Chapter 1

Believing the Promise

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”  —Acts 16:31

I was born into a traditional Singaporean Chinese family. My parents are of Hakka descent, one of the main Chinese dialect groups. Like most Chinese families, we were brought up to worship Chinese deities. We also burned incense and offerings to our ancestors to provide for their needs in the afterlife. Such beliefs and practices are widely considered to be essentially “Chinese”—they are seen by many as part and parcel of our culture and ethnicity.

When persons brought up in such traditions decide to become Christians, they are not only seen as abandoning their traditional faith but also as betraying their heritage. They bring shame on their family and community by following a foreign religion and putting their loyalty in a foreign god. On significant occasions—such as weddings and funerals—their parents will “lose face” and be criticized by others for raising their children badly. They also dishonor their parents because they will no longer be able to perform religious rites for them after they die and cannot properly take care of their parents in the afterlife.

For my father, these things were even more important because of his position as the eldest son in his family and as a prominent member of the Hakka clan association—a formal organization that preserves and upholds Chinese and Hakka traditions.

My father felt that my becoming a Christian would bring him shame and embarrassment.

My father felt that my becoming a Christian would bring him shame and embarrassment.

As Mum said, he felt he had set a bad example in not raising his children to properly preserve our traditions.

But none of this mattered when I was making up my mind to follow Christ. At that time, the only thing that concerned me was whether it made sense to believe in Jesus. I had been asking questions such as, “Who am I? What is my purpose in this world? Why is the world so messy, and is there a solution? What happens after I die?” Christianity seemed to have all the answers.

It all started when a Christian friend, Veronica, explained the good news to me. She shared with me what she had learned in the Bible, invited me to evangelistic events, and showed me verses like John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

At first, this didn’t make any sense. How could it be true? The Christians around me didn’t seem to be much better off; they were still struggling through life. So what was the point of becoming a Christian? And as for Jesus, wasn’t he just another man with brown hair and blue eyes?

Although I had been asking questions about life, my own was going pretty well at the time. I had a loving family, was popular with my peers, and was doing well in both sports and studies. I didn’t feel that I needed God. While the answers Christianity gave to my questions seemed reasonable, I didn’t see a need to make a personal commitment to follow Jesus.

But one evening, as I was lying on my bed, I felt empty. So I prayed, “God, if you are really God, can you please show me?”

Soon after, on a Saturday afternoon, I was walking towards an ice cream store when a stranger stopped me. She asked if she could share the good news with me. Trying to be polite, I agreed. By then, I had heard it so many times that I could even recite the verses. But something happened that day. When the woman shared John 3:16 with me, the verse cut straight to my heart.

The truth of John 3:16 went from my head to my heart.

It wasn’t what the woman said or how she said it. Nor was it a voice in my head. At that moment, I believe the Holy Spirit touched me, and the truth of John 3:16 went from my head to my heart. All of a sudden, I truly understood what the verse meant. I saw that “the world” God “so loved” included me. I felt the weight of sin and recognized how terrible a sinner I was and how much I needed Jesus. I finally understood why he had to die on the cross for me, and I appreciated just how much God loved me. For God so loved me, I realized, that he gave his one and only Son for me, that if I believed in him, I would not perish but have eternal life.

As the truth hit me, I couldn’t stop crying. For the first time, I realized I was a sinner. At the same time, I felt grateful for God’s offer of forgiveness. That day, I confessed my sins to Jesus and received him as my personal Savior and Lord.

The joy I felt, however, soon gave way to trepidation. I thought about the implications of my decision and immediately realized how my parents would feel and react. What have I done? I thought. What will my parents say when they find out?

But the woman assured me that being the first in my family to become a Christian was a significant spiritual event. She reminded me of how Paul and Silas, after being freed from prison by a miracle, reached out to the jailer (acts 16:30–31). When he asked, “What must I do to be saved?” they told him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

Of course, Paul and Silas did not mean that the jailer’s family would be saved simply because he himself believed in God—salvation comes through a personal, individual response to God; it cannot be “passed on” or inherited. However, the gospel can gain a foothold in the lives of a family through the first person to turn to Christ; it opens the door for the rest of the family to hear and see the gospel in action. Acts 16:32 tells us that after the jailer had believed, Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.”

These verses gave me hope that one day my parents and siblings would also come to know God. I had the opportunity to become the first messenger, the first witness of the gospel to my family.

But first, I had to face their objections.