Sonny Chuah

Lost, and Found

Produced by Our Stories, His Glory Team

Sonny Chuah for web 1920x1000

Reading Progress:

“My Christian growth was very gradual. When I was about nine or 10 years old, some friends and I attended Sunday School at Wesley Methodist Church Penang. It was the missionary pastor at Pykett Methodist Primary School who encouraged us to do so. We did not recognise then that it was part of our search in life. But, singing the hymns at both the chapel service and Sunday school brought me a great sense of comfort and peace. However, I did not experience much euphoria after accepting Christ in 1963 in response to an altar call at a Burmah Road Gospel Hall church camp. I did however feel an assurance as I had been searching a few years by then. Once I started working life, I back-slided. It wasn’t just back-sliding. I plunged into a valley of darkness, both at work and on the home front. It was then that I recognised God’s hand. I knew I had to turn to “help” that was beyond human intervention. This marked a turning point in my life as a Christian.”

Sonny Chuah spent his childhood and formative years in a large family in a traditional “kampong” (Malay word for village) house located in Pulau Tikus, Penang. He was one of 10 children, including two elder sisters, a younger brother and six step-siblings, from three mothers in total, the first of whom had died early. His father was a teacher at the Pykett Methodist School in Georgetown, Penang. This school was founded in 1891 by a Canadian Methodist missionary, Rev Benjamin H Balderstone as the Anglo-Chinese School, and later, re-named the Methodist Boys School in the 1950s.

Born in 1948, Sonny attended Pykett Methodist Primary School, which shared its origins with the Methodist Boys School. Sonny’s mother was a homemaker. His father, a primary school teacher supervisor, had married her at Penang’s Wesley Methodist Church, after his first wife died.

Sonny went on to secondary school at Penang Free School, which was a prestigious institution as it only admitted the top 200 students then. There, from Form 2 (the equivalent of Secondary 2 in Singapore) onwards, he was invited by some of his classmates from Burmah Road Gospel Hall, a Brethren church, to join their cell group.

• Sonny holds the Youth Fellowship Shield, that continues to feature the emblem that he had designed during his secondary school days.

Sonny: “I was happy to join this cell group, as I had opportunities to sing and to pray together. The fellowship really drew me in. In those days, we sang choruses. These were actually compilations of choruses from various hymns, and sung like a medley. These choruses were also sung as a ‘contest’, where after one round, someone else must be ready to carry it on. I even stepped up to design the emblem for the Youth Fellowship shield, which incorporated elements of its ministry focus.”

Sonny’s home was just a short walk away from Burmah Road Gospel Hall. It was easy and convenient for Sonny to cycle there, join his friends for worship, fellowship and games, which included tenniquoits (played with a circular rubber ring) and soccer.

• Visiting Burmah Road Gospel Hall 37 years later, in the late 1990s.

“I recall that I experienced much peace worshipping God in those days through singing. It was really through this youth fellowship, or cell group, where I could connect with God. The fire and brimstone sermons by the Irish missionary pastors at Burmah Road Gospel Hall didn’t work for me. A year later, at the end of Form 3, I attended a church camp which included members from different Brethren churches in Taiping, Ipoh and at Jalan Imbi in Kuala Lumpur. It was here that I responded to the evangelistic call, after being prompted by a girl I was interested in, who asked me, ‘when are you accepting Christ?

“I was the only non-Christian in the discussion group. Since I wanted to get closer to the group, I accepted Christ. When I went home to tell my parents I had accepted Christ, it didn’t mean anything to them as they were nominal Christians, even though my dad was a teacher in a Methodist school and was married in a Methodist church. After accepting Christ, I didn’t feel very much euphoria, but had the assurance that now I had found what I had been looking for for many years.”

As Sonny recounted his early years as a young adult, it was clear that someone was always looking out for him. He received timely academic and career advice, and when finances ran tight, doors did not close.

After finishing Form 3 at Penang Free School, Sonny was offered admission to the Arts stream at Form 4 level, as his results were not good enough to qualify him for the Science stream. But as he really wanted to become an engineer, Sonny chose to switch to a technical institute where he earned a technical certificate in the City & Guilds Examination.

With this certificate, Sonny started work in 1967 as a blast furnace operator. It was a tough and grinding job as he worked on shifts to melt iron ore into bars and ingots. The blast furnace plant ran around-the-clock with eight-hour shifts. Sonny worked there for almost two years, on a monthly pay of about 150 dollars. Sonny recalls: “I was literally down to just skin and bones working at the blast furnace. It was a really tough job.”

• Sonny worked for almost two years as a blast furnace operator, a very tough and demanding job that reduced him to just skin and bones.

Sonny’s plan then was to work up the ranks, from operator to technician, technical officer and hopefully a Division Three or Four engineer by experience.

However, it happened that a student of his father’s, Mr Khoo Eng Teik, was also working at this same iron mill. After Sonny shared with Mr Khoo his plan, he sat Sonny down and plotted a graph for him. He said: “Why are you wasting your time? It’ll take you about 20 years to achieve engineer status. By then, you may lose your desire.  It’s a really long and slow road that you’re taking.”

This well-meaning colleague advised him to go back to continue studying.

Although resources would be tight, Sonny’s father was agreeable for him to continue his studies. He went to Perth, Western Australia to do his matriculation first, in order to apply for a university course. His sister Pat also helped to support Sonny in Perth, as she was already working as a qualified nurse in England by then.

• Sonny’s elder sister, Pat (in pink jacket) with Sonny’s wife, Lillian in York. It was Pat who helped to support Sonny’s studies in Australia. Pat passed away in 2018.

After his matriculation, Sonny went on to the University of Western Australia (UWA) for an engineering course. The first year was on general engineering, and for his second year, he chose mechanical engineering. During his time in Perth, he joined the OCF. He had an introduction letter from his Brethren church in Penang to worship at the North Perth Gospel Hall.

However, even before the second academic year at UWA ended, Sonny’s father wrote to him to say that he had run out of funds and was unable to support him anymore. Naturally, Sonny was extremely disappointed when he received this news.

He turned to his guardian, who was a lecturer in the university, for advice. His guardian, who was part of the host family assigned to Sonny upon his arrival in Australia, suggested that he take up a sandwich course in New South Wales. This would allow him to study for six months and work in the industry for six months.

This meant starting afresh, but the downside was geographical separation from Lillian Chee, his steady girlfriend at that time who would later become his wife. He was reluctant to do that. Thankfully, Sonny found a more viable and less costly alternative to going over to the east coast of Australia—switching to the Government-subsidised West Australian Institute of Technology (WAIT) to complete his engineering course in Perth.

At WAIT, Sonny worked very hard to catch up, and it helped too that he could apply the credits from his engineering course at UWA. Funding for this course came again from his sister Pat, as well as from members of Overseas Christian Fellowship (OCF), which he had joined soon after arriving in Australia. He also worked part-time throughout his studies, taking on all types of jobs, including cutting Christmas trees and as a railway porter. He even went up to Port Hedland to work in the mines, where the pay was very good.

After two years, Sonny earned an associate degree in engineering from WAIT. He could have earned a full degree, but this would have meant studying an additional year. He was unable to do this because of limited finances. Nonetheless, he was admitted into the Institution of Engineers Australia, the professional engineering body. This accorded Sonny his Professional Engineer status, something that he had been aiming towards for a long time.

Sonny returned to Singapore in 1972, and with the help of Lillian’s father, got a job with the  multinational air-conditioning company, Carrier, in Kuala Lumpur. By then, Lillian had been back in Singapore for six months after she qualified as a doctor in Perth. Sonny and Lillian got married a few years later in May 1976.

• Sonny with Lillian at her graduation from medical school in 1972.

Sonny’s career with Carrier took off rapidly. He was on the fast track. After just three years with the Kuala Lumpur office, Sonny volunteered to be posted to Jakarta, Indonesia to be the Technical Advisor for the office there. He knew then that an overseas posting would help to accelerate his climb up the corporate ladder. Sonny made the rank of Manager by 1980.

After his Indonesian assignment, Sonny returned to Singapore in 1978. While Lillian’s parents attended Wesley Methodist Church (WMC), Sonny and Lillian instead chose to join some of his friends from Penang living in the Sembawang Hills Drive area at a home church in Soochow Gardens. There was little teaching in this ‘church’ as it relied on peer leadership. The focus was more on fellowship and friendship. They attended this ‘church’ for two years, after which, they were in the wilderness and ‘churchless’ till 1983.

Sadly, both Lillian and Sonny drifted further from God over these few years. Sonny’s priority and focus was on his career. He craved success and status, and he was drawn to the glitter of high living. Being in sales also required him to spend many nights out entertaining. By then, Sonny and Lillian had two young children—Bryan who was born in 1978, and Cheryl, in 1981.

Sonny said: “I was chasing the rainbow. I knew I was doing well, especially when my boss invited me to attend a Young Presidents Organisation (YPO) meeting. The YPO is an American-based worldwide leadership community of chief executives under the age of 45. I was excited because a YPO membership would really elevate my status!”

It was all about succeeding in the marketplace and in society. Sonny spent more time at work and entertaining clients than he did at home. Inevitably, things got so bad that their marriage was on the rocks. Things came to a head, and by end-1982, with a major work crisis looming, Sonny asked himself: “Is this the lifestyle I want to head towards? By then, I recognised that God had a hand in navigating me through my work crisis. I realised that I had shunted God out of my life. I was chasing the things of the world, because all I wanted was to be successful. But I ended up trying to tackle problems on all fronts.”

The work crisis that Sonny faced had all the workings of a TV drama. There was back-stabbing, politicking, betrayal and power jostling. Sonny recounted: “It was a really tough time for me. I had problems both at work and at home. I cried to the Lord for help. God was really giving me a good shake-up and telling me to wake up. But through it all, now that I look back, it was clear that God never let go of His reins of control. At work, from a human perspective, it had seemed that I was losing the battle. Yet, quite unexpectedly, my regional big boss helped make it right. He orchestrated it so that overnight, I was transferred out of the local Singapore office, where things were becoming very toxic, to take on a senior regional role. God truly made the impossible possible!

“This situation gave me the chance to repent and restart my life, especially seeing how I had also messed up on the home front. God told me ‘Come back; you’ve drifted long enough.” I realised: what’s the point of gaining the whole world and all its pleasures, but losing my soul?

Sonny and Lillian knew that they were both lost. In 1983, with the job promotion, and recognising God’s hand of grace and mercy both at work and at home, they turned back to God. They joined WMC soon after and realised the importance of true Christian fellowship. Some of the members they met at church also happened to live around their home in the Pemimpin area.

• Good friend and mentor, Liau Nyuk Siong who set an impeccable example as a faithful follower of Christ for Sonny and many others during his lifetime. Nyuk Siong passed away in 2008.

Sonny shared: “One of these persons was Liau Nyuk Siong1 whose home was at Clover Close, right behind ours. Nyuk Siong invited me to join their Pemimpin Small Group, which was one of the eight small groups started by the pastor-in-charge at that time, Rev Dr Isaac Lim, and his wife Shirley. This marked the start of a very precious and special friendship—I looked up to Nyuk Siong not just as a friend, but as a mentor as well. He was one person who was always so fervent for the Lord and was obedient till the end. We always knew where we stood with Nyuk Siong—a yes meant a yes, and a no meant a no. He was always very focused on what he wanted to do, and how he wanted the team to work. He was always so keen on pulling me along, whether it was to serve on the church camp organising committee, for the Gideons’2 ministry or to get me trained as a small group leader. He recognised that if we had gifts to be used, he would push us into different roles. It was also most likely Nyuk Siong who worked to nominate me to be a member of the Local Church Executive Committee (LCEC) at Wesley.”

Lillian added: “As Sonny had mentioned, we were going through a rough patch at home. Initially I didn’t even want to go along with Sonny to Nyuk Siong’s small group. After a while, I began to see a real change in Sonny for the better. And this convinced me to finally join in.”

Being a part of Pemimpin Small Group contributed very much to Sonny’s journey of discipleship. There was much sharing of personal experiences and encounters. He especially appreciated the practical aspects of Christian living. Sonny said: “We talked about family life and church life, and the small group also ignited my passion for missions.”

Subsequently, Sonny left Pemimpin to lead Jervois, another small group.

• Members of Jervois Small Group meeting in Sonny and Lillian’s home.

As a result of his work travels around the Asia Pacific, Sonny saw first-hand the many needs of the people in the countries he visited.

“I saw the big gap between the haves and have-nots. Those who were poor were desperately so and when my relationship with the Lord got serious again after Lillian and I joined WMC, I was very much led to do what I can in the area of missions,” said Sonny.

• Sonny saw first hand the plight of the impoverished in countries like the Philippines and Indonesia.

Time spent in the Philippines helped me to better understand the plight of the domestic helpers who leave their families behind to work in countries like Singapore. I could empathise with their sacrificial choice to work as domestic helpers outside their country in order to ensure their families’ well-being. I think in turn, this is what motivated someone like Reggie Nebalasca, a Filipino who was working in Singapore as an electronics engineer, to give it all up to attend Trinity Theological College so that he would be better equipped to meet the spiritual needs of his countrymen. After graduating, he returned to the Philippines where he pastors a church and is also involved in children’s work. I am inspired by the sacrifice he made for the sake of the gospel. We have also visited Reggie since then, to help share the good news with his flock. Through this, it has really reaffirmed the urgent need for us to go into all the world to seek out the least, the lost and the last.”

• Reggie Nebalasca (in pink top) praying with Sonny over the villagers during one of the Singaporeans’ visit.

• In Sukaramai, a Chinese ghetto district within Medan city in Sumatra, Indonesia.

One particular ministry that Sonny has also been drawn to these past few years is the Exodus Ministry in Medan, Sumatra. Part of X-Pact, a mission organisation started by Singaporeans to fulfill the Great Commission, Exodus is a ministry based in Sukaramai, a Chinese ghetto district within Medan city. It runs programmes for children, youth and adults, and also awards scholarships to children in need.

• (Top & Bottom) Sonny and other church members have been regularly visiting the impoverished area of Sukaramai, a Chinese ghetto in Medan city since 2016.

This ministry is based in a very impoverished area in Medan city, where the housing conditions are dilapidated, with piles of rubbish everywhere. The people of Sukaramai are very poor and can hardly make ends meet. Sonny has been making regular mission trips to Sukaramai since 2016.  He says: “This is a ministry that I feel I can make a difference in, primarily because the local Exodus team, made up of mainly working adults, also speak Hokkien, which is the main dialect that I am fluent in. What they do has really touched my heart, and every time we visit, I look forward very much to the house visits, Christmas outreach and fellowship with the local team members there.”

Sonny’s work in outreach was not just limited to outside of Singapore. God continued to have plans for him. It is clear that nothing has happened by chance, as God in His wisdom opened new doors for him. “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9. 

After his journey in the “wilderness”, Sonny reconnected with Liew Kee Kok, a long-time WMC member and then National Director of Singapore Youth for Christ. Kee Kok used to visit Penang during Sonny’s student days.

• Mr Liew Kee Kok, who passed away in Sept 2000, set up Golden Years Eldercare, as he was a passionate and committed advocate of caring for seniors.
• Sonny with clients of Golden Years Eldercare around 2009.

Kee Kok shared the need for eldercare in our community. Sonny rolled up his sleeves and joined Kee Kok to help set up the Golden Years Eldercare Centre in Hougang Central. After Kee Kok passed away, Sonny continued in this meaningful ministry with Wely, Kee Kok’s widow, as well as Mr and Mrs Foo Chee Min and other churches. This Centre eventually came under the auspices of St Luke’s Eldercare, after Sonny initiated this tripartite alliance, bringing together the Centre, WMC and St Luke’s Eldercare3. Sonny shares: “New opportunities opened up to us with this tripartite agreement. We befriended the elderly in the ministry, and it’s been really such a blessing to see the work that we started through our centre at Hougang Central grow under St Luke’s Eldercare.”

In listening to Sonny’s story, including his single-minded and headlong drive towards pursuing success and the things of the world during his corporate days, skidding into crisis while trying to live life on his own terms and being less than lukewarm in his relationship with God, it is to God’s glory that Sonny today strives to live life God’s way, including a close to 20-year commitment to facilitating DISCIPLE4 classes.

In the Singapore Methodist community, DISCIPLE was more readily adopted by the Chinese Annual Conference (CAC), as it was already translated into Chinese. For CAC churches, most Bible resources at that time were in English while DISCIPLE in Chinese was a ready and excellent resource. CAC then championed and introduced DISCIPLE to Malaysia, Taiwan and Hong Kong as well.

A systematic process of Bible study, DISCIPLE was first introduced to Wesley Methodist Church in 1998 by Ms Queenie Kou, Pastoral Team Member of Christian Education. Queenie then approached Rev Lilian Ang to lead a DISCIPLE 1 class in 2001. Lilian was very passionate about discipleship and agreed immediately, and subsequently went on to be a trainer for the different DISCIPLE modules.

In the year 2000, Rev Stanley Chua, then a young pastor with WMC, was invited to the Executive Committee (ExCo) of the DISCIPLE Agency at the General Conference of the Methodist Church in Singapore. A year later, Stanley was sent to Nashville, Tennessee, USA to be trained as a DISCIPLE trainer over four days. For the English-speaking Methodist Churches in the Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC), Stanley said: “There was always a ready buffet of available Bible study resources for TRAC churches. I was however keen on a programme that would lead a person to study the Bible from cover to cover and DISCIPLE ticked the boxes. After returning from my training in the US, as Small Group pastor, I then scouted around for Small Group members who would help me multiply the impact of DISCIPLE at Wesley. I then approached and chose 14 persons, each of whom I knew had good facilitating skills, which are essential to leading a DISCIPLE class. I said to them, ‘If you complete DISCIPLE 1 (D1) with me, then you will each lead D1 with others the following year to multiply the effort. If you fulfill this, then I promise to lead you for D2.’ However, this last promise fell through as I was appointed to Ang Mo Kio Methodist Church (AMKMC) at the end of 2002 and was not able to commit to a full year of D2. To make up, I did a short four weeks’ course with this group on Personal Holiness in 2004 at AMKMC.”

• Sonny (standing, extreme left) was one of the church members chosen by Pastor Stanley Chua (3rd from right, seated) in 2001 to help multiply the impact of DISCIPLE at Wesley Methodist Church.

Sonny Chuah, then chairperson of the Small Group Ministry, was among this group trained by Stanley. The group also included other church members like Henson Lim, Philip Oh, Alan Samuel, Raymond Teo, Jeffrey Chan, Freddie Yap, Lucas Chow, Ron Tan, Michael Lee and Chua Chi Siong.

Sonny has fulfilled the commitment to Stanley’s call, and he has been faithfully facilitating the different DISCIPLE modules since 2004. He said: “As we grow older, we become more forgetful. While some seniors play mahjong, others play sudoku, chess and bridge, to keep their brain cells stimulated, I’ve found it very refreshing to read the Word again and again for it to really sink into my head and heart. Through these many years facilitating the various DISCIPLE modules, including with my Small Group, I’ve had new revelations from God’s Divine Word, as it becomes relevant at different stages of my life.

• Sonny (right, top row, standing) with the DISCIPLE 2 class of 2019. He has been faithfully facilitating DISCPLE modules since 2004, and in the process, has found it continuously transformational with new revelations from God, and sharing from each participant.

“Learning through DISCIPLE is two-fold: you learn as a participant, and as a facilitator. This is transformational, and this is the very reason I continue to facilitate. There are participants who attend DISCIPLE for the sake of knowledge, and there are those who come searching. Nonetheless, I hear what God speaks to each participant, and each time, their sharing is such a blessing because every person’s walk with the Lord and how the Holy Spirit prompts them is different. I inevitably discover new jewels from participants.

“One other great thing that’s come out of facilitating DISCIPLE class is that my circle of friends has widened. This has been most beneficial since my circle of contacts shrank after retiring. There are opportunities to get to know a brother or sister more deeply, and to be able to walk with them, often one-on-one on their spiritual journey. I am grateful for this new community, where we are able to share and care for one another.”

Stanley had this to say about Sonny: “Sonny was the chairman of the Small Group Ministry when I was first appointed to Wesley as a pastor. Over the five years at Wesley, we developed a lot of trust and knew where my heart was. We had a great working relationship, and when I returned to Wesley in August 2016, and then as pastor-in-charge a few months, it was easy for me to work with Sonny, who was by then chair of the LCEC.”

Sonny believes that it is in showing genuine love that others will be drawn to Christ. He recalls going on a crisis relief mission trip. There, in the earthquake-affected area, they met a pastor who was very much drawn to the villagers whose lives had been shattered by this calamity. The majority of the villagers were of another faith, and although they were initially suspicious, they were touched by this pastor’s authentic love and care.

Sonny observed: “God’s Word and His love are compelling. While it was too risky to profess their faith openly in the area we visited, we learnt that many Christians would study His Word at the feet of Jesus in the privacy of their homes. This pastor whom we met on this crisis relief trip had suffered his fair share of loss, but that did not stop him from loving those affected. Today, I continue to support this brother who has been faithful in such challenging circumstances.”

A true disciple indeed!

Sonny retired in 2013, and since then, he says that he’s been living life on a 5G Mode – God, “Girlfriend”, Grandkids, Golf, Garden.

• Sonny has always loved gardening, and today, spends much time tending to the many plants in his home garden.

Just as he has been a faithful and diligent advocate for God’s Word through facilitating DISCIPLE, sharing and caring for others through outreach, Sonny maintains a very balanced lifestyle, devoting himself to wife, home, children and five grandchildren, with weekly golf sessions.

And gardening? Sonny shares: “I’ve always loved gardening. I grew up in a “kampong” house, and my father was known as the “king of cactus” in Penang. I wanted people to be able to appreciate our green environment, especially since we already live in a concrete jungle.

• Sonny (in blue shirt) comes together with other volunteers of the gardening ministry to tend to the many plants in the church premises.

 “The idea of Creation Care, a greater consciousness of how we use our resources to care for our environment and to promote better appreciation of nature, led me to start a gardening group. A few of us now come together three times a week, in teams, to tend to the plants in our church. The discipline to care for God’s creation comes across strongly in Genesis 2:15.‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’ Indeed, it’s my privilege to be able to tend and care for the place where I worship the Lord. With our shared love for nature and God’s creation, our group also organises fellowship trips to Johor Baru to visit farms.”

“I am also thankful for the opportunity to help redesign the landscape at the Lutheran Church at Duke’s Road and the gardens at St Luke’s Residences in Ang Mo Kio.”

• Sonny (right), and Lillian (2nd from left, standing), with their children, Bryan (left, standing), Cheryl (3rd from right), their children and pets.

It has been quite a journey.

Sonny, the career man who strived for success. “The lures and temptations of climbing the corporate ladder will always be there if you’re ambitious. Yes, you can be ambitious, but as one senior public servant said: ‘You wait upon the Lord to put you into position where you can still hold on to your Christian values’. So don’t be compromised.”

Sonny, disciple and lover of God’s Word, husband, father, grandfather. “Are we relying too much on the church to bring up our children in God’s way? Are we supplementing and complementing God’s Word and teaching at home? It’s so important to build that strong foundation outside and inside the home, and be constantly reminded of God’s faithfulness. Why not share God’s Word with our grandchildren through song? After all, they have no problem remembering the lyrics of today’s songs!

Sonny, friend, mentor, encourager. “What I went through in 1983 constantly reminds me that if we turn back to Him, He will turn back to us. His mercies endure forever and this is the promise we must cling on to. We need to be always prepared.”

Looking back on how God has led him to where he is now in life, Sonny holds firmly to God’s promises in Proverbs 3:5–6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”

End notes:

1 Liau Nyuk Siong’s story He Guards My Heart was published on pages 137–146 in the first edition of Our Stories, His Glory in 2005. Nyuk Siong passed away in July 2008.

2 Gideons International is a body of believers dedicated to making the Word of God available to everyone and to bring souls to Christ. More information at

3 St Luke’s Eldercare delivers a full range of integrated services and programmes for the elderly across 24 senior care and rehabilitation centres located islandwide, three active ageing hubs, an active ageing centre and a nursing home. More information at

4 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.

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