Family, Health, School, Work & Money

Hospitalised for 6 months during his PSLE year, young Derek Hong aced the exams and got into RI. Fluke or miracle?

By Gemma Koh , 3 March 2023

It was 4am in the morning when five-year-old Derek Hong was hauled out of bed.

His parents were having yet another fight over money.

“Just to spite my father, my mother poured a bucket of cold water over me,” Derek, who is now 75, recalled.

“I caught pneumonia, and went from healthy to sickly. I was in and out of clinics and hospitals every few months.” 

Derek in the 1950s.

When Derek was 12, he contracted tuberculosis (TB). 

“I was warded in hospital and was jabbed every day. I felt like a pin cushion,” he said.

Lonely and miserable during his hospital stay, Derek, 12, thought that his future was bleak.

“I was miserable. My future was bleak. What hope did I have?” 

In those days, TB was highly contagious. Other than his parents, his only other visitors were a group of people who told him about Jesus.

“Desperate, I believed,” said Derek. 

Too poor to fail

After half a year, Derek was discharged from hospital and returned to school in September.  

He had to sit for the dreaded Primary School Leaving Exams (PSLE) just two weeks later. 

“To pass would have been a miracle.” 

“If I failed, I would be booted out of school because my family was too poor to pay for me to repeat Primary 6,” he said.

“I didn’t know how to pray. So I just chanted the name ‘Jesus’.”

Not only did Derek pass, he came out second in his school’s cohort and made it to Raffles Institution (RI) – a premier secondary school.

Derek Hong as a student at RI.

“It was a miracle. So that’s how I knew Jesus was real.” 

He was the first in his family to become a Christian.

“In secondary school, I was doing all kinds of sports including basketball, judo and rugby.”

Miraculously, Derek’s body also began to heal.

He was too weak and sickly to play sports for the first 12 years of his life.

“But in secondary school, I was doing all kinds of sports including basketball and judo. I even represented RI – a top rugby school – in the junior rugby team.

“I made up for lost time.”

The accidental teacher

At the start of Secondary 4, young Derek’s parents finally gave him permission to attend church

On his first day at Sunday School, the teacher announced, “I’m going to Melbourne to attend Bible school. I’m praying for someone to take over this class. If no one takes over, I cannot go.”

After class, young Derek volunteered to fill the role. 

Derek Hong

Derek (right) playing the guitar during his days as a Sunday School teacher.

“Till today, I don’t know what made me do that – as a new Christian, and on my first day at Sunday School.

“It must have been the Holy Spirit who moved me.”

Derek was also the oldest student in the class. So he felt a certain responsibility to lead. 

“I don’t know what made me volunteer to take over the class on my first day at Sunday School.”

The new Christian struggled every week to prepare for lessons every Sunday. Study guides were not available to him at that time.

“So I studied the Bible like mad, prayed like crazy, and listened to the Lord,” he said.

“It made me learn so much about God’s word,” he said, of the five years he taught Sunday School.

He didn’t know it then, but God was training him for the future. 

School’s out 

Teenage Derek felt that God was calling him to serve Him. He initially thought this meant becoming a missionary. 

But how would he do this – and support his parents and five younger siblings at the same time? 

Derek Hong (left) with his best friend, David Wong.

A plan formed in his mind. He would become a school teacher.

“I would work for 10 years and save up as much as I could. Then I would give the money to my parents and say, ‘Here is my duty as your son. Now let me go and serve my God’.”

“I would work and save for 10 years. Then I would give the money to my parents.”

After his ‘O’ Levels, Derek signed up to be a temporary relief teacher. He was posted to a school in Pasir Panjang – an undeveloped area at that time.

The challenges were overwhelming and demoralising for the “16-year-old rookie”.

“I couldn’t take the stress and resigned.”

Promoted to joblessness

Derek’s parents couldn’t afford to send him to university, so he got a job – first at a bank, and subsequently at a company selling encyclopedias, that paid better. 

“Within two weeks of being told of my promotion, I lost my job.”

“The Lord really blessed me,” he said. 

Within a year-and-a-half, he was told that he would be overseeing credit collection in a few countries in East Asia.

However, the head office in the US discovered that they were bleeding financially in one of these countries, and shut down the operations in the region.

“So within two weeks of being told of my promotion, I lost my job.”

Screaming at the gate 

“When I shared my situation with my pastor, he reminded me of my calling and suggested it might be the right time to go to theological college.

“But I didn’t want to go to Bible school to become a pastor just because I was jobless and had no better option.”

But there was no response to his numerous job applications. 

Derek was 24. He had just gotten married. He now had nine mouths to feed. 

Derek Hong Su Lan

Derek and his wife Su Lan, in 1969, during their courting days.

“My pastor said, ‘Go home and pray,” he recalled.

“I sounded out my mum. I told her, ‘I think God wants me to be a pastor.'”

His mother replied, “If you do, I will go to the gate of the Bible school and scream until you come home.”

He explained: “To her, my becoming a pastor was a great economic setback as well as shame for the family. She thought that I would have to beg for sustenance.”

Derek prayed, “God, You have to help me, see me through this.”

“God was showing me that I was in Bible school not because I couldn’t get a job.” 

Meanwhile, he applied to theological college. He was accepted, and he and his young wife moved onto campus.

God had a surprise in store for him.

“In my first week in Bible school, I got two job offers,” he said.

“It made me realise that it could only be God who prevented the other tempting jobs coming my way.

“God was showing me that I was in Bible school not because I couldn’t get a job.” 

Letting go of his dream job

During a month-long break in Bible school, young Derek accepted one of the two job offers. It was with a company that had the monopoly on selling banking equipment.

“It was a cushy job,” he said. “All my colleagues were driving nice cars and had big houses.”

“I wouldn’t have peace if I stayed.”

During the training, young Derek emerged as the top salesman. The manager was impressed   

Derek struggled to give up his “dream job” to return to Bible college. But God moved him to send in his resignation, despite his manager asking him to name his price.

“I wouldn’t have peace if I stayed,” said Derek.

Part-time work, full-time salary

Derek also prayed, “How God? I still have to support my parents, brothers and sisters.”

Shortly after, he got a phone call from the general manager from his encyclopedia days.

The GM needed someone to help wind down the company and collect $200,000 in instalments that were still due. Derek could do this part-time – on the same salary he drew before.

The process ended up taking two-and-a-half years.

Derek (standing, third from right) with his parents and younger siblings.

“As a student, my expenditure was low, so I had more money to give to my parents. 

“The company also gave me furniture from the office, which I brought into college. I was the only student with a swivel chair,” he said.

“My parents saw how the Lord provided for me. They saw how even in Bible school, I could still support the family. My mother couldn’t complain,” he said.  

Miracles before their eyes

While Derek was still a student in his third year of theological college, the Bishop put him in charge of a small church at Prince Charles Crescent. 

“It was out of desperation. I was the only candidate,” he quipped. 

In his early years as a pastor, Derek Hong lived briefly at St Andrew’s Village.

Upon becoming Deacon, Derek and his wife, young son, and parents moved into the vicarage at Church of Our Saviour.

Pastor Derek and his elder son, Joshua.

A constant stream of people through the church house shared their personal stories of faith and showered love on Pastor Derek’s parents. 

“My father was a chain smoker. He threw his cigarettes and lighter onto the stage and never touched them again.”

His parents also witnessed miracles taking place and people getting healed. 

“My father received phone calls from people who told him that they threw away their spectacles after being prayed for in church,” he said. 

Pastor Derek baptising his father, who has since passed on.

At one healing rally at (the since-demolished) National Theatre on River Valley Road, Ps Derek’s father went down to the stage when the call came for those who wanted to give their life to Jesus. 

“He was a chain smoker who smoked four packs of cigarettes a day. He threw his cigarettes and lighter onto the stage and never touched them again.”

God blessed Ps Derek Hong’s leadership at Church of Our Saviour. The church had a congregation of 75 when he took over in 1975, and 4,200 when he stepped down 36 years later in 2011. Photo courtesy of Church of Our Saviour.

He is praying and searching for a successor.

Pastor Derek is now Senior Pastor at Good Gifts City Church, which he helped to start. Photo from their Facebook page.

The Lord also healed Ps Derek’s mother  – twice – of two cancers.

Ps Derek’s mother eventually gave her life to Christ. “She is still alive and is now 96 years old,” he said.

Click here to join our Telegram family for more stories like Ps Derek’s.


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