Esther Lee Kyung Ae received the Courage Award at the SOT graduation service this year. She shares the journey that led her to study in the Bible School this year.
Lee Kyung Ae is not someone you would expect to see in school. For one, she hails from South Korea, and while she can communicate easily in English, studying and writing assignments in English is not an easy task.
Moreover, she is in her 60s and has been a Christian for a long time. Yet when she heard the call from the Holy Spirit, she signed up for City Harvest Church’s School of Theology without hesitation. The journey was tough, but she pushed through six months of assignments and examinations, winning her this cohort’s Courage Award.
WITNESSING GOD’S GOODNESS IN HER LIFE
To her cell group members, Kyung Ae is Esther. But to the SOT students and staffers, she is Umma, a Korean term of affection for an older lady, which also translates to mean “mother”. The younger students in SOT even call her Halmeoni (grandmother), and she gladly responds to all these terms of endearment.
Esther has been living in Singapore with her Singaporean husband for over 30 years. They used to attend a Korean church in Singapore and her husband would listen to the English interpretation of the Korean sermon. However, this was not ideal as her husband was not receiving much from the teachings.
Her freelance work as a tour guide led her to CHC one day when the tour group she was leading scheduled a visit to the church. On the pulpit, CHC’s senior pastor Kong Hee spoke about Dr Yonggi Cho, a name that was familiar to her. Dr Cho is the founder of Yoido Full Gospel Church, the largest church in South Korea and the world today.
“I was shocked because even though I wasn’t from Dr Cho’s church, I go to the prayer mountain to pray,” she explains. After some discussion, the couple decided to move to CHC so that they could both grow together in the Lord.
She recalls the day she first entered Hall 605 at CHC’s Suntec premises. “A greeter welcomed us and told us, ‘Come and join our cell group. Our cell group all old people,” she says, laughing at the memory.
Since then, she has been attending CHC with her husband in the pastoral zone led by CHC’s executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain.
In 2016, Esther suffered a dizzy spell which caused her to be hospitalised. The doctors diagnosed her with Stage Four stomach cancer. While this seemed to be a worrying situation, Esther was not afraid. She knew that her life was in God’s hands.
Through the ordeal, she witnessed the Holy Spirit working on her behalf.
Esther was hospitalised on a Friday. She did not tell her cell group leader James Chia, but the Holy Spirit did. James heard the Spirit saying, “Esther is in the hospital.” Seeing that Esther had always been healthy, James did not think much about it. Only when he called her on Saturday to ask If she would be in church, did he realise that she really had been hospitalised.
On Monday, the doctor told her that the cancer had already started spreading to the liver and that if they were to operate on her, the risk of it spreading further was very high. Esther decided not to do any treatment and went home. But she fainted at home not long later and was hospitalised again.
This time, she had no choice but to accept treatment. Both her cell group and Pastor Aries prayed for her, and God moved. After doing a more detailed scan, the doctors decided that she could do the operation after three rounds of chemotherapy.
Esther also witnessed how God protected her. She was scheduled to do the operation on 7 Dec and she found out that her doctor was only going overseas and would only arrive the morning he was performing the operation. She objected to that, and the doctor told her that he would change his flight to arrive earlier.
However, when the time came for her operation, it did not happen. She later realised that the doctor had not changed his flight and because of a delay in the plane schedule, did not make it back in time for the operation. “God protected me,” she declares.
Her operation was rescheduled a week later. On the day of her operation, she prayed, “Jesus, You resurrected after three days. So, if I die, please save me.” In her dreams, she saw Jesus resurrecting her after she died on the operation table. What she realised later was that the operation had taken 12 long hours and her family thought that she would die. “When I woke up, I was very happy because God listened to my prayer and I’m alive!” she says with a grin.
OBEYING THE HOLY SPIRIT
After four years, her cancer was finally in remission. Esther’s plan was to retire from guiding tours and to open a bread shop. She was praying for God’s permission when the Holy Spirit directed her to Matthew 6:33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
She thought to herself, “Maybe I need to go to SOT.” One day in service, while Bobby Chaw, CHC’s executive pastor and principal of SOT was preaching, Esther’s husband turned to her and said, “I think you should join SOT—Holy Spirit said that.”
Receiving that confirmation, she immediately signed up for SOT. “When the Holy Spirit speaks to me, I never reject. I will always obey,” she says.
However, SOT was not as easy as she thought it would be. Just after one month of the online preparation course, Esther was totally burned out. “I’m Korean so I needed to translate the whole book by myself. Every night, I only slept two to three hours,” she recalls.
“I was very angry with God! I asked Him, ‘Why did you do this to me?’”
Her SOT team leader found out about her troubles and approached SOT’s senior manager Cindy Ng for help. Cindy offered to give her some alternatives to help her in her studies, but Esther refused. “If I want to do SOT, then I need to do the same way as everyone else,” she states. “I’m a determined person. If I want to do, I must do it well.”
A month later, God showed Esther a new desire, which was the reason why He wanted her to attend SOT this year. “I cannot tell you the new desire now—I’m still in the process of doing it,” she demurs.
At the same time, God also gave her the strength and wisdom to continue in SOT. To Esther, the greatest challenge was the language. While she understood most of the lessons taught in SOT, she had problems with the readings and assignments. She would have to translate the books to Korean using Google Translate in order to do her assignments. When it came to writing, she would write in Korean before using Google Translate to convert it into English.
She would spend almost the whole weekend, starting right after the week’s lessons every Friday, to complete one assignment. Yet, she never gave up. “It’s my character—if there is something left to do, I cannot sleep,” she admits.
Now that she has graduated, Esther can see the transformation SOT brought to her life. “Previously, in my university, or when I was working, God was only 20 per cent in my life. But now, my husband and I are going to live for this new desire that God has given to us,” she says.
One of the new habits she cultivated in SOT is worship. “God asked me to worship Him, so every night at 10pm I will worship Him. At graduation, the Holy Spirit spoke again. Just as I used to wake up at 6am to go SOT, I wake up at 6am now to pray and read the Bible,” she shares.
While the teaching in SOT is very important, Esther found that worship is the best part of the lesson. “I miss it, it’s fantastic,” she says wistfully.
To those considering SOT but are apprehensive of the challenges, Esther says, “One thing is very important—you cannot do it by your own strength. If anybody wants to go to SOT, pray first, then obey. That’s all.”
She adds, “When you’re studying for exams, doing assignments, pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.”
She shares her own experience. One night she was overwhelmed by her challenges in SOT and everyone in her house was asleep. She remembered a song that her cell group leader had introduced to her, titled “Jesus It Is You”. As she turned on the song and worshipped, the Holy Spirit came and brought her peace.
“By human strength, it cannot be done. Everything must be God.”