Tuesday, August 28, 2007



A Theology Of Liberation, Gustavo Gutierrez Orbis books 1973; revised edition 1988

Liberation theology, in certain circles is viewed with some suspicion. Nearly 20 years ago, a few Roman Catholic church activists in Singapore under the influence of Liberation theology, together with some left leaning sympathisers from opposition political parties were detained under the internal security act. The detainees were released gradually. A couple of months ago, The Straits Times, a Singapore newspaper, tried to interview those who were involved in this controversy, for the purpose of running a story to refresh our collective memories. There were no takers. Some wounds require a long time to heal.

And so with interest, I responded positively to the invitation, by the Professor of Missions, KimYong Hazra, Trinity Theological College, to share with some students on the topic, Liberation Theology from a Singapore Perspective.

I met a few liberation activists in Bolivia, especially at the Maryknoll Fathers Language Institute, where I studied Spanish with my wife. The ones I got to know impressed me with their compassion for the poor. Although I don't share most of their theological assumptions, my experience in Bolivia however has helped me appreciate and respect some of the impulses which drive liberation theology.

I re-read Gustavo Gutierrez's classic, A Theology of Liberation, in preparation for my work with the students. His insights represent many years of work with the poor. The use of the Exodus event, the liberation of Israel from its oppression in Egypt, as a paradigm for liberation speaks powerfully to the Latin American situation. The other biblical idea of great interest is the reflection of salvation history as being unified through the aspirations of the oppressed. A reading of Luke's gospel provides the basis for such an assertion. Gutierrez's passion and commitment to see reality in terms of conflict between the oppressor and the oppressed is understandable given the grinding poverty which characterizes his environment. The liberation movement also arose in a context where social activists were victimised by right wing dictatorial figures, especially in the 1970's.

Gutierrez's challenge to identify with the poor is not an ivy league rumination but a prophetic meditation from the heart of pastor. His passion is understandable. I could not help but refer constantly to my experiences in Bolivia with the poor as I read his book.

Liberation theology has its flaws. Although Gutierrez tries to convey a holistic view of liberation, which includes spiritual and transcendant categories, his intentional bias toward socialism and a heavy reliance of marxist analysis/terminology make it easy for revolutionary ideologues to hijack liberation activism. And this has happened in Latin America and elsewhere.

Liberation theology many a time reduces salvation to improvements in economic conditions. Salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification. None of these basic doctrines are worked through in the Liberation hermeneutic. An exclusive reading of history through the lens of an Oppressor vs Oppressed dynamic does not represent the fullness of the Biblical narrative. Injustice is one reason and in some places maybe the primary reason for poverty. There are other reasons, cultural values being one of them, which drive poverty. Also, agitation and triumphing over injustice does not alleviate the poor from oppression instantly. There is also the challenge of wealth creation and the establishment of right structures which provide long term solutions for the poor.

Liberation begins from within renewed hearts and spills out into the family and the society at large. This has been the strategy of evangelical and charismatic groups. Liberation, in the long run, would depend on empowered hearts set aflame for Christ. Inner liberation and dealing with oppressive structures are not contradictory but parts of a whole. This is why I identify strongly with Gutierrez's passion to empower local people. He says:

In order to for liberation to be authentic and complete, it has to be undertaken by the oppressed people themselves and so must stem from the values proper to these people.

Recieving foreign aid or assistance for long stretches of time is a recipe for a disaster. It creates a mentality of dependance and robs local communities of their God given integrity and dignity. Liberation theology brings this valuable gift of self-reliance to the table.

And surely we can say amen to this!

(the cover of the book is a photo of a sculpture done by Edilberto Merida)


6 States Go On Strike
There are 9 states in Bolivia; 6 of them began a nationwide strike today.

Folk in Santa Cruz queue up to stock up in anticipation of the strike against the government's unwillingess to cede to claims made by representatives from 6 states in the Constitutional Assembly. This is 2/3 of the country! At stake is the legitimacy of a new constitution which has yet to surface. The government is moving ahead with its plans to present a new constitution to the populace at a referendum. And leaders from the 6 states suspect that the governments porposals will be inimical to their interests.

Competing Interests
One crucial issue is the claim for autonomy on the part of Santa Cruz and the other states which possess rich deposits of natural gas and oil. These states are counting on keeping a major portion of the profits from the sales of these resources to finance projects as determined by regional leaders. The ruling party are of course hoping to use the income to help the poorer regions of the country.

Competing Visions
It's easy to understand therefore the advocacy for a strong political centre in La Paz, by the government in the new constitution. The other states, especially the more prosperous ones like Santa Cruz, as to be expected, are agitating for a constitution which recognizes a more decentralized and federal vision for Bolivia. And folk in Sucre are taking advantage of the situation to insist that they be declared the political & administrative capital of the Bolivia!

The deadline for the Assembly to present the new constitution to the people has been extended to November.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


I was seated in a bus on my way home after Sunday service. The bespectacled guy next to me looked bored and clutched a bag. He did not look like a chatty sort. I sensed the need however to engage him spiritually.

Should I share the gospel with him? I asked myself.

My thoughts were interrupted with a loud BANG! A taxi, in full flight, stopped suddenly when the traffic light in front changed from amber to red. Another taxi, following closely behind, banged the taxi which had come to a screeching halt.

The passengers in the bus, looking aghast, saw the entire incident. We had a grandstand view of the accident. The bus stopped in front of the traffic light and was adjacent to both cars, moments, before the accident. Both taxi drivers and their passengers were not hurt. Broken and splintered glass from the rear and front lights were strewn all over the road.

As the bus drove off the guy next to me began to complain about irresponsable taxi drivers. He gave up cycling because taxis had come close to knocking him down. I joined in and lamented the congestion on the roads in Bolivia. I changed the subject quickly and talked about Jesus; I asked him if he was church going person. He said he was Roman Catholic and was returning from mass at a nearby catholic church. His face broke out into a smile when I identified myself as an Anglican missionary. We talked about our spiritual experiences.

I don't believe in chance encounters. Our conversation encouraged him to share an issue close to his heart: he was not baptized. And so I exhorted him to trust our Lord and shared the need for baptism. It was all so rushed but I trust that something from the Lord got through.

He stood up and smiled appreciatively at me...he had reached his destination. As he walked toward the exit, I smiled, blessed him and said, Get baptized!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

(We continue our series of interviews with prominent christian leaders from the global south...Its been a long time since we last did an interview!!)

Rev Dr Joshua Su is founder of Joshua Missions, an agency dedicated to the edification of Christ's Body. He just returned from teaching at a school of pastors in the Diocese of Ibadan North, Nigeria. He is an ordained anglican clergyman.

This Mission serves in the prophetic ministry of the Word through preaching and teaching the Bible as the Word of God for today and declaring what the Spirit says through it. By so doing it seeks to call, encourage and facilitate churches, Christian organisations, Christians and Christian leaders to know and fulfill their call in Christ and build unity in Him. It also forms a network from those who join as members from these groups and persons to operate locally and internationally to strengthen each other in mutual ministry and to minister together to the wider Body of Christ and the world.

There are many memorable moments but my experience at my moment of personal salvation stands out. When I prayed to receive Christ into my life I was given a picture, sensation and message of His work in me. I saw in my mind's eye and felt the sensation of my heart as a black lump of lead with fire burning all around it. The message that came through this was that God was burning away my sin. An unexplainable joy filled my heart.

The biggest challenge I experienced was the misconduct of a clergy who was assigned to pastor a ministry that I was leading as a lay leader. It made me seriously review the value of seeking ordination for myself. The resolution was the realisation that it is not the rite or the title of ordination but answering the call of God and receiving His anointing to serve that really counts.

I was born and brought up in Singapore and came to Christ and grew up in Him there. My Chinese ethnicity, living in a multi-racial Asian country with English as its chief language, receiving English education and coming to Christ with churches that were planted by the West sums up my background. I read and learn widely from many both East and West, with the English language as my medium of study. But I see no particular person except Christ as my primary influence.

Singapore Christianity and some of its leaders are playing a significant part in leading the global south. The challenge is the soundness and strength of Christianity and the quality of the leadership that these leaders and the churches in Singapore can articulate and practice. It would be wonderful if we can strongly affirm and express the faith of the Bible and the Christianity of Christ in the global south and the global south may do likewise for the worldwide Church that has tended to be preoccupied only with cultural, political, national and regional issues.

Thank You Rev Su For Agreeing To Do This Interview.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Lord uses people to facilitate His plan in our lives.

Rev Ted Newing was such a person. Ted, warden of St Peter’s Hall in the early 80’s, was a lean, silver- haired Australian with an Irish background. He received my application, interviewed me extensively and pushed my papers through the various committees. His support for my application, in more ways than one, was invaluable.

Ted attended morning and evening prayers at St Peter’s diligently and shared the Eucharist with students of the hall. His Old Testament lectures helped us see the literary structures behind lengthy biblical passages. I caught him at the tail end – the last 3 years – of his ministry in Singapore.

His departure left me wondering if our paths would ever cross.

By God’s providence our common passion for South America brought us together 7 years later!

Ted Newing returned to Singapore as General Secretary of SAMS Australia!

I will never forget his moving narration of Allan Gardiner’s (founder of the South American Mission Society) martyrdom at a clergy meeting in Singapore. The then Bishop of Singapore, Moses Tay had invited him to share with us the work of SAMS. His sharing did not appear to have had an impact on anyone, except me. One clergyman said that mission to South America was considered not practical. I suspect however that Bishop Moses gave Ted the opportunity to talk to the clergy because of an interest to develop links with South America.

I immediately cornered Ted after the meeting and we agreed to catch up over tea the next day.

We met at someone’s home over Earl Grey tea. I wasted no time in sharing with him my interest in Latin America. We knew each other and I felt safe in opening my heart to him. He listened intently. Ted Newing was the first person I spoke to at length about my sense of calling to serve in Latin America; I sounded discouraged because no one seemed to show any interest in following through with Ted’s presentation. He was however reassuring,

Not to worry, Raphael…seeds have been planted; in God’s time they will bloom, he replied.
He gave me a copy of Phyllis Thompson’s biography of Allan Gardiner and encouraged me to continue praying and to not give up on my dreams.

And true enough the seeds he planted grew into a sturdy oak tree.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

O Lord, I Am Ashamed to Seek Thy Face
Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
O Lord, I am ashamed to seek Thy Face
As tho’ I loved Thee as Thy saints love Thee:
Yet turn from those Thy lovers, look on me,
Disgrace me not with uttermost disgrace;
But pour on me ungracious, pour Thy grace
To purge my heart and bid my will go free,
Till I too taste Thy hidden Sweetness, see
Thy hidden Beauty in the holy place.

O Thou Who callest sinners to repent,
Call me Thy sinner unto penitence,
For many sins grant me the greater love:
Set me above the waterfloods, above
Devil and shifting world and fleshly sense,
Thy Mercy’s all-amazing monument.

Monday, August 13, 2007


Last Sunday I had the opportunity to celebrate the eucharist and preach at the Church Of The Ascension.

The first service was traditional and based on the Alternative Service Book which appeared in the 80's. This prayer book formed the basis for the South East Asian prayer book. Most of the folk were senior members of the church. I'm getting into the swing of preaching in English. In Bolivia I'm more animated and inductive in my sermons. In Singapore I'm sober and sound more cognitive.

The highlight was to sing the eucharistic prayers with responses from the congregation. I can't remember the last time I did this. I was a little nervous at first but the congregation was used to the chants. It was a satisfying experience.

The second service was contemporary. The worship leader, Dennis was an old friend. There was no Eucharist and so I had more time to preach. We had a short time of ministry during the service. Young people, mainly youth formed the bulk of the congregation. This is a blessing because newer churches tend to draw the youth. The more established historic churches, like the Church of the Ascension are therefore challenged to provide exciting programmes for the young.

We've managed to keep our young people because of the network of relationships, a youth leader replied when I asked him for the reasons as to the relatively large contingent of young people in the second service.

After the service, I had lunch with some of the members of the Church at a Food Court. I tried the Korean food and my new found friends, David and Phillip went for the local fare. Our conversation covered a wide range of subjects from men's ministry to some of the trends in the Singapore church.


I had the opportunity to have lunch at Swensens with Kenny Chee (Blogpastor), Sherman Kuek (Sherman On The Mount) & his fiancee, Emmy.

Kenny and I met Sherman for the first time. Our common love for blogging brought us together. It was great to exchange notes with one another and meet. Kenny is Pentecostal, Sherman, a Methodist, Emmy, a Baptist and I'm Anglican.

We clicked immediately. Sherman is in the midst of a doctoral thesis and lives in Seremban. He is 31 years old and could very well represent a generational change amongst younger Christian leaders. My friend, Kenny, likes to probe new ideas and enjoys meeting up with people. Emmy, a great gal, teaches linguistics at the University.

There is something spiritual about sharing our lives over a wholesome meal and a hearty conversation. We covered a wide range subjects - from monastic traditions of the church to contemporary missions.

Kenny (chinese guy) and I are on the right; Sherman and Emmy on the left

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Folk in Santa Cruz, Bolivia were expecting violent clashes between indigenous people and local groups at the annual independance day parade in Santa Cruz.

President Evo Morales decided to hold the parade in Santa Cruz; he invited for the first time a huge contingent of indigenous people from the highlands to participate in the annual military parade on the 6th of August. The presence of the Army and their support for the president raised the anxiety level of many. Many of his opponents in Santa Cruz viewed this as an attempt to intimidate them. Santa Cruz and the central government are at loggerheads over the question of Santa Cruz's push for autonomy. Civic leaders felt provoked and raised the temperature with their speeches.

The president is unpopular in Santa Cruz and unruly elements normally hurl insults and spew foul language at him during public meetings. Many feared violence between his followers and some of these elements in Santa Cruz.

I tracked the worsening situation through emails from friends in Bolivia and newspaper reports in the internet. My heart went out to those I had left behind. At one point I was close to tears and prayed for God's mercy to take control of the situation. Churches in Santa Cruz gathered together and began to intercede in homes and church grounds.

The president sounded a conciliatory tone in some of his comments as indigenous people together with the Army descended onto Santa Cruz for the parade. The newspapers reported a massive turnout from the populace. There were insufficient police to manage the crowds. The atmosphere had all the makings of a disaster.

God's mercy thru the intercession of His people however averted the scuffling and chaos many expected. Trouble makers thankfully did not agitate the crowds. Some however suffered the effects of being crushed by the crowd. On the whole, the parade was peacefully held without any incidents.

Praise The Lord!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007



The Diocese of Singapore (Anglican) organized its first missionary convention at the Sea View Hotel. I was a little hesitant about going to the convention. My duties as Pastor of All Saints English Congregation together with the struggle to hold together a young family had kept me busy. I went along anyway because cross cultural missions was not far from my concerns. It was also fun to get away from the daily grind of the ministry and touch base with friends from other churches.

Missions, especially as a diocesan initiated project, was a new subject. Thailand, South Africa and other areas in South East Asia hogged the limelight. The presentations were lively and the long buried interest to serve in Latin America surfaced. At one of the sessions I silently prayed for some sort of nudge from the Lord concerning my interest in Latin America. I asked Him to speak through the then Bishop of Singapore, Moses Tay.

My small group, which included Bishop Moses and Rev Gerry Khoo, met about twice during the convention. At one of the meetings we were asked about our involvement or interest in Missions. I remember Gerry asking me something to the effect if I had sensed a call to serve in the mission field. I replied in the affirmative but shared that I wasn’t ready to the details. To their credit, Gerry nor the Bishop pursued the matter. At that point it was a little premature to talk about Latin America.

As the convention came to an end, we had sung the final hymn and all that was left was for Bishop Moses to send us out with his blessing. I was seated at the last row and ready to leave.

Just before the he raised his hands for the benediction, Moses hesitated and shared something from his heart, “We’ve received calls for help from many places…even from Alaska and South America”! His words, like a bolt out of the blue, opened my eyes of faith! Had the Lord given me the nudge I was looking for? I left trying to digest my experience.

I returned home a little tired and ready to unwind from the day’s activities. I had a bath; sat down on the sofa; switched on the television. Believe it or not the first images on the screen were part of a documentary featuring Peru and Bolivia!

Although there were other priorities in my life at that point - I was in the second year of my first pastorate - the Lord had sent a signal in this mission conference of an impending change of direction in my ministry towards South America.

Monday, August 06, 2007


The photo on the right says it all. A poor campesina, with her baby on her right arm, struggles to hold onto to the flag in the face of strong winds. She's selling flags to alleviate her poverty. It's a stirring sight because it speaks of a poor but proud nation battling to overcome the odds.

Bolivians struggle. And its in the struggle where they find divine gifts of mercy and providence. I thank the Lord for the experience of being a part of the on-going Bolivian narrative. He has used Bolivia to change my family and I forever.

God Bless This Nation!!

Bolivia, on the 6th of August, celebrates its founding as an independant and sovereign nation. The Spanish colonizers were defeated at a decisive battle in 1825 by forces commanded by Gen Antonio Jose de Sucre. Bolivia was named after Simon Bolivar, the revolutionary hero who inspired the continent wide revolt against the Spanish empire.

Bolivia has gone through massive changes since its the founding of the republic.The most crucial being the evolution of the native indian. They were once ostracised and marginalized - a victim of others and themselves. They're now struggling to find their place in one of their own.

Evo Morales, the current president of Bolivia is the first indigenous indian to be elected in the highest office of the land. He has shaken the nation with socialist policies and has allied himself with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. Some sectors have benefitted from his leadership but others have not.

Here's prayer for Bolivia:

O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend Bolivia to thy merciful care, that, being guided by thy Providence, the people of Bolivia may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant to the President of this nation, the congress, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


I was not down to preach or celebrate at a church this weekend so I took the opportunity to attend 2 mega church services during the weekend.

By a strange coincidence both services included The Lord's Supper. The preparation before the sacred meal was short, informal and dependant on the spontaneous words of the elder who presided over the elements of bread & wine. Passages of scripture were read aloud before a brief exhortation which then led to the administering of the Lord's supper.

Both churces did not have a prayer of confession neither was there a statement which excluded non baptised persons from participating. Missing also was the aura of sacrifice in the Eucharist. Aiyaaahhh...the Anglican in me cringed. It needs to be said however that I felt at home in the midst of God's people. It took both churches roughly 10 minutes to round up the Lord's supper.

The preaching in both churches lasted for about 40 to 45 minutes. One lady preacher used used a slick power point presentation. The male preacher from the other church flashed his scripture passages on the screen. Both messages came from sincere hearts. He, an associate pastor, sounded like the Senior Pastor in that his message came across with lots of authority.

Singapore churches have been blessed with strong local leadership. Its sometimes difficult for young Singaporean christians to fully appreciate what the Lord has done in raising the current generation of local leaders. Young christians in their 20's never experienced the trials of first generation local Singaporean pastors. It was only in the 60's that the locals began to assume major leadership positions.

The highlight for me however was a time of sharing with Mr Lim at a food court after one of the services. I was eating brunch - char siew pow (buns with pork filling) and teh si (tea with evaporated milk). A man bought his coffee mug and sat opposite me; he carried a small bible on his other hand. He returned my friendly smile and before long I asked him about his church affiliation. And that got us into a free wheeling discussion which lasted for about 45 minutes; we covered a range of topics from evangelism to fallen pastors.

I was surprised when Lim said that some of his non christian friends confronted him with ideas from Richard Dawkins, the atheist philosopher. I thought that Dawkins was too high brow for the average christian. Was I wrong in my assumptions? Were Lim's friends the exception? Hmnn...I wonder.

Friday, August 03, 2007


My 14 year old involvement in South America, although missionary in nature, is a reflection of the Lord bringing together the nations in more ways than one, even through business and trade deals. Doing business is certainly within God's calling for humanity. Abraham and Matthew are some examples of sucessful businessmen in the Bible. Remember the businesswoman of Proverbs 31?

Business enterprises are part of man's response to the Lord's cultural mandate given in Genesis to rule over creation and to subdue the earth. Sin may have tarnished the business dimension in the world but not obliterated its calling or place in the Lord's plan for the nations.

Singapore is building business links with Latin America.

Here are excerpts of a speech by Mr Heng Chee How, Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development, at the LatinAsia Biz Forum 2005 on 7 September 2005:

"Latin America is fast becoming an engine of growth for the global economy. According to the World Bank, the Latin American and Caribbean regions have the highest per capita income in the developing world. In 2004, the region registered a growth of 5.7 per cent, its highest in the last 25 years.

With the growing experience and
success of Singapore companies in Latin America, more companies have ventured into the region. Singapore Technologies recently announced plans to supply cable TV signal down converters to Mexico. Banyan Tree also has plans to develop luxury resorts there. Earlier this year, Portek International, a port equipment engineering company, announced its sale of two quay cranes to Port of Ensenada in Mexico. Beyond Mexico and Brazil, our
companies are also making headway in Panama. Later on at this Forum, we will be hearing details about some recent successes in Panama by Inter Roller Engineering and Portek International.

In today’s competitive global economy, Singapore businesses must constantly seek out niches and new markets to stay relevant. Latin America is rich in resources and opportunities and we must deepen our engagement there to capitalise on these opportunities