The late Eld Koh Eng Soo was called home to be with the Lord on 16 October 2014 at the age of 75 years old. As I was thinking about what to write for this Sunday’s bulletin reflection, I thought I will share the sermon which I had preached at the funeral – as a tribute to the late Eld Koh as well as an encouragement for all of us.
Rev Darryl Chan
“6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
2 Timothy 4:6-7
I joined PSPC in 1997. That was 17 years ago – about the same time that Eld Koh Eng Soo was first diagnosed with the lung condition. We worshipped at different services, so I never really got to know him until I graduated from seminary and started serving in the pastoral ministry 7 years ago. By then, he was already in his late 60s. I remembered him carrying along an oxygen tank and then a few years later, he started moving around with the help of a wheelchair. Because I only got to know him over these last few years, I did not have any experience of working with him in the church leadership, but what I saw was a man of God who fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith.
The Apostle Paul wrote these words in 2 Timothy 4:6-7 during his last days in prison. He knew that his death was coming and that was why he said that the time of his departure had come. The word “departure” in the original language portrays 2 interesting and vivid pictures. The first picture is that of a ship lifting its anchor to depart from the harbour. The second picture is a group of soldiers taking down the tent. Both the ship and the soldiers are going home, and that was why Paul used the word “departure” to describe that he was about to return home to God. Departure is going home, and the Lord has decided that after an “extended stay” of 17 years since the first diagnosis, it is time for Eld Koh to go home.
So when the Apostle Paul knew that it was time to go home, he said in verse 6: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Firstly, he fought the good fight for the work of the Gospel. We saw from the life of Paul that he withstood tremendous trials and persecutions for the Gospel and gave an inspiring example of what it means for each of us to be faithful soldiers of the Lord. As mentioned during Rev Peter Chan’s sermon at the wake service, the late Eld Koh stood firm in the faith and was steadfast in his ministry. Because of that, he left a legacy of what it means to fight the good fight.
When Paul said that he finished the race, he was describing the Christian life as a race that God has marked out for us. Some of us are given a path that is relatively straight, but others have a path that is full of twists and turns. Some of us are given a path that seems flat most of the time, but others have a path that seems uphill all the time. But regardless of the conditions, God has marked out a path for each and every one of us which we have to run every single day. Now, it has often been said that every single day is a gift from God. That may be true for most of us, but that is perhaps an understatement for the late Eld Koh. For him, every single breath is a gift from God. When he was first diagnosed with this rare, incurable lung condition, the doctors did not have much hope for him. But by God’s grace, He watched over Eld Koh and sustained him for another 17 years. He depended on an oxygen tank to sustain him 17 years out of 75 years – that was almost one-quarter of his life. In fact, when Rev Chiam Cheng Kiat and I visited him to conduct Holy Communion earlier this year, he was already so breathless that it was a struggle to speak to us. When we realize that every single breath is a gift from God, we will see our life very differently. The late Eld Koh ran the race not just one day at a time, but even more so, one breath at a time – to the very last breath. Because of that, he left a legacy of what it means to finish the race.
Finally, Paul also said that he had kept the faith. What does it mean to keep the faith? The original meaning is derived from ancient business practice which means, “I have kept the conditions of the contract.” So in that sense, if someone kept the faith, it means that the person can be trusted to do what he or she has agreed. For Paul, it meant fulfilling the ministry of the Gospel that the Lord had entrusted to him. For the late Eld Koh, he had been a long-time elder whose leadership and ministry had been a blessing not just to PSPC, but also to ARPC. Over the past 7 years since I knew Eld Koh, he had already retired from active service in the church leadership, but he continued to fulfill the shepherding responsibility as an elder of the church. Before he sustained a fall 2 years ago, he was still serving as the Advisor for our church newsletter, The Messenger. Whenever the Pastoral Team sent out bereavement notices, he would often reply to acknowledge the notices. Very often, he and Letty would attend the funeral services here in Mandai Crematorium – he would come with his oxygen tank and wheelchair and be seated by the side. In his own personal way, he continued to encourage others around him. As I was preparing this message, I just checked my email records and noted that he last wrote to me in November 2012. That was the last email because he had a fall a month later in December after which his health deteriorated further. As an elder of the church, he kept the faith by fulfilling the responsibilities of the eldership all the way to the end. Because of that, he left a legacy of what it means to keep the faith.
The Apostle Paul assured us that those who fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith would be awarded the crown of righteousness, given by the Lord, the righteous Judge. Our labour will not be in vain, and the crown will not fade away. This is promised to all those who finish well in the Lord. As we have often heard, it is not just important to start well, but even more so to end well. Why? Because when we are young and not running the race as we should, we may still have time in our adult years to do so. When we are adults and not running the race as we should, we may still have time in our old age to do so. But when we are in our old age and not running the race as we should, we may not have time to do so anymore. The late Eld Koh Eng Soo, started well, continued well and even more so, he finished well.
Back in 1981, there was a marathon that took place in the US city of Omaha known as the 10km Pepsi Challenge. Among the participants was a runner by the name of Bill Broadhurst but he was not like any typical runner because more than 10 years ago, he underwent a brain surgery that left him paralyzed on his left side. But even though he was a handicap, he wanted to run the same race as his hero, the famous American marathon runner Bill Rodgers. So as the starting gun went off and the runners surged ahead, Broadhurst, being a handicap, could only run with a limping movement by throwing his stiff left leg forward each step of the way. Very soon, he was running all alone as the other runners disappeared far into the distance. In fact, the winner crossed the finish line in less than 30 minutes, whereas the other amateur runners finished the race within an hour. But two hours after the start, Broadhurst was still struggling along all by himself. Some children even shouted to him saying, “Hey mister, are you still running the race? It’s been over for hours. Someone’s already finished first and won, why don’t you quit?” Sweat rolled down Broadhurst’s face, pain pierced his ankle, but he kept going on and on, hoping to finish the race. Two and a half hours later, Broadhurst finally reached the end point. But guess what he saw? The tables were cluttered with water cups, the finish banner was already kept away, the sky was getting dark, the crowd was gone – the race had long ended. His heart sank when he realized how far he had lagged behind and how long ago the race had ended. And he began to wonder whether it was worth all the effort and pain and what difference would it make at all for him to cross an imaginary finish line. But as Broadhurst struggled across the finish line, lo and behold, a group of people were walking out of a pathway and right among them was the race winner, the famous marathon runner Bill Rodgers. With arms wide open, Rodgers embraced Broadhurst as he stumbled across the finish line. Not only so, Rodgers took the gold medal from around his own neck and put it on Broadhurst, saying, “Broadhurst, you’re the winner. Take the gold.” To be welcomed and commended by his hero was a moment of victory that words alone couldn’t describe. Whenever the late Eld Koh came to church, he would always have his portable oxygen tank and seated in his wheelchair. But I can imagine him finishing the race, leaving behind that oxygen tank and wheelchair, receiving that crown of righteousness prepared by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who had run the race before us. May all of us press on to fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith, till on that great and final Day, we shall meet again with Eld Koh Eng Soo in the presence of the Lord. To God be the glory. Amen.