Lewis Cheong’s departure was not unexpected. We were prepared. By God’s mercy, we had time to say our thank you, our sorry and goodbye. Still it is hard doing a funeral of a friend. I do not easily express my feelings of loss or sorrow. Its probably bottled up somewhere.
I have known Lewis since he joined the church about 30 years ago. On reflection, Lewis was a brave man. God made him brave. He tried many jobs and had a chequered career: from bouncer to businessman. For anyone in his time with only a Secondary education, success would be hard to achieve. He tried so many things: bouncer, debt-collector, gym instructor, Mr. Manhunt second runner’s up, judge for bodybuilding contests, model, salesman for Speedo and a shoe brand. He was game to try anything that would make money. By God’s grace, and risk-taking, he set up a shoe retail shop at Queensway Shopping Center: Deck & Boots. One shop became two shops and three shops. Hereen. International Plaza. Tiong Bahru Plaza. CNY fairs. Company fairs. University fairs. He had guts.
The shoe business required him to make frequent trips to Guangzhou to buy products that can sell well and yield good profit in his shops. Full of ideas, he was always sniffing out great bargains that could make him a big buck. He was in his element in Guangzhou: like the old-time trader and towkay: buy low, sell high. I think he loved Guangzhou because all his abilities, instincts and potential always found full unhindered expression over there where he felt he was in his “zone”. He wanted to make his life a success; prove himself, and provide for his family.
He was disadvantaged by his lack of education, but it did not deter him from finding a way of making a good living. He did not fail the education system, but the education system of his time failed him: it failed to identify his entrepreneurial spirit and develop it. If he were born today it would have been better. In the end, it was God who helped him realize his potential.
Lewis’ turning point came when he attended a church evangelistic rally at the PUB Auditorium. He put his faith in Christ and started to faithfully attend church. He was modelling then. In the early years as a growing Christian, he struggled often but he always threw himself onto the mercy of the heavenly Father. He stumbled again and again, but he got up again and again. Lewis was brave; made brave by God’s mercy and grace. God was his light and salvation, again and again. God was his refuge and stronghold. He turned to God with his fears. And God made him brave.
He grew to be a steadfast Christian. He brought friends to church. Served as a Sunday School teacher of love class; served as an usher; and was head of the ushering ministry. He was always faithful in attendance and tithing, punctual in church, consistent in his meditations (Every Day with Jesus devotional by Selwyn Hughes). He also prayed often about his business: divine help in finding good products at good prices with willing sellers (especially for the small quantities he bought). He acknowledged God’s blessing, guidance, help, and answers to prayer.
His bravery was most evident in the way he faced death.: squarely. Like anyone facing similar circumstances he journeyed through the stages of denial, anger, regrets, depression and acceptance. It was like the last stretch of a marathon – a difficult, draining, painful struggle. It was a long journey. Like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed to God, “If possible take this cup of suffering from me. But not my will but Your will be done”. You see, he was afraid it would be an agonizing, prolonged departure. In the end, he accepted that the Lord gives, and the Lord is the one who should finally decide the timing of his departure. Lewis could face death bravely because he knew where he was going, and to whom he was going.
As he accepted that he would be meeting his Master soon, he had time to settle matters: business affairs, financial affairs, family matters. He said his Sorry, his Thanks, his Goodbye. The church people had time to visit, to recall the good old days and say goodbye and appreciate him. He did not leave a family in shock, with many matters hanging in the air. Of course, if he had a chance to live all over, he would not have worked so hard to make money, and he would have spent more time with the family, especially when they were younger. Secondly, he would have travelled to Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. He told me these himself.
Lewis loved his family: he appreciated his wife Cavelyn for being willing to go through thick and thin with him, bearing the hardships and sacrifices of doing business. He was proud of his daughter studying medicine; of his son who had shown signs of growing into a mature fine young man.
As someone said, Courage is not the absence of fear, but being able to act despite the fears, because you know God is with you to help you.