After 24 years since founding, City Harvest Church has not only grown to be the largest church in Singapore with around 30,000 members, but has also been embroiled in recent years in an embezzlement scandal, where their leaders including the founding pastor Kong Hee and other church leaders are accused of embezzling church funds.
On their 24th anniversary, the church interviewed the senior pastor Kong Hee on his reflections of his journey of faith and the impacts that the recent investigations and court trials had on the church.
“I want to thank the church for standing with me through thick and thin. Sometimes I feel so bad that I have to put you in the spot where you have to shoulder certain level of criticism, humiliation, and you’ve got to bear the shame on my account. I always feel bad about that,” said Kong, the City News reports.
Kong and several other leaders of the church have been accused of embezzling approximately $40 million dollars to fund the pop-star music career of Kong’s wife, Sun Yeow Ho, popularly known as Sun Ho. According to the Associated Press, her collaboration on a song and raunchy music video ‘China Wine’ with rapper Wyclef Jean in 2007 brought accusations of impropriety and public disdain have since rained down on Ho, her ambitions and the church.
In their defense, the church leaders said Ho’s pop music career is to help spread God’s message as part of the church’s Crossover Project that aims to influence people “who would never choose to step foot into a church to listen to a preacher” – albeit the prosecution’s ridicule of the defense’s contention.
Since the court trial began in May, Ho has been reinstated as executive director of City Harvest Church by the Commissioner of Charities (COC) after a review found she had not contributed to mismanagement of the church.
However, a church member Chew Eng Han, one of the six leaders currently on trial, stepped down from his position in June, testifying that the church’s leadership’s actions have failed to align with Scripture. He accuses the leadership of CHC in a personal statement for being manipulative, for abusing authority, for being greedy and prideful, and for lying during a meeting that he and his wife had three months ago with Kong and Sun.
City Harvest Church wrote in response, “While we do not understand the reasons for his current sentiments, we wish nothing but the best for Eng Han and his family, and thank him for all his contributions.” Moreover, the church board defended the senior leadership in having always “walked in integrity, adhering to Biblical principles through the leading of the Holy Spirit” and maintained their “full confidence” in the leaders.
Since the accusations befall the City Harvest leadership, the church congregation has decreased in size and number, to which Kong has expressed his sadness.
Kong told City News, “I’m sad because at one time these people were part of my flock, and as a shepherd, I want to be able to say to Jesus Christ, ‘Everyone You’ve entrusted to me, I have lost none.’” Yet, he acknowledged, “Jesus is the chief shepherd, I am just a steward…I want to bless them [the people that have left] that every one of them will be settled in a church where they are comfortable with and they are growing in Christ.”
The senior pastor who started the church in his home believes that this is a “pruning process,” where “God is streamlining” the church for those called to the church’s vision and “yoked together to serve God for the rest of our lives,” the City News reports.
“Although the church is a third smaller, I think everybody can sense our prayer is stronger, our worship is more fervent and more intense,” he said. “It’s purer.”
With faith, he said that when their church celebrates their 50th anniversary 24 years from now, “we’re going to look back and say, ‘Thank God He has done this.’”
Singapore's City Harvest Church founding pastor Kong Hee (center) is seen here in a thumb-pose from 24 years ago.
“It not been an easy journey because we are visionaries, we are pioneers and, unfortunately, when you are at the cutting edge, at the forefront, as pioneers, you break a lot of mindsets, you things that have never been done before,” he said, according to City News.
Dr. Yonggi Cho, founder of Korea’s largest church Full Gospel Church, has shown his support to Kong and Kong’s wife Sun Ho through prayers and personal appearance at City Harvest Church. Last month, Cho flew to Singapore and preached at CHC and ordained five new pastors from the church.
The ordination of the five CHC pastors by Dr. Yonggi Cho. (City Harvest/Michael Chan)