It’s not every day that I get a chance to honour my mother publicly. I did it last Sunday. I was preaching in her church, the Penang Baptist Church, in their Sunday worship service. Some time had been set aside to commemorate mum’s 80th birthday.
The topic of my sermon was “Learning from Mothers and Grandmothers” based on 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14-17. Towards the end of the sermon I listed out a number of key life lessons I had learnt from mum. The most important were perseverance and integrity.
Mum was born in Hong Kong. She lost her parents during World War 2. After the war she emigrated to Malaya, a teenager, an orphan. The journey from Hong Kong to Penang by sea took seven days. (The ship made a stop over in Singapore.) She had little knowledge of English and no knowledge of Malay. Her new life was daunting. But she had family in Penang and the move was an opportunity for a fresh start.
Nothing came easy for her in those early days. Her perseverance was forged in the crucible of necessity. And sustained by her faith. She came from a Christian family, a family that took their relationship with God seriously. Still, it couldn’t have been easy. But she trusted God. And did what needed to be done.
God was there and gave her a number of key breaks. Like a scholarship to be an educator. There were only a few scholarships offered. She didn’t think she had a chance. God thought otherwise.
She had to come down to Singapore for the one-year course. She had a room in Dunearn Road Hostel and a roommate with whom she became good friends. Her roommate was God sent. A devout Christian, she gave mum the help she needed with her English, a key factor in her finishing the course successfully. She worked hard. But God was there. And she knew it.
There would be many more challenges in the years ahead. But here she is, at age 80. Through the many challenges of her life, she trusted God and did what had to be done. She persevered. She has been a master teacher. I have been a poor student. But I am glad she has been there as a bench mark in the discipline of “not giving up.”
For some, when the going gets tough, the tough compromise and become wheelers and dealers. But mum never compromised her Christian principles. No short cuts. She would often tell me that one had to do the right thing even if it meant sacrificing popularity. That is why mum was always respected. But not always liked.
She served as the chairman of her church board for many years. There were those who objected to women holding such high places of leadership in the church. I understand that the body of Christ is divided on the issue of women in leadership. I am sure I am biased. But I felt that mum was chairman because she was the best man for the job, a Deborah for her community (Judges 4:4).
My relationship with mum has not always been easy. We are too alike. We had many fights when we were younger. Since we both came from the “no compromise” approach to life, we would go head to head when our convictions differed.
Dad would often shake his head and bemoan the fact that the two “serious” Christians in the family were the ones having the heated arguments. (He was supposed to be the “nominal” Christian but he knew much more about love and peace than us.) Mum and I would be convicted of the rightness of our positions, and therefore not willing to give in.
I am glad to report that mum and I have grown much closer in recent years. Dad’s passing also resulted in mum and I having a new level of “being at home” with each other. I am now based in Singapore. Mum lives in Penang. I don’t see her enough. She lives in Pulau Tikus. There is no way she is going to uproot and come to live with me in Singapore. (Penangites will readily understand this phenomenon.) I plan to make more trips home.
Part of the price of growing up is the realisation that your parents are not perfect. They have faults. They make mistakes. We cannot confuse our earthly parents with our heavenly Father. Yet it is their very humanity that make our parent’s sacrifices and efforts all that more laudable.
Last Sunday was special. I thank God for the opportunity to state for the record the debt I owe my mum. I am who I am because she has loved me and has always encouraged me to be my best. And continues to do so. Thanks mum. I can never repay the debt I owe you. But I can try to be a good steward of the life I have. And encourage my children to do the same.