2018_Kai Maria Wedding_Thomas Tan Photography 2

Huang Chi-Kai's decision to commit his life to Christ sprouted from his wife's mustard seed of faith. Little did the couple know how God would journey with them through a major life crisis. Photo courtesy of Thomas Tan Photography.

Get married. Build a nest. Have a child? They’d have liked two.

Huang Chi-Kai and Maria Rau yearned for a simple life. They were two years into their marriage and looking forward to more milestones together.

Instead, 34-year-old Maria is seated alone today on her parent’s sofa in her home country, Taiwan. 

Maria played a critical role in planting the seed of faith in Kai’s life. This seed would flourish beyond her furthest dreams.

Her eyes, even through a screen, express a story of grief. The pain of losing her beloved sears her soul every day. As far as Maria is concerned, widowhood never gets easier. But she is glad to be home.

“It’s nice to be a child again. My parents make meals for me. I get to cry if I am sad. I don’t need to be strong.

“In the last three years, I’ve had to be strong and set aside my emotions,” Maria shares.

If her late husband, Kai, as he was more affectionately known, were around, he would have looked beyond Maria’s tremulous state and honed in on her quiet strength instead.

After all, Maria played a critical role in planting the seed of faith in Kai’s life. It was a seed that would flourish beyond her furthest dreams.

This story – Kai’s story – is what Maria is mustering the strength to faithfully tell.

Pursuit of peace

Kai’s first encounter with Christianity left a bad taste in his mouth. The strict teachers and academic rigour in his Christian primary school coloured his experience of the faith.

“Looking back,” he wrote in his journal, “I believe that this experience might be the cause of my initial resistance and scepticism towards Christianity.”

Years of chasing grades and excelling academically would influence Kai’s free thinking approach to life. He was confident of his own effort, and it showed in his career. He worked his way up, establishing himself as a software engineer with a passion for developing start-ups.

Kai’s colleagues, many of whom would become his friends, described Kai as “unfailingly kind and upright”. Kai was passionate about the start-up scene in Singapore. Photo courtesy of Adrian Tan.

Mid-way through his thirties, the Taiwan-born Kai started to think more deeply about life. Questions like “What are we?”, “Why are we here?” and “What happens when we die?” stirred in his mind. 

In a bid to reconcile suffering with human existence, he began exploring different belief systems, schools of thought and theories.

“He’s a logical person, driven by scientific proof,” Maria recalls. “But he was also looking at different religions, trying to get life’s questions answered.” 

He read up voraciously on different religions – even tracing the origins of Buddhism in West China where he considered being a monk. Getting married was nowhere in Kai’s plan for peace and clarity.

That is, until he met Maria through mutual friends a few months after an exploratory trip to China in late 2013.

Upended plans

Maria remembers her first week in Singapore, where she had come to look for a job. The days were lonely and she missed her family.

Even though she was raised in a Christian household, she had drifted considerably from God. She decided to start anew in Singapore and find solace and community in God.

“Coming back to church helped me to understand the Gospel better,” Maria shares. “I realised that I knew a lot of Christian concepts in my mind but not in my heart. So I went on a journey of putting God first.” 

But the journey got off to a rocky start when she met Kai, whom she dated.

Kai (left) and Maria (right) went through many hurdles in their dating years. The turning point came when Maria had to make a critical choice between her faith and her relationship. Photo by To The Future You.

“Because of my distance from church and God, I didn’t stand firm on my principles and values.

“I was afraid of letting him know that I was a Christian. I’d lie to him about going to church, telling him that I was doing housework.”

Maria’s internal struggle between committing to Christ and being in a relationship with Kai continued. Two years in, Kai proposed. Maria’s conviction in Christ was finally put to the test.

She said “yes”.

The ultimatum

“I started to panic,” recalls Maria. “After I said ‘yes’, there were many questions. I prayed a lot.

“If this marriage was not for me, I’d rather end it. I told God, ‘I’ll put You first’.”

“There was a huge part of me that wanted God’s blessing for our marriage. But every time we wanted to talk about the future, we were always stuck.

“I decided to go all out. If this marriage was not for me, I’d rather end it. I told God, ‘I’ll put You first’.”

What followed was a tearful confrontation.

“Kai was confused when I told him I wanted to break up with him, because I was crying madly. He could not reconcile why I wanted to separate, yet was so heartbroken,” said Maria.

In a testimony Kai would later write for his water baptism, he shared: “I know that Maria desperately longed for me to be a Christian but she also understood that she could not force or rush me into it.

“As a result, we kept delaying our wedding plans because it always led to a helpless and difficult conversation.”

“It was naïve of me to attempt to discover the truth by looking for similarities. Truth should come from uniqueness.”

To appease Maria, Kai attended church services occasionally. A friend also suggested for Kai and Maria to attend Alpha at the Book Cafe, to which Kai obliged. Incidentally, the Eastern religious classes that Kai had been attending online stopped running around that same time.

One big hurdle for Kai in understanding Christianity was its exclusivity, such as Jesus being the only way to heaven and that Christians should only marry Christians.

Kai would go on to write in his testimony: “With my superficial understanding of Christianity, I concluded that all religions eventually lead to the same outcome, so it doesn’t really matter what you believe.

“Looking back, I was completely missing the point. It was naïve of me to attempt to discover the truth by looking for similarities. Truth should come from uniqueness.”

Kai was baptised on Good Friday 2018. “It was through the book ‘The Reason for God’ (by Timothy Keller) and the Alpha course that greatly helped me wrestle with the exclusivity of Christianity,” wrote Kai in his testimony. Photo courtesy of Agape Baptist Church.

Kai was surrounded by a loving church community who would journey with him to the end. Photo courtesy of Kai’s church friends.

He concluded: “I soon realised that it’s this exclusivity that makes Christianity unique and offers conclusive and hopeful answers to the biggest questions in life.”

With newfound clarity, Kai received Christ into his life – much to Maria’s joy and relief.

Kai and Maria got married in the presence of their family and church community in 2018. Photo courtesy of Thomas Tan Photography.

Kai had written this to Maria in his wedding vow: “Four years ago, you took the leap of faith as a Christian and reached out in love to a non-Christian like me … Thank you again for not giving up on me.” Photo courtesy of Kai’s church friends.

In 2018, Kai and Maria got married in the presence of their family and church community.

Little did the couple know that this decision to put Christ in the centre of their relationship would tide them through a life crisis sooner than they would expect.

Perfect relationship

After accepting the faith, Kai “went full in”, Maria recounts.

He took up the mantle as leader of the household, leading his new wife in morning devotions. Quarrels between the couple never lasted beyond an hour. Kai would sit down and lead in prayer, even when they had nothing to say to each other.

Kai (bottom left) with church friends at Celebration of Hope 2019, a national evangelistic festival. Photo courtesy of Kai’s church friends.

“Even as a young Christian, he understood the core value of Christianity. He knew we were all sinners. He loved Jesus more than he loved me. It was what I had always prayed for – that my other half would love Jesus more than me.

A once private Kai began sharing his faith with his friends and colleagues, in person and through his social media profile.

“He’s calm and logical while I’m more soft-hearted. We complemented each other. When we were helping others, we could put our thoughts together and find the best way to help people,” Maria tells Salt&Light.

“Our relationship was wonderful and perfect. It was very beautiful,” she says with wonder.

Her world, collapsed

But an ordeal was looming for the young couple.

It started out as an unassuming nosebleed in 2020. Kai, thinking that his childhood sinus had returned, went on sinus medication for a month.

On the last day of the month, he found a big chunk of blood in his mucus – a worrying discovery that warranted a visit to the ENT specialist.

“A lot of people go through suffering to find God. But God found me first to prepare me for suffering.”

Maria remembers the day her world collapsed like it was yesterday.

“It was a weekday morning and we were working from home. We were in the dining room at the edge of the table, waiting for the biopsy results. The doctor called, telling Kai that the lump was cancerous and wanted to perform a full-body scan immediately.”

She burst out in tears. While she cried for the rest of the day, Kai remained composed, speaking to her calmly and discussing plans with his insurance agent.

That night, before going to bed, she asked Kai what all this meant to him.

Kai’s reply continues to give her strength today: “A lot of people go through suffering to find God. But God found me first to prepare me for suffering.”

Devastated as Maria was, she was awed by the profound peace that God had given her husband.

Kai’s oncologist would be equally amazed as he broke the news of Kai’s diagnosis days later.

An avid reader, Kai found encouragement and comfort in Christian books, especially during his chemotherapy sessions. Photo courtesy of Maria Rau.

It was stage four cancer of the nose, stage four because the cancer had travelled to the spine.

This was a type of cancer common among Chinese men aged 30 and above.

Maria recounts: “The oncologist said he was very touched by Kai. He said he had never seen someone, even long-time Christians, with such strong faith and peace in the situation.”

Strengthened by community

Kai and Maria did not fight cancer alone.

Their church banded together, supporting them through group prayer sessions. When the cancer progressed, the group organised a meal support initiative to help the couple with their daily meals.

When Kai suffered the effects of chemotherapy, his friends at church roped in to organise a meal train, ensuring he had nutritious food in the midst of the couple’s busy schedule. Photo courtesy of Maria Rau.

Despite being weakened from chemotherapy, Kai (left, seated) continued to attend church services. Photo courtesy of Kai’s church friends.

“Our church was really our family in Singapore. It gave us a sense of how it would look in heaven,” Maria recalls. 

She said the support spurred Kai on, especially when he was eventually admitted to the ICU.

Their pastor was praying and comforting Maria with God’s word outside the ward when a stranger, who was sitting beside them, asked if she could join in. Maria could not wait to share the news with Kai.

Despite his flailing health, he managed a smile upon hearing the news.

“He really wanted to use the cancer to share the Gospel to strangers. He didn’t want to waste any time. He wanted to use as many opportunities to share.”

Kai and Maria with their pastor, Ps Too Teh Hsin from Agape Baptist Church. Photo courtesy of Ps Too.

One of the people Kai witnessed to was his mother, who had flown in from Taiwan to be with her son. She eventually received Christ – one of Kai’s answered prayers.

One evening, Maria decided to tune in to one of the online group prayer sessions that her church had been organising for Kai.

“By that time, he was very weak. He could not raise his hands or open his eyes. The oncologist told me he might go anytime,” she remembers.

As the group sang Phil Wickham’s Living Hope, 42-year-old Kai raised his hands at the chorus of the song.

In his final days, Kai continued to praise God with every fibre of his being. Photo courtesy of Kai’s church friends.

“It was a beautiful moment. In front of him, I believe there were armies of angels. I believe he saw Christ Himself and that’s why he had the strength to raise his hand,” Maria recounts.

“I was very blessed to see that moment.”

Being warded did not stop Kai and Maria from celebrating four years of marriage in the presence of church and family members. Photos courtesy of Kai’s family.

Maria stayed by Kai’s side till the next morning when she saw a Bible verse that a friend had sent to Kai through his phone. It was Isaiah 35:6-10. She decided to read it to him.

It was then that Kai, after bravely fighting end-stage cancer for nearly two years, breathed his last.

“People say one stage of grief is denial. I didn’t go through denial because I had the privilege of ushering Kai to eternity,” says Maria.

Grieving with hope

Maria ensured that Kai’s heartbeat for God continued to resound days after his passing.

She conducted his funeral as an evangelistic session; friends shared about Kai’s supernatural peace during his suffering.

“When I grieve, I grieve with hope. I know that one day when I see Christ, this faith, hope and love would not be wasted.”

“Many told me they came to encourage us, but always left feeling more encouraged by Kai,” she tells Salt&Light.

Back in Taiwan, she shared her journey of loss and hope at the church where her mother-in-law has settled in.

That is not to say that the grief is easy to bear. 

“Accepting that God had to take Kai early is the hardest thing I’ve had to go through,” admits Maria.

“I guess we will never know why on this earth. But I will continue to carry Kai’s mission. I know God is not going to waste it.”

Maria hopes that by sharing Kai’s story, she might encourage those who are in a similar journey.

“Perhaps others can see hope and draw near to God, even in this painful, broken world.

“When I grieve, I grieve with hope. I know that one day when I see Christ, this faith, hope and love would not be wasted.

“The suffering is not wasted.”

About the author

Evelyn Choo

Evelyn once considered the newsroom her second home, churning stories late into the night. These days, she finds refuge in authentic conversations and the warmth of her toddler's hug. Evelyn is Copy Editor at Salt&Light.