Sunday, August 28, 2016

When can Young Malaysians shout "Merdeka" from within Merdeka Square?

This week the Federation of Malaya celebrates 59 years of Independence from British rule.  Thousands will gather once again, as usual in pomp and circumstance on Merdeka Square. There will be fireworks and loud celebrations in the evening.  

Merdeka Square is an iconic place reminding Malaysians of our independence from British rule. The Jalur Gemilang was first raised there in 1957 when The Federation of Malaya formally declared her independence and chartered a brave new course for self-rule.  

Yet, the weekend before our 59th year of Independence, Merdeka Square was in desperate lockdown. It appears that a group of young Malaysians were protesting. Their rallying call?  “#Tangkap MO1” or Catch MO1.  The iconic Merdeka Square on 27th August, 2016 however was surrounded by The Royal Malaysian Police. The young protesters were denied entry.  The reason?  Perhaps best explained by Tourism Minister Mohammad Nazri;  “Seek approval from the police. There is an Act (Peaceful Assembly Act). If the police say cannot, then cannot, lah. I understand that approval must also be sought from the landowner. DBKL is the owner of Dataran Merdeka. If it says cannot, then cannot lah,”  

On one level it seems straight forward. The government of the day denies Malaysian youth the right to assemble on a public place, specifically Independence Square (Merdeka Square).  On another level, this is a stark reality of Malaysia under the rule of one single government for 59 years. It is perhaps symbolic that the future of Malaysia represented by these brave and idealistic youths were denied their freedom to step foot on the symbol of Independence and freedom in Malaysia. It was loud and clear, that this government would not allow anyone into Merdeka Square on that afternoon of the 27th of August.

The reason is simple according to Minister in Najib’s cabinet. Dataran Merdeka or Merdeka Square belongs to DBKL. They are the landowners.  When did any government agency become landowners in Malaysia most of all a public square of historic significance? 
This is what happens when one party becomes ruling government for too long. They forget that they represent the people and are elected into government to ensure that all Malaysians are treated fairly under the constitution. Nazri’s statement bleeds of arrogance. Governments are not private landowners.  They are mere guardians of public spaces and public amenities and infrastructure. They have no right to deny any law abiding citizen of Malaysia from entry into any public space especially Dataran Merdeka which is the symbol of freedom and independence in Malaysia.

It is clear that this regular lockdown of Merdeka Square each time there is a peaceful protest is an affront to the freedom and rights of the Malaysian people. The grills, barricades and barb wires are symbolic of a repressive regime bent on holding power even in the midst of a deep financial scandal implicating a senior government official in the ruling BN government.

When, Oh when will the people be able to finally shout “Merdeka!” from inside Merdeka Square like our brave forefathers on the evening of 31st August 1957?

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Should I stay or Should I go? A Biblical response to the question of migration

Really with each passing day, Malaysia looks less and less recognizable. Whatever we had dreamed about – a successful formula of a diverse, multi ethnic people living together and working towards a common destiny seem like a distant mirage now.  Even as we look at our daily life here in Malaysia, it is discouraging to say the least. Government just isn’t working. The city is dirty, road works and public amenities are slipshod with little care for the details. Public transport is inefficient and costly.  Parks and public amenities like swimming pools and public spaces are few.  Our public education system is so bad that people are having to pay for an international or private education.  Those who cannot afford many times, sadly, face mediocre and unmotivated public school teachers. It’s impossible to start a company or to do business in Malaysia without being asked for graft or a bribe. This sickening culture exists from government officials in Putrajaya and local councils to purchasing executives in private companies. Foreign companies loathe to start a business here in Malaysia for this reason. Instead of worrying about the billions that have been lost from Malaysia through the 1MDB fiasco, politicians are more concern about passing through Parliament an archaic form of punishment that would take Malaysia back to the dark ages.  It seems like nobody cares anymore that Malaysia is heading in a dangerous trajectory, least of all the political leaders who seem to be fiddling with politics while “Rome burns.”
With all that is going on, it is so tempting to throw in the towel and to give up on Malaysia. It would be a lie to say that the thought of a successful and comfortable life in the suburbs of Sydney or Perth never crossed my mind. It has and of late all the more frequent.  Why stay?  

Indeed there can only be one reason for any Christian Malaysian to stay on.  It is our cultural and gospel mandate which is given to every professing Christian. What is this cultural mandate? It is the mandate given in Genesis 1 to rule over and subdue the earth. How do we do that as New Testament Christians? We do that by living out the values of the Kingdom of God here, now, while we live in the kingdom of this world.  This idea of the Kingdom is clearly spelt out through a series of parables Jesus told in Matthew 13. Christians are not to be separated from the weeds but both are to grow up together (Matt 13:24-30), Christians though small in number like the mustard seed shall have great influence and become a blessing to many nations(Matt13:31-32). The influence of the Kingdom of Heaven, the influence of Christians, like the little leaven is to permeate and work in and through the Kingdom of this world, spreading the values of the Kingdom(Matt13:33) – justice, truth, righteousness, mercy, grace etc.    
So why cant we do this from wherever we are.  We can also fulfill our cultural mandate in a more civilized environment like New Zealand or Australia. True and yet not.

I think the beatitudes of Luke 6:20-26 gives us a clearer picture of what we are to seek and the posture of our hearts as we seek them.  According to the Beatitudes it appears that there are two ways to live. One way of living is the way of the Kingdom of God (20-22) (blessed) and the other the Kingdom of this world (24-26) (woe). It is not that one should seek to be poor or hungry or sad or hated so that we can be called blessed and neither is it cursed to be rich, full or happy. The purpose of the kingdom of this world lives for power(rich), comfort(full) and recognition(accepted) and does all it can to obtain these things. Power, comfort and recognition controls the thoughts and decisions in the life of a person living under the influence of the Kingdom of this World.  However, the Beatitudes are calling us as Christian disciples to live for the purpose of the Kingdom of God.  For a Christian disciple he is no longer controlled by what the world thinks as important (power, comfort and recognition). He doesn’t need them and these things don’t drive or motivate him anymore.  It's not that he avoids them but that they don’t drive his motivations and decisions. Eventhough a Christian may weep because of sadness or difficulty, he may be blessed or deeply satisfied.  Even if he is hated because of being a Christian he may rejoice (v.23) because he knows his eternal reward is in heaven.  In other words, a Christian disciple is able to live for the things above, things that have eternal value.  He can live with courage in the face of difficulty wherever he is because he is driven by the eternal kingdom of God not the rewards of this world.  What drives us as Christians living in Malaysia?  Is it power or comfort? A great career hence recognition and acclaim?  I suspect if we seek these things we would lose it but if we seek the Kingdom, we shall gain them.

How then should we live in Malaysia as Christians?  Jeremiah’s letter to the exilic community in Jeremiah 29 gives us a clue.  Go into the city, built your houses, plant your gardens, marry and raise a godly family.  Seek the shalom of the city. Pray for the shalom of the city. The false prophets wanted the exilic community to stay outside the city, live off the city and take form the city but remain separate and undefiled. After all their exile is only 2 years. Jeremiah tells the exilic community that it is going to be 70 years and that they should go in and live in the city.  Make a living from the city and grow a godly family. Increase in number.  Seek the welfare or shalom of the city.  Shalom is not just absence of war but really the wholesome flourishing of every aspect of society.  They were also to pray for their captors. Imagine that! Praying for your enemies.  This is a missional community. This was their purpose in Babylon. To extend the influence of Yahweh in Babylon and to seek after the flourishing of that city.
Somewhere along the way we began to belief that Christ greatest promise to us is a comfortable and prosperous life. Our faith became quite individualistic and our relationship with God became quite business like. God’s existence in my life is to help me live a comfortable, middle class life with as little bumps as possible. I tithe, I remain faithful to CG, I go to church and go for prayer meetings and God you keep your end by keeping me safe and comfortable and successful. If that is the goal of the Christian life then sure go and find greener pastures. Having a clear understanding of the Kingdom and our calling as Christians however, would help reorientate our priorities.  We are called to live out our lives in the greater story of God’s redemption plan. This is exciting and fulfilling. What has God planned for Malaysia in the grand schema of things? What is He calling us, the Malaysian Church to do? How can each of our lives fit into God's redemptive plan for Malaysia - in  the vocation which He has called us to? This calling isn’t always going to be comfortable and nice, in fact many times it becomes hard. Its filled with dangers, toils and snares but as the Beatitudes remind us :
Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
 Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.

We all have to listen to God's call for ourselves and our families and for some it may be to go and some to stay but in your consideration of whether to stay or to go, think about your calling, the Kingdom and your response.