James Teo, a long-time friend of the DNA and director of Aglow Aesthetics, describes his “second awakening” during his journey as a Christian.
In 1999, I encountered a crisis of a different nature. I was a lay leader in a local church and doing well in my career, but I slowly began to become disillusioned with what I saw within the church. I started to realize that while on the surface we seemed to be doing well as Christians, we seemed to be having no real change in the way we lived our lives, and we made no impact on the lives of people around us. The subject matter of our conversations started to make our Christian fellowship meetings feel like just another country-club gathering. I struggled to reconcile the disparity between the things we professed to dedicate to as Christians, and the things that preoccupied our hearts and our lives. I thought to myself, “If what the Bible says is true, surely there’s something to this Christian life I must be missing out on!”
I soon had the opportunity to do something different. In 2000, in response to the earthquake in Turkey, Singaporean churches organized a movement called Love Turkey, creating a video to promote the movement. After watching this video, I was inspired to explore relief work to find a deeper meaning in life, to live out my Christian faith in a real way.
I went to search for such opportunities and was led to Crest, an organization based in Malaysia. After expressing my interest to get involved, I soon found myself involved in humanitarian projects all around the world–in the wake of disasters in places like Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. I started to find some meaning in what I was doing; in this organization, I was starting to see some ways I could make real and tangible contributions to people’s lives.
This wasn’t to last long.
I eventually became a project director for Crest and was tasked to build a school and other facilities for the villages that needed them. However, I soon discovered that these projects were not able to benefit the people in the way I had hoped to and, in some instances, even did more harm than good. I began to get disillusioned with the work and entertained doubts about the effectiveness of our work.
I was ripe for my second awakening as a Christian.
Sometime later, a friend recommended to me a book titled Discipling Nations by Darrow Miller. As I read it, I realized that I had unconsciously held on to a dualistic worldview with a dichotomy between spiritual and secular! I had created within me a separation between what I considered to be my spiritual walk and my life in the ‘real world.’ I became aware that most of the people I knew were also caught in the same trap!
Eventually, I felt compelled enough to contact the author of the book to meet him personally. What I took away from that one meeting changed my life forever.
My key takeaway was the realization that the all-important question is how we view the world because how we live our life is based on the worldview to which we subscribe. Darrow taught me that all worldviews can be found along a continuum with animism and secularism at the two ends and theism midway.
In animism, the real world is irrational and mysterious, rooted in the spiritual. Secularism–or atheistic materialism–preaches that the physical world as we see it is all there is to life. Theism places God as the creator of the world with its spiritual and physical dimensions and the definer of absolute morals.
Darrow asserted that millions of Christians operate from a worldview that divides the spiritual realm from the physical. Rather than actively living out the Christian faith in our daily lives, many of us conform to the behavior pattern of this world with its secular philosophy yet claim to have received Christ as our Saviour. That really spoke to me as I had thought that with the right belief system, I would be alright, but I had to admit that I seemed to waver between two worldviews–animistic and secular–while holding on to my Christian faith.
Like Darrow said, I seemed to have brought my past mindsets along with me when I became a Christian and had unknowingly continued to live my life dictated by past values.
It finally dawned on me that transformation in communities hinges on changing the prevalent worldview to the biblical worldview.
In communities ruled by animistic beliefs, people’s minds are controlled by thoughts like “I’m meant to be poor;” “Work is a curse;” “I’m looking forward to going to heaven as this life is so tough.” God is absent from such frames of mind, and He cannot work in the atmosphere of unbelief or wrong beliefs.
Singapore is a great example. We do not have any natural resources; we even have to buy water from Malaysia. When we were separated from Malaysia in 1965, Malaysian politicians believed that because we did not have any natural resources, we would be poor and would eventually crawl back to them for help. Through sheer hard work and determination to keep Singapore a country that values equality, meritocracy, honesty and justice, we have transformed from third world to first world in just one generation.
The key to transformation of communities lies in embracing the biblical worldview in its totality. While the Church has mainly focused on saving souls and missions, it is equally important to fulfill God’s commission to man to “be fruitful, multiply and subdue the earth.”
But most Christians live a dichotomized life. We value spiritual activities such as prayer, worship, Bible-study group, etc. more than our daily work and activities. We place less emphasis on areas like arts, communications, politics, business, etc. Because of this belief, we have lost the impact to lead and influence these areas and so allow the cultures of the world to influence our Christian values.
We need to change our mindset and take control of these areas, valuing them just as much as our spiritual activities. Thankfully, more and more Christian leaders in Singapore have been awakening to this dichotomized belief the past few years; we are gaining some momentum here in helping people understand and develop a biblical worldview. There also is a growing number of churches and organizations now getting more excited about shaping the cultures of this nation and beyond.
I realized that the key to creating the community and country-wide impact I had dreamed about could not be found in financial aid or philanthropy as I had assumed. The key to transforming lives, culture and nations is truth itself! It is not material resources that can truly help people but the truth in God’s Word that will set them free.
This awakening led to a long process of integrating what I profess to believe as a Christian into every facet of my life, a process that has taken several years. It also led me to align my business to the two greatest commandments: loving God and loving my neighbours.
Our business goal now is to help develop our staff potential so they can serve our customers more effectively. We take responsibility to disciple our staff by sharing principles of truth whenever we can.
I now live with a great sense of freedom from the change in mindset that I have made. And I am convinced that the people of God must be actively engaged in our countries. I desire to see more people actively engaged and challenged in changing our homes, our nation and our country for God’s glory. What motivates me is a strong desire to live my life truthfully just as God has commanded us all to do in the Bible: to love God, and to truly love my neighbours as myself.