Wong Meng Fook-Singapore
The year was 1963, and I had just completed 6 years of primary and 5 years of secondary school education at a Christian Brothers School in Penang Island in Malaysia. Results of GCE O level examinations were out and an uncertain future awaited me. I went back to old alma mater to collect my results and the School Leaving Certificate.
My Chinese way of upbringing under Buddhism, Taoism and ancestral worship, combined with eleven years of exposure to Catholic religion left me completely disoriented and confused. What am I going to do next was foremost in my mind. I was already caught in a no man’s land and was in a state of limbo. One thing was sure – I made up my mind to continue my study of the Catholic religion and prepare for my baptism.
I decided to go and pray at the Assumption Church, which was just next to the Christian Brother’s School. As I knelt down and looked up to the statue of Virgin Mary, I could discern a faint smile on her face. I silently pledged in my heart that should I be admitted to Technical College to which I had applied for a place, I would forever be indebted and do all within my power to further the Cause of Jesus Christ.
Fast forward a few months later, I found myself going for lectures and practical lessons at Technical College in Gurney Road, Kuala Lumpur. My prayers were answered but it also meant that my continuing sessions with the Jesuit priest in Penang were disrupted. My secret pledge was all forgotten in the adjusting to the busy life and pressure of lectures, notes taking, studying and preparing for examinations. One day while walking along the corridors and going for dinner, I met the Jesuit priest accompanied by some students of the Catholic Society of the Technical College.
Talk by Jesuit Priest at Technical College
When invited and out of obligation I seated myself at the rear of the lecture hall, when the priest was introduced by the late Francis Singam who was the Chairman of the Technical College Catholic Society. Thus all went well until question and answer time, when the late Choo Yoke Boon, a Baha’i and founder of the Technical College Baha’i Society asked the priest about the fate of the millions of those born into Muslims families. Choo asked if they would be denied salvation, and and what would their fate be.
As soon as this question was asked there was pin drop silence and an uneasiness in the air, as the priest was lost for words and struggled to respond. It was also a challenge on my part to prove the authenticity of Jesus Christ who died on the Cross, and rose again on the third day and ascended to heaven. If it was true Christ did not rise from the dead, my faith in Him would have been in vain. That was the kind of thought rumbling in m y mind, as soon as Choo Yoke Boon raised that question. In short my own belief in Christianity was tested at that very moment.
Mr. Lye Chye Thiam of Penang who was my roommate in Year 1 had stayed back to repeat Second Year Civil Engineering as he did not clear the examinations. After returning from over 14 months of practical attachment with my future employer, I came back to the College and found out that Chye Thiam had become a Baha’i. He was taught the Faith by Choo Yoke Boon.
As Chye Thiam was not well grounded in Christianity, he was unable to answer my questions about Jesus Christ and Him being the Son of God. In my mind I thought Chye Thiam accepting the Baha’i Faith was more out of depression and confusion as he had to repeat his 2nd Year in College, more than anything else. However, I must forever thank my roommate, as Chye Thiam never gave up on me, and in fact invited me to the many firesides that took place when we were back in Penang.
State of Denial and Eventual Acceptance.
My many moments of ‘arguments’ and ‘clashes’ with the Penang Baha’is in the homes of Mrs. Shantha Sundram, Bobby Seow at the seaside bungalow stays organized by Baha’is left them all flabbergasted. After a period of over two years of attending firesides, I was clearly ‘labelled’ as a ‘persona non- grata’. The Baha’is gave up on me and I was left to ruse my fate. Yet they continued to be kind to me
Despite my outer defiance and resistance, deep in my heart I was quite convinced that Baha’u’llah was true and yet there was a battle within me -how to reconcile my firm belief that Christ was the Son of God and a miracle had taken place for Him to have risen from the dead on the third day.
Then I thought it out. I decided to pray to Christ and beg Him to show some sign or confirmation to relieve me of my inner turmoil. There was a period of intense restlessness and sleeplessness which continued for, I think over a period of two weeks. I would wake up in the middle of the night sweating profusely and greatly agitated. I even dreamed that I floated and flew around the room where I slept.
Suddenly some answer was shown. I had a dream in which I saw Saul of Tarsus, riding on a horse leading his troops on the road to Damascus to persecute the Christians. He was struck down by lighting as he lay on the ground, when he heard the voice of Christ calling aloud, ‘why has thou forsaken Me?’ Saul converted and became a Christian, and changed his name to Paul.
I firmly believed Christ had answered my prayers. I had my answer – I was like Saul, and the voice calling aloud was Baha’u’llah, the return of Christ, asking me why I had forsaken Him. I woke up and I knew what I had to do.
The next day, I rushed furiously to the nearest Baha’i home which was that of Bobby Seow and asked for a Declaration Card. I signed and became a Baha’i on 20 March 1970. That day was indeed a God-given gift, as each year I complete my last day of fasting on that day and celebrate Naw -Ruz on the following day.
Within one month I had my own challenge. It was the Ridvan Elections. But I did not vote as I was not familiar with the names of the Baha’i’s in the community. As I moved with them I became familiar with each of the gems in Penang. From 1970 to 1980 I became active in the Penang Baha’i community, and for a period or ten years (1970 – 1980) tried to fulfill another secret pledge- this time serving the Faith to the best of my ability, before moving to Singapore to begin another chapter in my Baha’i life.
First Chinese Teaching Conference in Hokkien, 1971
Looking back, I can only thank the late Choo Yoke Boon who, with just one intelligent question opened my inner eyes, Chye Thiam who was sincerely guiding me to the Faith, and the Penang Baha’is who showered so much love and nurtured me into the Faith.
Today I live in Singapore while my children are actively serving the Faith in the United Kingdom and Australia.
Wong Meng Fook
22 September 2016