I walked alongside my good friend
By Sim Ai Hiong
Friends are a blessing from God. I am very blessed with many of them; and among them Chia Nyoke Lin was one closest and dearest to me. I met Nyoke in the early sixties.
We were both serving in the Girls’Brigade, she in Kuala Lumpur and I in Sitiawan. We met several times a year, at Officers Training Camps, and National Camps.
In between the camps we corresponded regularly. Several times she took the long four-hours drive to spend the weekend with me. I made many trips to Kuala Lumpur to visit her in her home.
Her family was very kind to me and treated me lovingly. Nyoke lived with her maternal grandparents, her parents, her twin sister Mee Lin, and their younger sister Poh Lin.
I recall my visits to her family. I shared the room with the girls, and we would chat through the night. Girls would be girls – we had so much to talk about!
While Nyoke was serving as an Officer in the Girls’ Brigade, she heard the call to fulltime Christian Service. In 1968 she enrolled into Trinity Theological College in Singapore to prepare herself for ministry. After she graduated in 1972, she was involved with Youth and Christian Education work of the SMAC (Singapore-Malaysia Annual Conference). In 1978 she went for further training at Scarritt Theological College in Nashville, Tennessee. Upon her return she resumed her role as Director of Christian Education at the Wesley Methodist Church in Kuala Lumpur, and at the same time lecturing at the Seminary Theologi Malaysia.
I got to visit with Nyoke more often after I moved to Kuala Lumpur in 1971. We had a close circle of friends who met regularly for meals and mutual encouragement.
One day, sometime in 1981, Nyoke asked me to help her button up her blouse. She said there was no strength in her fingers, and she couldn’t do certain things. She consulted her doctor who suspected something was wrong. After a series of tests, x-rays and scans, she was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease, which was incurable. She sought treatment from local specialists as well as those in China, but her condition did not improve. Nyoke was very brave, and despite her illness and inability to use one hand, she struggled to do her best in her ministry until end of 1984 when she was too weak and couldn’t fend for herself.
One day at a time
Our close circle of friends continued to meet with Nyoke regularly, meeting at her home for Bible study, singing and fellowship. Occasionally she would go out for a meal with us or visit some friends. She was always very cheerful and positive. We talked freely about her struggles and illness. Although she was disappointed that she was not getting better, she was always positive about God’s will for her life, and that no matter what happened to her, she could continue to put her trust in God, “One Day At A Time”, which became her theme song from then on. Nyoke was someone you can trust, and she was a very good listener, which made her a good counsellor for the youths.
Feelings about dying
Towards the end of 1984 Nyoke was slowly getting weaker. She could no longer climb the staircase, so her sisters had to carry her downstairs where she rested during the day when her sisters were at work. Her parents were always home, so she was never alone. Our close circle of friends decided we would take turns to sleep over at her place, so that she could have company when it was difficult for her to fall asleep.
During this period of time, Nyoke decided to write her testimony in the form of a booklet. Verna De Kretser and I were her hands as she dictated what she wanted to include in her book. Her book “My Testimony” was completed and printed just before she passed away. This was a very difficult period of pain and uncertainty, for her, for her loved ones, and for us, her close friends.
One night when it was my turn to spend the night with her, we talked till late into the night. She couldn’t sleep, so I kept her company. It was that night when she asked me a very important question. She said, “You have talked to me about many things, Ai. How come you never asked how I feel about dying?”
That question jolted me! I knew she was serious.
I was lying on the mattress next to her bed, so I sat up and faced her. Now we were ready for serious talk. I asked if she was afraid to die. She replied, “No, I’m not afraid to die because I know that when I die my soul will be with Jesus in Heaven. But….maybe I’m just a little afraid of the dying process – was it going to be quick? Painful?” I replied, “I cannot tell you, because I haven’t been there!” We both broke out laughing, with tears in our eyes.
After we steadied ourselves, we continued our conversation. She told me she was very concerned about her parents. She felt she had failed in her responsibility as eldest in the family, to look after her parents. She was concerned for their health and well-being. She also showed concern for her two sisters, and her grandmother and aunty who were also living with them. I prayed for her. Then we slept.
A few days later, it was my turn to spend the night again. Nyoke could not sleep, so we sat up to chat.
She was rather quiet that night, maybe a little troubled. I asked if she was well, and she assured me she was. Then she asked if I could do something for her. She wanted me to help her prepare for her funeral and to get the funeral service programme ready. I remember how shocked I was at her request, and I told her, “ You’re not going to die yet!”
I was scheduled to go to Port Dickson for a Youth Camp the next day, so I told her I’d do it after I returned from camp. But she did tell me briefly what she wanted. I was rather troubled the whole time I was at camp, and pleaded with God not to take Nyoke while I was away. When I got home, I went to see her straight away. She didn’t look good at all, and she was very frail. I asked the family if I could stay the night. Her twin said she wanted to look after her that night, so I agreed. That night she went to bed and never woke again. God had taken her home peacefully.
After I left for camp, Nyoke had sent for Verna. Somehow she must have known she was going to die. She wanted to make all her funeral arrangements in writing, and to get the program for the funeral service printed. So Verna helped her with all that. It was not an easy task but they got through it. I had a shock when I looked at the program she had planned. She had requested that I sang for her during the funeral service, and she wanted me to sing “Because He Lives”.
How could I possibly do it? I was already numb with shock and grief; how was I going to stand up there and sing?! I got our close circle of friends together. I told them I couldn’t do it alone, so I requested that they sang along with me, which they did. Wesley Church was packed to the brim with people standing outside the church compound. We all gathered to celebrate Nyoke Lin’s life and to say farewell to a friend who was very dear to us. Our group sang, with tears running down our cheeks. There were few dry eyes in the congregation. Nyoke’s theme song “One Day At A Time” was background music as her casket was brought in and out of the church where she worshipped and served for many years.
Nyoke was called home at the prime of her life – she was only 41. She was all one could look for in a friend – kind and loving, caring, trustworthy, honest, a good listener, humble and generous. What a blessing she had been to me! I do miss my dear friend Nyoke; but each time I miss her, I thank God for every remembrance of her. I also thank God for He must have heard our conversation that night, for mercifully He took her home gently and peacefully in her sleep.
Ai Hiong was in christian education with the Methodist Church in Malayisa and Singapore until her marriage and migration to Perth. She is a regular contributor to this website