The saying that “the church is against the government” is a very misleading remark and we do not know since when it is so widely circulated that it has even aroused the concern of the ruling parties. In response, Rev. Dr Ong Hwai Teik, the Bishop of the General Conference of the Methodist Church in Malaysia, reiterates that the church is not an anti-government organization, rather the church is non-partisan vis-à-vis political parties but expects certain qualities of good governance. The church also hopes to convey to the people the characteristics of a government that truly serves the people.
“The Church will not side with any political party and what we want is a just, compassionate and righteous government. The Church will do its best to opportunely express difference in opinions if any party violates justice and righteousness, be it states like Penang and Selangor which are governed by the opposition parties.”
The Church remains neutral
In his interview by Mr. Wong Meng Lei, Chief Editor of Methodist Message, Bishop Ong emphasized that the Church is neutral politically and what the Church wants is a just, compassionate and righteous government.
He also encouraged brothers and sisters in Christ to be concerned about politics and speak out for the Lord, but as to which political party to join is their personal choice.
Admittedly, the Church is waking up because of the “Allah” issue and the incidents of abducted pastor and social activists. To that end, he urged the Church to be united and be concerted in prayer to address present as well as future challenges.
“By ratio, it is estimated that only 10% of Malaysians are Christians. Being in the minority, we have all the more to remain united to be strong.”
Bishop Ong also placed great stress on the importance of prayer and that all brothers and sisters in Christ should earnestly and unitedly pray to our God. He disclosed that in more recent times, prayer movements are becoming more active in Malaysia. In particular, the “Prayer United” movement led by Bishop Emeritus Hwa Yung is spurring on many more brothers and sisters in prayer.
Secondly, registering as a voter is also an important way for Christians to participate in politics. In his opinion registering as a voter is a necessary step that leads to participation in the election and also to be concerned about politics for the welfare of our nation.
As citizens of this country we should get to know our country politically, spiritually, socially and economically. Bishop Ong suggested that to help church members to have a better understanding of current political issues the church can organize dialogues with political figures and representatives from both the ruling or opposition parties.
Christians should pray for courage and wisdom to speak the truth when we have the opportunities to meet the Ministers or senior government officials, and the wisdom to discern the current political situation and to make choices for the best interest of all.
Do not underestimate the “small things”
During end of June in 2017, Bishop Ong and Mrs Ong were attacked by dengue. Due to this sudden dengue strike, Bishop Ong was forced to take a good rest and it was during this time of enforced quietness and rest that he had new insights.
He said, “I was diagnosed with dengue on June 28 and admitted to hospital on July 1. I met two nurses from Sibu, Sarawak on the fifth day in the hospital. The first one told me that she was a member of SCAC and she was working in a palliative ward in a Singapore hospital. After working for few years she resigned to come back to KL because she could no longer stand having to keep ‘saying goodbye to people who have become her friends’.
“The other one was curious about the thick callus on my fingers. When I told her that it was the result of playing the guitar, she told me that she was originally a member of a church. However, she has since become a Muslim two months earlier.”
He was forced to put aside his busy work and ministry schedule while recuperating from the sickness and while in con- valescence had the God-given opportunity of time to reflect and pray. “Work and assignments were mounting when I was healthy. While I still maintained my spiritual disciplines and tie with our Lord, times to sit back and rest could have been more and deeper. It was like a burning fire that was overload- ed with firewood but with little breathing or air space for the fire to burn properly! The sickness gave me the opportunity to create more air spaces and also to clean up the pile of ashes, Ha! Ha! Ha!”
He added that another great gain from this sickness is not to underestimate the power of the “trifle or trivial” (such as a tiny mosquito) and small sins, because they can also kill (as Dengue can be fatal).
Solicitude for our Methodist Iban churches
Noting that various Annual Conferences were successively holding their conferences in November of 2017, Bishop Ong stressed that the Malaysian Methodist Church is like a big family when united we can do a lot of things. Although each Annual Conference is an independent entity, each can help the other in a family. For example, the Sengoi Mission Conference in West Malaysia and the Sarawak Iban Annual Conference (SIAC) are the indigenous people churches that need the help of the other Annual Conferences.
“Taking SIAC as an example, he stated that they are facing the dilemma of shortage of pastors. It is not that the youngsters do not love the Lord. In fact they are experiencing a mini revival. Many youngsters are willing to commit themselves to full time ministry. The problems are with the low pay, parents’ concern about their children’s future and so forth, prompting fewer and fewer Ibans to commit themselves to full time ministry and vocations. Instead they choose to become civil servants.”
“So now the Methodist Family in Malaysia has helped them raise the pay of their pastors to a respectable level with a new salary scheme. We have agreed on a 50-50 plan, meaning that SIAC will be responsible for raising 50% of the salary while the General Conference will arrange for the other five Annual Conferences to raise the balance 50% for the first 2 years. After that, SIAC will increase their apportionment by 10% for the next 5 years. This is a seven-year arrangement beginning in 2017.”
Bishop Ong also pointed out that while the Annual Confe- rences work in cooperation and unity, each should also focus on seeking revival and spiritual fullness and together they will be Annual Conferences after God’s own heart. “If mem- bers of each Annual Conference put Christ as the centre of their lives, experiencing fire of the Holy Spirit and revival like the church in the Book of Acts, then together as a total Methodist Family, we shall be true followers of Christ who are after God’s own heart, and possessing the full power of the Holy Spirit.”
Another important point is that Methodists should not forget that the “General Rules of the Methodist Church” set up by John Wesley around 1743: “Firstly: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced. Secondly: By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all people. Thirdly, by attending to all the ordinances of God.”
Wesley’s reference to ordinances of God are: “the public worship of God”, “the ministry of the Word, either reading or expounding”, “the Supper of the Lord”, “family and private prayer”, “searching the Scriptures”, “fasting or abstinence”.
Bishop Ong said that if every member of the Methodist Church practices the “General Rules of the Methodist Church” as a Rule of Life, they will have a great impact on the society.
Methodist Church comprises various races
“We must recognize that each of the seven Annual Conferences has its own language and culture. So it is important that the General Conference (GC) tries to find ways to overcome, to care and to bring them together. GC has to take the lead in becoming a bridge between the Conferences by hosting combined conferences like the Combined Pastors’ School (once in 4 years), GC Youth Conference, Methodist Women Conference and etc. Of course we face problems with the medium of communication because there are Chinese, Indian and Indigenous peoples in our big family. However, as English and Chinese are spoken by most people, they are the languages used and we have simultaneous Malay and Tamil translation using the earphone or smart phone technology.”
To ensure that GC is well represented we are including re- presentatives from each Annual Conference. E.g. SCAC has 4 representatives in the General Conference Executive Coun-cil. The GCEC meets twice a year and during the meetings we share about matters in each Annual Conference, pray for each other, share our resources like manpower and monetary resources, and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit make the necessary decisions for the total welfare of the Methodist Church in Malaysia.
“For example, recently the Sabah Provisional Annual Conference needed a gospel van for a very strategic Gospel work. GCEC thus allocated RM50,000 for the SPAC to buy the gospel van. Eventually they found one that cost RM70,000 so they raised the balance sum and bought that van. Another example is SIAC’s payroll problem. The GCEC helps to raise 50% of the fund and they themselves are responsible for the remaining 50% for 2017 and 2018.”
This is Bishop Ong’s second term as Bishop of the Methodist Church in Malaysia with 2017 being the first year of his second term. So he will serve another three years before his term expires. He hopes that the members of the Methodist Church will be able to live more like Christ and to bring glory to God.
“God is good all the time and He is in sovereign control; let us never forget that this is our Father’s world,” concludes Bishop Ong.
Interviewed by Menglei
Recorded by April
Translated by KT Chew