The above article was first published in Asian Beacon magazine, October 2009, issue 41.5
Sunday, 20 May 2012
JOKES ASIDE NOW
Stand-up comedian Enoch Lam enthralls thousands annually with his wits and unconventional ways of sharing the Good News.
By Michelle Chan and Dr Lim Poh Ann
It was his first time in church. Enoch Lam, then 15, fell asleep while listening to the preacher. When he woke up, the first thought that crossed his mind was this: “If I ever become a preacher, I’ll make sure this never happens!”
True enough, he has succeeded beyond his wildest expectations. Lam’s stand-up comedy shows currently have a huge following among Cantonese-speaking folks all over the world. In Hong Kong, where he is based, his shows are boldly advertised on the island’s MTR (Mass Transit Railway).
His jokes about human behaviour and lifestyle reflect his astute observation of life. Endowed with the gift of the gab, Lam can immediately connect with his audience. His first public presentation, The Yeah Show, was evangelistic in nature and debuted in 2003 before an audience of 21,000 in the Hong Kong stadium. It was the first time a show of its kind was ever held in the island.
In the months that followed, it seemed Hong Kong could not get enough of Lam. Since then, there has been no looking back for him. He has conducted evangelistic rallies in Macau, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, England, Ireland, France, Holland, Belgium and Norway. On average, Lam reaches out to more than 30,000 people every year.
Lam’s first job as a life insurance agent took off with a flourish. His gift of getting his point across to others helped him advance in his career, so he was able to provide well for his aged father. As he neared the top of the corporate ladder, Lam started to wrestle with the meaning of life and work: “Why do we just concentrate on life insurance? It is ironical that we plan and prepare so well for our life here on earth, but pay so little attention to our life in the hereafter.”
After a period of soul-searching, he felt God telling him to surrender his life to Him. Giving up his lucrative career, he headed for theological studies at the Singapore Bible College. “It was 1984, and I boarded the plane with 60 Singapore dollars in my pocket, just enough for one month’s expenses then,” he recalls, adding that his girlfriend (now wife) helped to support him through the one-year-course.
As a college student, he experienced God’s faithfulness. He was absolutely broke one day and could not pay his fees. But a kind soul quietly dropped a cheque into his mail box, which miraculously met his need.
The comedy way
“I realised there are many Cantonese-speaking people worldwide who are familiar with Hong Kong culture,” says the senior pastor of Crossroads Community Baptist Church, Hong Kong. The Cantonese diaspora (most of them left in 1997, when Hong Kong was returned to mainland China) is mainly scattered in the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States and Canada. There are also Cantonese-speaking communities in South-East Asia who have grown up on a staple of Hong Kong movies and television. So, in the year 2000, Lam started using stand-up comedy to share his faith.
“I pattern my delivery after some famous stand-up comedians, but I use my own content,” says the father of a 16-year-old daughter. He steers away from usual tactics employed by most entertainers – sex, politics and character assassination. Lam reckons that stand-up comedy has mainly evolved into meaningless entertainment: “People just want to be happy. They enjoy crass humour, and are not bothered about the message behind the jokes.”
Lam’s delivery is hilarious, and reminds one of the poker-faced wit of veteran Hong Kong comedian Michael Hui, who was a household name in the 70s. The difference is that Lam’s comedy shows cause people to reflect on morals, values and faith.
“No one can ‘force’ another in matters of faith,” explains Lam. “Once you start laughing at jokes tinged with moral values, you are caught off guard, your defenses are down and the message stays with you. Humour opens up the heart in a non-threatening way.”
Lam’s bag of tricks is not limited to stand-up comedy. In the biblical television drama series, Life Angel, Lam takes on the role of pastor, one of the main characters in the show. The show depicts the struggles of the Hong Kong people as they strive for success in the 1950’s. The drama has 20 episodes, each running for one hour. Lam even uses “magic” to share the Good News in the drama. He’s optimistic that the show will be a breakthrough in evangelism as it reaches out to viewers in China and Singapore.
Despite his inclination towards entertainment, Lam has not forgotten his calling. As they say, Once a pastor, always a pastor. His Master’s degree in Pastoral Counselling from Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary has equipped him to start the FHL (Faith, Hope and Love) Family Counselling Centre which reaches out to families in mainland China. This centre counsels couples with troubled marriages with the aim of averting divorce and also helps to strengthen marriages. He also has a heart for the young, believing youths are the future of the nation.
Another community project is the Love Your Neighbour movement which started in Hong Kong in 2006 and later expanded to China and Malaysia. Its volunteers visit and serve those in retirement homes, children’s homes and hospitals.
Rev Lam also serves as the Honorary Executive Director of Network J International, a Christian NGO with a vision to spread the Good News among Chinese communities (mainly Cantonese and Mandarin speaking) throughout the world. It has its headquarters in Hong Kong and representative offices in Malaysia, the US, Canada, and Australia. This organisation coordinates all the various ministries that he is involved in.
Since 2005, he has been coming every three months to Malaysia to conduct spiritual renewal meetings for believers. He has also held five major evangelistic events there over the past seven years.
Rev Lam’s strength is in his unique delivery of the Good News through stand-up comedy shows, television drama as well as radio and television programmes. He has truly impacted society in ways an ordinary minister would not even think of.
Some have difficulty accepting Lam’s way of sharing his faith using humour. “When I first started using stand-up comedy to share the Good News, the reaction from some quarters within the church was unexpected,” says Lam. “But isn’t it the minister’s role to use all ways and means to reach out to others? We used to be seen as hiding behind church walls but now we are breaking out from its limitations.”
Others could not accept the fact that people have to buy tickets to attend his shows. Lam argues, “Commerce is an integral part of modern living and we cannot avoid it. Our shows are commercially run but we are not a highly commercialised entity with hefty profits in mind. In fact, ticket sales hardly cover 70% of our costs. We depend heavily on donations as we have no real sponsorship.”
“People who buy tickets usually turn up for the show whereas if admission is free, people won’t appreciate the show’s value and might not turn up,” Lam stresses, defending his rationale for ticket sales.
Call him Mr Funny Man or whatever. Fan or foe, whatever your take on Lam … it does not matter to him. This seemingly indefatigable globe-trotting minister continues to run comedy shows with a purpose – not just to entertain but to bring the Good News to the masses.
For more information, please check out: www.networkj.org
Editor’s note: We are to use whatever gifts God has endowed us to bless others. Humour is just a tool to communicate the truth. Delivery style may vary, but the message of Good News remains the same (1 Peter 4:10, 1 Corinthians 9:22).