The call from God to take up a leadership position in church or Christian work is often daunting.
For Rev. Ho Kek Yun of Malacca Life Church, his fears were real. But the endless possibilities with setting up the first Mandarin-speaking EFC were equally exciting.
Recalling the incident like it was just yesterday, Ho said he was both touched and dumbfounded at the same time that he did not dare share the call with anyone until he was more certain.
“At that time, I was representing Malacca at a pastors’ conference in Penang in 1982. Although the call wasn’t supernatural in nature, I felt the hand of Christ behind it,” recalled Ho, a septuagenarian.
He was sitting alone at the hotel lobby during the conference, contemplating the events of the day, when a pastor approached him and asked him where he was from.
“We didn’t know each other,” shared Ho at his modestly furnished office located on the second floor of the church.
“I told him I was from an Evangelical Free Church. In Mandarin, this is translated to ‘spreading the gospel’. I emphasised this to him because the wrong pronunciation means ‘don’t talk about it’. The pastor shot me a bewildered look as the Evangelical Free Church movement was a relatively new denomination in Malaysia then. I felt slightly hurt by this,” he said.
Immediately after that, Ho went to a quiet place to pray. Lifting his hands to God, he vowed to set up a Mandarin-speaking EFC within 10 years.
In the subsequent months, Ho felt unsure as nothing happened. There were no further promptings nor indications to confirm his ‘call’. Hesitant at first, it took another year before he even shared his thoughts with his wife, Pastor Tan Sin Mui, who was equally doubtful.
“We were at that time in a bilingual church, Malacca Evangelical Free Church (MEFC). She gave me one month to think about it more carefully,” said Ho.
It is a formidable challenge to start your own church when you have little other than faith, he added.
Explaining the challenges, Ho said he faced practical problems as his wife was expecting their third child.
“We also had no financial support as I had not yet shared my vision with anyone at that time.” Back then, he was only receiving a RM200 monthly allowance from MEFC. They did not have any savings either. If they were to start a new church, the family would literally be ‘income-less’.
“But I had faith nevertheless, and I surrendered everything to our Lord and just prayed for His guidance as I took my first step,” he said.
With this conviction, Ho, who was 40 years old then, shared his plans with the MEFC leadership. Up to that point, Ho had served 13 years as a full-time worker with MEFC. The home church was reluctant to see him leave.
Despite the difficulties, the couple stepped forward and rented the first floor of a shop lot as their first church premises in Taman Peringgit Jaya for RM280. On April 1, 1984, Malacca Life Church started with 15 members. The youngest was 10 years at the time. The church now has up to 50 regular members. Although they had a place to call their own, Ho said their troubles had just begun as funds were low.
“There was one time I had to ask the church members to pawn my watch (which was given to him by his wife) so that we could pay rent. But the members refused and somehow, we came up with just enough money to pay the rent,” said Ho as he showed the silver-coloured watch which he still wears.
“We were so poor in the beginning that we didn’t even have chairs and had to sit on the floor. Each member then contributed one plastic chair, which cost RM18 each then,” he recalled with wonder.
“But when word went out that we needed chairs, one good Samaritan came forward and donated chairs.”
And when they needed money for electrical wiring, which would have cost around RM800, another congregation member came forward, without being asked, to provide the money.
“I was truly amazed as we never begged anyone. I am not good with managing finances. I just prayed hard to Jesus whenever we were in need and being the faithful God He is, He always provided,” he enthused.
The number grew slowly and Ho said he did not receive any wages for the first 12 years. The family was supported by his wife who gave tuition and sewed.
“It’s not that the church did not want to pay me but it was unable to and it was part of my sacrifice to start a new church,” he said.
Recalling another incident, Ho said there was one time when his three-year-old son came to tell him that there was no more milk in the house.
Not only was there no more milk, there was no rice either. So I asked him to go to another room and pray to Jesus for milk.
“Three days later, I received a cheque for SGD300. To this day, I still don’t know who gave us the money,” he shared.
As the number of congregants slowly increased, the church moved to a ground floor premises in Taman Delima Raya four years later. Today, Malacca Life Church owns a three-and-a-half-storey shop lot facing the main road leading to Arked Air Leleh, near the Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Yok Bin.
Explaining how they bought their current premises in 2004, Ho said it was yet another blessing from God.
“At the time, we only had RM10,000 in the bank and the board was shocked that I suggested we buy this premises for RM600,000. But we needed a permanent home and this was the correct thing to do,” he asserted.
“It was not that we wanted to expand the premises but the landlord did not want to extend our lease. I felt then that we needed a more permanent place to worship and hence suggested buying our own shop house,” he added.
To raise funds, the church held a concert in 2004 and invited a famous choir from Singapore to perform in the Pay Fong
High School hall. The concert was named “Psalms of Life” and managed to raise RM126,000.
“When a Taiwan-born British businessman heard about our efforts, he gave us a loan of RM200,000. However, after two years of repayment, the businessman called us to say that we did not need to repay the loan as his father wanted to give it as a gift to the church,” Ho said.
The remaining funds were obtained via loans from a church member (RM70,000) and the Evangelical Free Church of Malaysia (RM150,000).
With their financial trials behind them now, and with a building of their own to call home, Malacca Life Church’s next challenge is to reach out to the Mandarin-speaking residents around them. But the prospects are difficult due to their general distrust of Christians.
Over the years, we have had many programmes such as music camps, door-to-door visits to give out pamphlets and other evangelistic events but the response has been lukewarm at best.
“The Chinese here are very traditional and many of them are afraid of Christians. Although we are able to bring the younger ones to the church, once they go home,
they face opposition from their parents who prevent them from coming again,” said Ho.
“I have personally given out 15 boxes of Christian tracts but the harvest has been poor. We must try our best and leave the rest to the Lord.”
One of the newer, and better-received programmes, is the Gospel Station. Similar to the Alpha course, it aims to introduce the Bible to non-Christians. When asked about future challenges, Ho laughed and said setting up Malacca Life Church had been a major test for them.
“I think that being a Christian itself is a challenge but with faith, anything is possible. We will take it one step at a time.”
These days, he is praying hard for someone to step up and take over the leadership from him and lead Malacca Life Church to the next stage of its journey.
Though small, the church has already sent two pastors for theological training in Singapore.
They are currently working there to fulfil part of their bond and we hope that they will return to lead this church in the future.
“I also pray for unity within the Evangelical Free Church of Malaysia (EFCM) and for it to grow stronger. When EFCM is stronger, small churches like us can grow stronger too,” Ho concluded
尽管艰辛重重，夫妇俩并肩踏出一步，以每月两百八十元零吉的租金，在伯林吉再也花园（Taman Peringgit Jaya）租下一间店屋的楼上，作为他们第一个教会会所。1984年4月1日，马六甲生命堂成立，开始只有十五位成员，最小的当时只有十岁。教会现在成长到五十名固定的会友。
随着会众人数慢慢地增加，四年后，教会就搬到位于德利马拉惹花园（Taman Delima Raya）的一座建筑的底层。今天，马六甲生命堂拥有一座面向通往阿克亚乐叻（Arked Air Leleh）的大路，就是靠近育民中学的三层半店屋。