This message given by Dr. Loh Kim Cheng during the USM KK Christian Fellowship meeting on the importance of inter-racial integrity indeed is a timely reminder to many of us including myself of the blessedness we enjoy being Malaysians and living in Malaysia.
Besides of the relatively fewer disaster threats (tsunami, earthquakes, etc) as compared to surrounding neighboring countries, we are rich in diversity of cultures. Kim Cheng then proceeded to talk about the concept of 1Malaysia by Prime Minister Dato' Seri Najib Razak. The concept is good especially with the eight values contained in it but the idealism behind it is not something new or different from the semangat muhibah. Malaysians have been thriving to achieve inter-racial harmony ever since Merdeka in 1957.
But we must let this concept remain a rhetoric, or a mere buzzword popularized by the media when a leader comes in power, but fading off when the leader stepped down. We must not let this remain superficial. Kim Cheng asked the students to evaluate: on the scale of 1 - 10, where to we stand, in reality, in our effort to promote inter-racial relationship? 0 being none at all, 10 being perfectly achieved the objective. And if it is 0, or very low score, aren't we worried? Shouldn't we be concerned? If it is "O.K", how do we define O.K.? Is it the "can talk, can study together, can eat together, as long as we don't step each other's tails?" Is 1Malaysia a good concept only as you remain in your territory, me in my territory, don't step each other's tails? These are essentially the challenging questions Kim Cheng threw to the students right at the first part of the session.
How should we as Christians respond to this issue of inter-racial harmony? How should we set an example for people to follow? Bear in mind that racial issues existed even within the four walls of church buildings! How sad....
Kim Cheng then invited us to look at John 4: 1 - 42; a familiar story of Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman at the Jacob's well. (Today, Jacob's well is believed to be located at this place - click here and here to see the pictures of Jacob's well)
To travel from the territory of Judea to Galilee as mentioned in John 4:3, it means passing through the central territory of Samaria. Although it is the shortest route linking these two places, most Jews would avoid traveling by that road. They regarded any contact with the Samaritans as defiling themselves. By the time of Jesus a strong rivalry and hatred between Jews and Samaritans prevailed.
To understand the story better, a little background introduction is necessary:
After the northern kingdom fell into the hands of the Assyrians, many Jews were deported to Assyria, and as part of the tactics employed by the Assyrian government to prevent revolt, foreigners were brought in to settle in the land (see 2Kings 17:24). This essentially is a "divide-and-rule" policy where spreading out the captives across Assyria helped to prevent them from re-uniting. However, as a result of these foreigners repopulating Israel, the intermarriage between these foreigners and the remaining Jews resulted in a mixed race called Samaritans.
Most Jews therefore did everything they could to avoid traveling through Samaria even by means of traveling by a longer route (doesn't that ring a bell? Sometimes we would rather take longer "route" rather than confronting the problem we are trying to avoid because of our pride).
Kim Cheng highlighted the phrase "had to" in verse 3: Now he had to go through Samaria.
(Joh 4:4 NIV). It is very interesting to note that although Jesus had a choice to go through another longer route, yet He did not avoid. Jesus, being the Savior of all mankind, did not avoid the problems he knew he had to face.
For Jesus to meet up with the Samaritan woman, Jesus had to break three social barriers of the day because of the fact that the Samaritan woman was:
1. a woman
2. a woman with compromised living
3. a Samaritan
No respectable Jewish man would talk to a woman under such circumstances. But Jesus did.
Do we face up the issues affecting our inter-racial problems? Do we stop playing the blame game and take the first step to "have to" mend the situation? Rather than waiting for opportunity to come for us to promote inter-racial harmony, why don't we take the first step, to step out of our comfort zone and step down from our lofty position to reach out to those in needs, regardless of their race?
Another phrase Kim Cheng highlighted is the phrase "Will you give me a drink?". "Will you give me a drink?" is a cry of the thirsty. We need to open our eyes to see the needs (including physical needs) around us.
Kim Cheng ended the session with the thought that not all hope is lost; there are already people, pockets of people here and there who are making a change, regardless of their race or religions. People who are showing us the way, lighting up the hope. One such person as highlighted by Kim Cheng is Marina Mahathir. Yes, indeed, Musings with Marina Mahathir is one of my favorite readings too. Click here.
In response to her message, three thoughts came to my mind:
1. Maybe some of us has been hurt before by racially slanted remarks (intentionally or unintentionally, publicly or personally) and that has remained rooted with us, making us bitter towards certain race/races. If we have people in our group with this problem, you need to gently get them to forgive. Unforgiveness can eat up our souls, making us more and more bitter.
2. On the other extreme, because of these kinds of remarks that we have received, some of us are making generalisation. Meaning, for example, just because Guy A from Race C is behaving in this way (e.g. male chauvinistic), then all guys from Race C are male chauvinists. For this group of people, we should get them to repent for making such generalization.
3. Or maybe we ourselves have uttered words or phrases with racial discriminatory intonation. We need to repent...the question is: Do we want to see change? We need to be bold to ask each other deep questions.