Three friends and their one faith: 20 years of brotherhood and still going strong
Christine Leow // July 2, 2020, 8:16 pm
With the God of their past, present and future by their side, (from left) Chong Ee Jay, Adrian Ong and Wang Guanghan know their 20-year friendship will continue into the tomorrows of their lives. Photo courtesy of Chong Ee Jay.
When they met as Engineering students at the National University of Singapore (NUS), they had no idea theirs would be the type of friendship that would see them through the many seasons of life.
Twenty years on, Chong Ee Jay, 41, Adrian Ong, 44, and Wang Guanghan, 40, are still friends who can share deeply and intimately with each other – without fear of judgement, without the need to explain, knowing they would be totally understood and accepted.
“We have journeyed together for so long. We can easily open up to each other now.”
Said Chong: “I really value the two of them a lot. In my devotions, I was studying about Daniel’s fearless friends (Daniel 3:16-18) and David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23:8-39). They are my mighty men, my fearless friends.”
They are also of New Testament ilk – “like those four friends in the Bible who brought the man through the top of the roof just so Jesus could heal him” (Luke 5:18-19), Chong added.
Wang, who is now a pastor at Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC), agreed: “They know my deepest, darkest secrets. I share with them, and they share with me some pretty private stuff as well.”
The trio agrees the friendship is especially precious (Proverbs 18:24b) because men “don’t usually let their guards down to be vulnerable”, as Chong puts it. “And when they gather it’s to do something, not to share their innermost thoughts.”
Ong believes the reason they are so close is because they met when they were still young. “Maybe as you get older, it’s the pride or cynicism that prevents you from opening up.
“But we have journeyed together for so long. We can easily open up to each other now.”
That shepherd’s heart
The journey started in 2001. Ong, then an Engineering Master student, was leading an FCBC youth cell group in NUS.
Chong had “just come back to Christ” and wanted a Christian community on campus.
“The people were warm and genuine, different from the friends I used to have.”
“I was looking for people to reach out to me,” he said, admitting he was a little shy at the time.
During the Engineering Faculty orientation, he met undergraduates who attended FCBC and accepted their invitation to a youth cell group on campus.
Within a year, he was assigned to Ong’s cell group.
“Adrian was always reaching out to me. His heart was always for the people and not just about Christian stuff alone,” said Chong. “He was genuinely interested in me as a person.”
The next year, Wang, a first-year Engineering student, joined their cell group. “The people were warm and genuine, different from the friends I used to have. Even the way they spoke was very nice,” he remembered.
Already open to Christianity, Wang was won over by their friendship and accepted Christ. “Adrian was very shepherding,” he said. “He really spends a lot of time with you.
“I was very inspired to see this young fellow wanting to serve and love God so much.”
“The way he leads the cell – he’s always catching up, having breakfast, talking about our lives, checking in on each of us.”
Ong credits his church leaders for the example they had set: “I learnt a lot of this from my leaders and pastors. They really showed us what having a pastoral heart meant.”
Even though the cell group had other members, the three of them hit it off especially well. They “just connected”, said Ong.
Added Chong: “Guanghan was just like a brother. I was very inspired to see this young fellow who had just joined the cell group wanting to serve and love God so much.”
Bonding through service
Fuelled by the same passion to reach out and share their faith, the three began serving shoulder-to-shoulder on campus and in church on mission trips and at outreach events.
While Wang ran the programmes, Chong would take care of the back-end preparations.
Ong, who was usually the one speaking up front, said: “They were like my right hand and left hand.”
Quipped Chong, referring to Moses’ companions who held up the prophet’s arms in Exodus 17:12: “He called us his Aaron and Hur. Those days really strengthened our relationship.”
Through thick and thin
If faith drew them to each other and working together helped them bond, going through life’s ups and downs was what sealed their friendship for life.
“He called us his Aaron and Hur. Those days really strengthened our relationship.”
Not long after graduation, Wang was hospitalised for an infection. Weakened by a high fever that would not go away, he calls it “the lowest point in my life”.
Ong and Chong both visited him. On one such visit, Chong was helping him to the bathroom because he was “so weak I couldn’t walk”, when he could not control himself and “everything came out”.
Recalled Wang: “Ee Jay cleaned me up in the toilet. I felt so bad for him. It is something we always remember. This caused us to trust each other.”
Both he and Chong speak warmly also of how Ong walked them through their love lives.
“He mentored my wife and I when we were preparing to get married,” said Chong.
Today, the two wives – Cynthia Chong and Aunna Ong – remain close. The families have even holidayed together and Chong is godfather to Ong’s youngest son.
“When Adrian became a father, he modelled the way family life should be for us – how to be a good husband and doting father.
“It wasn’t just from the words he said. It was from the life he lived and we caught that.”
The first year of fatherhood was “really challenging” for Chong and Ong was the “first person I turned to”, he smiles. “My wife would text his wife. No matter how late or early it was, they would respond to us.”
Ong was Wang’s mentor in love as well. When Wang wanted to pursue his wife, Melissa, whom he met at the National Institute of Education (NIE), he sought Ong’s opinion.
“I value his inputs,” Wang said simply.
When their first child, a daughter, was stillborn, Ong was there for them.
In turn, the men rallied around Ong when he hit a particularly difficult season. A decade ago, his mother passed away from cancer just a little more than a year after her diagnosis.
“I saw how both of them persevered in fulfilling what God called them to do despite challenges they faced.”
“I was depressed,” Ong shared. “I had prayed for so many people and they were healed, even from cancer.
“I asked God: ‘Why didn’t you heal?’ They were there for me.
“It’s very important that you have fellow brothers in Christ who will not judge you come in, encourage you and just love you, and be with you and speak words of truth when you are so discouraged.”
Even as Chong and Wang continue to look up to Ong, he maintains it is a “two-way relationship”.
Said Ong: “I used to struggle a lot with moving forward – in the area of the family, marriage and working in the marketplace.
“I saw how both of them persevered in fulfilling what God called them to do despite challenges they faced.
“I learnt a lot from them.”
United by faith
At the heart of the relationship, though, is not merely a shared history.
“Having friends like them has helped me last the race.”
“Having friends of the same faith is very different because it is something so close to our hearts,” said Wang.
For him, being able to share openly with Ong and Chong about his struggles as a pastor is like having “a refuge, a shelter to come back to”.
“I know when I share, it won’t stumble them. Talking to them brings me back to my first love for God.”
Life has taken them on different paths. The men are no longer in the same cell group though they are still in FCBC together. Still, they are people whom Chong calls “my closest friends”.
They have a WhatsApp chat group through which they keep each other updated on the day-to-day. They also meet at least once a year, though Chong and Ong catch up more frequently.
“Having friends like them has helped me last the race,” Ong said. One day, he hopes his sons will have their own band of brothers, too.