In my family, I am a second-generation Christian. Attending church on Sundays was a practice that began early in my life as part of what my family would do on the weekends. My parents and grandparents started attending Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church (TACMC) in the early ’70s. It was there that I was baptised as a child and nurtured in the Christian faith.
The reality of God and that of the death and resurrection of Jesus didn’t really grip me in any spiritually significant way until I was a teenager. But this did not mean that going to church was of no spiritual value to me before then—the Church community formed me in important ways that provided the biblical and theological framework to make sense of my life in God’s world.
Worthy of note were the Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) camps. They ignited my spiritual passion, gave substance to what fellowship with Christ and His followers is about, and challenged me to take God and His Word seriously. Another important event were the renewal and revival meetings I attended. Held during the weekdays over a few nights, they were conducted in Chinese and Hokkien, and were always well-attended as far as I can recall. As a boy, I was there only because my parents had brought me along. I was too young to appreciate the preaching and usually did my own thing while the adults did theirs. But the hymns and revival choruses that were sung have stayed with me.
The significance of these meetings only became evident to me only in hindsight. Whether Sunday School, MYF, the church choir or revival meetings, my identity as an integral member of God’s people was shaped by these ministries from when I was a young age.
The first 12 years of my formal education were spent at the Anglo-Chinese School. Towards the end of my second year at Anglo-Chinese Junior College, I felt the call of God to enter the Christian ministry. Interestingly, it was a call that came after I had read the biography of the Methodist evangelist from China, Dr John Sung. I was thrilled to read about the revival meetings he had conducted in 1935 in my home church. It was then that I made the connection with the revival meetings I had attended as a young boy. They were part of Sung’s legacy that shaped the spirituality of my home church.
But I was also ambivalent. While deeply impressed by Sung’s remarkable sense of purpose in life, I was sorely disappointed that I didn’t have a similar resoluteness. “What am I to do with my life?” This had been an unresolved question for me, especially in light of what my future was to be after my A-Level examinations. This led to me doing some serious soul-searching, about the way I had been living my life, for several months.
One evening, in the quiet of my room, I felt the call of God and gave my life to Christ for Christian service. There was no audible voice, just an unusual clarity within myself and overwhelming sense of conviction about dedicating my life to the cause of Christ.
Many are called through gathered assemblies; I was called through books. I began to devour the biographies of John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards and other well-known Christians. Upon graduating from the National University of Singapore, I joined the Fellowship of Evangelical Students (FES) as a staff worker. Having to guide student leaders, the scope of my reading was widened from more devotional and biographical writings to books on apologetics and theology. The writings of John Stott, J. I. Packer, Martyn Lloyd Jones and A. W. Tozer were especially helpful.
But I still felt inadequate. The more I read, the more I realised that I needed formal theological training for ministry. So I enrolled in part-time theological studies while working in FES and later in TACMC as a member of the pastoral staff team. My growing burden to acquire a theological education led eventually to postgraduate studies in the United Kingdom.
Many of my colleagues at Trinity Theological College were ordained as ministers before they became theological educators in the seminary—it was the other way round for me. Upon return from the UK, I began to serve as a lecturer in theology before I was ordained as a minister.
God’s call upon our lives does not take place in a vacuum. The circumstances surrounding each person’s calling will be different. But regardless of such differences, the nature of our calling will be made clearer when we embrace the circumstances that confront us as the God-ordained setting for living out our God-appointed vocations.
Regardless of how challenging our present reality may be, the Psalmist encourages us to view the whole span of our lives through the lenses of God’s “goodness” and “mercy”. Understanding God’s providential dealings with us through these lenses, we step forth with courage into the future as our Shepherd calls us by name. I have heard my name called many years ago in the quiet of my room. Since then, I have come to recognise his voice better.
The Rev Dr Edwin Tay was appointed principal of Trinity Theological College on 1 July 2020. An ordained minister of the Chinese Annual Conference, he grew up attending Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church, and is an alumnus of Anglo-Chinese School and Anglo-Chinese Junior College. / Photos courtesy of the Rev Dr Edwin Tay