My journey with a faithful God
By Lee Bun Chuan
Poverty of material things is closely tied to my ideas and thoughts of low self worth drilled into us by our parents especially by my mother. We were constantly told that we were poor therefore we should not mix with people who were of a higher social status than us. We felt we were always not good enough in ability and competency as compared to people of higher status. Subconsciously we absorbed these thoughts and grew up with feelings of low self worth. I always felt a sense of inadequacy whenever I mixed with people of higher status than me. I also had very low opinions about my abilities in many areas of my life.
Fear of evil spirits
From my family traditional beliefs, I was warned to fear evil spirits behind each rock formation and cautioned to avoid idols that might grip us. I remember that we were not allowed to play after dark fearing that we would offend the spirit world which would cause us to be sick. My paternal grandma drove deep superstitious beliefs into us. Whenever there was a funeral procession, our doors and windows had to be closed to prevent the departing spirit of the deceased from sneaking in to harm us. These fears became my bondage. These fears gripped my father too. When grandma died, my dad was too paralysed to take charge due to fear. I remember whenever I went to my maternal grandma’s house, I was always afraid of the idols that she worshipped. I was afraid to go near the altar and would avoid it if possible. Yet in the midst all these, I clearly remember that my mother told me that in one of the seance sessions that she went, the medium couldn’t go into a trance because of the presence of a Christian. This happened to be my cousin. Wow, I thought how powerful this Christian God and the name of Jesus is! I was told by my mother that no spirit can possess a Christian because of the cross he is wearing. There is power in the cross. As a result, I grew up with very positive views of the Christian God.
Besides hearing bible stories from my brother, my next encounter with Christianity was through my Christian classmates. I noticed that they were the ones who were always cheerful and kind to others, always thoughtful of others and their feelings. I also remember clearly there were two missionary ladies who had put up a night with my neighbor, the husband, a Bahai and the wife a Christian. These two ladies would go to my kampong from house to house to invite people to join them for an evangelistic meeting. I remember no one turned up for these meetings, except me. Yet they were fervent in sharing the gospel through their preaching. By that time, I was undergoing an identity crisis in my life. I was a melancholic person, always introspective and feeling very unloved and unappreciated especially by my mother. She had a violent temper and would fly into a rage whenever anything displeased her. Hurtful things were uttered against me which made me more angry and rebellious, very quick to retort and answer back about issues that seemed to me unfair or uncalled for. Our relationship went from bad to worse and I was always looking for opportunities to stay away from home.
I was constantly trying to find answers about life – what life is about. I would read widely whatever books or articles that I came across. My sister had a copy of a Good News Bible and one day I just took it and started reading hoping to find solace and answers to my soul’s longing about life. I believe it was by divine guidance that I turned to the book of Proverbs. It fascinated me. This book was written thousands of years ago yet it spoke to me. I kept on reading and found comfort. This was then followed by the Psalms. The Psalms spoke to me about the whole range of issues that I felt. Occasionally I would receive Christian tracts about the good news of the love of Christ and at the end of these tracts, there would be a challenge to surrender our lives to Christ. My heart became warmer and warmer for Christ to the point that I was ready to surrender my life to Him. One night when I was in Upper Six, following the tract, I said the sinner’s prayer and asked Jesus to be my Lord and Saviour. I did not tell my classmates about it and went on with life as usual.
Finishing high school, I got good results from my HSC exams which enabled me to enter varsity. I had a problem. How could I finance my studies? My father was a bus conductor and it was impossible for him to finance me. Because of my feud with my mother, I resolved to go to the furthest varsity from home. My first to third choices for varsity courses was to Science University Malaysia, the furthest varsity from my home. Home brought unpleasantness in my heart so I thought I would only come back on semester breaks and no other time. I wanted to be a teacher very much and I prayed to the Lord to enable me to do an education course. Most of my classmates, when asked what their ambitions were would state doctors, engineers, accountants, etc. I was the odd one, I wanted to be a teacher.
When the result for the courses which we were emplaced was out I was given pure science whereas I wanted Science with Education. Anyway, I took the step of faith to enroll in the university and at the same time applied for a scholarship. While there I was invited to join the Navigators for the discipleship training program. For the second time, I said the sinner’s prayer and surrendered my life to Christ. It was through the discipleship program that I grew in the Word of God. I have been truly blessed by the Navigators whose programs had set my spiritual life on a firm footing.
When I accepted Christ this second time, I went home for the varsity break to inform my parents that I wanted to be baptised. Mum reacted very badly although I had already told my family that I had accepted the Lord the last time I came back from campus. Mum broke down and cried as if she was losing a child. Nevertheless, I went ahead with my baptism. Later I realised that as a Christian I needed to reconcile with her. I remembered that once my father told me that mum wanted me to forget those difficult years that we had and perhaps it was her way to say sorry to me through my father.
FREED FROM BONDAGE
One of my first reactions after receiving Jesus as Lord and Saviour was the sense of liberation from a wounded heart seeking love and acceptance. To know that Christ loves me and died for me on the cross liberated me from my quest. The scriptures kept on reminding me of this fact and when it finally sank in, I found my identity in Him. The Holy Spirit also removed from me the fear of evil spirits and superstition. It is the amazing grace of God that had set me free from these bondages.
After being accepted into varsity, I was called for an Education Bursary interview and subsequently was awarded the bursary with a bond to serve the Federal Government for ten years. I approached the dean of the Education faculty and sought his help to enable me to do Science with Education. Amazingly, I was able to meet him by chance while he was going down a flight of steps. I told him there were four others who were in similar situations. I believe God must have touched his heart for although changing courses in public university was very difficult in those days, he promised to bring our cases to the university senate. Praise the Lord, we were allowed to change course after three weeks.
After graduation, I was sent to Sabah in East Malaysia to begin my career as a teacher. On arrival at the State Capitol, Kota Kinabalu I had a rather unpleasant surprise. From the people who met us I was told that I would be sent to Kota Belud, which was quite a notorious town. I was told that even the Sabahans would avoid being sent there. With much dread and trepidation, lugging my two suitcases, I was taken to the mini bus stand to go to Kota Belud.
On the bus, I met a teacher who was going back to Kota Belud and teaching in the same school. How amazing! When I reached the school, I went to see the principal who housed me in the teachers’ quarters. Lo and behold, there were two Christian brothers staying in the same quarters, William Pan and Peruh Marutan a local tribal native Dusun. William and Peruh are exemplary Christians who love the Lord dearly. During school holidays, they would go into the kampungs in the interior to encourage the Christians and share the gospel. The three of us would meet and fellowship with the Christian students who were staying in the school hostels. We were forbidden to meet in the school compound so we met outside. We held Sunday worship and on days for Holy Communion we would invite the local pastors to conduct it. It was here in Sabah that I grew in faith through the encouragement and fellowship with the Christian teachers and students.
As I look back, Sabah was the Lord’s training ground for me. I learnt valuable lessons both professionally and spiritually. Yet the journey was never easy. Historically Kota Belud has a contingent of infantry stationed about 20 kilometers from town. It has undulating terrain and is the place for tank and armoured vehicle training groups for warfare. There were fights between the army boys and local’s due to various reasons much of which had to do with male and female relationships between the locals and the army boys. My first few months in that school, Arshad Secondary School, was difficult but I was fortunate that Willam Pan gave me a lot of advice. The discipline was bad and at times while we were teaching the students would just walk out to fight or clown around the corridor. Teachers refused to reprimand the students out of fear of them. There was also lack of support from the Principal who was a local man. The boys who created trouble were his kinsman. Having said that, he was actually a very nice man, kind hearted and very caring.
I was threatened at least three times in Sabah and after each threat I had to undergo times of deep reflection and prayer. Through the turmoil in my soul, on each occasion the Lord helped me and I managed to overcome it and become wiser and spiritually stronger.
The first time I was threatened was when I reprimanded a boy in my class. After that he had a grudge against me and one day he with a group of his friends came to see me at the school staff room and wanted to discuss something with me. I normally obliged the students so I went to the school hall to meet them. Suddenly they surrounded me and turned aggressive, wanting to bash me. By God’s grace one of the boys’ uncle who was the warden of the school passed by and stopped them. I was very shaken. It took much prayer and the Lord’s Word to get over it. Since that incident, for more than a year I did not feel safe whenever I went to town. At times, they would provoke me to fight or they would spit when I walk by. It was the grace of God that enabled me to survive this abuse.
The sentiments of “anti-Malaya” was very strong in Kota Belud. We had school fellowship outside the school on Friday night and Sunday worship among the Christian students who stayed in the school hostel. We had it in the primary school and the headmaster is a Christian. One day my principal called me to his office and told me to stop school fellowship and Sunday worship with the students. I inquired why I had to stop, telling him that it was my constitutional right. He told me about the government GO (GENERAL ORDERS) and that he was under orders. I asked him whether he was unhappy with my performance. He said no, on the contrary, he was happy with my work. Then I told him that he had no right to stop me from worshipping with the students. We continued our worship and he let the matter rest.
By then I was quite settled and was accepted by the local community and having wonderful housemates William and Peruh. Later both of them went on transfer to other places in Sabah . Then my principal was transferred and I became the most senior man in the school. The acting senior assistant was very junior and the State education department appointed me to be the acting head of the school.
One day, I was noticed a substantial nonpayment by the school for the food supply to the hostel. I called the warden and inquired what was the problem. From my investigation, there was fraud involved after which I refused to sign for the payment of the supply vouchers. The boss of the company was called to the school and told to rectify the claims. This had been going on for some time and finally she threatened to report me to the higher authorities, indicating that people higher up were also shareholders of the company. By God’s grace, I stood my ground despite her threats. Then one day I was in the State Department and I happened to meet the Director and he invited me for a cup of tea over this matter. I told him that I could not sign for the payment because of this issue. Praise God he understood and I was told to stick to my ground. Finally, the claims were corrected and subsequent payments were made.
There were incidents with workers which took a toll on me. I was just 29 years old and was running a school of 1500 students and more than a hundred staff. But through all these challenges God was faithful and His grace was amazing, providing me with courage and strength. I felt if I could survive this, I would not be afraid to be posted anywhere. By depending and trusting in Him, even through sleepless nights and much anxiety, the Lord enriched me through each experience.
The problems of running the school and at the same time being involved in the school fellowship took a toll on me. I was unable to meet the expectations of my fellow Christian teachers and that caused me much pain. Unkind words were said to each other or through third parties that was brought to my attention. By then we had managed to build a small hostel for the Christian students and provided them with food especially salted fish for their protein needs. It was the needs of these students that caused friction between me and a dear Christian sister. I was very discouraged in my spiritual walk and was deciding whether to apply to come back or to continue to work in Sabah.
One day I reprimanded an office worker about some issue and he got very angry with me and stormed out of the office. That was the last straw that broke my camel’s back. I filled the form to apply for transfer back home. Being the acting head was then becoming meaningless to me.
I believe God engineered my return to West Malaysia to restore me. He is good and His plans are marvelous. After a week or two of my decision and having reconciled with the worker, I felt the urge to stay. Three weeks afterwards I went to the Education Department to withdraw the transfer. But before I went to the Education Department, I met the officer in charge of the transfer whom I knew well. He told me he would be leaving soon for KL to hand in the transfer forms. I told him to withdraw my transfer and he agreed. So, at the end of the year, after overseeing the Malaysian Certificate of Examination, I went home for the holidays thinking that I would return in January the following year. In December, I dreamt that my friend told me that I got a letter of transfer back to my hometown. The Lord often spoke to me through dreams but I couldn’t believe it so the following morning I phoned him in Kota Belud. He confirmed that I got a letter of transfer back to Melaka effective from the 1st of April the following year.
ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD
This transfer was actually good for me as the Lord knew the state of my heart. Back home, I joined the local church, teaching in a place 40 km from my home, as an ordinary teacher without much leadership responsibilities. It was a time to reflect and grow and to concentrate on my family. The church met my needs for nurture and I am thankful for their fellowship. The Lord did indeed make all things work together for my good.
Lee Bun Chuan has retired from the headship of Anglo Chinese School and St. Francis Institution in Melaka. Using his vast education experience, he now goes on missions to different towns and countries and sometimes helps to train teachers and staff in different aspects of education.