COOS Book 6

Church of Our Saviour was a small, derelict church of 75 people when fresh theology graduate Ps Derek Hong (right) was sent to lead it in the 1970s. As the Holy Spirit moved mightily, COOS would go on to hold monthly healing services (pictured) at a nearby stadium that attracted thousands. Photo courtesy of Church of Our Saviour.

When he was 12, Derek Hong experienced the miracle of his own healing – and passing the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) after missing school for six months.

“That’s how I knew that Jesus is real. Whatever I read in Bible, I believed,” the Senior Pastor of Good Gifts City Church, now 75, told Salt&Light.

But when he was in his second year as a student in Bible college, Derek was “so discouraged” by the liberal theology at that time, he wanted to quit.

“Some lecturers did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, that Jesus was born of Virgin Mary. They didn’t believe in speaking in tongues,” he explained.

Derek Hong (front) pastored Church of Our Saviour for 36 years. He is now Senior Pastor at Good Gifts City Church, which he helped to start. Photo by the Thirst Collective.

“They were teaching a lot of material that disparaged miracles and historicity.” 

Bu gan yan (not satisfied)

Even the English missionary at church who had earlier led him to commit his life to God could not give young Derek the answers he was looking for.

Recalled Derek: “We were studying Acts and Corinthians verse by verse. I read of miracles that Jesus and the apostles did.

“”I cannot put on a reversed collar and stand on the pulpit full of doubts in my heart.”

“I asked, ‘How come we don’t see them in church today?’

“I was given the usual dispensation theory: ‘When these things were happening, the church was in its infancy. God gave a lot of miracles to establish the church. Now that the church is established, the Bible written, we don’t need these things anymore. So God has withdrawn these miracles and signs.’

“I swallowed his answer. But inside I bu kan yan (Mandarin for ‘not satisfied’).

“I was full of doubts. Do I believe what I read in the Bible, or the lecturers’ interpretation of what the Bible is about? These guys had degrees after their names, while I didn’t go to university.

“I told the Lord, ‘I need to know the truth, or I’d better quit.’

“In the business world, everything was very simple – either black or red. But here, everything was grey.

Ps Derek (on his installation as Archdeacon), with his good friend, the late OUE CEO and evangelist Thio Gim Hock. All photos courtesy of the Hong family unless otherwise stated.

“I told myself, I cannot graduate with a degree in theology, put on a reversed collar and stand on the pulpit full of doubts in my heart.

“I cannot bring my unanswered questions into the church.

“So I prayed, ‘God you have to show me.'”

Testimony of a “tough nut”

In 1972, a group of Anglo-Chinese School students suddenly broke out in tongues when the Holy Spirit came upon them during a prayer gathering at the school’s clock tower. It was reported in The Straits Times.

“My friend David was a tough nut … for him to ask for forgiveness, something significant must have happened.”

Initially, church leaders from mainstream denominations denounced it. But a few months later, leaders like Bishop Chiu Ban It and subsequently Canon James Wong were touched by the Holy Spirit, which moved across church denominations.

The small population of Christians in Singapore at the time exploded as sceptics and cynics came to faith in droves. 

One day, Derek’s good friend, David Wong, came to visit him. 

“He told me he had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and now spoke in tongues.

“I argued with him and told him to be careful, remembering what our first pastor had taught us,” recalled Ps Derek.

Derek (left), during his school days, with his good friend, David Wong, who would later go on to be his best man at his wedding. David worked as an engineer for a Christian radio station, and subsequently became a missionary.

But the conversation turned around when David told his friend: “I went to ask for forgiveness from my pastor.”

Said Ps Derek: “David had not liked this man who was often abrupt and rough.

“My friend David was himself a tough nut. I rarely heard him say ‘sorry’. Now for him to ask for forgiveness, something significant must have happened.”

Witnesses on the chancel steps

David invited Derek to join him at a healing service that evening at St Andrew’s Cathedral.

“When he prayed, I was taken aback when people started falling down.”

The two friends “pushed our way to the front of the cathedral to get a good view of what was going on” when the evangelist invited people to come up for prayer.

“A queue formed very quickly. It was very crowded.” 

The two friends stood on the chancel steps at the side of cathedral.

Earlier, hearing the evangelist’s delivery of the message, Derek was sceptical.

“But when he prayed, I was taken aback when people started falling down.

“I had never seen anything like this before.”

Throwing aside crutches

Then a family brought forward a man on steel crutches for prayer.

“The man started tottering … He shoved his family away and walked down the aisle.”

“I recognised him as an Englishman who was in the British Armed Forces when the Japanese occupied Singapore in the 1940s.

“He was tortured and his legs were broken,” said Ps Derek.

“The evangelist laid hands on him and prayed for him. He took the man’s crutches, gave one to David and gave the other one to me. 

“He turned the man around and shoved him down the aisle.

“The man started moving, tottering. The family rushed up to hold him. But he shoved them away and walked down the aisle.

“I saw that miracle,” said Derek.

Tongues in the dorm

Derek went back to theological college a changed man. 

“I prayed: ‘Don’t send me to a church that has plenty of people and money.'”

The straight-A student “started reading the Bible all over again”.

“I told myself, ‘I choose to believe what I read in the Bible, not what my professor says.’

“I also told God, ‘I want to be filled by the Spirit.’

“Praying in my dorm, the Holy Spirt came upon me and I started speaking in tongues.” 

The theology student also prayed: “Lord, if this is of You, send me to a hard place. I want to prove this.

“Don’t send me to a church that has plenty of people and money.”

Sanctuary with a badminton court

At the end of 1974, while Derek was still in his third year of theological college, Bishop Chiu Ban It told him: “I’m sending you to Church of Our Saviour.”

“It was out of desperation; I was the only candidate,” Derek quipped.

God multiplied the people at COOS (pictured at Prince Charles Crescent) under Ps Derek’s leadership. To accommodate the burgeoning congregation, the walls of the church were removed in the early 1980s, and sheds erected on the sides. People sat on the cars in the small carpark and worshipped. Photo courtesy of COOS.

The church had started out as a medical mission, Our Saviour’s Mission, under the auspices of St Andrew’s Cathedral, at Indus Road to reach kampong folks and Indian workers of the Malayan Railway

By the late 1950s, it had grown into Church of Our Saviour (COOS), and moved to new premises at Prince Charles Crescent.

Derek Hong (left) being installed as a Canon of the Anglican Church by Bishop Moses Tay (second from left).

When Derek Hong became its seventh pastor, the small church was broke, and only had an attendance of about 75.

They were unable to pay his salary of $400 a month; another church in the Anglican denomination had to assist. 

“Someone had painted a badminton court on the floor of the church sanctuary, and people pushed the pews aside to play badminton there during the week,” said Ps Derek of the chapel at Prince Charles Crescent.

“The place was derelict; the roof leaked,” recalled Derek, who was now Pastor Derek.

“The church was not too far from a gangster area at that time. People came in to smoke drugs, or practise karate on church furniture.

“A lot of kids would come to church and play soccer in the small carpark. Sometimes they would kick the ball into the windows and break them.

“Someone had painted a badminton court on the floor of the church sanctuary, and people pushed the pews aside to play badminton there during the week.

Ps Derek playing games with members and their children at COOS in Prince Charles Crescent.

Ps Derek’s parents and wife moved into the vicarage with their son, who was just learning to crawl.

“Next to the church was a rat-infested canal. Snakes and lizards from the canal would come into the house. My wife was terrified,” he said.

Ps Derek with his second son, Titus, at COOS in Prince Charles Crescent.

In the first reception the young people threw for him, he was told: “Padre, we don’t like you.”

Said Ps Derek wryly: “God answered my prayer. I was sent to a hard place. Be careful what you pray for!” 

“Heaven just came down”

During his first three years helming COOS, Ps Derek was still learning how to minister in the Holy Spirit. 

Pastor Derek baptising a parishioner at COOS. Photo courtesy of COOS.

God blessed Ps Derek’s efforts in identifying the needs of the people and sharing the Gospel with his flock. The modest congregation grew to over a hundred. After another three years, the church hired its first full-time staff member. 

Ps Derek with his wife, Su Lan (left), and church member Georgina Lee. Photo courtesy of Georgina Lee.

In 1978, Bishop Chiu, who was at the forefront of the Charismatic movement, invited Anglican clergyman Trevor Dearing to teach and minister at Anglican churches in Singapore for a month. Ps Derek followed Ps Dearing everywhere and learnt as much as he could. 

When Ps Derek invited Ps Trevor to COOS for three days and nights of teaching, some leaders threatened to leave.

Ps Trevor prayed for Ps Derek who “started praying for the sick, and saw results almost immediately”.

But the power of the Holy Spirit moved mightily, and the congregation witnessed miraculous healings and deliverance. A woman who was carried into the meeting walked out on her own. People could be heard screaming as demons were cast out.

“Heaven just came down,” said Ps Derek, who led COOS on a new course in the Holy Spirit.

Before he left, Ps Trevor prayed for Ps Derek who “started praying for the sick, and saw results almost immediately”.

(Read more about these miracles in Acts of the Holy Spirit at Church of Our Saviour.) 

Church members went out to share the Gospel and to share about these miracles, and more people started flocking to COOS.

In the early 1980s, the walls of the chapel – designed to seat just 200 – were torn down to accommodate more worshippers, and it became obvious that a new location was needed.

God blessed COOS and its people under Ps Derek Hong’s leadership.

The church had a congregation of 75 when he took over in 1975, and 4,200 when he stepped down 36 years later in 2011.

Read of the miracle of how Church Of Our Saviour received the funds to buy its current site at Margaret Drive below.

“Stay, expand your work in Geylang,” God tells YWAM, who is building Project Gateway in obedience


Read Part 1 of Pastor Derek Hong’s story here:

“I will scream till you come home”: Derek Hong’s mother when he went to Bible school. Years later, she too received Christ


Architects of Life: Social enterprise inspires ex-offenders to go from stereotype to archetype

Dance classes, jogging sessions are ways COOS shows Queenstown neighbours “the lovely part of the faith”

About the author

Gemma Koh

Gemma has written about everything from spas to scuba diving holidays. But has a soft spot for telling the stories of lives changed, and of people making a difference. She loves the colour green, especially on overgrown trees. Gemma is Senior Writer & Copy Editor at Salt&Light and its companion site, Stories of Hope.