“For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” The last part of this verse is a perfect description of what many Christians in Singapore have experienced. We are rescued out of heathen idolatry by the saving power of God. We come from a totally heathen culture and society. Unlike all of you, we are born and raised in a thoroughly heathen home. Our parents are either Buddhist or Taoists. Unlike you, we do not have the joy of attending Sunday school when we are young. We do not have the privilege of covenant instructions. Many of us do not even own a Bible until after our conversion. In fact, for the first seventeen years of my life, I never stepped into a Christian church.
But now after twelve years, I thank my God that I can be in a church testifying about the change, the conversion and transformation in my life because of the power of God’s saving grace. Really I have no testimony to share. The testimony I have is really the testimony of God’s gracious dealings in my life through the Lord Jesus Christ. I confess with the apostle Paul, that I am what I am only because of the grace of God.
I am the second youngest child in a family of five children. The first school I attended was a kindergarten that was run by the communists. There was of course no mention of God at all in the classroom. Instead we were taught to look to the state for care and protection.
When it was time that I go to primary (grade) school, my parents sent me to a Methodist mission school. The reason why I was in a mission school was not because my parents wanted me to have a Christian education. The only true reason was because the school was just directly across from where I was then staying.
On the first day of school, we were asked to close our eyes and pray. I did what I was told, except that instead of praying to Jehovah God, I directed my prayers to the pagan gods. I was praying that they may defeat the God of the Christian. I was just 7 years old, and already I was totally hostile against Christianity.
At about the same time, my mother brought me to the temple and dedicated me to 3 pagan gods. One is a monkey god, who is supposed to make me wise; the second is a god with a black face, who is supposed to make me just; and the third is a goddess of mercy, who is supposed to make me merciful. This act of dedicating children to pagan gods is still very widely practiced among the many Chinese in Singapore today.
Studying in a Methodist mission school exposed me to Christian songs, stories, and the Christian Bible. Every Monday before school commenced, there was a chapel service with a short sermonette. I never bothered with the services, and sometimes I would even find excuses not to attend them.
When I was in my final year in secondary (high) school, I was suddenly attracted to the commitment of a particular group of Christians in class. Just before the final exams in the last year at secondary school, one of them came to me, and for the first time, someone actually opened the Bible to me and told me about my sins and the need to be saved. He invited me to pray with him, but I did not. But nonetheless, the message of sin and salvation was not erased out of my mind and conscience.
When exams were over, a group of us went out to the beach on our bikes. It was an outing I will never forget. On our way back, we lost one of our friends. When we went to look for him, we could not find him. Instead, along the way we saw a pool of blood. Our friend met an accident and he died. More shocking to me, however, is the way the family received the tragedy. The family was very sad, but yet not hopeless. The brother told us that he was taken away to be with Jesus.
That was the first time I had heard such a phrase, “taken to be with the Lord.” This was the gospel to me that afternoon. It has never occurred to me that there is a hope beyond the sufferings of this life, and that hope is in Jesus.
The first thing I did the next day was to look for a book that explains to me about the Christian faith. So I went into a Christian book store but got instead a book about the last days. For the first time, I really came face to face with the Bible’s teachings about hell and heaven, and Jesus and salvation. Before I could finish the book, I was already wanting to know about how to be saved. So I went to the library this time and got a copy of “How to Be Born Again” by Billy Graham. I do not endorse the book now, but that was the book that further challenged me to search more into my relationship with Christ.
A few months later, I went into college. In college, some of my Christian friends invited me to a gospel meeting. The message was very simply explained, and when the meeting was near to the end, hundreds responded to the preacher’s invitation. I did not go forward to the “altar call.” That night, however, in a small corner at the balcony outside my house, I struggled with the question of sin and forgiveness. Can God really forgive me my terrible sins? Can I trust Him to save me? Can I really have a new life? Can I really be made right with God? It was an intense, mental, emotional and spiritual struggle for me. The Spirit finally irresistibly drew me to Christ Himself, and gave me the strength to believe in Him. In the quiet hours of the night, I prayed for the first time to the true and living God, and broke myself away from the bondage of idolatry.
Following that encounter was a new and fresh experience of Bible reading and church going. At first, I had to be very secretive about what I did at home as a new Christian. I even had to hide in the bathroom to read my Bible and to pray. When my parents found out, they were extremely unhappy, especially my mum. She was angry that now I refused to take food offered to idols, and to offer prayers and incense to the pagan idols. My new relationship with God also affected my relationship with my brothers and sisters. I could not do the many worldly things we did together. Even until now my two elder brothers refuse to talk to me because we can never agree together. This is the price I paid for becoming a Christian. The words of Jesus that tell us that if any man come to me and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple, is especially a challenge to many of us in Singapore. My wife was almost kicked out of the house when she believed. One of my friends was locked inside her room for days, another was disowned by his parents, and another was made to march down to the temple with her hands tied because her parents thought she was demon-possessed.
It took a while before my parents began to realize that my God changed me. He had made me a person who once was disobedient and aimless to a person who is now with a new and living hope. All glory be to God!! My parents, my brothers and sisters, are all still unbelievers. This is the case with many of us in Singapore. Many of us are first generation Christians. Our greatest desire is that God also will work a wonder of grace and save our parents from idols to the true and living God. This is our prayer. Amen.