“No matter how hard we work, we must always find time to serve”: Harvey Norman Ossia founder George Goh
Edric Sng // June 6, 2023, 5:55 pm
He is an entrepreneur, diplomat, philanthropist and youth mentor. But early on in Mr George Goh's career, he told the Lord: "I'm from humble beginnings. How can I run my organisation? Lord, give me wisdom, give me direction." Photo from georgegohchingwah.com.
Mr George Goh is the founder of Harvey Norman Ossia – bringing in the electronics and furniture giant into the region – as well as the chairman or founder of various publicly-listed companies. In 2017, he was also named Singapore Ambassador to Morocco.
Apart from co-founding charitable organisation Border Mission, he also serves on the board and council of various non-profit organisations including the Red Cross Society, Presbyterian Community Services and Presbyterian Preschool Services.
Salt&Light Editor Edric Sng sat down with Mr Goh to hear his views on faith, work and ministry. In his own words:
George Goh on coming to the faith
Our family basically had no money. The reason I came all the way from my village where I grew up to Singapore was because of poverty – my family had no money. We hardly ate good stuff, good food. Education was hardly a consideration – none of my siblings got an education beyond secondary school – none of us, including myself.
So I came to Singapore, and when I was 16 years old, I worked in a shoe factory at Geylang. Seven years I worked in the factory.
Near the factory there was a fairly old church. A few young brothers and sisters from the church visited our factory. They brought along a guitar, and they started to sing hymns at the factory.
“The hymns were beautiful. I couldn’t even read the lyrics, but I loved the hymns.”
I had not known anything about church in my whole life up to that point. In our village we don’t have a church and we know nothing about God.
They invited us to church. I said okay, why not? And that was my first time entering a church.
Was I self-conscious? Yes. Because I looked at them – they were different. They could sing, play the piano, lead the youth fellowship. The language they used sounded beautiful to us. Even the clothes we wore were different.
I found it nerve-wracking when I went to the church, because I couldn’t speak much English. So I joined them, but I was quite quiet at that point.
The hymns were beautiful. I couldn’t even read the lyrics, but I loved the hymns.
In 1978, Billy Graham came to Singapore. A huge, huge event. I sat there in the stands, and finally, I made up my mind. I would believe in Jesus.
I travelled back to my village. I met my father and explained to my father: “Papa, I’ve been going to this little church. It is very beautiful, I like it. I may not understand it completely, but I want to accept Jesus Christ as my Saviour.”
I was a young boy, about 18 years old. Papa screamed and scolded me, but I said, no, I will still go ahead to be baptised. So in 1978, I got baptised in the church.
On serving in the choir
Worship, to us, is very important. We have always kept the practice where we don’t work on Sundays.
On Sundays, we do not open our stores or factory at all. The rest of the days, we work 16 hours, 18 hours – no issue – but we are quite clear: We don’t work on Sundays.
No matter how hard I work – it can be 16- or 18-hour days – I will find time to serve in the church. Because this is very important. We need a balance between work and serving.
So over the years, up till today, I’m still singing in the choir. Every month, two to three weekends, I’m still singing as a choir member. I have been singing for the last 40-over years.
I like to learn. Everything that I can learn, I will. I got my degree in music last year, singing in opera. singing classical music. At the age of 62.
If you are a Christian, remember to pray. It’s a very important principle.
“I didn’t understand anything about capital market listings or mergers. The only way I could get anything done was to pray.”
One person I admire in the Bible is King Solomon. Not because of his lifestyle! But because He could have asked the Lord for anything, but he asked for wisdom (1 Kings 3:9).
So, early in my career, I said: Lord, I’m from humble beginnings, I can’t take on all these business challenges. How can I run my organisation? I don’t understand anything about capital market listings. Or delisting. Or a general offer. Or mergers. Or subsidiaries … I don’t understand all these!
The only way I could get anything done was to pray. I would say: Lord, I have this issue. Help me overcome this problem. Open doors for me.
In my 41 years of work, I’ve gone through eight crises, one after the other. Not only me, everybody – Asian Financial Crisis, Lehman Brothers, SARS, Covid-19. Even current situations – geopolitical tensions, inflation – are very tough.
So we have to pray. Lord, give me wisdom, give me direction. The only way for me to overcome all these challenges – please give me the wisdom of King Solomon.
This is what I’ve always believed in. So if you’re a Christian, please do that. This is the only way for us to overcome such challenges.
My first wife passed away when I was 40. At that point, I had three children. The youngest one was just three months old.
Then I met someone I love a lot. She knew I had three children, and didn’t mind coming into our family.
Why did she agree to marry me? The most important part to her was that I served in missions. She said: One thing I like about you is you’re very mission-minded.
To me missions is a key aspect in my life. I set up my life in three pillars. The first is my family – always my family first – and the second is my business. Third is my mission field.
“The Himalayas are the unreached areas – somebody has to go, if the Lord says the Gospel must reach the ends of the world!”
We set up Border Mission in 2014, mainly to serve the unreached group that is in the Himalayas, the mountainous area, those staying above the 2,500m mark.
We don’t serve at the plains, because I think my calling is to the mountains.
The villages you need to go to are quite far. Those areas are truly unreached – hardly accessed by missionaries because they’re too far away. To walk to this village, sometimes you need to walk 12 days, sometimes 14 days!
It is quite difficult. These villages aren’t even shown in maps.
Why do we do this? Matthew 24:14: “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
We have to finish this chapter. Which is why the Himalayas is always in my heart. These are the unreached areas – somebody has to go, if the Lord says the Gospel must reach the ends of the world!
I’ve travelled more than 20 times to the Himalayas. It’s very dangerous to reach there because the planes are very old, and the roads are very dangerous – right next to the road, it drops off down the cliff. If the car goes down, I think you can’t return home.
I’ve explained to my wife that if there’s a day when I do not return home, you’ll have to accept it.
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