Hannah-Yeoh-S&L (2)

Hannah Yeoh was the first female Speaker in a state parliament in Malaysia.

An aspiring preacher turned politician.

A big change, many would think. Radical and extreme, some may say.

For Hannah Yeoh, the Speaker of Selangor State Legislative Assembly  and an opposition politician in Malaysia, it came with neither effort nor clamour.

It was but a step of obedience to the call of God.

“We need to be flexible for God to use us. If your heart is to do the will of God, your career change doesn’t matter. It is what you do in positions God puts you in that counts,” said Yeoh.

“The ability to hear and discern the time and season is also important. (1 Chronicles 12:32) We are a work in progress for God.”

There were initial misgivings, of course. After all, it is an unconventional vocation. A Christian female politician in a largely Muslim nation, and in the opposition to top it off. Does that even add up?

Living without regrets

It was not an easy decision, especially for the newly-wed at 29 years of age. It required a change of heart and a new mindset to take in the broader perspective that was unfolding.

I think the greatest mistake is to believe the Enemy when he says the church should never be involved in politics. It is not a defiled and dirty place where we can’t be a light.

“Initially, I thought I can’t be a preacher for God because I am now labelled a ‘rocket politician’ (rocket is the symbol for the opposition Democratic Action Party in Malaysia). I will defile the pulpit, they say, and turn it political.”

In the meantime, it meant going back to the first principles of discerning God’s will: Prayer, the Word of God and taking wise counsel.

“If you want to hear the voice of God, you need to know the Word because God will only speak what is consistent with His Word. I don’t want to miss opportunities just because I have said ‘no’ to God. I don’t want to live with that kind of regret.”

Ten years on: A life lived without regret. From rookie politician to Malaysia’s first female speaker in a state parliament.

“Something shifted”

However, early in her career, there were moments when Yeoh wanted to call it quits. In her first term, the people who had voted for her also called for her resignation, there were other constituents who despised her youth and inexperience.

“There were people who came up to me and said: ‘My daughter is as old as you, why should I even talk to you?'” 

Just last year, an academic filed a police report against her for proselytising through her book, Becoming Hannah, A Personal Journey.

“Sometimes after obeying and saying ‘yes’ to God, there’s still the work to be done. And the work is tough. Many times, I felt like giving up and even threatened God, saying: ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’.”

Her discouragement also came because she felt she’d been torn from her aspiration to be a preacher, something she had dreamt of from the time she became a Christian. The turning point came after a dinner conversation with a pastor. It changed her perspective and helped her muster faith for the longer haul.

“He said: ‘If you want to do the will of God, you must not constantly seek encouragement and endorsement. If Jesus sought that from His disciples, He wouldn’t have gone to the cross’.

“That shifted something in me and I realised that if I wanted to live for God, I’d better be like David, I will need to encourage myself in God. (1 Samuel 30:6) Also, He can use anybody … if I don’t want it, God can find another willing vessel. So, I told God that if You tell me that my work is not finished, I will just keep doing it.”

Lifestyle evangelism

She is now more resolute than ever because believers need to be the vanguard upholding the righteousness quoted in Proverbs 14:34: Righteousness exalts a nation.

“If we stayed away, people will not see God. I think the greatest mistake is to believe the Enemy when he says the church should never be involved in politics. It is not a defiled and dirty place where we can’t be a light. In fact, the darker the place, the easier it is for you to shine. (Matthew 5:13-16)

“Sometimes, Christians get so stressed about how to share Jesus. To put it simply, the glory of the Lord must be seen on our faces. When we meet others, they must experience our peace, joy and hope. Evangelism must not just be something that we do but it must be who we are as well. As the salt and light of the earth, others must see the fruits in your life .”

“Evangelism must not just be something that we do but it must be who we are as well,” said Yeoh, who was in Singapore to speak at a Christian marketplace conference.

Yeoh has not looked back since and has strengthened her rallying call for other Christians to join her in the reconciliation ministry. (2 Corinthians 5:18) She is heartened to see more taking an active role – besides frontline politics, Christians are also in public service, forging different avenues to serve God.

“The walls of the church have come down; many people no longer see serving God as being only through the church but in their work and in the marketplace. The marketplace can be a holy place.”

From the pulpit to the marketplace – the platform for Yeoh to share truth and righteousness has enlarged.

“It is an eye-opener for me how you can preach the principles of God to the people around you. The world is hungry for the truth and they can also discern what is the truth, and what is not. People can detect sincerity.”

Her hope rests in seeing “righteousness in every household”.

“God’s interest in Malaysia doesn’t stop or start just at general elections. You can secure power but if households are not transformed, that means nothing in the eyes of God.”


Note: Malaysia will go to the polls for an election in 2018. The constitution requires it to be held by August this year. However, political observers are expecting it to happen sooner rather than later.

Yeoh's Position on Politics

  1. Establish a structure of accountability. Have a network of people you can turn to; those you can trust, who understand your work, will take you to task and are not afraid to say “NO” to you.
  2. Never work on your own, work with people with the right spirit, with the call of God in their lives and who will support you. When Nehemiah rebuilt the walls, he involved everyone.
  3. Present the truth. When maligned, you must always explain the truth to set the record straight, but leave it for the people to judge.
  4. Know that your heart can be deceitful. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, temptations will come. 
  5. Experience comes with time. Trust takes time to be acquired. Low times will come, but they do not last.
About the author

by Karen Tan

Karen was a producer at Asia Business News (Singapore), Bloomberg News and CNBC Asia. She subsequently joined the Far East Organisation to oversee corporate social responsibility. Karen is now Associate Editor at Salt&Light.