“When they receive God, they’ll be much happier than laughing at my jokes”: Veteran comedian Moses Lim
by Karen Tan // November 9, 2019, 6:00 am
Moses Lim has shared his testimony at more than 300 churches in Singapore, Borneo and West Malaysia since 2005. Still image taken from a video by Ang Weiming.
Moses Lim was probably the most loved father on local television in the 90s – as Tan Ah Teck in the long-running television sitcom Under One Roof.
Between 1995 and 2001 Singaporeans welcomed the Tan family into our living rooms weekly, giving them our undivided attention.
Each episode invariably ended with the portly minimart owner, played by Lim, spewing forth a moral story prefaced by the familiar “Long before your time…” as his family scattered.
Today, at 69, telling stories remains a priority.
What began as a random invitation from a church in Johor Bahru to share his testimony in 2005 has turned into a ministry that continues after more than a decade.
“Since then, I told myself I want to serve the Lord,” Lim said. Not that he switched careers but he started to share more in churches while cutting back on his acting.
To date, he’s been to more than 300 churches in Singapore, Borneo and West Malaysia to share his testimony, saying: “You never know when the Lord will use you but when He does, never say no!”
Do celebrities tell it better?
For Moses Lim who had honed his craft since young – won speech competitions in school, trained in xiang sheng (相声 or traditional Chinese conversation comedy) and performed on regional stages – sharing in a local church can’t be too difficult, you’d think.
“Do you put yourself or do you put God first?”
Do celebrities tell it better?
“Yes, because they are entertainers.” His frank and forthright answer was quickly followed by a “but”.
“But it can come not from the heart, or with a different motive because people come to see you, the entertainer. You tend to forget your role and you forget that you are not in the commercial world to showcase your talent.”
“So, do you put yourself or do you put God first?” The question Lim posed came unexpected and lingered.
For an award-winning entertainer who is used to the limelight, Lim is aware that the centre stage doesn’t always belong to him.
“You can end up adopting the style of the world and forgetting the spiritual need.”
“You are in a spiritual environment and the goal is to help people to receive Christ.”
“Many people, including myself, we start very hot (very enthusiastic). You talk and it’s impressive and touching. And when there are many people at the altar call, you tend to think, ‘Wow, that’s me.’
“You can also become very choosy and selective about your sharing. You think to yourself, this is interesting, this is not. You can end up adopting the style of the world and forgetting the spiritual need.”
So how does Lim fuse style and substance?
“If God gives you the talent, the gift is there, do it that way. Since I am a comedian, my style is to make people happy.
“Things that make you laugh, you will always remember. Through that memory of interesting, small little jokes, I pump in the message. My thinking is if you like my jokes, I’m sure you will relate to the message that is tagged on.
“I want them to know that when they receive God, they will be much happier than just laughing at my jokes.”
Food and tattoos
In the last couple of years, Lim has not been in the pink of health. Previously, he had shared how God healed him from a complication he had from a routine heart surgery, which saw him “in and out of hospital”, with the longest stay stretching over three weeks.
“So, in the hospital, especially in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep, that’s when you can really feel, think and flash back to things that have happened.
“It gives you time to think, ‘Is what I did, right? Have I done enough and what else I must do?’ When you are out of the hospital, you are busy here and there and feel that nothing can pull you down.”
He gave a laugh when asked about the tattooed arm that has been making its rounds on some internet forums.
Since I am a comedian, my style is to make people happy.
“I have scars on my arm due to the operation. Normally when people see scars, they’d like to ask and you have to tell them the long story. With the tattoo sleeve, you just tell them it’s not real, better than the long story.”
And if his Facebook posts are anything to go by, food is definitely a priority. Since the 1990s, the career gourmet has been organising gourmet tours and food-tasting sessions.
If Lim has to live life over again, he says he wouldn’t change much except to begin his foray into food much earlier: “The more senior you are as a gourmet connoisseur, the more respect you get. But in Singapore’s entertainment industry, you may not get the respect because chances are limited.”
Not a transaction
As a second-generation Christian, Moses Lim has been a Christian for as long as he can remember. For him, it does not put him in a superior position, saying: “People always say you’re so fortunate that you’ve been a Christian since you were young. To me, it makes no difference.
“When you’re in that kind of a nice and smooth environment, you just can’t be bothered, you don’t appreciate.
“Not only can you ask of God but you must also leave the rest to Him, and remember to say thanks.”
“It is when you come across some testing or have the urge to understand more, then you will realise how good is it to be a Christian.
“Many people just pray for what they want. They think, ‘I pray for what I want, then I give God what He wants.’ But that’s a transaction.
“I realised that as time goes by, not only can you ask of God but you must also leave the rest to Him, and remember to say thanks.” Words spoken out of a life that transcends transaction and exchanged for the will of God.
“It’s like King Solomon, he just asks for wisdom, the rest he leaves to God,” Lim explained, referring to 1 Kings 3:1-15.
Lim, the veteran showman, has always been open about his faith, adding: “I always let people know that I’m a Christian. I’ve always prayed in front of everybody during makan (eating) sessions, I don’t feel paiseh (embarrassed) that I am the only one saying grace.”
“I don’t feel paiseh that I am the only one saying grace.”
For this openness, he once got a bad rap. “It was at the first Asian Television awards, more than 20 years ago when I received the award for the Best Male Actor in a Comedy,” he recounted.
“That was also my 25th year in the industry. I got an award for an English show, Under One Roof. Being Chinese-educated, it was a big thing, that’s why I immediately said ‘Thank God’ on stage.
“The next day I kena (got hit)! The readers wrote in to the newspapers to complain that I brought up religion when the award has nothing to do with religion.”
Like the trouper he is, Lim continued in his witness.
Today, he is a big-brother mentor to the younger professionals in the entertainment industry and regularly hosts the PTL(Praise the Lord) Fellowship started by fellow actor Chew Chor Meng for MediaCorp artistes.
“It is a place for MediaCorp artistes to get together and there’s privacy. They come here and they feel very safe,” he noted.
“With these young talents they can feel lost in such a big organization and industry. If they have problems, we have seniors here to share their testimonies. We also have a pastor who gives a message.”
You meet up with Moses Lim and you expect the interview to be punctuated with guffaws, laughter and chuckles.
“I felt maybe God wants me to do more.”
Instead the thoughts he shared and his faith story were laced with serious contemplation and reflection – more of hen you mo shui (很有墨水 meaning substantial) and much less of gao xiao xing dong (搞笑行动 meaning funny actions).
Thinking back to the quiet nights in the hospital, he said: “I felt maybe God wants me to do more.
“I’m always very glad when people come up to me, not in the church but outside — at the petrol kiosk or the supermarket. When they tell me, they had heard me share and their ‘so and so’ got baptised as a result of it, this is something that motivates me to want to do more.
“I think I am on the right track.”