It might have been one of City Harvest Church’s most challenging years, but 2014 has also been a year of great significance for the church.
“If we cannot believe God when circumstances seem to be against us, we do not believe Him at all,” preached the British pastor Charles Spurgeon.
Indeed, circumstances have seemed to be against City Harvest Church these past four years, and this year in particular has brought the church and its leaders through great challenges. Despite the ongoing trial against the church’s key leaders and its impact on the congregation, CHC has clung on to the God who started the church, believing in His promises and in the hope and future He has for it.
Recently, a cell group leader asked Bobby Chaw, missions director of City Harvest Church, what he saw in the future of the church. “Our future is bright because the God I read about in the Bible is a God of hope,” he tells City News Weekly. “We cannot lose hope because faith is the evidence of things hoped for; when we lose hope, we essentially lose our future.
“Romans 15:13 says, ‘Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’ God is a God of hope, our job is to keep believing in Him and His job is to bring us there.”
Throughout 2014 and its low points, the church has maintained a strong spiritual atmosphere of faith and purity at the worship services weekend after weekend. The cell groups, the ministries, the prayer meetings have continued without missing a beat. The good works of the church and its affiliates—helping communities in Singapore and overseas—have not stopped. In these troubled times, the strength of the Church and the goodness of God has been even more evident and more deeply cherished.
“I’m thankful for the cell group leaders and connect group leaders that serve tirelessly,” says Aries Zulkarnain, CHC’s executive pastor. “I’m thankful because they are still faithfully serving the people, because the Church is all about its people. The zone and cell group leaders have been a great support to us in building the atmosphere in the services and building up the people. They are really a dedicated bunch.”
Sun Ho, co-founder of the church, reflects Zulkarnain’s thoughts: “I am ever thankful for the strength and resilience of our City Harvest leaders and members. Their amazing ability to face the unexpected and overcome every obstacle with faith and Christlikeness continues to inspire me every day in my own walk with God.”
25 YEARS OF CHC, 20 YEARS OF SOT
Chaw was grateful to see the promises of God coming to pass during the School Of Theology Homecoming service this year. SOT celebrated its 20th anniversary with a reunion service for the SOT alumni. Held on Aug 24 and 25, the anniversary event, titled “Homecoming: Gathering Of Hearts” saw more 300 graduates flying in from around the world to attend the meeting. Many foreign graduates returned to their alma mater with exciting testimonies to share. Some have created successful social programs to help the poor in their community, others have built churches and introduced Christ into their cities.
“The one thing I was thankful for this year is to see how God had raised the SOT graduates up to be pastors, workers and churches all over the world, especially in Asia,” Chaw said. “Through their ministries, I saw the promises of God coming to pass; the seeds that we had sown are now flourishing.”
On the weekend after SOT celebrated its 20th anniversary, CHC commemorated its 25th anniversary. The silver anniversary was a time of reminiscing and thanksgiving for those in the church—particularly those who were in the fledgling group of youth who started the church with founder Kong Hee.
It was 25 years ago that Kong took the step of obedience to the Lord to build a church of young people who would take Asia by storm for Christ. To illustrate the fruit of Kong’s labor, the members mounted a tribute to him, titled “Masterpiece”, which traced the history of CHC through a video and through heartfelt, often teary testimonies from pioneers and longtime members of the church, as well as pastors of affiliate churches who had started a church or turned their church around with Kong’s help. Each shared their personal story of how Kong had preached a sermon, gave advice or taught a principle that has helped them live out their calling in Jesus Christ.
But the anniversary’s main celebration was of its people. With the theme of “Because Of You”, every member’s sacrifice and love that was put into building the church was recognized and appreciated. Every CHC member—young, old, man, woman, child, native, foreign—was upheld.
ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE
The purpose of a church is not only to bring new people to Christ, but to support every Christian in his or her development: spiritually and mentally (and sometimes physically as well). Given the aims of helping members navigate through different stages in life, empowering them with life skills and strengthening their spiritual walk with God, CHC organized a series of events this year for the different demographics in its congregation.
Over 1,570 men of CHC gathered for the first Men’s Meeting of the year on May 9. Pastor Tan Ye Peng taught at a men-only gathering about the four factors of life, and the four things men should focus on overcoming temptations. The second men’s meeting in June took a break from the cerebral to address the physical. Attendees were decked out in football jerseys, in tribute to the World Cup season at the time. The night was spent drinking (root) beer and listening to three of CHC’s pastors in a no-holds-barred question-and-answer session. Pastors Zulkarnain, Chaw and Wu Yu Zhuang answered questions from the audience revolving around topics of marriage and its challenges, fatherhood and singlehood. Chaw preached the message for that night on the topic of holiness, encouraging the men of CHC to rise up and take responsibility to lead their households in holiness.
“THE BEST EMERGE BY FAR”
Declared by senior pastor Kong to be “the best Emerge meeting” that the church has seen in all its years, this year’s Emerge conference for the youth was loud and bold. Emerge began as a youth conference in 2003 and has today evolved into a youth movement. Through the years, Emerge has provided the platform for youths aged 13 to 25 to realize their talents and to catch the fire to serve God in their generation. Featuring for the first time in the history of CHC’s worship service, a mosh pit, the nightly sessions of Emerge Week 2014 saw never-before-witnessed sights such as youth leaders diving off stage into the arms of the CHC youth as the City Radio deejays cranked up the Christian dance pop and rock.
“When it comes to these present youths, you can see obviously that they are very post-modern in their mindset,” said Kong in an interview with City News Weekly. “In fact, they are willing to try things that [would force even me] to come out of the comfort zone. The beautiful thing is that I’m very impacted by them even as they are blessed by my ministry. I’m impacted by them because I can see their love for God, their hunger for God. And they really have the passion to do God’s will for their generation. For me, that is the most precious thing, above and beyond all the outward trappings.”
What happens when Emerge youth grow up? This year, for the first time, “Emerge alumni” enjoyed their own “grown up event” at the inaugural Higher Conference. Higher Conference is meant for working adults aged 25 and above. The conference aims to inspire and equip the adults for life—for work, home life and their walk with God. The three-day conference kick-started with an Encounter Night where all distractions were set aside for a time of deep worship. On a practical level, attendees got to engage Kong and his wife Sun on the topic of “Relationship Excellence” as married couples, as parents and as singles, through a series of workshops.
CHC’S SUNTEC STAKE RISES IN VALUE
Just as the church entered into its new season of building fund—the Arise & Build campaign—good news came.
The Straits Times reported on Oct 30, 2014 that the investment that CHC made into the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Hall has increased in value. The report read: “City Harvest has racked up a paper profit of about $162 million over five years, according to calculations by The Straits Times. The overall value of Suntec has surged from $235 million as at the inception of the ARA Harmony Fund on Sept 30, 2009, to an average valuation of $663.25 million as at Sept 30 this year, fund manager ARA said last week. That represented a jump of about 182 per cent over five years.”
CHC has invested into a 49 per cent stake in a consortium of private investors, which holds 80 per cent of the fund. Hence CHC’s effective indirect stake in the fund is about 39.2 per cent. The S$97.75 million the church invested into the consortium has grown a worth of about S$260 million. It is, indeed, encouraging news for the church and its members.
True friends of CHC have come to the church this year, bringing words of affirmation and prophecies of a powerful future. Taken collectively, these messages reveal clearly that God has a word for the Church.
Right from the get-go, in January 2014, CHC’s advisory chairman began to prepare the hearts of the members with powerful words of encouragement. Dr AR Bernard, the founder and CEO of Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York, declared to the members at CHC that they are “blessed and highly favored.” CHC’s advisory pastor, Phil Pringle told the church the following week that “you are unshakeable, in Jesus’ name.” Pringle is the founder and president of C3 Global Network of 200 churches worldwide, and the senior pastor of C3 Church in Oxford Falls in Sydney, Australia. He taught the members to dig deep into their own character so that “the foundation is strong and our house will be stronger when the earthquake comes in.”
Both Bernard and Pringle encouraged the church to stay focused on the visions God gave them and to not be distracted by the waves and storms around them. This proved to be a piece of advice to cling to this year, as the church rode through a fierce storm of negative publicity and criticism when the leaders of the church took the stand as defense witnesses at the ongoing trial.
In March, guest speakers Paul Scanlon and Dominic Yeo, both felt the need to remind the church that God is moving even when the people cannot see it. Founder of Life Church in Bradford, UK, Scanlon gave a timely reminder that all things work together for good for those who love God.
“God is doing far more behind your back than in front of your eyes!” he declared. “The way we trace God in our lives is through the things we perceive to be Him. Eventually, we start to base our faith on our ability to track and trace God in our lives.
“But the key is our ability to trust in God even when we cannot trace Him. There are, right now, a lot of things that are working together for good in your life. God is using things from your friends, and your enemies too, things that are visible and invisible, tangible and intangible, things you remember and have forgotten, good decisions and bad decisions—all these are listed under the ‘all things’ that God can bring together and weave together for your good as His people. Nothing is wasted!”
The senior pastor of Trinity Christian Centre, Yeo, gave a similar word. Reading from 1 Kings 17, Yeo reminded CHC that Christians walk in the blessings of God every day, and he encouraged the congregation to keep trusting in God, even when the “brook dries up” just as prophet Elijah experienced. Yeo explained, “If God has been good to you in the past, He will do even better in the future! God’s past record is an indication of where He will take his people in the future.”
In August, Bernard returned, bringing a vision-casting message for CHC as it marked its 25th year of existence. He taught the congregation about how God uses the institutions and leaders of the world—who are not necessary believers, but are willing and available to forward the purposes of God. One example in the Bible was Cyrus the Persian, whom God even called “anointed”. It was a deep, powerful and uplifting message that planted a seed for CHC’s next 25 years, a glimpse into the greater work that the Cultural Mandate is destined to become.
That same month, as if to gird the church for the word Bernard had spoken, Phil Pringle returned with a word that sparked off a series of messages highlighting the need for the church to stay on course amidst difficult times. He spoke to the Church on the power of happiness. “As Christians, we cannot excuse ourselves from happiness because of our circumstances. The Bible has an ‘in spite of’ clause that demands us to live a happy life in all circumstances. A lot of Christians could do with being a lot happier, and not being so serious and rigid about their life,” said Pringle, Scanlon returned to CHC the following week and encouraged the church to stay strong in the difficult days of small beginnings. He said that the devil tries to bring temptations and struggles in the early days because he knows that if he can get a person to quit while he is at the beginning, the person will never reach the end that God has prepared for him.
“God is committed to small beginnings,” Scanlon encouraged the congregation. “In the small beginnings, God is building things in your life that He can’t build later. Don’t despise this time that you have and don’t give up, or the things that God has written in the future will never come to pass.”
A friend of the church, Casey Treat, the founder and pastor of Christian Faith Center in Seattle, came in September to encourage the Church to keep fighting in spite of difficult circumstances. It was as if his message built upon Scanlon’s. Sharing from John 10:10 and Proverbs 6:31, Treat said, “If you and I would stay on course by being the people God created us to be, then whatever the enemy brings to kill, steal and destroy will be returned to him sevenfold!” he said.
“Don’t let the world make you feel inferior or insecure,” Treat told the people. “God knew you and He called you by name, and He has a plan where you will make a difference in this world. Someone will be saved, helped and healed. Lives will be affected because of what you do, where you work, how you give, how you pray. In so many ways, God is
The messages grew from rousing encouragement to soaring prophecies. Mary Hudson, wife of Keith Hudson and mother of Katy Perry prayed for CHC on the weekend of Nov 22. She prayed, “Lord, we thank you that tonight will be called the tipping point of CHC. I thank you right now that the glory will arise, and favor will arise, the favor will come upon them and surround them as a shield, Father.”
Hudson also prophesied that God would use CHC as a city of refuge for people who do not know where to go; He would use their gifting and talents, He would put them in the most unusual places. “The year 2015,” she continued, “will be a year where lights will be turned on, things will start to happen … the crowd will start to cheer for them even on that day.”
The last guest speaker of the year was Dr John Avanzini. A renowned speaker on Biblical economics and a preacher who has provided spiritual covering for the church since its beginning, Avanzini, 78, is affectionately known as the “grandfather of CHC”. When he preached in the service over the weekend of Dec 6 and 7, he declared, “it was good to be home”.
“I go around the world and I always say City Harvest is my church. I am a son of this house,” he declared as the congregation cheered.
In a perfect message for the end of the year, Avanzini also declared that the turning point has come for CHC. He said that it is a time to set new goals and enter new dimensions; a time for the people to seek God and dare to step out to do the things that God has spoken to them.
Sun Ho, in looking back on this past year, expresses her sentiments with a poem, “Still I Rise” by the late Maya Angelou, adapting it for the church:
Just like moons & like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still, we’ll rise.