Philip Oh

A Prodigal Son

Produced by Our Stories, His Glory Team


Reading Progress:

Generational blessings were laid in place through Philip Oh’s paternal grandmother Mdm Tan Siew Nai. She was counted as one of the pioneers of the Baptist movement in northern Malaya, in the earlier part of the 20th century. Mdm Tan chaired one of the preaching bands of China evangelist John Sung, who visited Penang several times, as the great evangelical revival was taking place in China in the 1930s. She also kept a room for him and other visiting Chinese pastors at her home. Philip was born into this Baptist Christian family, as his father was a founding member and worship leader of Georgetown Baptist Church. Together with his four siblings, they were driven to church every Sunday by their father in his tiny car. Yet, after Philip was sent away to England for boarding school when he was 16, church became irrelevant and God did not feature in his life at all. He recalls: “Looking back on my 23 years in England, God was unimportant. Yes, I had to attend the mandatory chapel daily in my Methodist boarding school in Cambridge, but [I] remember more the fooling around rather than what the Chaplain droned on about. I probably attended Sunday church services a handful of times over these 20 odd years.” God was not on Philip’s radar very much, but Philip was most certainly always on God’s radar, as his Heavenly Father watched over him, in His plan to draw him back.

By all accounts, Philip Oh, who celebrates his 70th birthday in 2024, grew up in a comfortable and privileged environment. He was the fourth of five children, with an eldest sister seven years senior to him, followed by two elder brothers and one younger one. They were all raised in their family home—a large bungalow with a big garden, a huge Great Dane and two domestic helpers in College Avenue, Pulau Tikus in Penang. Their father, a medical practitioner, Dr Oh Lock Meng was often away for most of the week. He would leave their home before dawn on Monday to see to his duties as a senior medical officer for the state of Perak, and would not return home till the following Saturday night. 

Every Sunday, Dr Oh would drive the entire family to attend services at Georgetown Baptist Church, with his five children squashed in his tiny car. Philip recalls those distant days: “All of us had to be dressed and ready to go by a certain time every Sunday morning. Mother would be dressed in an elegant cheong sam (Cantonese for a traditional Chinese dress with a high Mandarin collar). We children first attended Sunday school, and when we were older, we went to the main services. In those days, overseas missionary pastors delivered the sermons. The pulpit sermons were usually very much of fire and brimstone typical of the Southern Baptist Convention1 then. Initially I was frightened, but after they were repeated 99 times, the messages seemed less real, and the impact wore away. Often we were distracted by our sarong kebaya-clad maternal grandmother who sat in the pew right in front of us. We noticed that she always said her “Amen” a whole three seconds after everyone else did!

• Dr and Mrs Oh Lock Meng.

• Georgetown Baptist Church, circa 1960s.

“After church, our father would frequently take us to Sin Hai Keng, a beachside restaurant where we would enjoy a great Sunday lunch of satay and inchi kabin, a Nyonya-styled fried chicken dish.”

Young Philip was sickly during his growing up years. He had asthma and was not allowed to go running around the garden. He could only sit by to watch his brothers and cousins play, or he would go to the back of the house to watch the servants cook. Despite these health issues, Philip had a happy upbringing. He admits  he was not very academic – he had to work doubly hard in order to ‘mug’ for his school and university exams, and his chartered accountancy qualification. 

• Young Philip (standing, 2nd from right) with his parents (seated in the centre) and siblings in an early family shot.

Philip’s eldest brother had already gone on to England for further studies, and in 1969, 16-year-old Philip was sent over to The Leys School, a boarding school in Cambridge. This move was also partly in response to the May 1969 race riots that had erupted in Malaya following the general elections. His two other brothers followed soon after whilst their eldest sister stayed on in Malaya to attend Teachers Training College before becoming a teacher. 

Landing for the very first time in England marked the start of a new adventure for Philip. His mother’s younger sister who was living in London at that time helped settle him into The Leys School, which was set up by the Methodist Conference in 1875 for sons of Methodist lay members. 

While he got up to all sorts of antics and even played around during daily chapel, Philip also had to find ways to survive and thrive in a boarding school environment, where he was often bullied and called a “chink” (derogatory term for a Chinese person). He adopted a mindset to work harder and do better than his peers; he became a prefect and played hard too in his chosen sports of rugby and judo. Philip said: “As I look back, I recognise that these were formative years. It was very much an adventure. Academically, it was tough thoughI barely passed my ‘A’ levels, and only just managed to get into university.”

Years later, as Philip reflected on his early years as a young adult in England in his journaling for the Companions in Christ2 spiritual formation programme, this verse resonated with him: Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it (Genesis 28:16).  He saw that God was present and guiding him throughout his seven decades, whether or not he was aware of it.

He looked back and wondered: “Even though I didn’t care very much about God, He was always at work in my life. My father sent me to a Methodist boarding school in England. We had to attend daily chapel, and I remember the Chaplain, Reverend Bolt, droning on. We infrequently paid attention; we just wanted to fool around and got up to mischief, like putting a hymnal below another boy as he was standing up, so that he would say ‘ouch’ when he sat back down. Yet many of the hymns I know today, I first heard them being played by my classmate LL Ng, from Ipoh, who was a fantastic pianist and organist at the Leys School Chapel.”

After his ‘A’ Levels, Philip was admitted into Queen Elizabeth College, University of London (today King’s College) to read Management Science. Philip became president of the London University Chinese Society in his third year. At the start of the academic year in October, Philip spotted freshman Lim Choo Hong by the letterbox pigeon holes on campus. 

Philip invited Choo Hong to this New Year dinner and dance, marking their first date.

Choo Hong recalled: “I had no idea who he was. He made a beeline to introduce himself to me and invited me to an event held by the Chinese Society. He seemed like a friendly guy on first impression, and yes, that marked the start of ‘us’. But I must say that one of the most memorable things about Philip were his bell bottoms!”

Philip and Choo Hong tied the knot in 1978 in Penang.

Philip and Choo Hong got married in 1978 in Penang. To Philip’s mother’s dismay, they did not get married in church. Choo Hong and her family were all non-Christians. Yet, many years later, to mark their 30th wedding anniversary, God’s grace and love led both Philip and Choo Hong to reaffirm their marriage covenant at Wesley Methodist Church (WMC) on 25 July 2008 in a special service conducted by Rev Daniel Cornilius Tan. By that time, Choo Hong had accepted the Lord after attending an Alpha course. 

Philip and Choo Hong reaffirmed their marriage covenant at a special service in July 2008, 30 years after they got married.

After getting married in 1978, they returned to live and work in England just as the “Iron Lady”, Margaret Thatcher, came to power as the 20th century’s longest serving British Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. Great Britain was in the grips of double-digit inflation when Philip and Choo Hong settled back in, and the only way to get pay increments was to job-hop every one to one and a half years.

While Philip and Choo Hong set up home in London, and later the home counties (directly surrounding London), they were in a ‘spiritual desert’ as their priority was pursuing their careers and starting a family, with Edward being born in 1983, followed by Alexandra a year later. 

Philip and Choo Hong with young Ed and Alex in England.

Having left home for England at 16 years, it would be 23 years before he returned to live in Asia. Over this period, Philip said: “I must have attended church services about five times. A couple of years before we returned, I was prompted to take my family to the small village church where we were living in Sunninghill, Ascot. As the elements for the Holy Communion were being served, our son, Edward, just seven years old then, exclaimed: ‘The peanuts are coming!’ We were so embarrassed that we slinked out of the church after the service, never to return! 

There were a couple of reasons why we returned to Asia. I had hit the ‘glass ceiling’ in Price Waterhouse Management Consultants in London. I then received a job offer from Coopers & Lybrand Singapore as management consultant. This, plus the wish for our kids, who were becoming very Anglicised by then, to understand their roots in Malaysia and Singapore, led us to Singapore. We landed in Singapore on Christmas Day 1990. We church-hopped for several years, after which, my cousin Lim Cheng Geok (whose mother, my aunt, had so kindly helped settle me into boarding school years before) brought us to WMC. Here, we were comfortable with the worship services, as we found we could just get up and leave after service, without anyone ‘hounding’ us. This suited us perfectly.”

They worshipped ‘comfortably’ at WMC for about four years, coming and going as they pleased. As the years passed, there was however a desire to build a greater sense of belonging. Philip asked about becoming a member: “I was told that I needed to sign up for Baptism & Membership Class (BMC), which I initially was not keen on attending. But later, I recognised that it was a good thing to have gone through the course. I became a member in April 1995.”

Through BMC, Philip re-built his relationship with God, gaining a better understanding of Christianity’s basic beliefs, Methodism and an opportunity to build relationships with other Christians too. Such relationships were found in the many wonderful years of fellowship, learning and caring for one another in the Agape Small Group, formed out of BMC. Philip was nominated to be its leader as the group did “life” together, witnessing weddings and even the arrival of babies. Philip reflects: “Small group ministry brought me much closer to God. My faith deepened, and my relationships with fellow men became even more meaningful. Opportunities to serve in the various ministry leadership roles also prepared me to serve at Wesley and elsewhere. Through all of this, God led me to place my entire trust in Him, His goodness, grace and mercy.” 

Indeed, this season of serving and leading, studying God’s Word and equipping and deepening his faith were all part of God’s plans and purposes for Philip. He was also preparing him (and later Choo Hong) to weather the biggest storm that would engulf their lives in the years to come.

All this while, it would also be safe to assume that Madam Ou Mui Lian, Philip’s no-nonsense mother who had brought her children up very strictly, continued to pray for each of them, consistently and diligently. Philip said: “My mother will be 99 this year (as of 2024), and [she is] still very much lucid. Although she now lives with my brother in Kuala Lumpur, I still see her in her big armchair in her home, with her Bible and reading materials, surrounded by her bookshelves with all her must-read Christian books, just interceding for us.”

Philip and his 93-year old mother celebrating their birthdays in July 2018.

Philip began to take his faith more seriously after becoming a member. He willingly came forward to serve in different leadership and other capacities. He responded to Rev Stanley Chua’s invitation in 2002 to help multiply the impact of DISCIPLE3 through participating in a year-long class led by Stanley. Through his attendance, Philip, together with 13 other persons, were trained up to be DISCIPLE facilitators. 

The DISCIPLE class of 2002 led by Rev Stanley Chua (seated middle), where each person was trained to become a facilitator. Philip is seated on the right.

For Philip, DISCIPLE was pivotal to his spiritual growth: “When Stanley first asked me, I wasn’t sure I could commit to a Monday evening class, and the one hour of study every day. By then, I was a director at Hewlett Packard, which involved a lot of business travel. Yet, I felt strongly that I should do DISCIPLE, so that I could become more serious with God through deeper knowledge of His Word. It actually took me one and a half hours every day to get through the daily homework, instead of one. This deep dive really fed my hunger for the Word, and like exercise, it became easier and easier. It was also very reassuring to know that Stanley never failed to pray for us from 7pm, half hour before every classhe was a really diligent leader. 

“The other hurdle that came up was that every quarter, I needed to attend a global meeting in California, in person. I would fly out on a Sunday night, arrive in the USA on a Sunday afternoon for the meeting to take place from Monday to Wednesday. This meant that I would miss the Monday evening class once a quarter. With very little expectations nonetheless, I put forth a request to my fellow regional directors involved in this global meeting to move the meeting to Wednesday till Friday instead. I told them that it was because of a bible study class I wanted to commit to. They readily agreed and said yes! I have no doubt that it was God’s hand that triggered this support among my global colleagues! My faith grew.”

The DISCIPLE commitment brought Philip through four different one-year modules and subsequently facilitated classes for new participants. And just as Stanley had modelled for each of them, Philip never failed to pray for—and sometimes with—the participants. Subsequently, Philip was invited to join the Board of DISCIPLE Agency at the General Conference level, and then to train facilitators. Philip adds: “God used DISCIPLE to transform me. I learnt to trust God as He put His calling on my life, ahead of my secular motivations to earn more, managing large groups of people, and being seen as successful. These factors faded in significance in the light of what God wanted me to do. This included building lifelong friendships and mentoring and caring for younger followers of Christ. 

DISCIPLE 1 class of 2018. Philip is seated centre in blue jeans, with Dr Peter Goh on his right.

“I realised too that not everyone had to quit their jobs to serve God full-time. It was OK to serve in a secular job and be willing to fund the work of full-time workers. This was impressed on me by Bible teacher and international author Peter Tsukihara in his talk in Shenton Way. This confirmation to continue working in the commercial world marked for me a point where my commitment to serve God as a volunteer intensified as I heard my calling more and more clearly.”

Dr Peter Goh says of Philip: “I responded to a pulpit call by Rev Stanley Chua in 2017, when at the end of DISCIPLE 1, it was affirmed that teaching was my spiritual gift. I then became a co-facilitator with Philip in 2018 and have been facilitating since. I was very impressed with Philip’s style of facilitation, and since then, I have tried my best to emulate this. Philip indeed has been both a blessing and mentor in my journey as a DISCIPLE facilitator.”

Training facilitators for Disciple 4.

Philip’s heart for doing God’s work included serving with ALPHA4 Asia Pacific before becoming its Chief Operations Officer for the region, and soon after, he was part of a group who planted an Anglican church, the Holy Trinity Bukit Bintang5(HTBB) in Kuala Lumpur. He then took on more leadership positions at WMC, including chairing the church’s fast-growing Small Group Ministry (SGM), Lay Personnel Committee and the Local Church Executive Committee (LCEC). Over the past few years, Philip has taken time to slow down through the spiritual formation course Companions in Christ2.

Philip, who was then Chief Operating Officer of Alpha Asia Pacific, interviewing Nicky and Pippa Gumbel at Holy Trinity Bukit Bintang.

The Alpha Asia Pacific team on retreat in England in 2015.

Choo Hong and Philip at HTBB in Kuala Lumpur.

And in between these years, he left his position as Regional Director for customer operations of Hewlett Packard in 2009, after being with them for 14 years. 

Through this entire season, God came through for Philip in many different ways. He used Philip’s strengths, sense of structure and ethos of hard work to build up his self-esteem through DISCIPLE. He helped Philip persevere through often challenging situations in Kuala Lumpur as he sought to recruit and establish the ALPHA senior management team there, and lead him to be part of the team of labourers to set up a church in the middle of Kuala Lumpur city.  

A gathering of Small Group Ministry leaders around 2010.  Rev Ivan Tan, pastor in charge of the Ministry is seated centre in grey shirt; Philip is on his right, and David Mok on Philip’s right. Alex Lai is in the third row, standing, centre with blue shirt.

Philip has also journeyed with many others at WMC including Alex Lai, former chair of SGM, who says: “I tell people before I make any major decisions, I will consult three persons—God, my wife and Philip. He is always willing and ready to listen, and slow to speak as I share my struggles and challenges. He has been a wonderful mentor and brother-in-Christ, and I know I can always count on him for godly counsel. And even when we have opposing views, his demeanour is gentle, humble and selfless—a true servant of God.”

LCEC Chairperson, Philip, sporting enough to be dunked into a water barrel at one of the church’s major outreach events, Christmas at the Fort.

David Mok, who has also been serving as a co-leader, shared: “It was Philip who started prayer sessions before LCEC meetings. He always puts God first in steering these meetings, recognising that they are not ordinary business meetings. There are many aspects of Philip I admirehe never shies away from difficult problems, addressing them doggedly but always gently; he cares for those he serves with and will check in with each person on their spiritual health and personal wellness. He is very much a people’s person and is well-liked by all of us who have served with him.”

Philip and Choo Hong with Ed (left) and Alex (right).

For Philip, there were challenges that struck very close to home. “Perhaps the greatest miracle prior to this season was Choo Hong coming to Christ. She was not a Christian, and wanted our kids to be brought up open minded in relation to their faith. In my fervour, I pushed Choo Hong to accept Christ. I cajoled, and I blackmailed, but to no avail. But by a certain point, I told God, ‘I’ve done all I can, now it’s over to You, because my wife is not acknowledging You as Lord and Saviour’. I backed off after that. Soon, of her own volition and on her own initiative, maybe quite a few years before I joined ALPHA, she attended ALPHA on her own and then accepted the Lord. Indeed, salvation belongs to the Lord, and my faith and trust in the Lord really grew by leaps and bounds after that.”

In hindsight God was already preparing them for a heart-breaking crisis.

Still, in October 2016, when Philip and Choo Hong found out three months before the birth of their first grandchild Eleanor, or Ellie for short, that she would be born with a multitude of life-threatening medical conditions, they were devastated. Philip said: “I was completely distraught. There was nothing I could do to change the situation, except to implore the Lord for His mercy. I cried to Him – ‘if you afflicted me with cancer or a terminal disease, I would accept, but WHY would You allow Ellie to be inflicted with so many multiple conditions?’ Both Choo Hong and I felt angry and furious, helpless and impotent, especially when it sank into us that there was absolutely nothing we could do to remedy the situation.

“Members of the Island Evangelical Community Church (ECC) in Hong Kong, which our son Ed and daughter-in-law Jackie belong to, rallied together to pray alongside them, including their senior pastor and wife, who embraced our family and provided counsel in this extremely heartbreaking period. Our Wesley fraternities in Singapore, as well as our relatives from all around also came forwardwe really felt the togetherness and support, and it made me truly understand the meaning of a church family.” 

Baby Ellie being dedicated at the Island Evangelical Community Church with her parents Jackie and Ed.

Ed and Jackie’s small group came daily to their apartment until Ellie’s birth to pray with them. Right after Ellie was delivered via a Caesarean section, she had an immediate operation on her spine and was warded in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for one and a half years. 

Ellie turned seven years old in 2023. She is not able to walk or speak as we know it and communicates largely through facial expressions. After being in the ICU for such an extended period after birth, she had to be taught to swallow, breathe, move her limbs. One funny story is that while most of her food has to be blended, she is able to hold a charsiew bao (barbecued pork bun) which she would ‘devour’ in double quick time! 

Kenneth Eng, long-time close family friend of Philip and Choo Hong, talks about his journey with the Ohs as they coped with this devastating development from the outset. He shares: “I remember the first time Philip sat me down to explain Ellie’s condition and the long-term implications. When he got to the part on how everyone in his family was taking it, it was so painful it broke my heart. 

“Yet what really helped me up was the strength I saw in Philip. He remained steadfast, and instead of being hurt and disappointed with God, I saw him working as hard as ever for God’s kingdom and His glory. In the weeks and months that followed, my wife and I would pray daily for Ellie, as we checked in regularly with Philip and Choo Hong to see how Ellie and her parents were doing. We followed Ellie’s progress closely, her many surgeries, moving back and forth between the wards to the ICU and back, shuttles to and from the hospital. We received many photos of Elliewith and without tubes sticking out of her tiny body, and would rejoice when we saw her smiling, hugging her teddy bear. We met Ellie in person when she was 16 months old. We made a trip to Hong Kong during a very cold season, but our hearts were warmed just watching little Ellie resting comfortably in bed, and (we were) confident that God is in control.”

Ellie has been in and out of the operating theatre (OT) more than 31 times since she was born, and of course, as many times, subjected to general anaesthesia. Philip and Choo Hong would often be there to greet her as she was wheeled out of the OT in her blue gown. Philip said: “As soon as she catches sight of us, she will have a huge smile on her face. She is always so happy and joyful. We’d like to claim in faith that one of God’s purposes is for Ellie to be an encouragement, to lift up our countenance. She never complains, and she is always smiling and lovable. I am inspired and encouraged by both Ed and Jackie who remain strong and rooted in their faith. It has been really, really tough for them. Yet we have learnt to accept and trust God for what is to come. We praise Him for the difficult situations we encounter, and consider it part of our faith journey.”

Based on one aspect of the CORDS Discipleship Model6 introduced by WMC a few years ago, Philip sees Ellie’s arrival in their lives as a Significant Circumstance, a defining moment that has brought great joy as well as deep pain. This significant circumstance has helped each member of his family see more clearly His matchless love for Ellie and each of them. 

Philip draws inspiration from what God said to Abram in Genesis 12 that “all peoples will be blessed through you” (verse 3). “I am thankful and grateful for the work of my forebears, including my maternal grandmother, parents, uncles and aunts. I have been the beneficiary of generation blessings (Deuteronomy 7:9) and pray that this will also hold true for my children, grandchildren and those who come after them. I have lived a life brimming full of God’s blessings and providence. I look back and marvel at His goodness, grace, providence and mercy.”

In 2020, Philip took time out as a DISCIPLE facilitator and trainer to focus on the continuing development of his spiritual disciplines. He embarked on a Companions in Christ (CIC) course with a few other couples, to open themselves up to God’s presence and guidance, exploring classic spiritual practices such as prayer, Scripture, Examen, fasting and spiritual companionship. In the following year, he co-facilitated a CIC course for LCEC members and their spouses. “CIC was meaningful to me because it reminded me to be more prayerful in my leadership, and to be more accepting of decisions that did not go according to my intentions.,” recounted Philip.

Currently, Philip oversees and coordinates the Bible Reading Drive (BRD) for the church. This involves encouraging and managing a large pool of volunteers to share their reflections on assigned Scripture passages almost daily through the year. The other key leadership role that Philip has undertaken is chairing the Pastor Parish Relationship Committee that looks after the welfare of much loved pastors. As of this year, WMC has nine pastors. 

He adds: “I am very aware that I am not in control of my years. Still, I would find it a privilege to serve in any way that the Lord calls. Close to my heart at this present time is mentoring about six younger leaders who I journey with. As a retiree, I have all the time God has given me! I would also love to spend more time with God’s gift of our three precious granddaughters: Ellie and her younger five-year-old sister Maddie, and Alexandra’s daughter, four-year-old Micaela. 

Philip credits Choo Hong, his beloved wife of 45 years, especially for her strong support during their days of ‘wilderness’ in England, followed by their return to Singapore in 1990. “God has brought us through a journey of highs and lows, and even though we’ve had our times of disagreement, I treasure her steadfast and unwavering support and look forward to journeying together for the rest of our lives, until God calls us home.” 

A four-generation family shot; Choo Hong and Philip with their children, spouses and grandchildren. Choo Hong’s mother is seated second from left, and Philip’s mother is seated on the right. Ellie is in pink on her mother’s lap, while Philip is carrying Maddie. Micaela, in fuchsia is on her mother’s lap on the left.

Philip looks to finish well and be a blessing to others because he has been blessed. Genesis 28:16 resonates more deeply with him today, “Surely the Lord is in this place, I was not aware of it”, as he now is more aware that the Lord has ALWAYS been with him, even when he had no time for Him in his younger years. As we live our lives here on earth, Philip believes all the more that we are not to hoard our blessings but to use them—whether finances, talents or resources—for His kingdom work, and for His glory. 

End Notes:

1 Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Baptist group in the United States. Its roots can be traced back to the American colonies in the 17th century. Although it was initially set up by Southern Baptists because they disagreed with anti-slavery attitudes of Northern Baptists, by the late 20th century, it has become one of the most ethnically diverse Protestant denominations in North America. Today there are more than 50,000 Southern Baptist churches worldwide with the goal of impacting the whole world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

2 Companions in Christ (CIC) is one of the most versatile and comprehensive series available in the area of spiritual formation, drawing on the full breadth of the Christian tradition. Believers who participate will be led to the fullness of God’s love in new and profoundly transformative  ways. The programme comprises 28 weeks of regular sessions, with exercises that will involve Scripture reading, spiritual practice, reflection questions and journaling. CIC comes under the purview of the Disciple Agency of The Methodist Church in Singapore. 

3 DISCIPLE: This four phase Bible Study programme aims to help a believer grow from infancy to the maturity of being a disciple. Each phase takes a year to complete, over 30 or more sessions. It was first introduced at Wesley Methodist Church in 1998 and continues to run today. 

4 ALPHA Asia Pacific is part of Alpha International, a charity that provides resources for the Alpha evangelistic course, which today has reached millions around the world and has been translated in over 100 languages. 

5 Holy Trinity Bukit Bintang is an Anglican Church set up in 2014 in the Diocese of West Malaysia. The church premises are located on top of the Lot 10 Shopping Centre in the Bukit Bintang area and sees over 2,000 worshippers every week over multiple services.

6 WMC introduced the CORDS Discipleship Model a few years ago as a way to bind every member closer to God. CORDS is an acronym for Significant Circumstances, Scriptural Obedience, Spiritual Relationship, Spiritual Disciplines and Sacrificial Service. The full write-up on CORDS may be found at:

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