SINGAPORE, 19 NOVEMBER 2008 — IMAGINE 20,000 PEOPLE holding their breath. That was the feeling — the unction of intense anticipation — that clouded Singapore Expo Hall 8 and the overflow room Hall 10.
Kudos to the warm-up team of Belinda Lee, Bernard Loh and Joseph Ang, who rallied the excited crowd with games that attempted to relax everyone. But the atmosphere didn’t break loose until finally at 7.40pm, when the opening night of the Asia Conference started, and anticipation gave way to full-on celebration.
The night opened with a dazzling opening number featuring dancers depicting the different Asian nations present: Koreans, Indonesians, Indians, Japanese. Following that was a grand display of the talents and gifts within City Harvest Church, in the Welcome Parade.
Twelve of the Church’s ministries took centrestage in a dramatic show of what each ministry did — from the aircrew fellowship led by Celest Foo, also Miss Universe/Charisma 2007, who shared the float with Vivi Wang, a model/celebrity and former pageant winner in Taiwan, to the Jesus for All Minds (JAMs) Church for the intellectually disadvantaged, to the marketplace ministry, which highlighted celebrities like Mediacorp host and actress Belinda Lee, singer Alan Moo and actress Foyce Le Xuan, and award-winners in the marketplace, like Elim Chew of 77th Street.
|PHOTOS: Michael Chan, Poh Yang Zheng & Alvin Lim|
The Usher Ministry made the crowd laugh with their chirpy display of happy faces. The Tamil Church had the crowd jumping with their rousing Bollywood dance, while the Indonesian and Johor Bahru Churches enthralled with a beautiful Balinese-meets-joget dance number. Not to be outdone, the Chinese and Dialect Churches performed live calligraphy, wushu moves and traditional Chinese dance. Warming the hearts of all was the Children’s Church’s dance number and multi-colored float starring babes and children.
All the displays were great but the ones that captured the audience’s hearts and minds were the Drama Ministry, which featured a motley crew of characters from Spiderman to Marilyn Monroe, with a hilarious Bruce Lee executing great (fake) moves that had the audience in stitches. The “hottest” item came from Campus Ministry in a heart-pounding cheer leading display that saw uniformed girls flipping, flying, jumping weightlessly atop the shoulders of their friends.
The Parade ended with a team from the School of Theology, which featured four SOT students preaching in a multitude of languages. The audience leap to its feet upon hearing the Word of God in so many tongues. The worship team closed with a beautiful song — and pyrotechnics provided a fitting finish to the Parade.
Next up was a touching and funny interview with Jack Neo, the acclaimed filmmaker of Asian top box office hits like I Not Stupid, Money No Enough, Just Follow Law, Ah Long Pte Ltd and his highly successful 2008 sequel Money No Enough 2.
Neo shared the story of how he came to City Harvest. His production manager was looking for an office that they could film Just Follow Law in — most other offices turned them away upon hearing there would be an “explosion” scene, but City Harvest opened its doors to the film crew.
“When I came to the church office, seriously I didn’t know it was a church. I thought, ‘This office very nice.’ Everyone was smiling, they were so happy. So I asked, ‘What is this place?’ and they said ‘City Harvest Church’. Orhh.”
Neo and his family have been attending CHC for a year now. The presence of God in his life is changing his outlook to his work. “When I write a script, I don’t plan out, I just write and the words just come. In the words, there is a message, but I don’t plan it. When I direct the actors, I also don’t plan, it comes naturally. Before I came to church I thought it’s my power. Now I know it’s not my power, it’s power that comes from up there.”
Neo feels that all his movies are about love. “Our society suffers from a lack of love,” he said. “People don’t know how to find love. People say my stories are old-fashioned. They seem that way because you see it everyday, but you’re too close to it to see the truth. Sometimes, your mother might call you and say ‘Come home, I’ve cooked dinner’ and you say, ‘I’m busy, don’t disturb me’. That’s love that you have missed.”
For Neo, impacting millions with his movies is his way of fulfilling the Cultural Mandate. “The cinema is dark — in the darkness you see the light. In the dark you can see things more clearly. Makes you sit down and think.”
Following the interview, the audience watched a video on City Harvest Community Services Association (CHCSA), an extension of the “church without walls” that Kong Hee and his wife Sun Ho had began in 1996. Today, CHCSA has nine arms and helps 14,000 distinct individuals yearly.
In the video, testimonies were given by ex-prisoners, AIDS patients, and a girl who suffers physical abuse at home. The love and concern shown by CHCSA workers have gone a long way to transform lives — feeding the hungry, helping the poor, giving aid to those who are abandoned, neglected, abused.
All that — the Parade, Jack Neo, CHCSA’s good works — only set the stage for Kong’s fiery, challenging opening message.
Paul, the Exemplary Marketplace Missionary
Kong preached his message from Acts 17:16-30: Paul was in Athens, and gave the famous speech on Mars Hill. Athens was the center of the arts and fashion — but also idolatry. The Athenians worshiped pagan gods, money, success, power and sex — the city was named for Athena, the goddess of sexuality. While many of the religious would either despise or fear that type of culture, Paul was spiritually strong enough to enter into that very culture and do his work.
“The message is sacred; the method is not,” said Kong, quoting from 1 Corinthians 9:22 that Paul became all things to all men, so that he may by all means save some. Paul was unafraid of the pagan culture of Athens. “You cannot live out ‘He who is in us is greater than he who is in this world’ if you are afraid out what’s out there,” emphasized Kong.
Kong adapted a concept from Christian author Erwin McManus, which explains Christianity in terms of space and how we need to connect with people in their space and help them to experience God.
Paul started his mission at the church (the “First Space”), where there were Jews (who wanted nothing to do with the Athenians) and God-fearing Greeks, who didn’t want to be Athenians anymore. The First Space is the comfort zone, where Christians come to get recharged.
The most impact is made in the Second Space, the marketplace, comprising business, education, government, arts and entertainment, and the mass media.
And then, there is a Third Space. In Acts 17:18-19, Paul was brought before the Areopagus, a council made up of wise Greeks who were the top movers and shakers of the city.
“The Third Space is not a realm you can go in at will. You have to be invited in,” said Kong. “You have to earn the right to be heard. That’s why having upward mobility is important.” Movers and shakers will not listen to people who are not ‘up there’.
How Paul got into that Third Space was by being knowledgeable about the culture and being excellent so he is invited to appear before the influencers of that culture. Likewise, Kong’s call to the church is to move from the First Space to the Second. And some of us may make it into the Third Space — that’s where the transformation of the cities take place.
This first message set the stage for Asia Conference — every person left the hall in eager anticipation of all that was to come the next four days.