Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Sabbath after the City Harvest..

There is a time for everything. There is a season for trial, for reflection and for learning. A life goes through these seasons and draws its own lessons from them.

I have written (or commented) much about Kong Hee and his leadership and it's time for now to put that pen or keyboard to rest. My season of writing about him has come to an end as he starts his sentence last Friday. He will have to confront the next season of his life, and I believe it will be the most challenging one for him.

Before he surrendered himself, Kong Hee said this: "I am ready to face what is to come with the peace and grace of God in my heart."

Well, whatever that awaits him in the years to come, he will have no other choice but to face them - even head on in the quietude of his cell.

More relevantly, he will enter an unfamiliar environment away from the creature comforts he has grown accustomed to. He will also be stripped of a world he was used to where his actions were readily affirmed, his pulpit messages were easily assimilated, and his charisma was wholly electrifying. 

Like an onion, this solitary world will compel him to peel off the complicated layers after layers of motives, intentions and designs he had brought to bear on his leadership in the past seven years so as to reveal the inner core of what he really thought, desired and coveted after when he started the church on the crash course of what is now known ignominiously as the Crossover Project (or the Cultural Mandate).

Nevertheless, on this footing, Kong Hee started off right when he offered his third apology since October 2015. This time, what is most significant is that his apology was not just addressed to his church.

In one paragraph, he acknowledged how he had failed to live up to the calling expected of a fellow believer. He wrote:- 

"To all I have disappointed, stumbled and hurt in my congregation, in the Body of Christ at large, and in the public, I am truly sorry. I have made unwise decisions in the past that have led me to where I am today. I am filled with grief and regret over my mistakes and I sincerely ask for your forgiveness."

With that apology, it is time to move on. It is time to heal, to reconcile and to unite. For this reason, I see no point in flogging a dead horse, or to dissect his apology into smithereens just to see whether there is any stray pieces of insincerity or pretentiousness left to render blunt.  

As for the rest of us, all those who stood by the sideline to watch the drama unfold or unravel over the years, I humbly repeat the call of seasonal observance and growth. That is, to observe the season of change from a time of trial to a time of reflection, from a time of denial and disbelief to a time of soul-searching, and from a time of disquiet to a time of quiet, a time of stillness. Each season ought to bring us closer to the Lover of our soul.

Let me therefore end with three events that followed at the heels of our risen Saviour before he declared "It is finished" at Calvary.

The first event talks about an exchange. You'd recall that the crowd clamored for the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus in line with a Passover custom. To me, this exchange is about personal sacrifice, that is, one life for another; and ultimately, Jesus for the lost world.

The second event is when Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world. He made it clear that this world was never his home - neither should it be ours.

And the third event is when Jesus pleaded with His Father to forgive the people for they know not what they are doing. It is essentially a call to forgiveness and repentance. It's a time of refreshing and renewal. 

For me, these three defining events mark the enduring legacy of Jesus, that is, sacrifice, eternal hope and forgiveness. And these three legacies are spurred on by love, faith and understanding.

For the more we love, the more we give of ourselves to others. The more faith we have, the more we put our trust in the world that is to come. And the more we understand, the more we can readily forgive. If anything, then let this season be a season of understanding rather than of sowing grievances.

At the end of the day, this should be our disposition as fellow Christians standing together with our fallen brothers and sisters. For regardless of the wrong, the hurt and the failures, this is a season of making amends, comforting and healing broken hearts.

So, I wish Kong Hee (and the other leaders) well as they enter the next quiet season of their life. Like what Kong Hee said before, he is in God's hands now. And I trust that the Master Potter knows how and what to make of His own jar of clay. Cheerz.

Postscript: This is a recent reply to a friend of mine on my Facebook post concerning the plea for us to move forward.

"As much as we would want to pursue the matter, calling into question some gaps in his past, casting some doubts at his leadership (or apology), we also ought to readily embrace a future of hope, reconciliation and a contrite heart.

The protests and calls for accountability can only take us so far, and the rest of our own personal journey will have to be taken with the generosity found in our loving Savior when he put aside all that is wrong with us and heaved his last breath, proclaiming, "It is finished."

In Kong Hee's context, and when he serves his sentence in the years to come, we have to accept by hope, love and faith that God will do a finishing work in him.

Like what he said in his most recent, most comprehensive, and most intimate apology, he is indeed in God's hand now.

Alas, in the last few years, many (including me) have been busy exposing and debating about the wounds of the faith and the flaws of the leadership.

It is therefore time to learn from these lessons, apply it to our lives and move on, that is, move forward.

I guess the greatest lesson we can learn from this most unfortunate saga is that given the right time, circumstances and power, we ourselves will also be tested. We therefore share something in common with Kong Hee - our own vulnerability."

Let Pastor Raymond Koh go.

Pastor Raymond Koh was never a threat to Islam. Neither was he a hardline Christian nor a fiery Christian agitator.

His role as a believer is simple. He helps single mothers, drug addicts and those with HIV for the last ten years. He lived out his belief and faith not only through words, but also through deeds, dedication and devotion.

But yet, he is still missing since Feb 13 this year. It was professionally done. The abduction was carried out in broad daylight, involving three black SUVs, two cars and at least 15 men, including a cameraman to ensure that the abduction was documented.

And all this had an ominous start in the morning of August 2011 when a package was delivered to Pastor Koh in his letterbox of his home in KL.

It reports: "In the package were two bullets. There was also a note, written in blood-red ink in Malay, that reads: "Laknat Kristian 1. Joe Fernandez. 2. Lu." The note translated said: "Damn Christian. No.1 Joe Fernandez. No. 2 You."

This threat was to remind Pastor Koh that they had a precedent. Joe Fernandez was a Kedah assemblyman with BN, and he was shot dead by two assailant in 2000 in his home town in Kedah.

It is said that Joe Fernandez was killed because he "was allegedly trying to convert members of a Muslim family to Christianity." This was the same message to Pastor Koh 6 years ago before he was abducted early this year.

Lesson? None. Just return him. Release Pastor Koh. He's really no threat to any religion. In fact, this is not about religion. It is not territorial. It is not about deepening the divide or disrupting the established status quo of things.

Lawyer Philip Koh said this about Pastor Koh: "He always struck me as a sincere humanitarian for those who are voiceless and vulnerable."

Pastor Koh's action in fact goes beyond religious beliefs. His deeds are about healing hearts, bridging the gap, lending a helping hand, being a good neighbor, and just being there without the fanfare.

He is what this world needs. He doesn't boast about his deeds. He does what he can, with what he has, for as long as it takes to make a difference. And it is not even a religious difference. Not a competitive difference. Not a disruptive difference.

On the contrary, it is a small difference to feed the hungry, to help the poor and to comfort the lost.

After his work is done, after the sun sets, Pastor Koh returns home to his family. He doesn't return home to rousing applause or grand celebration. He returns home to spend what remains of the day with his wife and children. It is a simple life of unassuming giving, nothing more and nothing less.

Pastor Koh is a husband to his wife, a father to his children, and a friend to the community. He is no different from anyone who loves, or even hates him.

He is definitely not perfect. He feels, tears and experiences simple joy when he is with family, loved ones, friends, even with strangers for whom he is able to help in times of need.

So, let him go. Let the family have closure. Turn their hope into joy. You have the power to make a difference, to give hope, to stand for what is right. You have the power to make this world a better place.

Let Pastor Raymond Koh go. Cheerz.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

...the one that got away.

Last Saturday, when Kong Hee asked for forgiveness before his church for being unwise, for taking things too fast, and for not praying more, I thought to myself that there is just one thing that he can't be faulted in this entire legal fiasco, and it is this, his undying devotion to his wife. If anything, his commitment to her is exceptional and unquestioned. 

In fact, the Crossover Project was clearly the brainchild of Sun Ho. Without her, there wouldn’t be any crossing over to begin with. So, notwithstanding the theological legitimacy of it, what Sun Ho desired became the all-consuming ambition of the husband. This conflict of interest between the proper usage of the building funds and promoting his wife's music career effectively clouded his judgment, focus and direction. 

This brings me to Justice Chan's dissenting judgment on the appeal. Although I agree in general with his view that there was wrongful loss to CHC (that is, a much higher interest to be earned if the millions were invested in bonds other than Xtron’s) and wrongful gain benefitting the pastoral couple (this is self-explanatory), there is just one minor part about his view on Sun Ho's role in the Crossover that I beg to differ.

I will tell you why after this extract from Justice Chan's opinion at page 264: "With some imagination, numerous other feasible options could be explored to identify the option which would best achieve the same (evangelistic) objective at perhaps the most reasonable cost...The apparent single minded pursuit of only one option to use Sun Ho without even considering the possibility of other better and more cost-effective alternatives to achieve the same evangelisation objective itself raises questions as to whether at the back of it all, the appellants had a predominant motive to benefit Sun Ho specifically and to benefit Kong Hee indirectly, with evangelisation being just a distant objective. The undue preference by the appellants for this single option to the total exclusion of all others is compelling."

Now, the part I differ in the above quote is when the Judge wrote that they (CHC leaders) should have considered exploring other "better and more cost-effective alternatives" rather than myopically putting all the financial eggs into one Sun Ho's basket.

While I understand where he is coming from and it is eminently logical from a secular point of view, I feel that one cannot analyse the whole saga without factoring the mentality of Kong Hee (and Sun Ho) at the time they allegedly received that divine (Crossover/Cultural) mandate. This is where the context of religious zeal and mass belief comes into play.

For Kong Hee and his leaders, it was never about the money or cost. Didn't Kong Hee once say to plan to the sky? Money is secondary to obedience here. As such, no other cheaper alternative will do or nothing is deemed better (than his better half). The bottom-line is that Sun Ho was the chosen one. She was God’s elect for the Crossover. Like a modern day Moses, she was destined (so they believed) to take the tens of thousands across to the promise land of mass conversion via musical masquerade.

In other words, she was created for this indispensable role which had its innocuous start in the late 1990s when the couple were vacationing in an Asian country and were marveling at pop singers strutting their stuff on huge TVs screens. That was where the vision of the Crossover took hold and took root.

After that, the cultural mandate to evangelise through secular music by grooming Sun Ho (and no one else) was affirmed rather divinely (if not conveniently) by three separate and independent scriptural sources/authorities. That was their defining moment, and the launch of the ill-fated Crossover ambition tour.

In fact, as an aside, every megachurch pastor has his defining moment. For Joseph Prince, the head of New Creation Church, his defining moment was when God spoke to him while he was driving in the Swiss Alps.

So, while the CHC leaders may not deny that there are other better and more cost-effective alternatives to spread the word, a calling is however still a calling. And to defy or ignore it would be an outright rebellion against their divine creator. Mind you, this is no small infraction for the religiously obsessed.

And, yes, at this point, I can hear the voices of protests asserting that they are simply delusional. But, we are forgetting that this vision was nevertheless very compelling and real to the pastoral couple at that time, and it became their raison d'├ętre over the next decade before the law caught up with them.

So, whether they are delusional or not, Sun Ho was the one and only reason for the Crossover Project. As such, it bears repeating that there was no other better or cheaper alternative available for the CHC leadership other than to elevate Sun Ho to be their sole evangelistic vehicle.

This in fact coincides with what Justice Chan said (at para 511) that "the Crossover is synonymous with Sun Ho's secular music activities and that the two may be used interchangeably." He even went on to write that "I would have thought that the particulars of two of the three sham investment charges as framed are fairly clear in that the monies were dishonestly misappropriated "from the said Fund for the purpose of funding one (Sun Ho's) music career."" (emphasis in italic from Justice Chan).

When you put them together, that is, the Crossover, Sun Ho and the criminal charges, what you get is an insidious convergence of all funds, effort and investment into an unwieldy ambition with the single aim of making Sun Ho into an international success. Everything is therefore poured into her career, and I believe she was kept apprised of them from the start.

Sun Ho knew what it takes and how much it takes to launch herself into international stardom because she was the ultimate recipient/beneficiary of a major portion of the funds. I also sincerely believe that she knew the risk involved and the surreptitiousness of the whole operation.

The above can be inferred from the Blackberry message sent directly to Sun Ho (and the other leaders) on 5 April 2010 before the accused were charged. The message strikes at the heart of her feigned innocence, and it reads:-

"Sun, one of the main reasons why I proposed the Special Audit is to buy us time to fill up the hole. We don't want all the issue to grow to the extend (sic) that the authorities step in BEFORE we fill up the hole. By appointing our auditors, it will be easier to talk and get things done. If the report turns out to be lacking in some areas, we will improve and change. They can help us. 

That's why to me, it is important to let the relevant authorities know that we initiate a special audit. They will at least not do anything till the report comes out. By then, the hole is filled."

But alas, all attempts to fill up this hole were in vain because Kong Hee bit off more than he could chew in his desperation to fund his wife's music career in America. As such, Kong Hee's waterloo was an American rapper named Wyclef Jean and Sun Ho's Wellington was her sexually-charged music video "China Wine". Both of which were the beginning of the end of the Crossover fantasy.

But, just as every historical reality is spiced up by a counterfactual hypothesis, the counterfactual for the Crossover is this: "What if it had been an international success and Sun Ho a runaway mega-hit? What would become of Sun Ho then?"

Well, if the Crossover were to be a smashing success, you can expect Sun Ho to benefit immensely from it. 

Contractually speaking, she stands to gain 25% of the gross income received by Xtron, on top of the S$10,000 monthly income to her. Mind you, it's "gross" and that means sale revenue earned from her concerts, album sales, tours, licensing and merchandising activities before taking into account any cost and expenses incurred. That’s quite a huge sum, but that's not all.

She is also entitled to 10% of the gross income from the agreement with UA as well as 100% of the royalties that UA will receive on her behalf. While it is said at the trial that Sun Ho had always donated her money back to the church, this cannot be independently verified.

Even if this was so, it cannot be denied that the Crossover was set up to not only make Sun Ho an international superstar with unauthorized church funds, it was also for the purpose of enriching her greatly.

And yet now, as we fast forward to the present day, the ones who were investigated, charged, sentenced, and soon to be incarcerated are her husband and five other leaders. She somehow remained blissfully untouched.

Alas, the greatest irony of this prosecutorial dragnet operation is that Sun Ho is not only free from any criminal implication, she was also ordained in November 2015 by reputed church leaders to take over the helm of CHC leadership.

So, if you look at it from a panoramic view of the entire saga spread over the last 14 years (since 2003 when Roland Poon blew the whistle and paid a price for it), you will realise that Sun Ho is not only synonymous with the Crossover, she had also benefited directly from it without spending a single cent from her own pocket. Yet, when the house of cards fell and the deception was unraveled, it was not her but the others who have to face the music and the clanging sound of prison bars in due course.

To compound the irony, Sun Ho was even red-carpeted back to be the lead pastor of CHC 2.0, thereby retaining full control of the church and over the millions of dollars in the Building Funds.

Indeed, if anyone ought to be thankful of her divinely-protected fate, it has got to be Sun Ho. I guess it's like most of the congregational prayers got diverted to forging a divine hedge of protection around her. For at the end of the day, she is most definitely the one that got away. Cheerz.