husband & wife 3 (3)

Zhang Xianhe and his wife Huang Shuping are in their 70s but they continue to serve God by praying for people. They pray for about 200 people every day and have shared the Gospel with some 900 in the last 15 years. All photos courtesy of the Zhang family.

Zhang Xianhe and his wife Huang Shuping, both in their 70s, appear to be typical seniors with albums of happy family photos and a checklist of meaningful milestones crossed.

They are retired after having run a crockery business for 45 years. Their four children are all grown up with children of their own. The couple has five grandchildren aged nine to 20.  

Zhang (back, centre in tie) and Huang (far right) with their children and grandchildren.

He was once a deacon in their church in Indonesia and she was the chairperson of the women’s group. They have since stopped serving officially. 

“You ask me how I do it, how I find the time, how I find the strength, I myself don’t know. It is God’s grace.”

But Zhang and Huang have not stopped serving God.

Every day, they pray for nearly 200 people, many of whom are strangers.

People from different cities, countries and even religions would call them with prayer requests, asking Zhang, in particular, to intercede for them.

“I pray five to six hours a day,” said Zhang. “You ask me how I do it, how I find the time, how I find the strength, I myself don’t know. It is God’s grace.”

Zhang does not know many of the people who come to him for prayers but he prays for them fervently and with love nonetheless. Before the pandemic, people would invite him to their homes for prayer sessions.

This is a ministry the couple found themselves in from 2006. It is one that does not have an official name nor a place in church. But it is one in which they have seen the hand of God work mightily.

The accident that changed their lives

As Zhang told Salt&Light in a phone interview from his home in Surabaya, Indonesia, he was an ambitious young man.

“The doctor told me that, if I didn’t stop drinking, I would surely die. I thought to myself: But I am too young to die.”

“I was very caught up with making money to provide for my family,” the 77-year-old said in Mandarin.

He had begun working at 18, fresh out of high school. By 24, he had started a small business with the help of his father-in-law.

Then, at 31, he had a health scare. His liver was so swollen he had to be hospitalised

“The doctor told me that, if I didn’t stop drinking, I would surely die. I thought to myself: But I am too young to die.”

Zhang’s mother was a Christian and had been asking him and Huang to go to church without much success. Out of desperation, she gave him a Bible.

Huang and Zhang in their 30s. When Zhang was 31, his liver was so swollen, doctors told him he would die if he did not stop drinking.

“I didn’t believe there was a God so I tossed the Bible aside. But when she left, I picked it up and when I flipped it open, it fell to Matthew 11:28: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

“I read it and I was moved.”

The promise of rest to a man who was fast working his way to an early death was particularly timely. Soon, Zhang found himself accepting his mother’s invitation to church. He brought his wife and children with him.

In 1996, the couple got baptised.

It took a major health scare to get Zhang thinking about his faith. The couple has since served in church officially, as well as unofficially, as prayer warriors.

Said Huang, 72: “I followed my husband because that is what a wife does.”

But, long before then, God had already reached out to her. Huang was educated in a Chinese school and, influenced by Communism, did not believe in the existence of God.

“But I would see people going to church to worship and to Sunday School. So, I knew about Christianity.

“My older and younger sisters would get invited to church, but I never did.”

When she was about 17, civil unrest broke out in Indonesia. What started out as an anti-Communist purge in late 1965 became nation-wide unrest where many ethnic Chinese were targeted.

“I got down on my knees and prayed to a God I didn’t know, asking Him to protect my boyfriend.”

News reports said that at least 500,000 were killed between 1965 and 1966 though some put the figure closer to 2 to 3 million.

At the time, Huang and Zhang were dating. They had met in school though Zhang had already graduated, being a few years her senior.

“I was very scared and I was very scared for him. I had no one to turn to. Who could help us? So, I got down on my knees and prayed to a God I didn’t know, asking Him to protect my boyfriend.”

When the turmoil settled and Zhang was safe, Huang knew it was the work of the God to whom she had prayed. When she eventually followed her husband to church, that seed had a chance to blossom.

“But we were not that serious about our faith yet,” confessed Huang. “We would tell my mother-in-law that we were going to church but sneak out to go for walks instead!

In their early days as Christians, husband and wife would skip church to go on drives or walks … until a miracle happened out of a horrific accident.

One Sunday, husband and wife took two of their children on a drive instead of going to church. Along the mountainous road, they met with an accident.

“Our car was crushed. About 70% to 80% of it was destroyed. If you look at it, you would have thought no one could have survived,” said Huang.

Instead, only she lost consciousness. Zhang and their children walked out unscathed.

“We realised this was yet another miracle,” said Huang.

Added Zhang: “From then on, we never missed church. Even if we have to travel, we make sure we are back on Sunday so we can go to church.”

A miracle

As the couple got more serious about their faith, they tried to put their faith into action.

“When our workers got sick, we would pray for them … They could all see God answering our prayers.”

“When our workers got sick, we would pray for them. In time, they would ask us to pray for them because prayer doesn’t require money.

“They were poor and could not often afford to see a doctor,” said Huang.

Said Zhang: “We loved them all and we prayed for them all.”

As they prayed, their staff soon saw the power of prayer.

Said Huang: “People would start to get better after a day or two. It was very fast. They could all see God answering our prayers.”

Zhang’s prayer ministry began small. He would pray for his workers when they were sick. In time, so many asked him to pray for them that they would meet in homes for prayers.

But the prayers were still just a small part of Zhang’s life. He remained engrossed in his work.

Then, one day, his driver asked him to pray for his niece who had been stricken with polio. The 10-year-old could not walk or talk or even hear.

“I said to myself, ‘This is God at work.’ My fear was gone.”

“Our driver had driven my husband all over to pray for people, so he knew the power of prayer. He begged and begged my husband to pray for his niece,” said Huang.

So, the couple went, expecting only the family to be at the home. Instead, the driver’s house was full of people. Everyone had come to witness the prayer.

“We got a little scared because they were not Christians and we did not want to create strife between religions,” said Huang.

When Zhang went forward to put his hand on the girl’s head to begin praying, she flinched. Family members told him that she could not tolerate being touched, especially by people she was not familiar with.

Said Zhang: “So, I tried again, and this time, I said out loud, ‘I am going to pray for you in Jesus’ name’.”

When he called on Jesus’ name and placed his hand on the little girl’s head, she did not move away. Instead, she turned to him and smiled.

“I said to myself, ‘This is God at work.’ My fear was gone.”

“I was frightened when I saw this. I started to see how serious praying was … I got on my knees and repented before God.”

Zhang asked for permission to read from the Bible and then to pray a simple prayer of healing in Jesus’ name. When they were done, the couple prepared to leave.

What came next surprised everyone.

“The girl started shuffling on her backside. She pulled herself along and instead of coming to us, she went to a window nearby and pulled herself up.

“After she stood up, she started to walk unsteadily. She walked round and round the room and then, in the last five metres, she ran to us and hugged us,” recounted Huang.

When the girl spoke, they were even more shocked.

Said Zhang: “My wife and I said, ‘Hallelujah, thank you God!’

“I was frightened when I saw this. I started to see how serious praying was. God used this to tell me to pray for people. I handed my life to God.

“I got on my knees and repented before God. I cried and asked Him to forgive me for not taking prayer more seriously. I had to put in all my effort to pray for others.”

Don’t thank me, thank my God

Zhang began to research extensively into prayer, reading the Bible and buying all sorts of Christian books on the subject.  

When his prayer ministry began, he was praying for just a few people in church. Then, more came to him as news of his intercessory ministry spread.  

At first, the prayer requests were for healing. Then, people with marital problems and problems with their children started approaching Zhang.

Before long, he was praying for 20, then 30 and up to 80 people a day. They came from all around Indonesia and even Singapore. By 2016, the number had become close to 100.

In the beginning, the requests were usually for healing. Soon, those with marital problems started approaching Zhang.

“They would ask me to pray for them because they were on the verge of a divorce, their wife or husband had walked out,” said Zhang.

“He has been praying for some of them for years – five years, even up to 10 years.”

“In many cases, God moved these people and they came back and were reconciled.”

Then, families with problems with their children came along. Eventually, he would go on to pray for “those who were angry with God and had walked away from their faith”.

“We don’t know where they come from. One person would pass the message to another then to another. God arranges it,” said Huang.

“After being prayed for, they would come to my husband and thank us.”

Said Zhang: “I would tell them, ‘Don’t thank me, thank my God’.”

Often, even after their prayers were answered, they would ask Zhang to continue praying for them.  

“So, I would take the opportunity to share the Gospel with them. I would weave the Gospel into my prayers and tell them the wonders of being a Christian.”

“We have never met a lot of them. But, because of God’s love, we prayed for them.”

Some of them have been on his prayer list for years.

“He prays daily and not just a one-time prayer. He has been praying for some of them for years – five years, even up to 10 years.

“Some started out not believing but have since become baptised Christians,” said Huang.

In all, the couple reckons they have shared the Gospel with over 900 people this way.

Said Huang: “We don’t know a lot of them. We have never met a lot of them. But, because of God’s love, we prayed for them.

“Some have become like family to us. The younger ones call my husband Ye Ye (grandfather) and we treat the older ones like our children.”

Zhang and Huang treat all they pray for like family. The younger ones call him Ye Ye and they look upon the older ones like their own children.

As for the driver who was instrumental in helping Zhang realise that his ministry is in prayer, the couple is happy to report that the man has since become a Christian.

I give you my son, pray for him

Among those whom they have prayed for is a former drug addict.

“His father came to me to ask me to pray for his son. He told me, ‘I give you my son, pray for him.’ Then, he gave me his son’s number,” recalled Zhang.

The older man died the next day. But when Zhang called the son, the younger man hung up on him. He persistently continued to avoid Zhang.

“I want to thank God because I was imprisoned by drugs. I was in pain. I could see demons. But God healed me.

But when he got arrested for drug consumption, his mother called Zhang for help. Zhang called the young man again.

“He had changed phones so he didn’t recognise my number. When he picked up the phone, I quickly said, ‘This is Uncle Zhang, don’t hang up on me. I want to pray for you.’”

Surprisingly, the man did not hang up on Zhang this time.

Zhang asked him to kneel and, over the phone, proceeded to pray for him.

The next day, Zhang received an unexpected phone call.

“It was eight in the morning and the first thing the man said to me was, ‘Praise the Lord, I am well!’ I thought, ‘How can it be?’”

The 32-year-old told Zhang that he had never been able to sleep without drugs before. He would suffer aches and insomnia.

But after being prayed for, he had sleep soundly. He did not need the drugs.

“I continued to pray for him for three to four days. That was 15 years ago and he remains drug-free.

“At a thanksgiving ceremony, the young man said, ‘I am a sinner. I am not fit. But I want to thank God because I was imprisoned by drugs. I was in pain. I could see demons. But God healed me. I am no longer burdened’.

“He is now in church serving God.”

“Sometimes we can’t understand how God can do the impossible.” 

Last year, a businessman asked Zhang to pray for him. Covid-19 had decimated his business and he was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Said Zhang: “I told him, ‘I have no solution either but we can pray.’”

Over time, Zhang got to know, not just the man, but his whole family. Six of them, including the man’s grandchildren, prayed to become Christians.

“But they were still facing financial difficulty and very worried. So, I said, ‘Let’s pray.’”

Then, things started to move.

The man’s sister who lived in Singapore sent him a sum of money to ease his burden. One Malaysian customer whose goods could not be moved, because of the Movement Control Order, paid the man back the S$70,000 that he owed when Malaysia restarted its economy.

“Sometimes we can’t understand how God can do the impossible. You have to believe that He can do all things.

“When this businessman got God’s help, He really believed in God. There was no more doubt,” said Zhang.

Closer to home, the couple has seen God work in their family.

Huang’s younger sister was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2020. She was 70 then.

Zhang prayed for Huang’s sister morning and night when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.

“During the pandemic, she suddenly got a very bad stomach ache. Her stomach was all swollen,” said Huang.

“She was in such pain. But her children didn’t dare take her to the hospital because of the pandemic.” 

When she was eventually hospitalised, the doctors diagnosed her with a burst appendix.

When they opened her up for surgery, however, the doctors realised that cancerous tumours had grown all over her uterus and ovaries, covering them. It was inoperable at that time.  

“If chemo worked, good. If not, she would be in heaven with God. There was nothing to be afraid of.”

“Doctors said it was Stage 4 cancer and she had to have chemotherapy or she would die,” said Huang.

“Everyone was worried that she would not survive the treatment. She was so skinny and small. How would she have the strength?” 

The family formed a prayer group. Zhang prayed for his sister-in-law every morning and every night.

“My husband prayed for her and told her not to be afraid. Jesus was with her.

“If chemo worked, good. If not, she would be in heaven with God. There was nothing to be afraid of.”

Eventually, Huang’s sister prayed to be a Christian, got baptised and went on to not only withstand nine rounds of chemotherapy but surgery as well to remove her uterus and ovaries.

She is now in recovery.

His grace is sufficient

In the 15 years praying for others, the couple has seen more miracles than they can count. But they have also had their share of heartaches.

“There have been people with cancer for whom we prayed but who were not healed,” said Huang.

One local missionary has been on their prayer list for over a decade. He was diagnosed with kidney failure at 29 and goes for dialysis twice a week.

But his illness has taken a toll on his body. His blood pressure is low, his bones have become so porous he has difficulty standing, his heart has been weakened and his hair is so brittle it breaks off easily.

“I pray my words will be used by the Holy Spirit to bless others. In my pain, I can still enjoy God’s strength.”

Despite this, the man continues to serve the street children in his country. He runs a home for them, giving them a roof over their heads, meals as well as an education.

“Even though he is so weak, he continues to serve God. I keep praying for him and I am saddened. My heart is moved that he sacrifices all to serve God,” said Zhang.

Zhang himself is stricken with illnesses that doctors cannot cure.

“The doctor in Singapore diagnosed me with a blood vessel in my brain that might burst. It’s part of old age.

“The nerves in my ears are also damaged. I can’t hear very well and there is always a loud ringing in my ear.”

He has prayed for his condition but there has been no healing. Instead, there has been some relief.

Zhang, who spends up to six hours a day interceding for others, has prayed for healing for himself. Though healing has yet to come, he has experienced miraculous relief.

“With such a loud ringing in my ear all the time, you would think that I can’t sleep at night. But God gives me sleep so I can serve Him the next day.

“Every morning, I pray to God for strength and that my words will be used by the Holy Spirit to bless others. In my pain, I can still enjoy God’s strength.”

“After I got sick, God assured me that His grace is sufficient for me (2 Corinthians 12:9).”  

Since his diagnosis five years ago, the number of people he has prayed for has increased. He now prays for up to 200 people every day and shares his testimony at home and in Singapore as well.

“When I pray, I pass on all their burdens to God. We pray for God’s will. Even if God doesn’t answer us the way we want, it doesn’t mean that He doesn’t love us.

“After I got sick, God assured me that His grace is sufficient for me (2 Corinthians 12:9).”  

Added Zhang, his voice breaking with emotion: “If not for God, I would not have today. Even in my sickness, He has allowed me to serve Him. All praise be to God.”


RELATED STORIES:

Changemaker at 74: Elim Chew’s prayer warrior mother

For 23 years, this small group has been praying Singapore into her God-given destiny

Giving God our golden years: 7 tips from seniors who lead the way

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.

×