Young, Peter John

1926 - 2014
Priest and social activist
Former OMF missionary

Reverend Peter John Young’s contributions to Malaysia were aptly summarised in an eulogy published in a local newspaper: "A truly great Englishman who swapped his British citizenship for a Malaysian passport to serve the underprivileged here. He was a rare man amongst men, one whose heart of compassion was far bigger than any tiny ego he may have had."[1] (Young took his Malaysian citizenship seriously in 2013, while hospitalised, he sneaked out to vote in the general election.)[2]

His father, Charles Young, was a rubber planter in Malaya who returned to England to marry Elsie in 1925. They had three children: Peter, Elizabeth, and David. Peter was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England, on March 11, 1926[3], but lived 60 years in Malaysia till his death on June 28, 2014.

Young had his early education in Harrow, a prestigious private school in England. During World War II, he joined the Royal Navy and was dispatched to Malaya. However, his ship turned back upon reaching Egypt as the Japanese Occupation had ended by then. 

Resuming his studies, he read history at Pembroke College, Cambridge University, and theology at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. In 1949, he became the curate of St Cuthbert’s Church near Manchester for two years.[4]

Upon joining the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF), he sailed to Singapore in March 1954. From there, he travelled to Malaya to work in the New Villages of Mambang Di Awan and Lawan Kuda (Perak state). He was transferred to the Church of the Holy Spirit, Buntong, Ipoh, to work among Tamil youths who were — to his delight — interested in conversing in English. Later, Young joined the OMF youth ministry but resigned in November 1957 to care for his dying father in England.[5]

He had no qualms returning to Malaya in 1958 when offered a post as chaplain-cum-teacher at the Anglican St Gabriel’s School, and assisting clergy at St Mary’s Church. Embracing student work with gusto, he set up a school club under Scripture Union, an inter-denominational student ministry founded in England in 1867. He also formed the Singing Saints band in 1964.[6] Nicknamed “Forever Young”, he was a spiritual mentor at St Gabriel’s Mission Church that became known for its vibrant youth ministry and Bible teaching. 

Wedding bells at 38 

On August 8, 1964, Peter and OMF missionary Betty Meadows were married at St Mary’s Cathedral in Kuala Lumpur. Betty was a meticulous partner who freed Peter from administrative work, thus enabling him to set up pioneering ministries. While he was reserved, Betty enjoyed long conversations with guests over English tea and freshly-baked scones or shortbread. Their daughter, Joanna, was born on May 12, 1965 — the same year Peter gained his Malaysian citizenship. He left St Gabriel’s School to join the Church Missionary Society in 1968 and later became the vicar of St Paul’s Church.

In 1958, Young volunteered with Scripture Union (SU) as chairman of the pro tem council and worked with James Phoa, a Singaporean; OMF missionaries Doris Madden and Daphne Roberts, and David Tow, an Australian-Chinese, to pioneer the work in Malaysia.[7]

When he became the first SU general secretary (1970-1978), he recruited several Malaysian staff workers — Lalitha  Wong, Christine Koch, Peter Wong, Koh Gim Lam, Goh Keat Peng, Paul Ponnampalam and Patricia Woon. Young’s church member and former student, Tan Jin Huat, who became a staff worker of Fellowship of Evangelical Students (FES), wrote in his book: [8]

“Also, he allowed them to make mistakes without any strong reprimand but was always gentle in his correction… Peter exhibited a personal operating style that unconsciously created an office culture which was appreciative of everyone whatever their shortcomings.”  

At Young’s prompting, the SU Council bought the present three-storey office in 1972. The following year, SU merged with FES to become SUFES, a para-church organisation that went on to impact generations of students.[9]

Powered by the Holy Spirit

One night in March 1972, feeling burnt out by ministry demands, Young knelt in prayer for four hours until he experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit[10]. The experience energised him for the ventures ahead. 

In 1978, the Youngs went to India to register Joanna with the Christian residential Hebron School in Tamil Nadu. There, they visited Quiet Corner, India, a Christian social concern agency that ministered to people living in abject poverty. The couple was inspired to start a caring ministry in Malaysia.[11]

Meanwhile, his church members, Wong Kim Kong and Lim Heng Seng, had formed a board[12] and registered Malaysian CARE[13] on November 24, 1978. They invited Young to officiate the launch in 1979 and appointed him as the first executive director on January 1, 1980. Lim commented: 

“As fresh graduates, we were full of youthful enthusiasm but lacked the direction and wisdom divinely provided through Peter. He gently guided while allowing us to take ownership of an indigenous project. I admire his biblical lifestyle that went beyond charity to social justice.”[14]

However, the evangelicals then were wary about preaching the social gospel. But “Forever Young” — an influencer before the advent of social media — changed their mindset by initiating nation-wide campaigns, concert tours and publications. The OMF seconded staff to support his vision that Malaysian CARE would “demonstrate God’s love and justice in our world — irrespective of creed, colour and religion."[15]

Datin Seri Dr Siti Hasmah, wife of the then Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was so impressed with the social work done by Malaysian Care that she presented a RM100,000 cheque on behalf of BAKTI (a charity association formed by Cabinet ministers’ wives) when they visited the Malaysian Care office on September 28, 1981.[16]

Looking beyond Malaysia, Young raised RM96,000 for Ethiopian famine victims in 1984, seconded Koh Soo Choon and Lee Kok Joo to Interserve to work among the Afghan refugees in Peshawar (Pakistan), and collaborated with TEAR Fund to help the Kampuchean and Vietnamese refugees in Thailand in 1980. He fought for unborn babies and engaged nurse Yeo Bee Lay to set up a home for rescued sex workers in Bangkok. [17] Wong Kim Kong, who succeeded Young in Malaysian Care in 1991, commented:  

“Reverend Peter Young was a model Christian leader with a passion, vision and willingness to venture into new frontiers. His far-sighted vision went beyond the parameters of missionary work that was confined to evangelism and church work.” [18]

Enabling the disabled 

A novel idea was birthed when Young attended the Asian Federation for the Mentally Retarded conference in Bangkok in November 1989. He ventured into the outskirts where he saw the mentally-disabled living in poverty, neglect and isolation.[19]

To release the “home prisoners” in Malaysia, he founded Dignity and Services (D&S) on July 29, 1991 with social activist Dr Denison Jayasooria and Datuk Dr Samuel C.E. Abraham who gave free medical care to the disabled.[20]

D&S is an advocacy group for the rights of persons with learning disabilities and provides training for them. Yeo Swee Lan, formerly from SU, became its first full-time staff in 2002 and moved to United Voice (initiated by parents) in 2005.[21] Young, who served D&S till 2017, explained: 

“Everyone has certain disabilities. If you take my teeth out, I can’t eat. If you take my glasses away, I can’t read clearly. When we started… we knew very little about persons with disabilities and their families. As we met together, we saw two or three avenues we could work with.” [22] 

He motivated stakeholders to set up United Voice, Bake With Dignity, One-Two Juice and other organisations to train and employ youth with learning disabilities. These projects have instilled dignity and hope in them and their parents who come from different races and economic backgrounds.  

Young also brought wheelchair-bound Anthony Thanasayan to churches to make them aware of the need for disabled-friendly facilities. His mentee’s "Wheel Power" column in The Star newspaper became a voice for the disabled in the 1990s.[23]

The United Nations, under the ESCAP HRD Award 2000, recognised D&S for empowering persons with disabilities.[24] In 2001, The Star created a monthly column, "One Voice", for the community to speak up collectively.  

Gentleman activist

In his fight for social justice, Young did not shy away from politics. The “lanky gentleman in his trademark batik shirt” joined the National Union of Journalists’ protest against the amendments to the Official Secrets Act, and the candlelight vigil for the "Operation Lalang" detainees in October 1987.[25] He was equally vocal against Christians emigrating to greener pastures.  

At 85 and IT-illiterate, he blogged for the Micah Mandate website promoting justice, mercy and humility.[26] Volunteers typed and uploaded his weekly posts on topics such as bribery, race for premiership, appointments of councillors, flogging and this… 

Hopping politicians, especially those who hop over and then hop back again, make many people (including myself) hopping mad. (February 2009)

Young lost his beloved wife Betty on December 8, 2009. “He struggled to regain his life and to continue fulfilling the Lord’s commands. Age and the absence of the love of his life began to slowly but surely affect him,” recounted Datin Prema Lata Mehrota, a Hindu neighbour. His health deteriorated around March 2014 and a group of ladies cared for him until his demise on June 28, 2014.[27] He was 88. 

St Paul’s Church was packed with people of different faiths and Christians from all denominations for his funeral. Their eulogies testified to Young’s compassion that transcended race, religion and politics.

Wan Ah Hoe, their Buddhist part-time cleaner for 22 years, testified with tears: 

“Peter and Betty were the kindest people I had ever known. They treated me like family. It was as if God sent them to Malaysia to do good works — like Jesus.” [28]

The Youngs are survived by their daughter, Joanna, son-in-law Mark Ferris, and grandsons Paul and Matthew — plus countless spiritual children and a legacy of love in Malaysia where they are buried.  


  1. ^  Malay Mail online “A Gentle Giant Passes” by written by Amar-Singh HSS, Lim Swee Im, June 30, 2014], accessed on November 23, 2021 | 522: Connection timed outChew, Ruju,The Englishman Who Came to Malaya, Asian Beacon Vol 46 No 4 (August-September), 25. 
  2. ^  Telephone interview with Catherine Chew, the tenant of the Youngs. 
  3. ^ Betty Young, Before I Fall Asleep: The Life and Times of Betty Young  (Malaysia: Setiakawan Printers, 2008), 180 
  4. ^  Young, Before I Fall Asleep, 180-181 
  5. ^  Young, Before I Fall Asleep, 183 
  6. ^ Tan Jin Huat, The Revd Peter Young: Pioneer, Pastor, and Pal, Chapter 4, A School Teacher and a Pastor: The Beginnings of St Gabriel’s Mission Church, 1959-1979
  7. ^  Tan, The Revd Peter Young, 12. Note: In 1958, Revd Peter Young became the chairman of the pro tem Scripture Union Council which was registered only in 1961. 
  8. ^ Tan, The Revd Peter Young, 33. The author worked as FES staffworker from 1976-1979. 
  9. ^  Tan, The Revd Peter Young, 31-32 
  10. ^ Tan, The Revd Peter Young, 57 
  11. ^ Young, Before I Fall Asleep, 218 
  12. ^  The board comprised Wong Kim Kong, Lim Heng Seng, Lim Wei Meng, Shirley Lee, Jack Cheah, Liew Chee Kien, Steven Chong and Doreen Chan, with David Boler, Reverend Douglas Anderson and Timothy Phua as advisors, accessed on November 24,2021, 
  13. ^ Malaysian CARE is the abbreviation for Malaysian Christian Association of Relief, accessed on November 24, 2021, 
  14. ^ ] Interview with Lim Heng Seng on November 12, 2021 
  15. ^ Tan, The Revd Peter Young, 44 
  16. ^   Tan, The Revd Peter Young, 42 
  17. ^ Betty Young, Who Cares (Kuala Lumpur Malaysian Care) 148-150 
  18. ^  Interview with Reverend Wong Kim Kong on November 6, 2021 
  19. ^ OUR STORY | dignity-and-services (, accessed on November 10, 2021 
  20. ^ [Adelaidean -- Obituary: Datuk Dr Samuel C E Abraham], accessed on November 10, 2021 
  21. ^  Tan, The Revd Peter Young, 53 
  22. ^  [], accessed on  November 10, 2021 
  23. ^  Tan, The Revd Peter Young, 66 
  24. ^ Tan, The Revd Peter Young, 54. UN ESCAP HRD stands for United Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Human Resource Development. See HRD for the Empowerment of People with Disabilities:  Seven Innovative Approaches Submitted for the 2000 ESCAP HRD Award (United Nations Publicatioms,2001), 5966, Online Google ebook. 
  25. ^ Tan, The Revd Peter Young, 64. Operation Lalang was a major crackdown by the Royal Malaysian Police supposedly to prevent racial riots. 
  26. ^ Peter Young, Peter’s Pithy Pointers, Introduction, vi. In March 2008, Goh Keat Peng invited Young to join the Micah Mandate. The rest of the team comprised Sivin Kit, Bob Teoh, Ting Moy Hong, David Tan and Bob Kee. 
  27. ^ Tan, The Revd Peter Young, Appendix 3,  81 
  28. ^  Interview with Wan Ah Hoe, part-time cleaner with the Youngs for 22 years.

Phang Sow Yoong

The writer was working in SUFES as FES staff worker when Reverend Peter Young was the general secretary of SU.