A brief history
of her life
My mother-in-law, Ms. Chieng Check Houng, was born on March 29, 1939 at “Ha Chung Nguong” of Tg Kunyit, a small village along the Rejang River. Out of her nine siblings she was the 6th, and as the youngest of four daughters, she was often fondly referred to as ‘little aunt’. Growing up she always felt grateful to have been able to gain an education in Kwong Hua High School up until her junior high years – meaning she was given the chance to learn to read and write.
Her parents had a profound influence on her, especially her mother. My mother-in-law inherited her mother’s godly faith and generous and caring attitude towards others. Her filial piety to her father was also well-known to those around her.
On April 27, 1963, she married a loyal and honest young man by the name of Sii Lu Tiong in Paradom. Together they had four sons and one daughter – Sii How Chiong, How Sing, How Mee, How King, and How Bing.
During the early days of her marriage, her husband (my father-in-law) worked in Sibu and could only return to visit his family during the weekends. She took the great responsibility in taking care of all the family matters – yet she never once complained. However, a main source of her worries came from her two older sons – How Chiong and How Sing. The two brothers often fell sick when they were young, and many times caused her great panic due to their sudden asthma attacks and allergy reactions to certain foods. But every time she would always bring them both on the back of her bicycle and cycle all the way to the pier where they would get on a ferry to Sibu Town to see the doctor. This process occurred at least once each month. But she did this all alone and without complaints.
In the 1960s, Communist Guerrillas roamed the country villages and people were often in a constant state of distress and panic. As a result, in 1970, the family made the decision along with other fellow villagers to move to Sibu – eventually settling down at 28D Brooke Drive, right next to Xin Fu Yuan Methodist Church. Deep friendships were formed within that housing community and my mother-in-law’s generous and friendly attitude were loved by all the adults and children who lived there. Since her family lived upstairs, it’s not surprising that she was nicknamed ‘The Upstairs Aunty’ – ‘lou ling mu’ in Foochow. And since her husband worked as an accountant for a Vietnamese company at the time, she was also nicknamed ‘The Vietnamese Aunty’ – ‘wo nan ah mu’ in Foochow.
My mother-in-law spent 20 years at 28D Brooke Drive, and this period marked a very important chapter in her life. For the first few years when she was first married to my father-in-law and moved in with his family, she had been unable to go to church as her husband’s family were non-believers at the time. But living at 28D Brooke Drive meant that she not only could return to church but also began actively engaging in various church ministries – most notably accompanying the pastors on their home visits. Her family did not understand nor appreciate her enthusiasm at the time and even at times, quipped that she should just simply move to live at the church instead. My mother-in-law often spoke of how the late Reverend Ling Ung Lik, Reverend Wong Kiew Nguok, along with many other pastors trained and encouraged her to pray out loud despite her timidity.
Although her family’s reluctance towards Christianity remained unchanged, she made sure that her children would attend Sunday School every Sunday. This simple action thus laid the foundation of her children’s faith. Aside from regular home visitations, she was also an active participant in the Women’s Fellowship and served as the head of the Social Care Group for 20 years. Moreover, my mother-in-law served as a teacher of community devotional group and, as one of the leaders of parish care, was responsible for visiting church families within the neighbourhood. She continued actively participating in church ministry up until her physical health started deteriorating – only then did she withdraw from ministry activities. All throughout her life, my mother-in-law never liked to gossip or talk big; neither did she envy the fame or fortune of others. She was always very low-key; working and giving silently, putting all her effort into everything she did; all whilst maintaining harmony with those around her.
The life my mother-in-law led was one life example of a disciple who loved God and loved people.
(a) She loved God
She held fast to Sunday Worship
Every Sunday, without fail, she would arrive at church bright and early. Though the service doesn’t start until 7am, she’d always be there by 6:15am, in ‘her designated seat’. She loved it when her family accompanied her to church. To have her family sitting in the same row as her every Sunday – that’s one of her greatest joys in life. Whenever her children and grandchildren returned to Sibu during the holidays, she’d always make sure they’re up early on a Sunday morning, ready for Sunday worship.
She read the bible diligently
My mother-in-law’s daily routine had never changed – wake up, pray and read the bible before starting her daily tasks. She keept at this routine day after day, year after year, so as a result, she’d read the bible countless times. She’s no stranger to the bible and often would recite scripture to those around her. No one could beat her in Scripture tests. Just a few years ago her grandchildren discovered one of her Scripture Test papers showing a score of 100% – full marks! The grandchildren, who found themselves no match to her, all exclaimed “Wow! Mamah you’re amazing!”
She was a Prayer Warrior
Whenever my mother-in-law encountered any difficulties in her life, she would turn to the Lord for help. “Pray without ceasing” was what she practiced her whole life. Every day without fail, she would pray for each member of her family – old and young. I remember when her eldest son, How Chiong, made the sudden decision to study Theology instead of going to college in the United States. His father (my father-in-law) was furious that he had changed his decision to not pursue his studies in the United States. Through all this, it was my mother-in-law who kept praying for her son. In the end God changed her husband’s attitude, thus diffusing the father-son conflict. Her children and grandchildren knew that Mamah was always praying for them. So, every time there was an upcoming school or music exam, or whenever they encountered any difficulties, they would always let their Mamah know to keep them in her prayers – because their Mamah’s persistent praying had taught them from a young age, that there was power in prayer.
Her prayers weren’t limited to her family though, she also prayed for the Church. She was a prayer partner for the XEE trainees for many years. A lesser-known fact about my mother-in-law was that at one point she set up a service team with a few of her close church sisters to pray for people and cast out evil spirits – what a wonderful ministry it was to bring glory to God.
(b) She loved People
She loved her family
My mother-in-law loved her family. Even during difficult times, she took care and brought up all her children very well and emphasized the importance of their education. My brother-in-law (How Mee’s husband) told me that whilst he was trying to win How Mee’s heart in Australia, my mother-in-law wrote him a letter, reminding him to study hard and not start dating so soon. However, this young man eventually became her son-in-law, one whom she always praised too. My mother-in-law’s love for her children was further expressed through the little things in life. She never screamed loudly or simply nag at minor inconveniences. It had been exactly 25 years since my father-in-law passed away, and for a quarter of a century my mother-in-law stood strong and held the family up by herself. She supported each child and tied the family together. Even when her children and grandchildren were overseas, she’d still express her love and care for each one of them – either through phone calls, or through her prayers.
She loved the souls of those around her
Those who knew my mother-in-law would be familiar with how she would often ask people “Do you go to Church?”
Regardless of whether it’s her children or grandchildren calling from overseas, her neighbours, a visiting relative or friend, or even a local mechanic coming to her home to repair appliances or the water pipes – she would seize the opportunity to share the gospel with them. She had undertaken evangelical training and would follow the evangelical team to spread the gospel. For a few years she even worked tirelessly every weekend to accompany a group of church sisters and pastors to do church planting in Durin. During her lifetime she led many people to believe in the Lord. When it came to evangelism, she was tireless.
She was devoted in Devotional Class
Devotional class was the main focus of her church ministry. At the time when she saw many young women in her neighbourhood, she called on them and started her first devotional class where she took on the role of teacher and taught them to read the bible. Even though these women had young children which hindered them from going out much, my mother-in-law kept encouraging them to read the devotional manual together. In order to calm the young children, she often came prepared with some candy so that their mothers could attend the class in peace. One of the women’s sons had already been entrusted to Tua Pek Gong as his godson, yet my mother-in-law was able to lead her to believe in the Lord. And finally, her whole family was saved.
My mother-in-law wasn’t a woman of many words, but through her sincere love and care for many people, God has borne many fruits through her. Eventually she moved from 28D Brooke Drive to Lane 15 Brooke Drive, where she once again began a devotional class. There were always so many members in her devotional class that I often wondered what the secret was. One of her church sisters told me that it was because my mother-in-law constantly and consistently visited and cared for the neighbours along her street and led them one by one to believe in the Lord.
The sisters who attended devotional classes with my mother-in-law not only still continue loving the Lord today but are also more active in church ministry and service. Some became church ushers, elders of the church, choir members, fellowship heads and deacons etc. I think even though my mother-in-law didn’t know what discipleship training was at the time, she made disciples of Christ through her life. Glory be to the Lord.
(c) A major health turnover
In 2005 whilst on vacation with How Sing and his family in South Korea, the blood vessels in her heart suddenly burst without warning. Fortunately, she could be sent to a hospital and underwent a major operation. Once the operation was over, she stayed in Seoul for nearly a month to recover. The attending doctor at the time said that it was as miracle that she made it through that major operation.
My mother-in-law’s physical condition never did return to the way it was prior to the operation, but the Lord still gave her a fruitful 15 years of life in Sibu. Although she was physically weak, she never stopped serving in ministry and continued to attend Sunday worship, as well as women’s fellowship, senior citizen fellowship, choir, devotional class, bible study class, home visitations, etc.
In the last few years of her life, she became a lot weaker and was more easily tired. As a result of heart weakness, she often had edema and hydronephrosis – consequently, her trips and stays in hospital became more frequent. She only stopped attending church choir and other forms of gatherings when her physical health prevented her from doing so. However, she still continued to attend Sunday service. What many people didn’t know was that as my mother-in-law sat in the hour-long Sunday service, her feet would often start to swell due to edema – yet she still never stopped attending. Even prior to the week she fell ill, she still attended Sunday service at Xin Fu Yuan Methodist Church.
My mother-in-law was called home to the Lord on March 5th, 2020, at the wise old age of 81. I have known my mother-in-law for nearly 30 years and witnessed how her life had been a blessing to those around her. Her children, grandchildren, relatives, friends, and all the church brothers and sisters can all bear witness to this – that despite the many obstacles and hardships that surrounded her life, she would still tell you how good it is to believe in Jesus. Not only did her faith in Jesus bless her life abundantly, it also brought blessings to her children, grandchildren, and to all those around her.
Jesus promised “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10) and it was realized in the life of my mother-in-law. This promise is not only given to her, it is also for those who believe in Jesus. We have nothing to boast but Jesus Christ and His Cross. And the will of my mother-in-law was that everyone believes in Christ Jesus and has the affirmation of salvation.
As the proverb goes, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.” My mother-in-law’s life deserves this very praise.
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
Mum, thank you for everything you have done for us. Thank you for being an amazing role model for us to follow and leaving behind such a powerful legacy. May you rest in the arms of the Lord. Amen.