Reverend Dr Mark Chua San (蔡山) was born on November 3, 1958 to Chua Kee, an opium dealer, and Khor Hong, a homemaker, in a small fishing village on Pulau Ketam, an island off the coast of Port Klang, Malaysia. He was the ninth of 10 children.
During his childhood, Mark had several near-death experiences swimming in the rivers near his home. Once, while he was playing with some friends in the river, they overturned a sampan (wooden boat) for fun. Trapped under the boat, Mark almost drowned while trying to find a way out. Looking back years later, Mark knew that God preserved his life for a purpose.
In 1965, when Mark was six years old, he was sent to Klang, a town on the mainland, for studies. There, he lived with the family of his mother’s younger sister. He was the only one among his siblings to receive a formal education outside their island village. His family placed their hopes of a better life on his getting an education, but God had other plans. Mark came to know Christ when he was 15 years old. Ng Chong Seng, a relative of his, shared the gospel and brought him to Klang Chinese Methodist Church (KCMC) where he accepted Christ as his Lord and Saviour.
Mark’s mother and older brother fiercely disapproved of his newfound faith, and his family stopped supporting him financially. That taught Mark to trust in God’s faithfulness, and God steadfastly provided for all his needs through friends and the church. After completing the GCE A-Levels in 1978, Mark answered God’s call to missions and joined Operation Mobilisation (OM). His family objected but his father, who was unwell at the time, eventually relented and signed his application for an international passport as Mark was not yet 21. Mark was able to share the gospel message with him before he passed away on June 15, 1979.
Serving with Operation Mobilisation
In July 1979, Mark attended the OM Orientation Conference in Belgium. He then joined the Summer Crusade, an evangelism outreach programme, in Italy for six weeks before boarding the MV Doulos, a missionary ship, in Germany in October 1979. He served on board the Doulos for two years. With his quiet and humble disposition, he built a reputation for having a strong work ethic.
There were weekly prayer meetings on board and, one night, when the crew gathered to pray for India, Mark said, “Here I am. Send me.” In July 1981, Mark left the ship to attend the OM Orientation Conference in Belgium where he met and befriended Serene Wong from Singapore. After the conference, Serene went on to serve with Doulos while Mark went to Gujarat, India for two years from 1981 to 1983.
In India, all teams and programmes were led by locals as it was imperative that the leader knew the culture and language. However, Mark’s team leader at the time had to return home and there were no other locals in Gujarat who were available to lead. The national leadership noted Mark’s humility and integrity, and appointed him as the team leader with some 40 Indians and a Canadian working under him. He was only 23 years old, new on the block, and did not speak the local language. At a loss for what to do, Mark prayed, and God answered mightily. Out in villages and armed only with the Good News, the team faced opposition, persecution, and even physical danger but God was their refuge and strength.
Pastoral ministry in Klang
While in India, Mark felt a deep need to be equipped in Bible knowledge. When he returned home, he sought his church’s support to attend Bible school. They agreed to partially subsidise his studies with the understanding that he would return to serve with the church for three years. So, in 1984, he pursued his theological studies at the Bible College of New Zealand (now Laidlaw College) in Auckland. He worked part-time over summer breaks to cover the rest of his tuition fees and living expenses. After three years, he graduated with a diploma and received an external degree, a Bachelor of Theology (Hons), from the Australian College of Theology.
Mark returned to Malaysia and began serving as an associate pastor with Klang Chinese Methodist Church (KCMC) in January 1987. He and Serene had kept in touch over the years and they were married on November 7, 1987. They had four children: Eugene, Rachel, John, and Justin. At KCMC, the church saw the need for an English worship service to cater to the English-speaking young adults who had grown up in a Chinese church. So, Mark pioneered the service in July 1988.
He was not eloquent and often found it difficult to articulate his thoughts clearly. Language was also a barrier; he had been educated in English and was unable to converse fluently in Mandarin with church members. In fact, throughout his years in ministry, he was known as “the Chinese pastor of a Chinese church who didn’t speak Chinese”. Nevertheless, he pressed on and even attended Mandarin language classes. Despite the obstacles, God showed over and over again that He could use this ordinary and unassuming island boy for His purposes.
Mark was not a charismatic preacher but his sermons always presented the truth about God. He would pore over God’s Word and spend hours preparing his sermons, and Sunday after Sunday, God enabled him to deliver His Word with boldness, clarity, and conviction. The English worship service congregation grew four-fold over the next decade. In 1998, Mark was ordained by The Methodist Church of Malaysia.
One day in 2000, Serene looked out from the kitchen window and prayed, “Lord, send us to a small town where Mark can rest.” That same year, Mark went to Melbourne to visit a friend. While there, he visited the Bible College of Victoria (now Melbourne School of Theology) and his friend encouraged him to pursue postgraduate studies. When he returned home, the desire to take a sabbatical to study grew. Upon discussing it with Serene, he found out that she, too, had been praying about it.
Mark completed a bridging Masters course and was accepted into the Doctor of Ministry programme at the Bible College of Victoria. God marvellously provided all that they needed — Mark’s course fees, the children’s school fees, and six months of living expenses to begin with. Mark’s mother, an unbeliever, was amused that he wanted to further his studies despite being in his 40s, but she gave her blessing. At the time, she was receiving treatment for liver cancer; Mark visited her frequently and took her for medical follow-ups. She prayed to receive Christ just before Mark and his family were due to leave.
In January 2002, after 15 years of pastoral service, Mark and his family moved to Melbourne. His mother passed away two weeks later. At the Bible College, Mark was among a number of other Asian pastors in the doctoral programme. While many foreign students found the change in culture and the academic demands quite demanding, Mark took it all in his stride. He was a pastor at heart and soon, he was also ministering to other students on campus. Academically, his essays were commendable. They were practical, relevant, and well-applied to ministry situations.
In his final year, Mark wanted to do a dissertation on the various aspects of pastoral ministry in Malaysia. However, the lack of material led to a change in direction, and he eventually embarked on a thesis entitled “The Sabbath Rest and Renewal for Pastors in Peninsular Malaysia: A Theological and Practical Consideration”.
In March 2005, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Ministry by the Australian College of Theology. While in Australia, many well-meaning friends tried to persuade Mark to advance his career by staying on after he completed his studies. But Mark knew deep in his heart that his calling was in Malaysia and that the purpose of his studies was to equip him to serve the Lord more effectively back home. Reflecting on his sabbatical years later, Mark wrote, “God had done one of the great miracles in our lives by guiding and providing for our entire family. We spent three wonderful years in the campus of The Bible College – bonding as a family, soaking up the love of a community, expanding our hearts and minds, and enjoying the seasons and beauty of God’s creation.”
Pastoral ministry in Kuala Lumpur
Upon returning to Malaysia, Mark was posted by the Chinese Annual Conference (CAC) of the Methodist Church in Malaysia to serve in the Chinese Methodist (Hokkien) Church, Kuala Lumpur (CMHCKL) beginning January 2005. In 2006, CMHCKL published Mark’s doctoral thesis as Stress, Burnout and the Sabbath for Malaysian Pastors. In 2012, Dr Tan Soo Inn of Graceworks Singapore suggested that his thesis be re-published in a popular format for a wider readership. So, the book Sabbath for Pastors was published. Since its release, the book has blessed many pastors, leaders, and churches by presenting a biblical understanding of the Sabbath and encouraging readers to follow God’s priorities regarding work and rest.
He was especially passionate about member care and the spiritual health of the church and started the cell group ministry for CMHCKL’s bilingual congregation (English and Mandarin). He ran discipleship classes where members were encouraged to grow in their personal relationship with God and equipped to be disciple-makers themselves. He made it a priority to visit church members and always took time to minister to their spiritual, mental, and physical health through fellowship and prayer. Every Sunday, he would make it a point to greet members after service, stationing himself at the door with a warm smile and handshake. Mark was also active in ministry beyond the church.
Mark’s passion for missions never dimmed through the years. His family often hosted missionaries passing through Kuala Lumpur, and he served on the board of Serving In Mission (SIM) West Malaysia and was the council chairman until he passed away.
On July 11, 2017, Mark went out early in the morning to meet with a visiting Filipino missionary family. Then, he went to his office to spend time with the Lord, sent his devotional reflections out to church members via WhatsApp as he did every morning, and returned home shortly after with a neckache. He lay down to rest on his bed and slipped away into eternity.
Later that morning, unaware that Mark had passed away, another missionary family who were personal friends came for a visit and to drop off their luggage for the day. That was Mark. His doors were always open, his hands were always folded in prayer, his heart was always dependent on his God, and his time belonged to the Lord. His love for God was exemplified in every area of his life, whether it be caring for the spiritual health of the church, opening his doors to anyone who knocked, visiting the lonely and marginalised, committing to preaching the Gospel of truth, or loving his friends and family. He gave of himself in the most ordinary and humble of ways, and was faithful till the end.
- ^ There were two other incidents where God protected Mark from serious harm. One was when he was swimming during high tide and a motorboat came dangerously close to him, unaware that he was just inches away in the water. He managed to dart clear of the propellers just in time. On yet another occasion, he dove off a pier and hit his forehead against a pole that was hidden beneath the surface of the water; it just missed his eye.
- ^ On board the Doulos which sailed around Europe and Latin America., Mark was assigned to the Steward Department as the storekeeper. The Steward Department was responsible for the accommodation and food supplies for the 350-strong missionary crew on board, and the storekeeper was the right-hand person of the chief steward. Mark’s responsibilities included keeping track of stores and ensuring proper stowage of provisions. It was hard labour, especially when the stores had to be transported from the dock on to the ship.
- ^ Mark Chua, Sabbath for Pastors (Singapore: Graceworks Private Limited, 2012), xv.
- ^ CMHCKL had preaching points in Miharja, Serendah, and Cameron Highlands, and Mark would often travel to the preaching points to preach and administer the Holy Communion to the congregations there. He was also instrumental in starting the Orang Asli ministry, and partnered different churches in reaching out and ministering to the indigenous communities in Cameron Highlands and Raub. Mark also had a burden for prison ministry and would make visits to the Kajang Prison to minister to inmates there.
Chua, Mark. Stress, Burnout and the Sabbath for Malaysian Pastors. Kuala Lumpur: Chinese Methodist (Hokkien) Church, 2006.
Chua, Mark. Sabbath for Pastors. Singapore: Graceworks Private Limited, 2012.
Chua, Mark. Sabbath for Pastors. Klang Chinese Methodist Church, 2018. Shah Alam CMC [in Chinese].
Ng, B. Klang Chinese Methodist Church 120th Anniversary cum 40th Mission Conference Souvenir Magazine, 2017.
“Rev Dr Mark Chua San's Memorial”. PowerPoint presentation. Klang, Malaysia.
Tan, J. & Chua, R. “In Memory of the Late Rev Dr Mark Chua”. KL Chinese Methodist (Hokkien) Church Anniversary Magazine, 2017.
Yeoh, G. “English Worship Service and Cell Group Ministry”. Klang Chinese Methodist Church 120th Anniversary cum 40th Mission Conference Souvenir Magazine.
Dr Keith Hinton (firstname.lastname@example.org), then (founding) director of the Professional Ministries Department, Bible College of Victoria.
Mr Billy Ng (email@example.com), Mark’s friend from the Methodist Intermediate Fellowship in the 1970s.
Mr Ebbo Buurma (firstname.lastname@example.org), Mark’s mentor (Chief Steward, 1979-1981) and friend from MV Doulos.
Mr Michael Hack (Michael.Hack@om.org), Mark’s cabin mate and friend from MV Doulos who also went on to serve in OM India.
Mr Steve Yap (email@example.com), Mark’s friend from MV Doulos who was also on the IT Programme.
Mrs Serene Chua (firstname.lastname@example.org), Mark’s wife.
Reverend Yeo Teong Loke (email@example.com), then-senior pastor of Klang Chinese Methodist Church.