That Easter, 30 years ago, when I became born again!


St Faith’s Church, Kuching.

AS a young boy, I was raised in a very staunch Buddhist/Taoist family where grandpa Ong Kwan Hin was the chairman of the Hokkien Association and also the official ‘guardian’ of the many Buddhist temples in and around Kuching, including the Tua Peh Kong and the Muara Tebas temple.

I was often taken by him and grandma to the many big festivals and celebrations and in particular had enjoyed the ones held over the weekends at the old Hun Nam Siang T’ng at Jalan Sekama, when Teochew operas were staged and lasted hours (the ones I remember attending had started around 2pm and finished around 9pm).

I remember too the times when grandpa would bring us all to Muara Tebas by Sarawak government launch, which would take up to four hours by river; to spend an entire day there during a big religious festival. The first time I ever had vegetarian noodles, simply fried with chopped cabbage and eggs, they had tasted out of this world! We always returned home with lots of fish, prawns, and cockles.

I first started school at six, in 1956, at St Thomas’s Primary, an Anglican mission school where both my mum Mrs LK Ong and my uncle Ong Kee Pheng had taught. Both grandpa, my dad and all his siblings had been Old Thomians.

Debra, at age five, just before she was diagnosed with moyamoya.

I had my first Scripture class in school the following year – it was very basic and not until Primary 4 or 5 that we had proper classes and took regular tests on what we had studied in the Bible. We enjoyed the lessons as we always scored well and the tests were easy to obtain good marks!

During those days, we often had to march to St Thomas’s Cathedral for our annual end of year Dismissal Day (last day of school) as well as during Good Friday and Easter. Being just young lads, we had enjoyed such rituals. All the students had to attend such ceremonies and there were no exceptions, so this included our Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist fellow classmates too.

The Christian classmates among us were a minority; in my class throughout school till Upper 6, I recall that less than 20 per cent of my year-mates were actually Anglicans! There were some Catholics and Methodists as well.

By the year I left school at age 19 in 1969, I had read most of the Bible a few times over, as well as had scored near perfect marks in the exams taken on them; so too had many of my classmates.

After starting my career, getting married and getting into the ‘rat race’, I had happily continued living my life as a Buddhist/Taoist following the ways of my parents and their parents before them. I wasn’t particularly religious nor had any strong feelings towards any faith as such. I had even gone through a short spell when I had considered myself an atheist!

Then just before Easter of 1989, my life changed!

My youngest daughter Debra, who was five years old, was suddenly afflicted with a very rare form of the ailment called moyamoya. This disease is a rare, progressive cerebrovascular disorder caused by blocked arteries at the base of the brain in an area called the basal ganglia. The name ‘moyamoya’ means puff of smoke in Japanese and describes the look of the tangle of tiny vessels formed to compensate for the blockage.

It was at the time a very rare disease, of which there were only about 200 cases diagnosed throughout the world, mostly in Japan, afflicting children between five and 15 years old. There was no known cure and the treatment was by surgery. Not a single case had been diagnosed before in Sarawak.

My father’s cousin in Singapore was married to one of Asia’s top neurologists and brain surgeons, who had his practice at the Mount Elizabeth Hospital – his name is James Khoo. We consulted him and he had offered to operate on Debra without charging any fee as it’d be a teaching procedure, whereby medical specialists from around the region would be invited to attend. It would otherwise have meant a five figure fee in Singapore dollars!

During the many tests and scans – MRIs and all sorts of the latest and most advanced medical examinations on our five-year-old active and bright daughter – she had kept herself very still and obedient and enabled all the procedures to be properly carried out. She had remained strong and cheerful throughout. It had greatly assisted all the procedures being carried out – our prayers were answered.

James, although he wasn’t a Christian had told us that he believed in the power of prayer when he was told that we were newly-born again Anglicans, who at that time were worshiping at St Faith’s Church in Kuching.

After lengthy deliberation and fervent praying, my wife and I then decided to return to Kuching to continue seeking further information and advice over this most important decision.

Back home, with the support and prayers of those in our church circle, we had continued praying over it. At the same time, we had also consulted my specialist doctor brother Edmund in Newcastle. At a most critical time, he had called us back to say that all his specialist consultants in the field of neurology had advised that invasive surgery for Debra was not necessary (after reviewing her x-rays and case history) as at that tender age the human body can find its own way of overcoming this moyamoya by diverting or creating new blood vessels to bypass the blockages!

Our prayers indeed had been answered and we then happily informed and thanked James that we had decided not to go for the brain surgery procedure but leave everything in God’s hands. He asked only that we return in a few weeks’ time for him to have a follow-up check on Debra.

When we returned for the follow-up consultations, we were informed that the signs of Debra’s moyamoya had been greatly reduced to such an extent as to no longer pose a threat to her life! God is good and our prayers had indeed been answered!

Our entire family came to the Lord, we were truly born again!

Today, Debra is 35, happily married, and is as healthy as anyone can be! Praise be to the Lord God Almighty! Amen.