Posted by Joey Asher Tan
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
Posted by Joey Asher Tan
In the last couple of weeks, I went to the hospital twice; one was to visit the grandfather of a youth leader, and the other was to visit my paternal grandmother, who had a bad fall a few weeks ago and needed to be warded. She is my only remaining grandmother.
We used to be a lot closer when I stayed with her through my primary school days. However, our recent conversations barely scratch the surface. I remember praying for her in Chinese many years back (also at the hospital) and evangelising to her in Shanghai. She was physically weak and emotionally frail then and was surprisingly receptive to the Gospel. But right now, she’s in better health and I think she may have closed the doors again. I just returned home from visiting her with HY and I felt so distant from her.
This got me thinking about the things that go through an old person’s mind. After all, one thing about growing old is that you have all the time in the world to think about all the things you have done in your life, as well as the things that you will never get to do. There are memories that you’d inevitably revisit for the umpteenth time and with it comes the repeated lashing of hurts and pains; each time my grandmother recalls my grandfather, tears well up in her eyes. Honestly, there are times I wonder if she misses him as a husband or misses him as a father for a family that has fallen apart. I’ve experienced for myself firsthand the impact of an absent father; my grandfather’s passing in 1991 seemed to be the turning point of my extended family’s journey into dismay. But I digress.
I reckon that the typical aged person tends to remember the sadder moments about his life instead of the happier ones – I hope that’s not too quick an assumption, but why is that so? Why does he become gradually pessimistic as he ages? I certainly do not wish to age that way. I want to live my life in such a way that I will not look back in regret but to look back and feel great about all the things I’ve done and all the people I’ve impacted.
That night at the hospital, I saw sadness in my grandmother’s eyes. This is a morbid statement but I believe she knows that her time is limited and the day to bid this world goodbye is approaching. I couldn’t help but to think that she was thought about the things she wished she could have done better, the people she wished she could have treated better, and the words she wished she didn’t say. I saw remorse – but I may be wrong.
Please do not misunderstand me – I think highly of my grandmother and I need not prove her credentials through words. It’s just that watching her count her days made me ponder about how I’d be counting mine eventually. Is aging scarier than death itself? Sometimes I can’t help but think so, as I watch the old folks around me get older. And for geriatrics who have little activity to pass time with, they seem to spend the entire day staring into space – maybe they’re wondering if that’s how they are going to spend the remainder of their life. How would I deal with such a devastating thought?
I think it’s miserable and I think there’s so much more to life, even at an old age. I remember this quote (apparently a traditional Indian saying) about living and dying which I quite appreciated when I was growing up.
“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a way that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”
I’m pretty confident that, as with any death, the world would cry if I were to pass away at this instance, but the question that lingers is, would I rejoice? I guess I’ll have the rest of my life to figure out the answer. I don’t want to meet God in heaven and have Him put His arm around me and tell me, “You know, Joe, what I actually wanted you to do in this life was…” That would be an epic sadness which I’d want to avoid with my whole life.
Tags: evangelising in Chinese, father, geriatric, God, Gospel, grandfather, grandmother, grandparent, growing old, hospital, husband, Lee Huiyi, morbid, old person, pessimism, praying in Chinese, primary school, regret, remorse, sadness, Shanghai, surface conversation, time, tomorrows, yesterdays