Friday, February 06, 2009

The Last Supper by Alvin Ung - Dedication for Markus Ng (1985-2009)

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Alvin Ung has the privilege to be the last person to say goodbye to Markus. Below is his account of it. This was shared at Markus's wake on 5th February 2009.
The Last Supper by Alvin Ung [6 February 2009]

To the family and friends of Markus,

I write this with the knowledge that many of you know Markus, and love him, with deep and tender affection.

Alas, I knew Markus all too fleetingly. I met Markus on only four occasions. In that short time, I've been struck by Markus’ deep love for the Lord Jesus Christ, his passionate love for our country, and the bond of friendships woven across racial and religious lines.

The reason why I am writing this is because I represent the Headstart group which Markus belongs to. Together – the twelve of us – we were among the last ones to bid farewell to Markus on Tuesday night. And I may have been the last person to wave goodbye to him. (Markus was called home on Wednesday morning).

Let me tell you more about the last supper with Markus.

On Tuesday evening, shortly after nine o'clock, Markus rang the doorbell of my apartment. He arrived late, somewhat breathless. He was here to join us for the first Headstart small group session. Headstart, as some of you know, comprises a small group of committed Christian young adults who have made a covenant to help one another grow in their discipleship with Jesus Christ in the workplace. Headstart is a ministry of the Graduates Christian Fellowship.

Markus arrived just in time to share with us the moments he felt most and least grateful over the past week. He had a crazy week at work, he said. Long hours. He lamented how he wasn’t able to spend Chinese New Year with the family. However, he expressed gratitude for the opportunity last Friday to enjoy a deep and heartfelt conversation with a few trusted friends. From that brief sharing, it was evident that Markus valued spiritual friendships that went beyond the superficial.

Like the rest of us, Markus had signed a group covenant. Together, we pledged that we would pray for one another. We would endeavor to be as open as we knew how in our sharing. We would listen to one another. We would encourage, support and trust one another. Then as a group, we stood up and waved aloft our signed agreement. Markus waved his, too. We congratulated each other. We gave one another fist bumps. We laughed.

Then came an awkward moment. As a group, we had to decide whether to permanently eject one of our Headstart members because she didn’t show up for the first meeting. When I posed the question on what we should do, the room fell silent. I scanned the room for faces. Most people avoided eye contact. Silence. But Markus had a smile on his face – a half-crooked smile, a broad smile that stretched from cheek to cheek. He spoke up first: "Why so serious? Just let her in lah." Markus' remarks released a chorus of agreement from everyone else.

It's always hard to be the first one to speak up, especially in a potential awkward situation. But Markus spoke up. Markus stood up for a voiceless person, someone who wasn’t there to speak up for herself. And he did it with class... and a smile. It was only later on that I learned that Markus had been standing up for the voiceless for many years. He spoke up against unjust laws. He spoke up for the poor and marginalized. In speaking, he gave the power for others to speak. Let us also speak up on behalf of the voiceless.

At about nine-thirty, that Tuesday night, I asked if everyone had read the two assigned chapters of reading – nearly 40 pages. The confident look in Markus' eyes told me he had. It was an almost challenging look: “C’mon, test me, I’ve read it.” He looked confident, not combative. He relished a challenge. It was only later on that I learned how busy he was over the past few weeks. Yet he found the time to read.

As the night passed, while the group discussion was going on, my wife and I cajoled Markus to eat something. We knew he'd missed dinner. We offered him snacks, Tim Tams, bread with bak kua. But he politely said no each time. "My mother has bought something for me to eat," he whispered. "I'll eat it after the meeting ends."

At about 10.15pm, our Headstart group of 12 people separated into three breakout sessions. Markus join my sub-group, together with two others, Ernest and Charis. Though all four of us had just gotten to know one another, we launched into a deep, earnest conversation about education, friendships, and church. Markus shared about his assumptions about relationships. We also invited one another to critique our assumptions about life. I shared about how, from young, I've seen education as a pathway to success. Markus immediately challenged me: "What's your definition of success? If you don't define success, you’ll soon be a lost soul. And you'll end up living a selfish life." Amen, brother, amen.

Later on, I asked for prayer requests. Markus cleared his throat. "I'm not sure whether I should share this or not.” He paused. I could hear an internal struggle. "Okay, I'll take the plunge. As the group covenant says, 'I will endeavor to be as open, as I know how, in sharing with the group.’” And so for 10 minutes, he shared from the heart. In his honesty, we could identify with his struggles, the adrenaline buzz, the oscillating emotions. But beyond the contents of his sharing, I remember being struck by two things. First, he could quote verbatim the line from our group covenant. He must have had an amazing memory. And secondly, he took the group seriously. He was willing to take the plunge. He was the first to build the bridge of trust. Markus, your legacy will live in our group.

And then we prayed. Once again, I recalled Markus starting us off, asking God for forgiveness for the assumptions we made about life. Markus asked for wisdom, for all of us, in developing the marker points in the process of discerning God’s will in our lives.

By the time prayer was over, it was 11.15pm. The Headstart session was officially over. But we were still standing around talking.

I was in the kitchen helping Markus warm up the food for his last supper: rice, curry vegetables and fried kembong.

"Whoa, that's a lot of rice!" I exclaimed.

"It's a lot, isn't it?" he said. He scooped back half the rice into the paper packet. I gave him a rubber band to secure the package.

While he stepped out of the kitchen (the group needed to fix our next meeting date), I warmed the rice in the microwave. Fifty seconds. When I brought out the plate of food, my wife Huey Fern asked: "You sure it's hot enough?" So I used my finger to poke the rice, and the fish (that's what I usually do with my own food; I’d forgotten that I was poking Markus' meal.) Markus saw me do it. He just smiled.

When he finished his meal, he disappeared into the kitchen to wash the plate, the fork and the spoon. I've always appreciated people who insist on washing the plates (saves me the work!). Most guests don’t offer; others offer to wash, but then they desist when my wife tells them they don’t have to. But Markus simply did it without announcing his intention. That gave me an indicator of his servant spirit.

By now it was 11.45pm. Markus had finished his last supper. One by one, the group members went home, leaving only the three of us – Markus, Huey Fern and I. Markus did not seem in a rush to leave. We talked about his work at UNICEF. He admitted to mixed feelings.

On one hand, he said his time at UNICEF had exposed him to how global organizations could be dysfunctional. He observed that organizations could obsess about internal matters and self-preservation rather than serving the people and children. He looked forward to joining a new company in March, where he’d be reading and researching on matters related to Indonesia.
On the other hand, while he felt ambivalent about UNICEF, he was incredibly dedicated to its projects. He needed to go back to his office in Damansara Heights, he explained. He needed to look through the final logistical details for a camp jointly organized with the Ministry of Education, that's being held for 20 children in Melaka on Wednesday morning.

"Everything's running fine, actually," he said. "But I've not had the opportunity to do one final look-through . I’ve got to make sure that things run smoothly, especially on the transportation side. Then I can go to sleep knowing that everything is all right."

At fifteen minutes past midnight, we were still chatting at the table. Finally we got up. Markus hoisted two bags on his shoulders. He wore his black leather shoes. He said good night to Huey Fern. He was about to close the door of our condo, but I walked out onto the corridor. I walked with him to the lift on the second floor. He looked puzzled.

"This is the Penang tradition," I said.

"What do you mean?" he said.

"Well, Penangites usually walk their guests out of the house. Then they stand at the gate and wave goodbye. Since I live in a condo, I'm walking you to the lift."

He walked into the lift. I saw the doors close behind him as he waved good night.

Good night, Markus. Death is a revolving door. We’ll see you on the other side of Paradise.

p.s. The door bell rang a few minutes later. Markus again. He looked sheepish. "I left my food behind," he said. I looked behind me. There it was: the unfinished curry rice, wrapped in a wadded pile of newspaper on our dining table, bound by a rubber band. Markus gratefully scooped up the package, and walked away with his last supper.

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1 comment:

MA Smith said...

I enjoyed fine detailing of the Last Supper, and the faithfilled fellowship of the men involved. MASmith