Rev. Raymond Fong: A Life of Faith and Obedience
“I felt I was like Jonah, running from God even though I had heard His calling,” mused Pastor Raymond Fong, Wesley Methodist Church’s new Pastor-in-Charge (PIC) beginning 1 January 2021.
“So I ended up for 11 years in the marketplace before I finally responded to God’s call to full-time ministry.”
If you have heard the impactful sermons by Pastor Raymond over the years that always reflect his absolute heartfelt faithfulness and obedience to God, these words may sound pretty surprising to you.
Yet, God has proven time and again that He has a way of calling, raising and preparing His chosen servants for Kingdom work. As the saying goes, you can run but you can’t hide.
Pastor Raymond eventually answered His calling from God to be a full-time servant for Jesus, after more than a decade in the civil service sector.
A Deputy Public Prosecutor
Upon graduation from law school, Pastor Raymond, or Pastor Ray as he is affectionately known to many, served as a Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) in Singapore’s legal service, followed by a stint as a Deputy Director of Legal Services in the Ministry of Manpower.
Some of the more memorable cases Pastor Raymond had handled as a DPP involved a gruesome murder, discharge of firearm, and complex criminal breach of trust in the oil industry.
“My legal training helped me to be precise and concise. I hope that has played a part in keeping my sermons short and sharp!” said Pastor Raymond.
A Calling from God
The first call from God came to Pastor Raymond when he was a young law undergraduate during the missions conference held by the Varsity Christian Fellowship (VCF) at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
He had seen a vision of himself taking a leap off a cliff, and a pair of hands had stretched out and caught him before he hit the ground.
“It was a distinctive call for me to enter full-time ministry.”
Although Pastor Raymond felt it was not a calling for him to respond to immediately, he carried this vision in him the entire time he was carving out a successful career in the civil service sector.
Certainly, he wrestled with this calling, rationalising that he could always serve God in the marketplace and as a church lay leader.
In 2002, he received another message from the Lord during the Methodist Youth Conference — God told him to obey the call.
This time, he submitted.
Pastor Raymond decided to make preparations and adjustments in his life to respond to the calling of full-time ministry, and enrolled in Trinity Theological College (TTC) for full-time theological studies in 2008.
A True Son of Wesley Methodist Church
Following his graduation from TTC, Pastor Raymond was first appointed to Wesley Methodist Church from 2011 to 2014, before he went on to become Pastor and subsequently, Pastor-in-Charge at Faith Methodist Church for six years.
Returning to Wesley is truly a homecoming for him.
For many in Wesley, Pastor Raymond is a familiar face.
After all, Wesley is Pastor Raymond’s home church, his first foundational spiritual community since he was just a baby. Many Wesleyans have seen him grow up, serve in various ministries, achieve success in the marketplace, and eventually become a pastor.
His accountability Small Group is also here in Wesley.
Connie Ho, who has been serving as a teacher in the Children’s Ministry for over 50 years since 1965, remembers Pastor Raymond as an earnest quiet boy who was thoughtful and kind. “I taught Pastor Raymond when he was just 11 or 12 years old in the early 80s.”
“I remember him because he stood out. He was very attentive in class and had good Bible knowledge from young. He was very helpful and used to help the teachers to arrange the chairs after class,” Connie recounted fondly.
“Once, I shared with my Sunday school class my mother was very ill. A few Sundays later, he came up to me and asked me how my mother was. By that time, my mom was critically ill. I was very moved by this little boy who remembered to ask after my mother. He was a caring boy even at such a young age. He may not remember this episode anymore as he was so young then, but I have always kept that moment in my heart.”
“Years later, you can imagine how proud I was to address him as Pastor Raymond and to see him standing at the pulpit preaching God’s truths to all of us,” said Connie “It gives me so much joy and pride to see my Sunday school student growing up to be such a faithful and obedient servant of God.”
Growing up in Wesley, Pastor Raymond had spent his childhood, formative teenage and adult years serving in various ministries such as the Worship and Youth ministries. He was a lay leader and the Chairperson of Prayer & Praise just before he decided to enroll full-time in TTC.
Having known Pastor Raymond for over a decade, Pastoral Team Member Eric Chiam recalled how affirmative Pastor Raymond was towards the younger members.
“I first knew Pastor Ray when he was serving as a volunteer in the Prayer & Praise Ministry and I was serving as a Worship Team member in the Youth Ministry (YM). Pastor Ray was always very encouraging when we were rehearsing for worship. When he became the Youth Pastor, he was very nurturing to the youths and would encourage us to come up with our own creative ideas because he wanted us to really feel the joy of serving.”
“Pastor Ray has journeyed with me through the various stages of my life, from the time I served as a YM volunteer, was a theological student, got married, to being a PTM now. Through it all, he is a good friend to me. Likewise, I have known Pastor Ray since he was a volunteer, church leader, theological student, pastor, and now, my PIC. He is still the humble, authentic and faithful friend I know.”
A Faith Family
Pastor Raymond is married to the affable and beautiful Grace, an adjunct lecturer at Singapore Management University (SMU). Their son, Timothy, is 16, and like his dad, also an ACSian. As with all married pastors who serve full- time, Mrs Fong’s unwavering support is the most important source of steadfast succor to Pastor Raymond.
“Grace has been my confidante and companion in this journey. I would not have been able to get this far without her as my pillar of support.”
Now married for 21 years, Pastor Raymond and his wife met through involvement in the Varsity Christian Fellowship during their undergraduate years in NUS. As a family, they love to go on mini culinary adventures, yearly holidays and enjoy K-dramas together.
“My working hours can be very long. But I relish my time with my family and I make it a point to try to have conversations with my son and wife every night and take my son to school every morning,” said Pastor Raymond, who espouses quality family time as also a form of spiritual discipline.
Devotion to Kingdom work is obviously a shared and distinct calling gifted by God to the Fong family.
The elder boy of a family of four, Pastor Raymond comes from a family of staunch servants in Christ. Pastor Raymond attributed his lifelong mission of spiritual obedience and servanthood to his family.
His parents, Mr Fong Loon Siong and Mrs Louise Fong, who are members of Wesley, served 15 years in the missions field. They were commissioned by the church to go to Yunnan, China, to reach out to the Yi people as field missionaries, the year Pastor Raymond graduated from law school.
Pastor Raymond’s younger brother, Rev Edmund Fong, is also in full-time ministry. An ordained minister with the Presbyterian Church, Rev Edmund Fong currently lectures at Trinity Theological College, specialising in Theological Hermeneutics (the study of the principles of interpretation of the books of the Bible).
No doubt, the senior Fongs’ faithful obedience to God’s calling is a shining example for their children to follow suit.
An Accomplished Musician for the Lord
A shared passion for music also runs in the family. Before they left for the missions field, the senior Mr and Mrs Fong had served for many years in the John Wesley Choir.
Pastor Raymond himself is an accomplished musician who plays the keyboard, and composes.
One of his recent major works is the 2019 musical For Such A Time As This (click on this link to listen to Pastor Ray’s composition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdJEBikzhZE), written specially for the Methodist Girls’ School in celebration of the school’s 132nd Anniversary.
“MGS was blessed by Pastor Raymond’s contribution towards the musical, based on the book of Esther, which involved 150 people in the production project,” said Mrs. Diana Goh, the Vice-Principal of Methodist Girls’ School.
“When Pastor Raymond was approached to write the theme song and add to the script, he readily agreed. His generous gift of time and talent resulted in a beautiful and uplifting piece which has been used in many other school platforms. The song continues to touch many, encouraging the MGS community. Pastor Raymond’s willingness to serve and minister in different aspects really touched us.”
A Marathon and Not a Sprint
From a young, faithful Sunday school student to musician, prosecutor, ministry lay leader, and finally Pastor-in-Charge, God has led Pastor Raymond through an amazing spiritual odyssey.
For Pastor Raymond Fong, a true son of Wesley Methodist Church, his journey is certainly one that embodies faithfulness, epitomises trust, exemplifies obedience, delineates sacrifices and personifies humility.
However, being a pastor does not define him, emphasised Pastor Raymond. “I am a child of God first and foremost. I am a servant of God, shepherd to the flock and I want to serve by staying on the ground with the people, understanding, empathizing, encouraging and leading by example.”
“My journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Lord, let me run well for you.”
Q & A with Pastor Ray
How do you feel about coming back to Wesley? What were your immediate thoughts and feelings when you received the confirmation?
Delighted! I have always hoped that I would return to Wesley to serve.
My immediate feelings were mixed. On one hand, I was so glad to be able to return, but on the other hand, I wrestled with the feelings of missing my time and ministry at Faith.
How has it been for you in the initial days?
The good thing about being an old boy is that you hit the ground running. There are things that are different but there are many things that are the same, and people and staff who are familiar. There is still a learning curve, and key issues to address and decisions to make, but we have a great team of pastors.
Being in a pandemic situation is definitely not ideal. I miss meeting the people in church, shaking their hands, buying food for colleagues, and having a meal together before LCEC meetings start, etc.
What have you learnt about yourself since you became a pastor?
That being a pastor doesn’t define me! My first identity is a child of God — I am loved by God, secured in Him and assigned by Him.
God is more keenly interested in what He can do in me before what He can do through me.
There are many things that you can do, but you have got to do what God has assigned you to do. And you have got to do it from a place of being secured in who you are and being secured in who you are not. Sometimes we strive so hard to be who we are not.
As a pastor and in fact, even if I am not, I want to be rested and rooted in Christ, so I may truly be like a tree — bearing fruit in and out of season.
What has changed for you since your early days as a pastor, in terms of perspectives on ministry, people, how to pastor a church, etc.?
I have learnt that ministry is a marathon and not a sprint. I have worked too hard, perhaps to catch up on lost time because of my refusal in answering His call.
I have to run at a pace that God allows me to. In some seasons, you have to run faster, and in some seasons, you have to walk. At other times, you need to do a slow jog. You need to know how fast God wants you to go.
Over the years, I have learnt to walk in deeper trust and surrender to God’s sovereign purposes and goodness — in His time, in His way, and trusting that His ways are truly higher.
If I have the chance to rewind time, I would have taken the time to be more rested and to be more intentional in accounting to my mentors about this aspect (the pacing) of my ministry. I do take it upon myself to guide and mentor some of the newer MOTs, to help them to find the pace of their ministry.
Another thing I have learnt over the years is to do less and go deep. Go deeper into spiritual friendships, spiritual accountability and authentic discipleship. Don’t settle for the superficial but when the Spirit leads, go deep.
For ministry, we can plan and execute programmes, but it is God who truly transforms. When we do less and go deeper, it allows for transformation to take place.
Authentic discipleship means to have spiritual accountability — to go deeper with each other, being truly authentic in our struggles, rejoicing with one another in our victories, and finding that strength and companionship in our journey.
We have got to be rested in Him too, to be rooted in Christ, so that in seasons of drought, we still bear fruit, because we have deep roots in His deep soil of love. That is why this year (of Sabbath-Rest) is so important, because when you are rested, you come to place where you are willing to be vulnerable, because you are secured in Christ.
What have you learnt in your days as PIC at Faith Methodist Church?
The ministry of a PIC is first and foremost not to lead but to serve — to serve God’s people through humble availability, especially when they are going through a challenging season.
It is to serve God’s people with thoughtful kindness, and to be a shepherd to the flock, by being on the ground with the people — understanding and empathising, encouraging and leading by example.
What are some of the challenges you have encountered?
There was a season in the early years when my family was going through a difficult trial, and I had to wrestle with having to continue giving and serving others, when my family needed me to be there for them. I really thanked God for my Small Group, who ministered to my family. It really impressed upon me that we were not alone, and there was a community that journeyed with me and could be counted on in difficult times.
As a young pastor, there is always a temptation to please man instead of God. This often comes when you have to handle expectations of others — often well-meaning and good-intentioned — but it adds a lot of stress and pressure. Also, I have to manage the expectations I have of myself, wrestling with whether I could have done more.
Another challenge is loving and serving with difficult people. Everyone is blindsided to their own flaws, as I am, and it sometimes can be very challenging to serve together and honour each other as we serve. But there had been many breakthroughs that God had shown to me in such situations. I was able to see how God brought mutual submission, and things worked out in unexpected ways.
What have been your biggest joys in your ministry?
To see lives transformed, and to see people growing in discipleship — to see people set free from bondage to sin, guilt and shame. And to activate and mentor people to rise to their God-given callings to serve in His kingdom.
What are your plans on how we can do church this year amid the ongoing pandemic?
The immediate plan is to enable people to return to church for services and ministry activities. For some, this is significant for their faith experience.
For many members, the symbols and space for worship in church are formative and integral to their spiritual journey, so as a church we need to provide for the opportunity for them to return to what is familiar and foundational for them.
For others, church has gone online. With our best efforts and committing it to prayer, our online service should be meaningfully engaging, spiritual refreshing and personally enriching.
We do our best to steward the resources that God has given us. However, while the online platform is indeed convenient, we must be careful not to promote a consumeristic approach to worshipping God on Sundays, which is one of the dangers for the Church today — that the Church-at-large would be very consumeristic. Being a consumer means toggling between church services to find one that suits my taste; ignoring the worship and going straight into the sermon; or picking the pastor whom I like to listen to, etc.
We need to emphasise the need for sacrificial reverence for God even as our members engage in the online service. In this pandemic, it is an opportunity to re-think the concept of church beyond the brick and mortar. Instead, think of the Church as the body of Christ growing through discipleship in small groups, and small communities of faith. To this end, we must help every Wesleyan develop a rhythm of rest, work and witness wherever God has placed them.
One of the lessons that God is teaching us in the pandemic is to go out and bring the Church out into the world, just like what John Wesley did.
What is your vision for Wesley?
My vision for Wesley is that she will be an authentic community of intentional disciples-making disciples, reaching the least, last and lost, extending God’s kingdom in every sphere of influence, and living lives that help others encounter Christ.
Being a large and multi-layered church does not excuse us from authenticity. The culture that we set starts with individuals wanting to be authentic and being a catalyst of transformation.
As opposed to a ‘by-the-way’ discipleship, intentional discipleship means there is a degree of intentionality in our growth, and that level of intentionality would transform the way we look at discipleship, and ultimately shapes the way we are.
There are 250 Small Groups in Wesley, and we have communities and ministries that are passionate about God. We can do more to help each other grow intentionally in our discipleship and be powerful witnesses for Christ wherever God has placed us. We have to equip our small group leaders and members to have spiritual formation in their groups, and at the same time being a witness to God wherever they are.
Read also : Farewell to Pastor Edmund
FUN FACTS PAGE
KYPIC – Know Your PIC
Who is your favorite biblical character?
Paul the Apostle
Who is your favorite movie character?
What do you like to watch more – TV or Films?
TV, K-drama. It all started with Descendants of the Sun
What do you do to keep so fit?
Swimming and going to the gym
What is your favorite Fruit
Durians. Red Prawn is my favorite variety
What is your favorite Local Dish
Wanton Mee, especially the ones with ketchup
What is your favourite genre of music?
Manchester United or Liverpool?
This article can also be found in Tidings, February 2021.