Posts

Remembering Anzac Day And An Exemplary Army Chaplain

The call for a “padre” rang out down the line. Some poor “digger” (the colloquial term for an Australian soldier) had died and a chaplain was needed for the burial service.

Joseph John Booth answered the call and made his way to the forward point on the line, his heart surely pounding in his chest. It was only his second evening on the front, a place where death was as common as life.

The year was 1917, and millions of young men from around the world were dying in the trenches of the Western Front. We would eventually call this awful cycle of death and destruction World War 1.

As Joseph arrived in the trench to give his first burial service, he trembled with the knowledge that German soldiers were merely 60 feet away in their own trenches, likely listening to every word he spoke. In the darkness, he could not read from his prayer book and was forced to do as much of the service as he could from memory. This would only be the first of countless funerals he would lead during the war.

 

Courtesy of ww1anzac.com

Joseph’s Story

I started learning about Joseph’s story out of a personal interest in World War 1 history. Anzac Day—a special annual tradition for Australians and New Zealanders to remember and appreciate the sacrifice of servicemen and women in the military—was just around the corner, and I found myself in the research room of the State Library Victoria, searching for stories about army chaplains who served during World War 1. It was here that I stumbled on Joseph’s personal letters to Beryl Bradshaw, the love of his life, that he wrote while serving in France.

Joseph was an orphan from England who moved to Australia in his early 20s, settling in the western Melbourne suburb of Footscray. In 1915, Joseph was ordained as an Anglican priest after studying theology at Ridley College. In the following year, he became engaged to Beryl and was also enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a “padre”—the affectionate term given to army chaplains by the enlisted men.

Joseph soon found himself on a troop ship heading to the battlefields of France, serving God and His people in a war half a world away. Was he caught up in the excitement of seeing the world, giving little thought to the terrors ahead? Or did he press forward even in the face of the death and destruction waiting ahead? How would his faith be tried in face of the worst war the world had ever seen?

Reading Joseph’s story comes at a point in my life where I, too, am beginning a new role in a Christian ministry. Although I don’t have a terrible war to face like Joseph did, the future is uncertain as I find my place in my new role in service to God. But in Joseph’s story, I see how God guided him to serve others in a time and place that was greatly needed. I, too, can take comfort that God also has a plan for my life, and is guiding me along my path as well.

 

Joseph’s Ministry

Soon after arriving in France, Joseph was attached to the 8th Battalion, a veteran unit and legendary for its role in the Gallipoli campaign, a series of battles in modern day Turkey early in the war that was fought by mainly soldiers from Australia and New Zealand.  It was not an easy start to his ministry, since Joseph was a “novice among seasoned veterans,” as he told Beryl in one of his letters. However, he seemed optimistic, perhaps fueled with a zeal for his new ministry. He began leading the regular, mandatory church service, often called a “church parade”. He reported the first one as “a very fine Brigade parade and a fairly happy communion service, though I shall not be satisfied until my numbers increase”.

As time progressed, Joseph’s letters revealed that he became a well-respected man among the troops of his battalion. Perhaps he took to hear the advice given him by the Assistant Chaplain General on his arrival: “Never lower your standards, avoid being a Pharisee, avoid the whiskey bottle, take on every job that you possibly can, and remember that, as a servant of Jesus Christ, your duty is to make others comfortable, even though you yourself may need the comfort more.”

Soldiers certainly saw and respected his courage and integrity. They witnessed his sacrifices, and through his display of character, many who did not have a relationship with Christ were drawn to the truth of the gospel. As a result, Joseph’s church services grew in number.

I am challenged to live my life the same way that Joseph served as a padre: to stand firm in the face of growing pressure to lower my standards, to avoid being caught up in following rules and regulations like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, and to serve others even when it’s uncomfortable.

 

 

The Hardships of War

Although a padre’s main role was to act as a spiritual guide to soldiers and officers in the military, they faced many of the same dangers as fighting men. Throughout 1917, Joseph and the 8th Battalion were involved in some of the worst fighting up and down the Western Front. Joseph often found himself at the side of the unit’s doctor, helping out in whatever way he could.

There was one time when the doctor’s resources were drained dangerously low due to the number of wounded, so Joseph and a few other men voluntarily braved artillery-bombarded territory to retrieve medical supplies. After they had found the dearly-needed supplies, a sudden, terrifying artillery barrage caused them to cower in a gully. While waiting for the barrage to pass, Joseph got a premonition “in his mind’s eye” that they would be directly hit by a salvo of shells. He convinced the men to keep moving, and mere moments after they left, multiple shells exploded in the gully behind them. Joseph wrote to Beryl that if they had stayed, they “would have been wiped out almost without doubt”. He knew that God had providentially protected them in this near-death experience. Joseph would later receive the high military honor of the Military Cross from the King of England himself.

Men were dying by the hundreds and thousands every day all along the Western Front, and the duty that caused Joseph the greatest angst was the burial services of those who had died in action. During one of the intense episodes of the Battle of Passchendaele, Joseph was required to oversee the mass burial of 60 men from his battalion.

When his battalion was finally given relief and pulled out of the front line, Joseph wrote this in a letter, “perhaps one of the most pathetic experiences after a big battle is to go round the lines and discover the old friends who will serve the Army no more. The memory of those two days will lie heavy upon me even as long as I live. War is unspeakable and these men with whom one serves are indeed the very salt of humankind.

I have found that particularly on days like Anzac Day, our minds are drawn to the tragedy of war, the frailty of human life, and the condition of our souls. We search for the answers to why there is so much suffering, in times of war as well as in our relatively peaceful society today. In the purposelessness and tragedy of events like World War 1, where can we turn?

Daily, Joseph and the men he served faced this trauma. And yet through it all, his faith remained firm. How can that be? The only answer that I can find is in the hope of the truth of the Gospel. That despite the evil and destruction we see around us, there is a loving God who is yearning for us to be in relationship with Him, to accept the love that He is freely giving, and to live the life He intended us to live, whatever our circumstances.

Courtesy of ww1anzac.com

After the war, he married his sweetheart, Beryl, and served as vicar at St. Pauls in Fairfield, Melbourne. He would be remembered as a vicar who had a sympathetic understanding of people, as well as a remarkable memory for names and faces.

Joseph later made a collection of his letters, the same ones that I would find in the State Library many decades later. The postscript he wrote to this collection has stuck with me, “I hope those of you who read them [the letters] will find some little pleasure and gain some information, for future generations must surely learn that war is a filthy business, only lightened by the amazing courage and the wonderful comradeship of men of every race. The war is long over. It was to have ended war. Though it may not, it has begun a movement toward peace which, please God, will never die.

As I reflect on a war that ended a century ago, I pray that I would be dedicated to sharing the peace that can only come through Jesus, just as Joseph John Booth did with his life.

 

 

 

Xempt: A New Name And New Lease On Life

At the age of 17, Caleb Bloomfield found himself in the dark basement of his apartment no longer in control of his own life. He was reeling from two major losses: he and his girlfriend had just broken up after reaching the decision to give up their newborn son for adoption.

“I found myself in a very dark place,” says Caleb. “I was depressed and was diving deeper into drugs and alcohol as well as other women, trying to fill that void.”

Only God, he would discover later, could fill that void and give him a new lease on life—and even a new name. “I searched out all the ways that the world says brings you happiness,” Caleb says. “And I never did find that happiness until I found Jesus.”

That is the message the now 25-year-old Christian hip-hop artist wants to tell the world today through his music, starting with his recently released debut album Me Vs Me. The album is an ode to God’s redemptive love and the hope he has found in Jesus after years of wrong choices and painful consequences.

 

The Journey

Caleb was born in Canada and grew up in the Fiji Islands, where his parents were missionaries. His multi-talented family gave him not only a Christian upbringing, but also a childhood filled with music. Realizing he had a talent for writing lyrics and rapping, Caleb naturally gravitated towards hip hop.  “I had always wanted to be a rapper,” he recalls.

The young hip hop artist’s career started off well. His stage name then was “Tu K” a shortened version of “Ratu Kelepi”, which means “Chief Caleb” in the Fijian language. He started writing songs under that stage name, working towards his dreams of becoming a rapper.

At the same time though, he struggled to fit in with his peers and his relationship with God took a backseat. “The core problem was that I did not know who I was in Christ or who Christ called me to be,” he says.

When he was 15, during one of his family’s trips back to Canada, Caleb found the acceptance he was seeking from a group of hard-partying friends. It wasn’t long before he found himself doing things he never thought he would do, just to fit in. “I was dead set on finding a way to make me happy without God,” Caleb explains.

Drugs, partying, and sex became a part of his everyday life. When he was 17, Sara, his girlfriend at the time, gave birth to their son. After quarrelling over what to do about the baby, they decided that they would give him away to adoption. This eventually led to them breaking up. Depressed, Caleb sought solace in even more drugs, alcohol, and other women. On the outside, it looked like he was having a good time. But on the inside, all he felt was emptiness.

 

Photo by Xempt

 

Called by God

One particular day, a friend invited Caleb to a Christian conference that featured hip hop dancing. Figuring he would have a bit of fun with his friends, he agreed—even arriving at the venue stoned. Despite his blasé attitude towards God at the time, Caleb was immediately struck by God’s presence at the event. Over three days, he found himself responding to one altar call after another and unloading his burdens to Jesus. “All the pain and shame I’d held onto for so many years began to fall off.”

After experiencing the truth of Christ’s love, Caleb decided to dedicate his life—and his music—to God. That started a time of transformation, redemption, and restoration. Four years later, Caleb was reunited with Sara, his former girlfriend. They married and had two more children together. “God is using our story to glorify His name,” he proudly proclaims.

As God continued to turn his life around, Caleb began to see the truth of Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

But it wasn’t just a new identity that God gave Caleb: He also gave the hip hop artist a new name.

 

The Birth of Xempt

After God transformed him and Caleb began to use his music to honor God, he continued with his stage name, Tu K. However, he felt that the name carried a lot of baggage from his past life, which he had spent chasing after the pleasures of the world. “In all those bad things I was doing, people knew me as Tu K,” he says.

A memorable encounter changed all that. While he and Sara were choosing a name for their newborn daughter—whom they eventually named “Mercy”—Caleb felt convicted about the importance and power behind a name. Around the same time, he was also reading about incidences in the Bible when God had changed a person’s name to speak life and identity into their lives. “God spoke to me and said ‘Caleb, you have died to yourself and resurrected with me. I want to give you a new name. You have been exempted from your past and your past no longer affects you.’”

And so the name “Xempt” was born.

To Caleb, it is much more than a stage name: he sees it as an effective way to share his life story and identity in Christ. “A lot of people out there in the hip hop scene have been down the same roads that I have been,” Caleb says. “When somebody comes up to me and asks, ‘Oh, what’s your name?’, I can say ‘Yo, this is why my name is Xempt: because I’ve been exempted from my past’.”

 

Photo by Xempt

 

Me vs Me

Some four years after he changed his name, Xempt released his debut album Me vs Me in November 2017, which opened at #12 on the Canadian iTunes charts. The title was inspired by Romans 7:19, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”

“If you listen through the songs (on the album), it’s a reflection of where I was and where God has brought me,” Caleb explains. From the recounting of his childhood in the opening track “Psalm 6” and the reality of spiritual warfare in “Shadows” to “Jehovah Jireh”, a song of praise that glorifies God’s work in his life, the album is filled with meaningful lyrics centering on the hope found in Jesus, solid beats, and moving melodies.

The album has a simple but powerful key message: “No matter where you may find yourself, whether you feel like the closest thing to God or the furthest thing from God, it doesn’t change the fact that He isn’t finished with you yet.”

That message is expressed especially in “Good Enough”, one of the most popular songs in the album. It was a deep, personal expression of Caleb’s journey back to God which almost was not included in the album. One of the lines in the song recounts the time he found himself sitting in the front row in a church service, feeling completely worthless. “It was a song I wrote out of a cry from my heart that I wasn’t good enough,” he says. “I found myself in a place where people would laugh at me and be like, ‘That’s not who you really are. You’re not a Christian.’ They would speak down to me and tell me what they thought I was—an addict.”

Listen to the song, however, and you’ll walk away with the overwhelming message of God’s grace and Jesus’ love. In a verse from the song, Xempt raps:

“For the seeds that I’ve sown don’t match the grace that He’s shown,
Now my mind is blown. No, I can’t comprehend.
Is it all pretend? His Son, did He really send?
Can He really be my Father, and my King, yet my Friend?”

Asked what he would say to anyone on the same journey, Caleb chokes up with emotion. With tears welling in his eyes, he proclaims: “Man, there’s hope. There’s hope and it’s found in Jesus Christ. To anyone who doesn’t know they’re worth, I just want to remind you that Jesus, the Son of God, came to die for you. No matter what situation you find yourself in, there is hope and there is a reason to live.”

 

 Me vs Me by Xempt is available now. For more info, check out xemptmusic.ca.

Hannah Yeoh: Becoming Malaysia’s First Woman Speaker

Written By Janice Tai, Singapore

Despite being the minority as a Christian Chinese female in Malaysia, Hannah Yeoh became the country’s first female speaker in a state parliament—and its youngest—at the age of 34 in 2013.

 

To date, Hannah has seen the faithful hand of God guiding her through a decade in politics as a representative for the town of Subang Jaya and five years as the speaker of Selangor State Legislative Assembly.

The former lawyer’s unlikely foray into politics started with a dramatic love story.

During a supper with a pastor friend in January 2007, he dropped a bombshell prophecy on her: You will get a marriage proposal in June.

“It seemed quite far-fetched then, as I was single and not seeing anyone. Even up till May, there was still no romantic prospect in sight,” Hannah tells YMI.

She continued to go about her daily life, helping her father and friends with his event management business and serving God in church. By then, she had stopped practising as a lawyer.

In June, Hannah, who was then serving in her church’s ministry for new believers, preached from the pulpit for the first time. Unbeknown to her, fellow church member Ramachandran Muniandy, an IT engineer, was sitting among the congregation and listening with rapt attention.

She had caught his eye, as God had been giving him visions in the last few months of his future wife preaching in church.

Ramachandran and Hannah were already friends at the time, but from then on, he saw her in a different light. He told her to pray about the next stage in her life. That same month, he proposed to her and she accepted the proposal 10 days later after praying about it. The prophecy was fulfilled. But God had even greater plans for the couple.

Hannah was then co-leading a cell group with a former schoolmate, Edward Ling. He had a keen interest in politics and believed in its role in effecting change.

Hannah, in contrast, had neither inclination for nor knowledge of politics. She was not even a registered voter. But she wanted to give him her support, so she joined the Democratic Action Party (DAP), an opposition party, with Edward.

In the meantime, God had spoken to Hannah and her fiancé and told them to get married in January. They did not understand what the rush was for, but obeyed Him and tied the knot on January 5, 2008.

 

Becoming Malaysia’s first female speaker

The reason for a contracted dating and marriage timeline soon became clear. Elections were called a month later and the DAP chose Hannah to contest the Subang Jaya state seat. They believed she would appeal to the young, middle-class professionals there. Edward became Hannah’s campaign manager.

“I had no political ambitions so it came as a surprise. But God provided me with a husband who prayed with me about it and supported me even though I felt ill-equipped to speak at rallies during the campaigning period,” says Hannah.

Hannah needed as much support as she could get. She was up against a seasoned female politician. During the campaign period, her opponent distributed a booklet containing a long description of her political experience; all Hannah had was a leaflet with her passport photo printed on it.

Many mocked her for being young and inexperienced but Hannah persevered and leveraged on her youth. She even came up with a tagline that said, “Yes, I have no experience, I have no experience in corruption!” At rallies, she also brought in young people to share their ideas and vision for the country.

Though she could cough up only RM700 (about US$170) from her savings for the election campaign, her supporters and friends raised more than RM100,000 to support her campaign. She won the seat with a majority vote of 71 percent in 2008; she was only 29 then. Hannah was re-elected in 2013 and also sworn in as speaker—out of the 56 state assemblymen in the state assembly—to preside over the proceedings of the House that year. 

 While elated and grateful for the honor, the ex-lawyer nevertheless found the post-election road a lonely one. Young people her age were free to hang out with friends after work, but her weekends were taken up by community events and other obligations.

“God led me on this path and I obeyed, but I also felt discouraged because I felt far away from my own dream to be a preacher,” she recalls.

Press Conference on introduction of Opposition Time in the Selangor State Legislative Assembly

Pressing on in Politics

However, Hannah persevered because she believed God had given her a larger platform to fight for honesty and integrity in Malaysia. Her party’s battle against corruption and race-based policies also resonated with her.

In the last five years, Hannah has pushed for more checks and balances in the political system by strengthening the role of the opposition in her state, though her party is the governing party there. For example, she introduced “Opposition Time” for the Opposition Leader to speak in the State Legislative Assembly before each adjournment of the House. She also saw through changes requiring the Opposition Leader to chair the Public Accounts Committee inspecting the state government’s spending.

In Malaysia, race, religion and politics are often intertwined. But Hannah, while a Christian, sought to institute fairness in land allocation matters. During her term, she successfully fought for land for places of worship for other faiths, representing the different stakeholders in her constituency who entrusted her with the mandate to be their spokesman.

At the same time, she remained passionate and vocal about her own faith. Three years ago, she launched her biography, Becoming Hannah, which traced the hand of God in her life.

Her detractors, however, used her book to play up religious sensitivities. In May last year, a university lecturer lodged a police report accusing Hannah of attempting to “coax, influence and instigate” people to convert to Christianity through her book. It came right after a well-known Christian politician in Indonesia, Jakarta’s former governor Ahok, was sentenced to two years in prison over comments about the Quran.

Hannah was questioned but no charges have been pressed so far. “My opponents usually attack me by playing the religion card, especially in the online space. I have learned to respond by setting the record straight on false allegations immediately and by keeping my hands clean so that they don’t have anything to use against me,” she says.

While numerous duties such as overseeing committees and hosting diplomatic visits as a speaker fill her days, Hannah still manages to run a home. She and her husband—now a pastor—take turns to pray with their two daughters, aged four and six, before putting them to bed every night.

Ask her if she intends to stay in politics for the long haul, and her reply is: “One day at a time, one election at a time.” Her desire, she says, is to stay in politics not one day longer than what God intends. For now, at least, she has discerned that God still wants her to contest the next elections.

Her parting words for young people: Never lose hope in God’s plans and purpose for your life.

Hannah says: “People have told me that it is impossible to stay clean in Malaysian politics and that the system will swallow me. But Nehemiah sought to rebuild broken walls despite the desolation and ruin. No task is too great if one trusts and hopes in God.”

 

Speakers’ Conference 2017 held at Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia, May 2017

Propaganda: Music is an Outpouring of My Heart

Written By Callie Opper, USA

For American Christian hip hop and spoken word artist, Propaganda (or Prop), who is in his 30s, his rap music journey began way back in the neighborhood he grew up—a largely Mexican American neighborhood. At a young age, he realized he was different.

“I was this one black kid in a white neighborhood,” Prop says. “I felt like I didn’t belong, the wrong color, in the wrong neighborhood.” Besides the color of his skin, there was another reason that made Prop stick out: he loved to draw. This was unusual in a community where most boys found it more beneficial for their safety and well-being to dabble in gang life.

This feeling of not belonging eventually helped him to find his identity in God; his love for drawing subsequently spawned his love for hip hop, rap, and graffiti.

Today, Prop, whose real name is Jason Emmanuel Petty, is known and respected not just for his talent and creativity as an artist, but also for his deep love for God and others, and his passion for race and justice.

These passions are clearly seen in his four albums released through Humble Beast Records, a non-profit organization that describes itself as “a family of creatives, pastors, writers, theologians, and musicians who leverage their talents to see the Gospel go out into the community and transform lives”. Besides Prop, it is also home to other Christian artists like Beautiful Eulogy, Sho Baraka, Jackie Hill Perry and Alert312.

On June 30, Prop released his most recent album, Crooked, which is available for download.

Humble beginnings

“I became a Christian really through good youth ministry,” Prop tells YMI in an email interview. “Somewhere in middle school, via a combination of my parents’ conversion and impact from my youth leaders, I was able to see really great examples of real people having real-life change that made me start to believe.”

In high school, he was given the name of Propaganda by his cousin due to his love of visual arts, history, poetry, and evangelism. “I was so fascinated with the culture of hip-hop and its musical expression,” Prop says. “It sat in the same street of black music I grew up with—being narrative, emotional and uplifting.”

But ask Prop what made him decide to venture into “gospel rap” and he quickly says that he doesn’t think there needs to be a distinction between hip hop and Christian hip hop. “I made no conscious effort to make ‘Gospel Rap’ because as far as I was concerned, there was no such thing,” Prop says. “All rappers had a worldview, I just rapped what I knew and believed.”

In 2002, he was discovered by an underground hip-hop collective and has been going strong ever since. In 2011, Prop signed with Humble Beast Record Label; he is described as a poet, rapper, artist and political activist. Prop released Art Ambidextrous in 2011, Excellent a year later, Crimson Cord in 2014.

As his journey as a rapper began, Prop made sure that he did not rap for the acceptance of others; he never felt the need to respond to those who had harsh opinions about the rap industry. Instead, he rapped simply because it was an outpouring of his heart.

Interestingly, he shares that his biggest critics are not non-believers but believers. “Most backlash I get is from other Christians—mostly very conservative Christian would say I’m too preoccupied with race and justice. My heart actually breaks for those that can’t see that both are Gospel issues,” he says.

Hopes for his latest album

 On his recently released album, Prop says, “Crooked is about all of us.”

“The record is about a crooked person, with crooked desires, inside a crooked system, hoping for the day the crooked is made straight.”

In it, Prop weaves together his own personal struggle over the past few years with all the idols Christians and non-Christians experience daily. He is honest about his own failings, revealing that he struggles with the same challenges other Christians face. “Pride, lust, comparison, self-righteousness. I can’t say I’ve overcome them. I’m constantly confessing my weakness and dependency.

The songs on Crooked tell the story of the world we live in, the people we truly are, and how much grace God freely gives us. Prop raps about issues that many young Christians face today while living in a crooked world.

Prop hopes everyone can relate to his album. In one of his songs, Olympian, he illustrates the heartbreaking realities of this life—that hard things will happen in this crooked world, but we have a perfect God who is constantly perfecting our purpose. Through his lyrics, he urges listeners to not lose heart while fighting against injustice, fighting for peace, and standing up for Jesus.

For Prop, rapping is so much more than just a creative expression. His overall goal is to preach the gospel and remind Christians that we are all image bearers of Christ. “I make music out of an outpouring of my heart. And evangelism is again a part of my life.”

 

Click here to download Prop’s latest album Crooked.