(Abridged from Son of a Mother’s Vow, an autobiography by Timothy Tow)

During the years I was away, my Tiong Bahru flat, under the control of the SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust), was shared between my family and the brothers and sisters. There were three rooms for about ten occupants, big and small. With my return, the congestion was increased for we were now a family of six.

I remember how I had sought help from a teacher who taught me at the Anglo-Chinese School and was now a well-known leader of the Progressive Party. I had asked him to use his good offices to apply for another SIT flat on my behalf. The SIT was the precursor of the present Housing and Development Board (HDB). His reply was that there was no chance at all as supply was far short of demand after the war. He told me the applicants were well over fifty thousand. “Even ahmahs, nowadays are applying,” he replied.

Having learned another lesson, that vain is the help of man (Ps. 108:12), I turned to the Lord. Remembering one of my mottos, “Self-help, with God’s help, is the best help” (Phil. 4:13), I gathered the courage to fly over the fifty-thousand queue. I made a direct call to Mr. Carter, manager of the SIT, whose office was a stone throw from the flat where we were staying.

“Sir, I am a minister of the Gospel, just returned from study in the United States. I have a three-room SIT flat, but it is shared between my family with four small children, and my brothers and sisters. We have all together eleven in this flat. Sir, can you help me, please?”

After a pause that seemed ages, the voice said, “Er… come and see me tomorrow afternoon.”

I went to the SIT office the next day promptly at 2 p.m. Crowds of people filled the waiting room, overflowing onto the five-foot way. These were being awarded their flats in order of priority. Some were asking for application forms. Sensing the best time to see the Manager was when all had been dealt with, I sat patiently and prayed. At 4:30 p.m., being last in the queue, I present my card to the receptionist. After a five-minute wait that seemed an eternity, I heard a bell – rrring! I knew that my hour of deliverance had come.

“Come in!”

“Good afternoon, Sir. I am the person who spoke to you on the phone yes-terday. I am the pastor just returned from America…”

No reply. Mr. Carter kept on pushing his pen, pipe in mouth. Then, with a quick glance at me, he said matter-of-factly,

“Come next week for your key.”

“Thank you very much, Sir!” At that I sheepishly bowed out of the Manager’s Office, but my heart throbbed hard and fast! I saw once again the hand of Almighty God and re-consecrated myself to Him.

I was awarded a two-bedroom flat which opened into a large veranda, with a small sitting hall and a small kitchen, at 10A, Kim Pong Road, at the far end of Tiong Bahru. Rent was thirty-six dollars a month. The Lord added, through Deacon C.T. Hsu, a three-cornered shelf measured to fit into the limited space outside the bathroom and toilet unit. How thoughtful! My sister sent in an American-made Leonard refrigerator costing nine hundred dollars. “The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it.” (Prov. 10:22)

We dedicated our little flat for the Lord’s use. The sitting hall with installation of a telephone, a 14-inch typewriter and Gestetner duplicating machine became the Church office for the next eleven years. The touch typing I had acquired before the War qualified me to be the Church typist. A piano partly paid for by Sister simultaneously made the little sitting hall a music studio for Lehia, my first daughter.

Although the Inaugural English Service on October 20, 1950 saw a crowd of a hundred and twenty, the weeks following found the congregation dwindling to half! This is what Church work is like, and that is how God keeps us humble. According to the Chinese Life Church records, only thirty communicants transferred to the English Service together with their children. Our core membership, including children, was between forty and fifty. 

“Economy is the mother of prosperity.” By not easily spending out of Church funds, the young English Church began to accumulate surplus for extended ministries beyond its four walls.

While it is stated that the Life Church English Service was to cater to a rising English-educated generation, the overall mandate to any and every church is what is known as the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). However, I would also call the Great Commission “The First Commandment to the Church”. It would be a great mistake for any pastor to sit in his sheepfold and watch that none stray into another pasture. Such a defensive policy is defeatist. Rather, we should heed the Master’s call to bring in other sheep, those wandering in faraway valleys or on mountain slopes, those who are crying for help. The First Commandment to the Church, as has been proven through the years is evangelism and missions.

Of the early church at Antioch, it is recorded that Barnabas and other leaders “ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:1-2). They were called to leave Antioch and preach the Gospel beyond their city. This was their first missionary journey. This was the pace the Apostles were setting for the Church. The Book of Acts is not only a historical record of the early church, but also a blue-print, an infallible pattern, for Church Growth and missions for all ages. Therefore in obedience to God’s command, we launched out in missions throughout the villages of Malaya.

On the home front, we saw the opening of the Sunday School one month after the inauguration of the church. In succession were formed the Youth Fellowship, then a Bible Camp, the first of its kind to be organised in Singapore. From the beginning, a Prayer Meeting was held in Church every Wednesday night. When Friday night Family Worship was instituted, the Prayer Meeting was shifted to Tuesday, a tradition we have kept to this day. Bible study was conducted at the Government quarters at Hooper Road, where the pastor took them through the Gospel of John.

Church attendance increased slowly but steadily. So did finance and the pastor’s stipend. These beginnings of a young pastor bring to mind that Chinese proverb, “Every beginning is difficult.”