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A young Derek Hong (standing, third from left) with his parents and younger siblings. His father gave his life to Christ at a healing rally, his mother did so after she was healed of cancer twice. Photos courtesy of the Hong family unless otherwise stated.

On 15-year-old Derek Hong’s first day at church, his Sunday School teacher announced: “I’m going to Melbourne to attend Bible school. I’m praying for someone to take over this class. If no one takes over, I cannot go.”

Young Derek had just started Secondary 4, and his parents had finally allowed him to attend church.

After class, he went up to the teacher and volunteered to fill the role.

Unknown to him, two things unfolded from that one action. 

After almost 60 years since their one and only meeting, Pastor Derek Hong, 75, met his former Sunday School teacher, missionary Kate Cheah, 85, at the relaunch of Joshua 21 last year. Photo by the Thirst Collective.

In the book, Sweet Memories, Sweet Success, Kate Cheah shares of God’s hand in her journey, including the success of her family’s business, Polar Cafe. Photo from

One, it enabled Sunday School teacher, Kate Cheah, to go on to become the first missionary from Singapore.

Two, teaching Sunday School would be God’s way of training the future pastor. 

Jabbed like a pincushion

Growing up, young Derek’s future seemed bleak.

When he was five, he was hauled out of bed at 4am in the morning.

His parents were having yet another fight over money.

“Just to spite my father, my mother poured a bucket of cold water over me,” recalled Senior Pastor Derek Hong, 75, of Good Gifts City Church.  

“I caught pneumonia, and went from healthy to sickly. I was in and out of clinics and hospitals every few months.”

Derek in the 1950s.

When Derek was 12, he contracted tuberculosis (TB).

“I was warded in hospital and was jabbed every day. I felt like a pin cushion,” he said.

Hospitalised for six months during his PSLE year, young Derek Hong (centre) nevertheless aced the exams and got into Raffles Institution.

Despite his ill health, young Derek (pictured during his hospital stay) went on to play rugby, judo and basketball. “This is one of the reasons why I became a preacher – because I want the world to know that there’s a God who loves us, and that He is real.”

“I was miserable. My future was bleak. What hope did I have?”

In those days, TB was highly contagious. Other than his parents, his only other visitors were a group of people who told him about Jesus.

“Desperate, I believed,” said Derek.

Too poor to fail

After half a year, Derek was discharged from hospital and he returned to school in September.

He had to sit for the dreaded Primary School Leaving Exams (PSLE) just two weeks later.

“If I failed, I would be booted out of school because my family was too poor to pay for me to repeat Primary 6,” he said.

Derek Hong as a student at RI.

“I didn’t know how to pray. So I just chanted the name ‘Jesus’.”

“To pass would have been a miracle.”

Not only did Derek pass, he came out second in his school’s cohort and made it to Raffles Institution (RI), a premier secondary school.

“It was a miracle. So that’s how I knew Jesus is real.”

He was the first in his family to become a Christian.

Miraculously, Derek’s body also began to heal.

He had been too weak and sickly to play sports for the first 12 years of his life.

“But in secondary school, I was doing all kinds of sports including basketball and judo. I even represented RI – a top rugby school – in the junior rugby team.

“I made up for lost time!”

The accidental teacher

At the start of Secondary 4, young Derek’s parents finally gave him permission to attend church – that was when he volunteered to take over the Sunday School class on his very first day.

“Till today, I don’t know what made me do that – as a new Christian, and on my first day at Sunday School. It must have been the Holy Spirit who moved me,” he said. 

He was also the oldest student in the class. So he felt a certain responsibility to lead.

Derek Hong

Derek (right) playing the guitar during his days as a Sunday School teacher.

The new Christian struggled every week to prepare lessons for Sunday. Study guides were not available to him at that time.

“So I studied the Bible like mad, prayed like crazy, and listened to the Lord,” he recalled.

“It made me learn so much about God’s Word,” he said of the five years he taught Sunday School.

School’s out

As a teenager, Derek felt that God was calling him into service. He initially thought this meant becoming a missionary.

But how would he do this and support his parents and five younger siblings at the same time?

A teenaged Derek Hong (left) with his best friend, David Wong.

A plan formed in his mind. He would become a school teacher.

“I would work for 10 years and save up as much as I could. Then I would give the money to my parents and say, ‘Here is my duty as your son. Now let me go and serve my God.’”

So after his ‘O’ levels, Derek signed up to be a temporary relief teacher. He was posted to a school in Pasir Panjang – an undeveloped area at that time.

The challenges were overwhelming and demoralising for the “16-year-old rookie”.

“I couldn’t take the stress and resigned.”

Promoted to joblessness

Derek’s parents couldn’t afford to send him to university. So, he got a job – first at a bank, and subsequently at a company selling encyclopaedias that paid better.

“Within two weeks of being told of my promotion, I lost my job.”

“The Lord really blessed me,” he said.

Within a year-and-a-half, he was told that he would be overseeing credit collection in a few countries in East Asia.

However, the head office in the US discovered that they were bleeding financially in one of these countries. 

They shut down the operations in the region.

“So within two weeks of being told of my promotion, I lost my job.”

Screaming at the gate

“When I shared my situation with my pastor, he reminded me of my calling and suggested it might be the right time to go to theological college.

“But I didn’t want to go to Bible school to become a pastor just because I was jobless and had no better option,” he said.

There was, however, no response to his numerous job applications.

Derek was 24. He had just gotten married. He now had nine mouths to feed.

Derek Hong Su Lan

Derek and his wife, Su Lan, in 1969 during their courting days.

“My pastor said, ‘Go home and pray,” he recalled.

“I sounded out my mum. I told her, ‘I think God wants me to be a pastor.’”

His mother replied: “If you do, I will go to the gate of the Bible school and scream until you come home.”

“God was showing me that I was in Bible school not because I couldn’t get a job.”

He said: “To her, my becoming a pastor was a great economic setback as well as shame for the family. She thought that I would have to beg for sustenance.”

Derek prayed: “God, You have to help me, see me through this.”

Meanwhile, he applied to theological college. He was accepted, and he and his young wife moved onto campus.

God had a surprise in store for him.

“In my first week in Bible school, I got two job offers,” he said.

“It made me realise that it could only be God who prevented the other tempting jobs coming my way.

“God was showing me that I was in Bible school not because I couldn’t get a job.”

Letting go of his dream job

During a month-long break in Bible school, young Derek accepted one of the two job offers. It was with a company that had the monopoly on selling banking equipment.

“I wouldn’t have peace if I’d stayed.”

“It was a cushy job,” he said.

“All my colleagues were driving nice cars and had big houses.”

During the training, Derek emerged the top salesman. The manager was impressed.

Derek struggled to give up his “dream job” to return to Bible college.

But God moved him to send in his resignation, despite his manager asking him to name his price.

“I wouldn’t have peace if I’d stayed,” Derek said simply.

Part-time work, full-time salary

Derek also prayed: “How God? I still have to support my parents, brothers and sisters.”

Shortly after, he got a phone call from the general manager from his encyclopaedia days.

The GM needed someone to help wind down the company and collect $200,000 in instalments that were still due. Derek could do this part-time – on the same salary he drew before.

The process ended up taking two-and-a-half years.

God would use the 16-year-old Derek’s experience as a Sunday School teacher to train him for his future as a pastor. Photo courtesy of Church of Our Saviour.

“As a student, my expenditure was low, so I had more money to give to my parents.

“The company also gave me furniture from the office, which I brought into college. I was the only student with a swivel chair,” he said.

“My parents saw how the Lord provided for me. They saw how, even in Bible school, I could still support the family. My mother couldn’t complain,” he said.

Miracles before their eyes

While Derek was still a student in his third year of theological college, the Bishop put him in charge of a small church at Prince Charles Crescent.

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

In his early years as a pastor, Derek Hong lived briefly at St Andrew’s Village.

Upon becoming Deacon, Derek and his wife, his young son and his parents moved into the vicarage at Church of Our Saviour.

Ps Derek with Bishop Chiu Ban It who ordained him “when most people felt I was not qualified”, and Sister Pauline Hilier, a mentor, in the early days of the revival.

Pastor Derek and Joshua, his elder son.

A constant stream of people came through the church house, sharing their personal stories of faith and showering love on Pastor Derek’s parents.

His parents also witnessed miracles taking place and people getting healed.

“My father received phone calls from people who told him that they threw away their spectacles after being prayed for in church,” he said.

Pastor Derek baptising his father, who has since passed on.

At one healing rally at the since-demolished National Theatre on River Valley Road, Ps Derek’s father went down to the stage when the call came for those who wanted to give their life to Jesus.

“He was a chain smoker who smoked four packs of cigarettes a day. He threw his cigarettes and lighter onto the stage and never touched them again.”

God blessed Ps Derek Hong’s leadership at Church of Our Saviour. 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. Photo courtesy of Church of Our Saviour.

Pastor Derek is now Senior Pastor at Good Gifts City Church, which he helped to start. He is currently praying and searching for a successor. Photo from Good Gifts Facebook page.

The Lord also healed Ps Derek’s mother – twice – of two cancers.

Ps Derek’s mother eventually gave her life to Christ.

“She is still alive and is now 96 years old,” he said.

A version of this article first appeared in Stories of Hope

Check back soon for Part 2 of this story on how Pastor Derek Hong was touched by the Holy Spirit.


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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.