The PJEFC Chinese church started as a cell group of seven elderly Chinese-speaking folks. For many years, the congregation comprised mainly the aged but along the way, the demographic changed.
Eleven years ago, Won Yee Sin got on a plane and left her hometown of Lahad Datu to live and work in the Klang Valley. On the flight, Yee Sin wondered about the new life waiting for her. Would she be able to make new friends? Was she in for a culture shock? Would she be able to find a church to attend?
This last concern preoccupied her as the plane took off. Silently, she prayed, “Lord, please help me find a suitable church”.
As the plane cruised in the sky, the lady in the next seat struck up a conversation, asking Yee Sin if this was her first time going to Kuala Lumpur and what she would be doing there. And then suddenly, “Are you a Christian?”
Yee Sin, 22, paused in momentary shock at the question. When she mumbled “Yes”, the lady asked another question.
“Do you already have a church to attend or do you have to look for one?”
“I’ll need to find one,” Yee Sin replied, thinking about her silent prayer just moments ago.
“Where will you stay?”
“In Petaling Jaya.”
“Oh, then you should come to my church, PJEFC! That’s Petaling Jaya Evangelical Free Church,” the lady said enthusiastically.
They exchanged contact numbers and Yee Sin said she would look for the church once she had settled down. Two months passed. She forgot about the conversation and the name “PJEFC” slipped from memory. Yee Sin followed another friend to an Anglican church but it was not to her liking.
Three months after moving to Petaling Jaya, she got a call from a woman named Grace who was introduced by a pastor from her hometown in Lahad Datu. “Why don’t you visit my church in PJ?” Grace said. When Yee Sin went, it turned out to be the Chinese congregation of PJEFC. The name rang a bell and with a smile, she knew God had answered her prayer on the plane. She liked the warm welcome by the pastors and church members. Immediately, she decided to stay.
No weddings, only funerals
It was 2002 when Yee Sin moved to Petaling Jaya and joined the PJEFC Chinese church. She did not know it, but she was part of a stream of younger and middle-aged adults who would change the demographic of the church and alter its course.
Before 2000, the Chinese-speaking congregation of PJEFC had comprised about 60 people, mostly elderly folk. They had joined the church since its humble beginnings in 1983 as a result of personal evangelism by its members. New converts comprised more than half the congregation.
The Chinese church started as a home cell with seven senior citizens led by Sik Ming Chong and Ling Eng Piau. It lasted for two years before it disbanded.
The fellowship resurrected in a different form in 1989. The catalyst was PJEFC’s Easter service. It was decided that for this special meeting, the sermon in English would be simultaneously interpreted into Cantonese. PJEFC had just acquired wireless headsets for this purpose. From then on, Chinese interpretation of the Sunday pulpit message was provided every week for a group of senior citizens. For the next three years, the interpretation ministry continued. Among the regular interpreters were Dr Ng Bee Jee, Koh Kim Teng, Liao Poh Yin and Oh Yin Ling.
Around the same time, God was at work in the life of a Universiti Malaya Biochemistry lecturer, Dr Tan Nget Hong, who would later become Chairman of the Chinese Church.
“I was a man of science and reason, not faith,” recalls Tan of his resistance to Christianity. But as a result of a family tragedy, he became a believer and was mentored by PJEFC’s pastor at that time, Lim Soon Hock.
Not long after Tan joined PJEFC in 1990, Lim asked the ‘younger’ members of the Chinese-speaking component within the English service to consider starting their own ministry. At this point, about 20 people, mostly the elderly, relied on the interpretation services. The ‘younger’ ones who provided the interpretation were below the age of 50. They became the core group of leaders.
Soon, despite being a new Christian, Tan found himself providing pastoral care to the elderly folks. Some of these senior citizens were parents of English-speaking PJEFC members. When the group finally decided to separate from the English congregation, it fell on the core group comprising the ‘young ones’ to lead and organise the weekly meetings. What first began as a monthly Saturday afternoon Chinese tea fellowship gradually became the Sunday morning Chinese Worship Service. By then, it was October 1992 and the Chinese church was blessed with its first pastor, Tay Un Hui, who had just completed advanced theological studies in Taiwan.
For the rest of the 1990s, a number of seminary students and part-time workers helped to build the church. A home fellowship and a Children’s Ministry were started during this period. The church enjoyed numerical growth because of the evangelistic outreach by its members. But the new converts continued to be mainly elderly folk. This was not surprising as it was their peers who shared the gospel with them.
Tan, however, realised that an aging congregation would, in a matter of time, sound the death knell for the church.“We had no idea how to grow the church by reaching younger people. All around us were elderly people. They were new believers and semi-literate. There was no one to train to succeed us as leaders,” he says.
“Even Pastor Tay joked that in all the years he served the PJEFC Chinese church, he never once conducted a wedding or a children’s dedication. It was always funerals.”
Tan cannot place his finger on a single episode or defining moment that marked a turning point for the Chinese church.
“I really don’t know how it happened. I just know that things started to change from 2000 onwards. Somehow, more young adults started coming to the church and the new converts were of different ages,” he said.
Today, the Chinese church has a congregation of around 120 people of different ages with separate ministries for the youths, young adults and seniors. Everyone seems to know one another by name. People mingle after the 11am service for light refreshments every Sunday and once a month, the whole congregation bonds over lunch after the service.
Tan attributes the growth to personal evangelism undertaken by church members and by its full-time workers. Currently, the two Chinese church ministry workers, James Yong and Annie Lean, head the visitation ministry that includes visiting Chinese-speaking friends or relatives of the members from the English-speaking congregation.
“It is the Lord who truly builds His church. I feel that our full-time workers have been blessed by an evangelistic anointing. We would have remained an aging church if not for a breakthrough,” Tan observes.
Tan also feels the Chinese church’s journey mirrors what has been happening among the Malaysian Chinese-speaking community. Since the 1990s, he notes that evangelical Christianity has grown among the Chinese-speaking group, marked by the mushrooming of new Chinese churches. Before, Chinese churches planted by the mainline denominations kept largely to themselves.
With a larger group of people under the age of 40, the challenge for the PJEFC Chinese church is to develop the next generation of leaders. Tan, who became the Chairman in 2011, says leadership succession is one of his biggest concerns.
He should be encouraged by the younger ones like Yee Sin.
“I’m thankful for the full support and understanding from the church leaders. In every ministry that I’m involved with, they never hesitate to lend a helping hand. At the same time, they express their confidence in me without exerting any pressure,” says Yee Sin, who serves in the young adults’ ministry, the Chinese church library and the worship team.
If young and old alike, and the leaders of the church, can keep up this mutual support for one another as they serve together, surely the Lord who has brought them this far, will see to it that His church will always have shepherds to lead it.
在2000年之前，八打灵播道会大约有六十个会友，他们中间绝大多数是年长者。他们中间，有的在1983年教会初创时已经来到教会，他们多是通过个人布道信主。在这群人当中，有超过一半是新信徒。中文教会一开始时只有一个为数七人的细胞小组，都是乐龄人士，当时是由Sik Ming Chong 和林荣标弟兄带领，这个细胞小组维持了两年后就解散了。
1989年时，中文团契以不同的形式卷土重来，催生剂就是八打灵播道会英文堂的复活节特会。教会决定为这场特会中提供广东话同步翻译讲台信息。为了提供这项服务，教会采购了无线耳机。从那个特会以后，英文部主日敬拜也开始提供同样的服务，让那些参加聚会但不识英语的乐龄人士也能领受讲台信息。这翻译的事工继续了三年，参与这翻译事工的包括伍美意医生与 Koh Kim Teng, Liao Poh Yin和Oh Yin Ling等姐妹。