Pursuing Justice within Oneself and Globally

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Malaysia’s fourth annual Christian Unity Prayer was celebrated on Thursday, Jan 17, a day before the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity organised by the World Council of Churches kicked off in the Northern Hemisphere.

This international Christian ecumenical observance, held annually between Jan 18 and Jan 25, began in 1908 as the Octave of Christian Unity and focuses on prayer for church unity.

The two-hour gathering, hosted by Crossway Community Lutheran Church, Kuala Lumpur, was a reminder for Christians of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples that “they may be one so that the world may believe” (John 17:21).

The 2019 theme, "Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue ..." is said to be inspired by Deuteronomy 16:18-20.

Resources for the week were prepared by members of different churches in Indonesia then edited and published by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and The Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches.

In 1999, Malaysia was the first country outside Europe invited to prepare material for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with the theme “Behold I make all thing new” from Revelation 21:5.

The evening was attended by heads and representatives of various Christian denominations. From the Catholic church, His Eminence, Anthony Soter Cardinal Fernandez, Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Most Rev. Julian Leow and Archbishop Emeritus Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam were present.

Host pastor Rev Marcus Leong in his introductory speech said: “As Christians from separated communities, we gather here to pray for unity. This (year’s) theme is imperative due to the recurring situations that bring divisions and conflicts. As we pray together, we are reminded that our calling as members of the body of Christ is to pursue and embody justice. Our unity in Christ empowers us to take part in the wider struggle for justice and to promote the dignity of life.”

Methodist pastor Rev. Tan Chew Mae, Presbyterian pastor Rev. Richard Tok and Anglican priest Rev. Joshua Ong took turns reciting the prayer of repentance and the Gospel according to Luke (4:14-21) was read by Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church’s Rev. Mathew Punnose.

Council of Churches Malaysia general secretary Rev. Dr Hermen Shahstri, during his sermon, reminisced about a conference in Vancouver Canada in 1983 where Archbishop Rev. Desmond Tutu was asked at a press conference, “If a church can make a difference in the world so filled with insurmountable injustice?” To which he said “Tutu replied: ‘When the church is divided, injustice thrives and the world wins. When the church is united on Gospel imperatives of justice, the power of oppression will be dethroned in the name of Jesus Christ, the light of the world’.”

Rev. Hermen went on to share how this year’s theme of putting the dimension of justice back at the heart of Christian thinking is apt as the whole bible is a message of God’s righteous will and the compelling exercise of justice for all humanity.

“We cannot compromise, Jesus does not allow his disciples to compromise on Kingdom values. We pray the Lord’s prayer in many languages and in many different contents. That shows the diversity and it’s no threat to unity, we can live with it but if the Lord’s prayer is not lived out in just living, then it threatens the very core of what it means to be Christian. Christians that prayer the Lord’s pray pledge their allegiance to Christ who promised, he had come, so you may have life and live in its abundance.”

Most Rev. Julian shared the Word of Exhortation after the sermon, in which he reminded the 250 strong congregations that there are many injustices right here in Malaysia.

“We all know from experience, trying to get into universities, quota systems, trying to purchase properties and you don’t get special discounts. Employment, it is difficult to get into certain sectors – army, police and the list can go on, many social injustices. But here we are, I would like us to look within ourselves. Am I acting justly? Am I loving tenderly? Am I walking humbly with the Lord?

“It is good to look at myself first, whether I am living justice. Am I pursuing not justice outside but am I living it in my own life? Am I behaving? Am I prospering my neighbour? Or am I too busy accumulating just for myself? And so, justice and only justice we must pursue.”

Most Rev. Julian went on to ask if we should be seeking retributive justice as in an eye for an eye or seek restorative justice to give justice to the weak, the orphan, the lonely, the destitute “Why are there poor on the streets of Kuala Lumpur? Homeless. And what am I doing as Church, looking after my neighbour? Are we as Church doing enough?

“Am I outdoing one another in doing good? Whether I see my neighbour as someone better than me or am I also in this competitive dog-eat-dog society, even in the Church?

“Let us as a Church today, pray that we pursue restorative justice not retributive - not an eye for an eye or they will all be blind and handicapped people walking around the word if we go along that line. 9-11 (Sept 11, 2001) has shown us peace can only be achieved through forgiveness. What if George Bush had forgiven, would we be in a safer place today? Because of retributive justice, I think we are worst of today. The spiral of violence, violence begets violence.

“The only answer I believe though it may be naïve is, love conquers all. The best way to get rid of your enemy is to love them to death.”

There were also melodious performances by an Indonesian choir from Gereja Kristian Bahasa Indonesia, the Cantus Musicus and The Ruth Education Centre Choir made up of Myanmar refugee youths.

Two teary-eyed teenagers from the Ruth choir shared their challenging journeys escaping war-torn Myanmar to seek solace in Malaysia several years ago and their struggles thus far. However, UNHCR intends to send them back at the end of this year saying it is safe to return. The Myanmar refugees believe otherwise and asked the congregation to help find ways to keep them here until it is truly safe to return.

Lutheran pastor and key organiser, Rev. Dr Sivin Kit of Seminari Theoloji Malaysia was very happy with the get-together. “It is the Lutheran Church’s turn to host, and everyone was very supportive to attend and participate. It is like a concert offering praise to God, showing unity on so many different levels, from different Christian denominations and a range of ethnicities,” he said.

He added, how it is good to focus on the bigger picture than looking at internal differences.

“I was especially touched to hear the Myanmar youths sharing their stories. It was especially important and goes along with this year’s theme and the people from different countries coming to Malaysia.”

“It is so important to hear the voice of the other person, often invisible in our country, and today, they were very visible.” Rev. Sivin said he immediately heard a pastor committing to pray particularly for the plight of the Myanmar youths. He also believed there were people present who could offer financial aid and or help advocate their course.

“My prayer is that people take this message beyond this event as unity is really important. The danger is when we are not focusing on outside problems, we may be focusing back on our problems again. There is a need for us to remind ourselves, as we commit to justice, we need to commit to unity to work together. It’s not just about doing, it’s about being. Being is about unity, doing is about the activity.”

The evening ended with the priests and pastors praying a blessing over the congregation followed by a light supper and fellowship. - Gwen Manickam