Discovering My brethren Through the CF
I became a believer at a Billy Graham Crusade in 1978 and subsequently joined a Brethren church. I grew up with Brethren ways of worship and church life, and this reality formed the contours of my Christian world. One can only imagine my initial surprise when through VCF, I was acquainted with other Christian traditions and met fellow believers who expressed their faith in different ways. When I first discovered that ‘speaking in tongues’ is thought to be a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, I wondered how that practice would be received in my conservative church. This thought was only the beginning of a long journey of discovering who my brethren were.
In my first year at NUS, I got to hang out and work with fellow Engineering students from other denominations through VCF. I must admit that it was easy to overlook the differences in the body of Christ when you have grown to love the different parts deeply. That year, the first-year engineering students came together to put up a skit on campus to celebrate Christmas along with our non-Christian friends. I witnessed the different gifts that we brought to the table: Pow Look was the preacher in the skit; Jane Goh, Sauw Kook, and Sok Bee sang wonderfully; numerous others worked hard behind the scenes. Without a range of abilities, our event would not have seen the light of the Nativity – Magis, shepherds, and sheep were all needed in our Christmas skit, as does the Church.
My time in VCF helped me to appreciate diversity in the Church. More importantly, I realized that our mutual differences only served to make the Church more resilient to the vagaries of her environment. I was better prepared for the multitude of challenges and issues that Christians are called to face in life. I guess you can say that my time in VCF inoculated me against the belief that my way was the only viable way of expressing the Christian faith and helped me to love the differences in the bigger Christian body more deeply.
The same can be said of student ministry: we might think that VCF is all there is to the ministry of FES. I had my eyes opened when I pioneered NTI Christian Fellowship (NTICF). I first heard that NTI would be set up in 1982, the second year of my studies. Imagine my excitement when I heard about this opening. I wondered if we could have one Christian Fellowship at the new campus, one that is not limited by organisational affiliation (be it FES, Campus Crusade, Navigators, or The Tabernacle Church) as in NUS? The FES leadership at that time was open to the idea. So we gathered all the believers who were headed for NTI and mooted the idea of NTICF, a single body representing all believers in the new campus.
Alas, this project fell through, but I am still deeply grateful for NTICF. It has formed me in many important ways. The friendships, the good and bad times shared together – these made our fellowship feel more like a family and continued to nurture my appreciation for the Church’s diversity. Moreover, since NTI was isolated geographically, the student body was small and everyone lived on campus. Hence, Christians could not live a double life or put on a façade. We had no choice but be wholistic witnesses both in and outside of the CF. That earned the respect of the NTI administration because we engaged the campus authorities and our peers with confidence, conviction, and compassion.
Upon graduation in 1985, I returned and served in my Brethren church. All my commitments thereafter were church-based and I have yet to serve in other para-church organisations. I never had the same wonderful experience of working with a diversified body of Christ since. My four years spent with VCF and NTICF left an indelible impression on me that there is more to Christian life than what is practised in my church. It shaped my worldview and made me more appreciative of my brothers and sisters in the family of Christ who express their faith in different ways.
Fook Thim had a rather eclectic journey in FES: he was first part of National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Varsity Christian Fellowship (VCF) in 1981, and then joined Nanyang Technological Institute (NTI) when it was set up in 1982 (now known as Nanyang Technology University), pioneering the Christian Fellowship there and serving as the president for two terms.