Dear brothers and sisters,
As I write, we are experiencing a time of unprecedented global disruption in our generation in the wake of the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19). On the news, we hear of the important and extreme social distancing measures that have been put in place around the world to combat the spread of the virus. As the cases rise rapidly in Malaysia such measures are being rolled out in Malaysia too, drastically affecting churches and their ministries. In many churches, physical church services have already been replaced by live-streamed services, and various conferences, seminars, and courses have been postponed and/or cancelled until further notice.
In view of the serious danger that this virus represents and the Ministry of Health’s recommendation that all mass gatherings be cancelled until the end of April, I would like to take this opportunity to explain the steps that Equip is taking for the protection of our staff, teachers and students.
- Postponement / Cancelation of All On-Site Training
Many of our centers have already made the decision to postpone or cancel classes until the end of March including St Mary’s Cathedral, University of Malaya, DUMC, PJEFC and Kuching Evangelical Church (BEM). We have also postponed our annual Klang Valley Pastors Conference (KVPS) which was originally scheduled for 28-29th April.
I would now like to confirm that ALL ON-SITE TRAINING SESSIONS & CLASSES will be POSTPONED/CANCELLED until further notice.
This applies to all equip training including Certificate in Theology classes, tutorial sessions, Sunday School Trainings, conferences, and all other trainings that are conducted on-site. For degree students, the postponement of MBS classes which are attended by Equip students is subject to a final decision by MBS. Please contact your lecturer as to whether your particular class has been postponed. The situation is being constantly reviewed and these measures will be revised as the situation progresses.
Students affected by these postponements or cancelations will be notified in the coming days by email, WhatsApp and social media. Wherever possible, classes will be replaced by pre-recorded video lectures and/or video conferencing. As we speak, we are making preparations to drastically increase the rate of production of video and audio lectures which will be made available to students through EOLS. This is a huge project, and we request your patience as we roll out these new resources.
- Ongoing Support for Students
Thankfully, Equip is well-prepared to support students in continuing their studies during these disruptions to physical classes, as long as they may last. For many years now, Equip has been investing heavily in online theological training.
All Certificate Students have access to the Equip Online Learning System (EOLS) available at learn.equip.org.my or through the Moodle App. This provides students with access to lecture notes, quizzes, forums, extra readings and in some cases video & audio lectures. Most students also have access to a class WhatsApp group through which they may interact directly with their lecturer and fellow students. Thus, students affected by cancellations will be able to continue their studies online.
Apart from Certificate Courses, there are other options for Online Study. This includes our Diploma, Bachelor, and Masters courses, for which the first year of study may be completed entirely online. Our CCEF Biblical Counselling Courses (for which registrations close on 18th March) are particularly helpful at this time because of their ability to equip God’s people for pastoral care in the local church. These are also offered totally online. Finally, our Word In Song Online music ministry course, may also be commenced at any time and is available totally online.
In addition, our Equip Online Bookstore makes available many gospel-centred resources to supplement students in their studies and encourage them in their Christian walk.
- Responding To This Situation
Please continue to pray for wisdom for Equip’s staff and partner churches, for the Lord’s mercy and protection, and for God’s will to be done in these rapidly evolving circumstances. Please also pray for all who will experiencing the inevitable disappointment of postponed classes and conferences.
We know that we serve a God who is sovereign over all the changing circumstances of this world. And we know that he is a God who is able and willing to bring good out of even the darkest of situations.
When Peter preached at Pentecost he declared:
23this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:23-24)
In these verses we see God’s total sovereignty. Though the cross was a great evil and injustice, even so it was the definite plan of a loving God who desired the salvation of the world. Similarly, we trust that all the disruptive and distressing events of the present are in the hands of the loving God in whose book is written every day ordained for us before it comes to be (Psalm 139:16).
We also see in Peter’s preaching the glorious reality of the resurrection of Christ. God raised Jesus from death to be Lord and Christ. His resurrection provides us with the wonderful assurance that the evil and suffering of this fallen world are not the end of the story. We look forward to the day when Jesus returns and all who trust in Christ are raised to enter a whole new creation where “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4)
The Psalmist teaches us how to face a world full of seeming chaos. Psalm 46 reminds us:
1God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
Amidst the anxiety of a world in freefall, we are reminded that God is the one to whom we should turn. He is our refuge and strength. He is our help. He is the sovereign Lord who rules from heaven even over the chaos around us.
Indeed, despite the chaos surrounding, the Psalmist offers a very different perspective from God’s holy city.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
God’s presence and God’s city offer great consolation in a chaotic world. Despite the chaos, God is with us. His presence and his rule give his people security amidst the chaos around them.
Moreover, we know that two thousand years ago God made his presence among us in the person of Christ. In his ministry, Christ demonstrated his total sovereignty over the chaos of this world. He died and rose, that he might reconcile us to God and pour out his Spirit into our hearts. We are God’s people, and he is with us. He is fortress. He is our help. And we know that even now he is gathering for himself a people who will one day enter his Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem, through which the river of life flows (Revelation 22:1) and where there is no longer any curse (Revelation 22:3)
The Psalmist ends with his application:
10 Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
In the midst of chaos, we need to pause and remember the God we serve. We serve the sovereign Lord of the nations. We serve the Lord who calmed the storm, who healed the sick and raised the dead. We serve the Lord who now sits on the throne of heaven. We serve the Lord who has poured out his Spirit upon us that he might dwell in our hearts. Indeed, the Lord is with us, and we need not fear, no matter what external circumstances we are facing. God will use these circumstances, no matter how grave, to establish his glory among the nations.
The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). He encourages us, like the fathers of faith before us, to look past our present circumstances to the “better country” that is to come, heaven itself (Hebrews 11:16). Despite all that is happening let us continue “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God”. (Hebrews 12:2). Let us not be weary or fainthearted or give way to fear or anxiety. Rather, may God use this time to strengthen our faith in him, that we may indeed live by faith and not by sight.
Please be assured of my prayers for us all and that I, and the rest of the Equip staff are ready to hear and to help in whatever ways that we can. Please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have particular questions or needs.
24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Your brother in Christ,
Equip Gospel Ministries
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
This incident, where children are brought to Jesus, is a favorite for Sunday School teachers. We know from Luke’s gospel that these children are infants (Luke 18:13). But to the disciples, Jesus has more important things to do than holding babies. After all, he is on a journey to Jerusalem to usher in the Kingdom of God. No doubt the disciples are shocked when their intervention arouses Jesus’ anger. Jesus is indignant and insists “let the children come to me, do not hinder them” (14). He takes the children into his arms and blesses them (16).
The incident teaches us of God’s love for children. Jesus is indeed in the midst of the greatest mission of all – to save people from sin and usher them into his Kingdom. But Jesus wants to make it plain – that Kingdom is for all – including children – “for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (14). Thus, any Christian who lacks a love for children and a desire for them to come to Christ, shares the attitude of the disciples, and would arouse his anger. We too must be convinced that the gospel is for all – including children. It’s worth reflecting what difference that should make to our priorities in parenting and our involvement in children’s ministry.
Yet, Jesus reveals a greater significance to this incident. In verse 15, Jesus emphatically declares “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it”. Jesus does not mean we must be innocent like a child. Anyone who has had children knows they are not. Rather, Jesus is insisting that to enter God’s kingdom we must come to him in total dependence and trust. Children are dependent on their parents for everything. They cannot eat, drink, bath, or do anything without the help of their parents. Likewise, unless we come to Jesus utterly dependent, we cannot enter God’s Kingdom.
Mark intends for us to compare this incident to what precedes and follows. In the preceding story, we meet the self-righteous, hard-hearted Pharisees who test Jesus. In the following story, we encounter a rich young man, seeking to earn eternal life through his works. Both groups are unwilling to become like little children and both groups miss out on the Kingdom. Rather it is the disciples, who have left everything to follow Jesus (28), who receive the promise of eternal life (30-31). They have become like little children.
Here is the key lesson: Entering God’s kingdom is not about being good or religious. It’s not something we can earn through our church attendance, or our giving, or our ministry. The only way to enter God’s kingdom is to come to Jesus like a child, helpless and dependent and say “I know I am sinner. I know I have nothing to offer. But I trust in your death. And I leave everything to follow you. Please help me”. Then and only then will you receive the blessing of eternal life.
- Ponder: Are you still trusting in yourself for salvation, or have you recognised your need to depend totally on Jesus?
- Promise: Jesus promises that all who come to him in humble trust have a place in his kingdom.
- Prayer: Pray that we would share Jesus’ heart to see children come to him, and that we may learn from children how we ought to come to Christ ourselves.