NECF, June 2012
by Wong Hong Meng
Christians are the salt and light of the world for the transformation of society. Christians in business are strategically placed to play a most significant role in this process as every segment of society is touched by business directly or indirectly. Therefore, the legacy of Christians in business should be acknowledged and appreciated.
The six interviews featured in this section are but a small representation of the legacy of Malaysian Christians in business. We are grateful to these six as most Christians in business are reticent about sharing, perhaps, for the following reasons:
• The world holds Christians to a higher standard of ethical and moral behaviour, and Christians in business feel they would be subject to even greater scrutiny. Sharing their testimonies publicly and having to live up to their words can be very stressful when they are constantly in public view;
• They are not "there" yet. As sinners saved by grace, they feel they are still struggling to walk the Christian talk daily;
• Christian humility would restrain them from "boasting" about their successes and achievements;
• They would rather let their deeds and actions speak for their lives.
Not too long ago, a pastor, addressing a group of Christian businessmen, apologised on behalf of other pastors for treating them as money bags to be dipped into as and when necessary. The pastor acknowledged their role as marketplace ministers and thanked them for their contributions to the Kingdom of God. Indeed, the role of Christians in business as marketplace ministers is a complex one, fraught with tensions whenever faith comes into conflict with practical decisions.
Held to a different standard
Christians in business, as marketplace ministers, witness primarily through their actions. They are scrutinised for their values and business principles, their decision-making processes and priorities, their integrity, fairness, transparency and accountability. All these reflect the character of Jesus and can speak louder than any sermon.
When the words and deeds of a Christian are seen to be inconsistent with biblical principles, the world and even fellow believers are quick to judge. The Christian in question would be branded as a hypocrite. Reason being, there are different expectations of Christians in business. For example, in the economic crises of the 1980s and 1990s, certain Christian owners of significant businesses were severely criticised both from within and outside the Church community. They had withdrawn credit lines, cut salaries, made redundant long-serving employees and generally behaved in a manner seen to be at odds with the Christian faith. These businessmen quickly became the topic of gossip. On the other hand, we did not hear of those who showed love and compassion despite very difficult economic circumstances.
Christians in business also face their "moments of truth" usually when money confronts biblical principles and where decisions and actions must actualise Christian values. Jesus foresaw this when He warned against trying to serve both God and mammon. Our lives are to be a seamless integration between faith, work and ministry. A common challenge therefore is to avoid compartmentalising life between Sunday and the rest of the week; between spiritual and everyday realities. Christians in business know that to transform the marketplace and society, they need to live their faith twenty-four/seven.
As much as others want to hear Christian businessmen share about their successes and impact on society, many are reluctant to do so for fear of being labelled as proud and boastful. For example, not many would know that the MyKasih project which helps more than 7,000 hard-core poor households, is the brainchild of a committed Christian and corporate figure, Ngau Boon Keat. He and other businesspeople are quietly and purposefully bringing change to their own businesses and society.
Some are also concerned about being too public in an environment which is oftentimes hostile to Christian values and behaviour. Yet, we can be hopeful about the many who are working towards transforming the marketplace. Just a little salt can change the flavour, and just a little light can dispel the darkness.
There are a few who are very upfront about their Christian faith. Tan Sri Francis Yeoh is most outspoken about his faith, giving glory to our Lord Jesus at almost every opportunity. Datuk Tony and Datin Alicia Tiah have appeared on Malaysian television singing gospel songs, and Tan Sri Khoo Kay Peng is well known as a Christian leader. We need more Christians in business to stand up openly and aggressively for Jesus, not just in church but in the marketplace.
Growing and impacting together
Such a platform was provided by the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship (FGBMF). Marketplace ministry in Malaysia was started in 1978 when a small band of committed Christian professionals and businessmen were touched by the Holy Spirit and began to believe that they could make a difference in their world. The Abundant Life Centre in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur, started lunch-hour meetings to minister to the marketplace. In 1980, under the leadership of Dr Peter (Abraham) Tong, this ministry was formally chartered as the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship Malaysia. The original group included banker Tan Sri Khoo Kay Peng, architect Lee Gee Koon, Dr Joy Seevaratnam, lawyer Ang Chui Lai, chartered accountant Timothy Phua and a young executive, Michael Cheng.
Since then, countless others have come into the Kingdom of God through FGBMF evangelistic banquets, rallies and concerts. The gospel message was taken directly into the marketplace as men shared their life-transforming testimonies in a neutral setting. When hard-nosed businessmen talked about their lives before knowing Jesus, how they met Jesus and their lives after knowing Him, others listened and also believed that Jesus could indeed change them for the better. Some prominent Christians who have regularly shared at FGBMF evangelistic meetings are: Dato' Lew Sip Hon, Datuk Tony Tiah, Tan Koon Swan, Tan Sri Chan Ah Chye, Datuk Chua Jui Ming, Datuk Liew Vui Keong and Chew Kam Pok, the father of Pastor Dr Chew Weng Chee.
Today, FGBMF has more than a hundred chapters throughout Malaysia, ministering in all the four main languages in the country. Although the majority do so in English and Chinese, there are presently two Tamil-speaking chapters and one Bahasa Malaysia chapter. In the Klang Valley alone there are more than 50 chapters. Many Christian leaders in Malaysia, both in the churches and in para-church ministries, came into the faith through FGBMF. They have been nurtured and trained for works like Gospel to the Poor and the Anti-Gambling Ministry. Testimonies on their spiritual journey towards maturity are usually highlighted in The Flame, the FGBMF newsletter. Another important FGBMF evangelistic tool is the Voice magazine. Most issues are in English but it is also available in Chinese and Tamil. Each issue contains about seven personal salvation testimonies from FGBMF members. Many have found salvation through reading these testimonies.
Works in progress
Francis Yeoh, who once shared at an FGBMF evangelistic banquet, said that people considered him a "successful Christian businessman". It was an accolade he felt was undeserved. He might be a successful businessman but he would not consider himself a successful Christian. He was very much a work in progress.
So it is with the six Christians who are featured in this section, as with the rest of us. For Christian business professionals, theirs is a challenging world which operates on norms and principles often contrary to Jesus' teachings. It is a daily struggle to succeed in business, yet walk in the faith. Their testimonies are important for the edification of those who are still grappling. It can be most frightening to face a total collapse of one's business, and it is at such times that believers in the marketplace need those stronger in faith and experience to walk along with them.
May more and more Christians in business come forth to build up a mutual support and mentoring network for the transformation of the marketplace and the nation of Malaysia.
Tan Sri Francis Yeoh
How do you relate your Christian calling or vocation with your work in the corporate sector?
Jesus said that we are to shine as His light to the world. For me, this means continuing diligently as a steward of what God has entrusted to YTL, as well as ensuring we remain a consistent force for good in all the nine industries we are involved in. At every level, we are resolute in advocating prudent long-term sustainable businesses, transparent regulations and implementation, and positive change through all our products and services.
What has been the most painful struggle in ministry?
The myopia of short-termism! The "quick-gain" and "profit-now" mentality that plagues business, politics, society and even the Church! I believe this brought the whole world to the verge of an economic Armageddon in 2008 (the global financial crisis) that could have hurt us all. Imagine your hard work swept away by a tide over which you have no control. Of course, this short-termism has its roots in greed and it is fuelled by our sinful human nature of rebellion and self-reliance, where we think we know better than God in determining our futures. All it really does is enslave lives and set individuals and even institutions on the path to self-destruction. That is also why radical Christ-centred disciple-ship is so important, because the focus is on God and we learn to see things from His perspective.
What has been your most important lesson in life?
That whatever happens to me and around me, I can still say, "It is well with my soul!" Jesus taught the parable of "the pearl of great price" which makes us evaluate what we treasure most. If Jesus is not first and foremost in our lives, we are already out of sync with God and the creative order. But if He is, then we will have the confidence to know that even if the sky falls on us, God is ultimately in control. That is where my peace comes from.
What would you like to say to the next generation?
First, I would tell them that they are this generation, not the "next"! That they are precious in God's sight, with a God-given purpose and reason to live life to the full. But I would also remind them to do so within God's set boundaries. God's laws and commandments are not impediments to prosperity and success. In fact, as a result of what our Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished on the cross, we have a glorious liberty in living the way God intended. Which not only frees us from the grip and scourge of sinful inhibitions and self-destruction, but enables us to achieve our fullest potential as human beings.
Finally, I would urge them to persevere. Whatever they have started, they must keep their hands on the plough and not look back regardless of what the world promises. Looking back returns them to a pervasive darkness that they no longer belong to. Instead, they should pursue Christ-likeness. If they reflect Christ and shine like Him, they will dispel the darkness.
About Tan Sri (Dr) Francis Yeoh
Tan Sri Francis Yeoh is Managing Director of the YTL Group of Companies. A passionate advocate of environmental conservation, he believes that business must be Godly, transparent and sustainable. He was made Primus Inter Pares Honouree of the 2010 Oslo Business for Peace Award by a panel of Nobel Laureates, for his advocacy of socially responsible business ethics and practices.
CHRISTIANS talk about being "salt and light" in the world. But what exactly does this mean? Who are the real-life examples we can follow? An Evangelical Footprint: Leaving a Legacy for Future Generations gives us a glimpse into the lives of Malaysian Christians who have "flavoured" the different spheres of society through their work. Feature articles on the seven spheres - church, family, education, government and politics, business, media and the arts -show us the extent to which Christians in Malaysia have made their mark. Interviews with more than 40 personalities serve as an inspiration to us to follow in their trail-blazing steps. This book, while offering an overview of the contribution by the Evangelical Church in Malaysia, also shows where we are lacking and puts out a call to future generations to be influencers and God's agents of change in the community and nation.
The National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) Malaysia was formed in 1982 as a response to several issues affecting the rights of the Evangelical Christian community. NECF today represents 3,000 churches and organisations throughout Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. Its vision includes "Transforming the nation through the local church".