Saturday, February 29

What Christmas means to me …


THIS is a very personal testimony, parts of which I have shared with family and friends, as well as my fellow brother and sister believers of my same faith. I am sure that some of the experiences I am about to write about would also have been shared by readers who professes other faiths like Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and other religions.

Finding God, finding the Almighty One, is a universal truth and for me it’s as good a time as any to share my testimony as Christmas is just four days away.

I was born into a family who were very strong and ardent practitioners of the Buddhist/Taoist faith; my grandfather (and his father before him) were entrusted as the appointed ‘guardians’ of a number of Chinese temples in and around Kuching; at the time these were the Tua Pek Kong at Main Bazaar, Muara Tebas Temple, as well as the temple at the Sarawak Hun Nam Siang Tng at Jalan Sekama.

As a boy growing up, I had followed the belief of my grandparents, who had a Buddhist shrine and altar facing the main door of our ancestral home. The joss sticks and candles were never allowed to go out; they were kept burning 24 hours every day throughout the year and were tended to by the appointed adult members of the family residing within the house.

My parents had followed the belief of their forefathers too. It seemed rather odd at times when other people had asked why my mother and father had anglicised names, Gloria and Edwin, given to them by their respective parents, even though they were Buddhists. It is my belief that their folks had wanted them to attend English schools (as they had done) and probably thought it easier for the teachers to remember them by instead of the longer and more difficult Chinese names. Besides, their parents were probably fervent fans of the Anglo-Saxon ethos.

The Buddhist faith was never drummed into me as a kid, neither did I attend any formal lessons nor had special tutorials –- but we followed the elders in worshipping at the altar and temples whenever there was a special occasion, religious day, or event. It was just part of the family bonding.

My mother had taught at an Anglican Mission School – St Thomas’s, and my father had worked in the Sarawak Government civil service in the department of agriculture. They too had simply followed the faith of their fathers and had continued to bring their children up the Buddhist way.

When I entered school at six years old, within a couple of years I was already learning about Jesus Christ in our scripture lessons. We were all marched off to St Thomas’ Cathedral during the important school days and we all participated in the prayer service and sang hymns. By about Primary 5 or 6, we were already scoring almost full marks in all our scripture tests as it was rather easy to answer the questions based on the stories from The Bible. In the days before 1970, all students were taught scripture and attended morning school assemblies where Anglican prayers were recited. There were no exceptions and no one was excused, or offended, or had raised any issue over it.

Yet at that time from around the 1950s till the 1970s, there were very few baptised and confirmed Christians within the student population; most of them were either Buddhists, Muslims, or simply non-believers. Then too there was no compulsion or evangelical zeal to make any student       conversions.

I had actually stopped actively practising being a Buddhist when I left my father’s house in 1970 when I was 20. Before that I had simply gone through the motions of being one.

There is a gap or rather a vacuum in my life of any formal belief or religious affiliation between the ages of 20 and 38.

In 1988, at age 38, I found God and was born again – I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. That year he had healed my youngest daughter Debra, aged four and a half, of a life threatening ailment –- something so rare called ‘moya-moya’ that there were only 200 people afflicted with it throughout the known world at that time. It somehow usually affects mostly young children.

My wife, my son, and my two daughters joined St Faith’s Church at Kenyalang and Canon Michael Lim baptised and confirmed us all that year. My parents and my brothers Edric and Edmund, and sister Edrea, had already been confirmed Christians by then, quite a number of years before us.

I remember that the first Christmas that year was very special for us all. As a family we had celebrated Christmas as a festival ever since we were kids (my parents had a Christmas tree up at home since 1959, the first year we had moved into our own house) and we have had family festive dinners with turkey, hams, and all the expected goodies every single year without fail. This tradition had continued once I had my own home and family too.

Before we had come to the Lord, Christmas for us was simply a time for feasting, exchanging presents, and having a joyous time with family and friends. After we had accepted Jesus into our lives, the feeling of Christmas took on an extraordinary meaning. It was more than just a celebration; it was not just another festival; it wasn’t just a time for parties and feasting.

Christmas is the one day in the year which reminds us that we are all here for something other than ourselves. We are here to serve the Lord, to be His servants, and to be of service towards all those who are in need and still in the dark –- in need of love, companionship, good health, happiness, peace, and belonging. It has become our common prayer that the everlasting light of the Christmas star will forever light the way for those who are still in the dark, those in search for enlightenment, and for the love of God and their personal salvation.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” — Isaiah 9:6.

To all, may I wish a Blessed Christmas and may the wonders of Christ be with you throughout the coming New Year!