Leow Kim Liat

A Servant by Default

Produced by Our Stories, His Glory Team


Reading Progress:

Leow Kim Liat started off with a lackadaisical attitude towards Church. Yet, through the years, through circumstances, through well-meaning brothers and sisters-in-Christ, God has nudged him slowly but surely into different areas of service. Given his diverse portfolio over the past 40-odd years, it is hard to believe that he had started off reluctant to serve. In his self-deprecating way, Kim Liat calls himself the “default guy” as ministry roles were thrust upon him and he has also taken on jobs that others have arrowed him into. Those who have served with him attest to his faithfulness, generosity and big-heartedness. He lives by faith principles and has grown in the roles he hesitantly moved into, egged on by co-volunteers who impressed him with their devotion and steadfastness.

Leow Kim Liat grew up in a home of what he called free-thinkers. Even so, as a mark of respect to his grandmother who was still living with them then, Kim Liat’s father told his children that they should not rock the boat and do things like convert to another religion while they were under the same roof. As the youngest of three sons, Kim Liat’s father feared doing things differently that could give fuel to the other families to stir up trouble.

Kim Liat attended St. Andrews School. While in Primary 5, he and other students memorised Bible verses to win bookmarks (something special during those days). Kim Liat shared: “I would recite Bible verses, day in and day out. Of these verses, John 3:16 moved me the most, after the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross dawned on me. I asked myself, ‘Who would die for me?’ I then started out on a quest to find out more about Jesus Christ.”

Everyday with Jesus was Kim Liat’s devotional resource—this helped to set the foundation for his quest. This foundation was further strengthened through coming together with his secondary school classmates every Friday to sing praises to God.

Before starting university, a friend recommended him to work at a company. He found the work fun and the benefits enticing. Afterwards, not getting into the course of his choice in a university, he opted for a correspondence course with a London university.

In 1970, as Kim Liat completed Year One of his course and was about to take the examination, he was offered something too good to pass up. The American company he was working for—Island Woods International—offered him to take charge of their office in Taiwan, as the manager there had to return to Canada. He remembers:

“It was a job that was too good to pass up, so I stayed at it. Being paid over a thousand dollars monthly in the 1970s was no mean deal, and with credit cards to spend, charged to the company, and travel allowances thrown in, I was content with my career thus far as financial security was a priority for me at this stage of my life. When my company offered to pay me what a graduate with an Honours degree would be paid in the job market, I knew I was wanted.”

Kim Liat has this to say about the smooth sailing way in which his life was panning out: “God planned it all.” In 1975, he married Sng Chor Heah, whom he had met when she went to St. Andrews School for her A-levels. Chor Heah worked as Assistant Corporate Secretary for the multinational corporation Jardine Matheson. Their son Jonathan was born in 1980. Doreen Lim, wife of Dr Lim Lean Huat, brought the family to Wesley Methodist Church (WMC).

Chor Heah and Doreen prayed earnestly for Kim Liat’s baptism. Chor Heah herself has traits much like her husband: she moved around churches helping others. She was in WMC’s ladies Bible Study class and the Floral Fellowship ministry. She ‘migrated’ to Kampong Kapor Methodist Church (KKMC) to help with their floral ministry as her friends there needed help. She was also in Faith Methodist Church (FMC) to help a friend form the choir when Isaac Lim was the pastor in charge (PIC). After some years, she returned to WMC, continuing her studies in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). She is currently following Precept courses, and occasionally accompanies her sisters to Bible Study classes at the Chapel of Resurrection, which was led by the wife of the late Canon James Wong when it first started. Kim Liat and Chor Heah are, no doubt, of the same ilk!

Kim Liat’s attitude to church was lackadaisical. He would drop Chor Heah and Jonathan off at church when he started to attend Sunday School. As he was still not convicted, he attended only Good Friday and Christmas services. In 1985, Kim Liat was finally baptised. Yet he continued to feel disengaged and had little desire to serve. One day in 1986, Wong Tien Poh, someone Kim Liat knew from his business, asked him to serve together as an usher.

He said: “Tien Poh was a timber dealer, and I bought from him. So I reluctantly agreed, but with the condition that it’s only for a year. When the year was up, I went to Tien Poh to return the badge. He retorted, ‘Service to God is forever’. I was startled, and it was then I knew I had to stay on. I learnt to love God—He inspired and prompted me through the sermons to not give up. And now, I continue to serve as an usher at the 11.30am traditional service, more than 40 years later!”

⁠Handing out stickers to congregants

Kim Liat confesses to be an introvert, preferring behind-the-scenes work, leaving others to be in the limelight. So how did he end up in the Local Church Executive Committee (LCEC), WMC’s leadership committee?

It took Kim Liat three years before he finally agreed to join the LCEC, after being first prompted by the Rev David C S Wee. Joining the LCEC was a good way to know what was happening in the various ministries of the church, and to see where his giftings lay.

My gifting lies in hospitality and giving, which to me are one and the same.” Opportunities came forth for Kim Liat to apply these giftings.

Around 1990, Kim Liat stepped in to lead a small group, whose leader went on sabbatical leave. “For continuity of the group, I took over. However, this was not without trepidation.  As the leader, I would need to do things like lead Bible study and arrange for speakers. I was not equipped to be a preacher nor was I a leader.”

The number of members in this small group had fallen to about eight to 10 persons, down from a 20 to 30-strong membership. To save it from further fizzling out, Kim Liat merged it with another small group (SG).

Kim Liat reminisces: “God provided me with a house, which had a third floor that I dedicated for use by our SG. Every second and fourth Friday, 20-30 members would meet here, and would stay on often past midnight—such is the tightness of the group! It wasn’t a long way out to the door, but members often took some time to leave—there were long goodbyes!”

Prayer is the other area of ministry that Kim Liat has availed himself to, both of his time and what he has been blessed with. Every Monday, he opens his office premises to a group of friends, some of whom are retired, to pray. This office is conducive, as Kim Liat recognises: “It is a safe and secure prayer spot where one can be transparent about things we don’t want others to know about. There are always people in need, and prayer keeps me attuned to these needs, on my toes and in check.” This is the reason why Kim Liat is also a faithful prayer partner at the weekly Wesley Synchronized Prayer (WSP) on Wednesdays.

Skillsets gleaned from his many years of doing business have been applied in serving in church. Kim Liat was Chairperson of Christian Outreach and Social Concerns (COSC) from 2000 to 2005. During this time, he oversaw a ministry with 13 sub-ministries:“Convincing people to do business with you is no different from helping COSC staff and even sub-ministry heads see eye to eye. I believe in this simple philosophy: let everyone on board see your vision—the bigger picture—and then you will be able to share your goals with all. I simply taught all to agree to disagree.”

He acknowledges that everyone wants to implement their own ideas, some without knowing the scope of, say, a project, but he feels he needs to let people share the light he sees to achieve a common understanding. “There are many ways to skin a cat” is the analogy Kim Liat believes in to settle the common occurrence of differences in opinion and vision.

While serving in COSC, Kim Liat remembers going for his first prayer walk. Walk he did, in the Chin Swee area, and it opened his eyes to the poverty he says many are not aware exists in Singapore. He was awakened to the many needs in the residents there as well as in the other areas that COSC volunteers visit. The same feelings he has for people with needs, he witnessed in the Ministry for the Hearing-impaired (MHI). He recalls how strange it was when he attended his first MHI gathering. “No one was speaking and all I could see was the hearing-impaired communicating with hand gestures and some accompanying sounds.”

Another ministry Kim Liat has been associated with is Crisis Relief Wesley (CRW) since 2000. He was very much involved in this ministry, as COSC Chairperson and later on as a lay leader and then committee member. He learnt how the committee worked: what they do and how they decide on which disaster area to help in (through prayer and prudence). He has a lot of respect for those who serve here. “The volunteers are very passionate as they have to take annual leave or no pay leave from their job and often in a very impromptu way, because when a decision is made to go, or pending approvals from the authorities, etc. it has to be quick”.

Rosalia Mahendran, the then Pastoral Team Member (PTM) of COSC who has known Kim Liat since 2000 through his different areas of involvement in COSC, has this to say about Kim Liat:

“Kim Liat loves the Lord, His people and has compassion for the poor and needy and the marginalized. Kim Liat values relationships within the ministry, the partners in the ministry internally and externally and also the people that we are serving. He will make time to meet people, to address matters related in ministry. He is present in ministry. He prays for the ministry. He is present in meetings with volunteers or with the community leaders and gatherings. He encourages us to set time for prayer for ministry. He invites church people/volunteers to his house for a meal with him and his wife; his house is a big part of his ministry. He arranges meetings in the club that he is a member of, for us to have a good meal and a good conversation. He brings people together, he facilitates the forming of community. In his conduct and posture, he is kind, gentle, peaceable and committed. He sets a good example of love and commitment to God and others. 

“When he took over as Chairperson, he pulled people to work together in spite of their coming from different ministries . He finds a common denominator that can bring us together as a body in COSC. He calls regular meetings so we can interact, do life together, pray and share about the ministry. It fosters relationships, understanding and appreciation of one another. We are more united. He supports each ministry differently. For example, in CRW, he will take time to send and meet the CRW relief team in the airport and support them in prayer while they are on trips. He helped birth new ministries like the outreach in Jalan Berseh, the SAC in Kelantan Road, etc. CRW, the group that could well have been birthed by Christina Stanley when Melvin Huang was PIC, was managed and nurtured by Kim Liat as he grew into his Chairperson role. That’s how he does things.

“There is much respect and appreciation for his dedication to God and his service. Many are blessed by his passion and sacrificial service.”

⁠Kim Liat(2nd from left) with COSC volunteers and staff

Pastors at WMC too came under Kim Liat’s care when he became Chairperson of the Parish-Pastor Relations Committee (PPRC). Here, to ensure the well-being of pastors and to ensure a safe and happy environment for them, Kim Liat instituted a buddy system. Each pastor was assigned a buddy who would care for the pastors in personal ways, like giving birthday treats and arranging for a night out for the pastor and wife on their anniversary without the kids.

⁠Kim Liat and Chor Heah with his pastor buddy David and his wife Margaret

In 1975, we bought over the Singapore office of the American company I have been working for. I got married in the same year. Finances were divided between the twin tasks of getting a family home and getting the business established.

I was ambitious and bought over two partners in the 1990s. The financial crisis hit me first in 1998. One of the two bankers financing me chased up a company loan. But in the same visit, she told me about being born again. What happened next took me by surprise: not only did she not press me about the loan but she waived all management charges! If this was not God’s angel, what (or should I say “who”) was it?

“In another instance, another bank I had another loan with had a new manager who visited me in my office. He knew I was in a sticky financial situation and told me he was applying for a bigger overdraft life for me! Again, if that’s not God sending me an angel, I don’t know what it was!

“As a result of these two altercations, my business turned around. In a year, the 30% staff salaries which I cut to fend off the recession, I managed to return every cent and even reinstated their salaries.”

On reflection, Kim Liat adds: “God gave me the confidence to be patient and not be anxious, and to be able to say “God, I trust you” amid the storms. The Lord has sent His angels to pull me out of problems and challenges I’ve faced. Once at the Wednesday Prayer Service, a friend asked why I was absorbed in answering messages on my phone in the midst of praying. I confided in him about my financial problems then, and it included having to sell my office space. I was not getting a good price, and I wished that someone I knew would benefit by buying it instead of going through an agent.

“Imagine my surprise when this friend and his wife decided to buy it, and even told me that I could stay on rent-free for a year. If this was not God looking after me, I don’t know what it was! But of course, I refused his very generous offer and said I will move out once the sale was completed.

“This is not all. Once, I was having lunch with a close friend and his wife. They were not believers, but because he studied at ACS and his mother studied at MGS, the whole family sort of understood things about Christianity. The mother always said during meals with them that if I didn’t say grace, they wouldn’t start to eat. This friend was renovating his house and I suggested that he create an office in their house so I could take over his HDB office lease. He refused flat out!

“But next morning he called me to say his wife told him during the night that a friend in need is a friend indeed. So he suggested that I take over his office lease which was low in rental and just right for me as I was downsizing my office and needed to cut costs and all. To me, this was not a coincidence—God certainly had a hand in it all.

“When I downsized my life in 2013, I was still richly blessed in that at least I had a house and an office to sell! I sold my landed house, and moved into a condominium to pay off debts. I also took on a smaller office. From a staff strength of 14, I had only six, and currently, one, with still three staff in the Indonesian office. I had to do things in the office I didn’t need to do before like doing my own email, creating files, answering phone calls, etc., but it was all right. I took it in the right stride. There were blessings aplenty; I had peace, a beautiful family, and a happy life.”  

Like most stalwart Christians, Kim Liat holds dear friends and co-volunteers with whom he has travelled the journey of faith and discipleship.

He remembers fondly Lim Lean Huat and Doreen as instrumental in his Christian walk. This couple prayed daily for both Kim Liat and Chor Heah when they were facing a threatened miscarriage with Jonathan. Kim Liat calls their dedication “pure love”. It was also Lean Huat and Doreen who persuaded Kim Liat to learn to swim again after a scary experience in the waters of Penang. 

Doreen was the one who encouraged Kim Liat to get baptised, and she was the one who brought him to join Brian Cummins’ Fellowship 7 Bible study group started by Isaac Lim in the early 1980s.

The young Kim Liat and other like-minded members of WMC formed what Brian called his “Singaporean support team”. They were an indispensable part of his stint as Director of Administration & Finance for the World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF). In Brian’s words, “Without these special people it is hard to imagine how we could have managed an ongoing ministry over these past 20 years.”  (http://ubdavid.org.bible/cummins.html)1 

⁠Brian Cummins(front row, 3rd from right)with the Singaporean support team

Other couples significant in his life were Isaac and Shirley Lim, Melvin and Gerda Huang, whom Kim Liat remembers as those who helped and protected him.

Dorothy Wong, a close friend, and whose late husband Tien Poh was close to Kim Liat, speaks fondly of their friendship:   

“Tien Poh, after having worked as General Manager of General Lumbers for a number of years, decided to buy over the Singapore company when the management decided to move its operations elsewhere. It must have been at this time that Kim Liat, who owned an import export company in the timber business, purchased timber from Tien Poh. Their friendship spanned over 37 or so years. As for me, I only came to be a good friend of Kim Liat when he was active in Wesley after being roped in by Tien Poh to be an usher in 1986. After church, the group of fast friends—Doris and Peter Chow, Kim Liat and Chor Heah, and Tien Poh and I— used to have lunch together.  

“As an usher of the 11.30am service, he very often invited the ushers for elaborate meals in his lovely home and I was included. Chor Heah was the perfect host. Besides being treated at his home, Kim Liat and Heah (as we would call her) would occasionally visit us at our home and invite us out to sumptuous meals at his many private clubs. That’s how generous he was.

“Tien Poh was the overall head usher for many, many years till he passed the baton to Lie Siauw Hong; hence, his encounters with Kim Liat would be at least once a week on Sundays. That’s how often they met. The involvement in church was intense for these two gentlemen.

“As for myself, I was involved in COSC which Kim Liat chaired between 2000 and 2005.  Whenever there was a COSC event, he would be present. Our friendship developed as our paths crossed at COSC events. Whichever post he held, I found Kim Liat to be always approachable, honest and very dedicated as a volunteer.

⁠⁠⁠Hosting a birthday party for a church friend

“Those who know Kim Liat know his passion for peddling the packets of beef rendang at Wesley’s Food Fair—not a cheap thing to buy, but his friends bought them anyway! He is usually asked to sell off the fair’s coupons, often a large target, coming back with tens of thousands of dollars in sales—such is his passion to help out”

Kwok Sian Yee, who was Administrative Team Member of COSC, met Kim Liat 23 years ago:

“I encountered Kim Liat when he was serving in the Wesley HomeJoy Branch Committee (a requirement for the partnership with Methodist Welfare Services). When Christina Stanley stepped down as Chair, Kim Liat took over. I was attending the COSC meetings regularly to report on the work of Wesley HomeJoy and, subsequently, Wesley Seniors Activity Centre (WSAC). What I ‘got’ working with Kim Liat is definitely a friendship that is based on respect and mutual support—and Christian love. He is a very caring person and really looked out for me so that I had the freedom to perform my role in the ministry. He always remained on top of what was happening, and we would have early morning coffee meetings. He very rarely missed meetings, so that shows his commitment and dedication. He never micro-managed which indicates his trust in my abilities.

“He is a great people and has no airs about him. He treated staff and volunteers well and spent a lot of time on the ground with grassroots leaders as well as people we were in partnerships with.

“Kim Liat serves with passion: as COSC Chairman, he ensured that there is support for TRAC’s BOSC (Board of Social Concerns) and will lead by example to attend events organised by BOSC.

“I think I learnt as much from him about being diligent and hardworking as I did on how to work with others by forging authentic relationships. He was always cheerful and there was laughter at our meetings. He is very generous—he sets the tone each year by giving COSC sub-ministries food fair coupons which we used to bless our various beneficiaries.”

Kim Liat played rugby seriously when he was about 12 or 13, from Secondary One. He even represented his school in the under-15 team. He was talent-spotted for the national team at Pre-U Two but had to give this up as he had to take his ‘A’ level examination.

In NS, he was Captain of the Police Force rugby team. In 1972, he became the first National Captain of the Singapore National Rugby Team—a salute to his passion and love of the game, which he continues to follow today into the wee hours of the morning, watching matches played around the world.

⁠⁠⁠A young Kim Liat, the rugby player

As for books, being a busy businessman, he picks up books to read, not study, on trips. He recommends books that Methodists need to read, such as The Way to Heaven: The Gospel According to John Wesley by Steve Harper, a must-read as it is as much a book on John Wesley and his ideas as it is a book on how to get to heaven, from grace to salvation.  Another is The Burning Heart, John Wesley: Evangelist, by Arthur Skevington Wood. He thinks these two books are essential for believers who profess to be followers of Methodism. As for hymns, Kim Liat likes You are the Seed and As the Deer, the latter possibly for the image of who it is we should desire. 

Kim Liat is still working actively. “I need to be actively charged, to still be able to trade, communicate and solve problems,” he says. 

They are also kept busy with their grandchildren. They have two grandsons: Euan, seven, and Kellan, two, and Mondays and Tuesdays are reserved for them!

Kim Liat, Chor Heah and their grandsons

Is there anything he still needs to do for church? We can’t tell now, but we know that if there is a gap in some ministry to be filled, Kim Liat or Mr Nice Guy may hesitate for a while, but will eventually take it on, because one of his faith principles—believing that everything else will follow once things are set aside to serve God—will kick in. Kim Liat adds: “I also believe that as we serve, we are also being ministered to. I have received more than what I have put in, and I am ever thankful to our Lord for His goodness in my life.”

So we wish this stalwart servant of God, this self-professed simpleton,  a fulfilling road of service ahead, as he faithfully heeds our Lord’s call and as he is being led by his ever so faithful Shepherd.

End notes:

1 This is the newsletter of David + Jonathan, Inc., a Bible-based correspondence ministry for children and young people.

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