APRIL, MIRI – At the end of last month, my wife and I were in Sibu for Qing Ming. During our stay, we invited our friend, Pastor Jabez Tiong Huong Ong, for dinner. Since his posting to Sibu two years ago, Pastor Jabez has been busy and was not able to meet up for fellowship. I was glad to arrange for three of his former congregation members to join us too.
My family and I have known Pastor Jabez since he was first posted to Senadin Methodist Christian Gospel Centre (SMCGC), now known as Senadin Methodist Preaching Centre (SMPC). That was in 2011 when the young, enthusiastic pastor was still a bachelor taking charge of the Preaching Centre. The congregation of about 70 members, mostly non-Mirian under-graduates, were from nearby Curtin University. Pastor Jabez also served as an Assistant Pastor at Grace Methodist Church for the next few years.
I attended Pastor Jabez’s wedding in Bintulu when he married his sweetheart Siew Ling, a pharmacist, in September 2011. My friendship with Pastor Jabez was initially on a collaborative platform. To do an activity outside Bible studies, I initiated my Small Group to serve chicken soup twice a year to the SMPC members before every semester examination from 2010-2017.
The chicken soup, affectionately called the Love Soup, is traditionally served in Chinese families. The nourishing soup is known to enhance mental alertness and energy in preparation for exams. Over the years, as my Small Group matured in spiritual life, becoming more thankful knowing that it was more blessed to give rather than receive, we also witnessed the amazing growth in SMPC led by the good shepherd.
The batches of members came and went as the years passed by. Encouraged by their caring pastor, the members took up Red Book Disciple Class and even joined local short-term missions. In 2014, Pastor Jabez and I joined Pastor Ling Biu and his 31-member team to Pa’ Adang, a small Penan settlement five hours’ drive from Lawas. Being first-timers to Pa’ Adang, our eyes opened to another dimension of God’s beauty and grace. I appreciated Pastor Jabez more from a ‘front-row seat’ view, knowing that physical prowess is not his forte yet he persevered carrying timber planks daily under the hot sun from the store to the construction site without a single voice of complaint. Likewise, all the team workers – from doctor to kitchen helper, worked tirelessly to glorify God.
The Pa’ Adang episode reminded me of the psalmist David when he said (Ps 23) God refreshed him with ‘green pastures’ and ‘quiet waters’ (vv. 2-3). He gave him guidance, protection, and comfort (vv. 3-4). David concluded: ‘Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life’ (v. 6).
Because of his good people skills, Pastor Jabez got along well with the young adults like an elder brother. His ability to listen, communicate and relate to others on a personal or spiritual level made him a very approachable pastor. His pulpit preaching was relevant and often anecdotal, and therefore it was not surprising that his congregation grew to near 200 members during his tenure as pastor-in-charge. The premises of SMPC had to be extended to another shop lot unit. His pastoring was firm but friendly. He encouraged members to prioritize their objectives, and also made it a rule to intending couples to seek counsel with him before entering into a biblical courtship.
I’m going to live a Thanks-Living life this year. Maybe you would like to as well? We have many reasons to thank God for; your family, your friends, your pastors, your health, your talents – the list goes on.
For starters, I thank God for sending Pastor Jabez to my life. I pray goodness and love of God will follow him all the days of his life.
Rev Jabez Tiong Huong Ong is the Pastor-in-charge of Sibu Wesley Methodist Church since 2018. He graduated from National Taiwan Normal University in Educational Psychological and Counseling degree. Following that, Pastor Jabez attended Asbury Theological Seminary, USA, obtaining Master of Divinity and MA in Counseling degrees.
Pastor Jabez is married to Siew Ling. They have two young sons. He also has an identical twin brother, Wesley, who resides in Bintulu. Pastor Jabez likes reading.
by James TC Wong