“Canon James Wong was pioneer, church-planter extraordinaire and my beloved pastor”: Pastor Yang Tuck Yoong
Pastor Yang Tuck Yoong // April 9, 2022, 2:51 pm
Canon James Wong (seated, 2nd from right), with representatives from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Behind him are young pastors Lawrence Khong, Yang Tuck Yoong and Kong Hee (standing, 2nd, 3rd and 4th from right) in a photo dated August 21, 1998. Photo courtesy of Cornerstone Church.
He is a father, a grandfather, a pastor, a pioneer, an author, a church-planter extraordinaire.
But to me, Canon Dr James Wong is, first of all, my mentor and my beloved pastor who has been instrumental in helping me and many others launch into ministry.
Words cannot describe the debt I owe to this man. I would certainly not be where I am today except for the fact that God connected me to him, and through him, to the greater eternal purposes of God.
Canon Wong, as we fondly call him is, in my opinion, the quintessential church planter.
He was a prolific visionary and he could see what the church could and ought to be. And he was like an energizer bunny, always full of zest and always about His Father’s business.
Start of a new work
I met Canon Wong for the first time at a church camp in Changi, shortly after my conversion in 1974, and the first words he ever said to me have been etched in my memory. He said sternly: “You need a haircut.”
He said sternly: “You need a haircut.”
I realised then that this is not a man you want to mess with. He was not one who would mince his words.
Before I got married, Canon asked Daphne and me to see him for marriage counselling. Barely had we started the counselling session when he jumped right into the possibility of church planting. I have never met a man who is more passionate about church planting than Canon Wong. And that was my Marriage Counselling 101.
A defining moment for me happened one morning in 1989. At that time, I was still working in the secular and on my way to the office that morning, sitting in a bus, the Word of the Lord came to me and He said: “I want you to start a new work”.
It was crystal clear. When God speaks, you just come alive and that was what happened to me – I came alive and I was deeply stirred. And I knew it was the Word of the Lord because when I stepped into my office that morning, I had no more desire to want to be there.
I owe a huge debt to Canon Wong.
I had been touched by the Most High and I was ruined for life.
I kept the word in my heart for three days and it was burning in me. Finally, I called Canon Wong to tell him what the Lord had said to me and asked for his counsel.
He was just as excited about it as I was. That same evening, he drove down to see me and gave me his 100% support, blessings and the go-ahead.
Several months later, Bedok Christian Centre was started which later on became Cornerstone Community Church. I wouldn’t be where I am today and doing the things I am doing had I not had a pastor who not only believed in me, but a pastor who was willing to support, release and commission me for the ministry.
I owe a huge debt to Canon Wong.
Never looked back
Canon Wong was born on September 21, 1939, on St Matthew’s Day, and born again in February 1958 in St Matthew’s Church in Manly, Sydney. He never regretted that decision and he did not backslide, not even once.
Little did he know then that that skit was a prophetic act.
It was at his salvation experience that he offered his life to serve His Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, and he never looked back. Immediately, he started preaching the Gospel and, to him, that was his greatest joy.
He met a pretty young lady called Esther Ban at an Overseas Christian Fellowship Conference in Australia and, at the conference, they were paired together in the same small group. The group was supposed to put up a skit, and through divine providence, Esther and James played the role of husband and wife.
Little did he know then that that skit was a prophetic act. He would marry Esther in December 1963.
Canon Wong graduated from Sydney Missionary and Bible College in Croydon, in addition to earning his Bachelor of Arts degree.
Interestingly, he was the first Singaporean to graduate from the prestigious Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.
Powerful renewal movement
His first job was as a schoolteacher in St Andrew’s School.
In 1972, the Holy Spirit sovereignly moved upon a few English speaking youths from several schools like Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) and St Andrew’s School and they were baptised in the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues. We fondly call that the Clocktower Revival.
He was in his study when the Presence of God filled the room and he found himself praising and worshiping God in an unknown tongue.
This episode even got reported in the newspapers and, though these students became somewhat curtailed by school authorities, Canon Wong became intrigued by this phenomena and was open to receiving it.
One evening in early 1973, he was in his study when the Presence of God filled the room and Canon Wong soon found himself praising and worshiping God in an unknown tongue. He was not seeking to speak in tongues but God graciously filled him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and that was the game-changer in Canon’s life.
Shortly after that, together with another Anglican clergyman, Bishop Chiu Ban It, they would spark a powerful renewal movement in the Anglican church, which then spread to other denominations.
Shortly after his experience of being baptised in the Holy Spirit, God connected Canon Wong to another great man who later on became my spiritual father, Dr Brian Bailey.
Brother Bailey prophesied to Canon Wong that God was going to send a revival to Singapore and that many people would be swept into the Kingdom of Heaven.
He also prophesied that the Lord would send many gifted and anointed teachers to the church in Singapore and that the renewal movement, which of course was the Charismatic Movement, would grow phenomenally and this renewal would spread from Singapore to other nations in the region. And all this has come to pass.
Unity in the Spirit
I don’t know if we understand how significant this was. Canon Wong played such a critical role in opening doors to the Holy Spirit here in Singapore and many of us have been blessed as a result of this.
From 1974 to 1980, Canon Wong organised and hosted the Spiritual Renewal Seminars to bring about the Unity in the Spirit.
One of the fruits of these seminars was the establishment in 1978 of an inter-denominational Bible school called Tung Ling Bible School. The school is flourishing and thriving till today.
Canon’s ministry spanned well over 50 years and in that period, he planted many churches.
Tung Ling has since seen over 6,000 local and international students pass through its doors.
Canon’s ministry spanned well over 50 years and in that period, he planted many churches including the Chapel of the Resurrection, Chapel of Christ the King, Chapel of the Holy Spirit, Light of Christ City Church, Orchard Christian Centre, Marine Parade Christian Centre (MPCC).
And out of MPCC, God raised up churches like City Harvest Church and Cornerstone Community Church.
I know I speak for Pastor Kong Hee of City Harvest Church when I say how grateful we are to Canon Wong for being so gracious to release us to be the men we were called to be.
And if you just consider for a few moment, the collective membership of these churches, that alone is staggering, not to mention the influence these churches had in the nations.
From those humble beginnings, The Festival of Praise grew to a massive gathering of over 10,000 people at the Indoor Stadium.
Canon was also instrumental in establishing in Singapore two great organisations: Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship and Women’s Aglow. Both these organisations played a huge role in advancing the Charismatic Movement here.
Another event that helped bring unity to the Body of Christ was the Festival of Praise (FOP) that Canon Wong launched in 1986.
It began in a small way with 700 people gathered together in a school hall at St Margaret’s Primary. I was present in that initial gathering and have fond memories of the joy and exuberant praise. From those humble beginnings, the Festival of Praise grew to a massive gathering of over 10,000 people at the Indoor Stadium.
Out of the Festival of Praise has come an offshoot, the FOPx, which is now a significant movement among the youth in this nation.
God’s fellow workers
Canon Wong leaves behind his beloved companion, Esther Wong, and his two sons, Jonathan and Timothy, their wives and six grandchildren.
He has written several books including a wonderful record of his life called God’s Fellow Worker, which records for us his journey in the faith and the revival that broke forth in Singapore in the 1970s up to the present time.
Only eternity will reveal how many people have been blessed through his ministry.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Canon Wong. The church in Singapore owes a debt of gratitude to Canon Wong.
He was instrumental in opening the door for the Holy Spirit to be poured out in many churches and only eternity will reveal how many people have been blessed through his ministry.
I end with some of Canon Wong’s favourite verses, 1 Corinthians 3:6-9: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labour.
“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.”
REMEMBERING CANON DR JAMES WONG:
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