was invited to attend and present a paper on 'Poverty in South Asia and
its Challenges to Christian Missions' at the South Asia Regional Assembly
of IFES from 29th Jan. to 2nd Feb. 2006 at Kathmandu. There were about 80
delegates from five different countries of South Asia, namely Bangladesh,
India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. This was first of its kind in the
region and the aim was to expose the needs and challenges of the work of
individual IFES movements to each other, and to fellowship, learn from
each other, network and share resources for the growth and witness of the
movements in the region.
order to fulfill this aim, the program was organized along the lines of
IFES strategic priorities, such as evangelism and mission, leadership
development and formation, organizational and fund development. Besides
these, there were worship and Bible exposition in the morning and plenary
sessions in the evening focusing on poverty, consumerism and
transformation. Everyone felt that the time was well spent and the purpose
of the Assembly was fully accomplished.
we all left the Assembly with some real concern for the region not just
for evangelism and mission, but for the transformation of the society in
this region through what we are doing. One of the major concerns was
poverty. About one-third of the population, that is about half a billion
people in this region, live in utter poverty, and another one-third live
in desperate living conditions having no access to clean water or modern
medicine or primary capital or sustainable jobs or work. We have also
realized that 90% of this region's population is dominated by three major
world religions, namely Hinduism (India & Nepal), Islam (India,
Pakistan and Bangladesh) and Buddhism (Sri Lanka). It is not certain if
religion has any link with the poverty of these nations. Though
Christianity entered some of these nations long, long time ago and
transformed millions of lower strata of the society, it still remains a
minority in the region. What could be the reasons for these circumstances?
have identified the following problems which seriously cripple the economy
and thereby the living conditions of the people: First, population
explosion (India, 1 billion; Pakistan 163 million, Bangladesh 144 million;
Nepal 28 million, Sri Lanka 20 million); Secondly, irreconcilable and
costly border disputes and cross-border illegal trade and terrorism that
costs millions of dollars in terms of military budgets and loss of life;
the place where India, China and Pakistan share their borders is said to
be the world's largest and most militarized territorial zone on earth.
Thirdly, unstable democracies and continual ethnic strife (Pakistan,
Nepal, Sri Lanka) plague the nations. Fourthly, inefficient state
owned-enterprises and corrupt leadership that functions for its own
is observed that one of the most important reasons for continual poverty
in this region is illiteracy (India 40%; Pakistan 52%; Bangladesh 57%;
Nepal 55%). On average, only 50% of this region is literate, but this does
not mean much because most of them, including our leaders, are
under-educated, and un-informed about their own national resources and how
they are spent, and how their own votes could make a difference for a fair
government. In fact most of them spend all their time to earn just for
their survival and have no time to think about national issues, much less
about international issues, such as globalization, environment, and
international trade that affect their economies.
the remedies we thought were continual evangelism of the educated (IFES),
raising a voice for social justice, and continual charity through
thought I would illustrate the desperate plight of this region through my
own reflection of the prevailing situation in Nepal where we held the
Assembly. To begin with, two weeks before the scheduled dates of the
Assembly, the King of Nepal declared a state of emergency owing to the
boycott call of the Mao-rebels to the Municipal elections countrywide. It
was a year ago that the King dissolved the democratic parliament as
inefficient, and took over the reigns of power. We had almost cancelled
the Assembly, but through a bold decision of the local student leaders we
went ahead with the program in spite of 'bands' by political groups, and
curfews by the government.
I arrived in Kathmandu, the international airport, a small bungalow,
nowhere near the standards of an airport, looked as though it were haunted
by ghosts, and the military were posted all over with automatic weapons.
With fear and trembling we the passengers walked to the arrival point,
where we were asked to fill out some old fashioned cyclostyled
disembarkation forms, whose print at some places was hard to decipher,
which we then submitted to the lonely officers. There were no computers or
scanning of our passports, nor are there customs checks. For a moment, I
thought to myself, hey, I had never been through such a 'no-nonsense'
entry to any country so far! Afterwards, my local friends told me that
there would be no records of the form we filled out, as they all would be
destined to the dustbin!
this was not all. My ten kilometer taxi journey from airport to a hotel
took more than half an hour due to horrible roads. Every taxi and the most
other vehicles on the road were the Indian Maruthi Suzukis which were
already well tested on equally horrible Indian roads! The roads were dusty
and un-tarred at many places with enormous rubbish all over, a common
sight I suppose in South Asia! I expected Kathmandu, the capital of a
nation, ideally located on a mountain valley, to be lush green surrounded
by beautiful Himalayan Mountains. Alas! That was not the case because it
was not the monsoon season and it was a long time since the seasonal rains
the place we held our Assembly is a different story, a total contrast. The
place is beautifully built with red bricks on the terraced mountain slopes
just at the edge of the city. Well furnished rooms with a meticulous care
to details of matching curtains, furniture, wardrobes, duvets and hot
water bottles on the bed in the night, the like of it I have not seen even
in the west! The dining table is a veritable haven for international,
Chinese and even continental cuisine. Of course, it's all for a price. I
was mystified at these contrasts, but it is true in South Asia.
next day I picked up the local newspaper that reported that more than 50%
of the candidates for the local elections withdrew their nominations not
because they did not want to contest but because they did not know who
nominated them! In one constituency, the only nominations were a truck
driver and a sweeper for mayor and deputy mayor posts! It appears that the
Mao-rebels threatened with death punishment for anyone contesting the
elections. In fact, I am told that they control 80% of the rural life in
Nepal. The following day the local newspaper reported some serious
allegation over the King's extravagant African safari where he spent over
a billion Nepali rupees! The editorial said that the people are willing to
forgive him even now if the King is willing only repent and return the
government to the people. And there were desperate calls from the public
and the international leaders for the King to restore the government to
the elected leaders. The irony is that in spite all these, the King
celebrated the first anniversary of his rule on the next day, the 2nd of
February, with many sacrifices in local temples!
all this, we were at loss to know whether to laugh or to cry. But I was
reminded of God's vision to Ezekiel concerning Jerusalem in chapter 9:
3-4: 'The LORD called the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case
at his side; and said to him, "Go through the city, through
Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of those who sigh and groan
over all the abominations that are committed in it"'. We are not to
be surprised at what's happening to Nepal. Such things had happened time
and again to Jerusalem, Israel, the so called God's people who had the Law
and the Prophets to guide and to call them back to God. But the rulers and
leaders of Israel utterly violated God's Law and insulted and persecuted
his Prophets, and finally rejected his Messiah. Well, that's not all. Even
the Church, the New Israel, did no better. The Church time and again in
its long history conformed with the world and instead of raising a voice
against the unjust structures, joined the oppressive rulers and justified
their rule, and forgotten its mission to the poor and the needy. While we
need to pray for the nations like Nepal, we need even more to pray for the
Church worldwide that it would remain faithful to its God-given mission.
Ng Seng Chuan on February 22, 2006
today was a service of hymns, prayers and readings commemorating St
Matthias' Day, which some churches observe on the 24th of February.
Matthias is, of course, the apostle numbered among the Twelve, and
chosen to replace Judas Iscariot. His
election raises profound questions for faith and discipleship.
questions these. There are more
unanswered and unanswerable questions in Scripture than we dare raise.
What does that have to say to the practical wisdom we so
pretentiously exhibit in the conduct of the affairs of the churches
entrusted to our care?
service ended with the singing of "For All the Saints" - a
reminder that we still have yet our battles to face.
Chapel speaker on 8 March will be Dr Philip Satterthwaite.
Courses to be conducted in March 2006
Christian Formation (CE263, 1.5
credits). Lecturer: Mr John Chong Ser Choon. Dates: Mar 7, 14, 21, 28;
Working with Children (CO235,
1.5 credits). Lecturer: Mrs Christabel Hong Seok Ai. Dates: Mar 23, 30,
Apr 6, 13; Time: 7.15-10.15pm.
our website for course descriptions. For registration, call 62276815 or