Easter

What My Father Left Me: Rev Jonathan Wong

Canon James Wong, who left an immense impact on the Church, was called home to the Lord on April 8. His son, Rev Jonathan Wong, delivered this eulogy at the wake on April 11.

Rev Jonathan Wong // April 16, 2022, 4:44 pm

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A youthful Canon James Wong with his sons, Jonathan and Timothy. Besides being a tireless servant of God who impacted the Church immensely, Canon Wong was also a doting father and grandfather. All photos courtesy of Rev Jonathan Wong.

The outpouring of love and support for us as a family has frankly been quite overwhelming. And this shows how the Apostle Paul’s teaching is so true. Dad’s labour in the Lord was not in vain!

So many people who have been touched, both directly and indirectly, have shared their stories, and have come over the past few days to say their goodbyes and to express their gratitude for how my father has made a difference in their lives.

I am, of course, one of those who has been most directly affected. I have always said that I would not be standing here today if not for Canon James Wong – literally! My very life was formed and shaped by him. And now that he has received his promotion to glory, he will leave a big hole in my life.

However, I must admit that he has also left me a rich inheritance. No, I’m not talking about anything as trivial as loads of money or a house. Those things are nice, but they don’t last. They are part of this life’s “perishable” things this side of eternity. I have inherited some things that are far more valuable, which ultimately are imperishable.

1. An abiding love for the Word of God

Everyone who has met him knows that my father was a dedicated and skilled teacher of God’s Word. His preaching, teaching, and even his conversations were always biblically-centred.

He finished reading the bible as a new Christian within a month. And when that was finished, he started from the beginning all over again.

This has much to do with how he came to Christ and answered the Lord’s call to vocational Christian ministry.

He was privileged to be sent to Sydney, Australia, to receive his higher education. And by the end of the first month, he found himself homesick and depressed. Because of his upbringing in St Andrew’s School, he naturally sought out an Anglican Church one Sunday evening – St Matthew’s Church, near Manly Beach – to find comfort for his troubled soul.

He walked in and sat in the midst of an Evensong service that happened to feature a Chinese pastor by the name of Leland Wang, who preached that day. His sermon was focused on challenging the congregation to respond to God’s call for missions to Fiji and the Pacific Islands.

At the challenge Ps Wang issued towards the end, my dad says that he was practically trembling all over, in anguish over how he should respond. As you know, when God calls, it is practically futile to resist. Well, my father gave his life to Jesus right there in the midst of a Missions Sunday service.

“If the Bible is read and proclaimed, no matter how poorly or inadequately, we can always learn something from it.”

And in what is pretty much a pattern in his life, when he said yes to Jesus, it wasn’t just to become a Christian but to give his whole life in service to God. It was his conversion and call to full-time Christian service all at the same time.

However, no one else around him knew this was what had happened in his life. There was no altar call, no counsellor to take down his contact information, and no follow-up.

He told me that his follow-up programme was to buy a Bible and read it cover to cover. And that is what he did. He finished reading the bible as a new Christian within a month. And when that was finished, he started from the beginning all over again.

This laid the foundation for his Christian life and ministry from then on. He was steeped in God’s Word, and that gave him the fuel that the fire of the Holy Spirit could use to work in and through him.

Canon Wong with his wife, Esther, and sons Timothy and Jonathan.

Fast forward to my own time at university. I remember during one of the long breaks during Christmas, I met up with him in San Diego and we went to a bunch of Christian meetings. That’s my dad for you, holidays are also ministry-related!

One day we had just finished a Sunday service and were talking over lunch. He asked me what I thought of the preaching. I had so much to say, and none of it was good. How the preacher was boring, I couldn’t follow his train of thought, even right down to the off-putting mannerisms that the preacher had. He just sat there and listened to me venting. When I finished, he asked me a simple question: “Was the Bible read in the service?” I said: “Yes.” He continued: “Did the preacher base his sermon on the word of God?” Again I said: “Yes.”

Family holidays always included ministry-related meetings and visits to various churches, recalls Rev Jonathan.

Then he looked at me and said something that I have kept with me till this day.

He said: “The Word of God is mighty, it is powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword. When it goes forth it never returns empty but accomplishes what God intends and wills for it.

“So if the Bible is read and proclaimed, no matter how poorly or inadequately, we can always learn something from it.”

I have never forgotten it to this day. This love for God’s Word and his commitment to the Bible is my father’s wonderful gift to me.

2. A dedication to the Work of God

As I’ve already shared, my father’s conversion and call to ministry happened at the same time. And from that day till the day he breathed his last, he never wavered from his commitment to doing his part in God’s work.

As some of the others have already shared over the past few days, if you have worked with my father, you often find yourself breathless trying to keep up. Even if you’re three decades younger than he!

He was concerned for marketplace ministry long before the term was used.

He knew that no work done for the Lord is in vain. And he lived it out.

You have already heard of his exploits in church planting, founding the Festival of Praise, serving for many years as the General Secretary of the NCCS (National Council of Churches in Singapore), involvement in the Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusade, and with the wider Lausanne movement, FGBMFI (Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International) and too many other organisations to name here.

He’s also been instrumental in the Anglican Church not only here in Singapore and South East Asia, but also in the global Anglican communion through the Global South as well as Sharing of Ministries Abroad or SOMA (the Charismatic wing of the Anglican Communion) and the Evangelical Fellowship of the Anglican Communion (EFAC).

I have never ceased to be amazed how, almost anywhere I go in the world, when people hear that I’m from Singapore, they ask me if I know Canon James Wong. I say: “Of course, I’m his son!”

Canon Wong often included his family in his many ministries.

But what many may not be aware of, and what isn’t trumpeted about are his lesser-known activities. In particular, I think of the weekly Bible studies he conducted in the CBD (central business district) area. He was concerned for marketplace ministry long before the term was used.

What he did was provide a weekly Bible study that was accessible to people in the CBD.

He started out in the UIC building, then moved to Asia Chambers, then I think the group finally settled in the Asia Insurance building. Venues made available by Christian marketplace leaders.

What he did was provide a weekly bible study that was accessible to people in the CBD. Knowing that lunch hours in Singapore are tight, he always arranged for some catered food which was provided on a low-cost, donation basis. Nothing fancy, usually a one-dish meal like fried noodles, rice or mee siam and the like.

But what was also served up was rich spiritual food, a regular systematic study of God’s Word.

I was asked from time to time to help him deliver the food, and after I entered the full-time ministry, he had me sometimes stand in for him if he was travelling or had to attend some other important meeting that he could not reschedule.

I never really understood why he did it since he was already so busy and had so many other things on his plate. And most of the people who came were not from his church. They were from all kinds of other churches and denominations. He didn’t do it to grow his church. He never got paid for it, other than to recover the cost of the food. Yet he did this for decades.

One of the enduring values Canon left his family was to remain steadfast and dedicated to the work of God.

But my mom just related a story this past week that put that ministry in a new perspective.

She was taking a taxi home one day and she noticed that the driver had a cross on the dashboard. She asked him: “Are you a Christian?” He said: “Yes, I am!” She continued to engage him to find out how he came to Christ. He said: “I used to work in a bank in the Shenton Way area, and my colleague invited me one day to join him for a Bible study in the building next door.”

My father has indeed taught me that when we put our hand to the plough of God’s work to never look back. But to keep at it.

He was reluctant at first since he wasn’t a Christian, but his friend told him that the Bible study also provided cheap food. He only had to make a donation for it. So he went. (Singaporeans never turn down cheap food.) And he continued going every week. And before long, after this repeated exposure to God’s Word, he one day gave his life to Christ.

My mom asked him where this Bible study was held. He said: “Asia Insurance Building.” She asked: “What was the name of the man who taught the Bible study” He said, “So long ago, I cannot remember.” So she said, “Was it James Wong?” He exclaimed, “Yes, yes, that’s him!”

My dad’s faithful obedience to do what the Lord asked of him brought this Christian brother and his whole family into the Kingdom!

My father has indeed taught me that when we put our hand to the plough of God’s work to never look back. But to keep at it. To remain steadfast and dedicated to the work of God.

3. A deep understanding of the Ways of God

Having now been in ministry for almost three decades, I owe so much of my pastoral instincts, knowledge and wisdom to my father. Having grown up in a pastor’s family, I was exposed from a very early age to what it means to serve the Lord. But, apart from that, he taught me the ways of the Lord – God’s character and how He works in our lives.

“Shovel out your best people and resources. As you shovel them out, God will shovel them in, and God has a bigger shovel.”

He always taught me to trust in the faithfulness of God.

We have seen how God always comes through for us time and time again. As a family, we have lacked nothing. We have never been rich in material possessions, but we have also never gone hungry, as you can tell by our size!

He was a man of great faith in the Lord’s provision, but this for him was a no-brainer because he knew that God was always faithful. That’s why he accomplished so much in his lifetime. He was one when God would say to him: “Jump!” His response would always be: “How high?”

It is the principle that God’s work done in God’s ways will never lack God’s supply (Hudson Taylor).

Even in his later years, Canon never wavered in sharing God’s boundless love for the lost.

A friend of mine, Neil Robbie, who is now a vicar in West Bromwich, England, sent me a message of condolence via Facebook. In it he recounted an encounter he had with Dad when he was a lay leader at Christ Church Parish English congregation.

New leaders always seemed to rise up to take the place of those who obeyed the call to leave.

Neil was leaving his secular job as an engineer in Singapore, and was preparing to return to seminary in the UK. Dad, when learning about this, gave this piece of advice to him: “Neil, be generous in ministry. Shovel out your best people and resources.  As you shovel them out, God will shovel them in, and God has a bigger shovel.”

Those of us who were involved with him in church planting know that he lived by this belief.

He always sent out the best church leaders to plant the different extension centres and churches. And his sending churches, whether it was from Church of the Good Shepherd or from the Chapel of the Resurrection, were not large churches. Yet he would send out groups of 20 to 30 people to plant churches year after year.

But what was amazing is that the overall numbers in the sending church never declined. The Lord would always bring new people, new converts, in to replace those who left to pioneer those new churches. And new leaders always seemed to rise up to take the place of those who obeyed the call to leave.

Yet most of all my father left me an understanding of God’s boundless love for the lost. Because of this, he was always finding opportunities to share the Gospel with people. He was always urging us to make sure we keep evangelising.

Canon and his wife, Esther, with their children and grandchildren.

Those of you who know my dad well know that he always knew the value of things. While he planted churches, and started organisations, they were always ultimately a means to an end: They are meant to bring people out of the darkness into the marvellous light of Jesus.

The souls that are won for Jesus, that are invested in and discipled, are what will last to eternity. People are of eternal value.

This is why I have said repeatedly that the legacy he has left behind is all of us who have gathered here today, and over the past few days. We are his greatest achievement.

So it is so significant to me that the Lord took him home at this particular time. His timing has always been impeccable.

As you know, today begins Holy Week in the Christian calendar. It is when we remember the journey our Lord Jesus Christ took to Golgotha, the place where He died on the cross for you and for me. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Many of you have said again and again what a great servant of God my father was … He would rather you say: “What a great God he served!”

That is what makes the day we remember someone’s death “good.” Why we call it Good Friday. We are reminded of God’s great love for us. But the only reason it is truly good, is the fact that three days later is what we call Easter, or Resurrection Sunday. It is when we are reminded that God did not leave Jesus in the grave, but raised him from the dead. He defeated death in the resurrection.

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

My father would want each of us to know that those who have repented of our sins are being forgiven by the blood Jesus shed on the cross. And we are now sons and daughters of God. That we are promised eternal life, that when we die on earth, this is not the end. It is a glorious beginning. My father is absent in the body, but he is alive in Jesus!

To sum it all up. My father has left me an abiding love for the Word of God, a dedication to the Work of God, and deep understanding of the Ways of God. And because of this, I am rich beyond all measure!

Many of you have said again and again what a great servant of God my father was. I totally agree with all of you. But I believe that, if he were here today, he would rather you say: “What a great God he served!” He would not want us to focus on his great exploits. But to remember his great God that called him to attempt those great things for God, even as he expected great things from God! (William Carey)

“Tell the congregation who come to the service not to weep over me but to rejoice.”

As I conclude, we found out last week that he had left some instructions for us regarding his funeral. A set of notes he wrote into a notebook, which my mother passed to me last Thursday. Probably written sometime late last year in October or November. He gave very few requests for his funeral. He said he would like to have the wake here at Church of the Good Shepherd. But he also said: “Tell the congregation who come to the service not to weep over me but to rejoice.”

We mourn today his passing. For what he has meant to each and everyone of us. We are grateful for his life, his ministry, his love.

But we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) We rejoice because this Holy Week we are reminded of the hope we have in the resurrection.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthian 15:20-22)


Watch the full wake service held on April 11, 2022, at the Church of the Good Shepherd here.


REMEMBERING CANON JAMES WONG:

Canon James Wong’s last recorded prayer: For youths to be empowered by the Holy Spirit

“Canon James Wong was pioneer, church-planter extraordinaire and my beloved pastor”: Pastor Yang Tuck Yoong

Canon James Wong, who shook church and marketplace by the power of the Holy Spirit, called home to the Lord

“Canon James Wong, you are our hero of faith. You have finally entered the eternal rest of the Lord”: Pastor Kong Hee

About the author

Rev Jonathan Wong

Rev Jonathan Wong is the pastor of Church of the Good Shepherd (English). He is the eldest son of Canon James Wong.

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