From Nantah to Beida, and on to eternal glory: Rev Dr Choong Chee Pang (1942-2021)
Lin Po Chien // June 15, 2021, 7:22 pm
Rev Dr Choong Chee Pang delivering one of his annual lectures at SCGM. “Dr Choong demonstrated by his life how an Asian Christian can be a witness in a pluralistic Asian context by his life, industry, contribution and example," said Rev Juliette Arulrajah, former SCGM National Director.
Rev Dr Choong Chee Pang, an elder statesman who served the nation as a member of the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony for 19 years spanning the tenure of three Singapore Presidents, went home to the Lord on June 12, 2021, at the age of 79.
He had been battling prostate cancer since 2012, say church leaders close to Rev Dr Choong, who describe his demise as the passing of a giant in the Singapore Church. He is survived by his wife, 郭春华 , two children and five grandchildren.
He served the nation as a member of the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony for 19 years spanning the tenure of three Singapore Presidents.
Rev Dr Choong was a principal of Trinity Theological College (TTC) in the 1980s, an award-winning painter with works exhibited in more than 15 countries, and a prolific writer on the theme of “gospel, culture and church” with articles featured in 28 publications in two languages.
He was also an academic consultant of the Lutheran World Federation, with the distinction of being one of the few Singaporeans present at the historic 1974 Lausanne Congress.
Said Rev Juliette Arulrajah, former National Director for the Singapore Centre for Global Missions (SCGM), in a Facebook eulogy of Rev Dr Choong: “The face of Biblical Christianity in Singapore would have looked very different and become liberal if Dr Choong and some of his friends (the late Dr Bobby Sng and Dr Aw Swee Eng) had not stood their ground in their undergraduate days on the evangelical aspects of the Christian faith, giving rise to the birth of the Varsity Christian Fellowship.”
Jesus came knocking on his door
Rev Dr Choong, who was born in Ipoh, Malaysia, in 1942, came to Singapore in 1961 on a scholarship at then Nanyang University (now Nanyang Technological University). He was active in the local Fellowship of Evangelical Students (FES) before continuing his education at London, Aberdeen, Oxford and Harvard where he read literature, theology, biblical studies and philosophy.
In later years, he was a well respected member of the Ministerium of the Lutheran Church in Singapore, an academic consultant of the Lutheran World Federation, and a Visiting Professor of Beijing University (Beida) and other leading universities in China and Hong Kong. For the past three years, he was also a regular columnist on current affairs for Chinese daily Lianhe Wanbao.
In his memoir, From Nantah to Beida – Endless Stories , Rev Dr Choong recounted: “I did not seek Jesus out, He came knocking on my door Himself.”
“I identified with the horse, since my hooves never stopped trotting.”
Against a backdrop of post-WWII Southeast Asia, Christianity was commonly associated with colonialism. The nearest church to Rev Dr Choong’s childhood home was 10km away, until a Lutheran church moved in opposite his childhood home. He remembered the diversity of the missionaries who came – from Hong Kong, Norway, Germany and the United States.
Rev Dr Choong and his neighbours were drawn to the hospitality of these missionaries, though the Opium War and other shadows of colonialism caused him some scepticism of the newcomers.
Eventually it was the Hakka hymns that resonated with him, and led to his interest in the Bible.
“I was born in the Year of the Horse. I identified with the horse, since my hooves never stopped trotting,” he wrote with characteristic good humour. “On a road with no end, there have been many pitstops, Oxford and Harvard being possibly the more crucial ones in my academic life. It was crucial for me, especially in my youth when the economy was tough.
“Graduating from secondary school was fortunate enough, how could I have dreamt of stepping into the hallowed halls of the likes of Oxford and Harvard?
“Likewise in Asia, I grew up in a Singapore struggling against Communism. A Chinese-educated student like me could not fathom stepping on the land of my ancestors, let alone lecturing in Beida (Peking University), and for a good 27 years.”
Yet the erudite scholar and painter with his winning wit and warm personality would eventually go on to teach at some of China’s most prestigious universities, “a feat unparalleled for a theologian and scholar from Singapore”, noted SCGM in its Facebook eulogy of Dr Choong.
A rippling legacy
Church leaders here cherish fond memories of Rev Dr Choong.
“He always had a wonderful broad and kind smile when greeting us, even when he did not agree with the Bible interpretations which his younger colleagues were willing to explore,” Bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore, Rev Dr Gordon Wong, told Salt&Light. The two had been co-faculty members at TTC.
“He showed how academic biblical studies need not injure, but can inform and inspire Christian evangelical devotion in both English and Chinese churches,” said Rev Dr Wong.
In a Facebook post, Pastor Lawrence Ko, SCGM’s National Director and a missions director in Asia for three decades, remembers Rev Dr Choong for his “care and concern for people whom God sent across his path”.
Pastor Ko related how his dad, a Taoist priest, had met Rev Dr Choong 25 years ago when he had heard him preach, and again at the SG50 art exhibition where Rev Dr Choong, featured as one of Singapore’s 50 prominent artists, had presented his dad with an autographed copy of the commemorative souvenir book.
“Last October, when I visited Prof Choong at home, I conveyed my dad’s regards and he quickly autographed a set of his memoirs for my dad. I was a happy courier to see joy on the face of my dad who proudly posed for a photo to thank the author.
“In his own words, my dad always says, ‘他真是个好人。有人情，人味。(He really is a good man.)’
“We trust that the words of faith and memory of a man with passion and compassion will continue to remain in the hearts of many and continue to witness to the love of Christ.”
Added SCGM in their Facebook post: “Prof Choong was passionate about many issues in missions, emphasising biblical foundations to inter-faith conversations. He was especially burdened for the care of missionary kids.
“We have lost a spiritual giant, a dear friend and a teacher. It is a loss not only to the Christian community, but a grief which will be felt among the Chinese intellectuals and community at large, in Singapore, Malaysia and China.”
“Dr Choong demonstrated by his life how an Asian Christian can be a witness in a pluralistic Asian context.”
Rev Dr Ngoei Foong Nghian, who was principal of TTC from 2001 until he stepped down in 2020, told Salt&Light: “Rev Dr Choong Chee Pang was a personable and energetic principal who related well with the students at Trinity Theological College. When he completed his term of office in 1991, he remained on faculty but his regular visits to China reflected a heart for students in tertiary institutions.
“That he was able to establish cordial ties with Chinese academia, spoke of his ability to share the gospel by engaging students in a non-church environment.
“Many alumni and parishioners will miss Chee Pang whose life exemplified the necessity of Christian witness in the public square”.
Agreed Rev Arulrajah, who had been Rev Dr Choong’s New Testament student at TTC: “He challenged mindsets and called for innovative creative ways of presenting the gospel in the cultural context so that many may call on the name of Jesus.
“Dr Choong demonstrated by his life how an Asian Christian can be a witness in a pluralistic Asian context by his life, industry, contribution and example.
“He ran the race here on earth with great distinction, leaving a rippling legacy (as a) distinguished scholar, humble theologian and passionate bicultural inspirer with a compassionate heart who touched numerous lives in Singapore and around the world.”
Well wishers may join the online vigil services for Rev Dr Choong here:
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