Peter Tan and Mother

Peter Tan's mother, Tan Ah Sway, was devoted to him (right) and his brother, Bob. Photo from Not By Sight by Peter Tan.

My younger brother, Bob, had a regular game of football with his friends every Sunday.

On Sunday, January 1, 2010, he felt tired midway and stopped playing. As he went to his car he collapsed.

His friends saw it happening. They rushed to him and tried to resuscitate him but couldn’t, so they called for an ambulance.

(My wife) Stacey and I were at a friend’s place. My mum called and asked: “Where’s your brother?”

“It’s Sunday, he’s playing football,” I replied.

“Something has happened.” She had an inkling, because his wife had left home suddenly with their daughter. My mum lived with them in their Pasir Ris flat.

“He’s in the hospital. You’d better come now.” Those words gripped my heart.

I called his friends and finally got one of them. “Hey, where’s Bob?” I asked.

He said: “He’s in the hospital. You’d better come now.” Those words gripped my heart.

“We’ve got to go,” I told my friend. Stacey and I had walked to his place, which was nearby to ours, so he drove us home to get our car.

On our way to pick my mum up to take her to the hospital with us, my brother’s friend called. “Your brother didn’t make it.”

I was so stunned.

I had to tell my mum in the void deck because she was waiting downstairs. It was the most difficult thing, having to break the news to her.

From Pasir Ris to Changi General Hospital is a short distance. Stacey was at the wheel as I had already stopped driving because of my failing eyesight. I was giving her directions to the hospital. We were both totally disoriented and somehow ended up at Bedok Reservoir.

I had to get out of the car three times to ask people how to get to the PIE. There was no GPS then.

When we finally got to the hospital, I called my dad to tell him.

New life

The next day we had to go to the morgue to collect Bob’s body and, along with other arrangements, we had to place an obituary in The Straits Times.

A couple of weeks later, my mum got a call from my father’s youngest sister, who is a few years older than I. She had left Singapore after my grandfather passed away, and we were told she had gone to Hong Kong as a Buddhist nun. That was the last we knew of her.

The day that Bob’s obituary appeared was the day that a couple from Singapore was going to the Philippines.

It turned out that my aunt had become a Christian and had gone to the Philippines as a missionary. This couple from Singapore was going there to work with her and had brought along a copy of The Straits Times.

“Your sons are all Christians. You really want to pray about that.”

My aunt pored over the newspaper and saw my brother’s photo in the obituaries page. She travelled from the remote village where she was stationed to call my mum. “Look,” she said. “Your sons are all Christians. You really want to pray about that.”

My mum called to tell me. I was shocked.

“Your aunt called me,” my mum said again, and told me how my aunt had witnessed to the reality of Jesus in her life.

I replied: “Mum, I’ve been praying for you for over 30 years and asking you about this. Will you really give it a thought?”

“Okay, I will.”

My mum started accepting invitations to go to church. After a rally, she called me. “I’ve accepted Christ,” she said.

She started attending the Mandarin service at Pentecost Methodist Church regularly and was baptised there.

My brother’s wife eventually remarried and moved out of the Pasir Ris flat. My mum continues to live there and has rented out two of the rooms to people from the church.

All the neighbours and the church people are wonderful so she’s very happy there. I didn’t feel it was right to ask her to move in with me because she’s so familiar with the area. Her reason for staying alone, in her own words, is: “I have freedom to do whatever I want.”

Now she has freedom in Christ, too. (Galatians 5:1)

Long-time principal Peter Tan’s retirement from the education service in December 2023 marked God’s fulfilment of His word, “40”, given when Tan first started out as a trainee in 1983 in the then-Institute of Education. Other words spoken by God and works ordained by Him for Tan’s life are recounted in Not By Sight, Tan’s recently launched memoir. This extract has been republished with permission. Not By Sight is available at major bookstores.

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About the author

Peter Tan

Peter Tan was a principal for 18 years, first of Anglo-Chinese School (Junior), then Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) and Queensway Secondary School until his retirement in December 2023.