Family

“God wants you to forgive and restore your family”: Esther Tzer Wong

Salt&Light wishes all mothers a Happy Mothers' Day

Esther Tzer Wong // May 12, 2019, 12:00 am

IMG_5334

Esther (3rd from left) and her family during Chinese New Year. When her idyllic family was broken apart, "we felt bereaved", she said. "I harboured so much judgement. But God spoke to me, 'Esther, every one of us is a child of God.'"

Today, on Mothers’ Day, many of us are thinking of our mothers, and our fathers too, because Father’s Day is also coming.

I can picture many families celebrating joyfully. But there will be many others who aren’t because of hurts and disappointments in the family. 

The message I want to share is that all of us, in one way or other, are involved in restoring our family. 

Where the first generation, that is our parents or even grandparents, have had failings or weaknesses, the Lord wants us to be peacemakers and to make reconciliation between our generation and the generations that came before us.

Broken dreams

My parents were happily married for the first 21 years of my life. However, after 24 years of being together, their marriage started to unravel.

Little did I know that, as they were celebrating with me on my 21st birthday, they were already planning to go their separate ways as a couple.

Esther saw her parents in a loving relationship for 21 years.

The following year, in May 1979, they separated. That’s very deeply etched in my mind. 

At that time the Lord was telling me: “Esther, I want you to share the Gospel. I want you to witness to your father and your mother.”

I said: “Lord, they are so far away.” My mum was a devout member of another religion – she had been for over 40 years. My father was indifferent.

God was working in her heart all those years that I was praying for her.

I remember that two of my pastors – I come from a very Chinese congregation, Church of the Good Shepherd – were very keen to share the Gospel with my mum. They heard that she was very ill and was having abdominal pain and that she was admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

So they went to Tan Tock Seng to visit her, to share with her the Good News.

After 10 minutes, they literally ran out with their Bibles.

I said, “What happened?” 

And they said: “Your mother is very closed.”

She had chased them away, saying: “Don’t talk to me! You have your religion and I have my religion. I don’t stop you from becoming a Christian, so why you want me to change from my religion?”

So this is where she stood. But God was working in her heart all those years that I was praying for her.

My mother had something called irritable bowel syndrome. So she would be lying in bed, holding her stomach. And her new Catholic Filipino caregiver said to her: “Your children attend church, Aunty. You are going to stay at home, and you’re going to be holding your stomach the whole day, right? Why not you just follow your children to church? Maybe the pastors there will pray for you.”

And although for 40 years she had said “no Gospel for me”, that week she agreed for the first time to actually go to church with me.

Esther (extreme right) with her mother and siblings at her family home.

The skies opened 

But she chose a Sunday in Singapore when the heavens opened up!

It was June 4, 2012, the day of the worst flooding in Singapore for 40 years.

I literally had to fight “hell and high water” to get my mother to church. 

For 40 years, Esther’s mother (left) rejected the Christian faith, even chasing away the pastors who came to share the Good News with her. But at the ripe age of 79, she became a believer.

I was standing at Raffles Hospital, but there were no cabs.

I am an interfaith bridge builder – I have lots of opportunities to have dialogues with people of different faiths and God is really the God of every tribe, every tongue, and all the different peoples. 

God was doing such a marvellous work that day because, out of nowhere, a Hindu cab driver drove up, and said: “Okay, where are you going?” 

I said: “Actually, I only need a very quick drive. Can you just drive me 10 minutes to Dorset Road to pick up my mother, and then take my mother to church?”

“Lord, if it is your will today that I should bring my mother to church, please send me another cab!”

He shook his head. “Your church is very far away. I cannot take you.” He showed me a hong bao, and said: “I’m going for my colleague’s wedding. I will not bring you today.”

That was my only hope of getting a cab in the heavy rain. And then (I don’t know why I brought this up) I said: “But you must bring me to church today, you know, because my mother is very sick. And I need to bring my mother to church, so that some of the pastors can pray for her and maybe she’ll get healed.” 

And the Hindu cab driver said to me, a Christian: “It is very good that you, as a daughter, wants to bring her mother, who is not Christian, to the church to be prayed for.”

And he agreed to take me to my mother’s house!

As we were nearing my mother’s estate, we saw massive flooding. There was another cab that was just 6m ahead of us and the cab had already gone into deep water. The passengers were trapped; the water had risen up to the window of the cab.

And then I looked behind me; I saw the Civil Defence with their fire truck. Six civil defence officers wielding axes were rushing past my cab to the cab that was already in the deep water, and they were going to bash the door open to free the passengers. 

So I looked at my cab driver and said: “I think, sir, you’ve done enough. You’ve already brought me to the edge of my mother’s estate. I think I should let you go.” 

So he thanked me and I thanked him and off he went.

A God of miracles

But by that time, the floodwater was rising. I was supposed to be the worship leader in church, and here I was caught in the flood. If I couldn’t get to church on time, then the service couldn’t start, because we had a missing worship leader.

I was just crying out: “Lord, if it is your will today that I should bring my mother to church, please send me another cab!”

And as I prayed, out of nowhere a lonely, solitary cab appeared and started to drive down the road with the floodwaters fanning out in front of it. 

“Shen kai ta de xin” (God opened her heart). Not by human strength, but by His spirit, was my mother moved.

I hailed him, and he was happy that there was actually a passenger, and we got to my mother’s house.

So God is really the God of miracles. He does not want anyone to perish but He desires to save every family member and to restore them. 

We managed to get to the church on time, with just 10 minutes for me to rehearse before the service started. 

My mother sat at the back of the church because she was trying to be incognito. But my pastor recognised her and at the end of his message on Revelation about a new heaven and a new earth, he posed the question: “So when you go home, and you’re asleep in bed, and something happens to you tonight, where will your soul go?” 

Even though it was not meant to be an evangelistic service that day, he challenged all those who hadn’t yet received Christ. 

After the message he walked to the back of the church, and said: “Aunty, we’re so happy that you’re here today to join us for the first time. We can pray for your healing, but you don’t have to always come and ask us to pray for you. Because if today you want to receive Jesus, then today God will come into your life and you can pray to God anytime.” 

What happened next shocked me.

At the ripe age of 79, my mother, a devotee of another religion for 40 years, opened her palm upwards and said: “Yes, I will accept, you can pray for me.”

In Chinese we say “shen kai ta de xin” (God opened her heart). Not by our human effort, nor our human strength, but by His spirit, was my mother moved. Only God’s grace can draw all men and women unto Him.

So the pastor and the vicar prayed the sinner’s prayer with her and she asked: “You know, now that I have received Christ, when are you coming to my house to remove the idols?” 

One year later, when she turned 80, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. God, in His grace and mercy, allowed her to receive Christ while she was still lucid, and she could understand what she was committing herself to.

The ministry of reconciliation

For many years I harboured judgement against my father and my mother because they divorced.

I had the experience of watching my parents, who were in love for the first 21 years of my life and the first 24 years of their marriage, fall apart.

My dad was successful in his career and respected by many. But he was also a big time gambler; he got us into a lot of debt. He also had an extramarital affair and so I actually have a half-sister and a half-brother. 

My family was originally intact, then became broken. And God is putting the pieces back together again.

Now why am I sharing this with you? Because God is calling us to the ministry of reconciliation.

So first, God had to reconcile my mum unto Himself, and then after that, God spoke to my dad.

Before he entered the hospice, my father received Christ. So God also reconciled my father, and brought my father into His family.

But the great thing is that God is still working in my family – a family that was originally intact, and then became broken.

God is putting the pieces back together again.

I got a call a few years ago from my half-brother, who said: “I am getting married. Would you like to come for my wedding?” And I didn’t know that God was even working in the second generation of my broken family.

My half-brother was going to marry a strong Christian from a Methodist church, who insisted that, if she was going to marry him, a non-Christian, he would promise to faithfully bring the children to church every Sunday, and that they would be brought up in the fear of the Lord. 

God is working in the lives of our families.

Esther and her cousins at a Christmas party. “God is literally interested in every single member of your family as His child,” she said.

God has no grandchildren

When we were deserted by my father for his second family, we felt bereaved. I harboured so much judgement.

But God spoke to me: “Esther, every one of us is a child of God. God doesn’t have grandchildren.” 

How can you pray for your parents and how can you play your part in the healing of your family?

God is literally interested in every single member of your family and yourself as His child. We cannot pass our faith to our parents through osmosis; we also cannot transfer our faith to our children. They have to choose to follow Him themselves.

Whatever experiences we have had in our family, whatever age group we’re in, we all have mothers and fathers.

The Lord is reminding us that He wants to call them into His household. And He wants to heal the hurts, the pain and the loss. Even though some of us as children didn’t grow up in a Christian family or didn’t grow up experiencing the love of father and mother, the Lord says even that I want to heal.

And He says – although you feel that when you went through your family crises, you thought I had forgotten about you – I never forgot you.

I will gather you and I will continue in my compassion towards you because I am the God of compassion and lovingkindness. (Isaiah 54:5-8)

So this Mother’s Day, how can you pray for your parents and how can you play your part in the healing of your family?

He says to them and to us: I still will call you back to Me, I still will love you, I still want to forgive you and extend My grace to you.

Not just you, but unto many generations in your family.

Mum, thank you for staying home with me

This article is adapted from Esther Tzer Wong’s Mothers’ Day sermon at Covenant Community Methodist Church on May 13, 2018, and is reproduced with permission.

About the author

Esther Tzer Wong

Esther Tzer Wong is a Senior Lecturer with TCA College, teaching the Master of Arts in Counselling. Having trained as a social worker since 1980, she has been involved in counselling as a senior therapist with the Counselling and Care Centre (1981-1988) and was formerly the executive director of St Andrew’s Lifestreams, an agency set up under the St Andrew’s Mission Hospital (1998-2006). She was the founder-president of Society Against Family Violence (1991-1994) and continues to counsel individuals couples and families. Esther and her husband are happily married with three grown children.