Lee Hong Kwang was born in Ipoh, Perak, on February 24, 1946, the fourth child and second son of Lee Yong Kang, a vegetable wholesaler, and his wife Lim Khah Fah. Hong Kwang’s mother was born in a village near Swatow, Guangdong province, China. Her mother was a Christian who brought her up in the faith. At 16, Khah Fah’s family arranged for her to come to Malaya and marry Hong Kwang’s father, who was born near Ipoh.
Hong Kwang’s father was converted some years after marriage through the work of evangelists from China and he later became an elder of Elim Gospel Hall. His mother worked hard in various manual jobs and was the spiritual compass for the children. Hong Kwang had a precocious sense of calling to a life of Christian service. He read the Bible fervently, sometimes by torchlight under the blanket late at night so as not to disturb his sleeping siblings. At a youth rally in 1960, just months after becoming a Christian, the 14-year-old committed himself to full-time ministry.
He excelled at both studies and sports and won a federal government scholarship to University Malaya which he attended from 1967-1970, obtaining a degree in economics and taking on leadership roles in various societies, including the Varsity Christian Fellowship. It was at university where he met his wife-to-be.
Ong Eng Lee was born on September 18, 1948 in Alor Setar in the northern state of Kedah to Ong Thean Poay and Tan Kim Eng @ Tan Kim Hong, both of Fujian (Hokkien) ancestry. She was the second youngest in a large family of 15 children. Her father’s first marriage produced 10 children and her mother’s two, before both lost their spouses to illness. Eng Lee was the middle child and only girl of the three children born to Thean Poay and Kim Eng.
She attended Chinese primary and secondary schools and became proficient in reading and speaking Mandarin. A very bright student, she skipped ahead of her peers in school by two years.
Her father was a paddy and rubber trader, a man of means and respected in the community. His death when Eng Lee was only 12 caused her to ponder the deeper questions of life and also to immerse herself in her studies. She gained admission to the prestigious Sultan Abdul Hamid College in Kedah, emerging as the top A-levels student in the state and winning a Kedah state government scholarship to MU where she studied physics and mathematics. Eng Lee became a Christian at university through the witness of her friends.
During their courtship, Hong Kwang asked her to read Shadow of the Almighty and Through Gates of Splendour, the biography of Jim Elliot and account of his mission in Ecuador, both written by Elliot’s wife Elisabeth. He wanted to be upfront about what could be “in store” if they stayed together. After graduating, Eng Lee received a Fulbright scholarship and Hong Kwang, a Ford Foundation scholarship. But these opportunities to pursue doctoral studies in the United States also posed dilemmas for their relationship and calling.
Eng Lee proceeded to study physics at the University of Pittsburgh while Hong Kwang, who had already commenced working for the Malaysian government to fulfil his scholarship bond, sought study leave to take up the Ford Foundation scholarship. When the government rejected his request, they took it as God’s confirmation that he was called to enter full-time Christian ministry sooner rather than later.
In commitment to their life partnership, Eng Lee completed a Master’s degree but chose not to pursue a PhD. After a year in Pittsburgh, she returned to Malaysia and began teaching physics at Tuanku Abdul Rahman (TAR) College in Selangor.
The couple were married at Petaling Jaya Gospel Hall (PJGH) on June 16, 1973. Over the next 13 years they were blessed with four children — Hwok Lok, Hwok Aun, Dorothy Choo Ai, and Hwok Chuen. Throughout their courtship and in their early married life, they remained closely involved in church ministry, especially ministering to youth and university students, as well as preaching at small-town Brethren assemblies.
Hong Kwang served out his five-year government bond and, in August 1975, began formal preparation for ministry at the Discipleship Training Centre (DTC) in Singapore. Eng Lee was pregnant with their second child so they decided that she should join him only after the birth of the baby. Hong Kwang had long felt a burden for small Brethren assemblies. After completing his training at DTC, he worked for about 2½ years with Melawati Gospel Centre on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, and then with Temerloh Gospel Chapel in central Pahang.
A major change followed when the family moved to Miri, Sarawak where Hong Kwang assumed the role of principal of the Miri Evangelical College, subsequently named Malaysia Evangelical College. He was the college administrator, teacher and mentor to the students, shepherding future pastors, lay leaders, and those called to myriad vocations. The family enjoyed five formative years in Miri from 1980-1984. Eng Lee was her husband’s pillar of support and ministry partner through all his years of Christian full-time work. She also invested herself in women’s ministry and helped mentor the women students.
After five years of Bible teaching and spiritual mentorship, Hong Kwang felt called to another chapter of ministry: to help equip the Malaysian church with deeper exegesis and good preaching. God opened the door for him to pursue a Master’s degree in Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School near Chicago, from mid-1985 to mid-1987. The family returned to Malaysia in August 1987 and, after two rather nomadic decades, settled in Subang Jaya, then a growing suburb west of Petaling Jaya. Hong Kwang taught at the Malaysia Bible Seminary (MBS), serving for a time as dean of the English Department. He focused on imparting knowledge and appreciation of the Old Testament that was so dear to his heart, and helped MBS foster closer ties with East Malaysian churches.
He maintained a busy itinerant preaching regime, mainly in the Klang Valley. Despite his busyness, he found time to serve on the committee of the Subang Jaya Secondary School parent-teacher association, and started and coached the school’s rugby team.
Hong Kwang transitioned to a part-time position at MBS from 1991, and a more pastoral role as full-time teaching elder of Petaling Jaya Gospel Hall (PJGH). He oversaw PJGH’s four assemblies, including the family’s home church of Subang Jaya Gospel Centre, of which both he and Eng Lee were founding members. He served in various capacities with inter-church organisations, notably the Graduates’ Christian Fellowship and the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF).
In late 1995, Hong Kwang was diagnosed with cancer of the stomach and the brain stem. He underwent major surgery but not without severing some nerves, rendering his speech slurred and making it laborious just to chew and swallow. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy followed. In his fatigued and emaciated state, he continued to attend church, to exhort the community to worship God in spirit and truth, and to encourage all who visited him. The love, affection and care shown to him testified to his servant-heart life and the many souls he had touched.
He took a sudden turn for the worse in December 1996 and died peacefully at home, surrounded by family, on January 18, 1997.
The late Reverend Loh Soon Choy, in paying tribute to his former Malaysia Bible Seminary colleague, wrote that “Hong Kwang would reject any praise or sentiment that may grow idolatrous and rob his Lord and Master of any glory. In his humility, he would be all too conscious of his own faults. He would regard many others living in Malaysia as more worthy…”
Eng Lee continued to work and volunteer in various capacities over the years, while keeping the family together as a single mother. She returned to teaching on a part-time basis at Taylor’s College. She served in NECF’s Commission for Women’s Concerns and worked with World Vision Malaysia. In later years, she trained as a counsellor and contributed those skills to Focus on the Family’s ministry.
In 2007, she started writing a memoir in which she reflected on her husband’s “14-month-long journey through the valley of the shadow of death”.
In January 2013, Eng Lee was diagnosed with fourth stage primary peritoneal (ovarian) cancer which had spread too extensively to be surgically removed. She promptly began chemotherapy. By August, she was well enough to travel for two weeks in Japan, visiting her son who was temporarily working there.
In October 2013, she abruptly fell ill again. The cancer had relapsed, this time constricting the intestines such that she was unable to take any solid food. She spent the final nine months of her life in hospital, drip fed and mostly bedridden. Like her husband, she was a constant source of inspiration and strength, suffering with patience, grace and fortitude, unwaveringly praising God, and finding moments of joy in all circumstances.
Eng Lee breathed her last at the University Malaya Medical Centre on June 22, 2014, surrounded by her loved ones.
Lee Hong Kwang (李丰光, “abundantly radiant”) and Ong Eng Lee (王荣丽, “gloriously beautiful”) left a legacy of living radiantly, faithfully, generously, and gracefully for the Lord who called them to follow and serve, and who called them home early.
- ^ A June 1996 letter to the church opened with this greeting: “Shalom! Thanks for your fellowship, prayer and enquiries after my health. I’m quite fine except for the lethargy and the general weakness. I’m able to eat selected foods and can sleep well at night. My weight hovers around 56 kg (124 lbs). I’ve not been to the office for the past nine months and have not driven a car for eight months. The church is very understanding and supportive.” After providing a medical update, he closed with these words: “I don’t have an answer to these baffling events. But our store of happy memories has been very much enlarged: tasting the faithfulness of the Father, being assured of His constant presence with us, experiencing “unfeigned love” of the brethren, receiving hundreds of letters and being prayed for by countless numbers.”
- ^ In the unfinished memoir, she wrote: “It was a most unexpected journey, one that I did not have the opportunity to prepare myself for. It was a journey marked by ups and downs, rays of hope followed by depths of disappointment and agonizing uncertainties. But it was this last leg of his life’s journey that brought out the steadfastness of his faith in God. A faith that was almost childlike, never questioning, never doubting, and never complaining. In the midst of severe testing, he never once doubted the goodness of God. It was also during this period that I understood and experienced the meaning of 2 Corinthians 12:9, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I learned that God was there in my most difficult, trying moments, and He gave me strength and grace to go through them.”
Ong Eng Lee’s draft memoirs which, at the time of writing this biography, Lee Hwok Aun is currently editing and expanding into a book.
Lee Hong Kwang’s letter to the church (undated, but most probably written in June 1996).
Interviews with siblings of Lee Hong Kwang especially his younger sister, Lee Ah Kim, and Ong Eng Lee, in particular her younger brother, Ong Eng Moo.