Thumbnail Never too late

After becoming a Christian at 69, Johnny Lim (seated, extreme left) wasted no time in serving God. Together with other praying fathers, Johnny ministers to hawkers at 3838 Coffeeshop. All photos courtesy of Johnny Lim.

Johnny Lim was the oldest in the cohort when he attended Tung Ling Bible School in January this year. But he is used to it.

At 77, he is usually the oldest in the circles in which he now moves.

Johnny (extreme left) with his group, Benjamin, at Tung Ling Bible School.

He is also the oldest in his group of praying fathers in his church, Christ Methodist Church.

Every Saturday, the men go for a prayer walk, then adjourn to 3838 Coffeeshop in Siglap.

Until he was 69, he had no regard for God.

They go, not to have breakfast, but to buy breakfast for the hawkers there. It is a ministry of friendship that has been going on since 2019.

Johnny was among those who journeyed with chai png (economy rice) stall cook, Ah Wen, when he was dying from cancer, going so far as to help raise funds for the Malaysian worker’s treatment and last journey home to see his mother before his death.

“I was with him for three months, buy breakfast and dinner for him, sit there and talk to him. I got close to him.”

Johnny’s compassion for Ah Wen and the hawkers is borne of a heart of service.

“I told God, ‘You are the one who transformed me and I will serve You as a faithful servant in whatever that You need to do’,” he told Salt&Light.

But Johnny had not always devoted his life to God or God’s missions.

In fact, until he was 69, he had no regard for God and no interest in the Christian faith.

3 narrow escapes

Johnny grew up with parents of a different faith, although neighbours did take him to church when he was a child.

“You’re lucky. A bit more and your eye would be gone.”

“My mother said, ‘Go, go, go.’ They believed that going to church is nothing bad, that Christians are good people.”

But Johnny never sought God, not even when he married Nelly, who is a Christian. She often asked him to go to church with her and, after many years, he would oblige on special occasions like Christmas and Easter.

“People sing, I sing. People pray, I close my eyes. But it didn’t make sense to me. There was no presence of God with me,” he admitted.

Even when he escaped death three times, he did not acknowledge God.

The first was when he was in his 30s and driving in Malaysia. A lorry going the other direction swerved into his path and he found himself “face to face” with the vehicle. Instead of crashing headlong into him, the lorry skidded past.

Then in his early 40s, he was driving along Bukit Timah when a big branch fell just in front of his car.

By the time Johnny was in his 40s, he had had two near accidents.

“If it had hit the top of my car, I don’t know if I would be talking to you now.”

Some years later, he was playing golf in the United States and was accidentally hit near his eye by a golf club.

“The doctor told me, ‘You’re lucky. A bit more and your eye would be gone.’ My left eye still has a scar till today.”

He knows now it was God’s grace because he did nothing to deserve escaping death. But back then, he thought of those incidents as just “one of those things” in life.

“It’s time”

Decades passed and Johnny was in a cell group with his wife when one of the husbands in the group asked him to attend the Alpha course.

“It think it was God saying, ‘It’s time, Johnny.’”

“Normally when people ask, I will say, ‘Let me look at my calendar.’ But that night, without hesitation, I said, ‘Okay, I go with you.’

“I didn’t even know what Alpha is. It think it was God saying, ‘It’s time, Johnny.’

“I know the day I attended Alpha, my wife was probably smiling. God answers prayers. It may take 30 years but it’s never too late.”

As he attended Alpha, his interest in Christianity was piqued. He asked Nelly for a Bible and began reading it. At each Alpha session, he took notes and participated fully in the discussions.

At the end of the 12-week course, the facilitator asked Johnny if he would like to say the Sinner’s Prayer.

“I prayed there and then, right away. It was not in my character. But I believe God was guiding me through.

“That day, the verse Ephesians 4:22-24 came to my mind: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” 

“I have put that verse in front of my desk ever since to remind me that I am not the old Johnny Lim, but a new Johnny Lim.”

Johnny’s wife Nelly (right) always prayed for him and invited him to church, but she never nagged him.

He started going to church with Nelly regularly and attended four years of Discipleship classes. In 2020, he was baptised at Christmas. He was 74.

“God was behind it all. That is how I felt. I sometimes ask God, ‘Why in 39 years, You never touched me?’ But I just tell myself, ‘It’s never too late.’

“Now when I share with people the Gospel, I have a lot of patience because of my own experience.”

The bright light

After his baptism, Johnny would often be woken up by God in the early hours of the morning to spend time with Him. One morning, he had a vision of a bright light.

“If it was a dream, you would forget it when you wake up. But this one when I sat there, I could still see it – the cross in front of me with the bright light. There were four letters: L-O-V-E.

“I asked God, ‘What are you telling me, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I love you and I want you to share this love with others.’”

So that is what Johnny has been doing, whether it is to tell the story of his conversion or to share the Gospel wherever he goes.

Johnny (second, right) serves at The Walk to Emmaus, a spiritual retreat, sharing his story with participants.

Every morning, Johnny goes for a walk around his neighbourhood and lets God speak to him.

“I was crossing the bridge, stepping up the steps – one, two, three, four. And I thought: Am I walking in righteousness in God’s footsteps?

“I see the water in the canal and it comes to my mind: God’s grace is like this water flowing continuously every day.

“When God tells me to talk to this person or that, I obey. I never pick and choose.”

Created to share and to serve

He has made friends with a group of aunties he met on his walk. From an initial greeting, he has progressed to small talk. Talking about Jesus will be next. He has also befriended a cleaner.

“First week, when I greeted her, she said, ‘Mai mai (no, no). Next week, I greet her with a Milo drink and bun. Third week, I walk to her, she waved at me. I have sat down and talked to her. I even went to her flat for coffee.

“God did not create us to be successful. He created us to live a life of significance.”

“I tell myself: If I can help save one soul, even if it takes me six months, it’s worth it. Never give up.”

Just by sharing his testimony, Johnny has managed to invite several to church and some have accepted Jesus Christ into their lives.

Since completing the renovation of his house, Johnny has other ideas on how to bring Jesus to the people.

“In Marine Parade, I talk to a lot of people. But when you ask them to go to church on Sunday, people say, ‘Don’t want.’

“But if I invite them to my house, they will feel more comfortable. Then I can introduce the Gospel.”

Johnny also intends to open his home to youth and young adult cell groups for them to hold their meetings.

“I told God, ‘This house of mine is also Your house. I want to use it for Your Kingdom’s purpose.’

“What we are doing is nothing compared to what God has done for us at the cross.

“God did not create us to be successful. He created us to live a life of significance, putting people in front of us to work with them and share with them and serve them.”


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About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.