Thursday, May 22, 2008


Bring Back The Golden Goal

My worst fears came to pass yesterday.

The European Cup final last night was settled in a dreaded penalty shoot-out.

Manchester United and Chelsea ran themselves to the ground in an action packed 1-1 draw. The players gave their best and played their hearts out. Both teams took turns to dominate the game and deserved to win the cup. My heart goes out to the Chelsea team. Losing a Cup Final in such circumstances is a horrible experience. And where's the honor in winning a Cup Final through stage managed penalties?

I had stayed up to watch the game in Singapore - 2.30 in the morning! In Bolivia, because of the time difference, these games are televised live in the afternoons. The experts were predicting a close & tight game. The possibility of not having a clear winner and going through the tension of a penalty shoot-out, was very real. I decided to risk it anway.

The problem with a penalty shoot-out is that it makes redundant the previous 120 minutes of soccer. Both teams start from scratch when the kicks are taken; its as if the previous 2 hours of soccer was an almighty waste of time and players' sweat.

The Golden Goal was, for a time, a solution to for games which in a draw, even after extra time. The team which scored the first goal after a extra time was awarded the game. Hence the term Golden Goal to describe goals of this nature. Referees would then blow their whistle to signal the game's end. Strangely this arrangement did not catch on and disappeared shortly.

Friday, May 16, 2008




  • Pray For The Military Regime & Family Of Victims
  • Help In Relief Efforts
  • Comfort Those Who Lost Loved Ones In The Flood
  • Organize a Revolt
  • Leave The Country For A Vacation
  • Mobilize Help From Overseas
  • Agitate For More Democracy

Thursday, May 15, 2008



Breakthrough In Santa Cruz!

Santa Cruz?

Where or what was Santa Cruz? I thought it was a little village in one of the outlying areas near La Paz.

You'll be taking a plane to Santa Cruz. Its in the east and part of the lower regions of Bolivia, someone remarked. The distance between La Paz and Santa Cruz is slightly more than that of Penang and Singapore. And so we hopped onto a plane, early in the morning, at the La Paz airport. The biting cold did not distract me from the events of previous night: I had told Bishop Moses that I had no sense of leading to serve in La Paz; the phrase in Psalm 23:2, He makes me lie down in green pastures, began to have an impact on me.

As the plane took off and headed toward Santa Cruz, I could literally see the dawn of a new day. The idea of God the Shepherd making me to lie down in green pastures as a personal promise to lead me in the next step of my journey was taking on a life of its own. I peered through the plane's window. The sky was clear; no sign of the massive snow capped mountain ranges around La Paz. Below was dense jungle and various tributaries from the main rivers of the Bolivian lowlands.

As the plane made its descent...I saw something which made my heart leap - green pastures. At that moment, I made the connection between my experience of Psalm 23 last night with the sight of the huge green coloured tracts of land below. My heart began to race. Was I being led to serve in Santa Cruz?

The plane hit the tarmac and slowly made its way to the arrival dock. Airport workers pushed the portable staircase toward the hatch; the air hostess opened the door and invited the passengers to step out and leave the plane. I walked out of the plane, saw the airport and walked toward the arrival lounge. The first few steps were more of a bounce than a walk. My heart bubbled for joy and a sense of "homecoming" gripped me powerfully. I could not contain myself. I hugged Bishop Moses, telling him more than once, The Lord has called us to serve in Santa Cruz...I'm sure of it. He smiled and was taken aback by my exuberance, We'll see...we'll see, he said. It was strange. I had never been to Santa Cruz before and yet somewhere deep in my heart was a quiet conviction of Christ's call to serve there.

Sue Woodcock, a SAMS UK (South American Mission Society, United Kingdom), greeted us with a friendly handshake at the airport and directed us toward the church transport, a pick up truck. She was an experienced missionary and filled us in on some of the history of Santa Cruz. Bishop Moses quizzed her on ministry in this part of Bolivia. Ministry was tough, rewarding and frustrating...I wish she we had more experienced help, she remarked.

We were only due to spend a day in Santa Cruz! And so making use of the time was absolutely crucial.

Parts of Santa Cruz resembled Singapore in the 60's and would not have been out of place as a Malaysian town. It was easier to breathe in Santa Cruz; the weather - hot and humid -reminded me of Singapore. Santa Cruz is flat and huge; its buildings as a consequence are laid out horizontally. It attracts migrants from within and outside of the country. People, from the highlands of Bolivia, in search for jobs and better prospects, flock to the lowlands of Bolivia, especially Santa Cruz. Large Japanese, Mennonite and smaller European colonies dot the rural landscapes with their farms and light industries - soya, cotton, livestock and poultry.

Santa Cruz, billed as one of the fastest growing economic regions in South America, partly because of the vibrant drug trade in the 1980's. The drugs were processed in the valley regions of Bolivia. The financial deals and the transfers of money however took place in Santa Cruz. With the passage of time, other industries - petroleum soya, cotton, sugar cane etc - grew and are now powering the economy.

Sue Woodcock, interrupted my thoughts in the pick-up, "We'll be having breakfast with the Obregon's and then we'll go to the church grounds" (Ernesto & Denise Obregon were missionaries from SAMS USA).

I had forgotten how hungry I was in all the excitement. Breakfast sounded like a great idea.

As we drove our way to the Obregon household, my thoughts began to centre on the Lord's plan for us to serve Him in Santa Cruz, Bolivia


Personal Crisis In La Paz
We were taken, after some rest at the Blaxland residence, to a swirl of events: a pastor's meeting, a city wide intercessory meeting, pastoral visits, church services camp; meetings, special luncheons etc..we were kept busy. I preached a sermon on the prodigal son at a Sunday service.

The church council interviewed me in extensively in an attempt to assess my suitability for the work in Bolivia. Most of the questions centred on my ministerial experience as a Pastor in Singapore. Would I be able to cope with the rigors of missionary work in a faraway land? The missionary attrition rate was high in Bolivia, especially in the Anglican Church. The possibility of having an Asian to serve in Bolivia had never been explored until now. Some reservations had been silently expressed because of the cultural differences between Asians and Latin Americans. Most of the missionaries were from Europe or the US.

Doubts however about my sense of calling to work in La Paz surfaced and continued to consume me. I felt trapped, embarrassed and uncomfortable in Bolivia. Was my sense of discernment to serve the Lord in Latin America flawed? There were clear indications in Singapore directing me toward South America. Had I made a mistake?

A lot was riding on this trip. Bishop Moses had invited me to go along because of a common conviction of the Lord's leading to serve Him in Bolivia. The thought of disappointing him was also beginning to gnaw away at my soul. Valuable resources had been spent on this trip! It would have been easier to catalogue my doubts as negative feelings and to move on. My conscience however did not leave me in peace; sharing with Bishop Moses about my sense of emptiness for La Paz was inevitable. And so with a a sense of trepidation, I approached him one night and opened my heart. He looked stoic and did not respond directly to my comments Cynthia was sympathetic. He urged us to focus on the activies at hand and complete the programme which the Bolivians had prepared for us.

I went to my room feeling deflated. My heart cried out, Lord what are you up to? Had I made a mega mistake?

I found His comforting presence in Psalm 23. The 2nd verse touched me deeply: He makes me lie down in green pastures , he leads me beside quiet waters. His hand was over my life; there was still something which I had yet to see and experience.

The activities of the day and the high altitude fever left me tired and breathless. A restful sleep would hopefully give us some peace of mind for next day's activities, which included a change of scenery.

We were going to the lowlands of Bolivia, a place called Santa Cruz!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


Sharing The Gospel With A Taxi Driver

Michelle and I were late for an appointment, so we jumped into a taxi. As the driver drove off, I heard the chinese version of the hymn, Amazing Grace, from the radio. This hymn always stirs a passion for the Lord in my soul.

It was too good a chance to let slip. I shared with the taxi driver the testimony of John Newton, author of Amazing Grace. He seemed interested as I spoke to him about Newton's work against slavery after his conversion. My jet lag and flu got the better of me but my wife's enthusiasm was like a second wind. We began to talk to him about God's salvation in Christ. And I shared with him the gospel concerning Jesus and the need to believe.

Someone else had apparently just shared the gospel with him. He was willing to listen and showed keen interest as I drew comparisons between Jesus and Budhha. There is a way to do this without insulting other religions. I genuinely respect other faiths, especially the living religions of Asia.

Michelle then explained to him how the Bible was God's word to us.

Must go to church and study more the bible lah...He told us rather sincerely. I remembered the words of our Lord with reference off another sincere seeker...He is not far from the kingdom.

As our journey came to an end, I was keen on praying with him. The traffic however was heavy and he could not wait for a long period. I prayed to the Lord silently, commended this man to the His mercy and told him to go to his friend's church.

Monday, May 05, 2008


85% Vote For Autonomy At A Special Referendum!

At last.

After weeks of squabbling between the central government and the civic leaders of Santa Cruz, a special referendum was held on the 4th of May to approve new statutes which would effectively make Santa Cruz a self governing state within Bolivia. As expected 84% voted for this radical change. One data however which should be interesting are the amount of absentions. There are conflicting reports - some claim 20%, others put it at 40%. The President, in claiming the latter statistic, is trumpeting the illegitimacy of the process.

The Bolivian government view the referendum as illegal and unconstitutional. Civic leaders and their supporters claim otherwise - the referendum is the endgame of a 3 year process which allowed Bolivian states, for the first time, to elect their own governors.

Four other states are planning to hold their own referendums. The current trends, especially in Eastern Bolivia and parts of the valley region point to a system not unlike the one in the USA - where states have a special rights and a high degree of self government.

Bolivia however is run by a central government in La Paz, the capital of the nation. For instance simple immigration paperwork instead of being done in regional offices can only be processed in La Paz; regional leaders also claim that too much income from wealthy regional economies is channelled to the central government.

The current government, however under President Evo Morales, believe only a socialist style central government can effectively meet the just aspirations and rights of the poorer indigenous sector of the nation and guarantee a fairer distribution of the nation's wealth. This of course runs against the grain of the regional civic leaders emphasis on free markets and decentralization. To complicate matters mutual suspicion between regional civic leaders and the central government is also driven by their racial, ethnic and cultural differences.

So what's going to happen next?

The government and the governors of the fledgling autonomous Bolivian states will meet to resolve the constitutional crisis these referendums have provoked.

Pray for goodwill, mutual trust and a spirit of compromise to characterize these meetings.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


Leaving Bolivia Temporarily To Work In A Parish, Christ Church, Diocese Of Singapore.

I left Bolivia last week and returned to Singapore a few days ago. I shared with Bolivian church leaders and Bishop Frank Lyons, the issues and rationale behind the decision to return to Singapore to do a 2 year home assignment as Vicar (Senior Pastor) of Christ Church. They were generally supportive of the plan but also expressed concern over critical projects in Santa Cruz which have stalled as a result of my absence.

Its never easy to leave the mission field... is it?

The local Bolivian leadership will find its own stride and deepen the life of the church while I'm in S'pore. Praise the Lord that there is more than sufficient maturity to carry out these tasks.

The Diocese of Singapore has been unyielding in its support for the past 14 years of my life and ministry in Bolivia. Thank you Bishop Moses Tay for having the faith to facilitate my sense of calling to serve in Bolivia and for Bishop John Chew's continued support. He, Bishop John has also agreed to send me back to Bolivia after the tenure at Christ Church.

The Lord's hand is over our return to Singapore. Michelle is busy with the creative arts and has her own network of ministry partners from several churches. She's been invited to minister in some of the countries nearby. Elijah's National Service commitment will end in September next year.
Pray for us in this time of change, transition and cultural re adaptation

Heavenly Father
grant us grace
to discern the details
of your leading
as your servant
returns to serve you
in Singapore.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


Trip To La Paz, Bolivia

Bishop Moses, Cynthia his wife, and I hopped onto the plane to La Paz, Bolivia’s capital after our brief one-day stopover in Lima, Peru.

La Paz, a city situated in the Andean mountain range, is not only home to Lake Titicaca but also cradle to Tiwanaku, a mysterious ancient civilization that predates the Incas. The intricate irrigation canals; when seen from an aerial view, speak of an advanced culture ahead of its time. Titicaca is the highest and largest lake in South America.

Those with heart ailments are discouraged from going to La Paz because of the high altitude and thin air, commonly called Sorochi. Some of the symptoms are shortness of breath, nausea, fever, loss of strength, and drowsiness. Sorochi coupled with the biting cold weather takes a heavy toll on its visitors, especially if they’re unprepared and traveling to La Paz for the first time.

Rev Greg Blaxland together with Judy, his wife received us warmly at the airport. Greg and Judy gave us a warm Bolivian hug. Greg and I were formally introduced to each other by Bishop Moses. I never met the man personally although I had heard him speak at the Tuesday clergy meeting where he shared with us a wide array of needs in Bolivia, the most pressing being trained clergyman.

Judy, on seeing Cynthia shiver incessantly from an unexpected blast of cold wind blowing through the airport, immediately wrapped a winter coat around her. Cynthia, although by nature tough, succumbed to the full fury of Sorochi and was confined to rest during our stay in La Paz. I was beginning to feel the effects of the altitude and was told to walk slowly but survived the experience.

The drive to the Blaxland’s apartment was a fascinating exposure to the sights and sounds of La Paz – undulating rollercoaster-like roads, endless alleys, poor beggars, men and women in elegant suits, old and new cars, modern buildings, ancient monuments, cobble-stone roads, riot police with helmets and gas canisters; chaotic traffic, freshly baked bread; women with bowler hats and thick bright skirts; sounds from drums and flutes; bright exotic food stalls in pavements, graffiti on walls, revolutionary slogans, banners, beautiful flowers, broken down trucks and men in blue overalls. La Paz, the nation’s capital reflects the charm of Latin American idealism as well as the scars of Bolivia’s history.

The Blaxlands were staying on the 7th floor of an unfinished apartment block. Apparently, this was not uncommon in La Paz. The staircase railings were yet to be fixed; there were no lifts and parts of the external walls had not been built yet! Apparently, this did not discourage owners of the apartments from moving in. Losing one’s balance while climbing parts of the staircase was risky, to say the least! So we learned the art of walking carefully and slowly up the stairs. After a while, we grew accustomed to our habitat.

Nothing prepared us, especially me, for La Paz. It was all very overwhelming: the sights, smells, sounds, new language, high altitude, and people.

But what was worrying, for me anyway, was a slow but growing sense of spiritual discomfort; I just didn’t seem to connect spiritually with La Paz….