Bishop Emeritus Daniel Chong was born on August 8, 1942 in a small village called Jelapang, about 20 minutes’ drive from Ipoh in Perak state. In the early days, the village was surrounded by rubber trees. It was so small that by the time a motorist got to third gear, the vehicle was already out of town, earning it the nickname “third gear town”.
Chong grew up in a staunch Buddhist family that observed family traditions and ancestral worship. The family had a stall selling rice, noodles and their signature “red bean soup”. As a young boy, Chong worked at the family food stall, taking orders from customers and also serving them. When it closed in the evening, he would help to clean up the stall and wash the dishes.
He had his early education at Yuk Choy High School in Ipoh. Back then, it was common for youths from small villages to travel to Ipoh for their education as there was no school in the villages.
His conversion was truly grace upon grace and tells the story of God’s unseen hand working among a group of youths. Chong and his friends loved to disturb meetings at the Jelapang Lutheran Church by throwing large stones as big as hand grenades onto the rooftop. They would then watch as the stones rolled down noisily on the zinc roof.
In 1957, God sent a very gifted evangelist to Jelapang Lutheran Church by the name of Rev Yang Tao Tung. Chong and his friends disturbed the meetings but also sat outside the church and listened to the message preached by Rev Yang. It was at one of these meetings that the Word of God came to them powerfully like a sharp two-edged sword. He and his friends were soundly converted.
The group of friends started attending church despite opposition from their parents and became active in the church youth fellowship. Rev Yang was not just a good evangelist but also a good pastor who attracted many youths to the church. He taught these young converts the Word of God regularly.
Chong’s faith journey was not smooth. He was persecuted at home and was once even beaten for his faith. His family members warned him not to say grace at meal times and on one occasion, his bowl of rice was taken away after he had said grace during family dinner. But his faith did not waiver.
As his faith grew, he and a few youths decided to be baptised in conjunction with the dedication of the new church building at Jelapang. But that did not happen. News spread in the village of the coming baptism. Chong’s family heard about it and confronted him. One of his family members threatened to cause a commotion in the church if he were to be baptised. Chong quickly reported the matter to Rev Yang. A few days later, Rev Yang drove Chong, Paul Chong, Lee Kee San and Andrew Lee to another village church at Selat Pagar for baptism where the pastor, Rev Schmitt, a German missionary, baptised them.
Upon completing his education at Yuk Choy High School in 1959, Chong felt called to the ministry. In 1960 he entered Lutheran Bible Training Institute (LBTI) at Petaling Jaya in Selangor. He was among the second batch of students who were unique because of the five men who enrolled, four were from Jelapang. They were Chong, Paul Chong, Lee Kee San and Andrew Lee. Upon his graduation, Chong served as pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran church, Selat Pagar, Ayer Kala and Lenggong. Years later he was posted to 9th Mile Cheras Lutheran Church and Taman Midah Lutheran Church in Kuala Lumpur.
In 1985, he was elected as Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Malaysia and Singapore (LCMS) for the first of his two terms of four years each. Chong worked hard as bishop for the gospel’s sake. He was very enthusiastic, labouring tirelessly and with endurance. He travelled extensively to visit as many Lutheran churches in Malaysia and Singapore as possible. As bishop, he lived a very simple lifestyle, staying in church parsonages instead of at good hotels. He was a village boy who enjoyed eating durian and river fish. But he had an unusual hobby in that he loved sports cars. For a number of years, he and another pastor drove a “Nissan Fairlady”.
Though he was firm and stern at times, he was a friend to many. Many were offended by his harsh decisions but he never held any grudges. He had good friends who could work with him in the Lutheran Church of Malaysia.
As a pastor, he impacted many people. He had a passion for working with youths, meeting and spending time with them on a regular basis. He played sports with them and even cooked for them. When he passed away, many of these former youths attended his wake and funeral services. The most fitting Bible verses for Bishop Emeritus Daniel Chong are 2 Timothy 4: 6-8.
During his time as bishop, the Lutheran church comprised Singapore and Malaysia and the church was known as the Lutheran Church in Malaysia and Singapore. But the Lutheran church leaders in Singapore were negotiating for a separation. The process of separation of the LCMS into LCM and LCS was turbulent and involved countless meetings. During these turbulent times, he stood firm in his decision-making. The actual separation came after he completed his second term as bishop. But his ministry did not stop there. He continued to pastor churches and even served as a short-term pastor in the US, working among migrant Chinese people.
Daniel Chong went back to the Lord on October 18, 2022. He completed the race that God had set before him with great endurance and crossed the finish line, winning the victor’s crown for his faithfulness.