"I thank God for a wife who understood, and who had the same stand as me,” said Rev Michael Wong, now 82. From the start, he based his ministry on total trust in God’s providence and absolute obedience to His will. He and his late wife, Janet Lee, are pictured on their wedding day in 1964. All photos courtesy of Rev Michael Wong.

In the 1960s, Rev Michael Wong and his new bride often had to get by on $1 a day. 

Once, they were down to their last 45 cents. They accepted that they had to go hungry and decided to fast for three days until his pay cheque came in on the 25th of the month. 

Then came a knock on the door.

“You may not have all you want. But your life will be rich, and you will be satisfied.”

“At that time there were a lot of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand living at Serangoon Gardens where we lived. I was approached by a Mrs Wilson who told me that they had lots of food remaining from the previous night’s barbecue,” Rev Wong, now 82, told Salt&Light.

“There was milk, hamburgers, mashed potatoes, sausages and buns. Enough for a few days.

“We decided to fast. But God didn’t want us to fast. Man can decide, but God can do otherwise,” said Rev Wong with a chuckle.

It would not be the only time that he would say: “God is our divine provider. He always cares for the people who trust in Him. When you are obedient, God will work things out for you.”

The street rally

Rev Wong was born in 1938 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, into a family of staunch believers of another faith. His responsibilities included taking care of a temple.

Then at 19, he attended an open-air evangelistic meeting on the streets of Kuala Lumpur that would change the course of his life.

It was February 1958, a time when most churches were run by western missionaries. That day on the street, he was greatly disturbed when the preacher proclaimed that whoever believes in Jesus would not die.

“That’s a lie! How can you not die?” he asked himself. 

He resolved to challenge the preacher at the end of the sermon after everyone had left. But before that could happen, the preacher announced that they would be singing the last line of an old hymn,   Just as I am, Without One Pleaagain.

His legs just went forward when the altar call came.

“I said: ‘Okay, I’ll accept your Jesus Christ.’”

A Christian babe

A year later, the Christian of one year was approached by the pastor of Wesley Methodist Church Kuala Lumpur, the Sunday school superintendent, his mentor, and a few church leaders.

“They said to me: ‘Look, in our prayers, we asked God to send someone to be trained as a pastor to contribute to the Methodist church. Your name came up.’”

“How can? I’m still a Christian babe,” he thought. 

Rev Wong  (front row, wearing glasses), in his first year as a student at Trinity Theological College in Singapore, 1960.

“Wants never satisfy a person, but the fulfilment of a need enables a person to be satisfied,” said Rev Wong (back row, second from left), pictured at a community outreach programme in Malaysia during his years in seminary.

“And logically it’s impossible. I hardly understood the Christian life.

“I said to God: ‘God, if you are really calling me, I do not understand it, but give me a challenge that I can recognise is from you.”

The challenge came when the pastor of Wesley announced that a Father Damien – who served at a village with leprosy – was going on sabbatical for six months. The village needed someone to help while he was away.

Leprosy village

At that time, those with leprosy would go there to die because there is no cure.

“In all honesty, no common sense would make you go there voluntarily. But when they asked for a volunteer, I raised my hand,” shared Rev Wong.

At the village, he saw people die as their limbs rotted away. He prayed for them, buried the dead, ran services and helped out where he could.

“I understood that God was going to use me.”

“I wondered why God sent me there. From a human point of view, I felt that it made no sense. I was then a one-year-old Christian. But when God works, God has His will.

“After this experience, I was committed. I understood that God was going to use me.”

While in seminary, he met the woman who would become his wife: Janet Lee, who was then attending Fairfield Methodist Church in Singapore. They married in Kuala Lumpur after his graduation in 1964. She was 24, he was 26.

A month later in 1965, he started serving as a pastor at Trinity Methodist Church at Serangoon Gardens in Singapore. 

Early married life was not easy for the newly weds. Rev Wong’s mother, unhappy with his commitment to God, deliberately made things difficult for him.

She took away all the red packets they had received from their wedding guests, and demanded $100 a month from the newly weds. Rev Wong only earned $160 a month – the average pay of Singaporeans at that time.

Rev Wong with his staunchest supporter and helpmate, Janet Lee in 1967.

After purchasing train tickets back to Singapore after the wedding, Rev Wong was left with $24 for the rest of the month. This meant that they had to survive on a dollar a day.

“I felt bad for my wife because it was not fair to her. But she said: ‘No, I married a pastor. If you want to love Mommy, even if she doesn’t love us, we will send her the money.” And so they did.

A few days before Rev Wong’s pay check was due on the 25th of the month, the couple only had 45 cents in their pocket. They accepted that they would have to go hungry, and decided to fast for the next three days.

God answered their prayers.

Just when they were about to run out of food, Mrs Wilson offered them the excess food from the barbecue. It was enough to last a few days. 

Two decades later in 1985, Rev Wong’s mother received Jesus into her life, and their relationship with her improved. Rev Wong’s entire family too, would eventually come to Christ.

Millionaires in the mountains

At the end of one year pastoring Trinity, Rev Wong received news that he was to be posted to a church in a little village in the mountains of Pahang, Malaysia.

“I was thinking: ‘I should stay at a church for at least four years! I hardly know the people and now I am leaving.’”

But he obeyed.

They accepted that they would have to go hungry, and decided to fast for the next three days.

The couple’s son, Aaron, was just two months old. He was vomiting all the time. Before they left for Pahang, they took him to a hospital in Serangoon Gardens. It was run by missionaries and provided free treatment for patients.

There, they were told that their son could not drink milk but he could be nourished with a soy-based baby formula sent from overseas. It would cost them $80 a month which they could not afford. They thought they would have to feed their son rice broth.

But through the grace of the clinic, the couple could pay $30 and owe $50 each month. They could pay off the balance when they had more money.

Half a year later, their son’s condition was resolved. So they only needed to buy six months worth of the soy formula.

The small village they were posted to comprised of only two streets, but the inhabitants were wealthy. They included twelve millionaires; many were owners of gold mines and rubber estates.

“God will never ask me to give away my whole bowl of rice. God will take care of my needs too.”

And because the Wongs were Cantonese like them, they were soon treated as part of the community. Every morning when the market closed, a few hawkers would bring unsold vegetables to the family. 

As he made God’s love relevant to others, Rev Wong discovered over and over again: “God will never ask me to give away my whole bowl of rice. God will take care of my needs too.

“God will never fail; we simply need to trust Him. He is truly the provider.” 

Total trust also meant not whining or complaining.

Gangs in a new town

One year later, Rev Wong was called back to Singapore. It was frustrating to move so often, but he knew that all was within the control of God. He was sent to Wesley Methodist Church, where he was well paid. His family was provided with a home and a chauffeur. 

But after three years, in 1969, Rev Wong had a feeling that God was about to bring him out of his comfort zone to build a church in a place no one wanted to go at that time: Toa Payoh.

In its early days, the town was notorious for its gangs, fighting and killing.

“I particularly like the book of Romans for how Paul brings the reader through the knowledge of what it means to suffer but not fall, to be in want, yet fulfilled,” said Rev Wong, pictured at Toa Payoh Methodist Church’s 8th anniversary dinner, in 1977.

His only concern was for his wife. He did not wish to force her to do something she did not want. Recalled Rev Wong: “I confided in her. And she said: ‘Love, if God says go, we should go.’”

They planned to stay with Lee’s mother for the first few months. But were soon approached by a young couple who were about to leave for a two-year job posting at the Singapore Embassy in London.

“They had a bungalow at Serangoon Gardens and a car. They told us not to bother paying for petrol, and that everything would be taken care of.”

Rev Michael Wong giving Holy Communion at Toa Payoh Methodist Church, 1976.

And so, Rev Wong began his ministry in Toa Payoh. He later became the pioneering pastor for Toa Payoh Methodist Church. The work in Toa Payoh was a continuation of his outreach to those on the fringes of society that started when he was in seminary. Through action, he would show God’s love for them. 

Among those he worked with were drug addicts, prostitutes and prisoners. He also ministered to people in bars and clubs, which he would visit on his days off – “I drank orange juice”.

He gave assistance – such as helping find jobs – to those who wanted it. But let them be if they were not interested.

“Love is only love if there is free will. It is not love if it is coerced,” said Rev Wong.

Today, he befriends a different group of people: The elderly. 

Movie dates

In the early 1970s, Rev Wong met a young mother whose husband had recently died in a motorbike accident. She was left to care for their two young children, and was unable to pay for their school fees, even with the government’s support.

Rev Wong prayed for the family and told them to return in a week.

They would forgo their weekly movie date and go for walks instead. 

In that time, he consulted his wife and they came to a decision. They would forgo their weekly movie date – which cost about $9 per visit. On Rev Wong’s weekly day off, the couple would go for walks instead. 

This meant that in a month, they could save $40 – slightly more than what the mother needed to send her children to school. They supported the children from primary school through to junior college.

“If you are a sincere believer, if God is real and personal to you, you will never let love become a noun. It is always a verb,” said Rev Wong.

“Jesus said: ‘You are the salt of the earth and light of the world.’ Salt preserves and light directs,” he said.

“If you believe you are called to be salt and light, your life will be rich, and you will be satisfied. You may not have all you want, but you will be satisfied.”

Rev Wong with Janet, his wife and staunchest supporter in 2005.

Even when Rev Wong disagreed with God’s direction, he went. Even if he did not like where he was going.

She asked the Lord for 10 more years to journey with her husband.

Lee was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in 2003. She asked the Lord for 10 more years to journey with her husband in his ministry and to enjoy his company for a little longer. She was given a clear report at the end of the ninth year. But in December, she became unwell.

Rev Wong offered to pray for her, asking if she was afraid. His wife replied: “What is there to fear? I am going home. Don’t be silly.”

She closed her eyes and went home to be with the Lord. She was 72.

It was ten years and two days after her prayer.


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About the author

Jewel Yu

Jewel Yu is a communications and new media undergraduate at the National University of Singapore. The intern at Salt&Light hopes to write articles that touch hearts and leave a lasting impact. She is an adventurer and avid lover of nature, and hopes to travel the world with her guitar, friends and family.