Originally planned as a physical conference to be held at Pasir Panjang Tamil Methodist Church, the Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference (ETAC) 46th Session took place online over Zoom in the interest of the delegates’ well-being and safety.
Over two days between 12 and 13 Nov 2021, the Session was the first in the new 12th quadrennium (2021–24) which Rev Philip Abraham helmed as President. Rev Philip Abraham was elected into office after the General Conference session in 2020.
Holding on and holding out
In his sermon to all three Annual Conferences, Bishop Dr Gordon Wong preached from Philippians 2:14–16: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation’. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour in vain.”
Highlighting Paul’s reference to the “warped and crooked generation” of his time, Bishop Dr Wong drew a parallel to today’s world, which is in the throes of the COVID-19 global pandemic. “How then should Christians ‘shine like stars in the [dark] sky’?” challenged Bishop Dr Wong. He offered two ways.
The first is not to grumble or argue. Bishop Dr Wong explained that the “grumbling” to which Paul referred is actually “malicious talk” or rumour-mongering that exacerbates ill-will and bitterness. “A grumbling spirit is a very serious problem. When we grumble, we hear our own frustrations and fail to hear what others are saying. When we grumble, other people avoid us, and are afraid to tell us what they think,” warned Bishop Dr Wong.
The other way is to “hold firmly to the word of life” (Phil 2:16). The Greek verb for “hold firmly”, Bishop Dr Wong explained, can mean both holding on or holding out, as seen in some Bible translations. “So did Paul mean for us to ‘hold on’ firmly to God’s wonderful Word of life? Or did he mean that we should ‘hold out’, hold forth God’s Word of life for other people to receive? We can’t be sure,” said Bishop Dr Wong. He added, “Both translations make good sense.”
“So maybe we should learn from both translations. We hold on firmly to God’s Word and this will enable us to hold out or hold forth God’s wonderful Words of life for others to taste and see,” concluded Bishop Dr Wong.
A new quadrennium, a new vision
Upon assuming office as ETAC President at the start of 2021, Rev Philip Abraham made sure to hit the ground running.
In his President’s Review presented on the second day of the Conference Session, Rev Philip Abraham outlined his plans for ETAC to focus on the harvest of souls for Christ during his term of office until 2024. He likened the current quadrennium to that of an agricultural cycle where ETAC will “Pray, Seek, Sow and Reap”.
2021 was the year when ETAC prayed along the lines of Matthew 9:38: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
For 2022, ETAC will be engaged in the “Seek” part of the overall vision. “Seek” is inspired by Jesus’ words in John 4:35, “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” This no doubt creates a sense for urgency for ETAC to redouble its efforts to find workers to reap the harvest. Rev Philip Abraham outlined one of the chief challenges for ETAC in the coming year in order to see its vision come to fruition—to attract and retain a critical mass of youth members within its church ranks. ETAC also announced that it will be actively looking to employ a youth worker to support the youth ministry.
“Some of the local Methodist Youth Fellowships (MYFs) are finding difficulties in getting leaders to lead their Youth Ministry. Due to this difficulty, some chapters have adopted the ‘Youth Coordinator’ setting. For a more sustainable ministry, there is a need to conduct in-depth study to understand the challenges of youth leadership,” revealed Rev Philip Abraham. As a follow-up, he will be initiating a meeting with the ETAC MYF leadership in early 2022.
In addition to giving a run-down of the events, projects and initiatives over the year, Rev Philip Abraham announced the re-engagement of Rev R Prabhu to serve as a pastor this year.
God is always in control
Bishop Emeritus Dr Robert Solomon preached during the closing service of the ETAC 46th Session. His message was based on Exodus 4:1–9, which describes Moses’ encounter with God in a burning bush. God told Moses then of His plan to liberate the Jews from Egypt and use Moses as His instrument for the mission. However, Moses tried to evade God’s call even as God showed him three, in the words of Bishop Emeritus Dr Solomon, “private miracles”.
These miracles were the transforming of Moses’ shepherd staff into a snake, the healing of Moses’ leprous hand and the promise to turn the water of the Nile into blood.
Likening the call of Moses by God to free his people from the land of Egypt to the work in which missionaries and clergy are always engaged, Bishop Emeritus Dr Solomon hoped that the Scripture passage would serve as a reminder that God is in control over all the churches’ various ministries.
The staff that was turned into a snake represents the gifts and experiences that we often pride ourselves over. However, if not consecrated by God—as seen with Moses where God personally transformed the staff—the ministry will not be fruitful.
The healing of Moses’ hand in an instant shows that God alone has control over our earthly bodies. Only by allowing God to work through our mortal shells and sanctify our hearts can we see revival in our ministries.
The third private miracle or promise, which came to pass as one of Egypt’s 10 plagues, shows God’s power and His control over any land He sends us to. This includes times when missionaries and clergy might find themselves in unsettling environments that are inhospitable and fraught with challenges. It is in times like these that they should take a step back and see that it is not who they are but Who is with them.
“As Christ Himself has said, in this world you will have trouble, but take heart, He has overcome the world,” concluded Bishop Emeritus Dr Solomon.
Jason Woo is Communications Executive at MCS Comms. / Screenshots courtesy of Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference (ETAC)