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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Pastor Koh Abduction: Faith upheld by support, empathy

ESTHER Koh paused and clasped her hands in prayer when asked what she would say to the abductors of Pastor Raymond Koh.

“Please release my dad. He is a very gentle person. He is a social worker who works with marginalised people. He is not harming anyone,” said the 31-year-old daughter.

If her dad was reading this article, Esther would want to tell him to be strong.

“Hold on because the police will rescue you. I love you. Just don’t give up,” she said, trying hard to stop herself from crying.

Today, Pastor Raymond has been missing for 54 days.

The 62-year-old pastor was abducted at Jalan SS4B/10, Petaling Jaya. He left his house around 10am and was driving to a friend’s house in Kelana Jaya.

CCTV recordings that captured the abduction were chilling. It was a well-executed operation involving at least 15 masked men in seven vehicles, including two motorcycles.

On Thursday afternoon in Petaling Jaya, I met the women in the pastor’s life – his 61-year-old wife Susanna Liew Sow Yoke, his 21-year-old daughter Elizabeth, who is a university student, and Esther.

On that morning, they were shocked to read that police investigations indicated Koh’s abduction may have been connected to his attempt to spread Christianity in northern peninsular Malaysia.

“It is learnt that a police report was lodged by a few individuals alleging that Koh and two others went to Kangar, Perlis, on Jan 19 and Jan 20 to influence a group of youths to convert to Christianity,” The Star reported.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said the police report was also considered as a lead into Koh’s abduction.

“Our priority is to find him as soon as possible,” said the IGP.

Someone sent the article to Susanna.

“I really don’t know what it is all about. But I think the more important question to ask is why the victim, Raymond, is being investigated,” she said.

Thursday’s interview was Esther’s first time speaking to the press.

Previously, she had remained in the background. She’s now in the foreground to share her mother’s burden of being the family spokesperson. She also wants to speak out for her dad – to be his voice.

After watching the video of the 40-second abduction, Esther is fearful not only for her father but for herself, her mother, her sister, her brother and her husband.

The zumba instructor doesn’t feel safe anymore. Constantly, she has to look over her shoulder when she’s driving.

“No one can tell us who these people are. If they can do this in broad daylight, they can do that to anyone of us,” she said.

“How are you coping with your dad’s abduction?” I asked.

“Sometimes I feel depressed. Sometimes it is hard for me to get up in the morning. I wonder where my dad is. Sometimes I feel anger. I worry about my dad’s well-being,” she said.

“What do you think happened to your dad?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Are you hopeful that your dad will be found?” I asked.

“I am hopeful that my dad can be found because there are many people praying for him,” she said.

“I am very hopeful that he will be found alive.”

“Does your dad have any enemies?” I asked.

“Google 2011 and DUMC,” she replied.

In 2011, Koh lodged a police report that he had received a death threat. The threat was delivered with two bullets after the Selangor Islamic Religious Department raided a thanksgiving and fund-raising dinner organised by Harapan Komuniti at Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC) in Petaling Jaya.

In 2004, Koh set up Harapan Komuniti to help single mothers, drug addicts and those with HIV/AIDS. The community centre in Petaling Jaya was also a place for children to learn English or do their homework.

“What do you think of the suggestion that drug dealers are behind your dad’s abduction?” I asked.

“I don’t know where this rumour comes from but there is no basis to it. The drug addicts that the affiliate programme deals with are really marginalised with HIV and AIDS. I don’t think drug lords are involved in his abduction,” she answered.

“Do you feel that churches, NGOs and other religious bodies are lending enough moral support?” I asked.

“We’re touched by the tremendous support from the prayer vigils all over Malaysia. It is overwhelming. I don’t feel alone with their outpouring of empathy,” she said.

On the 50th day her father went missing, Esther felt that empathy during a prayer service for the missing pastor in Sungai Way-Subang Methodist Church in Petaling Jaya. She and Elizabeth touched the hearts of those who attended when they read a poem, “Where is Pastor Raymond Koh?” written by Matthew Teo, a retired pastor from Singapore.

The poem, written in English and Bahasa Malaysia, starts with: “Where Raymond is, there’s light. Where the deepest darkness cannot hide.”

By Philip Golingai

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