I am writing this in the quiet of my room in El Sanctuary, a quaint retreat centre near Alor Gajah, Malacca, Malaysia. I am here to speak to a group of bright young adults from Orchard Road Presbyterian Church. I am enjoying my interaction with them. But I came to this retreat with mixed feelings.
Last Monday (18th) I received news that a friend, Anthony Yeoh, chairman of the Singapore Baptist Convention and long-time pastor of Shalom Baptist Chapel, before he retired from that position, had died. His daughter had posted the news on Anthony’s Facebook page thinking that that would be the fastest way to reach her father’s friends. She was right, though many like myself must have done a double take. Anthony was a man so full of life. Any news of his demise at any time would sound like fake news. Only it wasn’t.
I must have first met Anthony in a church in Penang, possibly Georgetown Baptist Church, but I can’t remember that first meeting. My first memory of meeting him was when I visited him in the then Jurong Baptist Church. This must have been in the late ’70s. He was a lay leader there and I had just graduated from my dental studies. I don’t remember the details but I recall receiving a warm welcome.
The last memory of my meeting him was when Bernice and I bumped into him at Jurong Point Shopping Mall, sometime last year I think. He passed us some discount coupons for Swensen’s Ice Cream and we enjoyed a meal there. The next meal we will share will be at the Lord’s table in the new heaven and the new earth.
I went to pay my respects to his family yesterday and appreciated the catch up with his family. There was grief, of course, but also the understanding that Anthony went home in the midst of doing what he loved best — pastoral ministry. He had had an operation for a leg problem earlier in the year and had been asked to slow down his work so he could get more rest. But there was no stopping him. We speculated that the only way the Lord could get him to rest was to call him home.
I thought of Anthony, of his life and his death, as I spoke to the young adults today. I mentioned Anthony briefly. I challenged them to be good stewards of their lives. I encouraged them to discover/rediscover purpose during the retreat. Life is too precious to waste. Perhaps I should quote from the Robin Williams character in “Dead Poet’s Society” (1989):
John Keating: Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.
We may believe in life after death but we have responsibility for our life before death. I hope and pray that my young friends at this retreat will decide to live their lives to the full for the Lord. Like Anthony Yeoh.
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
(Psalm 90:12 NIV)