A fourth-generation Christian and a tireless worker in the Kingdom of God, Mdm Ooi Kooi Tin, tells City News how the baton of faith was passed down from her father to her, and now to her children, including Elim Chew.
Many Singaporeans know 77th Street founder Elim Chew as entrepreneur extraordinaire and avid supporter of social causes, but few know that her mother, Mdm Ooi Kooi Tin, is a champion in her own right.
Ooi, who turns 70 years old this year, has planted and registered seven churches as well as an elderly home in China, along with a children’s shelter in an isolated region in Myanmar. These are just a few of her works.
Talking and gesturing with passion and excitement, this bright-eyed, well-groomed mother of three descends from four generations of Christians. Ooi’s father, who hails from the Anhui province in China, was a military officer who heard God’s call on his life for mission work. Not without some initial denial, he eventually became a traveling missionary to China, Taiwan and Malaysia.
As the daughter of a missionary, Ooi experienced God in a vastly different way from other children. She recalls the time when her then eight-month-old sister suffered severe internal bleeding in her intestines when she was fed soybean curd contaminated with plaster of Paris. In those days, emergency aid was not readily available. Her father laid hands on her and prayed for her, and the baby was fed rice water daily. A week later, she was healed.
One time, when she was about 8, a cargo ship carrying military ammunition berthed at the harbor near where they stayed in Taiwan. A loose explosive triggered off an explosion, which set the whole harbor on fire. Ooi and her sister, who were playing at a nearby playground, ran home amid the chaos. It was only subsequently that they realized despite the broken glass all over the place, the girls suffered not a single cut on their bare feet. For Ooi, it was a simple lesson about God’s protection over the family.
There was also the time when the family moved to Butterworth in Penang, Malaysia where Ooi’s parents cultivated a rubber plantation to support her father’s mission works in the area. One day, a huge fire broke out in the rubber plantation. She saw her mother kneel down in front of the raging fire and pray; in whichever direction she faced, the fire died down before her eyes, including the fire surrounding their astounded neighbors. She prayed until every flame was extinguished.
Having grown up in an environment like that shaped the course of Ooi’s life and her approach to parenting. While she acknowledges that she sees fewer signs and wonders in her day compared to her father’s time, she has seen too much of the reality of God to not do anything with her faith.
“She lived in the reality of miracles during my grandfather’s time, and because of that, she carries the faith everywhere,” says Chew of her mother. When Chew and her two siblings were young, their mother ensured that they went to church. After she retired from her work as a hairstylist and with all her children grown up, she dedicated herself to mission works.
In 1996, there was a construction boom in Singapore. Discerning a mission field right on home ground, she and a group of about eight friends started reaching out to construction workers from China. Finances were pooled together to rent buses in order to fetch them to and fro Sunday meetings, and to hire pastors to preach. Ooi herself was in charge of the food; she recalls cooking for about 100 people in her own kitchen, until one day, the stove exploded due to overheating. Realizing the load was too big for several laypeople, they linked up with local churches for support.
When the construction workers eventually returned to China after their contracts ended, they brought back with them the good news they had received and built their own church, with Ooi’s help on the other end gathering building funds. To date, seven churches have been planted.
She recalls a heart-warming incident on a visit to the churches in China: two men were making their way to the church, one lame and the other blind; the lame man would sit in his wheelchair and give directions to the blind man, who would push him to church.
With a group of friends, Ooi also opened a home for elderly people in China. In 2000, she started a children’s home, Nu Jiang Student Counselling Centre, in the highly isolated Salween region in Myanmar. Every year for the past 10 years, she travels there to ensure fresh coats of paint, replacement of floorboards and sufficient winter wear for the children. The salary for the caretaker is also funded by Ooi and her friends.
Back in Singapore, Ooi was introduced by a friend to an Indonesian Chinese man whose son was gravely ill. They had sought help from various mediums, but to no avail. Ooi extended an invitation to the man to attend church, but the man instead asked if she could preach to them at their home in Tanjung Pinang, an island near Batam, so that all his family members could hear the word of God too. Although there were local churches in their community, Hokkien-speaking preachers are rare, and Ooi was conversant in the dialect. Nowadays, she travels to Tanjung Pinang once every month to minister to the family.
Not every outreach work came without a struggle. When Ooi led an Indonesian family steeped in the practice of witchcraft to salvation, bad things started to happen—the family experienced a gas explosion in the house, the father was involved in a car accident, although no one was hurt, and just after he was baptized, he was diagnosed with a terminal illness and passed away shortly after. Ooi had no explanation for his mourning daughters, and while she had no defense for the God she led them to, she kept on believing that He was the God of personal encounters and revelation.
She kept on praying for them until they found deliverance from their grief and the bondage of witchcraft. Later on, one of the daughters received a personal revelation of God’s abiding goodness despite all that had happened. Today, the once-sickly young woman is healthy, joyful and is actively serving God together with her sisters.
The best thing her mother ever did for her, says Chew, was to walk the talk. Today, Chew herself is deeply involved in missions and social work, sitting on multiple boards and committees of public service, youth and community organizations. She was also recognized as Forbes Asia’s Hero of Philanthropy 2010.
Chew says that it is all because her mother set an example for her to follow. “My mom is our role model. She’s not just a talker, she’s a doer.” As a beneficiary of the exemplary lifestyles led by her parents and forefathers, she has this to share with all parents, “What the parents are, passes on to the children.”
City News wishes all mothers a Happy Mother’s Day!