Reverend Canon James Wong, known to City Harvest Church as the pastor that senior pastor Kong Hee grew up under, passed away earlier this evening at the age of 82. City News remembers the great man of God.
Canon James Wong, who was an Anglican minister for more than 50 years, was a beloved figure to CHC, often seen sitting in the front row with his beloved wife Esther during service throughout the many years and many locations that the church has been in. When CHC celebrated its anniversaries, he and Sister Esther would join senior pastor Kong Hee and his wife Sun and the leaders of the church on stage.
For the past decade, he had been fighting Parkinson’s Disease, but it never stopped him from coming to church, raising his hands in praise, even prostrating before the Lord in deep worship. Canon James was an inspiration to Christians of all ages.
He passed away this evening, leaving behind Sister Esther, his sons Jonathan and Timothy and their families.
HE INVITED BILLY GRAHAM TO SINGAPORE
Canon James played a significant role in the Charismatic renewal in ’70s Singapore.
In 1973, Canon James felt the stirrings of a holy dissatisfaction within him. He told City News in a 2014 interview, “I had such a hunger for God, and I was dissatisfied with my ministry. I desired to be filled with the Spirit but I didn’t know who to turn to. One night, the Lord baptised me in the Spirit and I began to pray and worship God in a new language.”
That period, Singapore began seeing a revival in schools, with students of Anglo-Chinese School and St Andrew’s Schools experiencing the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. Canon James was assigned to provide pastoral oversight.
That experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit unlocked a whole avenue of ministry for Canon James and Sister Esther as God opened doors for church planting and evangelism works. In 1977, he planted eight churches in housing estates around Singapore in 1977, including Chapel of the Resurrection in Potong Pasir and Chapel of Christ the King in Bukit Timah. That was the same year Pastor Kong Hee came to Canon’s church, Church of the Good Shepherd at Marine Parade Centre.
Working with the late Bishop Chiu Ban It, Canon James witnessed the ushering in of the Charismatic renewal in Singapore and Southeast Asia in the mid-70s. Possibly the most significant event that took place was a series of crusades by evangelist Billy Graham in 1978.
It was Canon James who first invited Billy Graham to come to Singapore. In an interview with Selah, he said, “I went to a crusade which he was conducting in Manila, and it was where I invited him to come to Singapore. He graciously replied, ‘Yes, I would come if there are churches united together in inviting me.’ When I came back, I talked to a few of my colleagues and we formed an invitation committee. Dr Benjamin Chew was the chairman of the committee. We wrote an official invitation to him to come speak in Singapore and he graciously agreed.”
The Billy Graham Crusade sparked a revitalisation of the churches in Singapore. Graham pronounced Singapore “the Antioch of Asia”, the epicentre of Christianity in this part of the world from which missionaries would be sent to bring the gospel to far-flung places.
Speaking on the 40th anniversary of the Billy Graham Crusade, Canon James revealed that the fire he had in 1978 had not dissipated one bit. He told Thir.st, “We have this new generation: 40 years have passed since the 1978 Billy Graham Crusade in Singapore. In the next 40 years ahead of us, there will be many people to reach…It’s harvest time! We need discernment in harvest time. God is bringing this generation together to work for the harvest. There will be opportunities for us to reach out to the lost…I believe that this generation of younger people has been raised up by God for a purpose; grace isn’t just for ourselves. We must reach out to the lost and unreached and gather in the harvest when it is time.”
HE FOUNDED THE FESTIVAL OF PRAISE
In 1985, Canon James was part of a group that visited Israel during the Feast of Tabernacles. He was inspired by the lively celebration in the capital of Jerusalem, which was filled with music, singing, dancing and the carrying of banners.
He reasoned that, since it was not practical to expect all the Christians in Singapore to go to Jerusalem to participate in this praise and worship event, it would be a blessing to them if such a celebration could be organised back in Singapore.
The following year, Canon James launched the first Festival of Praise with three objectives: To encourage Christians to pray for the government of Singapore and thank God for His blessings upon the nation, to unite the body of Christ, and to hear the Word of God for the new season through anointed preaching by world-class speakers.
The FOP was first held at the hall of St Margaret’s Primary School, but soon grew over the years to fill venues like the Harbour Pavilion at the World Trade Centre, and up till the early 2010s, the Singapore Indoor Stadium. The Festival saw the participation of more than a hundred churches and parachurch organisations, and Christians from all over Asia in attendance. “One of my goals of the Festival Of Praise was to unite the body of Christ in Singapore and pray for blessing on our nation and its government,” Canon James told City News in 2010, explaining why for a number of years, the festival was held in August to coincide with Singapore’s National Day.
(To read our interview with Canon James on the 25th anniversary of FOP, click here)
WONDERFUL HUSBAND AND FATHER
CHC members rarely saw Canon James without Sister Esther and vice versa—they were the very picture of a godly couple in love with Jesus and with one another.
In the early days of their courtship, Sister Esther noted that Canon James “was very passionate for the Lord, fervent, zealous. He was a straight talker—no hidden agenda—he just wanted to serve the Lord with everything he had.” That description fitted him to a T all his life.
They had met in 1958 at a Christian fellowship in Adelaide, Australia, where Canon James was instantly impressed at the food Sister Esther had prepared for the gathering, as well as her looks. They met again three years later when they both boarded the same train to Penang to attend a church camp. Right after the camp, Canon James was due to enrol in Trinity College for ordination training, and the couple made the decision to get married in December 1963 after a short four-month courtship.
When Canon James went to California to pursue his theological studies for a year and a half, Sister Esther and their two young sons went with him. In Sister Esther’s words, “Family first, everything else second.” While Canon James preached and planted churches, Sister Esther worked beside him as his helper and a powerful intercessor.
While we mourn alongside Sister Esther and the family of Canon James, we are encouraged by the words of his son Timothy, who told Salt & Light, “He is now fully alive and restored to complete wholeness in body, soul and spirit. We grieve with hope.”
(To read our interview with Canon James and Sister Esther on their 50th wedding anniversary, click here)
“CANON WAS MY SPIRITUAL FATHER AND GUIDE”
In CHC, two people especially close to Canon James and Sister Esther are pastoral supervisor Johann Sim and his wife, Pastor Eileen Toh, who heads HarvestKidz.
“Canon and Sister Esther have journeyed with and guided us through many milestones in our lives; Canon loved our son Kairos like his own grandchild—he was Kairos’ spiritual grandfather,” says Pastor Eileen. “Seeing him demonstrate with his life how to walk in bold faith and hunger for revival, we have been deeply impacted by him. We are forever indebted and grateful to him.”
For Johann, the loss of Canon James runs deep.
“I have known Canon James Wong since 1995 when he was chaplain in St Andrew’s Junior College and I was a second year student,” he shares.
“Canon James was my first pastor at Chapel of the Resurrection when I accepted Christ. He baptised me in COR shortly after. In 1999, he employed me as a Children’s Pastor and I served there till 2010 when I came to CHC. He sent me to Tung Ling Bible School the first year I was in full-time ministry.
“He treated me more than just a member of the church staff. He invited several of us staff to his home-stay in Perth before he retired at COR, and I kept in close contact with him after his retirement. I sought his advice in many matters including my choice of a life partner, coming to CHC and many ministry issues. Canon was even present at my wedding proposal to Eileen in Israel, by the Sea of Galilee on 31 Dec 2009, when he led a tour group to the Holy Land.
“We would talk and laugh a lot about the shared experiences we had when I was serving him on the COR church staff, even though it had been more than 10 years since I joined CHC.
“What I will miss most about him is simply spending time with him: attending service together with him whenever he came to CHC, having dinner and fellowship at Pasir Panjang Food Centre or the famous bak kut teh along Keppel Road.
“I will also miss all the advice he would share with me over meals, about marriage, parenting and financial stewardship.
“Canon James constantly challenged me to be faithful with what I have been given, whether it is about finances or talents or abilities given to me.
“When CHC was at Hollywood Theatre, Canon sent me to learn more about children’s ministry. I came back and reported to him that if I was given the resources and money that CHC’s children’s ministry had, I could do a lot of outreaches.
“His reply really transformed my thinking. He said, ‘Be faithful with what you have first. God will give you more when you are faithful as His steward.’
“Canon James was my spiritual father and guide. I will miss him deeply.”
“Celebration of the Life of Canon James Wong” will be streamed live on the following days
To read Pastor Kong’s tribute to Canon James in Salt & Light, click here