christians. They are our grandparents. They are the parents of our church leaders today.

The problem of injustice today is daunting for us. But we take heart in the fact that King Jesus is already there with the victims of injustice, and He calls His servants to join Him.

“Where I am, there my servant will be also” (John 12:26). Are we servants of King Jesus? Will we follow the King of justice who calls us to justice today?

This post first appeared on Thir.st at http://thir.st/blog/injustice-is-our-problem/

Threads of History

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It’s the 1900s. He had a pole hanging baskets of fruits on his shoulders. Up and down Prinsep Street he went, selling fruits in the tropical heat. Then he heard singing.

He stopped to listen.

The chorus of voices ascended above the ceilings and the walls of the building. A white man noticed him and came out to greet him. He saw the white man coming, and quickly grabbed his pole of fruits and dashed. But that was not how this ended.

Up and down Prinsep Street he went day after day. And the singing rose again. Voices erupted and spilled onto the street. The fruit hawker stopped again outside the building.

The white man came out again. The fruit hawker was just about to make a dash, but the white man called out to him in Hokkien. The fruit hawker stopped in his tracks. Come in, that white man said. He was probably a kind stately Reverend with a deep gurgling voice.

The fruit hawker followed him into the building.

That was what is today Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church. The Reverend might have been Cook. It was probably the Straits Chinese Church or the Malay Mission Chapel. The fruit hawker’s name was Chew.

Chew stepped into the church. He heard the Gospel preached to him, probably in Hokkien. He believed. And it was counted to him as righteousness.

Some time later, Chew returned to China to marry the woman who was betrothed to him. Together they returned. They would eventually have a daughter, Annie. Annie would later marry Peter Yap, father of my father-in-law.

Chew would later become a rich rice merchant. He would own the land in what is today in Serangoon. He owned the land from where Yio Chu Kang Chapel stands today to the row of shophouses near Tai Seng Christian Church. In 1927, he donated land to the establishment of Yio Chu Kang Gospel Hall. The church was built on that land.

During World War II, bombs were unleashed on that land. But the church was untouched. The houses which home my father-in-law’s mother were untouched. When the Japanese came to occupy the land, Chew exercised diplomacy and persuaded the Japanese soldiers to spare his family, and his clan living in that village, Chia Keng village. He gave the soldiers food and shelter. The captain established his quarters there and provided immunity. By this, the family and the church were spared the terrors of war.

Out of that family came Annie, my father-in-law’s mother. She would marry Peter Yap, a poor teacher in Nanyang Girls’ High School.

In 1921, Peter Yap’s parents landed in Singapore fresh off a boat. His mother was carrying a child, who would be Peter Yap. An uncle who was already in Singapore received them from their voyage, and within the first few days or weeks of their arrival, preached the Gospel to them. They believed. And it was counted to them as righteousness. Their son then came into this world. They named him Fa Chuan, that is, to proclaim widely, in belief and hope that this son would go far and wide to proclaim the Gospel they had come to hold dearly.

This son Peter Yap would later live up to his name and have an itinerant preaching ministry in Singapore and Malaysia. He would also be the translator for Billy Graham in his crusade here in Singapore. On those few evenings, thousands came to believe in the Gospel. A revival erupted in the Singapore Church in the 1970s as a result.

Peter Yap and Annie Chew would have five children, one of whom is Andrew Yap. He would marry Myrtle Sim. They would have three daughters. One of whom is Ethel Yap. In 2014, she married me.

The church on that land was Yio Chu Kang Gospel Hall. Come next year it would celebrate its 90th anniversary. Some folks from Gospel Hall’s Sunday School would later join Bethesda Bras Brasah, the mother church of the Brethren church in Singapore. That eventually led to the birth of Yio Chu Kang Chapel in 1954. Today I worship together with four hundred people in that church.

In this church, I came to hear and believe the Gospel. The Gospel of an unchanging living Christ. The same Christ whom the fruit hawker Chew heard about and believed in the 1900s from the white Reverend. The same Christ whom Peter Yap’s parents heard fresh off the boat in 1921. The same Christ whom Annie and Peter would believe in. The same Christ whom my father-in-law encountered. The same Christ whom my wife knows. The same Christ whom I call my King. The same Christ who is head of the church, the faith community, I find family in.

There are many stories of history which go untold. There are some stories which are told and retold. Tonight, I heard many stories.

I heard stories of war, poverty, industriousness, creativity, motherhood, camaraderie, ministry, family, faith, hope and love.

The stories all paint a picture. A picture of a person who stands behind, beneath, between, every story, every relationship, and every miracle.

That person is Jesus. He is the Christ of that Gospel.

The Christ who leaves traces of his fingerprints on the endless thread of history which binds generation to generation.

The Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

The Christ who is alive and at work even at this moment, working his way in my heart as he is in all of ours.

The Christ who is faithful and surely, as he has said, he is with us until the end of the age.

Social Justice in the Singapore Church: Micah Singapore Brunch Conversation

The Justice Demand

On 6 February 2016, a group of young adult Christians gathered at The Living Room Cafe in Zion Bishan BP Church over brunch to chat about their experience with engaging fellow Christians in their local churches about biblical social justice. The discussion revealed a pessimistic picture about the local churches’ attitudes to justice and mercy, and the glaring need for engagement.

We started by asking the 13 participants the following question: “On a scale of 1-10, to what extent do you think your church members have a positive understanding of social justice? Why did you give this answer?” The average response was 3.82 of 10.

Engage Social Justice in the Singapore Church

Continue reading “Social Justice in the Singapore Church: Micah Singapore Brunch Conversation”