Zi-On’s Story

I was in Teluk Intan recently. While navigating my car through the labryinth of jay-walkers I spied a curious-looking structure. Then I remembered about the Malaysian answer to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I was told it used to be a water tank built by a rich Chinese businessman. It reminded me of the slanted morals of some politicians and how their crooked leanings will eventually make them topple over.

Believe it or not, when I was lost and asked for help, the strangers I had approached stopped someone who turned out to be a teacher at the place where I was supposed to go. Over the years I have grown to know what providence means. My God, Jehovah Jireh, is precisely that: he provides, even in the small things.

“When God is in control, nothing is out of control” is a lesson I learned some time ago. “Fret not at evildoers,” the Psalmist advises. The one who trusts in God will not be in a hurry, will not be flustered, will not be anxious. “Have no anxiety about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” makes sense when we experience it through habit.

My purpose in visiting Teluk Intan was to be at a memorial service. Zi On had apparently drowned after saving a Korean woman off a beach in Queensland. He was the son of Kerk Choon Keng ( a senior executive of Unitata) and Cho Tan, and the brother of Zi Lu. I learned he was a bright, talented, handsome and godly young man, who had a Masters degree and had everything to look forward to, from an exchange of emails with his parents, Navigators alumni whom I’d met in New Zealand as students.

I had felt burdened to write a couple of songs for Zi On whom I had never met. But in the spirit I felt a strong sense of closeness to him because of his commitment to God and struggle to grow in his relationship with his Heavenly Father. Like many young people in their twenties Zi On searched for his purpose in life. Yet he longed not for the success many young and even older people seek but something more substantial. Later, a prayer from his diary which his mother, Cho Tan, sent me enabled me to peer inside Zi On’ s deepest thoughts.

This was Zi On’s Prayer:

Make me a man of substance
Make me a man of courage,
Make me a man of dependability
Make me a man of persistence,
Make me a man of drive
Make me a man of compassion and empathy,
Make me a man of true friendship.

As I pondered the words I caught a glimpse of the soul of the man who could on reflex sacrifice himself so that another could live. Who among us would not be thinking of our own safety when facing such danger? Yet Zi On did something that was second nature to him, assuredly the fruit of his walk with God. His life has always been one of caring concern for others. A Boys Brigade leader, he proved that character was everything as his prayer reveals.

In the noble sacrifice Zi On paid the ultimate price to save another. While Zi On saved one life in a physical way, Jesus saves the world in a spiritual sense. God answered and Zi On personified his own prayer. The world is such a richer place because there are people who thnk of others before self. Many people die for vain and futile causes but to die to save a life is the supreme act of love.

In Sylvester Stallone’s latest Rambo movie, he made a poignant statement, “It is better to die for something than to live for nothing.” As Jesus himself said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,” and to die for a stranger is even more amazing.

While many pursue their careers, Zi On reflected on what really matters in life. He was not satisfied with the superficial, he wanted something of substance. “So young and so spiritually mature,” said a friend after Zi On’s memorial service. His maturity must humble us and challenge us not to live by the standards of the world but the holiness of Christ, who taught us not to love the world but to love God and our fellow men.

He came to serve, not to be served, and we lead by serving.

Zi On’s story is a challenge to me. Today he is still listed as a missing person. But I know that he is no longer missing because God has planned something better. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Jesus once asked those looking for his missing body they had buried in a tomb. Zi On like Enoch walked with God and has simply walked into his mansion in Heaven. “Though he dies, he will live,” Jesus promised.

At Zi On’s memorial service on Sunday 22 June, almost six hundred thronged the Methodist Centre Church in Teluk Intan to celebrate his life. A musician friend I had brought along to accompany me read the letters and testimonies that his parents had painstakingly pasted on the walls in one of the rooms in the church. He was touched and insisted in paying for some orchids I had bought for Zi On.

As the country is bewildered by the political twists and the political arena becomes bloodied and truth is churned in the cauldron of conspiracy and lies, how then shall we respond? How should Christians in politics behave? No different I guess from one in any other profession.

The truth is those who want to live for righteousness will face persecution whatever they do wherever they are. The honest judge who has to make a just decision against political pressure, the accountant who refuses to sign a cheque to pay off a corrupt supplier, the salesman who refuses to tell lies and so on. Everyone who wants to live an upright life in a crooked society will face perils of one sort or another.

“In this world you will have tribulation, “Jesus said, and he comforts, “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” We can overcome evil with good because love never fails. In the face of the prevalent evil around us, we are not to repay wrong with wrong but do all in our power to do what is just and good.

It does not make us bimbos, or turn us into passive mats to be trampled on but it makes us act consistently as children of light – truthful, firm and forthright. We should be grateful we do not live in a country where the power of the gun rules. There is hope for reason to prevail. And those who see only the giants in the land of Canaan will never enter the Promise Land and watch God perform exploits.

The challenge is for the younger generation not to be inordinately concerned with careers to the detriment of their spiritual and social responsibilities. But it is also a responsibility for all including older men and women. A few weeks ago a sixty-year old friend divulged he had joined a political party. He related that when he told his wife, she retorted, “What took you so long?” Sitting on the fence is for crows. God’s people are always on the righteous side of the fence. They are not beholden to any who commit and promote wrongdoing but those who do right because righteousness exalts a nation.

Zi On’s story is a challenge to us all especially the young to look for something of substance to build into their lives and to do for others. I hope God’s people will not dress up for battle and then go to bed. This is the problem of heart-warming sermons that send the soldiers home Sunday after Sunday without a plan of action. Sermons are only as good as the practical applications that result. Vain is the preacher who sees the sermon as the end not the means. Changed lives and transformed societies is what church is about.

Help those in need, act and avoid excuses. We are to be those who put our hands to the plough, who are not afraid of anyone or anything because “if God is for us who can be against us?” Many want God on their side but are they on his side? God sides with the humble and just and supports those who help the needy but will punish those who do evil.

One Reply to “Zi-On’s Story”

  1. About 10 years ago, my pastor-friend’s son was also drowned saving someone. He was 18 then. That family was also related to my wife’s side of family.

    It was a church picnic at a waterfall site. An adult member met with difficulty at the swirling-pool. Another adult rushed to help him. The latter also got into difficulty.

    Then that 18-year-old youth without much thought went to their help. But he tried in vain. He managed to grab a rock. Unfortunately he could not sustain for too long as he was completely exhausted. And he slipped into the pool in the sight of all people around it. 3 of them were drowned!

    At the evening memorial service at the church, the church youths were filled with the Holy Spirit that bursted into songs of joy.

    That boy was a hero. He had never thought that with his small size, he was not the right person to extend his rescue to 2 big men. In the sight of our Lord, that boy had made it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *