City Harvest Church leaders have asked the international community to pray for the "safety and protection" of church founder Kong Hee as begins his 3.5 year jail term.
In a statement published on the church website on Friday, pastors Aries Zulkarnain and Pastor Bobby Chaw asked congregants to uphold Kong and five other CHC leaders - Sharon Tan, John Lam, Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee - in prayer as they begin their prison sentences, which range from seven months to three and a half years.
"We will not see them for a season, but we must continue to uphold them in prayer," they wrote. "We pray for their safety and protection, and we pray that the presence of God is with them at all times."
The pastors asked for prayer for the families of those imprisoned: "Let's also pray ceaselessly for their families, that through this period, God's peace will fill them and His protection and grace will be upon them," they said.
The two CHC leaders continued: "Church, in this time, let's not forget Romans 12:12, which tells us to rejoice in hope, [be] patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer. Let us continue to love God wholeheartedly and love people fervently. Being faithful in the things we are called to do: come to service, attend cell group, serve in the House of God, reach out to the lost, pray and fellowship together."
As reported by GH, Kong, 52, was convicted of three counts of criminal breach of trust. He and five other leaders of CHC were found guilty of misappropriating about S$50 million (US$8 million) in church funds. They funneled S$24 million into sham bonds to support the singing career of Kong's wife, Sun Ho. They are also accused of spending over $26 million to cover up the illegal activity.
In 2015, the High Court sentenced Kong to eight years in prison, but after he filed an appeal, the Court reduced his prison term to three and a half years.
When the verdict was announced earlier this month, Kong took to Facebook to express his disappointment and ask his congregants for forgiveness.
He wrote: "I am extremely saddened by the prospect of having to leave my family and church, and yearn to see them again after serving my sentence. However, I am ready to face what is to come with the peace and grace of God in my heart."
Kong, who founded CHC in 1989, continued: "To all I have disappointed, stumbled and hurt in my congregation, in the Body of Christ at large, and in the public, I am truly sorry. I have made unwise decisions in the past that have led me to where I am today. I am filled with grief and regret over my mistakes and I sincerely ask for your forgiveness."
The case is not over yet, according to reports, as the Attorney-General's Chambers is seeking to reinstate the original convictions for Kong and his fellow church leaders, in its Criminal Reference filing with the Court of Appeal to address a question of law that is of public interest.
The CHC trial has been dubbed as the most expensive criminal trial in Singapore. Lawyers' fees have been estimated at $10 million. With the prosecution forwarding the case to the Court of Appeal, that amount could go higher, according to The Straits Times.