When Social Media Determined A Teen’s Death

Written By Shu Huan, Malaysia

On 13 May 2019, 16-year-old Davia Emilia from Sarawak, Malaysia posted on social media expressing her weariness at life. Via an Instagram story, she requested that her followers vote on whether she should continue living or die: “Very important. Help me choose D/L”. Sadly, 69 per cent of those who responded voted for “D” and as a result, she jumped from the third floor of a building, bringing her short life to a heartbreaking end.

When I saw this news, my heart tightened. In addition to grieving the tragedy of this young girl taking her own life, my heart also went out to the followers who participated in the poll. How would they respond after finding out the girl actually committed suicide? Perhaps they had treated the poll as a joke, thinking that the girl was simply one of many youths seeking attention—that “choosing life or death” was simply a ploy. And yet, irrespective of intentions on either side, the painful conclusion was that her young life ended.

It’s a heart-wrenching situation that convicted me to reconsider how very powerful our words are. James 3:5 says:

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

Indeed, a small spark can set on fire a great forest. It’s terrifying to think that a simple tap on the phone might be able to determine whether another person lives or dies. In this verse, the apostle James reminds believers to watch our words—because a single sentence can build up or destroy a person’s life. What if the followers had chosen instead to encourage the girl with words such as, “How can I help you?”, “I am here to chat”, or, “You are not alone”? Perhaps then there would have been a chance of re-writing the tragic ending to this story.

Of course, the votes from her Instagram followers likely wouldn’t have had the same tragic impact if she didn’t already feel trapped and suffocated by the circumstances of her life, so much so that she had no hope for the future and entertained thoughts of bringing her life to an end. Ultimately, it was her decision to take her own life.

In some ways, I can relate to how she felt. When I was a young teen myself, I also struggled with suicidal thoughts. I felt suffocated by the pressures of life and everything felt meaningless. I was also upset at my family for not giving me the wealth and happiness I desired. Yet every time I thought of suicide, I could not work up the courage to do it, and so I never followed through. Looking back, I am so thankful for that.

In retrospect, I realize that it was all the grace of God. If I had chosen to give up my life then, not only would I have caused immense sadness to my family and friends, but I know now that I would have regretted it myself. Although there are seasons of life that are disappointing, discouraging or hopeless, I’ve learned that life is also full of seasons and experiences that can be exciting and joyful, and these are worth exploring and cherishing. Having experienced both the highs and lows in life, I now know that life is a gift from God.

I have been married for many years, and my husband and I have always hoped for a child. Although we have gone for physical check-ups and are both very healthy, we have  experienced disappointment over and over again. We are left mystified as to why we are unable to conceive.

This struggle with infertility has helped me further realize how precious each life is, and to not take it for granted. If not for God granting us life, we wouldn’t be able to exist on this earth for even just one more second. He has breathed life into mankind, and it is in Him that we live and move and exist (Acts 17:28). Life is God’s grace to us.

As Psalm 139:13-14 says:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

May we cherish our time on earth. After all, it was not in vain that God brought us to this earth. He has beautiful plans for each of us. We are children beloved by God, and we exist with value and purpose. If we chose to obey God and remain in His love, then we will experience true joy in life (John 15:9-11).

I pray that as we enjoy the pleasures of life on this earth, we will also courageously face the difficulties and challenges that may come our way—learning to appreciate our gift of life, and may we use our words well to love those beside us so that we may be a blessing to the world.

 

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, we encourage you to reach out to a church leader or look up your local suicide helpline to seek professional help. 

Another School Shooting: How Many More Tuesdays Will I Read About Senseless Killings?

Screenshot taken from The Charlotte Observer

On 30 April 2019, a gunman burst into a lecture hall on University of North Carolina Charlotte’s campus on the last day of classes for the semester. The students were giving final presentations when the gunman started shooting. Two individuals were killed as a result, and one of them died tackling the shooter in an attempt to stop him.

Though the news broke on Tuesday, it was only several days later that I finally opened an article about it. I wasn’t intentionally avoiding it—it’s just that, “Student Killed While Fighting Shooter” didn’t draw my attention like it used to. It wasn’t until I saw several articles about the same topic that I realized something had happened.

As I grappled with the news of this shooting, I found myself perplexed as to how or why I didn’t pay this story any attention until several days after it occurred. If I’m being honest, once I actually registered a headline, my first reaction was, “Really? Another one?!” After a record number of school shooting incidents in 2018 (at least 23), it seemed I was becoming numb to them in 2019.

While I was still trying to process the impact of the violence at UNC Charlotte, it happened again. On Tuesday this week, only seven days after the loss at UNC Charlotte, another shooting took place.

Another school, another shooter, another life mercilessly taken.

This time it was in Colorado, and prefaced by a dark irony that just last month, the school, along with hundreds of others, closed temporarily as the 20th anniversary of a particularly deadly school shooting known as “Columbine” approached. As of today, at least one person is confirmed dead, and several others were shot and injured.

I find myself, yet again, just reeling.

What do I do? What can I say? How can this happen? Why does this happen?

 

I can honor victims and their family in my response

I realize that I have no idea how to answer any of these questions. And that’s exactly why I feel myself becoming more numb to such news. Tragedies are horrible, and it’s easier to turn a blind eye than to engage with them. This is perpetuated by the fact that most of us feel utterly helpless when it comes to responding to tragedies.  Personally, I don’t feel like I can do anything to affect the situation positively, so I tend to give an article a casual read, then turn my mind to other things. However, something about a school shooting happening two Tuesdays in a row convinced me of one thing: I must not become numb.

The minute I stop reading the stories of parents grieving the senseless loss of their sweet child, or listening to the accounts of eyewitnesses, or hearing about how students and teachers are grieving the loss of any semblance of security in their place of study or work, is the minute I start the process of not caring. I need to listen to and read these stories, because I need to acknowledge the reality before me.

The reality is that though school should be a safe place where students can learn and feel protected, it has instead become a place where they’re practicing active shooter drills and listening for loud sounds that may indicate the worst-case scenario they have trained for. In acknowledging this, I pray that God helps me understand how I’m supposed to respond to it.

 

I can re-think how I’m praying

I think part of my response must include prayer. And that can often feel minor, empty, or like it just isn’t enough. But another thing I’ve remembered during these tragic couple weeks is that prayer is one of the most powerful things I can do. Prayer connects me to an all-powerful God who is able to provide peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7), even in desperate situations. I am comforted in knowing that the Lord listens to the cry of the righteous. He is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34: 15-18), and it’s worthwhile to spend time calling on Him. Prayer is vital, but I’ve been challenged to reconsider how I pray about something like a school shooting.

Do I simply pause to muse over it just long enough to offer up a simple prayer asking God to comfort everyone affected, and then move on to checking my email, or responding to a text message?

Or am I taking time to learn about the pain that I need to pray God heals?

Do I let the senselessness of it all inspire a desperate cry to God for restoration and peace that only He can bring?

Because I know that my God is the author of life. In fact, He sent Jesus to the cross so that us sinners could have abundant life in eternity (John 10:10). These violent school shootings are the manifestation of death and injustice in our world today. . . the stark opposite of the life that will define the restored world that God will bring (Revelation 21:1-4). They are senseless, often random, and without an identifiable motive. I have found that turning to prayer when I see death and injustice helps me to set my mind on the promised life in the new heaven and earth.

Understanding that situations like school shootings also break God’s heart and go against His ultimate plan for eternal life shifted my response to such tragedies. Instead of allowing my heart to become numb to these senseless shootings, I decided to take some time out to pray.  As I engage with the pain and grief of those affected by this tragedy, it helps me to pray more often and genuinely. As I take time to hear stories of parents who spent hours not knowing if their children were still alive, it helps me know how to pray for them. Taking time to learn about these tragedies also helps align my heart more decidedly to God’s plan for ultimate restoration and life. That alignment inspires me to pray for the pain, hurt, and violence that I see all around me on a daily basis, whether big or small.

I hope that you will join me in praying for the lives that were lost and forever changed as a result of the recent school shootings in the U.S. I also hope that you are encouraged to engage with the reality of pain and grief that I am certain surrounds you as well. Let the engagement settle your hearts on the life and restoration that God values and plans to bring to this world. And remember that when you feel helpless, prayer is powerful.

Should Israel Folau Have Said What He Said? – Part 2

Screenshot taken from The Irish Times

 

About a year ago, Israel Folau made a post on his personal Instagram account that polarized the rugby world and the Australian public. In my thoughts on his words, I reflected on his response to a follower’s comment where he communicated that homosexuals would go to hell unless they repented and turned to God.

After the scandal broke out, star rugby playmaker Folau and the Australian Rugby union had negotiations behind closed doors, which led to a four-year extension of his contract, but with a AUD $200,000 decrease in his salary, and the understanding that he would not post more offensive material to his Instagram page.

Fast-forward to a post Folau made last Wednesday (Apr 10). In what appears to be a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Folau writes in the post’s caption that, “Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.”

 

Screenshot taken from Instagram

 

Because of last year’s scandal, the prominent spot that “Homosexuals” has on the list in Folau’s post has drawn the most scrutiny, tying into a popular narrative that Folau, and perhaps even Christians as a whole, are homophobic.

A number of public figures, including New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have been quick to condemn Folau’s post. The Australian Rugby Union announced their intention to terminate Folau’s contract, just months before the Rugby World Cup where Folau would have played a key role in the Wallabies’ hopes of winning.

Folau’s actions may result in the end of his rugby career with the Australian rugby union. With that, he may lose an AUD $1 million a year income, as well as the opportunity to professionally play a sport he loves.

So here we are again, asking the same question we did a year ago. Should Israel Folau have said what he said?

 

What we can learn from this saga

In response to the scandal, Folau told the Sydney Morning Herald that “my faith in Jesus Christ is what comes first” and that he would stop playing rugby before revoking his words. Folau’s actions have drawn mixed reactions from within the church.

Although there are certainly elements to Folau’s stance that are admirable, such as his commitment to his faith over his sporting career, I wonder if we should lift him up as a “Christian hero” to emulate. Regardless of whether we agree with Folau’s actions, this latest episode is an opportunity for us to reflect on how we as Christians can communicate the gospel in a post-Christian culture, particularly on a public platform like social media.

With social media, anything we post has the incredible ability to reach millions of people in an instant. However, it is also a platform where our posts and comments can easily be taken out of context, misunderstood and can even come across as insensitive, regardless of our intentions. This is why it is so important for us to evaluate how we use it. Here are two questions that came to mind as I reflected on the scandal:

 

1. What approach should we take in addressing sin?

In the past, Folau has expressed that he has struggled with a number of the sins listed in the post, including drunkenness, adultery, lying, and fornication. But what captured my attention about his approach in his latest Instagram post was that it was more outward-focused rather than inward-focused in the way it addressed sin. The image he posted defined groups of people according to their “sin”, instead of looking at the root cause of these sins—what’s really on the inside of us.

Ultimately, this is the point that Paul is making in 1 Corinthians 6:11, that we are washed, sanctified, and justified of our sin in the name of Jesus. Perhaps if Folau had taken the opportunity to also share about his own past struggles with those sins, and how God’s grace and saving power has delivered him from them, that would’ve been a more effective and helpful approach in drawing people to Christ.

After all, Jesus has saved sinful people like Folau and I, and He can do the same for anyone who comes to Him.

 

2. Are we speaking up at the right time and place?

Although Christians are called to stand up for our faith, it doesn’t mean that we should do so whenever and however we want to. Folau’s social media saga highlights how important it is that we exercise wisdom and care in knowing exactly how and when to reach out to others with gospel truths.

Topics as serious as the consequences of sin, the reality of hell, and the incredible gift of God’s grace are probably better suited for a one-on-one conversation rather than a meme on an Instagram account. This way, we’ll also be able to interact with the individual on a personal level and address any questions he or she might have about the faith.

In this regard, we can learn from the example of Paul in Acts 17, who took the opportunity provided to him at a specific time and place in the city of Athens to share the truth God had commissioned him to speak—the meeting of the Areopagus, which was a space specifically used to communicate new ideas and philosophies. Paul wisely spoke into the culture of the day, showing his understanding of the culture he was in, even quoting Greek philosophers. And lastly, he communicated the truth of the gospel effectively by sharing about the one true God, who cannot be contained in something physical like an altar. The Holy Spirit was obviously with Paul and his words as many believed in Christ that day (Acts 17:34).

As we seek opportunities to share about our faith, let’s take heed of the apostle Peter’s encouragement for us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”, but to also do so with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Let’s seek the Holy Spirit for His guidance so that like Paul, we can know the best time and place to share the truths of God’s Word to those around us.

 

An opportunity for Part 3 to be different

I felt disappointed when Part 2 of Folau’s saga broke out—as it appeared that he had not learned the lessons from what had happened the first time round. But upon further reflection, I realized that, I too, often need to learn more than once the lessons God is trying to teach me. So, I will be rooting for Folau and the church as a whole to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us with wisdom and gentleness in our attempts to live lives worthy of His calling.

If Folau’s contract ends up being terminated, he might suffer many forms of losses, but it would also give him a unique opportunity to practice what he preaches. He can show the world that money, material things, and worldly success from a rugby career do not compare with what a relationship with God can give. He can be open about his own sins and struggles. And ultimately, he can show with his words and actions that no matter what sins a person has committed, Jesus’ death and saving grace covers them all.

I will be hoping and praying that if there is a part 3 to Folau’s social media saga, I can write about how Folau has allowed God to change, mold, and guide him to become a humble ambassador of Christ’s love.

What the K-Pop Sex Scandal Reveals About Us

Photos taken from Facebook and Wikipedia

 

“I once idolized you and thought you were one of the coolest celebrities on earth. Yucks . . . you really can’t judge one based on what he shows to the media. I’m utterly disgusted and disappointed,” wrote a netizen commenting on the recent K-pop sex scandals.

Seung Ri, Jung Joon Young, Choi Jong Hoon, Yong Jun Hyung, Lee Jong Hyun. These are Korean idols whom many young girls all over the world look up to. They are good-looking, dress stylishly, and can sing and dance. Fans hang their posters all over their rooms, display their merchandise proudly, and gladly spend hundreds of dollars to watch them live.

No one could have predicted that their rise to fame would end in a fall from grace. As the full story unravels with each passing day, more and more Korean idols have been implicated in the scandal—and fans have found themselves shifting from adoration to disillusionment.

Seung Ri, a former member of K-pop group Big Bang was the first to be hit hard. His nightclub, The Burning Sun, is facing allegations of (among others) violence against customers, securing prostitutes for VIPs, rape, drug use, and drug trafficking. With that shocking reveal came news of Jung Joon Young, singer-songwriter and cast member of Korean variety show, 2 Days 1 Night (1N2D), being accused of circulating videos of his sexual endeavors with women.

Other K-pop idols who have been embroiled in this scandal are FT Island’s Choi Jong Hoon, Highlight’s Yong Jun Hyung, formerly known as Beast, and CN Blue’s Lee Jong Hyun—they were all part of a chat group which Jung Joon Young used to circulate his videos. Following the exposé, some have announced their retirement from the industry while others have left their K-pop bands for fear of tarnishing the group’s reputation.

This scandal seems especially ironic since K-pop agencies are known to be extremely careful with the artistes under their care. In their efforts to uphold a certain image for these artists, they often assert an excessive amount of control over these artistes: These idols are not allowed to date publicly (if at all), and even what they eat or wear is heavily controlled by the agencies. These are done in hopes of putting up a perfect persona to captivate their fans.

These idols’ personas are painstakingly constructed from head to toe. They could be seen wearing the most fashionable clothes, with perfect figures and flawless, fair skin or even captured doing philanthropy work. However, this scandal has proved to us one fact: We can control how we look on the outside but alas, it doesn’t hide what’s truly on the inside of us.

A K-pop idol could be restricted to only having an apple, a sweet potato and a protein drink for the whole day. That still does not mean that she does not crave food like fried chicken. Forcing a change on the outside will not effect change on the inside.

Does this sound familiar? Very often, we are obsessed with sin management—changing our behavior on the outside. We want to “clean up” our actions, so we put on a show for others in church. We don’t swear like we do when we’re with our friends. We don’t wear skimpy dresses like we do when we go out clubbing. We love to portray the “Good Christian Girl” or “Good Christian Boy” vibes.

We turn up to church every Sunday and proclaim “Lord, Lord!” when He has never been the Lord of our everyday lives. Even better, we serve God in different ministries and attend cell group or Bible Study regularly. And yet, His Word has zero impact on us and we leave the sermon with our hearts unchanged. We are merely mindlessly ticking off our “Good Christian” list.

Surely, doing these things are not bad in and of themselves. But unfortunately (or fortunately), these are not the things that our Heavenly Father looks at.

While the world looks and judges us based on what we “show” on the outside, our Father cares more about what’s within. He sees our heart before anything else. If we truly think that only God’s opinion of us matters, cleaning up on the inside has to be our main priority.

While it may sound like hard work, the first step is simple: “I have sinned against the LORD” (emphasis mine)—these were the very words that King David said when the Prophet Nathan confronted him on his sin (2 Samuel 12:13). Just like King David, each of us has to realize that we have first and foremost sinned against our Lord. The Lord of the Universe, our Creator and Master, our Father.

After King David recognized his sin, the Prophet Nathan declared that the Lord had taken away his sin, and that he was not going to die. He expressed true remorse and grief for his sin, which led to repentance and ultimately, salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Now for those of us who harbor secret sins that we are too ashamed to bring before God, here’s a mindblowing fact: Our Father is delighted and celebrates when a wayward son returns back to Him (Luke 15:32).

We are so valuable to Him that He rejoices more over us—the one repentant sinner— as compared to 99 unrepentant self-righteous persons (Luke 15:7). Our good Father delights in our broken and contrite hearts (Psalm 51:17). He delights in a heart that turns back to Him. When we confess our sins before Him, our Father is faithful to forgive and purify us (1 John 1:9). And the truth is—He’s the only one who has the power to change us from the inside out.

When we read of news like the recent K-pop scandal, it’s easy to point fingers at these fallen idols or react with disgust towards their sin. But let’s also take a long, hard look at our own hearts and clean up the mess on the inside.

What we should fear isn’t having our sins exposed to the world like it was for these K-pop idols, but when our unconfessed sins are exposed before the Great God on the Day of Judgment. Let’s not wait for an exposé on the Day of Judgment to turn back to Christ. Let’s repent and return to Him now.