THE CARING CHAPLAIN

By Asian Beacon

For many in Malaysia, the post of Chaplain is considered quite unheard of. In fact, most churches do not have a chaplain in them. To most, a Chaplain is considered a fancier term for a pastor. But this is not the case. As such, Chaplain GP Tan, from Acts church in an interview with Asian Beacon shared a bit on how being a Chaplain is very different from that of a pastor.

Tan playing music with the old folks

“A pastor is based in a church, and although he or she sometimes visit sick members, it is not fulltime. The chaplain ministry however is focused towards such healthcare settings such as nursing homes, hospitals, and retirement homes.  A chaplain’s ministry can also include prisons, police departments, and other government institutions. So is like a spiritual head of the church, while the chaplain the spiritual authority of the institution which he is assigned in. But he does this under the banner of a church. I find it more challenging than a pastor because the people you visit are unknown to you, unlike your church members,”  the chaplain explains.

The Caring Chaplain
Tan ministering to the elderly

As such Tan stresses that as a chaplain, one must be very in tune with God as it is not such a simple ministry.

“So, it is very important that a chaplain works closely with the Holy Spirit. Whenever you enter a hospital makes sure the Holy Spirit is coming along side you. We need to be close to God and He will direct our ways,” he says.

Chaplain Tan further notes that in order to be a chaplain further training had to be taken.

“I have been a chaplain since 2008 September. Prior to that, I was a pastor for 7 years before I went to Texas, USA to train to become a chaplain. The reason I chose this path was that I had prayed to God and asked Him, what should I do besides being a pastor. His reply was that I should work and minister more to the sick. Obeying His command, I applied for a Clinical Pastoral Education course in the US and I was offered a place in a Christian base hospital,” Tan added further.

The Caring Chaplain
Tan praying for one of the occupants of the home

Tan also added that one of his main motivation to stay enthusiastic as a chaplain was that Jesus himself came to heal the sick. In fact, ministering to the sick was one of the Lord’s earlier ministries. As of now Chaplain Tan finds himself very occupied with his work as chaplain in the many hospitals found around Subang area.

Chaplain Tan also added that being a chaplain is not for the faint of heart.

“The challenges I face in this ministry are many. That is why, even among Christians themselves, very few want to take part in the chaplaincy ministry. As a chaplain, I must handle both the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of a person. I sometimes find it an even more difficult task to minister to individuals who suffer from mental health issues, that those who are physically ill. As a chaplain, I am a minister of “His presence”, not my own. I cannot cure them, like a doctor with conventional ways but through the power of God,” the chaplain explains.  

The Caring Chaplain
Tan declaring healing a wheel chaired bound grandmother

He adds aside from that, as a chaplain he states that another challenge for a chaplain from Malaysia would be the language barrier.

“In Malaysia are so many dialects and languages, that I am bound to find a patient who speaks different language or even Chinese dialect from me. This is a situation which I face a lot. Unlike in America, where every speaks English or at least has a good understanding of it, here in Malaysia communication breakdown can happen. Also, in the US most Americans know about God somehow. In Malaysia on the other hand, we are multi religious and as such chaplains here must be trained to minister in a multi-faith setting. We must know how to handle other religions and faiths without upsetting them, as I believe everyone needs God for their mental, physical and spiritual healing. As such a chaplain provides holistic care for the mind body and spirit,” the chaplain adds.   

The Caring Chaplain
A chaplain's job consists of praying for the sick all the time

He also adds that as a chaplain, must not perceived the patient’s condition base on personal experience or bias.

“In the chaplaincy course, we are taught about things such as transference and counter transference activities whereby we can affect the patients, or the patients affect us through the transference of emotions. That is why we must have the condition of our heart in check with God so as not to bring negative emotions to the patients,” Tan explains.

The Caring Chaplain
As a chaplain Tan takes every opportunity to share the gospel at every home

Tan also explains that the chaplain plays a very important role in bereavement events too.

“Since we have been with the sick while they were alive, we have built a strong connection with the individual and their families. Therefore, the chaplain must be present if the patients passes on, whereby love and care are needed for the family. So, the chaplain must be part of the life of the patient throughout his entire journey,” he states.

As for the future of the chaplaincy ministry in Malaysia, Tan hopes that more churches will be aware of such ministry and be willing to have a chaplaincy ministry of their own.

“I would encourage all churches to have a Chaplaincy ministry running. It would be a great help to the community. Imagine having chaplaincies everywhere ministering to the sick and imprison. Right now, I only know we have only a handful of chaplains in Malaysia. To be involved in the chaplaincy ministry is a special calling of God. A chaplain must be trained properly. Plus, there is a need to have the compassion for people without considering, religion, race or creed. Loving one another is the focus, just like Christ loved us,” the chaplain ends. 

Tan also would like to share to everyone that there are courses and training for those interested in the ministry. For those with such a passion or calling you may contact Chaplain GP Tan at tanguanpoh@gmail.com.