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my journey to Jesus Christ – a personal testimony.

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!

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23 haikus for 23 years.

23 haikus, 23 years

Specially written for Lee Huiyi

1
So far, you have had
Eight four zero zero days
That’s good, not too bad

2
Three two eight seven
That’s the time we’re acquainted
Start of my heaven

3
Eight one three great days
As lovers were meant to be
My heart, set ablaze

4
Bottom of my heart
Five one one three absent days
’twas tough when apart

5
Not ‘nother hour
I will ever want to miss
My superpower

6
No more books this year
Sashimi meal, shopping spree
May these bring you cheer

7
Rhino and hedgehog
Perfect combination like
Princess and the frog

8
ANTM sighs
Man United double sighs
Addicts in disguise

9
Lonely Lakeside walks
Buona Vista sweaty strides
Distance does its talks

10
Two zero one one
May we become more than this
Journey’s just begun

11
Spend quality time
Reflected in our shared plans
G Cal is sublime

12
Independent girl
Thankful for this strength of yours
I’m oyster, you’re pearl

13
I am halfway through
This cheesy piece written by
Baby kangaroo

14
My wordy pursuit
Haikus, poems, songs lined up
Lyrical salute

15
Oh I miss you so
Ev’ry minute without you
From my head to toe

16
Best friend and lover
You are my truest soul mate
Just undercover

17
You’re God’s grace to me
Accepting tainted hist’ry
Love to that degree

18
Whether “Precious Thirds”
Or “Do You Love Me?”, we are
Feathers of a bird

19
A happy birthday
My prayer for us is to
Travel a long way

20
Another cliche
Sweeter still, my sentiments
In action replay

21
Shanghai or at home
We’ll emerge through it all, could
Honeymoon be Rome?

22
Finito, the end
I’d gladly write another
Twenty three, extend

23
My dearest darling
How I love you ’til the end
Soon I’ll bring a ring

***

Happy birthday, my dearest darling girlfriend, Lee Huiyi. (:

recovery reflections.

I don’t really write about events because I’ve set out this blog to capture more thoughts and reflections than moments, but I think I should remember my thoughts and feelings about this particular piece of memory in my operation recovery.

Many of you would know that on Tuesday I underwent surgery to deal with Dercum’s Disease; the team of surgeons removed all 25 lumps (L arm-2, R arm-5, L leg-2, R leg-2, F torso-9, B torso-5) which I had identified on my body. There are many things which I am thankful for throughout the entire process:

  • The excellent SGH team – be it nurses, assistants, anesthetists or administrators. There’s a lot that could be learnt from their care-giving; I left that evening with better idea of what it meant to show hospitality, from none other than a hospital team.
  • Normal bodily motion and function – with 25 dressings all over my body, my movement is restricted, uncomfortable and painful. I believe I would never take normality for granted again; the temporal inability of doing things normally heighten my appreciation.
  • Sudden and unexpected team of prayer warriors – be it from my DoYouLoveMe? cell, Shanghai MannaM@X cell, REAL2010, colleagues, family members and random friends. I must have had at least 25 people praying with and for me. God does His math properly – one for every lipoma.
  • Non-reaction to General Anesthetic – I’ve had neither allergic nor nauseating reactions to GA. Seems like everyone whom I’ve spoken to (who has undergone GA) either puked or felt really giddy. My doctor said I may also get sore throats and coughs. But praise God – I’ve had zero reactions. (By the way, I managed to stay awake for all of four seconds.)
  • Mummy’s unfailing storge (natural love and affection from parents) – 10th March marks her birthday and yet she spent the entire day making sure I was all right. The closest agape an unmarried man would experience would undoubtedly be from his mother. I could never be more thankful for the last 27 years of care-giving, self-sacrificing and out-loving from this remarkable woman.

I’m also especially thankful for HY. Three years ago, immediately after I left the SAF, I went for a minor operation to remove three lipomas on both arms. HY was there with me; back then, I was still courting her. Three years on, HY was also there with me, this time as my girlfriend and what a difference three years have made:

  • The comfort and assurance I felt when I was pushed back to my ward to recover, and to find a familiar face of love who had been waiting there for the last two hours. That is something I should never take for granted because she doesn’t owe it to me; she didn’t need to do it, she wanted to.
  • HY had a fear and natural dislike for hospitals and yet she overcame that to care for me. Of course there were boo-boo moments (for us to know, for others never to find out), but it made it all the more memorable.
  • She demonstrated patience for my impatience and a cool head for my hot head. This last statement actually does sum up how HY makes me a holier person by allowing me to overcome my weaknesses by learning from her strengths.
  • HY came to my place today to also celebrate Mummy’s birthday. She bought and brought along with her my recovery pack – two boxes of Post cereal and Magnolia milk for my breakfasts over the next week, Bee Cheng Hiang pork floss for my congee lunches and (my two favourite snacks of) Famous Amos cookies and Jollybean peanut pancakes in case I go hungry at night. It doesn’t get more thoughtful than that! HY never fails to demonstrate to me that love is indeed a verb.
  • Her presence during my absence from work this week have made and will continue to make a world of difference. She was there on Tuesday, Wednesday and she has offered to accompany me for Thursday. Every Naruto needs a Sakura in their lives for speedy healing, uh? (:

All right, I’ll be missing in action until next Monday (when I visit my doctor for the follow-up medical appointment). I doubt I’ll be mobile enough to make it to church services this weekend. I’m gonna try to work on the Newbies sermon series during this period of absence but I highly doubt my productivity. There’s little packing that I can do at home due to the awkwardness in moving around too. So… I think I’ll just be reading, playing FM (hehe), watching free movies on MioTV and couch-potato-ing a lot during the next few days. I welcome company.

There’s so much to praise God and to give Him glory for. He is good, in control and will bring it to pass. I serve a God who heals and a God who provides. And so I continue to covet your prayers. Please pray that:

  1. The root of the disease has been removed;
  2. There won’t be a recurrence – new lumps won’t grow, old lumps won’t return;
  3. Insurance will cover the bulk of the surgery cost – it wasn’t a cheap operation by any measure, and as it stands, I’m footing the entire bill;
  4. My body will heal well;
  5. Scars will be minimal;
  6. Wounds won’t be painful when I move around, sit or sleep, and
  7. There will be no infections or complications

And now I shall head off to watch Man Utd beat the living daylights out of AC Milan. (It’s 1-0 now but I may come back to edit this last sentence depending on the final score 90 minutes later…) [Edit: I’m a prophet. The final score: Man Utd 4 AC Milan 0.]

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