Gaining through losing

Aug 2019    
Susan (second from left) with her children (left to right) Lou Ee, Tam Mei and Jo Ee.

A sudden loss

Susan Chee lost her husband, Tan Choon Yeow, when he was just 46 in the fateful SilkAir Flight 185 crash in 1997. The aircraft plunged into the murky waters of the Musi River in Indonesia, killing all 104 passengers and crew.

What happened in the years after would prove that God is indeed a “father to the fatherless, and a defender of widows” (Ps 68:5).

On the evening of 19 December, Susan was putting her three children to bed—her son, Lou Ee, then six, and daughters Tam Mei and Jo Ee, then five and one. Incessant phone began coming from her husband’s colleagues, each wanting to confirm which flight to Indonesia he had taken. That was when she found out that her husband’s plane had gone missing.

Then came the official visit and the murmuring doubts gave way to a terrifying reality—her husband had perished. As Susan was whisked to the airport the same night, her mind was blank and she felt everything to be drained of colour. It was the first of what would be several visits to the crash site.

With tears welling up in her eyes, Susan related her experience on the ferry carrying the bereaved families to where the plane crashed in the Musi River. “Just like John Wesley, [I felt] a strange warmth in my body… The Holy Spirit brought me this song and I sang aloud, ‘Heaven is a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace. I want to see my Saviour’s face. Heaven is a wonderful place.’”

Even though it would have been easy to give in to grief as the reality of her husband’s demise hit home, God was clearly with Susan when she needed Him most. He would not stop there.

A God who meets needs, a church that supports

The years after her tragic loss were when the biggest challenges pressed upon Susan. The fact of being alone and the sole caregiver of three young children brought hard times, both emotionally and financially. However, Susan found God meeting her needs every step of the way.

First, God sent her help in the form of a caring community at Ang Mo Kio Methodist Church (AMKMC), where she worships till today. Before joining AMKMC, Susan said that she used to church hop, never really finding a suitable church where she could fit in.

“The Lord has blessed me with the friends at AMKMC who pray for me and my children, giving me the confidence and opportunity to serve in various ministries. Initially, I was a loner, but the Lord drew me out to fellowship and I began to grow spiritually as I served at church,” described Susan.

However, the journey was not a bed of roses as Susan would sometimes still fall back into questioning God about her loss and hard life as a single mother. A sense of anger and frustration would at times affect her relationship with her children.

Despite stumbling along the way, Susan’s unwavering belief that God is always in control and her deepening relationship with Christ through her church helped see her through the tough years of solo parenting.

God also opened up avenues for Susan and her children to get to know Him better. The first of many doors that the Lord opened for Susan was at Wicare Support Group, a ministry for widows and the fatherless, where Susan eventually served for a season as the General Manager of the group’s support centre at Bishan. Through Wicare, Susan was able to pick up the pieces alongside a community who understood her struggles deeply.

Today, even though she no longer works for Wicare, Susan still takes it upon herself to visit, befriend and support new widows through their difficult emotional journeys. She is living testimony that God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Cor 1:4).

As God healed Susan, He also turned His eye on her children’s spiritual well-being.  He led the family to join the Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). Susan’s three children, now 28, 27 and 22, spent seven of their formative years with BSF and built a solid Christian foundation that has stood them in good stead in the face of a world obsessed with moral relativity, she shared.

Claiming the riches of God

Closing our conversation, Susan shared an encounter she had soon after the plane crash. She is convinced that she was touched by one of God’s angels.

“During one of the trips [back to the Musi River], I met a girl dressed totally in white at the airport waving gallery. She approached me with a Bible and told me the Lord is giving me riches from the Bible. I replied, ‘I have just lost my husband, the main breadwinner of the family, and you are telling me this?’ In exasperation I turned away to talk with my niece, who was a couple of steps behind me. When I looked back, the girl had vanished.

“I put that incident behind me until two years later, when I heard a sermon in church on ‘God’s Richness’. Something clicked in me. When I asked my niece about the girl at the waving gallery, she said: ‘You mean the one who disappeared?’ My niece had seen her too; it was not a hallucination!

“I told one of my church elders about it. He then taught me that I should pray and claim the riches God has in store for me. I now believe it is the richness of His Word and providence that He has given me all these years,” recounted Susan, shaking her head in amazement.

“God has certainly made me feel very rich, never in the lack, spiritually or financially. God is really good.”  Jesus’ words, “You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (Jn 13:7), have come alive for Susan.

Jason Woo is Methodist Message’s Editorial Executive. When not working on the latest articles, he enjoys long jogs and cuddling up with his cats along with a good book.

Photo courtesy of Susan Chee


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