In the past two weeks, City Harvest Church walked through its toughest period in its 27-year history. Members of the church share their thoughts.
The past two weeks have been a highly emotional journey for City Harvest Church. Its senior pastor, Kong Hee and five others received the verdict of their appeal on Apr 7. While their jail terms were mercifully reduced, the conviction was upheld.
Yesterday (Apr 21), Kong together with pastor Tan Ye Peng, former board member John Lam, former finance managers Serina Wee and Sharon Tan started serving their sentences.
“WE CHOOSE TO REMEMBER THE GOOD”
Members of the church took to reflecting upon their encounters with their church leaders, all expressing that they would continue praying for them.
CHC’s Chinese interpreter, Chiong Xiao Ting, said, “In the last five years, I’ve had the privilege of serving alongside Pastor Kong on stage. This experience has touched me deeply as I could sense the calling and anointing God has placed over his life. Being the man of God, he is not perfect, but I choose to embrace the humanity in him—his strengths, his weaknesses, his flaws and mistakes. At the same time, I choose to love and honor him for the calling God has placed upon his life and for the fact that he was called—and is still called—to be our senior pastor. We will be praying for the team, while giving Sun and the leadership our full support in bringing the church forward.” Sun Ho is Kong’s wife and co-founder of the church.
“After these seven years, what do I choose to remember? The answer is plain: I will remember the good that my pastors and friends have done,” said Teo Hsin Yi, 43, a business owner. She is also a member of a cell group led by Lam.
“John has been my leader for the past 10 years. There are some leaders who only talk, but there are those who walk the talk. When the investigations first started in 2010, John’s life was turned upside down. Yet in 2011, during one of his visits to a member’s house, he found the capacity in his heart to organize a makeover for the home so that the member’s children could have a more conducive study environment. He rallied members and raised enough funds for a mini-renovation in two weeks. We then spent one weekend transforming the house into a brand new space.
“I often ask myself: would I be able to find the same strength and love to care for another family member if I were faced with a situation like his?
“In Dec 2010, when my husband came down with life-threatening dengue hemorrhagic fever and had to be admitted in the ICU for two weeks, John’s first response was to offer to help pay the hefty hospital bill while we waited for the insurance payout. That is the John I know—a faithful friend who exemplifies Christ’s love with practical actions.
“In the same dengue incident, Pastor Kong and Sun made an overseas call to pray with me, and subsequently visited my husband five times over two weeks.
“Throughout the past seven years, instead of wallowing in their own personal challenges, my pastors and friends have chosen to give of themselves, doing good in the same relentless manner.
“Their faithfulness, selflessness, steadfast love and the absence of bitterness is a true mark of Christ likeness–that is what I will choose to remember about them.”
THE CHURCH MUST CARRY ON
The case began seven years ago when the Commercial Affairs Department raided CHC’s office in May 2010. The past seven years have been a roller coaster ride for the church. While the new management board and the leadership team worked hard at tightening its governance and processes, the pastoral team banded the members together to strengthen the church. There have been moments of victory when people receive Christ and when members report of healing testimonies. There have also been disappointing moments when members have left the church.
“The seven-year-long case was probably the most traumatic event that the church had experienced corporately,” said Sharmaine Loh, 31, a clinical psychologist. “Firstly, I grieve for those who have left the church as a result of confusion, disillusion and hard feelings. As for those who have stayed, many are weary and have just been waiting for the whole case to end. Apart from the turmoil each member struggles with internally, we’ve also had to deal with external pressure in the form of questions, outright judgment and insults from the public, colleagues, friends and family members.
“It has indeed been a very painful and trying season for us as a church, and I pray that God will bind our wounds and bring reconciliation to the church. I also pray that the church will lift its eyes towards God and hold fast to the vision that God has given us, to be revival carriers to the nations and to make disciples, teaching them to live out the Great Commandment, the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate.”
Foo Chay Yeow, 27, a full-time tutor, identified with Loh. “I guess these seven years have been tough for everyone involved. I honestly cannot fault those who have chosen to leave; they have the right to feel discouraged and cheated. The church may not have meant for things to happen that way but I think there should have been greater accountability. We had chosen to identify with the church’s direction, so the church could have trusted us more by disclosing the way they were doing things.
“Having said that, those who remained seem to band closer together; friendships and mentorship are now more authentic. We may still be a work-in-progress, but at least there is real progress. The church is now more centered on the foundation of love and is less legalistic than before.”
Foo felt that though the seven years was a tough learning journey for CHC, but the church came out of it well. “I think, as Christians, we have learned that our Christian walk is not always a bed of roses. The past seven years have been extremely tough but we have grown into stronger Christians in the process. Whenever the going seems to be against us, we look to the Word for strength and encouragement. We learn that when we face things that we cannot handle, we must seek God in prayer. Most importantly, we have learned to stand together in faith and in love. A house divided will not stand.”
Foo says there are lessons to be learned from how others have treated the church. “In this trial, we have seen how a biased press can manipulate minds, even those with no direct encounter with the church, to see us in the worst light possible. We learn that words can hurt and half-truths are enough to distort reality. Therefore, we must learn not to repeat the way we approach matters and try not to be too quick to judge or gossip.
“We ought to focus more on building ourselves up amidst all this. Since a tree is known by its fruit, the best way to justify our faith and our leaders is to make a conscious effort to live our lives righteously, striving daily to keep loving God and His people. Those to whom reason appeals will see that we are not what we are made out to be.”
GROWTH THAT COMES FROM PAIN
The beautiful thing that has come out of the trial is how the members of CHC have grown and matured. This is evident in the atmosphere of the church services in two weeks following the verdict, one of which was an Easter service where hundreds received Jesus.
As long-time member, Karen Yeow, a financial consultant in her 40s, put it: “As members, we must carry on with our lives. Then the church can carry on. This is the time to strengthen ourselves and stand in the gap to support the leadership and one another. We encourage ourselves in the Lord and trust that all things work for good for those who love Him.”
A staff member of the church, Veronica Tan, 45, echoed Yeow’s thoughts. “It’s time for us to rise up and stand in the gap for our church, pastors, leaders, peers and members. It is time for us to put to practice what we have learned all these years. [We need to] look after ourselves and look out for one another. We need to focus on God and His words, not on the Internet or media. When we are okay, Pastor (Kong), the senior management team and the rest of the church will be okay too. John 13:34-35 says to ‘love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.’”
Dorothy Koh, 30, a pharmacist, says, “It has been a difficult seven years, and it is amazing our church has managed to pull through together. I think we have all learned from this trial. We learned the need to depend more on the Holy Spirit to guide us through as we do His work, we need good governance, and the list goes on. But I guess the most important thing I’ve learned is to keep focused on the things that matter.
“There may be a lot of noise from the media, or criticism from people who misunderstand us. But let’s not be distracted or give up on the church and leadership just because they are not perfect. Focus on what is important. As Pastor Kong put it so clearly a few weeks ago, focus on our divine purpose to seek first the Kingdom of God. Let’s seek His presence and continue to love. That’s what being a true Christian is.”
Koh adds, “I would like to see greater collaboration with the Holy Spirit and guidance from Him as we move on. The Bible says in Psalm 37:23 that the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord. The work of God requires His guidance every step of the way, not just in the beginning. I would also like to see a church that prays more, not just for our own needs but for the works of the church. Intercession covers us from the enemy. It would be good to strengthen our foundations in the basics—in prayer and in the Word.”
A PRAYER FOR CHC
Even as members stand strong with their eye on the future, CHC’s advisory pastor Phil Pringle, who preached two weekends at the church this past month, and who has stood alongside the leadership and the congregation throughout these seven years, sends this message to encourage the people:
“Dear City Harvest, you have been such a strong, faithful, true New Testament congregation as you have travelled through these very difficult last seven years.
“I am constantly amazed at your resilience and perseverance. Your united stand in prayer and worship has been miraculous. As we now approach the future, even though not everything seems to go the way always expect, we can remain in great faith, knowing our God is the God of Hope and that He is the Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Even though, now for a time your faith is tested, when you emerge, it will be finer than gold.
“As we stand together supporting Sun, Pastor Aries and Pastor Bobby, we will see the congregation increase and progress forward with the vision of Jesus: ‘I will build my church’.
“Much love and blessings, Pastor Phil”.
Additional reporting by Terence Lee