Rev. Dr Sivin Kit reflects on his journey from local pastor to head of LWF’s Department for Theology, Mission & Justice
(LWI) - Malaysian theologian Sivin Kit was just three and a half years old when he first encountered The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to London. It was the mid-1970s and his father was studying in the United Kingdom, partially supported by an LWF scholarship. The organization also paid for plane tickets for him and his mother, allowing them to remain together as a family. Kit still has the receipt for those tickets, a small but significant step on the journey towards the job he holds today as interim director of the Department for Theology, Mission and Justice.
As the son of first-generation Lutherans, with grandparents who emigrated from China, Kit has always lived in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious environment. At primary school in England, his best friends were a Vietnamese refugee, an Indian migrant and a young British boy. At high school back in Malaysia, he was, for a year, one of five who were not Muslims. Fostering interfaith relations was a way of life, long before it became a professional and pastoral priority.
In England, Kit temporarily lost touch with his Lutheran roots – his late uncle Justus Koo had been one of the first pastors to be ordained with the Lutheran Church in Malaysia. “We became unchurched,” he says. Returning to his native country, he found his way back, firstly through the Pentecostal church and later in the Lutheran charismatic renewal movement which “helped me appreciate the richness of experience for my faith.”
Public theology and interfaith relations
Working in youth and student ministries in his teenage years “ignited a sense of calling to become a pastor,” Kit recalls, leading to studies at Malaysia Theological Seminary and ordination in 2003. Planting a new congregation in Kuala Lumpur called Bangsar Lutheran church, or ‘The Father’s House’, was a “life-changing experience,” he continues, as he led a growing group of mostly young adults seeking to find a voice in the public square at a time of rising Muslim-Christian tensions and political changes.
Under Kit’s leadership, the church became known as a strong advocate for social justice and a safe space for people of different faiths to come together and engage in dialogue around pressing issues of the day. At a time of rapid technological change, he was one of the pioneering Christian bloggers in Malaysia sharing precious lessons about faith, ministry and life with a wider public outside of the church.
“I encountered all the seeds of public theology as a local pastor and developed a more holistic understanding of mission,” Kit explains. He spent over a decade there, before moving to Norway for a PhD in religion, ethics, and society. “This was a formative time for me, which offered an opportunity to view my roots from a different perspective,” he adds. He returned home to serve as a lecturer and director of a center for religion and society at the seminary in Seremban for a further four and a half years. During this time, he was also involved in national civil society discussions about the role of religion for the common good in a multireligious Muslim-majority context.