Features, Highlights

Keep calm and carry on serving others – A life gifted to serve

Henry (front, 3rd from right) and Mary (back, 5th from right) with Rev Philip Lim (front, middle) at a DISCIPLE class

“To serve others is to share Christ’s love,” shared Henry Chan. His active and lively enthusiasm to serve the lonely, poor and elderly in Wesley Methodist Church belies his age.

Henry, who turned 88 in February this year, and his wife, Mary, who is 70, continue to work tirelessly for the Lord even in their twilight years.

A life inspired by Paul

Henry and Mary have been serving with the Wesley Committee of Christian Outreach and Social Concerns (COSC) since 2004. Initially, they helped out at Wesley Bethany Home, reaching out to no less than 30 beneficiaries for five years.

Henry is particularly inspired by the apostle Paul. “I admire Paul for his transformation, sacrifice, love for God and people, humility and the reach of his evangelism. In all my voluntary work, I want to show Christ’s love to the people we serve and share the gospel.”

The Chans’ younger days

As a former Boys’ Brigade boy, he attended Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church and heard the gospel there. A Colombo Plan scholarship led him to Adelaide for his engineering studies. “As a student, I was an active member in the Students Christian movement, organising meetings and campfires,” recalled Henry.

He went on to have an illustrious and lucrative career prefabricating houses in Sydney and for mining towns in central Australia. Henry had successfully built up a business that spanned Australia and Singapore.

Henry was also appointed an Honorary Representative of the trade and development authority in the Northern Territories, Australia, to advise businessmen from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia who were interested in buying Australian goods and investing in the Northern Territories for 8 years.

Meanwhile, Mary, who was based in Kuala Lumpur, was working hard to build her own career.

“I come from a large, close-knit family in Kuala Lumpur. I worked for a company that provided company secretarial services. When my boss died in 1985, I took over the business,” said Mary, who was just 34 years old then.

In 1991, she met Henry through a mutual friend. Henry made many trips to KL as he had an office there, and their relationship grew.

But in the same year, a massive flood destroyed her business. “The whole office was flooded up to its roof and the business was irrecoverable.”

It was literally a storm in Mary’s life. “But I accepted it as a silver lining in my life as God’s will and purpose for me to move to Singapore and find a job.”

Henry and Mary eventually married in 1995 and have resided in Singapore since. “I was 41, and Henry was already a retiree by the time we married,” Mary said.

Coming back to the Lord

Amid his heady days of setting up and growing his business, Henry back-slid from his Christian faith.

The busy-ness and success of his businesses got to Henry. “I fell by the wayside and stopped going to church.”

But God was working behind the scenes and a friend invited Henry and Mary to a beautiful church located at Fort Canning.

In 2003, Mary and Henry joined the Baptism and Membership class (BMC) at Wesley Methodist Church. The BMC ministry encouraged the newly-minted members to join the Befrienders’ Outreach Programme (BOP). The Chans readily agreed. And so began their amazing journey to serve the Lord in 2004.

Ministry journey

As volunteers with BOP, they visited Bethany Hall, a home for the elderly, monthly. They mingled with the residents and helped to serve meals.

In addition, when COSC was looking for volunteers to serve at the MWS Wesley Senior Activity Centre in Jalan Berseh to distribute food to residents on a monthly basis, the Chans availed themselves.

Wherever there were activities organised by the community centre and COSC was involved, the Chans would be there. “We helped to pick up and accompany one or more residents. We were happy to do whatever we could to lend a hand.”

Then the Prison Ministry came calling. It needed volunteers to have regular meetings and Bible study with men who had been released from prison. Once again, the Chans readily responded.

The Chans are also active members of Wesley Glowing Years Ministry (GYM). Besides organising trips for the seniors to local places of interest, Henry also organised trips to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah and other places in Malaysia, with visits to local churches, old folks’ homes and sightseeing. They helped out in a missions trip to Guangzhou, China.

They also assisted in Happy Hour, a seniors’ fellowship for both Wesley Methodist Church members and non-members, as well as trips for wheelchair-bound Wesleyans.

One of the beneficiaries of the Chans’ acts of kindness is Uncle Ang Kok Tong, a former teacher, who had a stroke and lives alone in Jalan Berseh. The Chans befriended him through COSC. They would pick him up regularly for a meal or a movie before Covid-19 struck. Uncle Tong has difficulty walking on his own, but this did not faze them.

The ministry of Henry and Mary has no doubt reflected the plethora of ways and means to be God’s hands and feet.

The trials, tests and trouble

In October 2011, Henry suffered a fall and doctors later found that his brain was half clotted with blood.

After his discharge from the hospital, Henry was bedridden for most of the time for eight months on doctor’s orders and he had medical check-ups every fortnight. Mary was Henry’s sole caregiver. But, less than six months later, in March 2012, Mary herself was diagnosed with cancer.

“It was the darkest hour of our lives,” said Mary. “Nothing could have prepared us for it.”

The side effects of each round of treatment were terrible and Mary suffered tremendously.  “The effects started for one week, subsided somewhat the following week, and then the cycle began all over again for the next round of chemotherapy.”

But God is good and He provides. “A kind Indian Muslim neighbour sent her helper with food to our house every afternoon. Three Wesleyans visited us separately and gave us prayer support.”

“Once I was in hospital the whole day for diagnosis but I felt a great peace.  When I went home, Psalm 121 came to my mind and these words stayed with me: ‘The Lord will keep you from all harm–he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.’”

Mary has since been cancer-free.

Instead of accepting his doctor’s prescription of rest for the full eight months, Henry sought a second opinion from another neurologist. A CT scan convinced the specialist that it was time Henry resumed an active life. He did.

Faith over fear, compassion over challenges

Today, Henry and Mary continue to live a life of faith over fear, of compassion over challenges.

The ability to serve together for many years means a lot to Henry and Mary. They are grateful to God for each other and giving them time, means and grace to serve.

“Though Henry’s knees are weak, we continue to serve,” declared Mary.

“It is our joy to see the joy we bring to people we serve. Their joy is a gift to us.”

Henry and Mary celebrating her 70Th birthday
Henry (front, 3rd from right) and Mary (back, 5th from right) with Rev Philip Lim (front, middle) at a DISCIPLE class
Henry and Mary (front row, extreme left)
Henry and Mary (extreme right, standing) at the Wheels D’Way outing in Changi Airport Terminal 4 in April 2018
Volunteers with Befrienders’ Outreach Programme (BOP)
Henry and Mary (both in purple) with Uncle Tong on Henry’s right

Jackie Teo is a member of Wesley Methodist Church. Additional information by Lianne Ong. This article was first published in Wesley TIDINGS (January 2022) and is reproduced with permission from Wesley Methodist Church.