As City Harvest Church turns 26, co-founder Sun Ho reminisces about what it was like to help shepherd a rapidly growing congregation at the age of 18, and what drives the leadership going forward today.
It was a Religious Emphasis Week event at Anglican High School in 1986, led by a young man known as “Brother Kong,” which planted the seed for the birth of City Harvest Church. Among the many who responded to the altar call was Sun Ho, then a secondary school student who later joined the church as staff in 1988 and became a cell group leader shortly before CHC was founded in 1989.
Progressively, she took on the roles of music director, overseeing praise and worship during church services; as she was given charge over a zone of cell groups, she also learned to serve in the areas of deliverance and counseling (Ho holds a Master of Arts in Christian Counseling). One of her first disciples, Chia Ting Ting, today the pastoral supervisor for the School of Theology, recalls, “It was her wholehearted passion for God which inspired me to grow in my spiritual walk.”
City News Weekly speaks to Ho, co-founder of CHC and wife to its senior pastor Kong Hee, about her years in ministry, both then and now.
You started leading cell groups (CGs)—up to nine a week!—when you were just 18. What was that like?
Our CGs were very active in soul-winning and they grew rapidly. We had to teach and guide them as they multiplied. It was quite daunting to lead a CG for the first time as I was so young both in age and ministry. But I thank God that the Holy Spirit was—and is—my Helper, to help and lead me. I learned what it meant to flow with Him in preaching, providing leadership and pastoral care. Really, it is key to trust and obey God one step at a time, always living by faith in the Holy Spirit.
What was your biggest challenge back then as a young cell group leader (CGL)?
We were all very young; many of our members faced strong parental objection to the faith. I would often have to meet the parents in person and explain what was going on, assuring them that faith in Christ will only help their children become morally upright, more honoring toward them and more diligent in their schoolwork.
It wasn’t easy as I did not have a commanding presence due to my petite size! Slowly but surely, though, as the parents witnessed the positive changes in their children’s attitude and behavior, they came to trust me and the church.
Did you face parental objection yourself?
When I told my dad and mom that I wanted to get water baptized, they dragged me out of the house and forced me to kneel before the altar and pledge my allegiance, which I did not. At night my mom would come to my bedside, thinking I was asleep, and cry, telling me I was splitting up the family. My father threatened that if I went to get baptized, he would burn down the church building and harm Brother Kong.
So, on that day of the baptism, my father drove me to the church at Marine Parade. Brother Kong and the others were all praying for me. Throughout the journey, my father didn’t say a word. I was so afraid— my dad is a man of his word: if he said he was going to do something, he would. When we reached, I said bye to him, and he simply said, “Bye.” I ran out of the car, but he didn’t follow me. I was so thankful! My parents kind of accepted it and let me go. It was really God.
Besides counseling and praise and worship, you had a very powerful deliverance ministry. How did that begin and was it a part of the weekly service?
We didn’t come into it by choice—we were first exposed to it as a church when we saw and heard members manifesting and convulsing during Kong’s preaching sessions. As we were new to it, we didn’t really know what to do; we later came to realize that many of the youth had dabbled in the occult or had experienced traumatic abuse.
God used pastors Albert Jebanayagam and Mike Connell to minister deliverance in our services and they personally trained us in deliverance ministry.
I see deliverance as an essential ministry of Christ. Jesus said that in His name we will cast out demons! And when we cast them out, it is a sign that the kingdom of God has come upon us (Matt. 12:28).
Deliverance helps us, as believers, to break free from the bondage of satan, and gives us a fresh start in our Christian walk with God. However, we should aim to be “devil-free” in our lives by maintaining a consecrated, personal walk with Jesus. As we mature in our spiritual life, we should be better equipped to guard our thoughts, to allow no room for the devil to have a foothold in us (Matt. 12:43-45).
There was a youth who was involved in the occult. At one service, the anointing of God came mightily upon the congregation. Demons began to manifest within the teenager and he started convulsing and slithering on the floor like a snake.
After the service, I prayed for him in the church office. He started screaming and let out a loud burp that smelt foul—he had just eaten quite a bit of durian for lunch and so our tiny office was filled with a very strong durian odor. It was so funny! Kong doesn’t like durian at all, and he struggled through the deliverance session.
The demons in this young man were very strong and threw him around the room. He kicked a huge hole into the wall! Back then, we were renting our office space from another church. We had such a hard time explaining to the church elders how a “simple” prayer and counseling session resulted in damage to their office—they weren’t very amused.
You’re also known among the pioneers of CHC for your skills in counseling. What made you so effective?
We are all products of our own experiences. I grew up having dysfunctional neuroses and I’ve struggled with chronic depression most of my life. So, when members share with me their struggles, I really feel a lot for them. I take time to listen to their struggles and when necessary, give my thoughts. Sometimes, all people want is a listening ear. To me, one of the most fulfilling things about serving in church is to help members receive healing in their wounded spirit and recovery from emotional trauma.
When you took the stand in court, you said one reason you came back to Singapore was to tend to the church during this period. How have you done that past five years?
These years, I have worked closely with pastors Aries [Zulkarnain] and Bobby [Chaw] in making executive decisions for the church. (I used to give Bible study to both of them when they were in secondary school!)
We must wisely design programs and organize events that will meet the needs of the people and fulfill the vision of God. Our church today is made up of people from nursing infants to very elderly persons; there is no longer “one size fits all.” Our team constantly gets feedback from our members and we discuss how we can best meet their needs.
I am also personally discipling some of our pastoral staff and lay leaders. I want to train them to be more anointed and wiser in their leadership. The church is as strong as its weakest link, so we must nurture our members to be spiritually focused, mentally strong and emotionally resilient to see CHC through to its next level.
What motivates you in the decisions you make for the church?
A church is not a business; it’s a spiritual family. Our bottom line is not profit but people. I was with Kong from the very beginning. I have seen first-hand how God built up this church from zero, when we had nothing in our pockets. Our greatest assets then were our people. We wholly believed in God’s power and faithfulness, and in His vision for us as a church. Against all odds, we built a ministry that has blessed a generation. We need to get that back.
Due to the ongoing trial, it’s a fact that we have lost members over the past five years. Our church finances have declined due to the drop in tithes and offerings collected; staff and volunteers’ morale has also been affected. My focus is to build up the spiritual morale of the staff, the volunteers and the members. I want to inspire them to keep loving God and loving one another, and to strengthen the bond of love we have built over the years. If we stay united, we are immovable.
As co-founder of CHC, how do feel the leadership (including the zone leaders and CGLs) has evolved over the years—in both good and bad ways?
Because of the size of our church, Kong and I no longer know each leader by name or have close proximity and time with them as compared to the early years when our church first started. We are still trying to get to know as many leaders as we can.
However, we do sense the love and unity from the leaders and CGLs whenever we come together. Kong and I are especially grateful to the zone leaders and CGLs who have chosen to stay with us as we journeyed through these past five years of very intense trials and tribulations. Our challenges ahead are still great, but we have all grown stronger and deeper in our spiritual maturity and as a church family.
Having passed its Silver Jubilee last year, CHC is now in its next era. What does the future hold?
I sincerely believe that our best years are still ahead of us. We must know that trials and tribulation are part and parcel of revival. Kong and I are waiting to see all the promises of God fulfilled in CHC. I have no doubt we are going to see the greatest revival ever in history, and being City Harvest Church, we want to be a part of it!