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Pastor Dr Chew Weng Chee speaking at the Alpha Workplace Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last year.

Pastor Dr Chew Weng Chee is one of Malaysia’s most well-known preachers, leading a 3,500-strong congregation as the senior pastor of Sidang Injil Borneo Kuala Lumpur (SIBKL).

The 73-year-old wasn’t always this fervent about his faith. Pastor Chew grew up in a Christian household, but only came to accept Christ as a university student, he told Salt&Light in an interview.

It started in his first year of medical school, when Pastor Chew had to dissect cadavers. As he looked over the corpse that was once living and walking, he wondered: “What happened to his spirit?”

He sought the answer to life after death in different religions, but it was the Christian response – that Jesus conquered death (2 Timothy 1:10) – that convicted him. In 1966, he became a Christian.

A supernatural episode his father had many years later was a second catalytic moment that “consolidated my faith”, Pastor Chew said.

The elder Chew had an out-of-body experience during a hospital stay. Everyone thought he had died during a 15-minute episode, but he came back to life, and woke up four hours later in the evening. He described to his son what had happened.

He was brought down to hell, Pastor Chew said, where he saw “horrible things”, among them people who had called themselves Christians. Then a voice bellowed: “Your name is not there.”

A hand came and pulled him up to heaven, where he saw “beautiful, happy, joyful” things, and a panorama of his own life. 

The Lord told Pastor Chew’s father: ”I’m going to give you another 10 more years. You go back and you tell the world what you saw.” For the next 10 years, his dad went around Malaysia to share his story. To Pastor Chew, it confirmed that hell and heaven existed, and this meant Christianity was real.

“The spiritual realm is real, the devil is real, and we cannot allow money or whatever it is to distract us.”

Still, life got ahold of him. In 1977, now an obstetrician and gynaecologist, Pastor Chew moved to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah with his paediatrician wife, Pastor Dr Lew Lee Choo, initially with the intention of supporting the SIB church in the city.

At the same time, the couple opened a maternity clinic, where they became highly successful, raking in money delivering babies. He gradually lost focus on what was really important in life.

What shook him was an incident that almost derailed his career and conscience. He got a call one day from a man who wanted Pastor Chew to deliver his wife’s baby at midnight. It never occured to him to ask why, only to tell the man it would cost him more to fulfil such a request.

The woman had a low-lying placenta, so Pastor Chew had to perform a caesarean. Complications occured, and she lost so much blood that she flatlined. Pastor Lew, who was working with her husband, had to resuscitate the baby as well. The entire procedure took eight hours. Fortunately, both mother and child survived.

After the ordeal, Pastor Chew asked the husband why he had wanted the child delivered at midnight. The man, who turned out to be a medium, was going to dedicate the baby to his gods on the specific date.

He was almost made an accomplice to a child sacrifice, Pastor Chew said. And if both the woman and the child had died, the news would have spread across Sabah and his clinic would possibly have been shut down. God had saved him by the skin of his teeth.

“When things like this happen you begin to realise that the spiritual realm is real, the devil is real, and we cannot allow money or whatever it is to distract us,” he said. “The devil comes to steal, kill and destroy. If you’re not careful, that’s it.”

Catch-22

Sometimes, the predicaments aren’t that straightforward. Take life-threatening pregnancies, for example.

He once had a patient with lupus. Doctors whom the woman saw in Singapore recommended that she have an abortion, but Pastor Chew advised her against it as he believed she could die from sudden renal or heart failure. He delivered her baby normally, but two weeks later, she died.

The best of men are still men at best.

Another time, he had a case of a woman with a brain tumour. If she continued with her pregnancy, the tumour would grow and she would go blind. Pastor Chew declined to do an abortion. She went to another doctor instead, but he heard that she went on to have the child, and became blind after that.

He encountered an expectant mother with cervical cancer as well. Pastor Chew expressed concerns and she had the child delivered by another doctor. Pastor Chew found out subsequently that she was completely healed afterwards.

How does he deal with these dilemmas? Pastor Chew asked, with a soft sigh. All one can do is “tell the Lord I’m only a human being” who makes a decision based on the wisdom given in that moment. The best of men are still men at best, he said.

Ask God for forgiveness and move on.

Taking salvation seriously

After the harrowing incident with the medium’s family, Pastor Chew remembered his promise to enter pastoral ministry. In 1991, he and Pastor Lew left Malaysia for Vancouver to enrol in Regent College.

Two years later, after completing their graduate course, the couple moved to Kuala Lumpur, where they helped build SIBKL. Pastor Chew continued practising medicine until 1999, when he became a full-time pastor.

His theology throughout has been shaped by his father’s near-death experience. For Pastor Chew, doubts with the belief of “once saved, always saved” unfolded.

“It made me realise I have to work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) ” he said, quoting Hebrews 10:26-31 and 2 Peter 2:20-22:

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31)

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:20-22)

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These passages instilled in him a “holy fear”, Pastor Chew said, and an impetus for himself and others to ask themselves: “Do you deliberately keep on sinning?”

“I believe there will come upon a time when that’s it,” Pastor Chew said.

Romans 8:38-39 can be used to counter his argument, Pastor Chew acknowledged, but he believes these verses, while “absolutely right” that “none of these things can separate you”, don’t refer to the fact that one can step out of the faith by choice. “Because salvation is voluntary.”

It doesn’t matter if he’s incorrect, he added. “If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. All I have done is bring you closer to the Lord. But what happens if I’m right?”

His advice for people who are struggling to balance faith, family, work and ministry is to prioritise: God first, family second, and ministry third. Never sacrifice family time for ministry, he stressed. It reflects poorly on the ministry if the person’s family is “in tatters”  after all that he or she did in God’s name.

Since he got married, Pastor Chew has made it a point to plan his calendar year six months in advance, factoring in two to three family holidays every year. Sunday evenings are also blocked out for him to spend time with them.

“God made family a ministry. You must take care of your family. You must love your family,” he emphasised.

About the author

Rachel Phua

Rachel Phua is a former reporter at Channel NewsAsia. Her stories have also been carried by several US publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Austin American-Statesman, and the Austin Business Journal. Rachel is now a Writer at Salt&Light.