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1st Nov 2020

Testimony of My Calling and Report of My Current Service

Written by Cornelius Koshy

In penning down my testimony of calling and God’s continued working in my life during this pandemic, I acknowledge with the psalmist, “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee” (Ps 139:17-18). Since a young child, the only ambition I desired was to be a pastor. My parents are in the service of God. My upbringing revolved around the ministries of the church. The knowledge of my dedication for service was always a relentless reminder that I should do no other work than the work of the Gospel. By the age of 17, I was sure I wanted to serve God, but I kept it to myself. For fear that I misunderstood the call of God as a transient emotional-hype, I continued with the path of most teenagers, which involved completing A-levels, National Service and pursuing a degree – but always with that inescapable thought at the back of my mind that I have to serve God.

This desire met with distraction. From age 17 to 24, offers of a more comfortable life were within reach. The desire to serve God was soon deferred to an indefinite time of “when I am older”. This desire was also met with discouragement. At that time, the B-P church was still embroiled in VPP battles. Pastors were fighting for the Truth and harder lines of separation were drawn. Some churches split over doctrine; others split over disagreements. Deacons, preachers, full-time workers left for different reasons. Family discussions frequently centred around church matters. Friends were lost along the way. Discouragement often has a downcast side to it. The childlike desire soon felt like a childish dream…

The desire also met with deception, “For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me (Romans 7:11). Youthful pride and lust waged their fiercest war during these years, but thanks be to God: “for a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief” (Prov 24:16). Finally, desire met with disease. In December 2015, I was diagnosed with Post-streptococcal Glomerulonephritis (PSGN for short), a rare disease which affects young babies or older folks. Young men would be the last of its victims, but God’s providential and directive will targeted my 21-year-old kidneys. Beginning with an unsuspecting sore throat during the finals of my third semester in NUS, it escalated to enormously edematous face and limbs, especially at dependent body parts – a horror to fellow youths in the combined retreat in Cebu, Philippines on Christmas Eve, 2015. Thank God for the prayers of many in the church and a complete recovery was made within a month. Indeed, “the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him” (James 5:15).

Life turned around slowly since then – slow because there was still some disobedient denying of the desire for full-time service. It should have been complete denial of self, but it took another 1½ years for His Word to have absolute sway. In the final semester of my undergraduate studies in 2017, the Lord called me through 3 passages, the last of which is 2 Tim 1:5-9 [the fuller version of my testimony may be found in Burning Bush Vol. 24 No. 1 (2018) and the summarised version in our weekly bulletin (16 July 2017)]:

5 When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also. 6 Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. 7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 8 Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; 9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began…

The Spirit of God used this passage to speak directly to my heart. Reading this passage in the attic-studio of CRC at Lor 28, Sunflower Building, Paul’s encouragement to Timothy was God’s charge to me. There were some residual fears of the challenges of the ministry which still resided within, but v. 7 allayed those. Shame is fear’s twin sister, and v. 8’s charge to be unashamed of the testimony of our Lord challenged my heart. My calling is not to the agreeable work of the Gospel, but to the afflictions of the Gospel, calibrated according to the power which He imparts.

3 years of trying theological studies passed quickly. Friday night, 1 May 2020, was most memorable. The typical Thanksgiving dinner, which marks the end of the semester, was held in the third week of Circuit Breaker. No singing, no skits. No preaching, just prayers of thanksgiving offered before our packeted dinner. It was a quiet night. Just after 12 noon of that day, which was also the deadline of the last submission, I had called my dad over lunch to inform him that I had completed all my academic requirements. Then at night, I called my grandparents in India, elders and friends in church, to share the good news that I had completed my studies. It was almost 2 hours of “happy-calls”.

On Saturday morning, 2 May, Eld Mah called to ask of the direction and place where the Lord was leading me. I told him that there was no reason to leave Gethsemane, but neither was I ready to begin preaching. In a subsequent meeting with the Board of Elders on 7 May via Zoom, I shared in addition that I felt like a novice-preacher, having only 3 formal years of theological instruction, with little experience of preaching. I still was tearfully frightened at the thought of preaching in Gethsemane, and daunted to take up any responsibility. Knowing the spiritual expectation of a mature congregation and my ineptness, I expressly said that ‘I am not ready’, and that I needed more time to prepare myself to “feed the flock” (Acts 20:28). Being also acutely aware that preaching is never a piece of art for people’s listening pleasure, but a piece of bread for people to feed and grow, the BOE accepted my request to continue studying with Gethsemane Bible Institute (GBI), and I was received into Gethsemane’s staff as a “Student-Preacher” on 1 June 2020. This probationary position was for the Elders’ close supervision and monitoring, and Pastor’s instruction as his understudy.

Although I would have preferred to start small, and slowly grow with preaching by and by, it pleased God to grant me not a few preaching opportunities. In the first month alone, the Lord gave 10 different opportunities to preach via virtual means – an overwhelming thought for any “fresh” graduate whose preaching opportunities used to be, maximally, once a month. On 20 July 2020, GBI inaugurated a Pastoral Bible Studies (GBI-PBS) and I joined Pr. Kelvin, Pr Sujith and Pr Zhu Xin Kai for weekly sessions on Pastoral Theology and Ecclesiology. On my own, I am re-doing Systematic Theology’s Theism and Soteriology under GBI-PBS as well, with Pr Samson Hutagalung as my tutor. On that same day, FEBC began a new semester, and Dr Jeffrey Khoo encouraged me to consider a ThM programme. Presently, I am doing an additional 4 subjects with FEBC this semester: Acts of the Apostles, Theism (Chinese), Intertestamental History & Theology of Prayer to fulfil the requirements of ThM, albeit remotely.

Recollecting the past 5 months since June, I give thanks for God’s enabling in my preaching / teaching ministries at Gethsemane. They include recording a devotion every Monday on the topic “The Christian and His Neighbour”, for Youth Bible Hour segment on Bible Witness Web Radio (BWWR), which has reached its 20th (final) message. Beginning in mid-November, will be the next series, “Following After” – a topical study of biblical instructions on who, what and how Christians are to follow in our walk with God. On fortnightly Wednesday nights, I join Pr Sujith (via Zoom) in his Puritan Reading Group (started as his initiative to encourage a reading habit of good Christian literature), with around 12 participants across India (and one Singaporean young adult), to revisit Puritan literature and Reformed Theology. In each session, I’d summarise / explain a chapter or two of Puritan literature, followed by an expositional preaching of the verses in the chapter. We have completed 10 sessions on John Owen’s “On the Mortification of Sin”, and just embarked on Thomas Watson’s “Repentance”. In Gethsemane Youth Fellowship (GYF), the Lord moved me to begin a 6-part series on “Living in Knowledge of God”, wherein youths are taught on the practical implications of the Aseity of God, Solitariness of God, Condescension of Christ, Friendship of Christ, the Person of the Spirit and Witness of the Spirit. Praise God also for my ongoing involvement in GYF’s YouTube series on “The Biblical Case Against Homosexuality”, which is also used by Ebenezer Youth Fellowship of Tabernacle BPC. {Providentially, when Pr Xin Kai invited me to share 2 devotions (in Mandarin) in their university students’ retreat in August, I was prepared to preach for 30 minutes each, but was “terrified” to realise an hour was allotted for their devotion slot! Thank God for his help to preach two 40-minute devotions on the topic, “Our Duty for Holiness”. May God’s especial blessing be upon me to stir up gifts to preach in both English and Chinese.}

Having led the Youth Choir (2013-2020) and being in the Youth Committee (since 2018), GYF is an area of service close to my heart. During the pandemic, I joined Aunty Diana Chan in our earnest efforts to encourage our youths. From July-Sept 2020, some 20 visitation (‘over-food’) sessions were made involving 54 youths, with sharing of specially chosen verses for everyone, and a prayer for the struggles shared by them. (Pastor and Eld Choy, who took lead by laying the guidelines of visitations, were given regular updates.) Round two of youth visitations will resume as soon as regulations are further laxed. Personally, I thank God for the first physical meeting since Circuit-Breaker (held in GMC Seminar Room on 17 October) which was smoothly conducted, due in part to the foresight of Bro. Wei Heng (Youth Media Team) and assistance of Bro. Amoz (Youth Choir) in pre-recording hymns to be played as substitute for singing during our fellowship meetings. May our faithful God continue to bless our efforts to feed every young heart with the Word of God and to urge them to hate every false way (Ps 119:104)!

I thank God for serving with Pr. Kelvin and Aunty Luan Kheng in the weekly Gethsemane Children’s Ministry (GCM) Zoom fellowships on Saturdays (11am and 2pm). Praise God for every child who has been diligent in memorising Scripture passages as part of an informal Scripture Memorisation Programme. The average child might have already memorised more than 20 verses (some as many as 50!) in English and some in their mother tongue. A selection of these verses have been incorporated into scripts and 11 scenes are currently recorded for future Bible Witness web-TV programmes (with help of others, including Melissa, Luan Kheng, Carolyn, Arnold, Matthew, Dorcas, Jenice, Amoz). In addition, a web-series called “Soteriology for Kids” is compiled (with Dorcas’ help), to explain soteriological doctrines such as Election, Justification, Adoption, etc., to children. Verses concerning these topics are phone-recorded by parents and I record my explanation of these verses for young children to understand. Motion graphics and texts are overlayed by Dorcas. May God strengthen me as a member of the GCM Committee, for our children’s continued spiritual growth during these changing circumstances of the pandemic.

The Gethsemane Church Choir (GCC) is another ministry which has changed drastically, beginning from April 2020. I thank God for the help of Sisters Melissa, Sharon, Dorcas, and Bro. Amoz for recording and mixing the voice-tracks, lightening my burden as I continue to have oversight of this ministry. From monthly presentations of song during pre-Covid days, the choir now sings every week! 4 groups (of 4) come down to GMC studio on Wednesdays and Thursdays, to record hymns for the Sunday worship services and Tuesday prayer meetings. Special thanks to Bro. Amoz who, during his university break (20 Aug-20 Oct 2020), took over the administrative duty of scheduling singers for these recordings (no easy task given their changing work-schedules!), thus freeing some time for me to pray, plan and prepare for my upcoming wedding / marriage life. Thank God also for singers from the Youth Choir and the congregation who have reinforced and supplemented the GCC for our weekly singing. In collaboration with Bible Witness, the GCC now prepares for recordings of music videos and the release of albums in 2021.

Finally, thank God for the opportunity to be part of Faithful Men’s segment of BWWR: re-listening to Pastor’s (prayer meeting) messages on “The Life of Moses”, recommending timestamps for Sis. Dorcas to splice for airing on web-radio, and organising brethren from the Gethsemane Men’s Fellowship in weekly singing for the same purpose. I thank God that since the last week of October, 8 men come down once a month to offer the sacrifice of their singing lips.

My service hitherto has not been offered alone. Being dependent on multimedia platforms in this pandemic, the pulpit ministry is heavily reliant on the audio, video and technical assistance of GBWL staff. None of my aforementioned areas of service would have been effectual without the God-fearing and God-serving team in GMC, who are as “the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Eph 2:21). Prayers and support by family and church brethren have been my “powerhouse”, as I learn the ropes. This testimony won’t be complete if I don’t mention Abigail Sarah George, who would (on Friday, 11 Dec 2020) become my helpmeet, and join me in fulfilling my calling to be a partaker of the afflictions of the Gospel (cf. 2 Tim 1:8). Pray for us, as we prepare ourselves for each other and for the Gospel work in Gethsemane! May our union be blessed of God and a blessing to God’s people in the days to come, to the praise and glory of His name!

Posted under 'Pastoral Exhortation'