Since the beginning of this year, our huddle group comprising of several CG leaders has been meeting once a month for a time of sharing, encouragement and prayers in the context of small group accountability within the discipleship journey. Our current rendezvous location is a small pavilion on top of Kent Ridge Park which provides the idyllic vantage point for a panoramic view of the West Coast landscape amidst the chirping of birds and rustle of leaves in the early morning breeze. After one huddle meeting 2 months ago, in view of the splendid weather, I took the opportunity to venture into the tree top walk for a stroll and a particular tree caught my attention. This was the evergreen Tembusu tree located about midway into the tree top walk and as I reflect now during our Missions-in-Focus Month, there are three specific aspects about it which left a deep impression upon me and reminded me about our Christian journey and witness.
Fissured but not forlorn
One of the unique features of the Tembusu tree is the fissured bark in the context of its growth in usually harsh environments, which can be impoverished in aeration, nutrients and minerals. Yet it continues to push upwards and according to botanists, can grow up to 45 metres tall in its stately form. It reminded me about the importance of remaining steadfast in our walk and faith in a God who is present despite changing external conditions (Psalm 46:1, 7). He is indeed in control of each and every situation that we go through. During my first mission exposure trip in 2007 to Sabah together with our PSPC team, I remembered vividly the several small buildings perched near the riverbank with the inscribed name “True Christian Church” as we meandered down the river on a sampan whilst the locals hunted for wild boars. We later learned, to our surprise, that the small abandoned buildings belonged to cultic groups that were prevalent in the area previously. It was indeed a testimony of God’s faithfulness that the local church pastor and sending churches persisted in their ministry in the background of cultic strongholds. Over time, the local congregation weathered the resistance and opposition but grew slowly and steadily as they pursued the single-minded focus of preaching, teaching and living out the Word of God and in reaching the lost for Him. For some of us, we may have been praying for opportunities to share the Gospel with a loved one in our family, someone at school or workplace but somehow, did not find the right occasion to do so. May we continue to seek Him, pray for His timing to prevail and not lose faith in reaching out to those around us who need to hear His faithful Word of life and truth.
Tested but not trampled
Despite the trying living environment, the Tembusu is known as one of the “long living trees”. Its wood can last up to a century as they defy invasion by the usual pests that would infest such material. The tenacity of the tree is best seen in its shape of lower branches that may appear sagging at the beginning but then curve up at the end. This reminds me about the hope of His provision (Psalm 81:7, 10) as we depend on His strength for our daily challenges and outreach to the community. During our trip to Chiang Mai last year with the group led by Bethel Presbyterian church, we heard the story from Pastors S and P about how village B was initially gripped by the animistic practices of the local folks. The village chief and school principal/staff were resistant to the Christians who were trying to share the Good News in the village. However the local believers persevered in their prayers and hope that the Word of God would reach out to their people. In the second last night of our stay, with much thanksgiving and praise to God, we had the privilege of hosting a dinner for the village leaders and the village chief and local school principal actually came with their families to attend the dinner gathering. Personally, we may have faced apathy, skepticism or hostility when we share our faith with someone around us including our neighbours. Our exhortation from the Word is to persist in our petitions as we seek to bring His Good News to those around us who have not heard of His lasting Word of hope.
Pressured yet still purposeful
It is fascinating to observe how the Tembusu tree seemed compressed by the nearby vegetation vying for the same space that it stands. Yet the surrounding pressures did not prevent the Tembusu tree from emitting its sweet fragrance during the flowering season and especially during sunset (hence its name Fragraea fragrans). I was also struck when I read how its tree bark and leaves have been used for the relief of fever and dysentery respectively. Its sweet aroma and healing properties reminded me of how we can live with a sense of purpose for Him (2 Cor 2:14). Our Prinsep Lighthouse had a different kind of outing in the second week of July which saw small teams of our youths visiting Golden Mile Complex, Peninsula Plaza and Lucky Plaza to be exposed to the different people groups working in Singapore. For the small group that I accompanied at Lucky Plaza, the youths had the first-hand experience of speaking to several domestic helpers, a civil engineer working at Jurong Island, and an electrician who shared a little of how much it takes for him to come here to work without their families. It was heartening to hear the youths later shared that the outing opened their eyes to these people groups, their thoughts, how we should treat them with respect. As our invitation flyers to attend PSPC ran out very fast, it was personally touching for me to see one of the youths started drawing by hand these invitation flyers on-site so that more can be invited to attend our congregation. It is my prayer that the love of Christ and seed of compassion for the lost will continue to grow and flourish in them so that they will be messengers of His love to others around them.
The Tembusu tree has reminded me about the need to live with faith in God, tenacity and purpose. May we continue to trust Him for His presence, turn to Him for His provisions, and take time to reflect about God’s purpose for us in light of our new life through Christ. May the faith, hope and love that He has given us through His Son, Jesus Christ, be an encouragement for us to similarly want to pass that to those around us.