Mr Hii Chang Kee was born in Sibu and graduated from Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang in 1992. After graduating he joined the Sibu Municipal Council as Assistant Secretary. In 2002, he was promoted to Senior Assistant Secretary and in 2009 he became Municipal Secretary. In October 2015, he was appointed Resident of Sibu Division by the State Government. Up to now he has served as a civil servant for 24 years.
Apart from being a high-ranking civil servant, Mr Hii has been an active Christian. In 2016 he was elected as the new Lay Leader of Sarawak Chinese Annual Conference (SCAC) for the next two years i.e. 2017-2018. Prior to this, he had been serving as the first Associate Lay Leader of SCAC for six years. He was also one of the speakers of the “Workplace Ministry Forum” organized by the Board of Laity. On various occasions he also shared his experience in his workplace ministry. One of the most told stories is how he refused to take bribes, the “football” incident.
In another incident, being the Sibu Resident, he was invited to officiate the opening ceremony of a temple in 2016. New to the Buddhist rituals he took part in the “Buddha bathing” ritual and the incident was in the papers the next day. As a Christian and leader of all Chinese Methodists in Sarawak, his action in taking part in other religious rituals aroused much negative comments.
As the new Lay Leader of SCAC, how is he going to strike a balance while wearing different hats and at the same time keeping his stand as a Christian leader? To find out Wong Meng Lei, the Chief Editor of Chinese Methodist Message interviewed Mr. Hii. (Q: Editor-in-chief Wong Men Lei, A: Mr. Hii Chang Kee)
Q: First of all, to allow readers to have a more profound understanding can you brief us about your background?
A: I come from an ordinary family and was born in 1967 in Tiong Hua Road. I attended SUDC No. 4 Primary School and Sacred Heart Secondary School. In 1988 I went to USM to do Bachelor of Science majoring in Housing Planning. I graduated in 1992 and joined Sibu Municipal Council as Assistant Secretary in the same year. I completed my Masters Degree in 1997 and in 2002 was promoted to be the Senior Assistant Secretary. I did a self-study Law course in 2005 and in 2009 was appointed the Municipal Secretary. In October 2015 I was appointed Resident of Sibu Division.
Q: So you joined the civil service immediately after graduating from the university?
A: Not really so. The government civil servant post was my first job interview. After the interview I did not receive any news, so I joined a local developer working as a Site Supervisor in Bintulu. Six months later I received a letter of appointment from the government. Though the salary was only RM1200.00, much less than the RM2,000 that I was drawing, I decided to return to Sibu, to join the civil service.
Q: Why were you willing to give up the high pay and return to Sibu?
A: The main reason was that the work in Bintulu was 6 ½ days a week, i.e. I needed to work during weekend and that clashed with my worship and ministry at Ming Ong Methodist Church.
Q: After working in the government departments for 24 years, have you ever thought of changing job?
A: The probation period for a civil servant is 3 years, i.e. one can actually become a civil servant only after 3 years. When I was about to enter the 3rd year, some of the older staff said to me, “You better think again, if you don’t leave now you will stick to the service forever”, Ha! Ha! Ha! …
In fact, I am confused and do not understand why civil servants always give negative images like corruption, lazy, delayed application, deliberately making things difficult for the people and so on. As a Christian I am determined not to go with the crowd by exercising the little power I have to make changes to this scenario. However with higher position and greater power, the temptations and pressures are getting greater. Thanks to God for helping me overcome these matters.
Q: The temptation you mentioned is it the “football” incident?
A: Ha! Ha! Ha! That was just one of them. At that time that specific boss first showed an envelope of money to me telling me that it was for me to prepare for my Chinese New Year. I immediately told him that I would not accept any “ang-pow”, he wrapped up the bag properly and put it on the floor and kicked it to me under the table. I kicked back and he kicked over again. Finally, I firmly asked him to take back the “ang-pow”. In fact that was not the only incident, that boss tried a few times until he finally gave up.
I personally think that if you follow the procedures and conditions stated in the contract closely you do not have to try to please me in this way. I’d like to remind all Christian civil servants especially those who have the authority not to delay the application process of the people; this is because your delay may lead to misunderstanding that you are deliberately doing so, that will be followed by such temptations to lead you to sin.
Q: What do you think are the most important qualities of a civil servant?
A: A civil servant should have a serving heart and willing to help others. As long as the application is proper and legitimate it should be approved as soon as possible; do not cause unnecessary delay. At the same time as Christians, we should go one further mile by helping others.
Let me cite an example. An old man came to the government office for help and it so happened that he met me. He was going to the Welfare Department for assistance. I took him there, helped him to fill up the application form, did the interpretation and completed the application procedures; then I took him to open a bank account. This is helping all the way through.
Q: Can you talk about your spiritual journey in Christianity?
A: My mother is the one leading all our siblings to the church, we began with Sunday school in Xin Fu Yuan Church. I joined the Masland Church Youth Fellowship when I was in secondary school.
I learnt about being reborn and salvation when I was in my early secondary school. At that time I attended a meeting led by Rev. Dennis Ngieng, who came back from Canada, and in that meeting I confirmed that I wanted to follow Jesus Christ all my life.
When I was in Form 4, because of church planting, Zion Church and Xin Fu Yuan Church sprang from Masland Church. I was assigned to Xin Fu Yuan Church. Later Xin Fu Yuan Church set up Bible study classes and Sunday school in Tong Sang Road. As I lived in Tong Sang Road I joined the Bible study classes and served in youth fellowship services as well as harmonica classes and Sunday school. That was before the setting up of Logos Methodist Church where I worship till now, except for the period from 1988 to 1992 when I was doing my tertiary education and working in Bintulu. I have served in the church since then, I was a committee member, Chairman of LCEC and Lay Leader.
Q: What other things do you think Christians should be as the light and salt of this community?
A: In addition to daily devotion and prayer to attain spiritual growth, Christians have both social responsibility and gospel responsibility by moving out from the church into the world. The workplace ministry, promoted by the Board of Laity, is a reminder that workplace is also a platform for witnessing and influencing daily life, work, in coffee shops and schools.
On the other hand Christians should take part in social and political activities, be the salt and light so that non-believers would see the light of Christ, thus influencing others. After all, our Lord Jesus came into the world to care for the poor and healed the sick.
Q: Is your daily sharing on the Facebook your spiritual reflection?
A: You can say so. That is also the inspiration for myself and I also want to let non-Christians to see the worldview of a Christian. We can use the internet media to transmit the gospel messages.
Q: 2017 is your first year as the SCAC Lay Leader, what is your plan?
A: After discussing with the new president and to be in line with the theme of the General Conference, “A church after God’s own heart”, we have to learn to follow the example of David, be someone after God’s heart – that is constantly doing devotion, Bible reading and prayer, and have a close relationship with God, to establish good relationship and interaction with others. To be outspoken when seeing injustice happening, however, requires one to be careful and cautious in expressing one’s feelings at the right time and place.
Q: As the Resident of Sibu Division you were invited to officiate the opening ceremony for other religious groups. On one occasion in 2016 you were photographed by reporters taking part in the “Buddha bathing” ritual. Can you talk about the incident?
A: I think that incident is a lesson for me. There is nothing wrong in attending religious activities of other religions because that will promote mutual understanding among different religions, but one must first understand their rituals and procedures and indicate to them clearly not to take part in the rituals.
Actually that day I had indicated to the organizer that I would not hold incense or worship, but I was not clear that there was a “Buddha bathing” ritual; unknowingly I followed the request and did accordingly, the next day the newspaper published it. In fact I have been invited to various religious functions but I try not to take part in these rituals.
Actually as the Resident of Sibu Division my job is mainly to coordinate the development projects and to coordinate with various government departments, at the same time to chair over various government official functions. By my job I was also the Chairman of the organizing committee for Islamic festivals in Sibu. I was also responsible for organizing the recent procession of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday celebration. My office is in the Kompleks Islam, Sibu. A very subtle situation, ha ha ha …
Q: Finally, can you talk about the prospect of Sibu?
A: It is true that in the past the development of Sibu has been marginalized. At the same time because of soil condition, we face problems when constructing roads. In fact the private sector can help to retain talents in certain projects. For example, the timber industry, shipbuilding industry and agriculture, we cannot rely solely upon the Government.
2017 is Visit Sibu Year; this can strengthen the cultural and eco-tourism projects. Regarding the upgrading to city status, the current requirements are getting more stringent. I’m afraid that cannot be achieved in a short time.
Interviewed by Menglei
Recorded by April
Translated by KT Chew