I’ve always been grateful to God for His grace that has seen me through my growing-up years. For me to be serving Him full-time as a youth minister is a long shot from what was actually intended for me by default of my family’s heritage. Many of you would have heard this before so please bear with me as I share my conversion story again. After all, telling of God’s redemptive plan never gets old.
Caution: this is a long read – prepare the tidbits. (P/S: I’ve already kept it brief!)
I am the firstborn of my generation in a traditional Taoist family. When my parents divorced in 1991, I stayed with my grandmother and my father (for he had the legals rights to my custody). Our flat was a make-shift temple (but some of the devotees probably saw a temple in a make-shift flat, if you know what I mean). I vividly remember the day I counted with my index finger, statue by statue, the number of idols we worshipped – over 130. Yes, it’s a staggeringly scary number. Every August, my family would organise a festival to the celebrate the birthday of the main deity of our temple. Throngs of people would be in attendance and I was always actively involved. There were more people who came to my house to offer incense, ask for protection, consult mediums (yes, possessions took place at my home regularly) than to visit my grandmother, who is the custodian of the temple. Being the eldest grandchild, I was supposed to take over the temple from my uncle, who played the role of a general manager, of sorts. I was exposed to a lot of the operations; I knew and could recognise all the deities by their dialect salutations, chanted during rituals, played the “worship” music (of drums and cymbals) and of course, mixed with tattoo-clad gangster three times my age. They said I had so much “spiritual potential” that I was made the godson of two prominent deities and I was the youngest “layman” to be involved in all the activities. I certainly enjoyed the attention and favour everyone bestowed to me and I reveled in it.
Despite being in a missionary institution (Anglo-Chinese School), I only heard about Jesus Christ when I was in Primary Four, at an external Scripture Union Primary Age camp that my science teacher invited me to go along with her. It was then that my discovery of Christianity begun. I remember talking to my grandmother about the camp and how I may want to follow this “Jesus”. Needless to say, I received a huge dressing-down. A year later, after a school excursion to Haw Par Villa, where we took a boat into the “18 Levels of Hell”, I became tremendously afraid of dying – more specially of ending up in hell. I remember the night that I couldn’t sleep because I was mentally disturbed by all the different punishments I saw in “Hell”; liars had their tongues cut off, murderers were cruelly decapitated and thieves were violently amputated – I was guilty of all these sins and I didn’t want to end up as a mere lump of flesh forever. In tears, I walked out to the living room and had a Papa-I-don’t-want-to-die-and-go-to-hell conversation with my father. Two years later, after the Primary Six Leaving Examination (PSLE), I attended a Christian Fellowship camp organised by my school. I have no recollection how I even signed up for it. Nonetheless, it was at that camp that I gave my life to Jesus. My motivation was simple – I didn’t want to go to hell and John 3:16 was the deciding factor for my conversion. I’m being honest here; I didn’t really embrace the idea of suffering something worse than death itself for all of eternity. The person who led me in the sinner’s prayer was Brother Alan Lim. Here’s the excerpt of what I remember about my conversion conversation:
Alan Lim: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Me: You mean, I just need to believe?
AL: Yes, it’s as simple as that.
Me: You mean, I won’t go to hell and be tortured after I die?
AL: You will have eternal life with Jesus.
Me: You mean, it’s free?
AL: Yes, it is free.
Me: Okay then, I want to be a Christian.
AL: All right, I will lead you in a “sinner’s prayer” but do you know that once you say this, there’s no turning back?
Me: Yes, I know.
AL: Good, let’s pray then. Repeat after me, “Dear Jesus…”
That was it – I didn’t want to go to hell and this “Jesus” person offered me a way out of it. It was free and I didn’t need to do anything except to confess with my mouth and believe in my heart. I mean, it’s a no-brainer deal! Who wouldn’t accept this offer? I certainly wanted this “eternal life” and as a simple-minded Primary Six boy, I was completely sold by this salvation idea. I had to keep this conversion a secret for a good four years before I finally decided to declare it to my grandmother. It was a Sunday and I remember telling it to her while we were together in a taxi (and I still remember that conversation taking place when the cab was travelling along Lower Delta Road, turning left into the slip road that connected to Tiong Bahru Road, towards Redhill MRT station). Strangely enough, I can’t remember how I started the conversation. But she was aware that I have missed the August festival for four years running now.
Me: Ah Ma，你知道我现在是信耶稣了，每个星期天都会去教堂的。(Grandma, do you know that I believe in Jesus now and attend church every Sunday?)
Grandma: 我当然知道啦，我不管你要信什么，你变乖就好。(Of course I know. But I don’t care what you believe in, so long as you become obedient.)
You see, when I stayed with Ah Ma for those four years in that four-room Jalan Besar flat, I was a terrible and horrible kid to look after. I have stolen from my own grandmother, the neighbourhood convenience store and even the departmental store in a shopping centre. Everyday, I hung out with hooligans until midnight, gambled, accompanied them to extort money, threatened people and participated in activities that terrorised the neighbourhood; many times my grandmother had to personally search for me at 11pm. I spewed vulgarities (in dialect) like it was second-nature to me. I’ve changed tutors 11 times in three years and I constantly escaped from tuition and even made a couple of (lady) tutors cry. I basically had no regard for authority. Mind you, I had “achieved” all these as a primary school kid; that’s right – I was on my way to becoming “yellow chinese trash”, as I would affectionately call myself. I had “boys’ home”, “juvenile delinquent” and “no future” written on my forehead. I wasn’t an unintelligent boy, but my ill-discipline nearly caused me to be thrown to EM3 (the weakest academic band) during the Primary Four Streaming Examinations.
My close shave with EM3 was the last straw for my mother. She acted quickly, just like how she “saved” my sister from this destructive environment a couple of years ago. She took this opportunity to gain complete custody of me, and my sister and I were reunited after being separated from one another for a few years. I moved to peaceful Ghim Moh from turbulent Jalan Besar; it has been the three of us ever since 1995. By God’s grace(!), I made it through the PSLE with 4 A’s and I remember doing it without any additional tuition (as my mother could not afford it). It was a miracle now that I think about it, no matter how I look at it. I am certain that God was massively involved in redeeming me and I am certain that there must have been people who were interceding for me. I was the first amongst my immediate family to be saved, then my sister (although she attended church before me), then my mother. Again, by God’s grace, the five eldest grandchildren of my paternal family are all Christians now and they serve God actively in their respective churches. I was no longer that repulsive primary school boy that my grandmother used to look after and my significant turnaround was certainly obvious to her. No wonder she said it doesn’t matter what or who I believed in, so long as I became obedient.
(Okay, that sharing was a little longer than I had imagined… And I’ve really enjoyed writing all that… But) I shall come to my main point now.
A lot of people have told me, “Wow, Joey, you have such a good testimony! My testimony is so boring…”
But I beg to differ, for I merely have a dramatic testimony.
To me, a good testimony is this:
“I am obedient to my parents; I study hard in school; I attend church with my family every Sunday; I go for cell group every week; I am well-behaved and even-tempered; I read the Bible and memorise the Word of God; I spend time with God daily; I treat everyone with respect; I love my brothers and sisters-in-Christ; I pray for my friends and constantly encourage them; I serve God actively in church; I take care of those who are in need; I heed the advice of my pastors, mentors and leaders; I am faithful, available and teachable; I love God, love His Word and His people.”
I don’t know about you, but I think that a person who has that kind of story to tell is a remarkable individual for that life demonstrates years of obedience and courage to be different from everyone else; I opine that you don’t need to fall away from grace to experience God’s grace. Everyone has a story to tell and it is the element of a changed life by a great God that makes the testimony powerful and effective.
I may have a captivating story to tell of God’s grace, redemption and goodness in my life, and God has certainly used it to glorify Himself in the last 15 years. But that’s just me! For every one drug addict or ex-convict who turns his life to Jesus, there will be nine others who fall to the wayside. In Revelation 12:11, we know that we will overcome the evil one by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony; the Word of God doesn’t indicate that this testimony needs to be dramatic or good – but that we simply do our part to testify, which means that we ought to tell others about what God has done in our lives. Never, ever, underestimate your testimony simply because it’s a simple one.
The key here isn’t to compare your story with mine but to tell you my story, and for you to tell me yours, so that at the end of the day, God gets all the glory. May I urge you to always testify no matter where you are, who you’re with, or what you do, for you never know how God will use your testimony to display His awesome glory and amazing redemption. Let’s save some, by all means possible!
Tags: 18 levels of hell, Alan Lim, Anglo-Chinese School, authority, available, believe, bible, birthday, blood of the Lamb, boys' home, by all means possible, cell group, changed life, Christian, Christian Fellowship, Christianity, church, confess, custody, death, devotees, dialect, divorce, dramatic testimony, drug addict, dying, eldest grandchild, EM3, eternal life, ex-convict, faithful, family, father, festival, full-time, gangster, Ghim Moh, God, God's grace, good testimony, grandmother, growing-up years, Haw Par Villa, hell, hooligan, idols, intercede, Jalan Besar, Jesus Christ, juvenile delinquent, leader, liars, love, Lower Delta Road, Maisie Tan, mentor, mother, murderers, no future, obedient, pastor, paternal family, Primary Four Streaming Examinations, Primary School Leaving Examinations, redemption, Redhill MRT, salvation, Scripture Union Primary Age Camp, serve God, sin, sinner's prayer, spiritual potential, statue, steal, Taoism, teachable, temple, testify, thieves, Tiong Bahru Road, tuition, vulgarities, word of God, word of our testimony, worship music, yellow chinese trash, youth minister
I’ve always opined that one hallmark of a responsible youth speaker (i.e. a person who speaks to young people) is to be authentic. KK, RY and AY are good examples who exhibit this crucial quality. You should never tell a young person something for the mere sake of saying it because it inspires them; I think that motivational speakers should avoid telling their audience something that is beyond their reach or is statistically almost impossible for them to attain. That’s not inspiring – that’s just bluffing.
Recently, I heard a youth speaker’s sharing with a group of young people and the contents of his sharing really caused me to raise both my eyebrows at him. First and foremost, there are only a handful of us who are musically or athletically gifted enough to make a living out of it; and even so, it takes years of dedication and that one good break. I think it’s all well and good if such a person has found success with his skill and talent but honestly and realistically, the odds of that happening are extremely low. While speakers should encourage and inspire, I think they also need to be socially responsible by not raising young people to a pedestal that they’ll struggle to get on. At the day’s end, hopes are unrealistically raised and cruelly dashed, and this results in a disillusioned youth.
After his talk was over, I saw his autograph and note to one of the girls. He wrote something like, “I believe in you – that you will be successful in life – I need you to believe in yourself.” He also openly declared that he loved the young people there but come on! Did he really mean it? I know I’m quick to judge here, but there was nothing that felt right in my spirit that night. I mean, what do all the words really mean to these youths if it comes from a stranger who doesn’t even know them! I was disgusted.
He then proceeded to share his five figure salary with everyone and stopped short of saying that he made it without completing his ‘O’ levels. What a dangerously reckless thing to declare! I believe he had a good intention to inspire them and his lesson also had two words dear to my heart – passion and desire – but pragmatically speaking, one would struggle make a living out with just these two qualities alone. There must be commitment and discipline to complement your passion and desire.
I was scheduled to speak after him and initially I had only wanted to share a short anecdote about the choices I’ve made when I was 13 years old but I felt the Spirit prompting me to balance and mediate what he shared to present a clearer picture. Hence I proceeded to talk about choices, perspective and attitude instead. I don’t deny it – he was a charismatic speaker with excellent oration skills but I wasn’t comfortable at all with the contents and attitude of his lesson; it was good but it was severely inadequate. And I will even go as far to say that it was irresponsible teaching.
Let us never tell someone that we believe in them if we do not know who they are, where they’ve come from and what they can do. Let us never tell someone that we love them if we’re unable to follow it up with action, for love is a verb; I think that it was impetuous for him to come into a session, where he’d probably meet the group for the first and last time, and to tell them that he loves and believes in them. This doesn’t sit well with me. We are all different – everyone had a different past, have a different present and will have a different future. The question then, is, are you happy? My answer – I’ve probably said it a million times – I could always be happier but I am situationally contented.
The reason why I dare to say I believe in young people isn’t that I think they have the ability to fulfil their potential but that I believe in what God can and will do through them. Before I say those potentially empowering or devastating words, I would deliberate for a long time and ask God to first give me a heart for them.
“Oh Lord, give me the contentment to accept what I have and the peace to accept what I do not have. I pray that the Lord will do damage control in the hearts of these young people whose ears these words fell on. Their future is in Your hands alone so may I learn to trust in You alone – the beginning and the end. Deal with me. I love You, Lord.”
Posted in A Walk To Remember, Attempted Provocation, Extraordinary Mundane, Forever Young, Heart Upon Sleeve, In Your Face, Previews & Reviews, Quote & Unquote, Retrospective Reflections, The Greatest Gift, Theocentric Orientation
Tags: Andy Yeoh, athletic, attitude, autograph, belief, believe, choice, different, disillusionment, gift, God, good intention, heart, Holy Spirit, inspire, irresponsible teaching, Kenneth Kwan, love, Love is a verb, motivational speaker, musical, odds, perspective, potential, Ronald Yow, salary, situationally contented, skill, social responsibility, talent, young people, youth, youth speaker
To those who do not follow Naruto, they might just write off this post; some may not even read it; and for those who do read it, they may probably just glance through it. I have a tendency to dramatise my expressions, but to a certain extent, Naruto has made a positive impact on my life. I’ve always been able to identify with Naruto’s personality – I know this is crazy coming from a 27-year-old, but reading his character profile is like reading mine. So here goes the top ten reasons why, if you are not watching/reading Naruto, it’s time you got started!
1. Naruto educates you about mentoring – There are so many examples! Positive ones include Iruka/Naruto, Jiraiya/Naruto, Tsunade/Sakura, Asuma/Shikamaru and Gai/Rock. It also paints realistic pictures of mentoring, that sometimes investing yourself in someone may not always result in a golden ending. Heartbreaking ones include Kakashi/Sasuke, Jiraiya/Nagato and Sarutobi/Orochimaru.
2. Naruto enlightens you on friendships – one of the most touching scenes was when Choji gave up his life to save Shikamaru and Ino. Massively tear-jerking! Another classic moment is a scene from Kakashi’s past, “Those who break the rules of the ninja world are called scum… That’s true… But those who abandon their friend are worse than scum”. Let’s not forget the value of loyalty in friendships.
3. Naruto teaches you about believing in young people – This is a topic really close to my heart; I believe in young people very much and I believe that the role of the present generation is to help the future generation surpass two things in life – the present generation’s legacies and abilities, as well as the future generation’s own potential. The saddest thing to hear at your funeral is, “He was a great potential”.
4. Naruto advocates that young people can change the world – I loved it when Shikamaru told Naruto that it was time for them to inherit the will of fire and to stop behaving like kids; I’m a sucker for hero-themes and enjoyed it very much when Naruto was revealed as the child of prophecy, “The gutsy ninja”, and how he singlehandedly overcame Pain. Do not underestimate the power of one and what God can do through you.
5. Naruto has a tailed-beast within him, like how everyone has an inner beast – The part of us that’s innately evil and sinful. We try ways and means to subdue it, be it by placing the right people in our lives or by doing the right things. But I believe that this inner beast in everyone is spiritual and it cannot be overcome by a physical method. We need something/someone greater than us to overcome the darkest parts of us.
6. Naruto talks about social issues – Anything from acceptance, to power struggles, to standing up for what you believe is right, to doing things that make you look cool, to succumbing to bad influences. I believe that Naruto is able to reach such a wide audience is that it covers a huge spectrum of subjects that everyone can relate to, regardless of age. Naruto’s outspoken character encourages you to never waver in your beliefs.
7. Naruto makes you laugh really hard – The episode that cracked me up the most was when Team 7 tried to unmask Kakashi. I was ROTFLMAO when they were speculating what Kakashi really looked like. And the one where Kakashi debuted the “Thousand Years of Pain” jutsu. Sasuke: “What… That’s not a Ninjutsu… That was just a super powerful ass poke.” Absolute comic genius! Everyone needs a good laugh from time to time!
8. Naruto gives you the platform to dream and reflect – That’s what anime does, after all. Each time I watch Sasuke, CC comes to my mind; Shikamaru reminds me of LK; When I watch Naruto reminisce about Jiraiya, I thank God for RY’s role in my life; Iruka evokes how JH invested in me when I was younger. There’s a moment in each episode that temporarily removes me from reality into utopia, and I think that’s not a bad thing.
9. Naruto inspires you to ponder over what you stand for in life – This is shown in every ninja having their “way of the ninja”, which empowers them to accomplish their goal in life. Naruto’s extremely simple way of the ninja is to “Never go back on [his] word” and to “Never give up”. My way of the ninja is found here. That’s the reason why I strongly believe in writing personal vision statements. What’s yours?
10. Naruto enables you to have conversational currency with young people – I’ve always found it quite amazing when youths suddenly express interest to chat with me when they realise I’m a Naruto fan; it’s like how men bond with army talk, except kids bond when they discuss Naruto. Somehow, I think kids think you are cool when you start using Kage Bunshi no Jutsu in your vocabulary.
I think I may have proven that I’m a big fan by now. My Shanghai cell leader insisted that I was crazy to spend sleepless nights trying to catch up to the latest episode. When I discovered that my youth pastor watches Naruto with his wife and two girls, it gave me the guts to tell my cell leader that Naruto is a family-bonding and youth pastor-endorsed activity. He was speechless. HAHA! Believe it or not, I’ve even written a song called “Watching You”, inspired by Hinata’s battle with Neji with Naruto cheering her on, and how she was fighting to be recognised by Naruto. The entire scene had traces of the I’m-watching-you-watch-over-me feeling; I thought that was a rather poetic moment.
Anyway, I’ve come to the end of my fourth installment of Top Ten Tuesdays, and I’ll probably write on something more serious next week. The ones who would enjoy this post the most are the ones who have been enjoying Naruto religiously. For the rest of you – seriously, you have no idea what you’re missing.
Posted in A Walk To Remember, Extraordinary Mundane, Forever Young, Leadership Lessons, Mentoring Minutes, Quote & Unquote, Simple Pleasures, The Greatest Gift, Theocentric Orientation, Top Ten & Other Lists
Tags: Asuma, beast, belief, believe, change, Chia Jenn Hui, Choji, Clarence Chua, conversational currency, dream, friendship, Gai, generation, God, greater, hero, Hinata, Ino, Iruka, Jiraiya, Kakashi, kids, laugh, Lionel Koh, loyalty, mentoring, Nagato, Naruto, Neji, ninja, Orochimaru, Pain, potential, reality, reflect, rock, Ronald Yow, Sakura, Sarutobi, Sasuke, Shanghai, Shikamaru, social, song, Tsunade, utopia, vision statement, way of the ninja, young people