by Rev Miak Siew
In the middle of the forest lay a fallen redwood tree – it stood tall in its day – as tall as a 30-storey building, a giant above the rest. It lay on the forest floor now.
We gather at wakes to share stories. Stories of life, stories of love, stories of the person who left us. Rev Yap Kim Hao lived a full life – I would say many full lives – I wonder if he had more than 24 hours in a day. He was scholar, teacher, pastor, activist, visionary, peacemaker, justice-seeker, comrade, father, grandfather, great-grandfather mentor, friend, spouse. He had left a huge legacy – and he has touched so many lives – both the people he had met, and those he had not met. Some of you are here to pay your last respects because he had touched your life even though you have not met him in person.
To me, he was an exemplary teacher of the Christian faith. He did not just talk the talk. He walked the walk. He would not balk at interacting with people who may bring him disrepute – reputation was not his main concern. Justice was.
Rev Yap wasn’t just a mentor, teacher, pastor – he was a prophet. And like the prophets, he said and did things to challenge the status quo, seeking justice and righteousness. His favourite verse from Amos 5:24 “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” is the end of a lament of the Prophet Amos, an indictment of the state of things then. Rev Yap pointed out issues of the day that we all need to pay attention to – providing affordable HIV medication to all people, promoting safe sex, human rights issues, inclusivity, interfaith dialogue…
Like Jesus, he associated with those on the margins, the oppressed, the minorities – those society often considered the undesirables. He listened. He cared. I will always remember that occasion when we hosted a talk with Transgender people, when we met first met June Chua, a former transgender sex worker. June came up to me, and asked in a rapid fire way so characteristic of June, “A pastor from a church said I will go to hell. What do you say?” I was taken aback. I just arrived, and I wasn’t prepared for this. I was barely a year or so into my ministry. My mind started racing through how to reply – I would have to talk about Rahab, Tamar and how the Bible is not of one voice about sex work, how Tamar was an ancestor of Jesus – I was basically formulating an essay in my head. Just then Rev Yap arrived, and June turned to him and asked him the same question. He tilted his head in a manner many of you would be familiar with, gave a sly smile and replied in the most pastoral way in his deep resonating voice with a little chuckle – “Where you go, I will go.”
As I reflected on it again, it was an amazing reply. No pastoral care or theology class thought me so succinctly how radical God’s love is. He could simply say, “You will go to heaven.” But instead he linked his salvation with her salvation – he staked his own salvation with one who is marginalised.
In that moment I saw Christ. In his short, succinct reply was the heart of the Gospel – a God who is more concerned about people, and less concerned about the rules, the formalities, the rituals.
Rev Yap later helped June to do her Diploma in social service studies at the Social Service Institute. June was one of the top-scorers in her course. In 2016, she was awarded the Aware Award for Gender Equality and Justice.
He has impacted people all across the globe:
Rev Father Joseph Goh wrote:
Dear Bishop Yap, thank you for all that you have done for the LGBTIQ and PLHIV communities. I have been so inspired by your sense of God as divine creativity and unconditional acceptance, your amazing sense of inclusivity, and your celebration of diversity. Your scholarship as an Asian theologian in Singapore is not only academically rigorous, but pastorally efficacious. Please know that you have touched my life on so many levels, and I hope to carry on your legacy of upholding human rights in my own little humble way in Malaysia. Until we meet again in the intricate interweavings of eternal creativity, Joseph Goh.
Many folks from FCC have shared their experiences meeting Rev Yap.
Ezekiel shared that when he first came to Free Community Church about 8 years ago, he met Rev Yap and asked him a question, “What about these verses in the Bible regarding homosexuality?” In which he replied simply, “Forget the Bible.”
Ezekiel wrote: What Rev Yap, truly meant was, for me to reconcile my faith and sexuality first and then deal with those verses in the Bible separately. Because of him I was able to have a sense of direction with regards to my spiritual journey in my church.
Darryl shared this:
“I still remember the first time I met Rev Yap. I don’t remember what we discussed that evening exactly, but what is etched in my mind is the feeling I went home with that day. It was the first time a bona fide man of the cloth had irrevocably said, “You are loved and accepted by God as you are” I never had a habit of keeping a journal, but this is what I wrote down in a notebook when I got home:
“Today I met a very wise man. Although he did not give me the answers I was looking for, I think today I can finally lay the issue to rest. Today marks the end of my battle with myself. I have shattered my personal hell, and by no means will I ever return to it again. Today marks the beginning of the rest of my journey in Christ.”
Another member of FCC shared this:
When I stepped into FCC last year, Rev Yap got to know of my professional training and told me that we needed to provide professional help to people who struggle in the community because supportive listening is not enough. Shortly after, he said we needed to address the misuse of research articles to misrepresent and justify abuse against the community. And again earlier this year, he told me that I should go volunteer at another VWO because they were in need of therapists.
His passion for the people and his heart to make things better for the community came through each time. When I saw him coming, I knew that he had thought of an avenue where he believed I could make a difference. He challenged everyone to stretch beyond what they are currently doing… to go further.
In a way, Rev Yap propelled me along in my spiritual journey to be more connected and to experience the scripture that we are blessed and equipped so that we can be channels to bless and equip the church that our Lord loves and that He willingly suffered and gave His life for our everlasting reconciliation.
I continue to marvel at the sacrifice that Rev Yap had made for a community that he wasn’t originally part of. May the Lord grant us all the wisdom to know who and how, and favour for opened doors to exercise our blessed privilege to intercede and better the lives of others, to continue the work Rev Yap seeded.
Rev Yap and I seem to have an affinity. Despite just knowing him for three years, he called me to pursue a Master of Divinity degree abroad in one of USA’s most inclusive and prestigious schools – Claremont School Of Theology. Maybe he saw something in me. We seemed to agree a lot about our perceptions of God, Faith and life. However, sometimes I had trouble, despite being as liberal as I am, with also understanding what Rev Yap meant. Nonetheless, we would always have great conversations over lunch after church. Many would find him intimidating to talk to. I found him to not only affirm my beliefs but to have a prophetic voice.
He was like a mentor on my journey in life and left me with this piece of wisdom before I left for the U.S. when I met him at his home. He said: “Ollie, faith is changing, people’s perceptions of God are rapidly changing. Church to us will not be the same as church to them in the future. You need to go beyond the boundaries, beyond the denominations, the dogma and creeds. Transcend religion itself. Don’t care about the titles, the ceremony, serve everyone. There will always be lost sheep, people who find that mainstream church isn’t working for them but are still in need of spiritual nourishment. Go find them, they too need a home.”
I struggled with that concept, but maybe it’s my evangelical Christian schooling. But I finally understood what he meant. He wanted us as human beings to be free, free from structure and the unequal powers which held is down from reaching the fullest potential. He wanted us to see the incarnation of the divine within us, just like how Christ did. His was a theology of empowerment and liberation, a clear reflection of the work he had been doing all his life with communities of the margins – LGBT people, migrant workers, those living with HIV and the interfaith community.
Thank you so much for your belief in me Rev Yap, I will continue your work in empowerment and liberation. I’ll go find them and like you did in your life, help them find a home too. Tell you more about what I did when we meet again. God speed.
When a giant redwood falls, it begins a critical phase in the forest ecosystem. A fallen tree often acts as a nurse log, supporting growth on the forest floor and opening pockets of sunlight to give less hearty plants the sunlight they need. The death of one life form paves the way for the sustenance of countless other plants and animals in the ecosystem.
I had always been uncomfortable with Rev Yap telling people I am the hope for the LGBT community. I know he had always been lifting me up, and allowing me to stand upon his shoulders and his legacy to do the work needed to be done.
When God was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah asked Elisha, ““Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”
Today, I ask not for a double share of Rev Yap’s spirit – I ask for all of us to inherit a share of his spirit so that we will take up his mantle to do the work. I ask that we do not wish for another giant, but wake up to our call and responsibility to participate in liberation, justice and peacemaking. May justice and righteousness seep through the cracks like water to the places desperately needing them – may these waters seep deep into our hearts.
There are fewer and fewer giants living amongst us today and we – all of us – have to take on the task to labour till like Rev Yap, we earn our rest.
This eulogy was delivered at the funeral of Rev Yap Kim Hao and reproduced with permission.