Yim Tuck Fatt was born on February 15, 1907 in Singapore. When he was about three, he fell off while riding pillion on a bicycle and was warned by his older brother not to tell anyone about it.
His mother had to carry him up the stairs to their apartment because he was unable to walk after that. As a result, he could not go to school and was tutored at home in classical Cantonese by his father, a Chinese sinseh (a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine). His father died when Yim was young but he had learnt enough to translate Mandarin sermons to Cantonese in later life. He later learnt English from his nephews and nieces.
He finally learnt to walk when he was 10 and was then able to go to school. One of his teachers would frequently tell him, “Jesus loves you.” After becoming a Christian, Yim had an insatiable desire to bring everyone to Christ and at the age of 14, he began preaching the simple gospel of salvation to old folks, the unemployed and the poor.
To augment the family finances, he became an apprentice in a shop selling funeral paraphernalia on Keong Saik Street in Singapore, and was skilled at Chinese calligraphy written on banners.
Yim moved to Kampar, Perak where he met Yip Teck Woh, a graduate teacher from the renowned Ginling College in Nanking (now Nanjing) in China. She would not marry a non-graduate so he registered to study at Raffles College in Singapore, graduating in 1934. They married soon after and settled in Sungei Siput in Perak. Their two daughters were born at 162 Club Road but the oldest passed on while in senior high school. The younger, Choong Sum, later migrated to Australia with her husband and children.
Yim studied Hebrew and Greek in order to understand the Bible better. He became a Methodist minister but insisted on being called “pastor” and not “reverend”. This humble “barefoot preacher” who was always dressed in white would cycle to Sitiawan, Tanjung Rambutan and Chemor to carry out his ministry. During the insurgency when the security forces were fighting the Communists in Malaya, he was advised to dress in dark clothes for his own safety but that did not deter him from wearing white.
He became a teacher in a public school and the school children loved him as he always had sweets and chocolates in his pockets and gave them rides in his jalopy. His detention classes attracted so many students that he was taken off duty. Yim, his wife Teck Woh and his nephew tutored poor children in their home to enable them to write simple letters and help improve their grades.
Later on, he raised funds to found a school in Sungei Siput where he became the headmaster, and he diligently recorded every donation. The school was later named ACS and the first principal was Mr Perry.
Yim was transferred to Nibong Tebal in then Province Wellesley (now Seberang Perai) and he drove there in his small Austin. To cut expenses, he would thumb lifts from truck drivers, buying them meals and evangelising them. The news spread and thereafter, Yim had no difficulty in getting lifts. Yim even converted his car to run on kerosene, to save on petrol. Once the car engine had heated up enough, he would switch the car to run on kerosene and it worked!
His lifestyle was simple and basic – a bed and some food. The family did not even own a fridge. The needs of others were foremost in his mind so much so that he once gave away new cane furniture that he had bought except for one chair, which upset his family!
His white jacket was so worn out and patched that when he visited his cousin in Hong Kong, a suit was made for him. But he never wore it and when his tailor died of old age, it was the prisoners he preached to in prison who sewed for him.
The way he lived inspired many who knew him. His daughter Choong Sum said he made no rules about how one should live, never saying “no”, yet gently urging people to follow Christ.
In 1976, Yim preached at Seremban prison where his friend’s son was incarcerated. Compassion and zeal to reach out to prisoners took hold of Yim and upon retirement from teaching, he began prison ministry full-time. On November 6, 1979, the then 74-year-old Yim took the train from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru. Whilst wandering around, he saw the cross on the Holy Light Church and there, he found a group of Gideons praying for prisoners. This divine appointment subsequently led to weekly services being held in the Johor Bahru prison.
Such was his passion to save souls that Yim would travel the length of Peninsular Malaysia, sometimes on the overnight train, to visit prisoners in the morning. He travelled by train, car and taxi and would sometimes walk for miles to reach prisoners in the Pudu, Kajang, Seremban, Johor Bahru, Taiping and Kuantan prisons. Yim was such a regular visitor that he was given a special pass by prison guards. Every Christmas and New Year, he would send Kentucky Fried Chicken, apples and ice cream to prison authorities and inmates in the country, spending the entire week away from his family. The bills would then be passed to churches that he visited!
He challenged local pastors to get involved in prison ministry and taught many people creative and non-confrontational ways of sharing the gospel. He also taught people a great principle about helping others. “Loan the amount that is requested such that it won’t affect your relationship. Treat it as a gift. If the person returns the loan, accept it gladly,” he advised.
He was a resourceful man who shared fish, pens, Bibles, groceries and food with the poor. Some ex-prisoners whom Yim ministered to later became fishmongers at the Selayang wholesale market in Selangor. They would present him with fish which he gladly shared with others.
He wanted to help prisoners adjust to the real world upon their release. This would later inspire some former prisoners, with the help of local churches, to set up half-way houses where skills like painting, gardening and cooking were taught.
Yim passed away at the age of 88 on April 1, 1995.