Goodbye, My Friend

She wasn’t judgmental, she had a strong sense of justice, quick to leap to help, either lending a listening ear or praying for the best outcomes. She was willing to share knowledge in her area of specialty. She also set boundaries, saying right from the start to not cling on to her.

Being smart, popular, kind and caring it would be almost inevitable for most people to hang on to her. It was clear she needed space, and so I gave it to her.

When we were introduced in 2016, she was studying for her Bachelor’s; and after accomplishing that, she embarked on her Master’s. In the midst of all the academia, she moved house, and that house had issues for some time. Then, she learned her mother had cancer and she made sure she took care of her until she passed away. And then, she moved again.

In the last couple of weeks of my friend’s life, she was awaiting the results of two papers she had submitted, she was interning at a company that was keen to hire her… and then she had an aneurysm and a stroke and passed away.

Family and friends were shocked.

How to grieve, when she was half a world away? How does one have closure? And then a mutual friend said she baked a cake and ate it as a form of celebration of Kristan’s life. That was new to me, but it was biblical.

Deuteronomy 14 speaks of preparing and eating a special meal as a worship and thanksgiving before the Lord. So I did that, thanking God for the gift of Kristan, being grateful for the time we had together and the friendship that was formed in the midst of prayer battles. And while honoring the Lord for enabling me to know her for a season, eating a small meal while the sun was setting, I saw some of the clouds turn pink. And they were in the shape of a hand, as if waving goodbye.

Goodbye, my friend. Till we meet again at the meal that surpasses all other meals.

Working with Good Leaders

I am known for working well with some prominent leaders and sometimes am the target of jealousy because of that. 

While my enemies like to think I was plotting, planning and scheming, actually it was simpler than that. God was arranging a series of divine appointments all along.

By His direction, I joined a prominent organisation, and just over a year later, a mature, respected leader was appointed to lead it. Staff were generally happy about it and when he came, the first thing he did was set expectations. Our organisation, he said, was a big one and change had to be done slowly. He also set the tone of our interaction — we were not to act like fishwives, but were to address each other respectfully, regardless of our position. Then, he set about having one on one conversations with the staff.

Newly arrived and desiring to get things going ASAP, he wanted me to lead a key position. It would be a position of prominence and if I had been ambitious, I would have leaped at it. Except that I had a reservation and decided to tell him to direct his queries a certain direction.  And said no more.

Later, he came back with a look in his eye and immediately changed his plans — I had told him what the issue was, without telling him anything. He could see for himself. And also because I wasn’t fighting him when he wanted to lead in certain areas of my domain, he trusted me more.

As far as I was concerned, he could take the lead if he wanted to. He had made it clear he wanted the right to make the final decision on any matter as he would be taking the blame if anything went wrong. That was fair enough. He was a far cry from the insecure leaders I had to work with, who would take the credit for themselves when things went well, but blame the subordinate when things went awry.

We worked well because we had similar values.

Because I was a leader [of 50s, he was a leader of 5,000 (Exodus 18:21)], I also knew what a leader needed and because I was an introvert — and he even more so — I knew he needed space and I gave it to him.

I respected his privacy and his boundaries. And he also respected mine. Because of his unofficial mentoring, I became a better leader. From him, I learned how to have friends in the office without practicing favoritism. He was the most humane and effective leader I had ever met.

The Lump in the Carpet

Many hate confrontation. They prefer to ignore the issue and let the anger pile up until one day, they can’t stand it anymore and there’s one BIG explosion and… well, I think you know how it goes.

Many opt for avoidance, or “peace at any price”; others engage in endless bitter wars over the same old thing. The issue never gets resolved as both parties haven’t learned the skills of reconciliation. Both “resolve” it by sweeping it under the carpet and ignoring it until the lump under the carpet becomes a festering and foul smelling hill, making them sick.

But there’s a third way, a skill that few have learned and that’s to confront with love. I encountered it a few times, and only with the best people — those who rose up through the ranks because of outstanding competence and character.

The first time was when I was working as a rookie reporter and made a mistake that was published in the newspaper and the editor, a rising star, asked to see me. I expected to be flamed, and I went into his office with some trepidation. To my surprise, he gently pointed out my transgression, forgave me on the spot and sent me back to my desk. There was judgement, but also grace at the same time.

Then I made a career transition. I had learned how to work as a journalist — getting the editor’s brief, interviewing the people and then submitting the report. In journalism, you work to communicate ideas in the best way possible and within the set deadline. You learn to work fast and work well.

In church, I was expected to work with people — a very different scenario. And of course, I made mistakes. But I was again, blessed with pastors who were aware that I was learning a new profession — they confronted me with the issue, then either advised me or stepped in to remedy the situation. I received both truth and grace.

It gets a lot messier when the issues are not work issues, but people issues. I knew I had to learn how to confront in love, and enlisted the help of my colleague, a trained counsellor, who coached me.

First, I have to discern if it’s my issue or their issue. If it’s my issue — i.e. an old wound that suddenly got triggered — it’s quite straightforward. I bring it to the Lord for healing, and He does heal. If healing doesn’t happen immediately, I will enlist the help of a friend to discern what is hindering the process. I know it’s healed when I meet the person and there’s no distance between us.

If it’s their issue and it’s hindering our friendship, I will ask the Lord to prepare the time, the place and our hearts. If the wound is still festering and anger is going to spew out, then I need to work on forgiveness before arranging the meeting, else I would be inflicting more wounds on the relationship instead of healing it.

I would bring up my complaint and tell my friend what happened and what I felt about it; then I listen; then I give my feedback about what I heard from her; she clarifies; and then we go back and forth until we have a good mutual understanding and come up with some solutions for next time. I think I have learned that skill fairly well.

But having learned it, God has now given me a new challenge: learning to address repeated rude behavior. If it happens once, I take it as an aberration. If it’s more than once, I know it’s a habit and has to be addressed. Usually, calling it out there and then is very effective; if we leave it too late, the party is likely to have forgotten the whole thing. So, we need to be fast in processing the incident — which usually catches us by surprise — our thoughts and feelings, and calling out the behavior.

What usually inhibits us from doing so is fear of losing the friendship. But I have realised that if we don’t call this out, we’re going to lose the friendship anyway. As we start sweeping it under the carpet, we’re going to trip over the lump, or it will smell in time and make us sick. Ultimately, if we wish to stay well, we have no choice but to follow Jesus’ instruction that if someone offends us, we need to point it out just between the two of us. That’s the only way to go.

A Little Piece of Heaven

She stands in the midst of all the glory of the worship and praise of God in heaven surrounded by innumerable numbers of heavenly beings, and there’s a sudden hush and all eyes turn on her as the Lord beckons her forth. And she’s eager, excited, eyes shining in anticipation; she has been waiting since the beginning of time for this assignment on Earth… And as the Lord beckons, the silence deepens. And He looks into her eyes right into the very core of her. 

And she’s liquid and yet solid, she’s malleable like gold and tougher than diamond; fragile, beautiful and complex like a cobweb laced with morning dew sparkling in the sun and yet… stronger than titanium. And then she is sent forth with nothing but a little piece of heaven in her tiny hand and with the admonition, “Never let that go”. That’s all she has, but that’s all she needs.  

And in all the ensuing battles on earth, she has held on, and held on, and held on. When the winds were howling and darkness was assailing, that little piece of heaven held her, sustained her, healed her. That faint memory of how it was, how it is, and how it will be. A steadfast, stubborn faithfulness to the call of God in the midst of everything telling her to give up, get out, compromise, turn your back… 

The movies tell us heroes are tough guys with amazing weapons, physical strength and extraterrestrial power that will knock out all their enemies. That’s a lie. The real heroine is one who knocks out all her enemies by staying faithful to His call in spite of… everything.  And that is so stunningly beautiful. 

The Cinderella Child

In almost every household, there is a Cinderella child — a child that’s less favored than her siblings, a child that’s the lowest ranking in the parent’s priorities. Here are examples of how it plays out:

One child is freely given piano lessons, skating lessons, sailing lessons; but Cindy has to campaign for opportunities to learn. This favored child has clothes that take up 80 per cent of the shared closet — but likes Cindy’s new blouse and wants the right to wear it too. Cindy bursts into tears at the injustice, at the repeated victimization — but this incident shows something has happened to the favored child. She has become predatory.

There is a dispute between Cindy and another child — without further ado, without hearing Cindy’s side of the story, she is punished. The other child learns that lying and pretending helps him get away with everything, and it becomes a lifestyle. So a manipulator is formed.

So Cindy tries to EARN a place in the family by her performance, but her excellent performance, praised by those qualified in their field, is dismissed with the words that her sibling got a Distinction too.

The favoritism teaches the siblings to lord it over Cindy. They arrogate to themselves their right to have what Cindy has; they believe it is only right that their whims and desires come first, and Cindy’s needs are irrelevant; they believe it is right to take by force the inheritance given to her, but not to them. Her desires are not respected, her boundaries repeatedly violated. She is only told what she is to do… or else…

The family is satisfied with the system: it benefits them, after all. It gives them someone they can parasitically suck from, if they want anything. It becomes a lifestyle to notice Cindy’s assets and scheme for ways to take from her for themselves.

There are many variations of the story above, but one things remains true — in dysfunctional families, there’s always a Cinderella and it could be of either gender.

The parents set up an unspoken caste system, with often the older in the family given the higher status, ranked according to age, and the youngest the lowest status. Sometimes, it could be any one of the children that’s singled out as the lowest status, not necessarily the youngest. But this child is the one who is stripped of her rights, and is expected to serve the rest. From the time she joins the family, her status is already decided by the parents, and the rest of the family agrees, because wouldn’t it be to their advantage to use the one that’s designated as servant of all?

For those who resonate with this story, who feel that this story somehow describes them, I feel for you. But there is hope.

Because there’s also a Prince — a Prince who Sees Everything, and His name is Jesus.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. — Galatians 5:1

Calling, Competence, Character

We wanted fat people. It was a cute way to get attention and recruit volunteers for the newly-minted prayer team. FAT stood for Faithful, Available and Teachable; response was good.

But that wasn’t enough. The ad in the church weekly drew attention, but it didn’t really get the people we wanted. Then, came the job description.

A job description is one of the best tools a ministry can use to recruit volunteers. List the talents you’re looking for, the duties you expect the person to perform and last, but most important, the benefits of joining your group.

For talent, I listed ability to pray Conversational Prayer style with a brief description of what this involves (some people can’t pray in a team, and this would help them decide if they really want to join); for duties, I expected people to sign up for either the 930am or 1130am Sunday prayer slots online — just one slot only per month — and to pray as a team for 1.5 hours. It sounds long, but when the group is moving in the Spirit, time flies.

The benefits were real — people develop the ability to hear the prompting of the Spirit when they start praying together and are hugely encouraged. Not only do they develop their gift, they also get to befriend like-minded people. In time, we had a regular group that would pray and then lunch together. We developed into a close community.

But as members got together, difficulties surfaced; some people would just go into a personal prayer zone, and lose track of the fact that others also wanted to pray out loud. As leader, I would tell them this, and they would be quite okay with me interrupting them if they went into their zone. So, that wasn’t an issue so long it was addressed.

Others went into hysterical weeping each time they prayed; another decided she was the group’s prophetess and wanted to give “prophecies” to members; yet another would manifest each time, freaking out the rest. So the prayer time stonewalled. Each got offended when I spoke with them, and left — while the rest sighed a sigh of relief.

Leaders set the standard. One thing that could be perfectly acceptable in a revival meeting — weeping, shouting out of prophecies, demonic manifestations — isn’t acceptable in a place where we’re supposed to be praying for the pastors and ministries of the church. It all depends on context and the leader’s discernment.

Much of the time, these manifestations were legitimacy issues — people needed to do these things in order to feel special and get everyone’s attention. Unfortunately, due to lack of discernment and fear of confrontation, leaders let these very needy people go on and on, while the rest of the group quietly leave until only the needy people and the leader are left. And the goal of the group, which is to pray for the church, and secondarily, for one another, isn’t achieved.

But every Sunday at the end of our prayer times, in our groups of 2s and 3s, people would minister peacefully to one another in prayer and prophecy and were blessed. I knew some looked forward to the prayer time because of the personal ministry at the end, but that was fine with me.

People need ministry and support, and the prayer ministry is a good place to receive it.

Starting a Prayer Team

Prayer meetings were either total chaos or totally controlled when as a new pastoral team member I was given charge of the newly formed Prayer Ministry in 1997.  

Our 5000-member church had a group of 5 Sunday intercessors and the traditional Wednesday prayer meeting.

The first Sunday when I walked into the prayer room to check things out, one person was singing, one was praying in tongues, another was flipping the pages of the church weekly. It was all “guided by the Spirit”. The Wednesday prayer meeting was the exact opposite — it had a fixed format led by the pastor. The first kind of meeting was intimidating and chaotic; the second could be quite boring.

One Sunday in January 2000, the “Spirit-led” quintet suddenly announced that the Lord had asked them to move to another church — and they were leaving immediately.

I was shocked at the sudden announcement, but yet at the same time, it was an opportunity to build something new. The senior pastor and I started a recruitment process.

By that time, I had come across concepts based on the book, Conversational Prayer, by Rosalind Rinker. It was a treasure. It established a protocol, yet there was also freedom to listen to the Spirit.

As new members started coming in, I trained them to pray on one topic at a time, adding to one another’s prayers as inspired by the Spirit. If somehow we were “stuck”, we listened to God and shared with one another as to how to proceed. Having that understanding and agreement united us in the Spirit and made it a great community builder. Members were free to choose which Sunday they wanted to come to pray, logging their attendance online; some loved the prayerful atmosphere in my office, and would come every Sunday!

Praying in groups of 5-6 at a time, sometimes more, the topics would vary, based on what we sensed should be emphasised.

In the 18 years of heading the prayer team, we averaged 35 members annually; I made it clear at the end of every year that if they were led to another ministry, they were free to go. It was quite startling to the leadership to know I had this policy, as the standard procedure was to persuade people to stay, even if they wanted to go! These small movements of some people leaving and others coming in, refreshed the ministry. But it was interesting that the total number of intercessors stayed constant.

Each prayer meeting had a sense of structure and yet liberty; a balance between freedom and protocol; space was given for the Spirit to come and guide us as we sat still to listen. There was freedom to learn, freedom to fail. It was a community of people learning to pray. We spanned the generations from the 20s to the 60s; there were people who had overcome poverty, others who grew up with a silver spoon in their mouth and everyone else in-between. It was the desire to pray that united us. We always ended the session with the group splitting into 2s or 3s to pray for one another; friendships were formed that way. Best of all was the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst.  

What This Blog Is About

I have three topics close to my heart:

Reconciliation with God: I wasn’t from a Christian home. I first became aware of Jesus when I was a child and came across the New Testament. He revealed Himself through the pages of the Gospel, a gentle wooing of my heart that continued through the years. I could sense the Lord, I could feel His feelings even though I didn’t know it was Him then. At 31, I finally broke through into His Kingdom. I aim to write about my journey with Him, and hope my insights will inspire you.

Reconciliation with People: Life is all about relationships isn’t it? When I first started out, I had very little idea how to have healthy relationships and was ill-equipped to handle the working world. God decided to lend me a hand by taking me out of the corporate world and putting me in the church world, where I had no choice but learn how to create and lead a healthy community. I hope to share my journey with you.

Reconciliation with Creation: I have a love for God’s Creation, and I daresay, many times that love has been returned. Creation speaks, not only through the animals but also through the winds, the waters and the earth. Unfortunately, there are also some hidden realities, ugly realities embedded in Creation which I had to learn to tackle. But God made Creation beautiful from the beginning, and this is what I want to focus on.

Kathlyn Tsang