“There’s no fear of death, my life is in God’s hands”: The Hiding Place’s Pastor Philip Chan as he battles liver cancer
by Geraldine Tan // May 25, 2019, 6:19 pm
Despite suffering ill health, founders of The Hiding Place, Pastor Philip Chan and his wife, Christina, remains joyful as they know their lives are in God's hands. Photo by Geraldine Tan.
What good is God when it hurts?
To Pastor Philip Chan and his wife, Christina, the question is a very real one.
The founders of Singapore’s first halfway house, The Hiding Place, are both critically ill.
Pastor Philip has stage IV liver cancer and spinal issues, while Christina was struck with cervical cancer and also underwent heart bypass surgery.
But ask the stalwart pair: What good is God when it hurts?
And you’ll get the reply: God is good, especially when it hurts.
Battles to fight
Pastor Philip Chan, 68, is candid and real.
He has been beset with health issues for over a decade. Although he overcame colorectal cancer in 2006, he has to contend daily with stoma and pus bags due to complications from surgery. He walks with difficulty now given his spinal issues and uses a motorised wheelchair to get around.
The journey was made more uncertain by the fact he and his wife do not have a fixed income to take care of medical expenses – The Hiding Place runs as a faith ministry, which means that the home’s expenses, including Pastor Philip and Christina’s income, depend entirely on donations.
“Going through all these inconveniences and sufferings for the last three years, it is really no fun. You come to a stage where you say, ‘I surrender, I’m willing to even go home,” Pastor Philip admits.
“If I look at myself (compared to) 10 years ago, so much difference! I cannot even walk properly, everywhere I go, I need help.”
His toughest battle has been with liver cancer. First diagnosed in 2016, he went into remission after a successful cancer treatment but the cancer recurred in late 2018.
“But if I want to cry – waste time lah,” he says with a laugh.
“You’ve missed the boat”
When his liver almost failed in 2009, doctors urged him to get a transplant. His only daughter, Joaquim, was a match. She wanted to give him her liver but he held it off as he was worried that she was too young then. The procedure carried significant risk to the donor.
Tests in early 2016 revealed a liver tumour and his cancer marker had risen to 249. Doctors again urged him to get a liver transplant.
He finally agreed.
But the scheduled surgery had to be called off just five days before the surgery, as the tumour had grown oversized, rendering him an unsuitable candidate for liver transplant.
When he sought a second opinion, the doctor told him bluntly: “You should have done your transplant earlier, but you delayed. Now you’ve missed the boat.”
“They are always thinking of a way to put food on the table, not for themselves, but for us.”
Undeterred, he sought another opinion and was informed of a trial immunotherapy treatment at the Singapore General Hospital.
Instead of the usual two to three weeks wait before he could begin immunotherapy, the doctors were able to begin treatment in just one week. When he started, his cancer marker stood at 6,172. In just three months, it plummeted to 15, which is considered normal.
“It is a miracle. When I went through the treatment, I was saying, ‘I’m finished.’ And I told friends to pray for a miracle; only the Lord can cause a miracle,” he says gratefully.
The harder journey was watching his wife’s health fail.
He was by Christina’s side as she battled and beat cervical cancer in 1997, and again in 2012 when she underwent an open-heart bypass surgery.
But the most devastating blow was probably the stroke six years ago, which robbed his wife and ministry partner of most of her speech and mobility.
Prior to that, Christina had been active in the daily running of the home, teaching Bible study and overseeing the discipline in the home.
“Last time, she’s the fireman here … even in the prisons, they know that Christina is the one who is very serious and will really scold them upside down,” he said. The memory drew quiet laughter from Christina, 72, who was beside him during the interview with Salt&Light.
Their brand of tough love – The Hiding Place is known for its strict regime – has helped some 1,000 troubled men go on the straight and narrow.
She would scold residents, just like a concerned mother would, in the hopes that they, too, would see the potential that she saw in them. But beneath her tough exterior, Christina is a softie on the inside, says her husband.
“Her heart is really bigger than anybody else’s. She will love anybody and she will reach out to anybody. In fact, sometimes I think she ‘over-loves’ people,” he says with a chuckle.
Their brand of tough love – The Hiding Place is known for its strict regime – has helped some 1,000 troubled men get back on the straight and narrow, estimates Pastor Philip.
These include drug addicts, alcoholics, gambling addicts and wayward youths.
Who is God to this couple, who has seen such pain, not just in themselves, but also in the many hurt people who pass through their doors?
“The Lord is the one who is holding our lives,” says Pastor Philip. He turns to look at Christina and the two break into knowing smiles. “We don’t blame God for the suffering.”
“We have nothing to lose! We have seen the hand of God in our lives.”
His latest blood test showed that the cancer marker has continued to rise, from 55 to 832.8 as of July 24. The cancer has also spread from the liver to the lungs and spine, and doctors have given him 12 more months to live.
Yet the two choose to anchor themselves in Jesus, their Rock. (1 Corinthians 10:4)
The key is to remain thankful (1 Thessalonians 5:18), they said.
“We must learn to accept whatever comes our way, not just the good but even the sufferings. I remember the word of Jesus: ‘In the world, you will have tribulation but be of good cheer.’ (John 16:33 NKJV) But this world is just temporary. The life God offers is eternal.
“My life without the Lord would have seen me still kicking around in the prisons,” joked Pastor Philip, a former heroin addict whose life was turned around in 1976 when he encountered God in the House of Grace, the halfway house that Christina started, before it was renamed The Hiding Place in 1978.
“So … nothing to lose! We have seen the hand of God in our lives.”
“When we see them, we are encouraged that it is possible to follow the Lord with joy, no matter the circumstances.”
“In fact, I could have died earlier. But the Lord preserved me and allowed me to finish the mission of the Hiding Place.”
During the extra years God gave him, he managed to realise his dream of getting a permanent home for The Hiding Place. He and Christina also put in place a team of staff to carry on the work with the same love that they have had for the residents for the past 46 years.
Pastor Philip and Christina’s living testimonies have left an indelible mark on the lives of their staff and residents.
Sart S, 66, a full-time staff member who, like Pastor Philip, had encountered God while undergoing rehabilitation at The Hiding Place, said: “Pastor Philip and Christina have gone through thick and thin, but they’re still serving, they’re still pressing on. They are always thinking of a way to put food on the table, not for themselves, but for us.
“Pastor Philip’s attitude is ‘die die, I will follow the Lord’. When we see that, we are encouraged that it is possible to follow the Lord with joy, no matter the circumstances.” (1 Peter 2:21)
Pastor Philip smiled, his voice confident. “I thank God lah, going through all these. He has taught me that there’s no fear of death. Life is in the hands of God.
“Though our bodies are weak, as 2 Corinthians 4:16 says, ‘our inner self is being renewed day by day’!”
We are an independent, non-profit organisation that relies on the generosity of our readers, such as yourself, to continue serving the kingdom. Every dollar donated goes directly back into our editorial coverage.
Would you consider partnering with us in our kingdom work by supporting us financially, either as a one-off donation, or a recurring pledge?Support Salt&Light