Stories of Hope wishes all educators Happy Teachers’ Day.
Joshua Sudharman (then known as Shaam) was brought up on the idea that all religions are the same, that people “pray to the same God using different names”.
So when it was time to go to St Andrew’s Junior School, “it gave me permission to participate freely in whatever was happening in school and to stay open minded – but with no need to convert,” Joshua, now 53, told Stories of Hope.
Joshua remembers sitting cross-legged on the floor at the front of his Primary 1 classroom, enthralled by the stories his motherly form teacher read during Bible Knowledge class. Mrs Mary Yee taught them all subjects except for Chinese.
He recalls looking forward to singing his favourite song – In the Stars His Handiwork I See – during chapel service.
“Each one of us, even non-Christians, had our favourite hymns. Not so much for the profundity of the words, but probably for the tune,” he said.
He felt comfortable with the prayers and faith programmes at the mission school. There was no pressure to give up his family’s spiritual beliefs.
But in Secondary Four, something began to trouble Joshua, who was then the Head Prefect (or School Captain, as the role was known at St Andrew’s).
His close friends, who were also prefects, took opportunities during barbecues, dinners and social gatherings to ask him what he thought about the Bible verse “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.“ (John 14:6)
That is, that Jesus is the one and only way to God.
“It implied things that were critical and negative about my beliefs. It offended me.”
This led to arguments.
“It created some tension in our friendship – enough to complicate it.”
“It created some tension in our friendship – not enough to derail it, but enough to complicate it.
“Things came to a head and I told them, ‘Enough. I don’t want to talk about this subject any more. I am prepared to believe in the whole Bible except this one verse that you keep confronting me with.’
“So I pulled away.”
But little did he realise that “something was already swirling inside” him.
On the last day of Secondary 4, Joshua and his schoolmates exchanged autographs with each other, and said their goodbyes to their teachers.
Joshua went up to his teacher-in-charge of rugby whom he was close to.
“I thought it couldn’t hurt if she remembered me when she said her prayers.”
Mrs Priscilla Krempl was Singapore’s first female rugby coach and referee, and would later become the principal of St Andrew’s Secondary School.
“As part of my goodbye to my teacher, I said to her, ‘Please pray for me for the upcoming ‘O’ Levels.’
“I don’t know why I said it, but I thought it couldn’t hurt if she remembered me when she said her prayers.”
What she said next surprised him.
“She said, ‘Sure. Why don’t we go to the chapel now?'”
In the chapel, teacher and student sat side by side in a pew.
Joshua recalled: “We bowed our heads, closed our eyes and she began to pray. She said, ‘Dear Lord, we pray for Shaam as his exams are coming up …’
“After that, her words were drowned out by a voice in my mind that kept saying: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. I am the Way, the Truth …’
“Accompanying those words was a very, very weird sensation of spinning – like tumbling as if I were in space.”
“Accompanying those words was a very, very weird sensation of spinning – like tumbling or somersaulting as if I were in space. I felt giddy.
“The next thing you know, I’m weeping and crying uncontrollably.
“It was quite a supernatural thing. It was really something I couldn’t have engineered, something that I couldn’t have predicted.
“It was like something boiling inside me had come to the surface.
“Maybe because that was the first time I had prayed in a very personal way.”
Joshua was still very emotional when Mrs Krempl suggested: “Why don’t you pray now?”
He had never prayed out loud before.
“I didn’t ask for help with my exams – it seemed the least important thing at that point.”
“Blubbering through my tears, I started to pray,” he recalled.
“I don’t remember my exact words but I didn’t ask for help with my exams – it seemed the least important thing at that point.
“I felt like I had come face to face with God in some way. My prayer was something to the effect of, ‘I acknowledge You as God’.
“I felt like I was being confronted with the question that I had been running away from. I felt like ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’ was now inescapably pointing to the fact that Jesus brings us to God in a way that no one else does.”
When he finished saying his first prayer, Joshua asked himself: “What have I done?”
A week later, Joshua went to the home of his closest friend – another prefect – to study.
“We were taking a break from memorising Shakespeare. And suddenly, I blurted out to him: ‘Mong, I’ve decided to embrace the Christian faith.’
“I don’t know why I said it that way,” he told Stories of Hope.
“Mong had to pick his jaw up from the floor. He was so shocked.”
“I think Mong had to pick his jaw up from the floor. He was so shocked.
“Then he let me in on a secret. He told me, ‘Do you know that at the beginning of the year, Wilfred had the assurance from God that by the end of the year you would become a Christian? And that we’ve all been praying for you behind your back?
(Today, Tay Choon Mong is better known as Dr Leslie Tay, medical doctor and food blogger of ieatishootipost.sg. Wilfred Leow, like Joshua, went on to be a teacher in the St Andrew’s family of schools and subsequently a pastor.)
“Mong told me, ‘We prayed for ways to reach you. And then you became so hardened, and we were so discouraged. And the more we tried, the further away you ran.'”
Said Joshua: “I had no idea they were conspiring to pray for me.”
Then Mong asked his friend if he had prayed the prayer to invite Jesus into his life.
Joshua didn’t know what it was.
“Then Mong said, ‘Let us pray. You say it after me.’
“So we sat down facing each other. The moment we bowed our heads and we began to pray, I started to weep again.
“As soon we finished praying, Mong ran out of the room and started phoning our friends with the news: ‘You won’t believe what just happened. Shaam just prayed to receive Christ’.”
Said Joshua: “It was a miracle to them.
“It was vindication for my friends that they had heard God right. I really did become a believer.
“And their prayers and efforts were not in vain. It was really faith-building for them.
“Because of this, I believe in the power of prayer.
“If I could be turned around so supernaturally, I think there’s hope for everyone.”
Joshua and his best friend Mong had made up their minds to go to a secular junior college. But just two months before the end of Secondary 4 – and before becoming a Christian – Joshua “made a 180 degree turn”, and decided to graduate on to St Andrew’s Junior College (SAJC).
Looking back, Joshua saw how God was already directing the course of his life, even before he became a believer. Because at SAJC, Joshua grew in his newfound faith, even before he could start attending church.
He subsequently got a scholarship to study physics – his favourite subject – at the University of Cambridge, where he found a Christian community. It helped him grow in his love for God’s Word and his ability to lead Bible studies.
During university holidays, Joshua taught physics at his former junior college. There, he discovered his gifting for teaching physics in a simple, logical and sequential way. He saw it as God’s way of preparing for Him to become a full-time teacher – and subsequently, a pastor.
Twelve years after Joshua’s supernatural experience in his secondary school chapel, he felt moved to give up teaching to serve his God full-time as a pastor.
Almost 20 years later, Joshua had the joy of baptising his own father who became a Christian at the age of 80 – seven years before he passed on.
Looking back, Joshua saw God’s fingerprints in leading him to faith: The provision of close friends and the impact of a Christian institution. He also saw how God worked in and through teachers who bookended his school years – from Mrs Yee in Primary 1 to Mrs Krempl in Secondary 4 – and others in between.
“He was always a gentleman and did not use foul language”, said Joshua of his rugby coach, Mr Yee Teck Peng.
Mrs Yee’s Bible stories kick-started the process.
“Mrs Yee had the Bible open, and read stories to us and showed us the pictures.
“Those began to have an impact on me.”
It was the start of “a growing sense of admiration for Jesus, and a wonder of the kind of person that He is, His kindness and love” said Joshua.
Other teachers who made an impact included Mrs Yee’s husband, Joshua’s rugby coach in Secondary 4. Mr Yee Teck Peng communicated God’s love and care for others in practical ways and by example.
“He was always a gentleman and did not use foul language”, said Joshua of the coach who, for example, introduced tactical and strength training to reduce the likelihood of injuries.
“He demonstrated care for the team, not just in terms of winning matches, but in terms of our health and physique.”
Joshua saw “all of these as the means by which God was impacting me”.
“God was very gradual, very patient, wooing me for 10 years from Primary 1 to Secondary 4, adding layer upon layer to my view of Christianity. And then finally, at the right time, it became a critical decision point for me.
“He was captivating me in terms of my falling in love with His person, His character, the kind way in which He dealt with everyone.
“He’s been incredible.”
If you would like to know more about Jesus, click here to find a church near you.
Click here to join our Telegram family for more stories like Ps Joshua’s.