Rev Loh Soon Choy was born on September 28, 1938 in George Town, Penang, in pre-independence Malaya. His father Peng Yong came from China to work in tin mining and trading. His mother Lau Koen Lan, from Singapore, became Peng Yong’s second wife, his first having been left behind in China. Rev Loh’s mother died of pneumonia at 52, when he was in Form Six.
The 13th of 16 children, he was the only one to receive the most education in English, up to Master’s level. Rev Loh completed his primary education at Hutchings School and secondary education at the Penang Free School. His aim was to be a science teacher. In 1957, he took up a Penang state teaching bursary to study at the University of Malaya in Singapore, turning down the far more prestigious Colombo Plan Scholarship. By then, his parents were more stable financially so that their youngest son did not need to stop school early to work.
In his memoirs Grandfather Stories: Tin, Rubber And Rice But Not Everything Nice published a year before his death, he wrote about rejecting the Colombo Plan Scholarship: “Such was my thinking as I was not brought up to be ‘too ambitious’, just ‘enough to know and to instruct’.”
A classmate named Ang How Ghee shared the Gospel with him when both were first-year students at university. Soon Choy became a Christian and joined the Varsity Christian Fellowship (VCF) which became his spiritual community. From VCF, he met the Rev Dr E.N. Poulson who was then the dean of the Singapore Bible College (SBC) and became one of his mentors.
He completed only two out of the four years of his Science degree at the University of Malaya (1957-1959), due to a fall-out with a lecturer who failed him. “It also could be said I did not realise my full potential. In university, I fell in and out of love, had a misunderstanding with a lecturer and failed in my lessons, and got too caught up in exciting talks and meetings organised by the VCF, the Students’ Union and the Socialist Club.”
He then took up a teaching diploma at the Malayan Teachers College in Penang, turning down a scholarship to study for the same diploma at Brinsford Lodge in Wolverhampton, England, so as to be near his family. This led to some of his siblings and eventually, nephews and nieces, becoming Christians as he witnessed to them over the years. Many in his extended family now credit him as being the person who brought them and their families to Christ.
After nearly a decade of teaching science subjects in upper secondary schools in Penang and Johor, he was offered the headmaster’s post in a growing lower secondary school, but turned it down. By then, he had felt the call to full-time ministry. He ended his career as a school teacher in Kluang, Johor, with the intention of joining the Discipleship Training Centre (DTC) in Singapore, started by the Overseas Missionary Fellowship.
He counted his two years from 1968-1970 at DTC as “the most defining thread of grace, apart from my salvation in Christ” Soon Choy was part of the first cohort of about a dozen young people from nine countries who trained for Christian ministry together under one roof. After graduating with the University of London’s external diploma in theology, he was eager to be a missionary to Nepal but was advised against this by the dean of DTC at the time, David Adeney.
“Mr Adeney said Soon Choy needed a wife to slow him down before he could go to any mission field. Soon Choy talked fast, ate fast, thought too fast. He was too serious and did not make time for fun and play. I think Mr Adeney wanted him to be a more rounded person,” recounted Lydia Kartika Kristanto, who would later become his wife. An Indonesian four years his junior, Lydia had also come to DTC with the same heart for full-time ministry.
Taking Adeney’s advice, Soon Choy became a lecturer at SBC, the first Asian lecturer at the college. The subject of a monthly salary never arose and he did not ask, assuming that he would eventually be paid. By the third month of working without any wages, he enquired if he should be raising support as was the practice of the foreign missionaries who served as lecturers at the college. SBC then began paying him a small monthly wage, and he became the college’s first paid staff.
Soon Choy taught Old Testament and New Testament subjects at SBC for four years. During this period, he also served as a part-time pastor of Emmanuel Evangelical Free Church (EFC) in Singapore. He was ordained as an EFC minister by the Singapore EFC on May 12, 1974.
At the same time, he also undertook self-study to prepare for the University of London’s external Bachelor of Divinity degree. But he failed two papers, which he did not re-sit. Despite not obtaining his Bachelor’s degree, he was accepted into the Master of Theology course at the Asian Theological Seminary in Manila on the strength of two other papers in his Bachelor’s course, one being ethics, a subject he later taught at MBS. He obtained the Masters cum laude in 1982.
He was then offered a PhD scholarship by Aberdeen University in Scotland, in a joint programme with the University of Tübingen, Germany. He rejected this offer, feeling that he had “enough to know and to instruct” for the work needed in Malaysia, a developing country.
On sabbatical from MBS in 1994, Soon Choy audited courses at the Overseas Ministries Study Centre (OMSC), then located in New Haven, Connecticut, USA, and at the nearby Yale University as well. He earned a Certificate in Missions Studies from OMSC. He was also invited to be a research fellow at the Yale Divinity School, but turned this down, too.
Marriage and early ministry
Soon Choy and Lydia were married in Singapore on July 10, 1971, and Rev Poulson officiated the wedding. They went on to have two children, Deborah and Miriam.
After his ordination in 1974, he and Lydia moved from Singapore to Kuala Terengganu, on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, because of the burden he felt for Christian work in Malaysia. By this time, many foreign missionaries were forced to leave due to more restrictive immigration policies. He was assigned to the Petaling Jaya Evangelical Free Church (PJEFC) but the church could not yet afford to pay a pastor’s salary and arranged for him to be seconded for two years to a Presbyterian church in Kuala Terengganu that needed a pastor.
In 1976, Soon Choy, Lydia and one-year-old Deborah left Kuala Terengganu for Petaling Jaya to begin serving at PJEFC, founded in 1967 by EFC missionaries from Canada. He was PJEFC’s first local pastor, serving alongside a board of fellow Malaysians who had been trained by Canadian missionaries in church leadership.
When his two-year contract with PJEFC ended in 1978, he took up a suggestion by friends in the OMF to urgently fill a vacancy as head of a Christian training institute, Pusat Latihan Kristian Melaka (PLKM), after its founding dean, OMF missionary Rev Peter Warner, stepped down due to poor health. That same year, PLKM merged with another OMF-sponsored teaching centre for Chinese-speaking Malaysian Christians. The new entity was called the Malaysia Bible Seminary (MBS). PLKM was renamed the English Department of MBS, and it was where Soon Choy would serve for the next 30 years.
As the English Department’s founding dean, he is credited with managing the transition of PLKM into MBS after the merger. He was dean until 1984, and for a second time from 1991 to 1993. From 1994 to 1998, he was the department’s associate dean, and retired as lecturer emeritus in 2008, at the age of 70.
He taught church history, theology and practical theology, modern theology, history of Christianity, Christian spirituality and comparative religion.
“He was the acknowledged theologian, not only to MBS but to the theological fraternity in Malaysia. Professionals such as medical doctors and lawyers had come to study with MBS due to his friendliness and respect for his scholarship,” said former MBS principal Rev Tan Kim Sai.
Tan said Rev Loh continued to contribute to MBS and theological study in Malaysia even after his retirement, by mentoring students for papers and theses, and by giving part-time lectures.
“It was through him that I realised a theologian can also be pastoral. He was so knowledgeable but never made anyone feel small or intimidated. His grace-giving life has influenced me and others in ministry to pour out our lives unreservedly for others with humility, kindness and humour,” said former student Alexa Ho, now a pastor.
Evangelical Free Church of Malaysia (EFCM)
EFCM is a fellowship of over a dozen EFC churches in Malaysia and Rev Loh was an ex-officio member, its advisor emeritus and chairman of the ordination committee. His major theological contributions to the organisation, according to past chairmen Pastor Chan Ah Kee and Pastor David Low, were in the area of developing clear guidelines and policies for EFC pastors in the country.
He initiated the EFCM Pastoral Manual to be a Bible-based theological guide for “all sorts of situations a church and pastor might be faced with”. He also pushed EFCM to formulate a position on accepting the ordination of women pastors. The fellowship had been largely silent on the issue even as EFCs in Hong Kong and Japan began ordaining women pastors. In 2017, EFCM formalised its stand that women pastors were eligible for ordination.
The guidelines he wrote for the ordination of EFC pastors and leaders are still being used by EFCM’s Ordination Committee.
In 2017, two years before his death, Rev Loh was given EFCM’s Legacy Award for his contributions to the denomination.
Theologian, pastor and mentor
He was also active in the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF), Asian Beacon, Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), and Teachers’ Christian Fellowship of Malaysia (TCF).
NECF was founded in 1982 to represent evangelical churches in facing issues that impinged on their religious freedom. Rev Loh became a member of NECF’s Research Commission in 2000, providing theological input for churches dealing with emerging trends and challenges such as gender identity and LGBT issues, humanism, rule of law and poverty. He was known for attending every meeting of the commission, and remained a member till his death.
“He had a richness of thought that stemmed from his experience both as a pastor and teacher,” said NECF secretary-general Pastor Samuel Ang.
He also served at Asian Beacon, the country’s first Christian magazine established in 1969 by Ben Sawatsky, the EFC missionary who planted PJEFC. Reverend Loh was editorial board member, chairman of the board (from 1989 to 1992), and advisor, the latter until his passing. He edited articles when requested, especially those that were theological in nature, even when he was ill, and would distribute copies of Asian Beacon everywhere he went. He also wrote articles for the magazine on diverse topics. 
“When we were without an editor for a long period and stopped production for almost a year, Rev Loh took up the chairmanship to save the magazine from becoming defunct,” said former chairman Dr Ong Hwee Keng.
The magazine eventually ceased print publication and switched to a digital format in 2019, also its 50th anniversary, a year before Rev Loh’s death.
“He continued to advise the board even while he was ill. He even helped with editing and it is a marvel that his mind was so sharp while his body was weak. He exemplified what it means to serve God till one drops,” said exco member Chong Chee Cheng.
Rev Loh was a member of the BSM executive council from 2010 to 2018. BSM general secretary Rev Mathew K. Punnoose, also a board member for a few years during that period, said Rev Loh provided theological and historical input, especially on the use of the word “Allah” for God in the Bahasa Malaysia Bible, the Alkitab. The right to use the word without government restrictions has been and still is an on-going quest for the Malaysian church, especially indigenous language-speakers who seek to refer to God as they have done for generations, and as first used in the earliest translations of the Bible into the local language.
Rev Loh wrote several articles for the BSM newsletter on the “Allah” topic, supporting its use in Malay Bibles.
His continuing influence on BSM today is his broad-minded and inclusive approach towards all Christian denominations, said Rev Matthew.
Rev Loh was also a life member of TCF, joining as one of its early members at its founding in 1961 when he was a schoolteacher in Kluang, Johor. In his later years, he wrote prolifically for its quarterly newsletter, In Step, on topics aimed at encouraging teachers to persevere in their “high calling” as educators.
“Education precedes every other profession in moral, social and political impact… The ultimate test of a teacher’s heart is the heart of a missionary. For teaching is a mission and we as Christian teachers are on a life mission after God’s own missionary heart – to bring His ultimate saving Light and Faith to the world,” he wrote in one newsletter article titled The Heart of a Divine Teacher, in 2012.
A lifelong teacher long after his retirement, he recognised the importance of keeping the fellowship going to support Christian teachers in a country where Christians are a minority group.
He died on November 11, 2020 at the age of 82 after living with Stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer diagnosed in early 2017. The cancer, which had spread to his lower spinal column, had recurred after a hiatus from the first diagnosis in 2005. As the cancer advanced and he was confined to the home, he continued to be pastor and mentor to many who visited, always sending off each visitor with a prayer. His wife of nearly 50 years, Lydia Kartika Kristanto, described him as a “pastor-academician”, a person with a heart for people and a mind for the study of God.
- ^ Loh Soon Choy, Grandfather Stories: Tin, Rubber And Rice But Not Everything Nice (Kuala Lumpur: Self-published, 2019), 56.
- ^ Writing about his conversion, Rev Loh said: “Although he (Ang) could not answer all my questions satisfactorily, I was impressed by the joyful, loving, prayerful and humble behaviour of How Ghee and his friends from the VCF. Their impact had been made and when I read through Matthew’s gospel in the New Testament in the quiet of my room in Dunearn Road Hostel, I broke down in tears as I felt that I was indeed a sinner and that Christ’s death on the Cross made sense, to save whoever repents and believes in Him.” Grandfather Stories: Tin, Rubber And Rice But Not Everything Nice, 93.
- ^ Loh, Grandfather Stories, 42.
- ^ Loh, Grandfather Stories, 95.
- ^ Conversation with Lydia Loh.
- ^ The list of topics he wrote on showed his desire that people learn how to apply theology to daily life:
“Abuses in Church”, March 1997. On ethics and discipline in church.
“Festivals and Celebrations”, January 1998. On why Christians are called to celebrate and how they can redeem cultural festivals for the Gospel.
“Going Places: A reflection on Calling & Destiny”, August 2001. On understanding calling and vocation.
“China’s Leap Forward”, February 2003. Reflections after a visit to Beijing and other Chinese cities about the republic’s spiritual condition.
“The Golden Years”, October 2004. On being realistic about aging and choosing in one’s later years, what type of person to become.
“In Search of Happiness”, December 2005. On the world’s definition of happiness and quest for spiritual experiences, in contrast with the Christian view.
“The Shattered Mirror”, December 2010. On how Christians can reclaim the arts and entertainment sector for the Gospel.
“A life worth celebrating”, December 2011. On the faith, contributions and passing of well-known Malaysian advertising professional Raymond Chew.
“Our Cultural Commonalities”, February 2012. On Malaysia’s racialised problems and finding common ground between ethnic groups.
“Beauty in Old Age”, April 2012. On the place of the elderly in church and community.
“Singles, Sex and the City”, August 2012. On modern society’s over-sexualised culture and over-emphasis given to sex. Examined singlehood as a holy status and calling.
“Food for Fire in My Body”, December 2012. On personal health problems, namely his journey in living with rheumatoid arthritis.
“The Reason for the Season? Radical Gratitude”, December 2016. On practicing gratitude.
- ^ According to Dr Ong Hwee Keng, Rev Loh was particularly concerned that Asian Beacon play a role in enhancing readers’ theological understanding. “He said that so many Bible verses were being preached out of context. He wanted at least one article per issue to deal with theological subjects. But he failed to see it happen. He was not one to push his way with others.” Rev Loh was also adamant that Asian Beacon continue to publish printed hardcopies, as its licence to publish from the government was not something to be given up easily. He saw the value of keeping the publishing permit in a country where Christians are a minority. “He said that if the government were to withdraw Asian Beacon’s permit, we would never get it back again,” said Ong. Rev Loh had shared these thoughts in 1995 amid pressure from new board members and editorial staff at the magazine who wanted to stop hard copy production and move to a digital format.
- ^ According to Rev Mathew K. Punnoose, Rev Loh was what he would call an “ecumenical evangelical”. “Some Christians from certain traditions cannot accept the views of other denominations but Rev Loh did not take a narrow view of things. He was a larger-thinking person. He even supported the Bahasa Malaysia translation of the Apocrypha for the Catholic Church here… In his understanding of theology, he tried to include everybody. Though he was strongly opinionated about his own views, he would try to accommodate all views and move on… Ultimately, this attitude spoke of his inclusive and pastoral heart.”
- ^ Some of the In Step articles he wrote:“Celebrating the Jubilee Year: The original Jubilee and Sabbatical principles in the Old Testament”, 2011.“50 Years of Impacting Lives, Changing Futures”, written in 2011 for TCF’s 50th anniversary. On the value of self-reflection and telling our stories as a way to recount God’s blessings. “In God’s Time: An Early TCFer’s Story”, 2010. A brief history on the role and impact of OMF missionaries in Johor on TCF members and a call to Christian teachers to be confident about their calling and mission.
Loh Soon Choy. Grandfather Stories: Tin, Rubber And Rice But Not Everything Nice. Kuala Lumpur: Self-published, 2019.
Interviews with persons quoted.