Thursday, March 5, 2015

In Memory of Chua How Chuang

TITLE: In Memory of Chua How Chuang
SCRIPTURE: 2 Corinthians 12:9
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: March 5th, 2015

"9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." (2 Cor 12:9)

Dr Chua How Chuang
Today is a day of much grief. Dr CHUA How Chuang went home to the Lord this morning. He is survived by Kaori and his three year old daughter Airi. He was a fellow Regent alum, who recently returned to Singapore from Hokkaido Japan as a missionary-teacher on behalf of OMF (Overseas Missionary Fellowship). After completing his PhD from Trinity, he was back in Vancouver for a visit. I met him for coffee and it was a really enriching time of sharing and caring. Though he was a scholar-theologian, and I was then a student at Regent, I could sense his gift in pastoral care emanating from his warm tone. We chatted like friends even though we had not seen each other for ages. The last time I saw him was way back in Varsity days. He was a VCF Staffworker then and spoke regularly at various Christian Fellowship events. I knew him then as someone who can speak and articulate biblical truths well. He was a well respected figure at Regent, and I remembered hearing about him being one of Dr J.I Packer's best Teaching Assistants. He was one of those students from Singapore who had held the Singapore flag up high in terms of research quality and academic excellence. How Chuang's thesis was based on the Puritan, Richard Baxter, entitled: "Christ, atonement, and evangelism in the theology of Richard Baxter." Not surprising as Dr Packer is an ardent reader of Anglicanism and Puritans.

A) Cancer: The Beginning of the End

In June 2014, he went for a four hour surgery to remove a tumor in the intestine. That was the start of a long journey of pain and endurance. It was also a time in which he shared some of the most profound reflections on suffering, pain, faith, trust, and love. He was a servant before cancer. He maintained a serving spirit during cancer. Through the difficult moments of chemotherapy, he shared his journey with friends and friends responded in droves. People were praying for him and the whole family day and night. This spoke volumes about the many lives God had used him to impact and touch. Moreover, he did not simply ask for prayer. He continued to minister in his pain. In "Healing and Heaven," he wrote:

"Over the last two months, as I was recovering and preparing for chemotherapy, something began to well deep within me: a longing to be with Jesus. I started thinking about heaven more and more."

When I read that, I cannot help but compare his work with that of the 14th Century English anchoress, Julian of Norwich who is most well-known for her classic, Showings or in some publications, Revelations of Love. It is about Julian's overwhelming desire to be with Christ that she longed for heaven, even if it means suffering, that she may see Christ more. Julian writes:
"But at this time I was very sorry and reluctant to die, not because there was anything on earth that I wanted to live for, nor because I feared anything, for I trusted in God, but because I wanted to live so as to love God better and for longer, so that through the grace of longer life I might know and love God better in the bliss of heaven." (Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, trans. Elizabeth Spearing, London, UK: Penguin, 1998, p2) 

How Chuang asked: "Indeed when a loved one or we ourselves fall critically ill, our immediate reaction is to pray for healing. I wonder if that reaction does not reflect an unconscious love for the things of this world than of things above."

As a Regent alum, I completely understood that. For Regent College too was founded on a history of struggle. In fact, Regent College began with a tragedy. Before the first class in 1970 even began, half the class perished. On the weekend before the start of the school term, two died in a car accident. During my time at Regent, I heard news about students committing suicide, broken marriages, and tragic accidents. We also lost a well-loved theology professor. Out of the crucible of pain and loss, students were constantly reminded about the cost of discipleship, and not to take grieving too lightly. How Chuang personified the spirit of Regent by learning to look beyond the cares of this world to the world beyond. In doing so, he was urging us to do the same.

B) Final Days: Approaching a New Beginning

As his physical condition weakened, his ministry of the Word did not. Instead, through electronic means like Facebook, he continued to encourage friends and loved ones about faith and God. He started sharing more about the past, his baptism more than 40 years ago at Changi Point; celebrating his 19th Anniversary with Kaori and sweet Airi's birthday. After surgery and after hearing news that his cancer had spread, How Chuang continued to maintain a wise balance between hoping for healing and trusting for God's better plan. His words reflected Julian of Norwich's famous "All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well" chorus. He wrote:

"The diagnosis is advanced (stage 4) cancer, with three doctors describing the condition respectively as "very challenging," "hard to treat," and "incurable." Of course, it is the Master Physician who has the final say. At the moment, He is simply saying, "Trust Me." This is a severe trial that the Lord has ordained for us. But all will be well. Either I will be ushered into Jesus' glorious presence, or I will be pruned for a more fruitful life and service on earth. Whichever way, it will be for our greater good and His greater glory." (August 29th, 2014)

It was a stark contrast between the world's "try harder" versus a disciple's trust posture. Somehow, How Chuang knew his time on earth will be short. Yet, with every word and breath, he continued to point people to Jesus instead of burying himself in search for earthly cures. He kept both eyes open, one to caring for people and loved ones on earth; and the other fixated on heaven. By September 2014, the chemotherapy started to cause painful results. It also caused anxious moments. It brought about frequent reflections on other suffering saints like Joni Eareckson. By October 2014, his doctor left it completely to How Chuang to decide whether to continue or to totally stop the treatment. Time was no longer on his side. With odds stacked against him, he knew in his heart that God was always bigger than his cancer. Even though he appreciated much prayers for healing, he was more concerned about how to glorify God during good times, bad times, and painful treatments. His faith was however growing to a new level. With incredible insight, in his article on November 2014, he shared about how sickness itself could become a form of witness.
"Because of sin, the whole creation is made to suffer decay, and groans for deliverance as in labour pains (Rom 8:20-22). On the flip side, sickness also provides an opportunity to witness to the sufficiency of divine grace for us despite the sad reality of suffering in this world (2 Cor 12:9). The grace of God makes all the difference between the way a believer and a non-believer goes through sickness." (Chua How Chuang, Sickness as Witness, Nov 9th, 2014)

How Chuang loved his family, and Airi brought a special joy to his heart. As January 2015 beckoned, he started doting more on Airi, finding much strength in giving thanks to God for such a lovely gift of a daughter. By February 2015, How Chuang needed others to help him post updates on his behalf. I sensed the time was near. The last two Facebook posting were posted by his brothers who were with him through his final moments. Within 24 hours, he went home to be with the Lord.

C) A Rare Gem of a Fellow Ministry Servant
The world is already short of ministry workers. How Chuang was that rare gem of a ministry worker, one who loved both Singapore and Japan. One who carried theological depth in his thinking and pastoral warmth in his caring. As far as witness and outreach is concerned, the Christian world has lost a valuable partner in Christ. News of his passing brought grief. I felt despair setting in. I even lost my appetite. There were moments in which I was tempted to ask why. Then I thought about How Chuang relying on God's strength in spite of his weakness. I thought about him focusing on caring for the things of God instead of non-stop seeking for curing from the resources of this world. I thought about how he felt leaving Kaori and Airi behind. It took great pains for him to have to go through his last days like that. Something must have powered his faith to see beyond the mountain of struggle. Something must have taught him to look up and not be bogged down by this world. Something must have showed him that there is a better world waiting for him. Behind it all was Someone constantly watching, praying, and comforting.

There will be rejoicing in heaven. There will be a voice that say: "Well done! Good and faithful servant!" There will be powerful images of heaven parting the clouds to receive him. There will be pretty signs welcoming him into the glory of the One he had loved and served with all his heart: Jesus Christ. In the meantime, his teachings continue to be used by God. I hear his reminders to us to seek the Healer more than the healing; to seek the Giver more than the gifts; to let the TRUSTING be louder than the trying. I learn lots from him in life. Even in death, he will continue to be an influence. How Chuang's life has exemplified the words of Steve Green's song, Find us Faithful.
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
Brother How Chuang. You have done your part. May we all now do our part. We will miss you but we will see you again. For this is not a goodbye. It is see you later.

THOUGHT: "In other words, it is possible for a person to experience a miraculous cure from an illness and yet remain unhealed of the diseases of the heart (e.g. Hezekiah in Isaiah 39)." (Chua How Chuang from "Healing and Shalom")

Dr Conrade Yap

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  1. We are saddened to hear the news of How Chuang's passing, and miss him and Kaori very much since their days at Trinity and at our local church NSCCC in Deerfield, IL. Kaori, we send our deep condolences to you and Airi, as we grieve with you during this time. May God hold you tightly in His arms and bring you comfort... We miss you very much, but some day, we shall see you on the other side, How Chuang!! With much love, Peter & Lily

  2. My wife lost her appetite on learning of How Chuang's passing. Rest in Peace my friend.
    Daniel & Tue Eng

  3. He was my TA when I did Systematic Theology at Regent....I had returned to Regent after an ill fated pregnancy and he gave me a copy of all of his own notes for the course I needed to catch up on and was simply humble, encouraging and kind as I picked up the pieces of my life again...He was extraordinary, calm and kind...I work as a Hospice Chaplain in Richmond BC and I see people dying with cancer every week but I cried to read of his death and pray for his widow and daughter and am thankful to have been touched by this simply wonderful person....Joy Rudder.

  4. A very sad story indeed. Our loving God still remembers what he did in this world and the trust he put in Him. Hope to see him again when the trumpet shall sound.