AS a daughter church of Emmanuel EFC in Setapak Jaya, Hope EFC started in 1983 as an outreach with 10 volunteer church planters in Wangsa Maju, Setapak. In the subsequent years, the church would attract a number of down-and-out people from the low-income areas, which in turn would shape and define its ministry.
“From day one, we decided to minister to people with needs,” said Chairman Elder David Tan, adding that the group of volunteers decided to be close with the people they ministered to, and hence, they moved into the Wangsa Maju area.
With Emmanuel EFC’s leadership being an early influence, the founding members committed to investing in individuals and sought missions as a priority. As a result, the purchase of church premises was not a priority as “we were thinking of investing in people rather than buildings,” commented Elder Tan Ching Meng. The church, which presently operates from a rented shoplot – their third relocation – sent out a missionary, Pauline Mak, under the Overseas Missionary Fellowship in 2009.
As the congregation started to grow, people also left, including four of the original 10 volunteers. Today, the church consists mainly of families with a number of young adults and very few teens. A fulltime worker, Loh Siew Heng, manages the administration and visitations in the 40-strong congregation.
The church elders take turns to preach and invited speakers are featured regularly. In 2010, the church embarked on a family-integrated paradigm in its ministry. On top of the no-age-segregation approach, Hope EFC also explored a more family-based approach to men and women’s fellowships.
Realising the need for a pastor, Hope EFC appointed Pastor Barnabas Boon from 2008 to 2011. “The presence of a pastor played a key role in church growth,” said elder David Wang. Boon later left to continue his theological studies, and the position was left vacant.
In the midst of this, Hope EFC supported a thriving Myanmar ministry which was led by VL Rawna, a Myanmar pastor co-sponsored with EFCM to study in Seminari Theologi Malaysia. Rawna has since returned to Myanmar, but the ministry continues to thrive with the establishment of a refugee school.
In 2010, the first Myanmar worship service was held, led by Lawm Sanga who replaced Rawna. Sanga returned to Myanmar due to visa issues but the Myanmarese congregation still meet together with the English congregation once a month for communion service.
Throughout the decades of its existence, Hope EFC has stayed true to its conviction (of ministering to the marginalised), and its congregation has thus remained relatively small. “We do work hard at growing the numbers but it shouldn’t be the only thing,” explained Tan, who stressed that they were more concerned about the kindness and help they could render to the marginalised and needy. The motivation for their ministry has always been the outworking of Jesus’ expectation of his disciples, when Jesus asks “What have you done?”
“I would like to think that’s what defines us,” he concluded.
Building Bridges of Trust
WHEN Trey Fanai left his troubled and impoverished home in the northwest of Myanmar, his mind was focused on one thing – clinching asylum status abroad. As a teacher, Fanai managed a union-funded boarding school that taught science, mathematics and languages to children. “The school ran in direct competition with the government’s education system, and it wasn’t long before I was told to leave” he said.
Unemployed, Fanai, who is of Chin descent, was among millions of Myanmarese nationals swept into political turbulence since the country’s oppressive military regime gained power in 1962. This has led to armed conflicts, widespread poverty, pressing public health challenges and a dismal human rights record.
Tired of the situation in his country, the then 27-year-old Fanai embarked on a journey to escape the oppression. With his wife Kimi and some personal belongings, he set off for the capital Yangon in 2007, booked a passage to Kuala Lumpur and had never looked back.
“The Chin tribes would mostly go to Malaysia, and I chose Kuala Lumpur because the United Nations Commission for Human Rights (UNCHR) is based here,” explained the native of Sekan Kaley Myo, a town near the Indian border state of Manipur. “Before that, all I knew of Kuala Lumpur was the Petronas Twin Towers from photographs,” he smilingly recalled. Fanai harboured the hope that the move would take him one step closer to the coveted asylum status, either in the USA or any other country that would grant residence to him and his wife. He laid everything on the line to get a shot at a new life abroad.
As with most stateless refugees, Fanai and Kimi found that life in Kuala Lumpur was no walk in the park. The registration with the UNCHR was a lengthy – and tedious – process. The waiting could drag on indefinitely, often involving numerous interviews and taking years before result was forthcoming. As the uncertainty lingered, it left them increasingly vulnerable. Their lives were marked by the constant fear of being caught by the police, or being harassed and extorted by gangsters who preyed on their plight and helplessness. And whenever work was available, there was always the looming possibility that an unscrupulous employer would exploit them.
In the midst of this, the couple moved in with Kimi’s cousin, who stayed in a small flat in Wangsa Maju, among a small cluster of other Myanmarese refugees. Their abode was frequently visited by a Myanmarese pastor, VL Rawna, who was studying theology in Malaysia. The connection proved to be significant, as Rawna introduced them and the larger community of Myanmarese refugees to Hope EFC.
Before long, Myanmarese men, women and children were welcoming Hope EFC members into their midst – eating together, learning English, having reading classes, outings and basically sharing their lives. Soon, a learning and resource centre for Myanmarese children was established, with Fanai at the helm. This centre serves the greater Myanmarese community in the Wangsa Maju area.
In 2010, the first Myanmarese service began, with Rawna and Fanai in the leadership team. “I have learned a lot from the Hope (EFC) leaders in terms of biblical leadership, thoughtfulness and showing understanding,” Fanai recollected. He felt sad, however, at the deep tribal factions which he said exist among Christian Myanmarese refugees in Malaysia. Attributing it to the consequence of the ‘divide and conquer’ strategy of the Myanmarese government, Fanai said his mission in Malaysia is to build bridges across the different tribes.
“I fight against this division, I accept and help everyone in my (learning) centre, regardless of his tribe,” he said, and added, “that’s exactly what Hope EFC is doing.”
According to its pastor, the Chinese congregation of Hope EFC is known by the ease of interaction among believers of all ages. “We are a family church that is relaxed and it is easy to feel at home here,” said former art lecturer Chong Kengsen as he described his congregation whose age ranges between 7 and 80 years. The absence of generational gap communication was not something that happened naturally. Chong said that it was deliberately inculcated. “This value (of intergenerational communication) is being lost in the Chinese community,” he said, adding that his congregation worked hard to preserve it.
The obvious benefit was that everyone, young and old, worship collectively and were taught the Scriptures in an expository manner.
An offshoot of the English congregation, the Chinese church “first started when a member in the English congregation brought her two daughters to the Sunday School,” said Chong, who together with his wife Ang Ang, was instrumental in establishing the church. Initially Chong began evangelistic Bible study in Mandarin. Chong, who did not read Chinese then, employed the use of the English-Chinese parallel Bible to teach. Soon, a Chinese cell group emerged, beginning with four persons. This grew to 14 within a year. “Not long after, there was a suggestion for a Chinese service,” Chong recalled, “and in 1996 we started the monthly Sunday Chinese service at 1.30pm.” This went on until a year later when one of our contacts embraced the faith in their midst.
“We were suddenly faced with a ‘new problem’… we needed a weekly service to meet the spiritual needs of this new believer,” Chong explained, adding that at the same time, some college and varsity students had joined them too.
Meanwhile, Ang Ang was kept busy visiting members of the congregation. At this time, Chong was impressed by ISA 66:1: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?” “We felt we had to build a house that was inter-generational,” said Chong.
But there was a problem. There was a dearth of young people in the church. Undaunted, Chong, along with two female church members, signed themselves up with the Girls’ Brigade in order to be trained. At the Mid-Autumn festival that year, they organised a family-type gathering and invited many people. Among the attendees were four children, who later became the first members of the Rainbow Brigade.
A tailor-made holistic programme, the Rainbow Brigade was birthed out of necessity in 2003. “At that time, there was no co-ed Brigade,” said Chong, “so we customised one to meet our own needs.”
Today, more than 100 children, many from broken homes, have gone through the Rainbow Brigade ministry which has given them a wholesome, practical understanding of Scripture and also instilled values in life. And inadvertently, the participants of the Rainbow Brigade provide feasible succession prospects for the church.
“Because of the Brigade, we now have a long-term second-generation leadership in place,” beamed Chong, who also noticed a growing trend towards increased youth work in the future.
In the midst of this, Chong was involved among the Orang Asal in Perak. “It was in 1991 while visiting the Orang Asal community in Perak that I heard the call to be involved in this ministry. I was sitting in an old woman’s house when I heard a distinctive voice saying ‘work among them’ thrice, followed by ‘10 years’ thrice,” Chong recalled.
For a while, he taught art & craft at Pusat Methodist Senoi, which was housed at the former Kampar Methodist Boys’ School. “Later, I focused my energy on a particular village until 2006. In 2007, we planted a church in Kampung Piong, Perak,” he said. Be it teaching in the village or city, Chong has observed one thing in his years in ministry: “It is not how much you teach (that matters), rather it is your genuine concern for them. By this, they will recover their self-worth, which will in turn promote self-learning.”
按启望之家播道会中文部的牧师看来，其教会以大小老少的信徒都能打成一片而著称。这位前任美术讲师Chong Keng Sen在形容他那些年龄介于七岁到八十岁的会众时，这么说：“我们是一所大家都放松自在的家庭教会，很容易就有家的感觉。”
A COMMUNITY TRANSFORMED
Isolated deep in the rainforest thicket, Kampung Piong is at best inaccessible and at worst a battered, nearly abandoned village in the remote tropical hill jungles off Slim River, Perak.
Pummelled by vicious outbreaks of cholera in the 1940s – right after the Japanese Occupation of Malaya in World War II – the once bustling and important Orang Asal village had seen its families drastically reduced to three when Pastor Chong Kengsen first set foot on it in 2007.
To make things more complicated, a powerful shaman (bomoh or witch doctor) held sway over the hearts and minds of the fearful, remaining villagers. “I was told to reach out to this village,” recalled Chong, who was then in the midst of doing literacy work in the nearby village of Rasau.
By then, the sparsely-populated Kampung Piong had settled on a narrow strip of rocky, boulder-filled terrain without access to basic amenities such as water. Chong took some boys from the church’s Rainbow Brigade, camped in the village, broke the ice and got to know the shaman.
Their efforts were initially rejected as the shaman did not welcome the visitors. But Chong and his company persisted. Children literacy work was soon started and later, Chong introduced the Bible to the villagers.
He also took the shaman to visit other converted Orang Asal villages. By this time, the shaman had softened his stance and was open to the prospect of going to the city with Chong.
“The turning point came when I took him to KL (Kuala Lumpur) to visit agro-related markets to broaden his knowledge,” Chong said, adding the increased level of trust had opened the way for Kampung Piong’s development.
“The first task was to convince the villagers to move back to the spacious site where the cholera had broken out decades ago,” said Chong. The ghosts of the past had to be overcome before land clearing and cultivation work could begin.
By 2009, in partnership with a local farmer, the villagers of Kampung Piong had started planting passion fruit and lime with papaya orchards and an apiary on the pipeline. There were also ongoing education efforts with Malaysian Care running development programmes in the village. “Our aim is to empower the Orang Asal to be self-sustaining while maintaining their dignity,” explained Chong, who drew inspiration from Dennis Lane’s book, Keeping Body and Soul Together.
However, ministering to the Orang Asal has not been a bed of roses. “We should wait until the Orang Asal is ready to embrace development so that the work would be truly theirs. And to avoid being accused as neo-colonialists,” advised Chong.
Chong strongly believes that this ministry requires genuine love and much patience. “One can only open opportunities of ideas, not force them,” he said.
Chong shared the case of another village where he ministered to. It took eight years before the villagers asked for a training centre for teaching, seminars and skills training. That was a significant paradigm shift, he exclaimed.
With incremental growths in Kampung Piong going well, Chong dreams of the day when Kampung Piong will in turn reach other villages with holistic development and the gospel hand in hand.
Perhaps that dream is closer to reality than he envisioned, as the bomoh had embraced Christ and is now preaching in other villages.
教育课程。Chong解释说：“我们的目标是要装备原住民能够自力更生，同时保有他们的尊严。”他是从Dennis Lane的著作“兼顾身体和灵魂”（Keeping Body and Soul Together）得到启发。