Joshua Chiu Ban It was born in Penang in 1918. His parents, who were Hokkien, were members of St George’s Church in Penang – the first Anglican church in Southeast Asia. He studied at the Penang Free School which was founded in 1816. Chiu, a brilliant scholar, was elected school captain and was also editor of the school magazine.
In 1938, he was awarded the Hutchings scholarship to read law in England. He was called to the English Bar in 1941 after graduating with a Bachelor of Laws from King’s College, University of London. While studying in the UK, he met and married Wendy Maskew. They had a son, Dr Michael Chiu, and a daughter, Mrs Veronica Ashcraft.
In the summer of 1942, Chiu took up an offer from the Student Christian Movement (SCM) of Great Britain and Ireland to serve as its international secretary. The then SCM general secretary introduced him to Bishop Ronald Owen Hall of Hong Kong, which led to Chiu studying for the ministry at Westcott House, Cambridge. After completing his studies, he was ordained at Birmingham Cathedral on Trinity Sunday (the first Sunday after Pentecost) in 1945, and started his curacy at St Francis of Assisi’s Church, Bournville, Birmingham.
In 1947, after World War II had ended, his uncle sent him a letter pleading with him to return to Penang to help him restart his legal practice. After obtaining five years’ leave from Bishop Hall, the couple and their baby son sailed for Penang in August 1947.
In 1949, with more lawyers joining his uncle’s firm and the careers of his seven siblings settled, Chiu wrote to Bishop Hall that he was ready to start his originally intended ministry in Hong Kong, only to be told that there was no position for him then. However, the then bishop of Singapore, Henry Wolfe Baines, asked Bishop Hall to release Chiu to work in the diocese of Singapore.
Thus, he left Penang to be the assistant priest to Rev K. Nicholson at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Singapore. Later, he worked under the Venerable Robin Woods who, in 1951, became Vicar of St Andrew’s Cathedral and Archdeacon of Singapore. In the following year, Chiu was appointed priest-in-charge of St Hilda’s Katong for three happy years.
In 1959, the chairman of the Australian Board of Missions (ABM) Sydney, through Bishop Baines, invited Chiu to be the ABM home secretary, which he accepted with the bishop’s approval. In addition to this new appointment, Chiu assumed responsibilities with the Laymen of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
During his third year in Australia, the WCC general secretary invited Chiu to Geneva, Switzerland to start a secretariat for the service of laymen abroad. After completing this mission in 1965, he was appointed to a Fellowship at St Augustine’s College, Canterbury, in the UK. He taught Ecumenics to senior Anglican clergy who came from various parts of the world. St Augustine’s College was initially a missionary college of the Church of England (1848-1947) but later became the Central College of the Anglican Communion (1952-1967).
In June 1966, Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey proposed the appointment of Chiu as the Bishop of Singapore and Malaya (as the diocese was then known) to succeed Bishop Kenneth Sainsbury. On All Saints’ Day on November 1,1966 at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Chiu was consecrated as the first Asian Bishop of the diocese. He served as Bishop of the diocese until 1970 and, subsequently, as Bishop of the Diocese of Singapore until 1982.
Chiu experienced two significant low points in his life which transformed him. The first experience was when war broke out in 1939 while he was studying in London. His faith in God was shattered and he rejected Christ when he witnessed the cruel and senseless bombing of the cities. But Jesus appeared to him in a dream and told him that his sins were forgiven.
The second was in 1941 when the Japanese landed in Malaya and his hometown of Penang was occupied by the enemy. Stranded in London, he was in despair and was about to take his life when he heard God’s firm but gentle voice telling him that He would use his life. He felt God’s presence once again and that drew him back from the brink.
In “The Fire of the Holy Spirit” (You Called Me: Clergy Testimonies, Singapore: Armour Publishing, 1998), Chiu wrote that he again experienced God’s empowerment when he confessed to feeling helpless, hopeless and depressed. When the diocese of Malaysia and Singapore became two entities in 1970, he was facing clergy and funding challenges for the smaller Singapore diocese where the churches were not growing.
In 1972, he experienced a new work of the Holy Spirit when he attended the “Salvation Today” conference organised by the World Council of Churches in Bangkok, Thailand. There, Rev Edward Subramani, an Anglican priest from Fiji, testified passionately about the Holy Spirit’s active role in church growth. He lent Chiu a book, Nine O’clock in the Morning (Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications, 1970) which was about how the ministry of author Dennis Bennett, an Episcopalian priest in the USA, was mightily transformed after he had a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit. Chiu read the book and although sceptical, he prayed and asked the Lord to transform his ministry too. He then closed the book and went to sleep.
When he awoke, his depression and gloom were replaced by a deep sense of joy and he found himself praising God in English, Chinese, Malay and also in tongues.
When he returned to Singapore, the cathedral started a weekly course on the healing ministry but nothing significant happened. However, the diocese became ablaze with the Holy Spirit when he invited Edgar Webb, who had a healing ministry, to hold meetings at the church. Without any publicity, the cathedral was filled to the brim with men and women with various conditions, including the lame, blind and sick. Chiu recounted his own fear when asked to lay hands on the people coming up for prayer during the altar call.
The nine gifts of the Spirit described by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 and the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23 were manifested in the church services and meetings. The cathedral became a centre of activity and there was an influx of men, women, youth and children.
The movement of the Holy Spirit over Singapore coincided with a period of rapid social change in the city-state. The newly-created Housing and Development Board (HDB) was relocating residents from crowded slums and tenement houses to newly-built high-rise apartments — a move that provided the impetus for church growth.
There was a new fervour in the Anglican church and at St Andrew’s Cathedral, there was a growing desire to feed on the Word. More and more people wanted to gather to praise God and, more importantly, to plant new churches — particularly in the new HDB housing estates that were being created.
Significant changes were taking place in the diocese. In July 1974, a Friday night prayer meeting was started in the cathedral with about 15 people. Within a short time, this grew to an ecumenical gathering of about 150.
Many of the clergy themselves began to enter into a deeper experience of God through the Holy Spirit. There was a tremendous thirst for God amongst the people and many new prayer, praise and Bible study groups were started in the parishes, mostly at the parishioners’ requests.
Over the next decade, this revival resulted in an exponential increase in church-planting programmes by St Andrew’s Cathedral in Jurong and Bedok. Reverend Ronald Hu, the chaplain of Golden Harvest Centre (an extension centre of St Andrew’s Cathedral), launched an outreach project for the then new housing estate of Bedok. A team of eight volunteers comprising six from the Golden Harvest Centre and two from the St Andrew’s Cathedral young adults’ group began door-to-door evangelism in Bedok. As a result, the Bedok extension centre was birthed and the Chapel of Christ the Redeemer was built in Tampines. Much of this work was spearheaded by the youth of St Andrew’s Cathedral, who had been invigorated by the charismatic revival.
The charismatic movement, which resulted in the revival of the Anglican church in Singapore in 1972 and in the years that followed, was a fresh and unexpected gift from God to a struggling diocese and a young nation. It was undoubtedly, according to Chiu, a tremendous manifestation of God’s amazing grace.
The renewal by the Holy Spirit brought about immense and long-lasting impact on the diocese in the following areas:
- Explosive growth in church membership as a result of aggressive evangelism with new churches being planted;
- Desire of lay people to share the responsibility in serving and caring for one another and in witnessing for Jesus in their places of work;
- A hub for renewal and revival in Singapore as the Anglican church there had a positive influence on ecumenism among other denominations like the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal and other para-church organisations which collaborated in supporting various Christian projects in Singapore. This unity and cooperation was demonstrated when thousands attended the Billy Graham crusades and conferences. The National Council of Churches of Singapore fully supported this initiative to work together and sponsored many joint projects to advance God’s Kingdom.
- The impact of Christian witness in society was evident among government leaders, captains of industry and commerce, in tertiary institutions and many other sectors of public life.
When Bishop Chiu retired in August 1982, he and his wife, Wendy, returned to England where he was kept busy preaching at churches and leading missions to promote the work of the Holy Spirit and the church’s healing ministry.
In 2000, after a marriage of 54 years, Wendy passed away suddenly due to an internal haemorrhage. Chiu later married his brother’s widow, Lim Bek Neo. On November 9, 2016, Chiu went home to the Lord at the age of 98. He was survived by Bek Neo and two children from his first marriage.
Singapore was the earliest Anglican diocese to embrace the charismatic renewal which later spread to the rest of Southeast Asia. The impact of Chiu’s ministry on St Andrew’s Cathedral and the entire diocese is still felt today.
- ^ The Diocese of Singapore was renamed as the Diocese of Singapore and Malaya in 1960. Singapore left the Federation of Malaysia in 1965 and the diocese was separated into the Diocese of West Malaysia and the Diocese of Singapore on April 7, 1970.
“Anglican Diocese of Singapore” in Singapore Infopedia. https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1038_2009-09-29.ht…
Chiu, Ban It. “The Fire of the Holy Spirit” in You Called Me: Clergy Testimonies, Singapore: Armour Publishing, 1998.
Leong, Keith. “Joshua Chiu Ban It: The First Asian Bishop of Singapore”. The Courier. St Andrew’s Cathedral. Bicentennial 2019. 32-34 https://cathedral.org.sg/uploads/bulletin_files/Courier-Bicentennial.pdf.
Thambiah, Joseph. Diffusing the Light: The Story of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Singapore: A Chronicle of 150 Years of God's Grace and Faithfulness. Singapore: Armour Publishing Pte Ltd, 2013.
Wong, Terry Revd Canon. “Vicar Writes”. St Andrew’s Cathedral. May 22, 2016. https://cathedral.org.sg/vicar-writes/the-consecration-bible-and-pector…