“Through your life, many were saved”: How a secondary school teacher in the 1960s brought more than 200 students to Christ
by Gracia Lee // October 28, 2021, 4:55 pm
Eight years before the well-known ACS Clocktower Revival was a spiritual revival of equal proportions and impact at Serangoon English School. Photo courtesy of Andrew Ong.
Many are familiar with The Clocktower Story at Anglo-Chinese School (ACS), which has been widely recognised to be one of the triggers of the Charismatic Movement in Singapore.
Started in July 1972, the ACS Clocktower revival was birthed after a group of school boys began gathering at their school’s clocktower every recess to pray, resulting in an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on many of their schoolmates.
The movement at Serangoon English School had started out not with a group of students, but a teacher.
Marked by fervent prayer and Bible study, personal evangelism and an intense spiritual renewal, the revival saw many boys come to Christ, and several eventually became pastors in the Methodist Church of Singapore.
Few people know, however, that a revival of equal proportions and impact had happened, among schoolboys of the same age, just eight years earlier at Serangoon English School, an all-boys secondary school.
That season saw the same degree of spiritual fervour and contagious faith, in which at least 200 students came to Christ. Some 20 of them have gone on to become long-serving pastors, mostly in the Assembly of God (AG) churches.
Unlike the ACS Clocktower revival, however, the movement at Serangoon English School had started out not with a group of students, but a teacher.
An ordinary man
Pang Ek Kwan was an ordinary young man who had grown up in Singapore, after arriving on its sunny shores from Indonesia with his family as a little boy.
Married to a housewife whom he had met through a mutual friend, he lived with his wife, parents and two young daughters in a rented two-storey house at Charlton Road, just off Upper Serangoon Road.
As the family’s sole breadwinner, he worked as an English and Mathematics teacher – it was his first job after graduation – at Serangoon English School (now Serangoon Secondary School), where he was known by students to be a strict but dedicated educator.
Even though he never went easy on students – he often gave students with undone homework a ticket to detention or even more homework over the weekend – many of them excelled under his tutoring, as he had a way of making lessons come alive.
He was also a faithful church goer, having accepted Christ at 20 after hearing the Gospel at a classmate’s church. But he was quiet about his faith, and lacked what he would later identify as “the courage, joy and compassion” to share the Good News he had received with others.
But that would soon change.
Set alight by the Holy Spirit
Sometime in 1964, 30-year-old Pang was invited by his brother-in-law and niece to attend the 5pm evening service at Bethel Assembly of God, then a house church of about 30 people at 4 Palm Grove Avenue.
Set up in 1956, the church’s founders were the late Rev Fred Seaward and his wife, Margaret. The American couple pioneered and led several charismatic churches in Singapore, including Calvary Assembly of God, Calvary Charismatic Centre (now Victory Family Centre) and Elim Church.
Pang attended the church service for several weeks, and decided one Sunday to respond to the altar call to know God more intimately. Following Rev Seaward and other intercessors into a prayer room, he knelt down and began to pray.
As the intercessors laid hands on Pang, he found himself baptised by the Holy Spirit as he broke out praying in tongues for the first time – for almost two hours.
It was an experience he still remembers clearly, though it happened almost six decades ago. “It was so wonderful and so joyful,” Pang, now 87, told Salt&Light. “Indescribable.”
But it was not just a new spiritual gift that he left with that Sunday.
When he returned to school the following day, he noticed in himself something that had not been there before: A compassion, a hunger and an unshakeable burden to share the Gospel with his students.
Spurred by an inexplicable boldness and joy, Pang began hanging out in the school’s tuck shop early in the morning and during recess time, sharing the Gospel with students who were interested to find out more.
Careful not to misuse his teaching time for other purposes – and remember that this was back when sharing the faith in school was permissible – he would instead offer to do relief work for absent teachers whenever he had a free period. His job was just to keep the class quiet.
He shared the message of salvation with the students: That there is Someone who has risen from the dead, has saved them from their sins and can give them real peace and joy.
Spreading like wildfire
And the students responded. “Quite a number,” recalled Pang, who prayed for these boys and invited them to attend church services in Bethel.
“It didn’t take much to convince me. It was like God had already prepared my heart ahead of time.”
After school on Fridays, groups of students would wait outside the school gate for Pang, who would drive them in a white and green Volkswagen van to the 1.30pm service in church, which was four to five minutes away.
As the students learnt more about Jesus and experienced the reality of the Holy Spirit in their lives, the excitement of their newfound faith was difficult to suppress.
Despite being new believers, they found in their hearts the same passion and joy as their teacher to share the Gospel with their schoolmates.
Rushing down to the canteen once the recess bell sounded, they would gobble down their food in 10 minutes and spend the rest of their break time telling their friends about Jesus and inviting them to church.
Rev Dr Patrick Lau, who served as Senior Pastor of Calvary Assembly of God for 42 years, was one Secondary 3 student who was approached by an enthusiastic friend, Raymond Tan, during recess one day.
“He told me about Christ and I was interested because I had already been searching to know the truth,” said Ps Lau, now 72. Ps Lau was also the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God of Singapore for 31 years.
As a Secondary 3 boy, he accepted Tan’s invitation to attend the church service, where he was led by Pang to salvation. “He also told me about the power of the Holy Spirit and prayed for me to be filled with the Spirit … and I began to speak in tongues,” he recalled.
Young Ps Lau, who was a prefect, went on to share the Gospel with others, including Rev Jack Theva, then a fellow prefect and Secondary 2 student.
“I had a hunger to know God, to understand who He is. When the Gospel was presented, it was so clear, and that had a tremendous effect on me,” said Ps Theva, 71, a retired pastor who served as an AG minister for 45 years.
He added: “It was a very strange thing. It didn’t take much to convince me. It was like God had already prepared my heart ahead of time.”
Hunger and thirst
The experience of Ps Lau and Ps Theva was not unique.
As the months rolled on, more students became baptised by the Holy Spirit. Some were non-believers who heard the Gospel for the first time, while others were Christians who experienced a spiritual revival.
Longing to tell their schoolmates about this joy they had found, the boys set up the Truth for Youth Christian Movement (TYCM), under the guidance of Pang, to see more of their friends being saved.
As often as they could, about 30 core members of this movement would gather to fast, pray in tongues and cry out to God for the salvation of their schoolmates – often for hours.
Every Wednesday after school, they would also meet for Bible study classes with Pang, where they would pore over God’s Word for two to three hours, soaking in as much as they could.
“We really hungered and thirsted. It was like when David said, ‘I thirst for you. My whole being longs for you in a dry and parched land’ (Psalm 63:1). That’s what happened to us in those days,” said Rev Peter Lui, an associate pastor at Elim Church who joined the movement as a Secondary 2 student.
Their fervent prayers were answered. Every Friday afternoon, more and more students gathered outside the school gate waiting for a ride to the church service. Pang had to increase the number of trips he made, as the van could pack in only about 20 students at once.
Five trips became 10, and as the Gospel spread beyond the gates of Serangoon English School, Pang soon found himself ferrying students from other nearby schools like Cedar Girls’ School and Monfort Secondary School.
At one point, recalled former students, there were as many as 150 students cramped on the wooden pews in Bethel’s small worship hall. “We were like sardines, packed!” said Ps Lui, 71.
Eager to reach more souls, the members of TYCM also organised an evangelistic rally at an outdoor field at Bethel. They set up a large tent and invited an American evangelist named Rev Wesley Weekly to preach.
More than 200 students from various schools attended the event, and many gave their hearts to Jesus that day.
Winning over the sceptics
But the movement was not without opposition.
Pang was often ridiculed by his colleagues for spending so much time talking about Jesus with his students and driving them to church. A science teacher also accosted Ps Theva at a school staircase, telling him: “You go and tell Mr Pang that I’m ready for a debate with him.”
But most of the pushback came from fellow students who mocked them for their fervour. Ps Lui had initially been one of the mockers.
“We used to call them holy cows, these square box people. All they ever talked about was God, God, Jesus Christ, so whenever they’d come, we all would run, you know? Siam. Everybody would run from these holy mumbo jumbo people,” recalled Ps Lui, adding that he was also offended by the Christian view that believing in Jesus was the only way to be saved.
But as he observed the lives of these boys who had received Christ, he noticed that there was something different about them.
“They had such joy, such happiness … I couldn’t understand it.”
“They had such joy, such happiness, even though they were persecuted, even though life was very difficult as we came from very poor homes. And I couldn’t understand it,” said Ps Lui.
He saw how they were always smiling. He saw how they would willingly share their notes with their classmates and tutor the less advantaged students. He saw how Pang quietly gave needy students money or stationary when they needed it.
So, when Ps Theva invited him to a Bible study session, he agreed to go.
But he was sceptical about the faith and often questioned them about what they believed in. “I wasn’t an easy person at all, I can tell you that,” said Ps Lui.
“You can say that again!” Ps Theva responded with a laugh.
Even though Ps Lui resisted receiving the Holy Spirit, Ps Lau and Ps Theva were kind to him and prayed for him for hours every Friday afternoon for a whole year until he was baptised in the Holy Spirit.
Said Ps Lui: “My spiritual development in school was due very much to both Ps Lau and Ps Jack. Their love and patience really won me over and I just look at them and I thank God.”
Theirs was a love and patience that had been learnt from Pang, who discipled many of the boys.
“He was not just all about preaching the Gospel, telling you about Jesus and trying to get you to church. He is actually a man full of love and concern for you,” said Ps Lau, who regards Pang as his mentor till today.
He recalled his teacher encouraging him to show love to his father, with whom Ps Lau had a difficult relationship as a teenager.
“He said, ‘Patrick, find out what your father likes to eat and buy it for him.’ Then he would give me money for that, saying, ‘You buy something for your dad so that your dad will know that you love him.’”
After Ps Lau recounted this event, Pang said: “I just feel that God is so wonderful and He is so good. He not only uses us, He also empowers us with the Holy Spirit and leads us to do the right thing, so that many of the students would begin to see the love of Christ in our lives.”
Foundations of faith
Speaking to Salt&Light over Zoom, five students-turned-ministers testified how this season of revival formed and shaped their faith in ways that remain with them till today.
“At the time we were very young, so many of our values were shaped by the good examples of the kind of life we should live: The praying life, the giving life, the passionate life for God,” said Rev Dr David Lee, senior pastor of Maranatha Christian Assembly.
The men, now in their early 70s, fondly remember the level of commitment they had to the Lord, spending most of their time before and after school praying, studying the Bible, doing street evangelism and being in fellowship with other believers.
Rain or shine, they would attend church every Sunday from as early as 7am. For years their Sunday schedule was: Worship service in the morning, Bible study class, lunch, house-to-house witnessing at Persiaran Keliling (now Circuit Road) and a three-hour evangelistic service until 8pm.
All of their pocket money was also willingly given to the church. Ps Lee remembered how he would find himself with only five or 10 cents left, which was insufficient to take a bus home.
“But that was when the miracles would happen. We’d pick up 10 cents on the street, or Mr Pang would come along in his car and send us halfway home. We’d have enough money to take the bus for two to three stops, and then we’d walk the rest of the way home, so that was more manageable,” he said.
Rev Dr Andrew Ong, adjunct lecturer at ACTS College and the former senior pastor of Faith Assembly of God, said it was during this season that they learnt what it truly meant to surrender everything to God.
“Today Christianity is like a hobby to some Christians, if you feel there’s extra time then you give to God. But it wasn’t like that in those days. Everything we had – all our money, all our property, we didn’t care – was all for Christ,” he said.
Ps Theva added: “From the early days we learnt to be sacrificial, we learnt to be giving, to live by faith and to trust God and His leading in our lives. And that has carried us in life.”
“To God must be all the glory”
The TYCM movement lasted for about five to six years, during which hundreds of students heard the Gospel.
Ps Lau estimates that at least 200 in Serangoon English School gave their lives to Christ, while Ps Lui said there would have been “easily 500” souls saved, including the families of students, like his, who accepted Jesus as well.
“He’s a grandfather of many,” added Ps Lee, noting how Pang’s spiritual impact on them has reached the lives of the congregations they now serve.
In the early 1970s, Pang heard a call from the Lord to resign as a teacher and take over Rev Seaward’s role as the senior pastor of Bethel Assembly of God. Pang led the church until April 2001, and continued to stay in touch with several of his former students.
Looking back on how his obedience in sharing the Gospel has impacted lives for Christ in such significant and far-reaching ways, Pang stands in awe of what God has allowed him to be a part of over the course of his life.
“The most fulfilling part is that … we are wretched, we are sinful, we are nothing, and yet God loves us so much that He calls us, He picks us up and He helps us go through whatever difficult situation we may find ourselves in. That’s a wonderful thing about our loving God,” he said.
As his former students reminisced on their days in Serangoon English School, they thanked Pang repeatedly for what he has done in their lives.
“Pastor Pang, you did a fantastic, fantastic job,” said Ps Lau. “It just took one person and through your life, many were saved.”
In characteristic humility, Pang replied: “To God must be all the glory. It is the Lord. We are simply vessels in His wonderful hands. Praise God.”
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