These past few days we have had the privilege of taking the Emmanuel Bible-Presbyterian Church camp. This is one camp that we were really looking forward to doing because Bernice and I owe the pastor of the church, Dr Quek Swee Hwa, big time.
I first met Dr Quek in 1981 when I started my theological education in Regent College. All the students were divided into pastoral groups under the care of a faculty member. Dr Quek was a visiting lecturer in Regent during that time and, for some reason, the school put all the students from Malaysia and Singapore under Dr Quek’s care. He worked hard at helping us enter the world of theological education and at integrating us into life in Canada.
During the school term, Regent had a chapel service once a week and the different pastoral groups took turns to organise the chapel service. When it came to our turn, I expected that Dr Quek would share from the Word and the rest of the group would do other stuff, like lead worship, share testimonies, etc. I was surprised that Dr Quek asked me to share from the Word while he led worship. He hardly knew me then and must have taken a risk to let me share from the Word. I was deeply encouraged and it taught me that we are who we are because our seniors mentor us and open doors for us. I have tried to pass it forward since.
Dr Quek excelled in many things, including music. He formed our pastoral group into an ad hoc choir and he trained us to sing a few hymns at the chapel service. At one rehearsal, I whispered to the group that we should call ourselves Quek’s Quackers (from “quack”, the sound a duck makes). Dr Quek had (and still has) an impressive sense of hearing and he said, “I heard that Soo Inn”.
Dr Quek continued to help me in my ministry in the years that were to follow. Perhaps the most important thing he did for us was to conduct my wedding with Bernice which included leading us in the marriage preparation classes. Bernice and I had lost our first spouses to cancer but I also had a divorce in my history. And although my ex had remarried by then, there were still those who believed that I should not remarry. I knew that Dr Quek would receive flak for marrying us, but in many ways he was the ideal person to do so. No one could accuse Dr Quek of being liberal (he is a Bible-Presbyterian, for goodness sake), or of not knowing the Bible (he had a PhD in New Testament), or of not having pastoral experience (he had served many years as a pastor by then). When we asked him about the criticisms he must have received for marrying us, he said “It’s just a storm in a tea cup”. I am sure it was more than that, but the criticisms he received did not deter him from helping us.
I wanted to serenade my bride as part of the wedding service and had chosen “My One and Only Love” as the song I would sing. We suspected Dr Quek would be more partial to hymns and classical music, and wondered how he would take to the idea of my singing a jazz standard. Not only was he ok with the idea, he even gave suggestions as to when to do it in the wedding programme for maximum impact!
I have only mentioned two instances when Dr Quek has blessed us. But they should be enough to help you understand why we feel a deep sense of gratitude for all he has done for us and why we were delighted to be able to do something for him. At the camp, we also had many good conversations with him and his wife Esther. We mooted the idea that he should write his autobiography. After all, we are called to remember the lives of our leaders (Hebrews 13:7), and his life story would inspire and teach many. And so we are hoping that this will be something else we can do for him — publish his story. In the meantime, we remember the camp warmly, especially the opportunity to publicly testify to what Dr Quek has done for us and for many others. I believe there are many Quek’s Quackers out there.