Journey of Rekindling My Faith – Through Tribulation, Repentance and God’s Healing

Penang Church  | Brother Lee Ting Zhou |Audio

 

 

In the name of Lord Jesus, I bear testimony. I would like to take this opportunity to share with people who have yet to believe as well as my dear brethren about the wonderful grace and miracles of God that happened in my life during the years 2018 to 2020. This testimony is split into three chapters, with each happening over the timeline of a year.

  1. God’s Trial – Fell into temptations of the world, and encountered multiple trials and punishments in the year 2018.
  2. Reflection and Repentance – Started to reflect on what I had done wrong and set off onto a journey to seek my faith in the year 2019.
  3. God’s Blessing and Protection – Sustained trials while still holding onto my trust and faith in Jesus. Received blessings and protection from God in the year 2020.

 

Chapter 1: God’s Trial

Grew up With Abundance of God’s Blessing

I grew up in the True Jesus Church at Sungai Petani. Even though I didn’t grow up in a perfect family, through God’s grace and constant help from church members and relatives, I was able to attend church services and Religious Education classes, complete my youth theological course and finally further my studies in Kuala Lumpur.

Based on my family’s financial situation, I’d never expected myself to have had the opportunity to further my studies. The fact that I was able to complete my studies with adequate financial support is already a great miracle. My graduation coincided with the 2008 – 2009 global recession. By God’s grace, I even managed to secure a job within a month after my graduation. I told myself that I had to work hard, and at the same time, I vowed to God to give me five years and after that, I would return to serve him wholeheartedly.

 

Me at 9-year-old, wearing a blue shirt in the middle (TJC Sungai Petani, 1995)

Me at 9-year-old, wearing a blue shirt in the middle (TJC Sungai Petani, 1995)

Living a Worldly Life, Not Prioritising God

Entering the year 2018, I remained as busy as always and was overwhelmed with work to the extent that I could barely spend time in church other than that one hour of Sabbath service. I knew my vow was long overdue, but I just could not resist the many temptations of the world, and the busy life that I had long been used to. The year 2018 was also a major turning point for me as I opened myself up to an opportunity to move out of Malaysia—something that I’d wanted to pursue as a young and energetic man who desired a better living, and a long-term migration plan in mind. However, in June 2018, after thorough consideration, I decided to drop the plan mainly due to family reasons, while the church and my faith still remained as my lower priorities. After dropping my plan, I was stuck with my usual busy work life routine again.

 

Initial Encounter of God’s Trial

Nearing the end of August 2018, I woke up early in the morning for a meeting, and realised that my face was numb but I didn’t pay attention to it. I thought that this was just a side effect of over-exhaustion due to long working hours and I would be fine after a while. But the numbness persisted for a few weeks. Hence, I decided to consult a doctor at the clinic, but the doctor only diagnosed it as a possible side effect of stress from work.

 

Second Encounter of God’s Trial

Towards the end of 2018, with the numbness still persisting, I was hit by another health issue which caused persistent discomfort to my stomach. Nearing the end of November, I was referred by a clinical doctor to a gastroenterologist and an endocrinologist at the hospital. I went through various tests (endoscopy and hormone testing) that yielded negative results. The doctor was unable to find a solid cause from my medical test report, and thus attributed my stomach discomfort to Irritated Bowel Syndrome (IBS). He prescribed some medication for me and set up an appointment for a routine follow-up. I was also advised to slow down at work and take some time off.

Thereafter, my company granted me a month of medical leave in December. During this period of time, I started to maintain a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise. I also prayed to God for peace because the discomfort in my gut and facial numbness had greatly affected my daily life routine and increased my sense of anxiety. In the meantime, I also went for a biannual full-body checkout at a different hospital.

After a month of routine follow-up sessions, the symptoms of discomfort still persisted. The doctor had warned me that IBS was a chronic syndrome that could continue over a long period of time, even up to years. As for my facial numbness, the doctor was unable to detect anything that could be related to its cause even after various blood and hormone stress tests. I was then referred to a neurologist to seek medical advice on this. After performing Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) on my brain, face and neck, the results again did not show any symptoms that could be related to my facial numbness. As I entered into the year 2019, my health condition did not show much improvement.

 

Third Encounter of God’s Trial

After the Chinese New Year celebrations in 2019, I encountered a third health complication—I felt discomfort in my entire pelvic area (from front to back), especially after urination. The pain was persistent, coupled with frequent, urgent and incomplete urination. Symptoms, such as fatigue and toilet hogging, began to have an impact on my lifestyle. The specialist again attributed these to IBS. Due to my weight loss (5 – 6kg) from August 2018 to March 2019, the gastroenterologist suggested that I undergo capsule endoscopy and colonoscopy procedures (on my small and large intestines).

The initial finding from the procedure revealed some scratches on my duodenum but he was still not entirely sure if this was the main cause of my stomach discomfort. However, one thing for sure was that there was no tumour in my intestines. My heart pounded so fast as I’d worried about the scratches. The doctor requested for another endoscopy to be taken so that he could take a closer look at the scratches the next day. As the doctor delivered the report, I was told that after multiple re-attempts of scope at the affected spot, no scratches were found.

At that point of time, I really thanked God for the good news but I was also filled with frustration and doubt because nothing had been found after so many tests, and what was worse, the discomfort still persisted. All I could do was to pray and trust that God had His plan for me, and He would deliver me when the time came.

 

 

Chapter 2: Reflection & Repentance

Seek and You Will Find

As described in Chapter 1, I had decided to give up on my dream of moving out of Malaysia in June 2018. This decision made me ponder and reflect over my life, and what I must do differently to convince myself to stay in Penang, other than reasons related to my family. Through extensive prayer, I knew that there was no other way than to seek God and to trust that He would provide and guide me through.

The first step I took was to realign my priorities, and to prioritise God and the church over everything else. With all the blessings that I have freely received from him all these years, I knew it was time to repay what I had promised God during my graduation. As the Bible mentions in Deut 23:21, when you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin.

 

Open Your Heart to Allow God to Enter

One day in Nov 2018, while I was still suffering from all these bodily discomforts, my aunt called me up to talk about marrying in the Lord (having no knowledge of what I had encountered). In the past, I would usually reject anybody who tried to talk to me about this topic without further consideration. My thought was perhaps similar to how some others would think: “Why do I need the church to help in matchmaking if I have the ability and freedom to find my own partner—be it a church member or someone outside of church?”

Yet this time it was different, God touched me and I was able to open up my heart to listen to her and take my first step towards church matchmaking without any hesitation. Through praying and seeking after God’s will, this very first step has led me on a journey to rekindle my faith that had long been buried under worldly temptations.

 

Pray Consistently and Patiently, God Will Answer

On New Year’s Eve 2018, all the youths in church gathered at a member’s house for a steamboat fellowship. After the feast, we took turns to share about our reflections on 2018 and our resolutions for 2019. When it came to my turn, I shared with them that I’d wished for the church youths to be able to strengthen one another’s faith and to develop a closer bond. Throughout year 2019, interceding for church youth has become a necessity in my daily prayer. Along the course of intercessory prayers throughout 2019, I personally experienced God’s miraculous work on our youth group every single week, and I believe all church members will be able to testify to this.

 

Youth organised a farewell service for Pr Joel Chong in 2019.

Youth organised a farewell service for Pr Joel Chong in 2019.

First youth fellowship of the year 2020

First youth fellowship of the year 2020

 

Chapter 3: God’s blessing & protection

Sustaining God’s Trials

Entering into the year 2020, in spite of the discomfort that was still bothering me on a daily basis, I thank God for guiding me through a journey of rebuilding my faith and bonding with youths. From January to March 2020, I travelled to the United States for work. Based on my past travel experiences on my previous trips I would always have the same concerns as to whether being outstationed for two months would jeopardise my faith, which was what usually happened. This was mainly driven by three factors:

  1. I had to live alone overseas where there were no churches located in close proximity (the nearest was 300km/one way)
  2. There was so much to explore in a land filled with adventure and entertainment
  3. I would be occupied by work

This may appear to be merely a work-cum-leisure trip. However, such a long travel trip had always seemed to me like God’s trial and a battle in my faith. Despite not being able to attend church physically, thank God that I was still able to constantly attend the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday Sabbath service routinely through the Internet. Through Bible reading, prayer, I could really feel God’s guidance and reminders whenever I have the thought of going astray to skip a service. For some reasons, God always used all kinds of ways, whether through people who were close to me or online media to remind me: “Please don’t forget about church service! Please go home and get prepared!” With the wisdom given by God, I was able to discern and draw myself out of the temptation of skipping Sabbath service when I was invited by friends for weekend getaway trips every time.

 

Don’t Be Afraid; Just Believe

Entering the month of March, COVID-19 cases began to soar, giving all Malaysians a wake-up call. However, nobody had paid much attention and took precautions against this epidemic in the US, except people in California, Washington and New York where the government had already issued a state warning. As for Oregon, the state that I was in (located between California and Washington), the COVID-19 cases started to emerge in early March. What’s worse was that one of the first few cases had actually taken place in the county where I was in. The good news was that I was leaving Oregon when COVID-19 emerged; the bad news was that I was travelling to California and was required to stay there for two weeks for another assignment.

The fact that California had been issued a state alert for COVID-19 infection triggered some concerns among my family members and close friends in Malaysia. As a result, I received constant reminders from them to wear a mask, not to shake hands, to wash my hands always and to sanitise myself. However, these reminders couldn’t really be applied in the US because no one had started the practice of wearing masks yet, even the churches in California. Outside of the church, you would be perceived as a strange person or a virus carrier if people were to see you wearing a mask, especially as a Chinese. Worse still, you might even get bullied or beaten up for that.

Although California was in a more critical condition in terms of the epidemic, I decided to leave Oregon for California as I could attend church service there, which I’d always wanted to. Coincidentally, I was visiting during their evangelistic month and I also got to know from a church announcement that there would be an evangelistic tract distribution session on the next day (Sunday), which was a week before the gospel night event. After praying on Saturday night and various considerations such as the COVID-19 situation, I still decided to join in with the flyer distribution.

On Sunday morning, it was fairly cold and windy due to the winter season. I arrived at church and there were about 10 members who were already gathered there for the activity. We were divided into two groups (around five people in each) and I was told that we would be distributing flyers near the outdoor farmer markets. I was assigned to the group at the Chinese farmer market, since I can speak Chinese well. Even though I was worried about the fact that I had to talk and hand out flyers to Chinese (mostly from China), I still carried out what was assigned to me without hesitation.

 

Testimony_BroLeeTingZhou_Photo05
Testimony_BroLeeTingZhou_Photo04

 

God’s Protection

Two days after the tract distribution, I started to feel slightly unwell. Due to the winter season, I could barely differentiate whether it was due to a cold caught during tract distribution or that I’d actually been so “lucky” to have been infected by COVID-19. This triggered a lot of anxiety within me especially due to the fact that I was alone there. The people who were close to me tried to find ways to comfort me. There were also other youths who showed concern and suggested that I undergo the COVID-19 test. However, I knew I couldn’t simply step into a nearby hospital to request for a COVID-19 test.

Firstly, this virus was still not well-known in the US, hence I might get nowhere asking for a test. Secondly, this is a new virus and no insurance will provide coverage for this, including my employee travel insurance. Thirdly, I had learnt that a single COVID-19 test would cost about USD3500 (RM15k) for local citizens, and it might cost even more for foreigners. I was so nervous and helpless at that time, hence I decided to kneel down to pray.

In that prayer, I told God: “I’d only wanted to preach your gospel, even though a virus is spreading, these people should still have this chance to know about your gospel, especially during this period of time”. I sought His protection and asked God to cure and comfort me. During my prayer, what continuously surfaced in my mind was, “Don’t be afraid; just believe”, and I was touched in my prayer.

After the prayer, I contacted the travel agency, requested to make changes to my return flight to Malaysia and managed to bring forward my return date by 10 days (so that I would be flying off in a week’s time). As I’d changed my departure date prior to approval from my company, this would require me to pay for additional penalty fees. My new return flight route would be US→ Qatar→ Penang, with 8 hours of layover in Qatar where a transit hotel would be provided nearby Qatar Airport. It was the only flight option I had since all Asian transit points had been banned by my company due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

On the subsequent days after the prayer, I gradually got well to the extent that I didn’t really feel the discomfort that I used to have in my stomach, pelvis and urination anymore. Immediately, I knew it was God who has relieved my pain and I knew that truly He is the one true God and He has always been by my side despite so many trials. As the Bible mentions in Exodus 15:26, “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you.”

Throughout the week before I departed for Malaysia, more COVID-19 cases emerged across the US and the number of reported cases had increased by 10 times in just one week. The epidemic started to garner more attention and caused panic. Despite knowing that God would protect me (as He already did), I still felt nervous and wanted to get home as soon as possible. On the day before departure, I had the chance to visit the church in Pacifica. Although I was visiting during a time when people were on the alert due to the COVID-19 situation, I was still welcomed by the youth to join in at a dinner fellowship at a member’s house. I was glad and thankful to God for having had this opportunity to share with the youths a little about my testimony too.

On the day of departure, I had held hopes of finally being able to go home. Unfortunately, I was hit with a massive disappointment when my flight from the US to Qatar was cancelled at the last minute (during boarding time) due to aircraft technical issues. I was so upset to the point where I asked God: “I just want to go home but why has my journey become so challenging?” At the same time, I also thanked God that the airline was able to detect the issue right before the departure, because who knows what the technical issue could have led to?

In the meantime, I still had to follow the airline protocol to go back to the check-in counter to reschedule my flight. I was able to secure another flight the next day with route US→Qatar→KL→Penang and a shorter transit time (reduced from 8hrs to 1.5hrs). Because of the cancellation, I was stuck in the US airport for an additional few hours, and the next day, I had to check-in again. Hence, I presumed that my risk of getting infected had proportionally increased because of the flight cancellation.

 

Aircraft facing a technical issue (dented nose)

Aircraft facing a technical issue (dented nose)

The next day, I was awoken by a message from my colleague informing me that he was stuck in Qatar airport. He had taken the same flight route but he was on a different flight from a different location in the US, and we were supposed to meet at Qatar airport. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Qatar authorities had blocked their immigration entrance and exit and suspended the water dispensers at the airport. As a result, he was unable to commute to the nearby transit hotel and was forced to layover in the airport for 8 hours. This translated to a higher risk of exposure to the virus.

When I first heard about this bad news, I immediately knelt down to pray for God’s forgiveness, for now, I clearly understood the reason why He had to make my trip back home such a challenging process. After all, His plan was to protect me, not to harm me. As the Bible records in Isaiah 55:8–9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Many a time, we tend to view things from our own perspective, act on our own understanding, and assume that God would acknowledge and bless us. However, when a situation doesn’t seem to favour us, we start to complain and murmur against God. We struggle to see God’s way and God’s will. When such things happen, have we ever asked ourselves if we have truly put our trust in God and believe that God’s way is always higher than ours?

 

God’s Blessing

After almost 40 hours of transit, I was finally back in Penang. As per the regulations, I was required to quarantine myself at home for 14 days. Today is officially the 20th day, and I’ve remained healthy, as I knew that He would protect me, and most importantly, I’d been able to personally experience how God had turned multiple trials into miracles. A two-month trip that I initially thought would jeopardise my faith had turned into a fruitful tree that bore continuous miracles and kept my faith. After numerous visits to the hospital, medication, scopes, and supplements for 1.5 years, I had not seen any significant improvement. Yet God was able to cure me in just one prayer. In Jeremiah 29:11, the Bible mentioned: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” After reading this verse, I truly understood that the inexplicable suffering that lasted for a year and a half had not been an evil brought upon me by God. It was God’s will to deliver in His time for my future and hope.

Last but not least, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage the youths and members of the church on the importance of prioritising God. In Matthew 6:33, the Bible tells us that if we seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, all these things will be added unto us. What God requires of us is simple and straightforward, and that is to seek His kingdom first. However, how many of us would actually prioritise His instructions over other factors whenever we are prompted to make a decision in this worldly life? He is a merciful God and He loves his children unconditionally regardless of the wrongs we have committed. Let us remind ourselves not to take his love and mercy for granted, and let us not wait until His punishment arrives before we start to repent and return to Him. 

 

Bro. Lee Ting Zhou (left) and Pr. Derren Liang (right) at Sacramento Church, California

Bro. Lee Ting Zhou (left) and Pr. Derren Liang (right) at Sacramento Church, California