Joseph Chean and his wife Kim at the recent Kumbayah lunch on October 6, the first-ever inter-denominational clergy appreciation event. Photo by Thirst Collective.

A missionary, leader, mentor, brother, husband, father and friend – Joseph Chean was all of that and more. 

The former National Director of Youth With A Mission Singapore and Strategic Director of Antioch 21 passed away on Wednesday, November 15 from a car accident in Istanbul. 

Following the news of his sudden demise, many tributes have streamed in from all corners of Singapore and even from countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar, Timor-Leste, a testament to the countless lives he touched across the world.

To commemorate the legacy of faith Joe has left behind, the Salt&Light team has compiled just a few of the hundreds of eulogies that have come in.

“Missions was always on his heart”

In the pastoral ministry, it’s not uncommon to encounter death and the loss of life. It’s just something we all come to accept as part of our human journey. The news I received today, however, hit harder than expected.

Harder because Joseph was more than just a fellow minister, but also a dear friend. We have shared a few long drives up to the (LoveSingapore) Prayer Summit in Malacca and that had always made the hours long trip feel short.

In my book, he was one of the good ones, one of the heroes and giants, a real soldier and a true friend.

Joe at PraySingapore in 2018. On his left is Rev Daniel Wee. In this segment, they were praying for the weak and vulnerable of the society. Photo by Thirst Collective.

Most of us aspire to accomplish a fraction of what he had done for the Lord. Yet, the loss is most felt in the friendships that he had forged with many, often over a meal he prepared in his own home.

One could hardly ask for someone more invested in people and in the kingdom of God. That was why missions was always on his heart – his life was one long mission trip that has now come to an end in the autumn of his life, at a time when the magnificent colours of fall adorn the hills.

Joe has run his race magnificently, gave his all and held nothing back. Words seem inadequate to express our collective sense of grief and gratitude for this man’s life.

Thank you Lord, for Joseph Chean. I wish we have had a few more of those long drives and conversations, but those few we had will have to do for now.

Until we meet again, the world will be lonelier without you my friend.

– Rev Daniel Wee, Senior Pastor, Church of Our Saviour 

“An outstanding missions leader”

Joe was a one-of-a kind leader with a strong physique but an even stronger love for God and passion for people.

We got to know each other when he took over the helm at YWAM and joined the leadership of Fellowship of Missional Organisations of Singapore (FOMOS). As his girls were studying in my church’s kindergarten, I got to know him better whenever he sent or fetched them.

Joe’s many courageous exploits and powerful messages soon made him an outstanding missions leader and highly in demand speaker both at my church and many missions meetings.

The last time we met on October 6 at the Kumbayah luncheon of church and missional organisations, we had such good fellowship talking about Antioch 21 and the decade of missions. We were the last to leave and talked till we reached our cars parked a distance away.

I didn’t know it would be the last time I would see him on earth. His home-going may seem like a loss to Singapore’s missionary cause, but I’m sure our invisible, mysterious, sovereign God knows his work is completed.

I’m envious he has entered eternity earlier than us all, but I’m sure God will, through Joe’s life and example, raise up more like-minded workers to fill in his shoes.
– Rev Edwin Lam, Founding Chairman, FOMOS and Chairman, Singapore Baptist Convention

Joe leading a time of sharing at Tung Ling Bible School, where he taught modules on missions and God’s heart as a father. Photo courtesy of Philip Ong and Ong Guek Ju.

“Joseph touched the lives of many students”

While we grieve Joseph’s passing, we cherish the many memories we created together as friends and fellow servants of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Joseph was a graduate of the School of Ministry in Tung Ling Bible School (TLBS) in 1990, and he joined the teaching faculty in 2018, focusing on “The Father Heart of God” and “Go Forth Mission”.

Through these modules, Joseph touched the lives of many students. His compassion and authenticity in sharing his own journey helped many of us experience the redeeming, transforming and healing power of God’s love.

Joseph’s love and passion for the lost has also inspired many of our students to live intentionally missional lives daily.

Joseph was also our dear friend. We remember fondly the love and friendship we enjoyed with Joseph and his lovely family.

When we were down with Covid, we were heartily blessed by Joseph who cooked us his delicious chicken soup.

We will miss Joseph’s infectious laughter, his genuine love and compassion for the broken-hearted, and his whole-hearted and deep passion and love for the Lord and the lost.

We know we will meet again. Until then, we will continue to press on and finish the race that God has marked out for us.

– Ong Guek Ju, Principal of TLBS & Dean of School of Ministry, and Philip Ong, Dean of School of Leadership, TLBS

Joe was a man whose love language was certainly food. Here, he and his family are sharing a meal with the Ongs. Photo courtesy of Philip Ong and Ong Guek Ju.

“His hands and heart were on the ground”

Nothing surprises Joe. Even when I shared with him my deepest struggles and darkest thoughts, he would be ready to embrace me as I am.

Once when I told him about strong temptations faced at work, his response was not “you are supposed to be a holy man of God”, but “think about the people you would stumble, if you fell”.

That worked for me. Being a friend also meant he was honest with his own problems (e.g. in caring for his aged parents). He was not ashamed to admit that he felt helpless, and that he needed help.

Joe was practical as he was passionate for the kingdom. Although a visionary, his hands and heart were on the ground. “Don’t waste time on things that don’t count towards discipling the nations,” he had said.

A decade ago, when I first announced to him about my chronic vision loss, I had expected some sympathy and a quiet prayer. Instead, he asked, “Have you started learning Braille?” and smiled gently.

Another time, he was told after a time of worship at YWAM base that his face had gold dust. What did he do? He went to the toilet and washed his face.

“I can’t go around for my meetings later that day with glitter on my face!” Well, that’s Joe for me.

– Rev Lai Kai Ming, Pastor, Barker Road Methodist Church

“He trained our youths, many are still passionate about God and missions”

I first knew Joe when he came to help with the youth ministry I was heading at Paya Lebar Methodist Church. 

He brought his team from Eternal Splashes, trained our youths, and together 70 of us went to Chiangmai for a mission trip. Many of the youths discipled by him are still passionate about God and missions. He certainly left a legacy in all of us.

My family and I also had the privilege of following him on a mission trip to Lijiang, and we became personal friends. Joe has always been an inspiration to me, and I am certainly discipled by him.

What a man of God he is. I will always remember many of his teachings and the conversations we had.

Joe, I will miss you! For whatever reason God takes you home so soon, we will not understand. But your legacy will live on, and we continue in the hope that we will meet again.

– Rev David Ho, Pastor, Covenant Community Methodist Church 

Ps David deepened his friendship with Joe on a mission trip to Lijiang 17 years ago. Anyone who has heard Joe share will know that he has plenty of stories to tell of God’s power at work in the nations. Photo courtesy of Ps David Ho.

“Joe inspired us to cross mountains, rivers and oceans”

For over a decade, Joseph Chean was my YWAM leader, boss, brother, mentor and friend.

But most of all, Joe was the inspiration that brought me and many others to our knees before the Lord in worship and repentance, where we found ourselves declaring that we would go to the ends of the earth to spread the Gospel, whatever the cost, whatever the consequence.

Many of us did indeed find ourselves at the ends of the earth, in some of the most remote places with the harshest environments where the Gospel had never been. I would often joke that “it was all Joe’s fault that we are here”.

In fact, those far-flung nations and remote places that Joe had inspired us to cross mountains, rivers and oceans to get to were the exact places where I found the overwhelming presence and peace of the Lord. There was nowhere else I would have rather been.

And for that, I will always be grateful to Joe.

– Steve Loh, who served in YWAM Singapore from 2007 to 2018, co-founding Mercy Centre with Joe in 2013

Joseph and Steve co-leading YWAM’s DTS in 2008.

“A man who has been with the Lord”

Joe, it has been my privilege to have met you. Thank you for loving the Lord and living for Him your whole life.

In my conversations with you at church camp, Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) Religious Emphasis Week (ACSBR REW), Homecoming to God, and most recently at Antioch 21 Summit, I am impacted by a man who has been with the Lord.

Your countenance, wisdom and discernment could only have come from time spent with God Almighty. Such is your impact on me, and I count it my distinct privilege given by God to have known you.

Your sermon in ACSBR REW, albeit completely recorded and played to the boys, still stands as one of the pivotal moments in the school when the boys stopped and listened to you as you shared God’s heart with them.

When I heard about your passing, the words that came to my heart was from Job: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

– Loo Ming Yaw, Principal, Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road)

Joe speaking at the Antioch 21 Summit, which was held from September 7-9 at Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road). Photo by Thirst Collective.

“His yearning for the presence of God”

The “heart” thing about Joe was particularly his yearning for the presence of God to be manifested in our lives.

For him, it is not enough to have Him bless our plans, but that we should be sensitive to always have His presence manifested in our lives and in what we do.

– Rev Dr Jonathan Seet, Pastor-in-Charge, Pentecost Methodist Church

“The pedestal never seemed to be an issue for him”

I was pleasantly surprised that a camp speaker would reach out to a random camp participant to sow into. Joe actually initiated and asked if I would like to spend some time connecting.

This kickstarted the first of my many precious interactions with him that gave me a glimpse into his selfless heart.

I am sure all who know him can attest to how Joe is constantly thinking for others: how he can speak life into someone’s situation, inspire others to reach out to an unreached people group and be a part of transforming nations.

His mind always worked so fast, but his heart always pointed him in the direction of sowing into others and His kingdom.

Over the years, we simply enjoyed catching up over a drink and just being real with one another.

About the author

Gracia Chiang

Gracia used to chase bad news — now she shares Good News. Gracia's different paths in life have led her from diverse newsrooms to Living Room by Salt&Light, but her most difficult and divine calling to date is still parenting.