Making an Impact, One Sphere at a Time
By Timothy Goh
What a year 2020 has been! There were the Singapore elections with the greater use of social media and the opposition making some progress in gaining more seats in Parliament. And of course, the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted all of us in Singapore and globally. Many were feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and isolation, as well as the recession due to the lockdowns. In the United States, the election in November brought about Trumpism and the Radical Left in sharp contrast, amplified by the frequent use of fake news.
My own marketplace journey has gone through numerous crises through the years. These included the Asian financial crisis in 1997, dot com bubble burst in 2000, 911 terrorist attacks and war on terrorism in 2001, and the financial crisis in 2008.
With globalisation reaching the four corners of the earth, crises nowadays impact almost everyone as seen in the current Covid-19 pandemic. In the book The Black Swan, Lebanese American scholar Nassim Nicholas Talib pointed out: “Globalisation creates interlocking fragility, while reducing volatility and giving the appearance of stability. In other words, it creates devastating Black Swans. We have never lived before under the threat of a global collapse.”
How then do we live as Christians in turmoil?
I think we can learn a lot about how we Christians should live during crises from the book Run with the Horses — A Quest for life at its best, written by American theologian Eugene Petersen, who looked at the life and times of Jeremiah for some answers.
Besides Mr Peterson’s book, I will also share from my latest book Navigating Work Challenges – A Marketplace Devotional. This book, which was published this year, is my sharing of my walk through my experiences as a disciple in the marketplace.
Let us look at the book of Jeremiah and see what it says to us today.
- You are called
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
“Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”
“But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.”
“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.”
In these verses, we see that God had a purpose assigned before Jeremiah was born. He was set apart for a purpose. In the same way, we are not an after-thought and accident of biology or another digit in the machine. Jeremiah’s first reaction, like Moses and like many of us, was to think that we were not ready. (v6) I did not have the polish or verbal skills, credibility or standing to do the task.
I like to share my own experience regarding my hearing of God’s call. When I was doing my undergraduate studies at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, I was involved in the Overseas Christian Fellowship (OCF), which is a part of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, from 1988 to 1993.
The university fellowship provided me with the grounding in the Christian faith through debates, teachings and readings. It also provided an idealism in me in “wanting to change the world”. I was involved in a street ministry Stillwaters, which was a café in the red-light district offering coffee, biscuits and a listening ear to street walkers, drunks and gang members.
At an OCF conference, I was challenged by my church pastor, who spoke at the conference: “Do you want to have a “life buoy” faith or do you want to make an impact for God?” I left the university, full of idealism of wanting to make an impact for God. After six months from graduation and on my return to Singapore, I found a job in a shipping company as an in-house lawyer.
- Turmoil & purpose
“If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12: 5)
Indeed, God has in mind for us a calling that is far far larger than what we can ever imagine. God’s visions for us are enormous. So, the question is — would we even dream of running with the horses?
To compete with the horses, we need to train with men. The economic and social turmoil of today will prepare us for the challenges of tomorrow. God is molding us for a greater purpose. We must remember that God is our potter, molding us through times of challenges (Jeremiah 18:1-4). And He will provide us with the strength to overcome the challenges, which face us… “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:31)|
As I looked back, I can see that God was molding me during my work and life experiences. After I started working, I began to see and face a world in need. Later, when I worked for a maritime company, Jaya Holdings, I was sent on my own to negotiate contracts for my company’s first major power project in Karachi, Pakistan. It was an eye-opener as I saw the lives of persecuted Christians and the poor. There was a feeling of helplessness within me over the persecution and extreme poverty.
Later, I joined an U.S. company but was retrenched in 2000 as due to the Enron collapse, all energy companies started withdrawing from Asia. I then took a six-month break. I had joined the Graduates’ Christian Fellowship (GCF) committee and left after a year as it was not focused on my interests in contemporary issues or the marketplace.
- Seek the shalom of the city
In Jeremiah 29: 1-7, we were told that Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The Jews became exiles — officers and fighting men, and all the skilled workers and artisans—a total of 10,000. “Only the poorest people of the land were left.” (2 Kings 24:14) It was a time of turmoil, servitude and oppression. We read about their experiences through the Jewish exiles — Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 1-6).
Jeremiah’s message to the Jews in exile was to settle down in this strange land with alien customs because deliverance would not come for another 70 years. So, build houses, tend gardens and get married and settle down. They were told to seek the shalom of the city. “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7)
Mr Petersen said: “Shalom means wholeness, the dynamic, vibrating health of a society that pulses with divinely directed purpose and surges with life-transforming love. Seek the shalom and pray for it. Throw yourself into the place in which you find yourselves, but not on its terms, on God’s terms. Pray. Search for that centre in which God’s will is being worked out (which is what we do when we pray) and work from that centre.”
I too had to seek God’s call in my life. In 2001, Singapore went through a recession. I saw this as an opportunity to seek God’s purpose in my life. So, I started a ministry called Links + Connections in October 2001 to the unemployed with the Christian Business Men Connection. Links + Connection was a GCF ministry and thus, God brought me back to the GCF. I became the GCF president (from 2002/2003 to 2006/2007) with a focus on the marketplace and contemporary issues. I must admit that I made many silly mistakes and if it were not for God and the good Christian men and women around me, I would not have lasted my first year as president.
By the second year when I learnt to have more faith in God and started putting things together and bringing people to the GCF ministry. I started the Contemporary Issues Ministry in March 2005 with talks by Christians, who shared their expertise and biblical perspectives on casinos, abortions and other issues. The GCF council also strengthened its various sectional groups, which blossomed under its leaders in the marketplace.
After five years in GCF, I left the GCF council and started a Christian social enterprise called Kairos, which had projects in Cambodia and India. Another ministry I was involved in was Life-Network, which aims to promote a culture of life.
I want to conclude my sharing by quoting from the late theologian John Stott, who said: “God intends us to penetrate the world. Christian salt has no business to remain snugly in elegant little ecclesiastical salt cellars; our place is to be rubbed into the secular community, as salt is rubbed into meat, to stop it going bad. And when society does go bad, we Christians tend to throw up our hands in pious horror and reproach the non-Christian world; but should we not rather reproach ourselves? One can hardly blame unsalted meat for going bad. It cannot do anything else. The real question to ask is: Where is the salt?”
May we be the salt of the earth as God intends us Christians to be, especially during times of turmoil.
(This webinar underthe “New Normal, Better Me” series was given no 5 December 2020)