I came across this in the New Straits Times, 25 September.
It was all about football players from Brazil 'hanging out' with Malaysian children.
Anyone would say "Aaah - how wonderful - it's such a treat for our kids."
But my radar started sending different signals.
However, I shall let Iain Buchanan deal with this. He can do it better. He has previously been a guest of AsH in http://anaksihamid.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/whats-in-word-context-of-allah.html .
I shall now get myself a mug of coffee, sit back and put my feet up.
ps. Remember the story of 'Helen of Troy'? She was known for her beauty, as 'the face that sank a thousand ships'. But there was also the Trojan Horse. Helen was stolen by Paris of Troy from her Greek husband Menelaus, the king of Sparta. For ten years the Greeks fought to bring back Helen, but the city walls were too strong. So, they built a large wooden horse...
... left it outside the city and departed. The Trojans were delighted, they brought the wooden horse inside the city gates. What a great gift! But that night, the Greek soldiers who were hiding inside the horse crept out, opened the city gates and let in their comrades. According to the story in Homer's Iliad, the Trojans were slaughtered and that was the end of Troy.
Hence the saying; 'Beware of Greeks bearing gifts'. However my mother had her own take on that. She always cautioned us. 'Do not take sweets from any strangers'. And I still keep to that ... even though I am 'three score years and ten'.
"FOOTBALL EVANGELISTS? NONSENSE!"
Youngsters the world over love football, and kids in Malaysia are no different - especially when there's a chance to rub shoulders with a few legends of the game. And if these happen to be Brazilian. so much the better.
And so the story in Thursday's NST was hardly surprising. Here was a team of football stars from Brazil and Angola, visiting Malaysia, coaching kids from poor backgrounds, planting dreams. The stars themselves were heroic, approachable and helpful. "We had a great time coaching them," said one; "Football has helped change our lives," said another, "and we want these kids to know how this sport could help change theirs too." And the kids were over the moon and wanted more.
The visit was a nice exercise in international diplomacy - and in bridging all manner of divides that separate people. The children were from orphanages and low-income families: the tour, said one player, "was an initiative to reach out to the community" and a way of teaching "how to become a better team player, how to gain self-control, and other skills that can be applied to our daily lives." Surely there was no hidden agenda. And maybe, after all, footballers could do as much to spread goodwill as politicians, pop stars, or experts in development economics.
It certainly seemed churlish to be cynical. Besides, on the matter of visiting footballers, cynics had already been roundly lambasted by various pillars of the community. Take, for example, the indignation shown by both Baru Bian, head of PKR Sarawak, and PAS Member of Parliament Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusuf Rawa, when speakers at a conference at UiTM claimed that visiting football coaches could well be undercover Christian priests. Baru Bian, a lawyer and son of an SIB pastor, dismissed the accusations as a sign of "weak government":
"Baru said he was aware of Brazilian football coaches, who are Christians, who had held football clinics as he was also involved in a similar clinic in his constituency. 'I don't think they are missionaries. What is wrong with Christians who want to contribute to young people of this country?' he asked. 'You cannot just accuse people of proselyting (sic) to Muslims."
You certainly can't. At the very least (as any lawyer will tell you) you need evidence of intent - if not culpability. And, judging from the NST story. there was no hidden agenda, no hidden intent, behind the latest Brazil Tour of Hope by Joga Limpo Brazil.
Or was there?
* * * * * *
Joga Limpo Brazil was brought to Malaysia by a body calling itself Wawasan GMR, in partnership with another body called CBME. The initials "CBME" seem straightforward - they stand for "Children, Babies, and Maternity Expo", and presumably indicate commercial sponsorship. But "Wawasan GMR" is a rather different matter.
It is murky, to say the least. Officially, it is "a business/investment consultancy focusing on community-based economic projects in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region as well as the greater Southeast Asian region." Its CEO is "B.K. Raj", its General Manager is Peter Shankar, and it also employs (among others) Mark T.R. Pillai, Michael Soh, Alex Lim, and one Geoff Elwell. It engages in agricultural development and infrastructural work, and is connected to a travel business called Pearls of Mekong. It seems a strange organization to be managing football coaching.
Strange, that is, until one digs a little deeper.
It then transpires that CEO B.K. Raj's advisor is a roving Pentecostal evangelist called Dennis Ignatius - who also happens to be retired ambassador to Canada and various South American countries, and a staunch Anwar supporter. Dennis Ignatius lives in Canada and the US, is a fellow of the Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity
(http://www.ezrainstitute.ca/about ), and founded a mission called "Arise Ambassadors". He will be known in Malaysia as a columnist for the Star newspaper, for his " Open Letter to Barack Obama" - and for his attack on the Malaysian Foreign Ministry.
Peter Shankar will be more familiar to football fans: he managed the 2008 Brazil Tour of Hope, and was also involved in the Brazilians' 2012 visit. Both tours were for worthy causes: "We hope to raise about RM345,000 from the Malaysian tour," said Peter in 2008, "to rebuild schools in Myanmar in aid of the victims of Cyclone Nargis." And the 2012 tour made a special visit to Bandar Aceh, which was wiped out in the 2004 tsunami.
But there is a bit more to Peter Shankar than organizing charity football.
Peter is Secretary-General of the Malaysian Centre for Global Mission (http://mcgm.net.my/ ), a Missions Associate of the WEA Mission Commission ( and a member of ETHNE, the Commission's official network for Unreached Peoples, ( http://www.ethne.net/ ). He is also an instructor with Emaus Road International (http://www.eri.org/ ), a close associate of STAMP (the Strategic Missions Program of MCGM), and Director of Program and Member Care for STAMP's Malaysian Cross Cultural Missions School.
In all these capacities, Peter has extremely close links with a certain Beram Kumar. Beram Kumar is the Executive Director of STAMP Partnerships Inc. He is also a founder of the Malaysian Cross Cultural Missions School, a member of ETHNE, a member of the Sangati Network for Nepali Migrant Workers, a Mission Associate of WEA Mission Commission, and a director of SEALINK (which "connects the body of Christ's people, churches, organizations, and resources together to serve and reach the Southeast Asian Unreached Peoples Groups more effectively" ). Beram Kumar was also organiser of the Myanmar Christian Coalition for Cyclone Relief.
It was in this last capacity that Beram Kumar had a special interest in Peter's 2008 Brazil Tour of Hope: he was one of the main beneficiaries of its proceeds. As co-ordinator for mission agencies that were denied visas into Myanmar (such as Baptist Global Response), Beram Kumar was concerned with rebuilding in the broadest of senses:
"Our hope is that the Myanmar Church will be much stronger by the time this relief effort ends ...... .....This is a tremendous opportunity to see the Kingdom of God expand in this nation."
And Beram Kumar has a particular qualification for entering "difficult" mission fields. He is the Southeast Asian representative of Tentmakers International Exchange (TIE), a mission agency dedicated to the creation of secular aliases for evangelical workers (so that they can gain access to "countries that are otherwise closed to traditional missions and evangelism"), and to the expansion of networks within which such workers can spread their influence. "We look for people who have vocational skills because that is one of our best strategies to gain access to unreached peoples around the world" says Danny Martin, founder of TIE and member of the Malaysian Cross Cultural Mission School.
Beram Kumar puts it this way: "Jesus first did 'good works' and as a result of that was asked questions about 'eternal life' and 'the kingdom of God' ....... if we want to have a strategic entry to ALL peoples, even those who are resistant,we must adopt a similar pattern."
And so, as an evangelical "tentmaker", Beram Kumar is interested in whatever gives him a helpful disguise - be it a disaster or football tour, or a combination of both. He is also interested in networking with others in the same business - in order to "synergize" and expand the evangelical movement.
In both respects, Brazil is a huge asset. It has a strong tradition of Christian football, and it has one of the most aggressive evangelical movements in the world. It is a potent synergy: indeed, Pele's "beautiful game" according to mission expert Joao Mordomo, is "beautiful" precisely because "it opens doors for Brazilians time and time again, all over the world." Brazilians, that is, like players in Joga Limpo Brazil -all of whom are Christian evangelists.
(http://www.juventudemetodista.org.br/home/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Folder-Joga-Limpo-Brasil.pdf ) (You need to click "translate" when you get to this link.)
And so, naturally, Beram Kumar is a frequent visitor to Brazil. In 2010, he spoke at a conference jointly organized by Brazil's Antioch Mission and the Associacao Missao Esperanca (Hope Missionary Association), or AME - two missions which are closely linked to the Indonesian Christian Community in Sao Paulo, and are also under the WEA Mission Commission. Among the the conference's workshops two were of special interest - one on the Unreached Peoples of Southeast Asia, and one Sport in Missions.
(please use the translation facility)
(please use the translation facility)
Was it coincidental that, two years later, the 2012 Brazil Tour of Hope, which visited Malaysia and Indonesia, was jointly organised by Wawasan GMR ...... and AME?
But Brazil's evangelical ties with Malaysia don't end there. Juventude Nazarena Internacional is a missionary sending agency which places Brazilian evangelists all over the world. Fabio Freitas is one of these. Fabio Freitas is a Domestic League footballer and a member of the Joga Limpo Brazil team - and he is attached to Sungai Way Methodist Church as part of their sports outreach.
Perhaps it is also coincidental that at least two of SSMC's pastors - Dr Ng Swee Ming and Ng Kok Moi - also appear to be directors of Wawasan GMR.
* * * * * *
So we can account, it seems for most of Wawasan GMR's operatives. There remains the mystery of its CEO, "B.K. Raj". Could "B.K. Raj" be Beram Kumar? It certainly seems like it:
(Quote from the above link: " Ketua Pegawai Eksekutif GMR, Beram K. Raj berkata, selain Malaysia, program sama turut diadakan di Myanmar, Vietnam dan Thailand.")
Are B.K. Raj and Beram K. Raj and Beram Kumar one and the same person???
There are very good grounds for suspicion that they might be. After all, Wawasan GMR and Beram's Malaysian Centre for Global Mission both share the same post box - 8036 Kelana Jaya:
All this would be fine, if it wasn't for the coyness. And this is the problem. Nowhere do the organizers of Brazil Tour of Hope lay out their Christian credentials; and nowhere, in Wawasan GMR's public record, does it even suggest it has Christian connections.
It is a strange sort of coyness. After all, Christians have every right to go on football tours, every right to coach youngsters in the game, every right to set an example of brotherly love. So why the secrecy? And why the studious deception? What do these people have to hide?
* * * * * * *
It is not the first time that Malaysia has hosted "undercover priests" dressed as Brazilian football players. In 2004, the World Mission Board of the Brazilian Baptist Convention set up a mission in Petaling Jaya, blessed by the missionary wife of Brazil's greatest football star, Pele, "to bring some of the magic of Brazilian football" to local boys of every race. The arrangement was renewed in 2008, when Pastor Henry Pillai travelled to Brazil to confirm the arrangement for a number of trained Baptist pastors to set up in Malaysia as football coaches, social workers and teachers.
There were three football coaches - Lamartine Fernandes da Silva (who is officially registered with the Brazilian Baptist Convention as a "tentmaker" ), Roberto Braganca Romao, and Valdecir de Freitas - together with de Freitas' wife Elaine, who was a "social worker".
Did these good people evangelize Muslims? Well, a number of young Malay players certainly went to Brazil as part of the programme.
And Pastor Roberto clearly felt satisfied he was doing his job:
" It is a joy to teach here, because we have a few girls taking football lessons. I work in a Muslim context, where the woman is often not treated with dignity by men and society. But through football, we are showing these girls the joy and love of Jesus through our actions in training."
And this is the official position of the Brazilian Baptist Convention:
".......... the Sports Mission Program has been an important strategy for entering countries officially closed to the preaching of the Gospel. In these places, Brazilian football, a strong catalyst for opportunities, serves as a perfect instrument in the hands of God to evangelize people who admire the techniques of the Brazilians. Thus, countries like Malaysia, Senegal, India, China, Thailand, and Guinea are opening their doors to teachers and football coaches from Brazil - evangelicals committed to the Kingdom of God, and intent on transforming the spiritual situation of local people."
(http://www.jmm.org.br/ ) (Click for translation)
* * * * * *
The Brazil Tour of Hope tale is just a fragment of a far larger story. The global Christian evangelical movement is a Hydra with many, many heads - and a relentless appetite for spiritual conquest. Malaysia, a small country, is in many ways precariously situated. Certainly the powers-that-be are in an unenviable position trying to deal, moderately, with the pressures placed upon the country from within and without - and in the circumstances, they seem remarkably, strenuously, liberal and forbearing.