Reflection: Swim or Sink – Canon Robert Vun

Weekly Reflections

Weekly Reflection (19 October 2020)

This morning is a good morning for us Melbournians. Many of us have woken up to be greeted with the good news that some restrictions have been eased. It is good to see positive results after 102 days of restrictions of various forms. I can imagine the smiles on the faces of many Victorians.

While we do indeed rejoice at an increase of our freedom and the downward trend of COVID-19 cases in our city; I am ever mindful of our listeners from other parts of the world who are currently experiencing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases… We are with you in prayers and spirit as you experience the difficulties, hardships and predicaments this dreaded virus brings.

If this virus has taught us anything, it is to learn to treasure what we so easily have taken for granted. We had assumed that freedom of movement, shopping, health, job and income securities, meeting together, dining out and many other daily routines are there for us. These have now become luxuries and even out of our reach for many.

We need to learn to give thanks to God even for the most mundane things and the routines in life. It is His love and grace that sustains each of us every day. His mercy and generosity is amazingly great.

Before we go any further, let us bow our heads as I pray for our world under threat by the coronavirus.

Dear God,
It seems like lots of uncertainty around us.  So many people who need prayers. Today, I pray…
For those whose health is compromised by the coronavirus or other health issues.
For those who suffer from the economic impact of the virus across our country.
For health care workers and first responders, uniformed personnel and public servants who put themselves in harm’s way for us.
For leaders of the world, our countries, states, and cities, as they seek help and manage this challenge.
For all who are suffering from COVID-19 and their loved ones.
For the families of all who have died because of this pandemic.
God, it can be overwhelming. But you tell us over and over again not to be afraid.
Show us how to trust in you.
As we examine our hearts with the light of Your Holy Spirit, help us to turn away from our concern with self, and turn our hearts, hands, and prayers toward the concerns of others.
In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen[i]

Prayer of the Week

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost

Almighty God, your Son has opened for us a new and living way into your presence: give us pure hearts and steadfast wills to worship you in spirit and in truth; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This morning, our Bible Reading is taken from the book of Proverbs 3:1-12.

Bible Reading

My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, For they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favour and a good name in the sight of God and man.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. Honour the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; 10 Then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. 11 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, 12 Because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.

Devotion  

Swim or Sink

God called in into the ministry half-way through my Victorian Matriculation studies in Kuala Lumpur. This calling became stronger with the passing months. At the end of my studies, I returned home to Sabah.

I was faced with a huge dilemma. How am I going to break the news to my parents? Surely, they will be more than disappointed. They will most certainly oppose my going to theological studies. What should I do?

You must remember, back in the seventies and coming from a Chinese family in Asia, we children has little say in deciding our future and our studies. Defying our parents is unheard of. That would bring shame to the child and his family also.

As I agonised over this, a telegram came from a University in Dunedin, New Zealand telling me that they have a reserved a place for me and asking me to enrol straight away. My parents were overjoyed that their youngest boy would be the first and only of their eight children to get a tertiary education. Only a few of my peers were able to enter Universities because of the costs involved. So I was one of the privileged ones and an envy of many.

After praying like I never did before, I took up the courage to tell my parents that I will not be going to New Zealand because God had called me into the ministry.

My father surprisingly took it quite well. He was disappointed, yes, but he kept very quiet about it. However, my mother was very emotional. Through tears, she begged me to reconsider my decision and tried to convince me that I still could serve the Lord as much as I wanted to – when I become a professional after my overseas tertiary studies.

Those we very difficult days to bear. I was under great pressure to follow my parents’ desire as I see their disappointment with me. They were broken hearted with my decision. Eventually, my mum grudgingly realised that she could not physically bundle into the jet-plane bound for New Zealand. However, she did not cease to persuade me to change my mind at every given opportunity.

In the meantime, my brother came back home for summer holidays from his theological studies. I told him about my calling and he took me to see the Bishop. He heard me out and acted immediately.

Within a few days, I found myself in a bus on a 2-hour journey to a small town called Beaufort. There I will meet the priest-in-charge of that area. The next day he took me on three-hour train journey through the jungle to an even smaller town call Tenom. My bum was hurting from sitting on the hard-wooden seat. Now we had to take another a one-and-a-half hour Land Rover ride over bumpy gravel road to another small town called Keningau right in the interior of Sabah.

The priest took me to a small church building and showed me a small transept which would me my office and another transept which would be my little flat. He asked me if I have any questions. I was either too disoriented or shocked to ask any questions. He turned around to went home and left me standing there.

Here I was, with only a bag of clothing and my Bible. Without any preparation, without any training, without any idea what to do next, who the church members were and even how to get my next meal, I was supposed to look after this Church in the middle of nowhere…

Welcome to the ministry discernment process if you are called to the ordained ministry in the seventies in Sabah. The Bishop in his wisdom had decided to put me into this situation to test my calling.  There was only two option – to swim or sink![ii]

I had no idea how I survived the coming days, weeks and months. I was paid only A$50 a month. That was barely enough to buy groceries. A kind widower took me in to stay with him. His wife had only passed away a year earlier and all his adult children had gone to the larger town. He was living by his own in his secluded rubber plantation some miles away from town. He has his own generator for electricity which was turned on only every night for three hours. There was no running water and had a dunny some meters away from the house.

Life was monotonous and I did what I could under this widower guidance – who happens to also be the only Church Warden there. There was no entertainment apart from one hour of television each evening – when the weather was good enough for a very grainy reception.

Occasionally he would visit one of his children in the larger town. On one of these occasions, it was also my birthday. I was feeling homesick and lonely. So, I decided to take a trip into town to check the Post Office Box for any mail. To my great surprise, there was a letter for me. I quickly opened it to discover that it as an acceptance letter from Singapore Bible College for a Bachelor of Theology course. I had not even applied for it! It must be the Bishop who had applied on my behalf and got me accepted without my knowledge. Oh, the power of Asian Bishops back then to send people here and there, and move institutions at their pleasure!

As I look back to that period of my life, it still amazes me.

How God in his grace would count my small and simple faith worthy so He could work His plan into my life.

How God uses people and circumstances to shape and mould me in my journey with him.

How incredible all things come together – my parents, the journey, the priest, the small country town church, the widower church-warden, the rubber plantation, my acceptance letter and many more – in God’s wonderful wisdom, He made all things work for good.

May I encourage you not to be hesitant to trust God’s grace even if you think your faith is but small and simple.

Be thankful in all circumstances and appreciate the people God put in your life.

Be confident to love God because in obeying Him, He will make all things work out for your eventual good.

We have such an awesome God. He is love and He is good.

Postscript:

For many years, mum was saddened that I choose not to be a professional to look after her in her old age; instead I chose to be a Priest. However, these past twenty years, she completely changed when she saw the grace of God in her sons’ lives. She would tell people that she was silly to oppose my brother’s and my calling back then. She also said that if she had another ten sons, she would give all of them to serve God in the ministry.

Isn’t this a happy ending?

The Morning Collect

Eternal God and Father, by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed: guide and strengthen us by your Spirit, that we may give ourselves to your service, and live this day in love to one another and to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Amen.[iii]

Thank you for patience. My prayer is that you can also reflect on God’s grace upon your life – touching it, guiding it, bending it, moulding it and blessing it until who you are you today. Oh yes, He will continue to do so till we see Him face to face.

Till next Monday then, rejoice often. Do good. Love outrageously. Enjoy life. Praise God. Amen. Goodbye.


[i] A Prayer for a World Facing the Coronavirus was adapted from a prayer posted by St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. 713-622-5710, 3471 Westheimer Road, Houston, 77027.

[ii] I did not realise it then, but the Bishop did the same thing to my cousin who had gone to see him a year earlier telling him that he has a calling into the ministry.

[iii] Numbers 6.24–26

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