|Archbishop Bolly Lapok (left) watches as Sarawak flag is being hoisted|
If given choice, most Malaysians might choose to leave the country for greener pastures elsewhere. Perhaps, that's the only way we know of to show our disapproval and silent protest of how the country is being run.
However, the second reading for the joint National Day Prayer Service last night (25 August) told Malaysian Christians to do otherwise.
"Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jer 29:5-7).
Prophet Jeremiah was addressing the people who were in exile in Babylon. Instead of telling them to protest, fight and flee from the foreign land Babylon, they were asked by God to settle down, live to the fullest and pray for Babylon.
Archbishop Bolly Lapok of the Anglican Church gave a very insightful reflection based on the reading (Jer 29:1-9).
In the days of Jeremiah, the people of Israel (and Judah) held on to the popular belief that they were the chosen nation who should be enjoying God's blessing and protection exclusively. They became a laughing stock of other nations when they lost their land promised by God. And now that they were asked to pray for their enemy – surely, Jeremiah's message was not well received.
It has been said that Malaysians (including Malaysian-Christians) have been living in this "toxic culture" (of racial, cultural and religious polarisation) for a long time. Like the Israelites, the Church is called to continue to be faithful in her witnessing in this hostile environment.
Truth be told, I have gone through the book of Jeremiah for at least two times during the Bible Course I've been attending but I have not noticed this very verse (Jer 29:7). Whatever the reason that I missed it, it does come at the right time. I take that as an answer to our prayers. While we the frustrated Christians call out to God to intervene in the many occasions that have – time and again – sent the local Church into "exile" and caused us much misery, God in turn asks us to pray for the politicians, the decision-makers, the governing body and to be engaged in the life and situations faced by the country. "For in its welfare you will find your welfare".
I'm glad I was there to pray for the country together with the other Christians. The choir, though small and only accompanied by the organ, sang whole-heartedly and beautifully as they led the people in praise and worship.
Thank you, Archbishop Bolly Lapok, for your reflection which has inspired many, including myself.