Monday 14 May 2012


Far from delivering babies, Pastor Dr Chew Weng Chee is seeing the birth of a vision: Lives touched, community and nation transformed.

“You mean you want to quit your job as doctor? You must be a fool to give up so much!”
A straight-talking member of the hospital board expressed surprise that Dr Chew Weng Chee wanted to quit medicine and become a full-time pastor. That would mean a 95% pay cut from what he was getting as an obstetrician and gynaecologist at a private hospital in Kuala Lumpur.

But in 1999, after six years having one foot in the hospital and another in the church, Chew felt it was time to put both feet together. Waking up in the wee hours of the morning to deliver babies and having to preach in church had been taking a toll on him.
In response to the ridicule that accompanied his decision, Chew says, “I merely kept quiet. I did not try to explain.”

Still small voice

After all, his decision was something so personal and so direct from God. In July 1999, he had spent three days fasting and praying at a prayer retreat in Mantin, seeking God’s direction on whether he should go into “full-time” ministry.

“When it came to visions, I felt marginalised,” Chew says. “Others had been receiving dramatic guidance from God, but not me.”

On the third night, he heard God in a still, small voice: “Do you really love me?”
When he answered yes, God replied, “Then feed my sheep.” Immediately he felt a warm embrace, affirming his decision to go “full-time”.

His wife, Dr Lew Lee Choo, had already become a pastor and was more than happy to give him the go-ahead. She joked that if he delayed further, she would become more anointed than him.

Heart to serve

The Chews met as postgraduate students in Edinburgh, UK – he was doing obstetrics and gynaecology, while she was doing paediatrics. Upon graduation, they decided to go to Sabah, having read in a missionary magazine about the needs there.

“My wife was more excited than I was,” Chew says. “Not many doctors wanted to go to Sabah then. We went because we wanted to help build Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB), the indigenous church there.”

After working in the state hospital for three years, they started their own 12-bed maternity home in Kota Kinabalu. “After delivering the babies, I passed them to my wife,” says Chew, with a smile.

During their 14 years in Sabah, they assimilated well into SIB. “Though I was a Chinese, they accepted me as one of their own and made me the chief elder,” adds Chew.

In 1991, the couple decided to study theology in Regent College, Vancouver, and completed their Masters in Christian Studies over a two-year period. Looking back, Chew says, “What benefitted us most was not the degree per se but the thinking process involved while going through the course. We had to read deep theological books that we would otherwise not have read.”

However, Chew believes that anyone can serve the Lord, with or without such training. “I believe formal theological education, though helpful, is not an essential prerequisite for a pastor,” he says. “What’s more important is the person’s sense of calling, passion and commitment.”

Challenges and Attacks

After completing his studies, Chew worked as a doctor in Tung Shin Maternity Hospital, Kuala Lumpur, while awaiting God’s direction on his next move.

One day, an angry father demanded to see Chew. Chew had delivered his baby via vacuum extraction, and the baby had a swelling on the scalp (a temporary result of the procedure). The father, exposing a tattoo-etched chest, alleged that his baby had suffered brain damage and demanded RM30,000 to “settle” the issue. Chew stood his ground, but the next day, the press blew up the issue. Chew received a call from a police officer to see him in the police station.

“That was the lowest point in my life,” he bemoans. “I told God: If you’d wanted me to go to Sabah to serve you, I would have gone without hesitation. You don’t have to give me a slap to make me do it.” Then, he heard God speak: “It’s not me but Satan who is causing all this to happen to you!”

“Immediately, I knew then that God wanted me to stay on to serve Him in Kuala Lumpur,” he says.

Soon, the case just died down. The police said that the extortionist is a criminal, well-known for his intimidating tactics. Chew served in that hospital for six years before that defining moment in the Mantin prayer retreat. Since then, there’s been no looking back for this “shepherd”.

Vision fulfilled

Chew may have given up a lucrative job, but his investment portfolio has been yielding nothing short of amazing returns. By the time it celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2009, SIB KL has grown to 2,800 members from just 15 in 1994. Quick to admit it’s “all about a great God”, Chew gives Him all the glory for the church’s success.

The DNA of the church, he shares, is found in the acronym SIB: “S” stand for Seekers of God, “I” for Inspired to Serve and “B” for Building People. Its vision is be “inspired by God to build a strong, excellent and dynamic church to influence the nations and impact generations.”

Based on its core values — Christ-centred, Bible-based, Spirit-powered — the church seeks to promote a culture of excellence, enthusiasm, encouragement, empowerment and evangelism.

East & West

Chew’s 14-year stint in Sabah has implanted in him a heart for the indigenous people, whether they’re Kadazans, Muruts, Ibans or Lun Bawangs. SIB has more than 300,000 members in both Sabah and Sarawak, making it the largest Christian “denomination” in Malaysia, next to the Roman Catholics.

However, when the East Malaysians come over to work or study in West Malaysia, they have difficulty adapting to the culture and language in the churches. In addition, they get distracted by the bright lights and temptations in the city. As the need arises, Chew sets up indigenous churches in the Peninsula so that the East Malaysian brethren can feel more at home.

Christians in West Malaysia, he says, should learn the national language so that they can better communicate with their brethren from the East. He has also been mobilizing West Malaysian churches to help in terms of finance and training. For example, some Penang pastors have “adopted” three districts in Sabah. Meanwhile, a prototype Christian pre-school will soon be started in the Mendolong district.

The Next Generation & Beyond

Chew has a great passion for youths as they are the future of the nation. In fact, the church’s mission statement — “Grow to go to the next generation” — underscores his commitment to build and mentor younger leaders. 

For the past two years, he has been teaching leaders (including young leaders) in his home every week, over a 13-week period, on how to study the Bible analytically by themselves.

“If adults do their own thing and youths get marginalised because of the generation gap, then Christians are just one generation away from extinction,” he cautions.

His other passion is to build strong and vibrant local churches — not just in terms of numbers but the impact on the community and marketplace. Chew does not see faith only in the context of the local church: “What is God telling us in light of events happening in our land and the world? How can church members make a difference in society and contribute to nation building?”

“Don’t just say it, but do it,” he stresses. For example, Alpha Malaysia provides training for his church members who, in turn, would hold weekly lunch-hour meetings for pre-believers.
Even as Chew sees the fruition of his God-given vision, he’s already looking ahead to the next thing God has in store for him. Together with other senior pastors from key churches in Kuala Lumpur, he has been praying and planning for his successor in SIB KL.

He’s already begun mentoring and investing in five key members in his flock, one of whom will take over the mantle when the time comes. “Senior pastors must know when to step down — and that’s when they have sufficiently trained up a team of people to run the church,” he says.

Truly, Chew is a visionary who’s intimately connected with God, sensing His purpose and direction for his church and our nation. His sensitivity to and trust in God’s leading has proven that he’s, indeed, no man’s fool.

The above article was first published in Asian Beacon magazine, June 2010, issue 42.3.

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