What My Faith MeansTo Me
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The Younger Years
I was born into Taoist family in Malaysia. My paternal grandfather was a hospital assistant, his wife a nurse. They worked for the British before and after the Japanese occupation. Perhaps as a result of that, my family is very western in outlook. I spoke English with my grandparents and only knew a few key words of Khek (Hakka) such as announcing that I had arrived home was leaving home, or to ‘call the elders to eat’ before we tucked into food ourselves.
Despite having such a western background, I was always exposed to the rituals of temple visits for a variety of purposes including seeking the new year’s oracle, blessings for studies and health, protection, and more. It was fascinating hearing what the year supposedly had in store for each of us. Not all of it was good, so amends had to be made and mitigating rituals conducted to ‘soften the blow’. None of the family members were Chinese educated so this made interpretation of the oracles complicated. We were largely dependent upon the good graces of the temple’s priestess to convey the gravity or significance of each oracle. As a result, I never had much of an understanding of the Taoist /Buddhist religion - following it only by ritual – fearful of the outcome if we didn’t.
But we were taught to acknowledge and fear God.
I left Malaysia for Canada soon after turning 17 to pursue my tertiary education. Although I had begun to question the meaning of what I was taught, I had no alternative paradigm to challenge the status quo. I remember reading a book about the different religions of the world as a part of my search for the truth. Because I was brought up well, I recognised ‘good’ from ‘bad’. So even while overseas, when my newly acquired independence gave me the opportunity to get up to mischief, I did not engage in many activities which could have compromised my character. But on a whole, religion took a back seat at that phase of my life. I was young, independent, energetic, and strong.
After moving to New Zealand in 1982, I met my wife Hong Ngee. Hong Ngee’s family were Chinese physicians, so the contrasts between our backgrounds couldn’t have been starker. Yet, we got along really well and in 1988 ‘got married’ three times – once each in New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore. That was also the year we returned to this part of the world. We decided our parents were getting older and it was time to return ‘home’. My wife has reminded me that I was very driven at that time – having a five-year plan for ourselves.
Hong Ngee’s great-grandfather was an immigrant from China. He was a Chinese Physician who taught her father the trade. The family engaged more in ancestor worship and didn’t really pray to God, although acknowledging their existence. Her father believed in himself, and the importance of harnessing your own abilities. He maintained two families and provided well for both households.
The Return to Singapore
My career began to take off soon after returning to Singapore. I spent two years with a Big Six CPA firm, and then joined an American investment bank in 1990. The job took me around Asia and to New York. It worked me hard, but I enjoyed the challenge. Then in 1995, I was approached to take regional responsibility for the Audit function of a Swiss investment bank. I made the switch and ended up with an even heavier travel schedule. Importantly to me then, my career goals were on track.
Throughout this time (1990’s), Hong Ngee and I had begun building a family. In January 1990, my eldest son, Basil, was born. He was a wonderful baby and had a charming nature. We were able to juggle our work schedules and rationalise away any guilt we felt in not spending enough time with him. However, we began to feel differently after Alistair arrived in 1992. Al had a kidney reflux condition which required much attention in the first two years of his life. He was sickly and had to be hospitalised at least twice. It was then that we realised that some sacrifices had to be made between career and family. After much deliberation, Hong Ngee agreed to stop her work as an IT Project Manager to raise the kids. Looking back, it was a time when we were looking for ways to make life more meaningful and fulfilling. Three years later, Gillian arrived. We were thrilled that we had girl after two boys.
At about this time, I began to experience what many have called a ‘mid-life crisis’. Several issues came together which forced me to re-examine my life. The first of these was the realisation of how little time I was getting with my own children (and I confess that I enjoy having them). Next, was the reality that I had surpassed my own ambitious career goals (fuelled by the growth of Asia in the early 1990’s). Then came the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997. I realised how the banks played a key part in setting up Asia for the crisis. We structured deals to capitalise on the market demand for Asian exposure only to blow more hot air to an already inflated bubble. The riots in Indonesia made me pause to think about how I was party to having driven the region to what it had become.
A corporate merger then brought the issue to a head. By this time, the shiny veneer of a large global organisation was beginning to tarnish as I saw the vicious and debase politics at play from the inside. I began to realise that my trek to the top would cost me my character. After the merger, I was put in a position where to survive I would have had to play the game of corporate politics. I avoided being embroiled in it by taking up a position in another area of the bank.
At that point, it became apparent that this would be the time for me to make some major changes in my life. Since 1995, I had begun exploring the feasibility of a career in financial advisory. The thought was frightening as it meant setting aside much of what meant something to me – my position, title, seniority in the bank, industry, my salary and so much more. But as I began to weigh up the cost of staying on, I was convinced that becoming an entrepreneur was the way to go. I would be able to shape people’s lives in a substantive way and yet have more control over the use of my time. I started working towards accreditation with a US-based body as a local course was not yet available. At the same time, I began to revive unanswered questions in my life – that surrounding my spiritual self. I wanted to know who God was, and what His plans were. In late 1999, I took the plunge and left the salaried security of the corporate world for the ‘no-safety-net’ world of business enterprise.
The New Beginning
The new beginning for me was one where much of what I made myself to be in the past decade, counted for little. From a senior management position, I was a ‘nobody’ in a world of personal finance. What was worse was that the financial planning industry didn’t even exist. In fact it was made up of a hodgepodge of individuals mainly from the insurance and stock broking industry. Financial planning became the thing you did if you were given a ‘pink slip’ at work. Standards of entry were still being formulated and it seemed anybody could shape the new industry. It was a humbling time for me. I would later realise the parallel of my experience to that of Jesus who gave up so much more than me to walk this earth.
Once we removed the trappings of position, power and pleasure from our lives, I became more sensitised to my spiritual needs and began seeking them out. Hong Ngee supported me in this search. We began by going back to the rituals of our childhood and visited the temple on Waterloo Street. On the first occasion there, we lit up our joss sticks and stood outside the temple. I recall saying what I wanted to say and then placing the joss sticks in an urn. Hong Ngee and I then looked at each other and asked if that was it. We mutually nodded at each other and then proceeded to make a donation at the temple counter. It was an anti-climax and left us thirsting for the truth.
Still we persisted. And on our third visit there, we encountered a situation which closed the door on the privilege of familiarity. On that occasion, our joss sticks were removed the very moment we planted them in the urn because more space was needed for the other devotees. The removed joss sticks were immediately dunked into a pail of water. I felt a sense of indignation that an offering we had made sincerely, was conveniently transformed into trash. The hypocrisy of it all became stunningly obvious – the rituals didn’t make any sense at all and I had made no progress developing a relationship with any of the deities or gods.
God’s Call to a Church
At around that time, God began surrounding me with many friends who were Christians. Because we were seeking, they obliged whenever I raised the subject. We were invited to many churches. Soon it became clear that I was keener and a more ready seeker than Hong Ngee. Tension began to build up and Sunday morning’s were especially tough. We’d both be wondering if I was prepared to trade family time for ‘my’ God. I also began attending various cell meetings, fellowships, and rallies. Much as she tried, Hong Ngee simply wasn’t comfortable making a commitment then. This was partially because of the charismatic worship employed by the church I was then attending. I didn’t realise it then, but our relationship was strained for more than ever before.
Finally, one Hari Raya Puasa, the newspapers ran an article about British gentleman who converted to Islam because he married a Muslim girl. They were returning to celebrate Hari Raya with her parents with two children in tow – both also Muslims. I believe it was then that God spoke to Hong Ngee, and she realised if this man could embrace a foreign religion for the love of his wife, she could too. She then agreed to attend church for me – not God – on the condition that we went to a church she was comfortable in. I was elated! God is so great; He isn’t a respecter of man and used an example outside Christianity to lead His people to the truth!
Soon after in May 2000, Iris Leow (in her capacity as Alistair’s teacher) invited Hong Ngee (in her capacity as the school’s Parent-Teacher Association President) to an afternoon session Maths seminar at Pasir Panjang Church of Christ. Hong Ngee returned full of praise for the meeting. She found the people in PP so warm and friendly. We decided to attend the 8am service the next day.
I remember walking into the auditorium at 8am. Back then there were fewer than fourty people at the service. We braced ourselves to stand as visitors, but were not asked. Adrian Teo (now Elder Adrian) was preaching that day and I remember telling Hong Ngee that we’d make straight for the door after the service was over. However, immediately after the closing prayer, Terry Wan (now Deacon) who was sitting two pews in front of us, spontaneously turned around and greeted us. He invited us down for a cuppa and then to stay on for the Bible Class. This was the clincher – we had been searching so long, but had little study of the bible. Hong Ngee and I parted company as we were led into separate ladies’ and men’s bible classes. We loved it and never looked back since. Today all Sunday morning is devoted to God, and we truly enjoy it.
God’s Affirmation of His Faithfulness
The year 2001 was a tough career year for me. I remember beginning to dig deep into my financial reserves, getting apprehensive about whether I had made the right career move, and needing some kind of affirmation that I was on the right track.
Hong Ngee and I decided it was time to take some risks with our career. We organised a cocktail dinner for some people who could potentially be clients. We chose a good Mediterranean restaurant and held the function in the wine cellar. It would be an expensive evening. I remember preparing hard for the occasion. I also remember praying hard for God’s grace and mercy to be with me. I remember promising God to give Him all the glory regardless of the outcome of the evening.
The event went wonderfully. I remember engaging every person there and responding to every question asked. It was as though I felt the pulse of every issue that was raised, and responded in a manner that was so complete. Later, I would do business with 80% of the people who attended!
That night as I prepared to turn in, my mind was active with replays of the evening’s events and discussions. I gave glory to God and thanked Him from the bottom of my heart. The evening’s events had exceeded my expectations many fold. I rarely sleep well when my mind is so active, but that night, I remember falling into a deep sleep soon after my head hit the pillow. It was as though God said to me, “Come my child, lie on my bosom and rest”.
I remember waking up at 6am the next morning – thoroughly rested and refreshed. It was still dark and made my way to the window. I was still energised from the prior evening’s events and I felt the presence of the Lord so strongly, I wanted to say a prayer. Just days before, I had tried to recite Psalms 23 to my children but could not complete it. But this morning, by that window, I began saying it and the words flowed – slowly but surely.
I went to the study and started my notebook to check email. As my email application fired up, I noticed a Christian email someone had sent me the day before still unread. I launched it. It was Psalms 23 – explained in simple but powerful terms. I felt the Lord affirming me in such a gentle way, revealing all I needed to know at the moment. How is it I could recall Psalms 23 when I couldn’t just days ago? How is it I rested so well, despite the hyper-state of my being? What was God doing to /for me? I remember breaking down as I raced to tell Hong Ngee what I had experienced – a very firm touch of the Lord in our life.
My Baptism – September 16th, 2001
With our regular attendance at PP, we were soon encouraged to enrol in the Foundation Class taught by Lim Swee Aun and Wan Khin Wai. We found ourselves growing and were encouraged to take the step of being baptised. I remember being ready, but wanting to wait for Hong Ngee.
Then September 11th happened. I recall shaking my head in disbelief as the second airliner crashed into the Twin Towers. I was familiar with the Twin Towers having spent time there on the many occasions I visited New York on business. I also knew people who worked in the Twin Towers. That night, I decided that I would no longer place my hopes in man, but would give my life to Jesus Christ. I told Hong Ngee that I could not wait for her any longer.
The next day, just seconds after I had spoken with Henry Kong about my baptism, Hong Ngee called to say that she had decided to be baptised together with me. Adrian Teo baptised us on September 16th, 2001.
My Spiritual Heritage
Since coming to Christ, the Lord has been revealing a family history that tells me of His amazing plans for my family.
It has been confirmed that my great-great grandfather was a Christian missionary in China in the 1800s. His daughter married a gentleman who became a Christian as a pre-condition to her hand in marriage. I understand that he did not live a life that many would have held out as exemplary. Their daughter, my paternal grandmother, was by all accounts a strong-willed woman. For various reasons, she estranged herself from the rest of the family and begun worshipping the Goddess of Mercy. This explains the current faith of my father’s generation.
As I walk with the Lord, I have sense the Lord prompting me to Jeremiah 29:11-14.
“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all of your heart. I will be found by you and bring you back from captivity”
The “bringing you back from captivity” part of the promise has only become clear to me in the past year. As I better understand God’s eternal perspective, I realise that our life is a mere breath (Psalms 39:4-6), a mist that appears fro a while then vanishes (James 4:14). Couple this understanding with the third commandment in Exodus 20:4 and it becomes clear that God loves those who love Him for up to a thousand generations, but will punish the children for the sins of their fathers for up to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him.
I am now the fourth generation of that who departed from the Lord’s ways. I believe that God is gradually restoring my family. Already, I can see Him working in the life of my father. Jeremiah 29:11-14 is a verse I claim for my family. And I stand in awe of His greatness.
My Utmost for His Highest
As I read the parable of the talents, I have come to realise that God has blessed me with certain talents that can be used for His glorious purposes. In this regard, I am excited by the opportunities to serve Him wherever He has placed me. At minimum, I see a role to play at home (husband, father, son), in church and the marketplace.
What is more wonderful is that God will multiply what little I can offer for even greater use. Because He is a supernatural God for whom nothing is impossible, all things become possible. I also believe the accounts of the gospels are true, and hold true even today. I believe that the Holy Spirit acts as our counsellor and comforter.
I pray that each of us will avail ourselves to the living God who can do wondrous things in our life.