Pastor Lazarus Chin was impressed when he first stepped into the Kepong EFC (KEFC) Sunday worship service, where he saw the worship leaders singing in pitch-perfect Mandarin.
“I got ‘conned’ as I thought everyone could speak and read (Chinese), especially when I saw (Lim) Teck Lee leading worship. I was really impressed by their use of hanyu pinyin,” laughed Ps Chin, who has been KEFC pastor for the last five years.
Behind all the good-natured ribbing lies the determination of the KEFC founding members to establish God’s Kingdom in this Chinese-dominated part of Kepong, located at the fringe of Kuala Lumpur city.
For Chin, the determination of the mostly English-educated “first generation” leaders showed they wanted to do their best. “They clearly have the heart for the Chinese-speaking people, and show that they have no problem with a different culture. Their love shines through,” he said.
KEFC is probably Malaysia’s one of an EFC kind: it remains a true bilingual EFC right from the start, and remains so until today.
Established in 2001 at the behest of the PJEFC leadership (then under Pastor Siew Woh’s direction), the church was formed after much prayer, deliberation, and ground surveys. The pioneering batch comprised five families from PJEFC who boldly took on the work of pioneering this church located at a rented shophouse at the Kepong Industrial Park (KIP), a light industrial area. These families were from a cell group that met regularly at Bandar Sri Damansara, which is adjacent to KIP.
KEFC began its worship service a few months prior to its official launch on the Easter Sunday of 2001. Although the church started with English services only, by 2003 the services had become bilingual (English/Chinese) with the arrival of Pastor Tan Siok Peng from the PJEFC Chinese church to assist in the work.
In its early years, KEFC was assisted by two full-time staff from PJEFC: Chin Choon Meow (first pastor of KEFC) and Irene Lee. And to lend moral support, many members from PJEFC made regular visits to the church during the first year. Chin left KEFC after a year to further his theological education, and Lee stepped in to take over.
The majority of the pioneer members were English-speaking but today, about half the congregation are Mandarin-speaking while the rest are English speaking. “It is indeed a marvel to see them catering to the Chinese-speaking members through their effort in introducing relevant Chinese songs during worship using the pinyin system,” said Chin, who revealed that God had also called him to move out of his own comfort zone by taking up the appointment at KEFC.
After seven years, PJEFC saw the need for a leadership with a good command of Mandarin to make further breakthrough. “It was found that language was a barrier to solid discipleship, and as such, there was a need for good Mandarin preachers,” said Chin, who is bilingual. “You can say that I’m a Chinese-educated pastor raised in an English-speaking environment.”
KEFC’s current leadership is led by the English-speaking members but the church is intensifying efforts on raising the Chinese-speaking members to take the lead since the potential growth area is in that language group. After all, Kepong is a mainly Chinese-speaking area even though the younger generation is increasingly more bilingual.
(Towards the end of 2010, the church installed two elders – Lim Teck Lee and Ding Hwa Kong – and Austin Lau as deacon. All three are English-speaking.)
Most of the church members are first generation believers; many still have family members who have yet to embrace the faith. Seniors make up a tenth of the church and are only familiar with Chinese. The rest of the congregation is bilingual.
A third of the church comprises teens and youths, and this is the fruit of the English tuition work done in the early years of the church when most of the outreach work of the church consisted of the teaching of English to both adults and children in the community. This was carried out via short-holiday English courses as well as regular English tuition classes for primary school students.
The congregation is now around 70-80 strong, and there are no plans for two separate services until the attendance justifies it. “We can look at this in 2014, but definitely not this year. When attendance hits about 200 people, we may have a Chinese congregation to cater to the large Chinese membership. Currently, everyone is coexisting quite well, and most people still find it okay to sit through a two-language sermon (simultaneous interpretation),” Chin said.
“Here, we started off bilingual, which I find to be healthier, integration wise. We will stick with this for a while more until the Lord challenges us to move on.”
KEFC, which still relies on part-funding from PJEFC to meet operational costs, is uniquely placed in the community to be an inter-generational church, especially its uniqueness as one of the few rare churches that run bilingual Sunday worship services in the community.
“This makes it possible for the Good News to be shared when the members bring pre-believing family members to hear what God has to say to them. However we also realise that this can be a weakness for the church as the feeding of God’s Word is somewhat diluted for those who are already in Christ. We would appreciate your prayers that even so, God will continue to work mightily among His people as His Word is preached,” Chin urged.
Strong inter-church ties
The church plays a key role in strengthening the Body of Christ in the Kuala Lumpur North Area. Chin is not just a regular attendee at the pastors’ fellowship meetings for the Kuala Lumpur North area, but is in fact the chairman of the fellowship (that encompasses both Chinese and English-speaking churches).
“The Lord has given us the strength and unity. We have been praying together, and running projects together. We see ourselves as a small church that doesn’t have sufficient manpower and resources. And some are really struggling. But we all come together to see what we all can do for the area.
“Last year, six churches came together to organise a bilingual Christmas service. We went over to the Anglican church in Jinjang, which has more space, and opened it up to everyone for Christmas. Following the Christmas service, we went around the area to bless and minister to single parents and poor families.”
The churches in this area may be small, but they are united for fellowship and evangelism. There’ll be more inter-church cooperation, especially among the smaller churches, for evangelistic and social events as well as community projects.
Without a doubt, KEFC will be a major driving force to bring light to this area with a huge population. Chin conceded however, that Kepong is a very tough area to plough, but much fruit can be gleaned with persistent and consistent effort. “For example, Jinjang is a tough place. But when a preaching point was launched by a church there, starting with 50 persons, it quickly grew to 200 within three years.”
KEFC has especially close ties with a Lutheran church nearby, and they jointly organised a neighbourhood prayer walk last year involving 12 churches during
the traditional Hungry Ghost Festival. “It was to proclaim the presence of the true King in the Year of Jubilee to the people,” said Chin.
There is also an attempt to reach out to the foreigners residing in the area, especially the Myanmarese migrants. There are some families who leave their children untended as both parents work, and this is where neighbourhood churches like KEFC step in to offer some form of intervention.
“This year, we want to launch into community work and that is where we draw a common strength. Individual churches each have their uniqueness,
but the Lord is pulling all of us together to really make a difference with one common purpose. For impacting the community, there is no other way but to work together,” Chin concluded.