Periodically, my friend Pak Wah (principal of Biblical Graduate School of Theology) will ask me whether, in my heart of hearts, I am Malaysian or Singaporean? (I am Malaysian and a Singapore PR.) I will answer, “In my heart of hearts, I am Malaysian”. I guess I am old fashioned, but I believe that unless the Lord shows otherwise you should be loyal to the land of your birth. This is an identity that has caused me great pain. Right now, my heart is broken and I weep for the many Malaysians who are sick and dying because of Covid and a government more concerned to stay in power though they have failed to provide competent leadership in the face of Malaysia’s present health and economic crises. But last Monday (August 9), Singapore’s National Day, I woke up to a deep sense of gratitude for Singapore. I have a huge debt to Singapore
I did my tertiary education here. In 1974, I came to Singapore for the first time to read dentistry in the University of Singapore. I did end up with a Bachelor in Dental Surgery but fine handwork didn’t come naturally to me. I struggled in dental school. It was the first time I experienced academic failure. The important lessons I learnt in dental school were lessons of character, including finishing the course even when you struggled most of the time. The lessons learnt in residential hall life were more enjoyable. Like most of my KE (King Edward 7th) Hall friends, we remember our time there very fondly. I especially valued my time acting in a play (The Importance of Being Earnest), singing in the hall band (Keviians), and being part of the Hall debating team. I appreciated the years I practised as a dentist. Dental practice was more fun than dental school. And my dental degree opened many key doors of ministry — I currently serve as the chaplain of the Singapore Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship.
I thought my struggles in dental school were bad. I had no idea what lay ahead — the death of one wife, the loss of another through divorce, and a journey through depression. I am grateful for the help I received from my psychiatrist in Petaling Jaya, but a person who walked with me through my black years was the late Anthony Yeo. Here was a true friend who helped me with therapeutic conversations and wine. I miss him. Many friends and colleagues helped in my journey of healing and continue to walk with me to keep me healthy. My good friend Dr Goh Wei Leong has become a spiritual companion. My psychiatrist in Singapore is an old friend and we are as much spiritual companions as we are doctor and patient. Time does not permit me to list the many Singaporean pastors, counsellors, and friends whom God used and continues to use for my healing and wholeness.
The Lord has blessed me with many dear friends here in Singapore. I have always believed there is a certain mystery in friendship; why two people are drawn together to walk together. Thank you Singapore friends, young and old, for accepting this grumpy Malaysian uncle, blessing me, and allowing me to bless you. Although the limited bandwidth of time and energy means we do not connect as often as I would like, and I often over-promise and under-deliver where meeting up is concerned, you are in my mind and heart.
In my final year of dental school, the Lord made it clear that I was called to a vocation of Bible teaching. I believe dentistry is a noble calling, but it wasn’t my primary calling. God confirmed my calling in many ways and eventually I left dentistry to pursue theological studies. I served in pastoral ministries for a number of years but, after my divorce, most avenues of public ministry in Malaysia were closed. I was very sad because I thought that because of my failures I had disqualified myself from doing what the Lord had called me to do. A small group of friends asked me not to give up. But it was the Singapore church that helped me recover my ministry. I did not hide my past but somehow the Singapore church was more willing to forgive me of my failures and give me a fresh start for my ministry. As a result, the last 15 years, since my return to Singapore, have been years of significant and fruitful ministry. I have done some of my best work and am looking forward to the years ahead. I am also grateful that my ministry is also increasingly accepted in Malaysia again.
My biggest debt to Singapore is for my wife Bernice. She is a true-blue Singaporean — Tanjong Katong Girls’ School, Hwa Chong Junior College, University of Singapore — but her roots are as Penang as are mine. She has brought so much love and healing into my life. As a friend put it, God blessed me big time when He brought her into my life. It is scary to imagine where I would be today without her by my side. She has not only blessed me big time, she has also showered generous love to my two boys, Stephen and Andrew. And I am so, so grateful that her boys, Mark and John, have embraced me and given me so much love. For Bernice alone, I will say, thank you Singapore, but I have been blessed so much more by this city state.
Whatever lies ahead, my time here has been super significant. I have tried to return something to this country, but how does one repay a debt like this? So, thank you Singapore. May the Lord continue to bless you as you journey the road ahead.