Young Voices

“Don’t come back a heathen!”

Some musings on life as a student overseas

Don't come back a heathen

“Don’t come back a heathen!”

I distinctly remember the first time I heard those words from the mouth of Rev Dr Isaac Lim who, while preaching at Covenant Vision Christian Church in February 2023, provided an anecdote of how a man once committed to serving the Lord, returned home from studies in the UK a completely changed man who now forsook the Lord. That clarion call was repeated by my parents and reiterated by Rev Dr Lim himself when we met him at a later juncture. Though there are some who would brush that message aside, thinking that committed Christians would never leave the faith, I chose to take it seriously, knowing that this fate could befall anybody, even the “godliest” person.

Consequently, when preparing for university life in the UK this year, it was my priority to find a Christian community sound in doctrine, rich in fellowship, and to whom I could be accountable. This was admittedly not the easiest of tasks, given how many denominations had already changed their biblical stance on fundamental doctrine,1 and how prominent figures like the current Archbishop of Canterbury faced sharp criticism for affirming a 1998 declaration that gay sex is a sin.

I sought the Lord in prayer, and in his mercy, he ordained everything in his time. One way God worked was by using my parents, through whose contacts I got to meet Charis Lim, an alumnus of the university I’m studying at. He recommended churches and shared his experience of how he navigated a spiritually dark environment with God’s lamp of light while there.

Don't come back a heathen2
(left) My Cell Group with whom I do Bible study—that's me at the back, in black (right) Spending a Saturday morning at a Bible Study workshop with my seniors

Another way God answered my prayers was by sending a friend who invited me to attend the freshers’ meetup organised by the Cambridge Chinese Christian Fellowship (CCCF). I am thankful that God led me to this vibrant community of believers who share the same faith and who, through their behaviour and mentality, are quiet, bold witnesses for Christ.

I make it a point to set aside Friday nights for Bible Study and Sunday mornings for church service, no matter how much work I might have.

I’ve also maintained a habit of providing my parents and pastor with regular updates so that I can remain accountable and we may continue to keep each other in prayer. To set my mind the right way each day, I meditate on God’s Word, using ODB devotionals,2 a devotional calendar and Scripture quotes that I’ve placed around my room.

I have a splendid view of the college chapel from my room. It is almost as if God, with his sense of humour, wants to remind me daily that it was him who brought me here, and him who will see me through my studies here.

Through my study of law, I have grown in the realisation that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. It was the Bible that laid the foundations of Western morality and culture, that inspired the development of the English common law system and evolution of the Roman legal system. It was often also the Bible that shaped the views of judges in deciding verdicts. Sir Matthew Hale, the former Justice of the Common Pleas of England and Wales in the 17th century, wrote that “Christianity is part of the Common Law of England.” Closer to the present, one of the most influential judges of the 20th century, Lord Bingham, was reported to  be a staunch Christian who kept the King James Bible at his bedside and aspired to live his life in accordance with the philosophy of  the New Testament.3 Lord Denning, the former Master of the Rolls, boldly testified in a BBC Home Service broadcast in 1943: “People who think [that law and religion have nothing in common] have a wrong idea [about] both law and religion. The aim of the law is to see that truth is observed and that justice is done between man and man … But what is truth and what is justice? On those two cardinal questions religion and law meet. The spirit of truth and justice is not something you can see. It is not temporal but eternal.”4

I pray that as I learn more about law, I will not “come back a heathen”, but instead grow deeper in my faith. That I may live according to this precept that Lord Denning humbly confessed—life must be lived in utter dependence on God—so that the light of the Lord may shine through even in the darkest of times.

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The view of the college chapel from my window on a day with atypically good English weather

1 More than 50% of Anglican priests in England supported legislative change, allowing clergy to conduct marriages for gay couples. This is a major shift from the results in the same survey back in 2014, when only 39% were supportive. (see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/aug/30/majority-of-church-of-england-priests-back-gay-marriage-survey-finds)

2 ODB or Our Daily Bread, a popular devotional resource. The devotionals I use are written specifically to study a book of the Bible in-depth.

3 https://www.commercialcourt.london/th-bingham

4 https://www.truelifebpc.org.sg/resources/church_weekly/2017-03-05.xiv-23

Zachary Yong worships at Wesley Methodist Church and also with his family at Covenant Vision Christian Church. He is part of the Kopi kakis comics team and is currently reading Law at Cambridge. / Photos courtesy of Zachary Yong

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