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Ivan David Ng: Displaying Love and Art Amid Hostility

It was his first time on a plane. Flying 15,000 kilometers from his home in Singapore to the mid-Atlantic region in the United States, where he would spend the next four years, Ivan David Ng was excited about his newfound freedom and eager to embrace new experiences. But the young artist would soon find out that being a Christian in a foreign land—what more, in a fine arts university—would be one of the most challenging experiences in his life.

Today, Ivan is back in Singapore, as an up-and-coming artist who has exhibited his works both in the US and Singapore. He recently graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he was the commencement speaker for his cohort.

Throughout the two-hour long interview with YMI, the 26-year-old exudes joy and confidence when sharing about his art and faith. But things were not always this way, he tells us. In his freshman year, he was confronted with culture shock, personal challenges, and opposition to his faith.

In his first week of school, a faculty member openly ridiculed him for being a Christian. His philosophy professor had asked everyone to introduce themselves and to share what helped them make sense of the world. When it came to Ivan’s turn, he explained that it was his faith, having become a Christian at the age of 17. His professor promptly responded that she thought religion was “very insensitive, illogical and intolerant”.

This hostile reaction was a rude awakening. But Ivan soon found it becoming a weekly occurrence. Any mention of his faith, Jesus, and going to church on Sundays was met with patronizing smiles, awkward silences, and the occasional eye roll. “I felt like I was thrown into a furnace, it was extremely difficult for me,” he adds.

Throughout his time in university, his close friends teased him frequently about his faith and the choices he made for his belief—especially when it came to his sexual conduct. One of the more memorable comments he received was, “Did you put on a chastity belt and throw the key away?”

He says, “When I first got there, I felt like Elijah . . . am I the only Christian here?” When Ivan tried to seek out other Christians in the college, he stumbled upon a small Christian fellowship on campus. They started to meet regularly.

“It was a time of ministering to one another, loving other people together, and supporting one another in prayer,” he adds. “Once there was strength in numbers, I didn’t feel alone anymore and we started serving the people in campus together. We became Jesus’ covert hands and feet in a place where people didn’t want anything to do with Him. The support of these Christian friends was how I stayed Christian.”

 

Expressing love in a hostile environment

The hostile secular environment and several failed attempts to reach out to friends using traditional methods, however, made him rethink his approach to evangelism. “It’s not so much about standing up for what you believe, but more of just loving people that God has placed around you,” he says. “If I can love them so much and want their salvation so much, what more God? I’ve learned to be prepared for long-term gospel work and enjoy them genuinely as friends—that’s evangelism in that context,” he explains.

The key, he says, was to be emotionally invested in his non-Christian friends and learn to enjoy their friendship and company. He says, “Often, as Christians seeking to reach our friends, we feel the responsibility to give to our friends emotionally, spiritually and even materially. But how often do we allow these non-Christian friends to give to us? In a real friendship, this goes both ways. Otherwise, these friends we are trying to reach out to become ‘projects’—and they feel it.”

“These friends supported me when family members passed away while I was far away from home . . . if they sometimes want to tease me for my faith, so be it! I know they love me,” Ivan says with wide grin. For him, the right to speak about the truth found in Jesus had to be earned through a long, faithful friendship, where love and mutual enjoyment has been consistently demonstrated.

Over time, some of these relationships bore fruit. When a friend who often laughed at Ivan for his faith faced a major personal problem in his life, he turned to Ivan and asked for prayer and counsel. The incident encouraged Ivan immensely.

 

Experiencing God through Art

Besides the shift in his perspective on evangelism, Ivan experienced another change. Though he was a painting major, Ivan discovered that he was more inclined towards material-based and tactile processes. Slowly, his work took on more three-dimensional forms. “I liked to do things with my hands. Sculpting gave me more satisfaction as compared to painting,” he shares.

To Ivan, his art and his faith are intertwined. He says, “My art is essentially about my faith . . . If I were to talk about themes surrounding my art, it stems from a search and longing for God.” He draws inspiration from landscapes, and enjoys working with natural materials such as stone, handmade paper and clay. Referring to them as “toys that God leaves behind for me to discover”, he says, “In putting these materials through processes that transform them, I feel that it is God leading me on a journey of discovery and wonder.”

His passion and joy in creating his art is evident as he excitedly explains and shows off pictures of his art pieces, one of which is a sculpture titled Are You In Love. Pointing to the grey stone, he says, “I cut open a quartzite stone I picked up from a construction site, only to discover that the stone was shiny and glittery on the inside, although its surface was dull.”

Titled : Are You In Love

To Ivan, using the materials that God created and designed in his art is a form of worship. “As I create, I am merely reflecting my Creator. As I work with these beautiful materials that He has in the first place created, I acknowledge God as Creator and I recognize myself as collaborating with Him,” he says.

That said, he urges young Christian artists not to feel the pressure to always make their art a tool for presenting the Gospel. “I don’t intentionally weave the cross into my work, although the work by nature bears witness to God in creation. Sometimes when artists use art as a direct, literal Gospel tool, it ends up being cheesy because people already know where it leads. They don’t feel invited into a deeper conversation; instead, some may feel that the work is lecturing them. It closes up conversations instead of opening them up,” he explains.

He hopes young Christian artists can learn to enjoy making their art and “find God’s fingerprints in their making of art”. “God is always involved—it’s whether you’re conscious of it or not,” he says.

For Ivan himself, art is a springboard for relationships and for long-term Gospel work. He says, “Enjoy the people your pursuit of art takes you to and see those relationships as Gospel opportunities. Perhaps that’s the way we can be witnesses for Jesus as artists.”

 

5 Lessons from A Family Feud

Photo from Yahoo


Family disputes are common. In fact, I see them happening in my own family all too often, whether it is over minute or important matters. But over the past few weeks, one particular family feud in Singapore has captured the attention of many in my country—and perhaps around the world too.

The conflict, which erupted over social media on June 14, concerns allegations of abuse of power by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, made by his two younger siblings over the fate of their late father’s house at 38 Oxley Road.

Yesterday afternoon (July 3), PM Lee formally addressed this issue in Parliament, where he defended the actions he took following the death of his father, Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, in March 2015, and allowed Members of Parliament to question him.

Like many Singaporeans, I have been following this saga closely. And I’ve been both shocked and sad to see this happening in a family that I deeply respect and hold in high regard.

Without getting into a debate over who is right or wrong, I can see some personal lessons to be learned from this issue. What this dispute has shown me is that all humans are prone to conflict—regardless of how clever, powerful, or well-regarded we are.

This applies just as much to Christians. Though we all belong to the family of God, we have our fair share of conflict too. When challenged, our natural instinct is to fight back and vindicate ourselves. But most of the time, such encounters don’t end well. In my church, I have seen members leaving as a result; disputes can also lead to a split in the church.

So how should Christians respond when we don’t see eye-to-eye with each other? Here are five ways in which I believe we can respond to conflict within the family of God.

 

1. Recognize the need for resolution

God dislikes conflict. When we were at odds with God because of our sin, He made the first move for us to be reconciled—and He paid a hefty price for it, by sending His own Son Jesus to die on the cross to redeem us.

In the same way, God doesn’t want us to be at odds with anyone in the church. He wants us to be reconciled with others. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)

Will we make an effort to resolve our differences because it pleases God—even if we don’t feel like it?

 

2. Exhibit self-control

When we feel hurt by others, it is natural to lash back. But we have to be careful not to allow our emotions to get the better of ourselves so that we act on impulse. God calls us to exercise self-control, which is one attribute of the fruit of the Spirit. Practising self-control means taking charge of our thoughts and attitudes so that they do not dictate our actions and lead us to behave in a way that displeases God.

The next time we get into a conflict, will we react calmly (Proverbs 29:11)?

 

3. Have an attitude of humility

Philippians 2:3-4 tells us to “value others above yourselves”. It is a challenging instruction because it means we have to put our pride and our interests aside. But Jesus has shown us examples of humility which we are called to imitate. While He was equal with God, He chose to forsake that privilege by becoming a human, being wronged, and finally dying for us in a humiliating manner. If Jesus cared merely about himself, none of us would ever be reconciled with God.

When we humble ourselves before others, we can take heart that God is pleased, for “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6).

Even though we may look foolish to the world, are we willing to be wronged for the sake of reconciliation?

 

4. Take time to listen and empathize

Taking time to listen and empathize can seem extremely difficult to do in the heat of the moment. But what this simply means is to be willing to understand how the other party has been hurt.

Fools are described as those who “find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions” (Proverbs 18:2). Instead, we are called to listen before answering (Proverbs 18:13).

Will we put aside our prejudices and hurt to truly listen and understand the other party?

 

 5. Show love

Above all, as a family of God, we are commanded by the Lord to love one another as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). It is one of His two greatest commandments.

When we show love to others in times of conflict, we are able to stand united as a family of Christ and show the world that Jesus is a God of love. And we can take heart that God is with us when we gather to resolve the conflict, peaceably in love (Matthew 18:20).

Are others able to see Jesus through the way we respond to conflict?

 

The way to resolve a conflict is not by trying to win the fight or prove that we are right. It’s by responding in love and showing Christ in our response.

One statement that PM Lee made yesterday stood out: “At the end of the day, we are brother and sister, and we are all our parents’ children.”

I couldn’t agree more. At the end of the day, we are all God’s children, seeking to please the same Father.

Ming Yue: Behind the Goofy YouTuber

On screen, Ho Ming Yue—or, as his fans call him simply, MingY—is loud and goofy. With his signature smile and thumbs-up gesture, he is known as the clown of The Ming Thing (TMT), the popular Malaysian YouTube channel featuring short films and comedy sketches.

Since it was started in 2012, TMT has amassed more than 400,000 subscribers, with the top video drawing more than three million views.

As he sits down in TMT’s office in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia, for our Skype interview, Ming Yue displays a very different side to the on-screen character playing silly roles in the comedy skits. Decked out in a somber dark blue sweater and sporting a fresh haircut, he is a lot more serious than I had expected, giving much thought before answering each of my questions. Halfway through the interview, the 25-year-old declares: “I’m actually an introvert, a very big introvert.”

 

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His Faith Journey

Ming Yue? The clown of TMT is an introvert?

It’s true, he says. Ming Yue started out a “loud and sociable” person, but his personality changed significantly after spending two years studying in England. He did not have any friends when he initially arrived in 2010, and to make matters worse, his relationship with his then-girlfriend ended. Overwhelmed by his circumstances, there were times when he didn’t even want to leave his room.

“I didn’t want to go to class, I didn’t want to see people, I just wanted to be alone,” he says. He also spent most of his time sleeping. “I thought that if I slept more, time would pass faster and I would be able to fly home to KL faster.”

He adds: “My first year was the worst. It’s so hard when you’re alone and you have nobody. I honestly felt it was just me against the world.”

While he was brought up in a Christian family by parents who were—and still are—church elders, Ming Yue had for many years gone through the motions of attending church without intentionally thinking about the significance of his faith. Only once, while he was still in primary school, had he cried during a service. At the time, he didn’t know why he cried; only later did he realize that it was his first encounter with God, and that “there is something out there watching over me”. Convicted of his faith, he had started serving actively in church, but since then, his faith journey had not been smooth, he admits.

Now, in England, he found himself questioning God. “Why did You put me here?” he recalls asking one day.

On New Year’s Eve, he saw fireworks outside his window. For some reason—he can’t explain why—they prompted him to surrender his situation to God. “I just felt I couldn’t handle this situation alone anymore and I knew I needed help,” he says.

Immediately, he felt a sense of peace. From that point, Ming Yue decided to take active steps to prevent himself from falling back into a depressed state. This involved simple steps like surrendering hurtful thoughts, memories and words spoken against him to God, and stepping out of his room to make new friends at a local Christian fellowship.

Still, his journey as a Christian did not turn into a bed of roses after that. One year after returning to Malaysia in 2012, he left his church and started living a life independent of God.

It took his younger sister to jolt him back to his senses. When she randomly remarked that he wasn’t as loving and kind as he used to be, he realized that he had stopped showing these attributes—which were the fruit of the Spirit—because he wasn’t walking closely with God. Seeing how his life was turning out without God, he asked a Christian friend to bring him to her church. There, he found mentors and people to walk alongside him. “There were people to do life with, to share struggles and to mutually encourage. It was a blessing for me,” he says. He is still attending and serving at this church today.

His sister affirmed him after noticing that he had become a lot more patient and gracious. Ming Yue attributes that to the support of the community he received in his church.

 

His YouTube Journey

It was also after coming back from England, that Ming Yue decided to join Ming Han in making YouTube videos. By that time, his brother had already produced a few videos by himself. Having always done things together, it seemed natural to join him, he says. With two other friends—Bryan Lim and Raffi Th’ng—they formed The Ming Thing in 2012. “It was like our mini-playground to do what we love—write content and make videos.”

 

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TMT aims to maintain a mix between providing entertainment and offering a commentary on society. Its films, which cover themes such as love, courage and the influence of social media, are inspired by real-life events. “All we do is to listen and notice things and people,” he says. “Our films reflect the way we perceive life.” But they do sometimes come up with nonsensical videos that have no meaning or message, he adds with a cheeky laugh.

For bigger projects like web series or short films, however, the team is more intentional about driving home a message. He cites the example of a short film on TMT, Movie Love/Real Love. “The truth of the matter is that the world has such a funny and distorted view of love,” he says. “They only see the one that is put on display in the movies, without realizing that love in real life is vastly different.”

Keeping things real is what Ming Yue also tries to convey and achieve on his social media platforms. While his Instagram account (@mingasaur) includes well-taken, curated photos, it also showcases some random ones, like him putting on a silly face and posing with a cup of coffee—a post that some might deem “not-Instagram-worthy”.

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“There are definitely parts of my life that are polished and curated, but there is this whole element of being a normal person,” he says. “What you see is who I am.”

This is important because there is pressure to look good on social media. Asked how he deals with that, Ming Yue replies candidly, “To begin with, I’m not a very beautiful person, so I can’t post gorgeous pictures of myself. So I’ve learned to not let that bother me.”

Instead, he treats Instagram as a platform for storytelling. “With my long captions, my Instagram account is essentially my mini blog,” he says with a laugh. “I’m a lot more interested in the stories behind the pictures and how the person feels.”

 

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He is also open about his Christian faith. Many posts show him playing the guitar in church or reflecting on sermons. Though such posts usually receive fewer “likes” and comments, Ming Yue isn’t affected. “Honestly, I don’t mind that I’m not getting a lot of likes or engagements,” he says. “It doesn’t bother me because I’m essentially just sharing my life with others.”

But if he has an important message for his fans, Ming Yue will time his posting a bit more carefully. “It’s not about the likes, but I want more people to see this. If I feel the message is valuable, I will post it at a time of high traffic.”

Besides being authentic and intentional, the Ming brothers also try not to do things just to seek the approval of others. This means turning down requests from alcohol or tobacco companies, even though they pay well. “Maybe I just don’t know how to go about making the advertisements in a way that I am comfortable with, a way that will not contradict my values that I was brought up with,” explains Ming Yue.

In the end, TMT goes back to their primary focus: to create content. He says: “We are given the opportunity to see our imagination become a reality onscreen and I think that’s a privilege and a blessing we need to honor.”

As for the YMI question of why he does what he does, Ming Yue says: “We have a genuine passion and love for creating. And God has given us this awesome opportunity and platform to play around and tell stories that we see on a day-to-day basis.”

 

Why Am I Taking a Gap Year?

I must admit that when I first decided to take a gap year, I might have started off on the wrong foot.

You see, I was giving different reasons to different people—depending on who asked. To the friendly taxi driver, I was taking a year off school to work. To my parents, I was not ready to enter university since I had no idea what I wanted to study. To Christian friends and mentors, I needed the time to get back on track with God and to serve Him in Christian organizations.

That got me thinking. Why didn’t I have a confident and consistent answer? Was it because I didn’t have a concrete answer? If I were to be honest with myself, what reasons would I have come up with?

I graduated from a local polytechnic with a media-related diploma two months ago. I should have headed for further studies right after that, but months earlier, halfway through my last semester, the thought of taking a gap year had crept into my mind.

In case you didn’t know, a gap year is an intentional choice by a student to take a year off school to work, volunteer, or travel. It is mostly done before or after one enrolls in university. A couple of my friends were taking this long break. One wanted to spend her time backpacking round Europe, and another had planned to go to Thailand with a non-profit organization to help in animal conservation efforts. Others were looking at taking up internships to help them decide on what to study in university.

My friends all seemed to have legitimate—even noble—reasons for wanting to take a gap year. My motivations seemed to pale in comparison; I felt like I was the only confused one.

In the two months that have passed since I started my sabbatical, I have come to realize that my motivations were rather selfish. I had wanted to take a break after three years of studying in the polytechnic. The late nights and tight deadlines had left me with little time to relax and I was utterly exhausted. The idea of having more time to myself for such a long period sounded fantastic. Also, I had finished a six-month internship with a local newspaper and found that I preferred working to studying.

Reasoning with myself and my parents, I argued that I didn’t know what I wanted to study in university—hence I needed the time to “find myself” and figure it out.

However, I was aware that taking a gap year would mean a very long break from school. My sabbatical would in fact last 1½ years, because my academic year ended in February this year and God-willing, my university course would only begin in August next year. To make sure I used my time more wisely, I was determined to learn a new instrument—the ukulele.

All these reasons were not necessarily wrong, but did they truly glorify God? Where was God in my decision-making process? I had prayed to ask God what He thought about my gap year, but I had not actively sought His reply. When I lay on my bed to pray every night, was I asking God to bless my plans or was I asking God for His plan?

Such thoughts lingered in my head when a sister-in-Christ challenged me to rethink my motivations for taking the sabbatical. She suggested that as Christians, our motivations, thoughts and actions should be very different from that of a non-believer.

I reflected on how I spoke with God every night and realized that often, I wanted blessings and not direction from God. It was the wrong way to pray. The deliberate act of choosing to be stuck in limbo was probably due to selfish reasons on my part. They reflected my personal inward desires instead of God Himself. However, I believe God can still use this time to teach me many things—if I am willing to listen.

Reading a recent devotional on Romans, I was very inspired by how Paul allowed the Gospel to shape his whole person. His identity, mission, relationships with others, and convictions were so aligned to the Gospel. It challenged me to think about how I should let God use me, and how much more I need to surrender my life to Him.

So far, in the past two months, I’ve spent my time serving with Singapore Youth for Christ to gear up for an evangelistic event in June. My interest in writing has also led me to join YMI as an editorial intern. However, even though I’m doing “Christian” things, I know it is still important for me to pray constantly for God’s guidance.

I still don’t have the answers to many of the difficult questions I’ve asked. However, I pray that I will continue to seek God first, to ask for His direction instead of His approval. May I learn how to discern what my personal desires are, and what God has called me to do. With 16 more months’ sabbatical to go, I hope to make decisions that will make God happy instead of those that will make me happy.

I can only plan so much for my gap year. But I am convinced that if I let God plan for me, He will give me far more than I can ever ask or imagine.