1,000 voices concert

July 15 has been marked on the brain calendar since February as a “big day”, and sure enough, it was.

Malaysia is a Muslim country, officially designated so, and while being more open than most other Muslim countries, is still antagonistic to other faiths.  While i’ve been here, i’ve read in the newspapers about a woman who married a Muslim man, so changed to Islam (easily!), but after her husband’s death decided to switch back to Christianity.  No go.  Everyone here has an identity card, and on it is the religion of the holder.  Also, anyone born here of the Malay race is automatically registered as Muslim when they are born, and it is next to impossible to officially change that status.  All Christian material must have the phrase “For non-Muslims only” printed on it.

But the two Borneo island states of Sarawak and Sabah have a little bit of autonomy, and being non-Malay, the majority of the population is not Muslim.  This concert was planned in the city of Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah, being either the biggest or 2nd biggest metropolitan area on the whole island, with perhaps close to 1,000,000 residents.  The approval process dragged on, and many times the church members gathered together to fast and pray for govt. approval.  They decided if it was not approved by May 9, that they would call it all off.

As the Lord usually does, he works most signally in our extremities, and he moved upon the govt. officials to give their approval on May 8, just one day before the organizers’ deadline.  Thank you Jesus!  Now the race was on to coordinate all the singers and everything. 

I came to Sabah the next weekend, and listened in at the large Likas church to the first practice session after official approval.  Within a minute i was forced outside by the pounding rock beat, and head-banging noise.  While sitting outside reading, people would come up one after another, and after the usual “you’re from where?”, something would be said about the loud noises emanating from inside.  Quickly i realized that i wasn’t the only one concerned that this style of music would not allow the angels of God to join in with us at the concert.

The following week i wrote a email expressing our concerns about the music.  Like most places, i expected it to just get brushed off.  But several weeks later i found out that email got forwarded and read by several people, and whether it had any impact or not, i do not know, the practice i heard about one month later sounded much nicer.

The organizers were expecting up to 25,000 in attendance, and a couple of us considered this a wonderful opportunity to present our Seventh-day Adventist truth thru publications to an audience who had probably never heard them before.  We originally hoped to have a new health book printed and ready for sale, along with some pamphlets on health or something to give away.  We already had 2 books – The Great Controversy (1858 edition) in English and Malay, and God’s Promises for the Last Days in Malay – ready for sale.

The days passed by, and maybe it was the wonderful atmosphere in Sabah, or being treated nicely by everyone, but the first couple of weeks were mostly spent recovering from the hard road life of recent trips.  Getting information on exactly what was legal and not proved to be quite a task too.

With around two weeks left before the concert, and realizing that while the new health book was mostly compiled, the editing would not get finished in time for printing, i decided to focus on printing an Adventist calendar, and health pamphlets in Malay and English.  There are over 25,000 SDAs in Sabah, and probably 3/4 of them are with a 4 hour drive of Kota Kinabalu.  So if each member only sold 2 tickets, the stadium would be full.  Keeping this in mind, by God’s grace, i was able to make and get 2,000 calendars, and 1,500 each of the pamphlets printed for a total cost of 2,300myr.

With a few days to go before the concert, i get the final decision that while Christian material can be sold at the concert, there can be no give-aways.  What to do…… The idea with the pamphlets of course was to spread them “like the leaves of autumn”.  I consider how to sell them, how to, in whatever way possible, get them into the people’s hands.  Somehow God gives me an idea to include one free with a purchase of something else.  To make it easy for the purchaser, it is good to put an even price on things, and 1ringgit is the magic price.  So i decide to give away one pamphlet with each calendar or book sold. 

The Sabbath one week before the concert where i gave the sermon, i asked the people how many had read the whole Bible.  None.  That gave me an idea to look at what my Vietnamese pastor friend had given me – a sheet with all the Bible books and chapters printed, and when one chapter is read, you mark it off.  That way if you get bored in Deuteronomy, you can go jump off to Psalms or Luke for awhile, and then read here and there to keep the interest up until all the chapters have a check mark on them, telling you that you have actually read all of the Bible.  So a church member helped me with the physical cutting and pasting as i couldn’t see how to print 2 pages landscape style onto one sheet of paper in Excel, and i had 200 copies made.

The final rehearsal preparations started on Thursday, the 12th, at the SDA Likas church.  Upon arriving, i notice that no one is selling anything, so take command of the large table in the entrance foyer.  Young people naturally gravitate towards me, and soon i’m surrounded by boisterous boys 🙂  Everyone here is SDA, and there is good interest shown in the books.  Praise God that many of them already have their own copy.

I’m feeling the need for something new to attract the people’s attention, and pray that the printer can deliver the new pamphlets and calendars on Friday morning, as i had requested on Monday, when spending time with the graphic designer to layout these pamphlets.  But no promise was made then on deliver, except that it would be Friday.

The Golden Angels from Korea, and the Ambassadors from the Philippines arrived, and being told that the rehearsal on Friday morning would be at Likas stadium, i was waiting for them, and the crowd of local singers, at the stadium.  But the sun kept getting higher and higher, and the parking lot was not filling up at all.  hmmmm.  Finally around 10am a man i know came with some singers, and told me that the rehearsal would be in the church (a 10-minute walk away).  After explaining 3 times that i got this 1858gc book translated and printed in Korean 4 years ago to one of the Koreans, and having him declare as many times that this book has not been translated and printed into the Korean language, we make our way over to the church.  I’m the last one here it seems, as all the tables are taken.  I snag two chairs and set up shop.

Around back of the church there is a motley crew of mobile food vendors.  Most of them have your assorted sandwiches and snacks and sugary drinks, but one really catches my eye: “J.C. Burger”.  Thinking they are SDA, i go over to them and talk a bit about how we need to give up meat.  Then i go around looking for organisers, trying to connect with the person in charge of food.  Speaking to around 5 people, the best reaction was from the pastor, who agreed that it was not good, and that he would take it up at the committee meeting at 2:30.  Everyone else was totally silent when i told them that someone out back of the church was selling hamburgers, and even unclean meat (prawns).  It saddened me to think that people (HHES) were selling books at the front of the church to make the people healthy, and at the back, people were selling food to exactly counteract that.  The story of how Dr. Kellogg bot the entire lot of cheese from someone at a SDA campmeeting and threw it away crossed my mind too…  But gladly, when passing by that shop in the afternoon, i noticed the “prawns” sign was removed.  Maybe they were sold out?!

A teenage boy and girl help me sell, and i thank God that he supplies friendly, interested young people to cheer me.  I consider leaving all the sales to them, as in 5 minutes of walking around, they manage to sell 4 books, almost half of all sales this day!

The calendars and pamphlets were eventually delivered Friday afternoon the 13th, around 5pm after everyone had gone home to prepare for the Friday evening service.  It was a shame it was so late, but cannot be helped now.  Just glad to make sure to get them before the main event on Sunday!

Friday evening service sees a packed church – nice!  The speaker is the choir director from Korea, a Pastor Joshua-san.  Not nice.  The sermon was one of the worst i’ve heard in quite a while, with the basic message of “when you give your all to God, he will give you a beautiful wife, and make everything you do a success (worldly success).  The first time he cried, i thot he meant it.  His style is very similar to what i saw in America four years ago at a large church where the pastor had the people laughing, crying, and feeling good that they were being spiritually fine.  Exactly what the people have come to want and expect after being fed a diet of movies.  At the end of the service they had a pledge call, as the heavy expenses of the concert were not being met by ticket sales.
The day of the concert arrives with beautiful weather.  Thank you Lord.  We go to a village market early in the morning to set up tables and chairs for a SDA couple that does health screenings.  Then we pick up some kids from the school who will be singing, and we’re off to the stadium where we arrive just before 10, with many people already assembled.  We have purchased a booth, and with help from a very willing member, we have a table also 🙂  Actually our booth is near the rear entrance, but that is next to useless for us, so we set up the table off to the side from the entrance.

Within an hour, an organising official comes up to me.  “ut-oh”.  I smile, and he smiles back, asking me why i don’t move up next to the official program table so “more people can see you”.  Gladly sir!  Very gladly 🙂  The same 4 books as at the church (“God’s Promises….” in hard and soft cover), along with the health pamphlets, Bible check list, and Adventist calendar are on the table.  Mostly young people come by, and most of them purchase a calendar and pick up a pamphlet.  It surprises me how many would like to just purchase a pamphlet.  When told they have to buy something, most of them look downcast, but brighten considerably when told that the calendar is only one ringgit.  Only 2 or 3 people who express an interest in the pamphlets wind up not purchasing anything.

Some people are very slow about catching on to the Adventist calendar, while others quickly grasp the meaning.  One girl looks really happy as she asks to purchase 10.  I give her a little discount, and her smile gets bigger 🙂  The ministerial director of the Mission comes by to give encouragement, and just then the rehearsers start streaming out for a lunch break.  I’m amazed and joyous that this leader is here helping me!  Thank you sir!  There are only 2 or 3 more “rushes” during the day, and helping out in the biggest, first one, is a great encouragement.

In the afternoon the table run by the lady who has put all this together for me, is put next to mine, and our variety of goods increases.  The virgin coconut oil is my specialty of sales on that table, as most of the other things are big books.  A couple of people are concerned about my lunch, but i’m plenty satisfied with my crackers brought from Bangkok 2 months earlier, along with some oranges and raisins.  Gotta keep selling!  I’m on a high, and am just so excited and happy to be here, doing exactly what i had envisioned months earlier.

Now to prepare for the evening rush when the gates would open and the concert-goers would rush in.  I take a sponge bath in the restroom, change shirts, and relieve the teenager who has watched my table.  Some friends come by, and we chat awhile, and i read the rest of “Publishing Ministry”.  There are some quotes in there about spreading pamphlets at large gatherings such as the St. Louis fair (1904).  Well, that’s where i’m at, trying to do that very thing. 

One of my friends says to me that it looks like this is the only table spreading our SDA truth.  Actually, it was for a few hours, but in the afternoon the HHES team sets up a table too.  Inwardly i question how much good we can do, if we don’t give the straight truth to people.  Sure, the Lord can impress hearts with music, but one time, and it is over, but the printed page is a constant, silent witness.  One young SDA on Friday told me that music is the best way to reach people, and when i replied that it was probably in the top three methods, he got a bit upset.  Finding out that he isn’t too interested in Ellen White, i understand how he got this thinking.

The evening rush never really materializes.  During the preliminaries i step in to look at the audience, and see the stadium is not even half full….  Soon one of the committe members comes up to me, and says he wants to talk with me in the committe director’s room.  ?????  I follow, and upon arriving, he shuts the door, and says we really need to pray, as it has started to drizzle.  Well, the previous day, the Mission President gave a powerful devotion about how we must all put away sin if we expect the Holy Spirit to come upon us and bless us at this concert.  That is exactly true, and when i heard that, i was convinced that the Lord would bless our efforts here.  He’s not going to let the clouds stop this effort to give praise to him.  We pray earnestly, and the man, after stepping onto the field, comes back with a big smile saying the rain has stopped.  Not surprising, but i give a big, silent “thank you Jesus” prayer.  I find out later that everyone in the stadium was praying, and that just after that, the dark clouds lifted, a beautiful orange sunset was seen, and many even saw a rainbow!  What an amazing God we serve, who even gives a sign of his promise of love to us!!!

Two really young boys – maybe 8 – 10 years old, come and help me out for around 45 minutes.  One of them is a natural-born salesman, even flexing the hard-back book and telling the people the price when they picked up the soft-backed one.  I give them each calendars for their services, and thank them profusely.  Two beaming boys go off into the nite with their fathers.

The concert ends, and i’m highly relieved that the heavy rock beat of the first practice session i heard, and was evident to a lesser extent even in Saturday nite’s rehearsal, is almost absent today 🙂  The Philippine singers are good representatives of our SDA music standards, while the Koreans’ style is very similar to Sunday church music groups.

Most, perhaps all, of the customers up until 5pm were Seventh-day Adventists.  Quite a few of them said that they already own either the 1858gc book, or the “God’s Promises…” one.  The reaction in general was very favorable.  No one remarked that the prices were too high, and some even expressed surprise at the low prices (10myr/book).  Not one of them was antagonistic. 

After 5pm i had a few interesting experiences.  One man who purchased our only Al Kitab (Bible), said he was “R.C.”.  Praise God that he sends even his children in the mother of harlots to get the straight truth.  One Indian-looking man talked about 5 minutes with me, and when he mentioned his friend “went to be with Jesus”, i could explain a little about the state of the dead.  He agreed a bit, but not a bit too.  One man (SDA) huffed when i could not give him the price of a book on the table that had been joined to mine.  He slunk off after i told him that i was keeping that table for a lady who was singing in the 1,000 voices choir out in the stadium.  One SDA pastor gave some advice on the calendar, and he too turned away a bit sheepishly after telling those around him that only half the calendar was necessary, and finally looking to where my finger was pointing (2008).  One man from the organising committee said he wanted a calendar, but when he came to look at it, he just gave his advice and walked away.  One man looked a while at the big Family Bible, then asked if there were more books.  When i showed him the 1858 Great Controversy book, he snorted “Ellen White”, and soon left.  The most challenging customer was a man who picked up the 1858gc book, and asked about it.  I started explaining how it was written by a prophet who saw these things from God.  It starts out with Satan in heaven before….  He cuts me off by saying that Satan is just something we create in our minds.  I keep smiling, and continue to just explain how the book progresses to Jesus coming here, the disciples, the Reformation, the times we are in today, the soon coming of Christ, and the end when God destroys Satan and remakes this world.  He tried to convince me of the “mind-made” Satan some more, but i told him that i believed that good angels and bad angels are all around us even as we speak.  He sort of agreed, talked about how he had been offered to study at Southern Adventist University in Tennessee, bot the book, and left.
What a day!  What a high, joyous day!  We did not leave the stadium until nearly 11:30, reaching home close to 1am.  We bow to give thanks to God for his rich blessings this day.  It has been a long time since i physically felt the presence of angels around me, but i sure did today, as i could not have done that work without their guidance and help. 

Thank you Lord for this rich opportunity to serve you, and now may the 400 or so pamphlets, 300 calendars, 150 books (50 English ones purchased by the ASI director!), etc. be preserved by your angels, and work on peoples’ hearts to lead them to join that group of people who have the testimony of Jesus, and are keeping all your commandments.

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