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The art of serving millennials in a Chinese church

by Jovi Ho | 26 June 2018, 9:54 AM

“In our church, the older generation speaks Mandarin, and the newer generation thinks, speaks, and dreams in English. The issue of language comes up in all aspects of church life,” Thomas Liew, Youth Pastor at Renewal Christian Church, shared with me.

“What language do we use when preaching? What songs should we sing? Should we insert bilingual slides?”

Against the backdrop of largely English-speaking Singapore, Chinese churches are facing the risk of being lost in translation. Although all of Renewal’s services are only in Mandarin, Pastor Thomas, 29, has spent years grappling with how to reach his church’s English-speaking youth.

Pastor Thomas Liew, 29

A Chinese family church that began 29 years ago, Renewal welcomes over 600 members at its St George and Jurong locations today.

Representing the second and even third generations of its members are some 80 regular young people of the Renewal Youth Ministry (RYM).

“As a Chinese church, we do see a huge potential for ministering to Chinese nationals, Malaysians and other Chinese-speaking residents. However, because our own youth mostly speak English, there is a difficulty in developing outreach to these groups,” said Pastor Thomas.

Worship sets at RYM’s weekly Saturday services include a mix of English and Chinese songs by ministries such as Hillsong, Stream of Praise (赞美之泉) and originals written by Renewal itself. Announcements and sermons also follow this loose bilingual structure.

Church service at Renewal’s St George branch

“The youth tell us, ‘When we evangelise, our friends mostly speak English. Would they want to attend my church?’,” Pastor Thomas lamented. Some youth members have decided to switch to English churches for reasons such as this.

“While we do not oppose when members feel called to English congregations, we do want to guard against a consumerist mindset in the decision-making process.

“This means that decisions should not be made based on ‘What do I prefer?’, but rather, ‘Where can I best fulfil my kingdom calling?’ Our counsel is always given based on what is best for the holistic growth of the person.”

As the daughter of Renewal’s Associate Pastor, Priscilla Yong, 25, understands the second-generation experience.

“Most of the youth (in RYM) are second-generation Christians. The challenge is for them to call Christianity a faith of their own and not one inherited from their parents,” said the RYM cell group leader.

Priscilla believes her bonds with the Renewal community she grew up with is the main reason for her staying all these years.

“I have a group of close friends whom I grew up with, and it’s difficult to leave for an unknown environment. Some may say it is their parents who forced them to be here (at Renewal), but really, no one can force you to do anything.”

Priscilla Yong, 25

Despite the language barrier, Priscilla is convinced that Chinese churches in Singapore have an important Kingdom purpose.

“God has something for the youth of Chinese churches to do, and I want to be a part of it though it may be difficult.”

“I am still figuring out how I can continue to contribute in church. It is extremely challenging to bring my own English-speaking friends to a church that doesn’t really speak their language,” she said.

16-year-old Gabriel Law grew up with a large family – the RYM member has two older brothers aged 18 and 19, and a younger brother aged 11. Along with their parents, the entire family is active in various ministries at Renewal.

“I feel RYM members choose to stay in Renewal because everyone is very comfortable with each other. Despite being in many different cell groups, I can see that everyone ‘clicks’ well together, which makes us like a big family in general,” he said.

Gabriel Law, 16

To Gabriel, the ministry’s bold attitude to launch new projects and initiatives keeps life in RYM dynamic and enjoyable.

“Personally, I continue staying in Renewal because I feel that many people are open to trying new things and projects. The leaders are open to answering questions relating to many different topics about life.”

At the core of the Renewal is its identity as a family church. Pastor Thomas believes these ties keep the next generation from switching to other churches.

“The youth stay for the friends and the community that they have grown up in. Other reasons include the opportunities to serve in the worship team and to organise events.”

Though their numbers may be small, the youth ministry has undertaken various creative projects as part of their outreach efforts.

In addition to the annual youth camp, RYM has staged the original production “The Score”, along with a sequel, exploring the pressures faced by young people in a fictional, dystopian world.

Renewal Youth Ministry at Youth Camp 2018

The ministry has also volunteered to help the seniors’ dialect ministry with house visits.

“We try as much as possible to grant autonomy to individuals with ideas for projects such as ARTas, our annual art event for youth,” he said.

The free annual art festival has been RYM’s largest outreach event since its inception in 2016. Held in conjunction with Youth Day celebrations, ARTas is a day-long event featuring young emerging artists from various disciplines, gathered from a public open call.

Following two successful iterations, the RYM members who make up the ARTas organising committee even took on an offshoot event last December, turning the church’s sheltered car park space into a public barter market for art and various preloved items.

A pottery booth at ARTas 2017

Some 300 guests are expected at ARTas 2018, happening 30 June. From 1PM to 6PM, guests can enjoy performances by local singer-songwriters Vivien Yap, Stephycube, Irwin Zephyr Tan, and more.

Also available are free workshops in calligraphy, embossing, and water dyeing, as guided by young artists Jaime Chua and Barnabas Chua.

While ARTas is pitched as an event open to all, the organising committee hopes that it will continue being their way of sharing God’s love with the community.

“With this year’s ‘work-in-progress’ theme in mind, we hope all who visit ARTas 2018 will feel like they are able to explore,” said Michelle Liew from the ARTas 2018 organising committee.

“I hope art will be that channel that allows both Christians and non-Christians to ask questions and find answers.”


ARTas 2018 will be held from 1PM-6PM this Saturday, June 30, 2018, at Renewal Christian Church, (St George branch). Find out more on their official Facebook page and Instagram. All are invited!

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Heart of hearing

by Pastor Lim Lip Yong, Cornerstone Community Church | 13 July 2018, 4:45 PM

Over the last couple of weeks, there were several things that deeply concerned me about God’s people. These are not new problems, but somehow, I sense the Holy Spirit placing an urgent emphasis on them.

The first concern is about our ability to hear from the Lord. As a pastor, my job is not to be an intermediary between God and His people. My office as part of the five-fold ministry is to train the saints and equip them, and that includes training believers to hear from the Lord for themselves.

Unlike traditional concepts of priesthood, where the priest or spiritual leader is the channel of communication between the people and God, Christianity does not hold to such a concept. God’s will is that all His people are able to hear from Him. His desire is that all should prophesy.

Yet one of the urgent needs in the Body of Christ is for God’s people to learn to hear from Him accurately and consistently. This does not happen overnight. Instead it requires for us to pursue His voice in a disciplined manner. Let me suggest a few things that we can do.

3 HANDLES TO HEAR GOD 

1. Read the Bible regularly

I’m a strong believer of the fact that God speaks to us primarily from His Word – the Bible. In my own personal life, this holds true. By this, I don’t mean that we should randomly open the Bible and hope for a suitable Scripture for our circumstances. Instead, as we read the Bible consistently and through a systematic reading plan, we’ll find the Lord speaking to us.

It’s uncanny how your daily reading will often coincide with something you’re asking the Lord about.

… pursue His voice in a disciplined manner.

2. Make room for God to speak

All too often, we want the Lord to speak to us, but we don’t make room for it. Say for example, we’ve an important decision to make. We all want to hear from God, but all too often, we make those decisions without taking time to hear from Him.

We often place a short time limit for God to speak and if He doesn’t speak by then, we’d make our own decisions. I want to strongly encourage us not to do that.

Most important decisions in our lives are not rushed. Decisions on a home purchase, marriage, relocation to a different country – these are all decisions that will greatly impact our lives. These are decisions also that we should take time to wait on the Lord until He speaks.

It’s uncanny how your daily reading will often coincide with something you’re asking the Lord about.

3. Be still

One of the most important keys for hearing from the Lord is to quieten ourselves to hear His still, small voice. Too often, our minds and surroundings are filled with too much noise for us to hear from the Lord. Since we’re listening for a still, small voice, we need to lean in and be silent so that we can catch what’s being said.

I suggest waking up early before the needs of the day press in on us. Alternatively, do it at night when everyone else is asleep. The instructions from the Lord is to find a secret place.

The second concern I have for God’s people is the issue of offences and bitterness.

Bitterness comes as a result of offences that are not dealt with in our hearts towards people. I don’t know how I can emphasise this in the strongest manner possible except to compare it with the most aggressive type of malignant cancer.

Bitterness absolutely destroys us. It results in terrible barrenness in our lives and is highly infectious. It’s a spiritual disease that the infected person often will not realise they’ve contracted. It clouds our perspective, impairs our judgement and fills us with negativity. In our own eyes, we’re the victims.

In our own eyes, we’re the victims.

How then do we deal with bitterness? The key lies in looking at the Cross.

A deep and full appreciation of the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross makes it clear that Jesus alone is the victim. The most horrid injustice was done to Him. All the penalty of sin was placed on Him. Despite all that, Jesus forgave and gave His life willingly as a ransom for us – the ones who crucified Him by our sins.

You see, the Children of Israel came to Marah and found bitter waters. Moses was instructed to cast a tree (the symbol of the Cross) into the waters and the bitter waters became sweet. Can the most bitter experiences of our lives actually be transformed into the sweetest moments of victory? Yes, indeed.

There’s grace sufficient for us to overcome every offence and every bitter experience. I pray that we’ll take a serious examination of our own hearts on these matters.


This article was first published on Cornerstone Community Church’s blog, and is republished with permission.

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In the face of persecution

by Zeke Gao, Deacon of YCK Chapel | 13 July 2018, 4:16 PM

“If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (1 Peter 4:16)

Around the world, many Christians are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. This is especially the case for those living under severe religious restrictions experienced by nearly three-quarters of the world’s population. Just think about the May 13 suicide-bomb attacks on three churches in Surabaya which killed 15 people and wounded another 57.

Living in Singapore, it is often easy to forget what religious persecution really looks like, or take for granted the harsh realities faced by our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. However, studies by Open Doors USA revealed that the persecution of Christians is higher today than at other points in history.

Each month approximately 66 churches are attacked, 225 Christians are killed, 104 are abducted, and 160 Christians detained and imprisoned without trial. The persecution of Christians will likely remain a permanent feature of humanity until Christ comes again.

… if we truly desire to live a godly life and follow Christ, then persecution is to be expected …

Even at home, you may face persecution as a result of your declaration of faith. At school, at work, or even among your friends, your faith may be challenged. Those who like you may begin to have second thoughts about you, or see you in a negative light because you believe in Jesus.

How then should we respond to Christian persecution? Here are three ways to prepare and respond to persecution.

3 POINTS IN RESPONDING TO PERSECUTION

1. Expect it

Jesus and Paul warned that if we truly desire to live a godly life and follow Christ, then persecution is to be expected (John 15:20, 2 Timothy 3:12).

This is because we do not belong to the world but to Christ, and it is that very separation from the world that arouses its animosity. This trial of faith develops endurance, maturity and strengthens the character of believers (James 1:2-4) to make an impact for the Lord. So it is no wonder that the spread of the gospel often flourishes in the face of persecution (Acts 1:8, Acts 8:1).

Hence, when persecution comes our way, we should not be surprised. Instead ask the Lord for the courage to face it, and seek His purposes and wisdom for your specific circumstances. This way, acting on what the Lord impresses upon you will enable His truth and love to be communicated to others even in the most dire of situations.

… we do not belong to the world but to Christ, and it is that very separation from the world that arouses its animosity.

2. Lend support

Persecution also provides a direct opportunity for us to show appreciation, support and brotherly love for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ both at home and abroad, in ways which we may not have otherwise known.

Amidst the hardship that our brothers and sisters face, we should resolve to comfort them and lift them before His throne in prayer. We can also take the initiative to partner with various missions organisations to take action where it matters most, or lend other means of support like financial or material resources.

3. Pray and press on

Finally, we can thank the Lord for those we love, and stand with them in their times of distress. Thank Him for His grace and patience with each of us, and ask for the courage to press on even in the face of persecution. We can also pray for those who would accuse or abuse us (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27).

As you read this, would you take a moment to pray for our brothers and sisters in Surabaya? Let us never grow cold or indifferent towards the persecution of Christians that is intensifying around the world.


This article was first published on YCK Chapel’s website, and is republished with permission.

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What I learnt from an adulteress

by | 13 July 2018, 4:07 PM

Recently, I came across an article in which the writer chronicled her experiences of sleeping with married men.

The author wasn’t looking for a long-term relationships, and since married men have obligations to their family, she decided that they would be ideal one-night stands for her with no strings attached.

Through her hookups, the author learnt that men typically commit infidelity because their partner stopped having sex with them. And these men found it easier to get their sexual needs met elsewhere rather than to ask why. Other men confided that their wives were bedridden, but they had chosen to not leave their partners.

As I read on, it struck me that these men weren’t looking for a relationship – they already had that with their wives. They were simply looking for sex. In the author’s words: “But the other husbands I met would have preferred to be having sex with their wives. For whatever reason, that wasn’t happening.”

I was appalled when I read the article. How could a husband cheat on a wife and still claim to love her? How could anyone betray their loved ones like that? How dare they! But as angry words turned over and over in my a mind, a small voice broke through the internal rant.

Don’t you cheat on Me too?

It’s easy to point fingers and play the blame game. But it’s more productive to understand that cheating happens when we succumb to temptation.

All of us face temptations in our everyday lives. Some of us check girls out (Matthew 5:28), others watch pornography or even engage in forbidden relationships. And sometimes as singles, we may think we’re not cheating anyone when we cave in – but we are.

We’re cheating on God.

… fidelity and self-control aren’t things that just automatically start after we’ve utter our marriage vows. They start now.

Temptation is universal. I have friends who have given into temptation, I know some who were betrayed by their partners. Likewise I also face temptations, when I was single and now also as someone who’s attached. And I’m pretty sure I will continue to face temptations even after I marry.

As a married person, you choose and fight to stay committed to one person. As a single or unmarried person, you fight to remain pure. So whatever your relationship status is, fidelity and self-control aren’t things that just automatically start after we’ve utter our marriage vows.

They start now.

Temptation is that tension between the heart, mind and will.

In the heat of the moment, it’s all too tempting to simply give in. We rationalise and deceive ourselves – anything just to convince ourselves that it’s okay.

We need conviction.

A friend shared with me a passage from Jane Eyre which had helped her to overcome her struggle with physical intimacy. Jane had fallen in love with a man who she later found out was married. The man begged Jane to stay by his side, a plea which caused her great emotional turmoil. But Jane produces a remarkable response to the temptation.

“I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad — as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth — so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane — quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.”

… if we stay where we are tempted for too long, the temptation will overtake us. So we must also flee.

Many of us already know what the right thing to do is. We just lack the determination to see it through when the test comes. But that’s human nature. So beyond deciding early what we will stand for, we need to flee when temptation comes.

We plant our foot on our convictions when trials and temptations come. But if we stay where we are tempted for too long, the temptation will overtake us. So we must also flee.

In times of peace, prepare for war. Feed yourself with the Word. Strengthen your beliefs. Pray for your spirit to grow. If you ever stumble and fall, repent and pick yourself up again. God’s mercies are new every morning.

Purity, integrity and our relationship with God – these things are priceless. So fight for them.

Put your foot down and flee!

/ siqi@thir.st

Siqi often loses her footwear in the office. She is also known for her loud sneezes, huge appetite, and weird sound effects. Happens to be a writer too.

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Thank God I struggle with same-sex attraction

by H.Y | 13 July 2018, 10:37 AM

Yes, you read that right.

It sounded ridiculous – even sadistic – to me as well, when my friend said a similar prayer years ago. But today, these seven precious words have taken on a new meaning for me.

Experiencing and resisting same-sex attraction (SSA) is probably the hardest battle I have ever fought. While I’ve had crushes on guys as well, my attraction towards females has always been much stronger. Throughout the past seven years of resisting the temptation to act on my emotions, I’ve never understood why I had to go through this.

  • Doesn’t God know how disgusted I am with myself whenever I come to Him?
  • Doesn’t He know how difficult it is for me to repeatedly turn away from my most natural attractions?
  • If God really loved me, why didn’t He just make me normal?
  • Why did He allow me to go through so much pain?

Those were some of the thoughts that used to run through my mind. Even as I grappled with these questions, God used a recent infatuation I had to show Himself to me.

SUCCUMBING TO TEMPTATION

I met her on a week-long overseas work assignment and we clicked instantly. She was kind and took special care of me. Soon, we grew closer and started to confide in each other. We often deviated from the group to spend time together and even hung out in each other’s hotel room alone. I didn’t fully recognise my emotions then and hence, set myself up for trouble.

Perhaps it was the extended amount of time that we spent exclusively or the emotional connection we had that led me to develop feelings for her. As much as I knew my feelings were contrary to what constitutes holiness and Christ-like behaviour, I couldn’t help myself. I told myself every day that I couldn’t continue indulging in my feelings, but I just kept falling helplessly into sin.

One day, God intervened and graciously used the situation for my good. At that time, I had yet to share my struggle with my mentor and friends, hence I did not have anybody to turn to. As a result, God became the only Person I could hold on to. But at the same time, I felt far too dirty and sinful for God to handle.

WE CAN ALWAYS DRAW NEAR TO GOD

But even in the midst of my struggle, I was repeatedly reminded of what the apostle James wrote about choosing God over worldly passions. He instructs us to “resist the devil” and “come near to God” (James 4:7-8). It’s a two-pronged approach that we have to take – not an either-or approach – for it is impossible for us to turn away from sin without drawing near to God.

The apostle James also encouraged us in this: When we violently reject the devil, he flees from us. But on the other hand, when we run to God, He draws near to us.

That beautiful and magnificent image of God Himself being with me kept replaying in my mind.

… when we run to God, He Himself draws near to us.

When that realisation hit me, I knew what I had to do.

I had to come to God in brutal honesty, regardless of the state I was in. Humbling myself to realise that I could not do it on my own and raising the white flag in surrender was difficult, but I knew that there was no other option for me. I had done all I could with my human strength but it still did not amount to anything. I saw my helplessness and my desperate need for God.

I remember crying out to God in frustration. I whined endlessly to God in agony. I begged Him to remove my feelings of attraction. It was in these moments of vulnerability that I realised that it is absolutely okay for me to come to our Holy God in filthy rags.

God proved to me that He provides us with the strength to obey Him, so that we can resist even the toughest temptations.

In fact, just like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, He welcomes and embraces us when we come to Him in repentance – regardless of the state we are in. When we become His children, we can never be too dirty, too unholy or too distant to come back to him.

Slowly, I started to feel less alone in my struggle and I knew for certain that God was fighting alongside me. Every time I turned to him, comfort and peace, which were usually elusive to me, suddenly began to fill my heart. I felt reassured that turning to God was the right thing to do.

I also noticed how my prayers shifted from asking God to remove the temptation to asking God for strength to make the right decisions. He became very real to me in those precious seven days when I struggled with that temptation.

GOD NEVER ABANDONS US

For the first time, I was truly convinced that our Father never abandons us. Even in our times of rebellion against Him, He is never too far away for us to reach out to.

God proved to me that He provides us with the strength to obey Him, so that we can resist even the toughest temptations. In Philippians 1:6, He reassures us that He is not done with us yet and that He will complete the good work that He started in us.

… my prayers shifted from asking God to remove the temptation to asking God for strength to make the right decisions.

Since I began this journey, I have found it easier to obey God. By actively distancing myself whenever I find myself developing feelings for other girls and being honest with God about what I’m feeling, I now struggle less to turn away from temptations and turn my heart towards God.

I still do not have an answer for why God allowed me to be attracted to both genders and am far from being immune to temptations, but God has opened my eyes to see how these encounters have become a way for Him to draw me back to Himself.

I’ve seen how weak and helpless I am in the face of sin, and how the Almighty God works even through that.

Now, I am able to truly thank God that I struggle with same-sex attraction, for if I didn’t, I wouldn’t see how God graciously provides us with His own presence and supernatural strength to fight these battles and to ultimately win the war in eternity.


This article was first published on YMI.today, and is republished with permission.

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Lessons on discipleship from a little dog

by | 12 July 2018, 11:47 AM

Over a recent public holiday, I hung out with a few good friends at one of our homes. There, I met my friend’s new dog, Taurus, an adorable mongrel who’s painfully shy.

As we spent some time trying to connect to him — which was proving rather difficult — my friend said something in particular that really made me think: Raising a dog is really like discipleship.

MEET THEM WHERE THEY ARE

I’m a tall man, so for one reason or another, Taurus was afraid of me. He would skitter past me whenever I walked near, and when I stood up in the living room he would not want to come out of his little indoor kennel.

My friend speculated that maybe while Taurus was a stray, a tall man once kicked him. She also mentioned that he’s a year old – so in dog years, he’s pretty much an angsty teenager.

After I made a few jokes about Taurus being cooped up in his room writing poems, I knelt down to Taurus’ level. And he immediately came out of his hole to eat out of my hand. I had brought myself down to his level, and engaged him with something he was interested in — kibble!

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.” (1 Corinthians 9:20)

It’s not that far a stretch to say that the real-life equivalent would be to initially engage a disciple on their terms, based on what they’re interested in. Baby steps before bigger ones. Just as my friend knew Taurus’ condition well, we also should know our flocks’ condition in caring for them (Proverbs 27:23).

MANAGE THE ATMOSPHERE

“Sometimes when I come back from work, I’ll run around the house and let him chase me, repeatedly yelling his name to get him excited.

“He’s only as excited as you are.”

That was what my friend told us about training and spending time with Taurus. Well, I tried that for a little bit before Taurus began growling at me — so maybe a bit more of Step One first!

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)

If you lead a cell group, or mentor someone, you’ll know that the temptation is to fall into a routine. Eventually you’re just performing a role, and that’s really dangerous. Leaders are responsible for the holistic atmosphere of the group, similar to how mentors are in charge of shaping how interactions play out each time they meet a mentee.

So will it be an “Oh, hi” kind of thing, or will we actually show up excited to teach our kids new tricks? And even as I was thinking about this, my girlfriend, who was playing with Taurus, said to me: “It’s caught, not taught.”

LOVE IS TENDER AND TOUGH

My girlfriend was having a lot of success with Taurus getting him to go through some of the tricks he’d already been taught. Armed with a handful of kibble, she would speak him to sternly, but reward him at the end of it.

I, on the other hand, was really only good at the rewarding part. I couldn’t bear to be firm with the little guy and I would just reward him regardless. So it came as little surprise when he didn’t really listen to me.

One truth that was reaffirmed for me was this: Discipleship that is “soft” love and sayang all the way will get you nowhere fast. There is definitely a time and space for soft love, but if you spend all your time listening — never speaking life into the person’s life — the person will stagnate. And that failure would be on us as leaders (James 3:1).

“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” (1 Thess 2:7b-8)

As we left my friend’s place, we said goodbye to her and Taurus from behind the windows of the bus. When I saw how patient, kind and affectionate she was with Taurus, it really drove one simple truth home.

It starts with love.

Without love, all these things we know about discipleship are just processes or tips. Without love, there’s no point. In the first week that my friend got Taurus, one of the sweet (or morbid) thoughts that she had was of how Taurus would die in about 15 years. I think that the brevity of life has a way of making our love swell for our neighbour when we contemplate it in a healthy way.

Think of the faces in your cell group or those of your mentees. Start with the end in mind: What if you only had a year with them? Let this urgent kind of love be the fuel for shepherding them towards God.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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Article list

The art of serving millennials in a Chinese church

Heart of hearing

In the face of persecution

What I learnt from an adulteress

Thank God I struggle with same-sex attraction

Lessons on discipleship from a little dog