As 2015 comes to a close, City News Weekly looks back on one of the most challenging yet significant years in the history of City Harvest Church.
2015 has been a good year for most Singaporeans. This is the nation’s 50th year as an independent state. There have been plenty of freebies and bonuses for every Singaporean, from babies to the “Pioneer Generation”. That the nation’s founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed away in March before the National Day celebrations was a tragedy that knit the nation together as one.
For City Harvest Church, however, it has been a difficult year. The church had held on to its faith and carried on its good works while its pastors and leaders were first investigated, then put through three years of trial proceedings. This was the year that the trial it endured came to an end on Oct 21, when the court found all six in the case to be guilty of all charges. In a turn of events, following the sentencing on Nov 20, the prosecution decided to appeal for longer sentences than the State Court had meted. The six have decided to appeal their convictions and sentences, and this will be heard at the Appeal Court next year. All these happenings were followed in detail by the media, with the public lighting up social media with unkind remarks.
These are circumstances that could easily fell an organization, but by the grace of God, CHC stands, having done all. The church board and the management team have actively put in place tighter measures and stronger governance over the past five years, to better protect the church. The staff and the congregation have done everything in their power—prayed, fasted, confessed positively, believed, trusted—to keep the faith and to strengthen the members of the church.
As the Bible says in 1 Cor 10:13, God will not let believers be tempted beyond what they can bear. Indeed, godly friends have come alongside to strengthen the congregation like ministering angels, bringing timely messages and powerful reminders of the destiny CHC has in Christ.
We take a look back at the seasons of a year in which God’s grace ruled and reigned in the hearts and minds of a church under fire.
THE TRANSITION GENERATION
At the first service of the year, on Jan 3-4, Paul Scanlon, the founder of Life Church UK brought an extraordinary message titled “The Transition Generation”.
“It’s as if there are two CHCs:
the one before the trial, and the church after the trial. It’s like 9/11—the world was different after. You have become the most important generation CHC has ever had…
You are a bridge, you are the people alive during the transition, the generation that will bridge the before and after. You continue the narrative, the story of CHC.” ~ Paul Scanlon
He told the church: “We are in the … season of transition. Most people are lost during this season—it’s neither winter nor summer… there is no definition for this season: we don’t know what to wear, what to think. Many of us don’t survive it. Its ingredients are negative: fear, insecurity, panic.
“[T]here is something you are supposed to pick up: the seed. You will need it where you are going. It’s as if there are two CHCs: the one before the trial, and the church after the trial. It’s like 9/11—the world was different after. You have become the most important generation CHC has ever had. No previous generation has had to navigate the last four years.
“God wants you to own it, and to feel privileged that you are in this season; not to be in fear or to think you are suffering. You are a bridge, you are the people alive during the transition, the generation that will bridge the before and after. You continue the narrative, the story of CHC.”
These were powerful words to hold on to for a congregation that had practised “longsuffering”. When Dr Robi Sonderegger, with Swiss pastor Leo Bigger, spoke a few weeks later on “Conquering Giants”, he fortified Scanlon’s message with a reminder for CHC to persevere. David brought five stones with him to kill Goliath, not because he thought he would miss, but because he would be ready for any other giants that might come along after Goliath.
CHC’s advisory chairman Dr AR Bernard, senior pastor of Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York, went further. In a Feb 3 leaders’ meeting with pastors, zone leaders and cell group leaders, he forewarned them about becoming tired. “This is … the last lap for you and that’s why you have to be strongest when you’re running toward the finish line,” he said, “You need the momentum that will carry you and the church through. Please keep that in mind as any opportunity to be weary comes your way; be strong. Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.”
CARRYING ON THE GOOD WORKS
In Nehemiah, the people continued their work to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, even though they knew their enemies were coming. Each man held a spear in one hand and a tool in the other, and work did not stop.
In the same way, the church continued its work—bringing hope and help to the needy, being salt and light where there was darkness. Disaster relief work continued to places like Nepal: CHC partnered with Crisis Relief Singapore on multiple trips in April and May this year to bring six medical teams to Sindhupalchowk and Gorkha areas which were hemmed in after the April 25 earthquake. Back home, the equipping of missionaries continued with the School of Theology welcoming its 21st intake of students for yet another year of great discipleship and learning.
CHC’s youth movement Emerge kept the young on fire with Emerge Nights, and of course, the annual Emerge camps, culminating in Emerge Weekend on the first week of July. Kong brought the young ones back to the importance of being in “the secret place” with God. Guest performers Benjamin and Narelle Kheng of the popular folktronica quartet The Sam Willows were leading the congregation in ‘As The Deer’ when the Holy Spirit touched Narelle, and her tears brought down the presence of God, making Emerge 2015 unforgettable.
GOING ON TO MATURITY: CHC 2.0
Over the last few years, the congregation was reminded repeatedly that CHC is still a young church. However, it was becoming increasingly evident that the church had to ensure its longevity with a sound succession plan. It was—and still is—imperative that the destiny God has for CHC be fulfilled.
Part of this destiny is the role CHC plays in bringing the Gospel to the Chinese-speaking world. June marked the church’s first ever Chinese Leadership And Revival Seminar which was attended by 300 Christian leaders from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and China, as well as Chinese expatriates living in Singapore. Together with guest speaker Rev Dr Chan Kim Kwong, executive secretary of the Hong Kong Christian Council, Kong imparted his knowledge and revelations about reaching the lost in these countries, and exhorted Chinese expatriates in Singapore to share the Good News with the thousands of Chinese working and living in Singapore.
The 26th anniversary celebrations of CHC on August 22 and 23 were bittersweet. Kong had begun at the start of August to prepare the church for leadership renewal, in view of the verdict of the trial that would come in October. He distilled 15 paradigms that encapsulated all that CHC stood for—without the combination of these 15 paradigms, without remembering the destiny given to it, CHC would no longer be the church God shaped over the last 26 years. The anniversary also marked the ordination of Sun Ho, Kong’s wife, who, despite having served faithfully by her husband’s side, had not been ordained till Aug 23.
In CHC 2.0, the church is co-led by its co-founder Ho, executive pastors Aries Zulkarnain and Bobby Chaw, together with the church board, heads of department and ministry leaders.
TRUST IN THE LORD
The final quarter of the year marked the hardest time the church had had to endure, possibly in all its short history, when the six were found guilty.
Some members expressed disappointment, others hope that the sentence would nevertheless be light. What was significant was that the church was packed that weekend after the verdict. Kong bowed and apologized to his congregation for taking them through such a hard time for so many years, causing many to weep. He told the church that for them, the time of suffering had now come to an end.
AR Bernard returned that season to address the church, first on the importance of peace and then to set the people’s sights on the future of the church and its destiny. He said, “For the believer, peace is not the absence of trials and tribulations, suffering, persecution or pressure, but the presence of trust in God. If you’re not experiencing peace, it’s because your trust is not in God… By deciding to focus on God, an inexplicable peace will overwhelm you; one that protects your heart, emotions, mind, thoughts and brings calmness and stillness. No matter how your future looks like, you know God is in control and He always has your best interests at heart.”
On Nov 20, the six returned to court for the sentencing, which ranged from 21 months to eight years. However, the following week the Attorney-General’s Chambers filed notice of an appeal to lengthen the sentences. The six will be filing their appeals on Jan 18, 2016.
Amidst the rollercoaster emotions that the church experienced these three months, God kept bringing messengers of hope: Dr Yonggi Cho, who sent a video greeting that spoke faith and hope into the church, pastors Johnny and Tina Seragih whose work in their church in Indonesia reminded CHC of the good works that it has helped inspire and support, and pastors Casey and Wendy Treat, who brought the people back to the foundation stones that every Christian must hold on to, among them the will to transition gracefully from one stage to the next. “Don’t miss the good, acceptable, perfect will of God,” said Treat.
In spite of all he is going through personally, Kong has been focusing on building his people’s faith with sermons on Faith, Trust and Rest—teaching the congregation how to go beyond faith to complete trust in God, and how to keep oneself from doubt, unbelief and worst of all, a hardened heart.
As the church stands on the dawn of a new year, of what lies in the coming months, only God has knowledge. But CHC will certainly hold on to the verse that its senior pastor has drawn from many times this year:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
~ Prov 3:5 (NKJV)
Lily Yong, pastor: