The co-founder of City Harvest Church talks about the church past, present and future: how it began and grew, the current trial it faces and the hope of the future.
City News: How are you doing, Sun?
Sun Ho: Honestly, I am doing okay, I do take life a day at a time. I think that’s as honest as I can get. I’m all right in the sense that I do trust Jesus and that I trust everything will make sense at the end of the day. But every day, every week, there are ups and downs, so I’m just holding on to faith.
How did you come to know Pastor Kong?
I came to know Pastor when I was studying at Anglican High School, which you know is a missions school. I think that was in 1986; Pastor came to conduct a chapel session. I remember it was a very short session— it was one of his seven-minute sermons, he must have shared about his life testimony and how Jesus became the Lord and Savior of his life. Actually I don’t remember much of it, because at the time, I was not a believer and the sermon didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but I remember being very touched for some reason. Of course, looking back now, it was the Holy Spirit. I remember lifting up my hands. And after the meeting, we were all talking, exchanging notes, and I was so shocked that I wasn’t the only one who responded, so many of us did. And that was the start of the revival. That was how I gave my heart to Jesus, and of course, the rest is history.
One of my closest friends then was a guy called Kai Mun. Someone brought him to Brother Kong’s cell group, and he then brought us to the cell group and to church, so that was the story Pastor related about how we “invaded” that little church, Marine Parade Christian Centre. (laughs)
What was your first impression of Pastor Kong?
I remember thinking that this was a very young man but dressed very old, not fashionable at all, you know, with those big glasses and all, just not hip (laughs). Very serious, you know. But he was very eloquent, I think I was very captivated by what he said—although I can’t remember the content, he was just very dynamic.
Pastor Kong told us during a sermon once that he proposed to you by walking over to your office table and popping the question. What made you say yes?
Can I be honest with you? I think about that all the time: what made me say “yes”? Honestly, I don’t know. I think at that time, we were all just so focused on building the church. Of course, we were at that age, and he was our Brother Kong—he was like Apostle Paul to us, we wanted to grow up to be like him, and in our hearts, for the girls—I’m sure not just me—I was thinking if I ever married, I would like my husband to be like Brother Kong. But there was never really anything romantic between us. We were just co-workers, really focused on building the church.
When he came into the office and asked me, I really thought he was joking. So I laughed, right? He was standing, I was sitting, and I laughed and laughed, then I caught myself because I realized I was the only one laughing and he was looking really serious. Then I stopped laughing and I just said yes. Looking back now, I think I said yes because I must have felt in my spirit that it was the right decision. Even though it wasn’t romantic, in my heart it felt right then that if I were ever to marry someone, I would like to marry someone like Brother Kong.
After that when I went home and told my dad that I want to get married. Actually I told my sister first, so when I told my dad, he pulled my sister into the room and interrogated her because he thought I had gotten pregnant, because nobody in the family knew I was seeing someone—and I wasn’t! It was quite comical actually. Thank God, I was young enough to be so impulsive!
What were some of your fondest memories of that period?
It would be those hours we spent worshiping and praying together. The other day, some of the pastors took me out for lunch, and I was sharing that I’d been thinking about reviving overnight prayer meetings—not the ones that end at 11 but starts at 11pm, and goes all the way to 5am.
So I really enjoyed that time with God and each other, really building deep and authentic relationships, and we were all youth, so we had all the time in the world. I really believe that personally, most of my personal breakthroughs and encounters with God were achieved during those moments.
And when we fellowshipped, we were very excited to share about what the Lord spoke to us, the word of prophecies that were spoken, and we had a lot of Bible studies. Of course, as youth we talked about a lot of silly things—about BGR (boy-girl relationships), about life—but we also spent a lot of time talking about what we saw in the spirit, the visions we had. We were so radical, we’d be so charged and we’d go back to our cell groups and pray for healing, and we’d see very spectacular healings. I remember one time I was very bold: one member had sprained his wrist, and the knuckle on his wrist shifted out of place, and I was so full of faith and I prayed for him and we all saw it move back to the rightful position.
So that were the times we were so on fire, when the Lord spoke to us, there was no doubt in our hearts, even though we were so young. Also at that time, it was very hard to be Christians, our salvation was very precious to us, it was not a hip thing—our salvation could have caused us to be disowned (by our families). Every prayer meeting was precious, every worship meeting was precious; these were the shared experiences during the revival which really bonded us. That’s why until today many of us are still very, very close friends and I know that we’ll be friends for life, until we all grow old.
Tell us more about this Powerhouse thing you guys had, what was that?
Back then, we separated several rooms in the office, we called one Holy Ground, where people could just come and do devotional prayer and worship quietly, and the other Battle Ground, where we would intercede for others and engage in spiritual warfare. Actually, I’ve been thinking about that, it’d be great to have that again. For some people their homes are not so conducive, and for us at that time, most of us were persecuted for our faith, so we do our quiet time at the Powerhouse.
As for my personal prayer time, at least for now, I pray a lot when I’m driving alone. I work quite long hours, and I’m always surrounded by people, so for my PA or those close to me, they know that when I hop into my car, I like to be alone and I don’t like people to drive me. So that’s my God space, my car is my prayer sanctuary. Sometimes I’ll put on praise and worship music, but other times it’s just that solitude, that quietness, that time with God alone.
How does God speak to you?
For me, a lot of times God speaks to me when I’m worshiping. But God speaks to me through Scriptures too. And when I really need an answer from God, I go back to the Scriptures, and I pray. The word of God is my lifeline. There are so many life experiences in the Scriptures.
A lot of time, He impresses thoughts or images to my spirit. There was a leaders’ meeting once and I wanted to know who was leading praise and worship, but nobody told me, and suddenly I had a thought, that this particular worship leader was going to be leading. When I entered the hall at Jurong West, there he was! I was smiling from ear to ear. So that’s my walk with God, it can be something so trivial or totally non-spiritual, but the Holy Spirit will bother to speak to me, to give me an impression.
There are also times when the Lord will speak to me through visions, not often, but it can be a closed vision when I’m praying with my eyes closed. And I see in my spirit, but there are also occasions where I would get open visions. One day, I was having my back adjusted for pain and when I was on the massage table, putting my face down, I saw an open vision. I saw a multitude of people, and I saw myself ministering to them, and in a moment I knew God was showing me my ministry. Things like these are quite natural to me. I have encountered demonic forces since I got saved, but even before I was saved, I also encountered them, but then that was more of bondage, being suffocated and so on. After I was saved, it was more of commanding them to leave in the name of Jesus, so all my life, entering into the spiritual realm and all that, this has been natural to me.
How can people come to a place where prayer evolves from a duty to a delight?
I know this sounds very clichéd, but we make time for what matters to us. It is true. We make time for something—be it a marathon, the children, for others it’s a pint of beer with friends. It boils down to your revelation about your relationship with God. If He’s like your lucky charm, then I guess you only do it when you want a special favor from Him, or during a special season. But if God is someone you cannot live without, then He becomes like that best friend in your life: no matter how busy you are, you will talk to them, send that text to them, or you can be down and out, and don’t want to talk to anyone, but you will just talk to that friend. So I always tell people to have the right image of God. He is the good Father.
When I entered the ministry, I had a lot of fear, and I didn’t like to be in the guest rooms with all the other pastors and their wives because I wouldn’t know what to talk, and I could tell some people were judging me, because in that time, a pastor’s wife didn’t wear pants or dye their hair, I was just quite a misfit. But I remember in the early 2000, I saw this scene from the movie Elizabeth where Elizabeth was so overwhelmed and afraid with all the decision-making (required of her as a leader), and she made this statement that changed my life profoundly. She said, “I’m not afraid because I’m my father’s daughter.” Since then, it’s been that secret motto in my heart—whenever I’m afraid, I’ll tell myself, I am my Father’s daughter.
So my advice is, have a revelation of who God is.
How do we get this revelation?
Through praying and reading the Word. Once you have the revelation, you will not struggle to pray. Even for Dayan, I can see that it’s not a delight yet. But I always encourage people to start small, it doesn’t have to be long. It’s really just a conversation, because God speaks back, it’s a sharing of hearts. And sometimes, it’s just telling Him about my day, how I feel. One of the meditations of my heart I recently shared with my leaders was from 2 Corinthians 4 (The Message Bible), where Paul said what a great privilege it is that God lets us in on what He’s doing. He was encouraging us not to complain and give up.
And so, I always believe that when we seek God, He will reveal Himself. He will, because He says in His word that He will never leave us. He’s so eager to let us in to His secret plans, but it’s whether we take time to quieten down and listen for His voice. We’re always either too busy or too cluttered with our own anxieties.
Another one of your main ministries is counseling and discipleship—how do you tell someone the hard truths they need to hear without hurting the relationship?
I always believe that we can never love at the expense of truth. The Bible says that God is love, but He is also the God of truth. If you really love a person, you have to tell him or her the truth—that’s why the Bible says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” But yet, like what John 1:14 says, Jesus is full of grace and truth—I do believe that when we speak the truth, we must be gracious and tactful. Some people then say, “But I am not a naturally sensitive or tactful person, how do I do that?”
I would suggest, why don’t you put yourself in the other person’s shoes? If you can picture yourself in that person’s shoes, you will think about how you want someone to break the truth to you. You’ll think, “How would I want those words to be said to me?” If you can think like that, then it will come out all right. Also, I try to use “we” instead of “you”, because most of us have experienced, or are still experiencing, the same problems as well; I will remember that I was once in their shoes.
I believe that once our mindset or our mentality is right, the Holy Spirit will then give us the wisdom to speak the truth in love.
When news of the investigations broke, you dropped what was an album ready for launch to come back. What was going through your mind when you got the news in LA, and the period following that?
(Big sigh) It was a scary day. I still remember I was at IKEA. Before that, I was texting Pastor Kong and he told me he was going to have breakfast with Dr (Yonggi) Cho—that was just after the Asia Conference—after that, I continued to text him but he didn’t reply, so I didn’t think much about it.
The next thing, Pastor Derek called me, and I remember the blood just draining from my face. I felt like I was going to pass out. I stood there, frozen, I could not scream, I could not shout for anyone. He was trying to explain to me what happened and I kept asking, “Where is Pastor? Where is everyone? Where is Peng (Pastor Tan)?” Pastor Kong was supposed to catch a flight here after his breakfast with Dr Cho, to celebrate my birthday. So the whole day I kept calling and asking where everyone was and when they were coming out but nobody really knew what was happening. It was just a very, very long day.
When I came back to Singapore my next concern was our members—what’s going to happen to our church, will our members be able to withstand this controversy? I remember praying to God, to help those who are weaker, younger, that their faith will not be shipwrecked.
For a regular member who, on one hand, loves the church and has met God at this place, but on the other, struggles with all newspaper reports he is seeing and the conversations he hears, questions he will be asked, how should he approach the trial issue?
It is a painful journey, not just for Pastor, not just for the six, but for the whole church. I never belittle what every member has to go through, the questions from their friends, their family; it is excruciating, our faith is being challenged. If I were a regular member, when everything does not seem to make sense, one thing I will remember—the work of God that has been done in my life through this leadership in this house.
We frequently hear of Pastor Kong sharing on stage about how you would encourage him in his worst moments. What about you? What were your most difficult moments and who/ what did you draw strength from?
I think the lowest moments of my life was when I miscarried twice, when I lost my two babies. I actually did slip back into depression, especially with the second one, because he was already about three months. It was very, very difficult for me. Even though Pastor was a great source of strength to me, I think only a woman understands the depth of pain at losing a child. So whenever I talk to other women who have lost their children, I feel so much for them. But God has been nothing short of amazing. Both times, I actually dreamed of them. Earlier, I used the word “he” because the Lord actually showed me that both of them are boys, that was how the Lord helped me walk out of that depression, and He also assured me that one day I will see them in heaven.
There were also moments during the Crossover, when I felt alone and I seldom talk about this, of course I had my US team, but it was just a hard mission. There were days when I didn’t serve the vision with the best attitude. It was hard to be on the road, to be apart from the family I’m so close to, and not just my dad and mum, but church, and the church is not just church, it’s where my closest friends are, people I grew up with.
If I can sum up in one sentence—it was not glamorous. People look at all the pictures we put up, and I remember people telling me everything looked so fun, so glam. Honestly, there was nothing glam about it. Who wants to wake up at 3am and have people pulling your hair, touching your face, and then be up and chasing the sunrise.
Of course, I love the singing part of it, but to me, it was a difficult mission because first and foremost, it was a mission of the church, and I felt tremendous pressure to be successful. Sometimes it takes away the joy—performing as an art is one thing, but performing with the baggage of having to succeed, constantly, I felt the pressure. And then then the values in the world and those in the church are poles apart. People in the church world were upset with me, asking how could a pastor’s wife do this, and people in the entertainment world were suspicious of me. Many times, I asked God how long more I had to do it.
So much happened during the Crossover, but one thing I remember most clearly is this: standing on the stage each night, after I share my testimony, and seeing the souls come forward, telling myself, ‘It’s all worth it, it’s all worth it.’
Throughout the Crossover Project, when I felt like giving up, I’d go back to Isaiah 43 and 49, which I felt was a promise that God would give me honor, because many times I felt so dishonored, so shamed—and the word “honor” means a lot to me. That was what kept me going, the promise, the rhema of God.
What was it like for you when you came back, after having been gone for almost 10 years?
When I came back, I also had my low moments. When I left in 2002, the church had 10,000 people, and when I came back in 2010, there were 32,000 people. So practically two thirds of the church hardly knew me, they only knew me as that singer or musical wife of Pastor Kong. At some level it was very challenging to pick up from where I had left off—those who didn’t know me, many of them didn’t take me seriously. In an ironic way, the Crossover had positioned me so successfully that they saw me as very “secular” and they doubted my spirituality or maturity as a church leader. It was hard, coming back to church full time, even back to the office, but I knew I had to stand in the gap, stand together with Pastor Aries. The senior leadership was basically wiped out. I had to pull everybody together and start discipling again.
It was very humbling. Many times, it was very, very difficult. I felt like I had to start from ground zero. But I am thankful to God that four years have passed, and I’ve been able to build new relationships. I’m grateful to God I’ve built relationships that I couldn’t have imagined were possible.
How would you say you have grown in your understanding of yourself and of God since the Crossover Project?
For these past years, I’ve been traveling all over the world, I have seen how much God loves souls, how much He loves the lost. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a successful or not—and I’ve met the whole spectrum—people need the Lord. I’m very, very grateful that God used an ordinary girl like myself, a really broken soul with a story I was so ashamed of, one I thought I would bring to my grave, He used it to touch people.
One thing I’ve learned, God never wastes any of our pain, no matter how dysfunctional our background is. Sometimes you ask, “Why is my life like this?” or you feel, “Why am I so stupid?” “Why am I so silly?”
He will use our stories—I know this because I have witnessed it. And then for the last four years, I have, unfortunately, seen the best and the worst of human nature, both within the body of Christ and on the outside. I’ve seen how the world works, and I’ve definitely have become wiser, less naïve. But more than that, I realize that I need God desperately than ever before. I really think that human extremities are God opportunities. Many times, when I feel that I have come to the end of myself, I learn to stand still and see the salvation of God. During the Crossover, I’ve seen the power and glory of God, but in the last four years, I’ve seen the grace of God, and the verse, “His grace is sufficient for me” has become more than just a Bible verse to me. These four years, I have never felt so close to God in my walk with Him.
Outside of work and ministry, what does Sun Ho like to do?
I like to live a balanced life! (laughs) The way I phrase it, you know I haven’t achieved that yet! I love to spend time with Pastor, with Dayan, my friends. At the end of the day, when I see, just hearing them talk, can be anything, just looking at them laugh and talking about silly stuff, it’s therapeutic.
I also love to cook. I’m actually a good cook, even though I’m not a foodie, but the people around me are! I think it’s a very creative thing. I don’t have a favorite dish myself, but among the people I cook for, Pastor likes my bak chor mee, my friends love my honey baked chicken, and the US team love my chilli crab!
Also, when I get some time off, when I go overseas or especially in US, I love to spend a lot of time in Barnes & Noble—it’s like our Kinokuniya. I love to browse through magazines and books, but I have to confess, when I’m in Singapore, I don’t really have a lot of time to read, so my last serious book was The Shack. I have David & Goliath (by Malcolm Gladwell) sitting there waiting for me—different people give me different books, but they’re still there on the shelves!
I also love creative things like Andy Warhol’s Pop Box, where they put together in a box his collections, newspaper clippings—our Relationship and Discipleship anniversary box which we gave out in 2010, the idea for that came from the Pop Box. And like Michael Jackson’s King Of Style, a whole book about his costumes, elaborate stuff, I love poring over stuff like that—of course, you know I love fashion too. To me, Alexander McQueen was one of the most talented designers who lived so I would collect books of his creations and browse through them. I always say that my birthday dream is that one day, I will get to collect a few pieces of Alexander McQueen dresses—they don’t need to fit me, I just want to keep them (laughs)! To me, they’re so beautiful, so intricate.
I also love to exercise. I go to the gym three times a week. There was this one day, I think it was one of the happiest days of my life—I went to the gym in the morning, then I went paddling in the afternoon and then I went to pilates at night. I was so happy that day! I love to exercise. Once, I challenged my zone leaders and asked, ‘Shall we have a workout retreat?’ They were like, ‘Shall we have a makan retreat instead?’
Despite the challenges, what are you most thankful for in the last four years?
Like I said earlier, I’m most thankful to God for drawing me closer to Him. I feel my walk with God has deepened tremendously. I’d never felt so close to Him as I did in the last four years. And as a wife, the intimacy between Pastor and me has also gotten better. As we’re both visionaries, high achievers, living separately for eight years was not good for us. We would have become even more independent from each other, even though we make the effort to talk, like five times a day, nothing beats being together physically. So being able to be together again, with Dayan, as a family unit, physically together, we’ve never been so happy. Also, again, as the co-founder (of the church), I’m really very thankful to be able to reinforce old friendships and build new ones in church.
What are your thoughts about CHC’s next 25 years of ministry?
I think it will be just the same. I think our church will never change: it’s still gonna be loving God whole-heartedly and loving people fervently. I really pray that this statement will continue to be our rudder, to guide CHC in our next 25 years. I’m believing that we will continue to be the salt and light, and that God will, after this episode, give us the privilege to bring another wave of revival to Singapore, and not just that, but to the world, and to let us continue to reach out to souls.