On 24 April 2021, FES and GCF had their joint commissioning service at St Andrew’s Cathedral to commission Michael Kang as the GCF Graduate Secretary, and myself as the FES General Secretary (GS). I have taken over the GS role from Lisman since January 2021, but Michael officially assumed the Graduate Secretary role from Lisman only on 1st April. With this service, Lisman will now have his much-needed sabbatical before he moves on to IFES East Asia responsibilities sometime in August. As for myself, it has been four months of hectic planning, organising, and networking for the future. In preparation for this commissioning service, I took a step back to look at my past, especially my experiences of Christian fellowship because of the FES student ministry. I shared this at the service, but since not everyone was able to attend it, I shall give a few snippets of those experiences here.
In my very first GS letter, I had written about my experiences as a student in NUS VCF from 2003–2008. What has been perpetually formative is the enlarging of my vision of God’s mission to God’s faithfulness to His work around the world. At the service, I related an encounter with a university student from the Macau student ministry back in 2005. He asked me this question: How is the student movement doing in Singapore? I remember that as the first time I was ever asked a question of spirituality on a national scale. That question made me realise I was part of a much larger movement than I had ever imagined. A global student movement. We shared common problems because we were students, and faced different challenges because of the different contexts we were in. Yet we could understand each other and sincerely pray for one another.
But being in this global fellowship has problems. I entered the Navy for my National Service in 2001, exactly 20 years ago. Back then, I got to know many of the regulars, people who signed on for the Navy as their career. Two weeks ago when I was on reservist training, I discovered that a number of those regulars were still around. They have been in the Navy for 20–30 years. My reservist is often spent sharing stories of adventures and misadventures on board ship and out at sea. But I will say that the most inspiring stories that I often hear are those of people who disagree with each other, fight with each other, and scold each other upside down. Yet at the end of the day, they are still able to smoke together in the same yellow box and share drinks after that. This is the Navy version of reconciliation at work. Similarly, in FES, as an international and interdenominational fellowship, there have been instances of differences that threaten unity. Sometimes divisions have occurred. But more often than not, because FES has committed itself to diversity and solidarity, there have also been many beautiful stories of reconciliation. Every year, I have students who will say: “Wow, I never knew someone from that kind of church loves God as much as I do.” Very raw, but honest, statements which witness to me the reconciliatory power of Christ.
I want to emphasise this point of diversity, solidarity, and reconciliation because I feel that COVID has accelerated so many divisions. Furthermore, we are told that these are uncertain times. Students, in particular, remain vulnerable in many areas of their lives: financially, emotionally, ideologically, etc. But I am always encouraged by the students who continue to step up to serve and lead despite their vulnerability. Vulnerability is not the students’ weakness. It is their strength. I once studied the theology of childhood where it presents the greatest challenge for adults is to accept children, youth, and young adults, not only as our students and dependents but also as guides and teachers. There is needed wisdom in the way students manage themselves in such times. Times of fragmentation, polarisation, and radicalisation. And I continue to see the students and leaders rise up to accept these challenges. Hopefully, this acceptance is not out of pure ignorance or foolhardiness, but because of faithfulness to the call to serve God and witness even in times like this. I believe this ability to lead and serve, in the spirit and position of vulnerability, is especially critical for the church today.
So I shared my experiences of FES as a global, reconciled, and vulnerable fellowship to remember how God has challenged me through my years of student ministry. I wish to have you remember your own unique experiences of fellowship through student ministry as well. Remember not only Michael and myself as the Graduate Secretary or General Secretary, but also the staff workers, students, and student leaders. I remember how much I have been blessed and challenged through student ministry, and I pray that student ministry will continue to bless and challenge the generations to come.
Jeremiah Goh General Secretary
(To view the full sharing at the commissioning service, click here.)