Betty Meadows Young was born to a working-class family on June 1, 1922 at her grandparents’ farmhouse near Ipswich in Suffolk, England. She was the youngest of three children of Ben and Mabel Meadows.
Betty’s family moved to the seaside town of Felixstowe, some 14 miles southeast, when she was a year old. Her father Ben continued to run a grocery store there. Betty started her education at the village school when she was four. In February 1933, Betty’s mother Mabel died of cancer. Betty was then only 10 years old and her two brothers, Roy and Russell, were seven and three years older, respectively.
Her teenage years were troubled, due to the absence of a mother and an overindulgent father who was dealing with his own grief. At 14, she met a friend Margaret, four years older, who challenged her to give her life to Jesus. Betty would later describe that experience of praying to invite Jesus into her heart and how she brimmed with joy. Her formal education continued until Form 4 when she left school to enrol in Miss Platt’s School for shorthand and typing.
When World War II erupted a year later, 17-year-old Betty was already commuting by bus every day to Ipswich for work, returning to Felixstowe to “the darkness of the blackout”.  To avoid German air bombers, Britain endured enforced darkness for six years until 1945. Street lights were switched off at the mains, vehicle headlights were masked to show only a crack of light, and stations were lit by candles.
Despite her conversion, Betty strayed from her faith until a missionary to the Arctic, Canon John Hudspith Turner, shepherded her back to fellowship. By then, she had joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) and was assigned to type the captain’s letters. In 1945, at the end of World War II, Betty received the missionary call to China.
In 1946, after her discharge from the naval service, Betty attended the Bible Churchmen’s Missionary Training College for women in Dalton House, Bristol for two years. On January 16, 1948, Betty left England with fellow missionary Muriel Morrow on the SS Canton. On April 6 she arrived at her destination Guang’an, 100 miles north of Chongqing in Sichuan province.
Once in China, Betty began studying Mandarin and cultural knowledge, basic healthcare and evangelism. On December 9, 1949, Guang’an was “liberated” by the Communists. Earlier, on October 1, Mao Zedong had declared the creation of the People’s Republic of China.The Communist regime had no room for religion, and thus began an expulsion of missionaries en masse from China. On June 30, 1951, after three-and-a-half years in China, Betty left Guang’an on a sampan before boarding a steamer and an airplane back to England, cutting short her tenure of five years.
Came 1952, in the midst of her transition back to life in England, Betty became the secretary to Canon A.T. Houghton, General Secretary of Bible Churchmen’s Missionary Society. A year later, she applied to OMF, and officially joined it the following spring. On October 2, 1953, Betty once again left England via Southampton on board the Peninsula & Oriental ship Chusan, and arrived in Singapore after three weeks. At OMF, she learnt Malay, Japanese, Thai, Tagalog and three Chinese dialects: Hokkien, Hakka and Cantonese which she was much better at than the Mandarin she had learnt in China earlier. It was here that she met Peter Young.
Betty studied Cantonese daily with Peter and other new missionary recruits and five months later, they were sent to work in the new villages in the state of Perak, under the OMF field of North Malaya. The new villages were predominantly Chinese resettlement camps under the Briggs Plan during the twilight years of British rule in Malaya, created to cut off villagers’ support to the communist insurgents waging guerilla warfare from the jungles.
Betty was assigned to the Tapah Road New Village before being reassigned to Slim River. It was at this point that she realised she had feelings for Peter. In 1956, Betty was assigned to Mambang Di Awan with another missionary, Ethel Barkworth. Their neighbour Mrs Tham was converted, followed by the Tham family soon after. From 1956 to 1957, Betty worked in the Lawan Kuda New Village with missionary Marion Parsons, taking over the pioneering effort of Australian missionary Ray Flatau and Peter Young. In 1958, Betty returned to England for her home leave. She had no inkling that she was to see her father for the last time.
In 1959, Betty returned to Malaya and was assigned to Bidor New Village. The following year, while helping out at the Diocesan Youth Camp, Peter professed his feelings for her. Caught by surprise, Betty exclaimed, “Oh no”. Peter took that as her rejection of him.In May 1961 while she was in Bidor, Betty’s father passed away in England after contracting an infection due to the removal of a gallstone. It wasn’t until July 1963, after four years in Bidor, that Betty returned to England again.
In January 1964, she met Peter (who was on home leave) in Ipswich. The miscommunication between them was cleared up and they got engaged. Betty remained in England for a short period to nurse her stepmother Connie, who died in February. On August 8, 1964, Peter and Betty were married at St Mary’s Church in Kuala Lumpur. Thus began Betty’s married life in the capital city of now Malaysia.
Malaysian at heart
Betty and Peter’s only child Joanna was born on May 12, 1965. The same year, Peter became a Malaysian citizen while Betty remained a permanent resident in her adopted country. She told her house cleaner Wan Ah Hoe years later: “If I pass away here (in Malaysia), I will be buried here. If Peter passes away before I do, he will be buried here and I will return to England.” Before their demise, they had purchased two plots of land at the Lutheran Garden cemetery in Subang, Selangor, for their final resting place.
In 1969, the Youngs moved from Kuala Lumpur to Petaling Jaya, a thriving suburb. The following year, after some time in England on home assignment, the family returned to Malaysia just as Peter’s work with Scripture Union was expanding. Betty became her husband’s secretary, her administrative skills and meticulous nature complementing his pioneering endeavours. Her hospitality and genuine care for others were also apparent.
One day in 1972, she noticed a change in her husband — he was revived with a joy that affected her and also church members.Betty longed for this blessing and later found it by taking in a lonely beggar and caring for him. She was initially reluctant to have a stranger in her home, but as she obeyed the prodding of the Spirit, she found herself not only caring for Krishnan’s physical needs, but also helping him to connect and return to his long-lost family in India — after 35 years of separation.
Betty wrote: “Altogether, from the time he came in until the day he left, Krishnan stayed with us for six weeks. As he wanted to go to the market at 4am each day we left the front gate and front door unlocked. I can honestly say that during the whole of those six weeks I had never felt so safe and secure. It was as if angels were around guarding us. And oh, I felt so blessed!” Silently, the seeds of compassion for the marginalised had been sown.
While sending their daughter Joanna to boarding school in India in 1979, the Youngs witnessed extreme poverty there and returned to Malaysia with a new purpose — caring and social work. In 1980, Peter became the first executive director of Malaysian Care, a Christian non-governmental organisation helping the poor and needy. Over the next 28 years, Betty was his stalwart support with the establishment of Dignity and Services (1991) and the Micah Mandate (2008), both of which gave a voice to the downtrodden and marginalised.
Betty died on December 8, 2009 aged 89, after battling colon cancer. Five years later, Peter passed away, aged 88.
Betty’s life is best described by those who remember her. “She radiated joy and kindness to all and was a Christian servant to the disadvantaged,” said Catherine Chew Ah Moy, a former Malaysian Care staff who left her job at a daycare centre for seniors in 2007 to care for Betty when she was stricken with cancer. “It was such a privilege to observe their godly lifestyle as they were gracious both inside and outside their home. I had never heard them utter an unkind word about anyone,” added Chew, who lived with the Youngs for 23 years from 1991, first as a tenant, then as a carer. She stayed on after Betty’s death in 2009 to take care of Peter Young until he too passed away in June 2014.
Wan, who worked 22 years for the couple until Peter Young’s demise, said: “I never felt like a maid as they treated me with respect. I cleaned their house three times a week and they always invited me to take a break to join them for tea. When my husband was in a coma, they drove me to the hospital every day as I didn’t have transport. I had seen them hugging people who were sick and dirty… they were like walking Christs, truly angels sent by God to help the poor here.”
“Betty lived by the dictum to 'live simply so that others may simply live',” said Angeline Lim, widow of Soo Ewe Jin, the author of Peter Young, God’s Caring Servant and friend of the Young family.
- ^ Betty Young, Before I Fall Asleep: The Life and Times of Betty Young (Malaysia, Setiakawan Printers, 2008), 1–8.
- ^ Young, Before I Fall Asleep, 12.
- ^ Felicity, Goodall. “Life During The Blackout”, The Guardian. Accessed November 23, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/nov/01/blackout-britain-wartime
- ^ Young, Before I Fall Asleep, 25.
- ^ Young, Before I Fall Asleep, 25.
- ^ Young, Before I Fall Asleep, 63.
- ^ “The Chinese Revolution of 1949”, Office of the Historian. Accessed November 23, 2021. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/chinese-rev
- ^ Young, Before I Fall Asleep, 80.
- ^ Young, Before I Fall Asleep, 82.
- ^ Wan Ah Hoe, former part-time domestic helper to the Youngs, Whatsapp call interview with author, November 22, 2021.
- ^ Young, Before I Fall Asleep, 100.
- ^ Leon Comber, “The Special Branch and the Briggs Plan” in Malaya's Secret Police 1945–60: The Role of the Special Branch in the Malayan Emergency, 147-172. Cambridge University Press. Accessed November 23, 2021. https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/abs/malayas-secret-police-194560/special-branch-and-the-briggs-plan/8FD53E7EC95F7143A6D8DD34D581382C
- ^ Young, Before I Fall Asleep, 132.
- ^ Young, Before I Fall Asleep, 144.
- ^ Young, Before I Fall Asleep., 156.
- ^ Young, Before I Fall Asleep, 174.
- ^ Young, Before I Fall Asleep, 188.
- ^ Wan Ah Hoe, November 22, 2021.
- ^ Young, Before I Fall Asleep, 202.
- ^ Young, Before I Fall Asleep, 210.
- ^ Young, Before I Fall Asleep, 221.
Young, Betty. Before I Fall Asleep: The Life and Times of Betty Young. Malaysia: Setiakawan Press, 2008.
Felicity, Goodall. “Life During the Blackout”. The Guardian. Accessed November 23, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/nov/01/blackout-britain-w…
Comber, Leon. “The Special Branch and the Briggs Plan” in Malaya's Secret Police 1945–60: The Role of the Special Branch in the Malayan Emergency, 147-172. Cambridge University Press. Accessed November 23, 2021. https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/abs/malayas-secret-police-194560/s…
“The Chinese Revolution of 1949”, Office of the Historian. Accessed November 23, 2021. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/chinese-rev
Catherine Chew Ah Moy, Zoom interview with author, November 21, 2021.
Angeline Lim, widow of Soo Ewe Jin, the author of Peter Young, God’s Caring Servant; and friend of the Young family, email interview with author, November 19, 2021.
Wan Ah Hoe, Zoom interview with author, November 22, 2021.