When was the last time you see people dwelling in tent in Singapore? At times, you may see some along East Coast Park or Pasir Ris Park. I am not referring to the sort of overnight park campers over the weekend or the eve of a public holidays. There are some who do not have homes, or homes to go to, and thus having to use the parks as their shelter.
Such scenes are by far not many. But in recent years, I have seen “tent dwellers” in neighbouring cities like Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam. Most of them are housing not just one or two persons, but an entire family. Some are located next to rubbish slums. And others located next to filthy rivers. And I was told that these folks will have to move from location to location, whenever their localities are required for development.
Is tent dwelling foreign in our Christian circle? Absolutely not! Home for the Bedouin in the Middle Eastern culture is a tent on poles, secured only by ropes and a handful of stakes. And a good tent with frequent patching, might last from fifteen to twenty years. The transient life of the Bedouins is like a “tent-pole on a camel” as they move from places to places.
The Bible mentioned many times about the patriarch, Abraham. He too was a tent dweller. Heb 11: 9 “By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob…”. Abraham was a temporary resident, sojourning in this world. Our God was a “tent dweller” too. In 2 Sam 7:5, when King David expressed his desire to build a permanent temple befitting his Lord’s honor, the response was: “I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the sons of Israel from Egypt, even to this day; but I have been moving about in a tent, even in a tabernacle”. God had constantly sent reminders that stationary permanence was not the divine ideal. This was important for the people of the Israelite community, as it will one day discover that God could dwell among them again in the wilderness of exile, when there was no physical temple.
Many of the biblical saints mentioned in Heb 11, did not receive the promises they were assured during their lifetimes. A key example will be Abraham and many others also (Heb 11:13). They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground (Hen 11:37-38). These faithful pilgrims look forward to their truly permanent home, “the city with foundations, who architect and builder is God (Hen 11:10).
Is the identity of “tent dwelling, tent dwellers” relevant to us today? A resounding yes, if I may add. We need to know personally that our true home is in heaven and that this earth is simply a place where we promote God’s interests. As we do our local church’s ministries, and make plans year after year, we can easily forget how transient our lives and ministries really are. We run the risk of forgetting that we are “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”. While we need to plan our ministry and have specific goals for the Lord, the ultimate goal is to get them all home.
As a leadership and as a local church, we will fail if we are not leading our people collectively towards a sense of this world’s transience and heaven’s permanence. As the song goes, “the world is not our own, we are only passing through”, let’s head for the tent of God where we will dwell forever.
May this AGM mark not just another annual occasion for ministries’ reporting, but we ourselves, asking the Lord, what each of us, can do for the local church ministries (praying and responding with a FAT heart!)
Elder Andrew Lim