The Rev Dr Ho Seng Ong: A trailblazer in Asian Methodism

“Although a man of superb talents and ability he was a humble, affectionate and compassionate man. He liked to help, as he said, ‘the lame duck’ and to ‘help a lame dog over a stile’.”

In his lifetime as a trailblazing educator and pastor, the late Rev Dr Ho Seng Ong used his God-given gifts in service to God and man, all for His glory.

A Man of Letters
Born in 1898 in Kuala Selangor, Malaysia, the Rev Dr Ho excelled academically. He was the first Asian Methodist teacher to obtain a B.A. (Hons) from University College, London University. Completing his Bachelor’s degree in just one year, he went on to get a Master’s degree (with distinction).

The Rev Dr Ho had an early start in his role as an educator. At the age of 16, in between his studies, he started teaching at Methodist Boys’ School, Kuala Lumpur (MBSKL), where he had studied. He returned again to his alma mater almost 40 years later as its first Asian principal.

Before becoming MBSKL principal, he achieved another two firsts – the first Asian Methodist to be appointed Principal of a large school, Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) Malacca, and of ACS Penang.

After MBSKL, the Rev Dr Ho was appointed the Methodist Education  Secretary, again the first Asian to serve in this position. His book Methodist Schools in Malaysia: their record and history (1964) is an authoritative reference on the Methodist educational system. It is the legacy of a man who was the chief architect of the Methodist school system over two decades of the mid-20th century.

A Man of God
As a student at MBSKL, the Rev Dr Ho was exposed to the Methodist Church at a young age. In the Aug-Sep 1957 issue of Methodist Message, he wrote: “For something like six or seven years as a little fellow I studied and played and lived … on the periphery of the life and activities of the Church. … The time when I really made my entry into the Church was when I joined the Epworth League in 1911.”

The Epworth League (predecessor of the Methodist Youth Fellowship) was where he met his wife, Ms Wong Hong Neo; they were baptised on the same day in 1914. Six years later, they got married. Their union was blessed with four children: Robert, Edward, Mary and Ruth.

The late Rev Dr Ho faithfully served in various roles in the Methodist Church, many as the first Asian and as an ordained minister. Among them were as the first Asian minister of Wesley Church, Malacca and KL Wesley; the first Asian Secretary of the Annual Conference; and the first Asian member of The Methodist Board of Missions in New York.

He was also the first chair of the Malaya Annual Conference – Historical Society, President of the Malayan Christian Council (which became the Council of Churches of Malaysia), a District Superintendent and Editor of Methodist Message.

The War Years
After the fall of Malaya in 1941, the Ho family evacuated to Singapore, together with 20 young ladies from Shellabear Hall (a Methodist girls’ hostel). After moving into the Bishop’s house at 10 Mount Sophia, the Rev Dr Ho and his son, Eddie, became temporary guardians of 26 girls at the nearby Nind Home, where the Shellabear Hall girls stayed.

Prior to the fall of Singapore to the Japanese, he and the late Rev. S. M. Thevathasan were jointly entrusted with the affairs of the Methodist Church after most of the missionaries sailed home to the USA.

Despite the harrying account he shared with friends of his experiences during the Japanese Occupation, the late Rev Dr Ho was often heard saying “God is good”, reminding those around him of the mercies of God he had personally experienced.

He passed away in Singapore in 1965. Paying tribute at the late Rev Dr Ho’s memorial service, the late Bishop Emeritus Dr T. R. Doraisamy said: “Although a man of superb talents and ability he was a humble, affectionate and compassionate man. He liked to help, as he said, ‘the lame duck’ and to ‘help a lame dog over a stile’.”

Photo courtesy of The Methodist Church Archives, Singapore

Dr Tong Hoo Ing contributes to the Methodist Message as a volunteer writer. A retired neurologist, he also volunteers with the Bethany Methodist Nursing Home. He worships at Wesley Methodist Church.