Lee Ah Ngow was born on September 13, 1916 in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan. His father, Lee Hin, was unable to provide for the family and died when Lee was about four. After Lee Hin’s death, Ah Ngow’s mother had to work as a domestic helper to support the family. The younger Lee went to the Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) Seremban. He was a bright boy but eventually, he had to drop out of school. Lee’s mother remarried and had two more children from her second marriage.
Lee had to fend for himself and so, in the early 1930s, he left Seremban for Kuala Lumpur and found a job with Malayan Railways (MR), working his way up from an apprentice until he retired in 1971 as a federal boiler inspector. As a senior technician with the Malayan Railways, he was tasked with the safe operation of locomotive boiler engines nationwide.
The brief time spent in ACS Seremban with its Methodist ethos laid the foundation for Lee’s lifelong commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. But it was at Venning Road Gospel Hall in Kuala Lumpur that he came to know the Lord. Thereafter, he was driven by a strong desire to serve God and in towns large or small that he was sent to in the course of his railway work, he actively participated in churches as a teacher or mentor.
At Venning Road Gospel Hall, site of the present-day National Mosque, Lee met David Angus, a missionary from Scotland, who encouraged him to join the Davidson Road Gospel Hall in Chinatown to help out with the Chinese dialect work. Although Lee had rudimentary knowledge of the Chinese language, he felt the Lord’s call to help out with the work. In time, he was able to read and preach in Chinese as well as to interpret sermons into Cantonese or English.
At this time, there were several young men at Davidson Road Gospel Hall who were very active. They included Chan Fook Weng, an energetic leader who was very fervent for the Lord, Loo Yew Pin who was attached to the Malayan Railway and Mark Ma Thum Soon, a gifted preacher who regularly spoke in the church. Ma was born blind and later attended the St Nicholas School for the Blind. Lee grew in spiritual maturity through fellowship with this group of young leaders. David Angus and later Miss Gibson, who was a missionary from Australia, were also of much encouragement to Lee.
In 1957, Lee was promoted to district boiler chargeman, based in Ipoh. Sadly, his wife, Chow Hung Yin, passed away while giving birth to Wendy, their youngest of six children, and Lee became a single parent for the next eight years. Through David Angus, Lee was put in touch with Phyllis Wilson, a missionary from New Zealand who was running Elim Home. He arranged for Wendy, by then a two-month old baby, to stay at the home. Wendy was the last to be taken care of by Elim Home and when she returned to the family, Wilson closed the home to move to Johor Bahru to start an assembly work.
During this difficult period of his life, Lee’s faith in the Lord was very much tested. He was regularly away from home for half a month to attend to outstation duties. Despite this, he made time for the Lord’s work and played a useful role because of two abilities. First, he spoke and wrote competently in English and had improved his Chinese so much that he was able to preach and teach in Cantonese. Secondly, he was a man of discipline with strong leadership ability, derived from being in charge of a team of workers in the railway. Yet he was respectful of the views of others.
In 1968, Lee was invited to serve as an elder in the Chinese-speaking congregation of Elim Gospel Hall in Ipoh and was involved in the preaching and visitation ministries. Together with the missionary Phyllis Wilson, he made regular visits to the homes of believers living in Batu Gajah as well as patients of Hospital Bahagia (previously known as the Central Mental Hospital) in Tanjung Rambutan, about 16km from Ipoh.
In January 1965, Lee married Chia Kim Kee and they became co-partners in the Lord’s work for close to 27 years. In 1970, Lee was promoted to federal boiler inspector and was transferred back to Sentul. He returned to Davidson Road Gospel Hall and served as an elder together with Khoo Ah Chai. By this time, the congregation had grown with many living in the residential areas of Cheras, Kepong, Sentul, Setapak and Ampang which were fast developing into satellite townships.
With his retirement from MR, Lee moved to a single-storey terrace house in Kepong Bahru in Kepong. Together with Mrs Lee and a small group of believers, he continued to attend the Davidson Road Gospel Hall. Sometime in mid-1973, the leadership of Davidson Road Gospel Hall saw the huge potential for outreach work in Kepong and its surrounding areas. Lee was more than happy to use his own house in Kepong Bahru for the Lord’s work and to spearhead the extension work. Around 15 believers gathered for the first breaking of bread service on August 4, 1974. The Chinese Assembly church met in the house for about eight years.
The assembly witnessed steady growth. Neighbourhood children would flock eagerly to the house church on Sunday afternoons for the weekly Sunday school. God provided a team of faithful and dedicated teachers, many of whom came regularly to help from the mother church (Davidson Road) after their own morning church service.
Soon, the single-storey terrace house could no longer accommodate the growing congregation and in mid-1975, the oversight of Davidson Road Gospel Hall discussed the need for the Kepong house church to have a building of its own. The Kepong Building Fund was set up and the Lord moved the hearts of many to give willingly and sacrificially in cash and kind. Among them was a small group of faithful believers from the Sungai Buloh Gospel Hall who met weekly in a single-storey wooden building located on the grounds of the Sungai Buloh Leprosarium. The church had been started by Brethren missionaries, and Lee preached regularly at this church.
The Kepong Gospel Chapel (KGC) building was the culmination of the collective efforts of many but Lee personally oversaw the entire process from beginning to end. When the developer sold off the shoplot unit allocated to KGC by mistake, Lee negotiated for a piece of land in exchange. Despite difficulties in getting approval from the relevant authorities for new church buildings, Lee tenaciously turned up every day at government departments and, eventually, with much prayer from the congregation, obtained permission not only to have a church but also a church building approved. The building was completed and officially dedicated on August 22, 1981. On January 1,1982, the KGC was granted autonomy by the oversight of Davidson Road Gospel Hall.
Lee admired the Bible character, Daniel. In his own life, he was courageous and feared only God. He had boundless energy and even in his seventies, he was still taking on preaching engagements in the Chinese Assemblies in Klang and Seremban.
He passed away on March 15, 1991 at the age of 75. His story is that of an ordinary Christian, limited in education and resources, yet one whom the Lord used and who served as a testimony of God’s faithfulness and all-sufficient grace.
Lee Kam Hing, “The Christian Brethren”. In Christianity in Malaysia: A Denominational History, edited by Robert Hunt, Lee Kam Hing and John Roxborogh, 107-141. Petaling Jaya: Pelanduk Publications, 1992.
Jalan Imbi Chapel 1962-2012, 50th Anniversary Souvenir Programme. Kuala Lumpur, 2012.
Rowdon, Harold H., ed. The Brethren Contribution to the Worldwide Mission of the Church. Carlise, UK: Paternoster, 1994.
Vincent, L.A. Walk Along the Tracks. Kuala Lumpur: Self-published, 2010.
30th Anniversary Thanksgiving Souvenir Programme of Kepong Gospel Chapel.
Church Records, Elim Gospel Hall (Chinese Assembly), Ipoh.
Church Records, Gospel Hall Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Hang Jebat.
Interviews with children of Lee Ah Ngow, son Lee Kam Tuck and daughter Wendy Lee Pik Wan.