I was given a second chance
September 11 2001 is a date etched in my memory. It was a Tuesday morning when I was working on a business project for a banking consortium in the head office in New York a few blocks away from World Trade Towers.
Out of nowhere, a plane crashed into the opposite building.
We all rushed down to the street. Many people were taking photos of the smoke on the building. My camera ran out of film so I walked into a small shop to buy more film.
At that instant, a second plane crashed into the World Trade Center and the building started to collapse and melt right before my eyes. Some people on the streets were injured. If I was walking on the street, I would have been one of the casualties. Realising the severity of the situation, the whole office was evacuated immediately. With just a backpack, I walked for an hour before I could check into another hotel. They did not have rooms available and desperately, I pleaded with them to let me sleep on the couch in the lobby. They finally found me a tiny room by the stairs. At this point, I had lost all communication with my colleagues, boss and family. Feeling lost, scared and alone, I cried out to God for help and comfort. I found a small Internet cafe not far from the hotel and felt relieved I could email my family. Shortly after, I was able to make phone contact home. I was shaken by the whole event and it was only years later that I realised that it was God who protected me and saved my life on that fateful day.
On a visit to my eldest daughter in Perth I was invited to a dinner by some of her pastors. During the meal, the pastor seated next to me asked if I wanted to be saved. I said yes. But it was a long journey for me to discover who God really was and find my way to Him.
Life went on
After witnessing the September 11 event, my life continued as usual. Even though I attended church, I was only a Sunday Christian. No one followed up with me and I became disinterested. I lost the desire to know Him. I saw how other Christians behaved and became cynical that this could be all just a show. I have never been a religious person and since young, I always considered myself a “free thinker” even though my parents were Buddhists and Taoists. Christianity just became another routine in my life. I didn’t know how to pray or turn to God in times of need or when I struggled in my marriage. For 15 years since I asked God into my life, I felt like I was lost like a wanderer, not knowing where to go.
It was only in 2014 after searching and attending many different churches that my wife and I finally settled in a Methodist church. We signed up for the small group bible study which taught us so much about the Bible and the early church. Our group was facilitated by an extremely sincere and honest man who opened my eyes to what Christians can be like – a person who is unafraid to be open with his weaknesses. As I was struggling with explosive anger and frustrations, we decided to attend the Inner Healing course to help us with our marriage issues. I learnt more about God in the process after which I signed up for the 8 weeks baptism class together with my wife. The lessons helped change my perspective on what baptism is and what church is truly about. I used to believe that baptism is unnecessary and that it was merely a “show” that Christians put up before the congregation and their friends. Even though I knew my wife was very keen for us to get baptised, I would brush it away and belittle its importance. Besides, every time we wanted to sign up for a baptism class, something would crop up which would stop me from doing so.
Finally, having understood the significance of baptism, we were baptized together in 20 March, 2016. It was no longer just a ritual but an obedient act. My heart was finally ready to take this step.
It was only in recent years that I started to gain an understanding about having a relationship with God. It was only in gaining this understanding that I realised how I have been saved by grace and how His grace and mercy had sustained me all through the different incidents in my life. For the past 15 years I felt lost and alone in my journey. But now, I believe and I hope to grow in Him, alongside my family by learning to pray and spending time with them. I hope He will use my days to help the needy and that I would be able to do His Work.
There is no doubt that it is God who saved my life that fateful day on September 11. My life is preserved by His grace. It was He who guarded, protected and brought me home safely to my family. So I will continue to seek God for His leading and direction in my next phase of life.
Tong is now retired in Perth after being in the banking industry for more than 40 years in which he covered Singapore and the Asia Pacific. His pastimes are golf and fellowship with Christian friends.