In the eighteenth episode of Inspiring Stewards, Nathan Jones speaks with Philip Chang from Malaysia. Philip talks about growing up in a multicultural, multilingual, and multi-religious society and how he came to Jesus. He shares his extensive corporate background and how he got involved in various cross-cultural ministries, testifying that God is at work in the world. He concludes by reminding us to be salt and light and to live a balanced Christian life carrying the Four Great Cs: the Great Commission, the Great Commandment, the Great Commendation, and the Great Collaboration.
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The music is Concerto a’ 4 Violini No 2 by Telemann played on classical guitar by Jon Sayles. Published by Exzel Music Publishing.
Every once in a while, I’m struck by the number of ways a single person can be involved in God’s Kingdom-building activities, which is certainly the case with our next guest, Philip Chang.
From a career standpoint, Philip has a long history in investment banking and stock broking and now serves as a corporate consultant in the same space. From a ministry standpoint, among other roles, Philip serves as Chairman of Interserve Malaysia and as Southeast Regional Director for the Lausanne Movement.
I’m your host, Nathan Jones, and I want to thank you for joining me on this episode 18 of the Inspiring Stewards podcast.
Philip, thank you for carving out time to join me today. I'm excited to dive in having seen a little bit of your bio. I’m excited for those listening to hear how God is working in and through you. So, give us a bit of your story growing up, where you're from, family life, that sort of thing.
Well, I'm born in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. I'm born into a very traditional Chinese family. My grandparents from both sides of the family all came from the South of China, probably in Guangdong region.
I remember we grew up in a very multicultural, multilingual, and multi-religious society. At home, we speak a mix of three languages at least. Three languages all at the same time in one sentence! Sometimes a smattering of a few other Chinese dialects. So, that’s the kind of multicultural society that we grew up in.
I'm the youngest of three boys. I have two older brothers. We all grew up going to a Catholic school just down the road. So, we used to walk to school and come walk home daily. My mom was a school teacher. She taught in a Chinese school. I remember when we were young, we used to follow her to her school and we saw how strict they were in the Chinese school.
So, when we started schooling, she asked us, “Do you want to go to the Chinese school or do you want to go to the government school?” All of us chose to go to the government school because the Chinese teachers were very, very strict.
Both my parents come from very contrasting family backgrounds. My mom, she came from a very well-to-do family. Whereas my dad, I think he grew up by himself as a teenager after his parents had gone back to China.
When he was a teenager, I recalled him mentioning that he was starting to work by himself and he just built up his own career. And he had to also look after one or two younger siblings because his older siblings had gone to the US. And this was all before the second World War.
My mom, on the other hand, she was number 10 in her family. So, my grandparents had ten children. My grandfather came from a well-known place in China called Foshan. He came to Malaysia. In those days, it was called Malaya during the time of British colonial rule. He got involved in tin mining and that's where he made a lot of money. He was just a school teacher from what I understand, but he came over and made his money in Malaya doing tin mining.
In the 1930s from what I understand from my older cousins and aunts, my grandfather was a philanthropist and he helped to raise funds for the first president of China, Doctor Sun Yat-sen. In fact, at our grandparents' home, we used to see a lot of pictures of him taken together with Doctor Sun Yat-sen. Even in some of the museums, I've seen pictures of my grandfather found in Doctor Sun Yat-sen Museum in Singapore and other places. So, he was quite well-known.
Well, my mom was a very staunch Buddhist from the very beginning. I remember while growing up, we used to follow her to the Buddhist temples every Buddhist festival. She was very actively involved in doing charity work. I remember following her to different factories to ask for contributions of products, all kinds of stuff where she would collect and we would pack them into packs or parcels. My mom would go around to various orphanages and old folks’ homes to distribute these parcels every year.
When I was, I would say 7, 8, 9 years old, I used to follow her a lot to go around and I used to marvel, wonder why my mom is doing all this. But I enjoyed it. I mean, it was great to see the joy on people's faces when we went to the homes and started distributing those packets.
My mum always believed in doing works. She was always very generous with even the little money that she had, what she earned as a primary school teacher. She was always very generous and always wanted to give away money to people who are less fortunate.
How did you come from a Buddhist background and end up coming to a relationship with the Lord? Then, what impact did that begin to have on your life?
First of all, as I mentioned to you earlier that we all went to the Catholic school down the road. My dad himself went to a Catholic school run by the La Salle brothers and so we also went to a La Salle school, the Catholic Brothers.
They were also quite strict. But I remember the brothers, they were all missionaries who came and provided education, and the La Salle schools were actually one of the best schools. Many of our top leaders of the country went to La Salle schools. Some of the ladies went to convents. So, the Catholic schools have had a very good reputation.
So, of course, that was probably the first exposure I had to some form of Christianity. But as I was approaching, I think around the age of 10 or 11 or 12, I can't remember. You know, after following my mom to the temples for a few years, I saw that people were always doing good works, doing a lot of charity but they were always worried or fearful about death. They had so many fears. I saw that many people had no peace and there was no kind of assurance about what happens after they die.
So, I also began to question myself and asked, “Where do we go? What happens when we die? Do we suffer in hell or do we go to heaven? Or is there such thing as afterlife or reincarnation or being rebirthed to either an animal or creature or to a person with a better life after death?” So, those are a lot of questions, I began to wonder.
One fine day, I still remember. I was at home watching television one weekend afternoon. Somebody came knocking at the front door. She was a lady and she had carried a bag. She had books and she spoke to me. She asked if anyone was around and I said, “No, I'm the only one here.” So, she said, “Okay, here's a book for you to read.”
She left behind one or two leaflets, which were Christian tracts. She's probably from the Bible School nearby and she just went around the housing area, went door to door, and was distributing tracts. But she gave me a little book about the life of Jesus.
I love reading. You know, I used to go through three or four books in one day. I love reading as soon as I get hold of any books or magazines, I would just go through it. So, I began to read this book and I usually read and read. I was fascinated by the person of Jesus. How He was so different from everyone, how He was able to heal people from all kinds of sicknesses, how He was able to cast out demons and perform a lot of miracles. So, that really helped me to understand who Jesus claims to be.
It so happens that right next door, my neighbors who were also my schoolmates, they were were attending Sunday school in a church nearby. This church provided a minibus service that goes around the area to pick up Sunday school kids. So, I decided to follow my neighbors to Sunday school.
So, that's where I began to explore and understand more about the meaning of salvation and the meaning of being born again. I think at the age of 12, one day I made up my mind and decided to just pray and accepted Jesus into my heart. Nobody led me to do it. I decided when and where to do it myself. I think the moment I did that, I felt the peace and the assurance that, when I die, I know I will be in heaven.
So, I think that was something which I could not find when I was still following my mother's religion and going to temples and spending all the hours of kneeling and praying to all the idols. But by accepting Jesus into my heart and my life, I felt immediately the peace in my heart. So, that's how I became a Christian.
Philip, let's jump ahead to today. You're involved in a number of things professionally, through volunteer roles. Give us an overview of how God's got you involved in His work today.
That’s a really long story. But to summarize, I'm involved in several ministries right now in leadership roles, including serving on the boards of some private companies and nonprofit organizations.
One of the primary organizations I'm involved in is Interserve in Malaysia. It’s a mission organization involved in Asia and the Arab world. I also serve as an associate with the WEA Mission Commission, which is part of the World Evangelical Alliance. And then, I serve on the board of the Global Member Care Network. That’s a network of people who are passionate about providing member care and serving in member care all over the world. I'm involved in some other cross-cultural ministries that are focused on West Asia.
On top of that, one thing that's keeping me quite busy in recent years is my role as the Regional Director of the Lausanne Movement. I took on this role in 2011, right after helping out with the Cape Town 2010 Congress held in South Africa. When I look, it's kind of strange because growing up as a teenager, I would have never expected myself to be involved in so many different kinds of ministries. I would have never imagined that.
But I think a turning point was when I started going to university. When I was 16 years old, my parents decided to send me to the UK to go to boarding school and follow the British educational system so that then I could go on to university from there.
So, the moment I got into university, I really enjoyed the freedom to do a lot of things that I liked doing. But during those years, I began to meet people from different cultures, especially at university. I was actively involved in the Christian Union and even served as the secretary of the overseas students ministry.
Then one summer, I decided to join an outreach program in the south of France, mainly to practice my French and also to gain some experience in evangelism. Now in France at that time and it still is a very difficult, tough place for gospel to be preached. It’s a predominantly Catholic country and people there, they reject Christianity.
But it was a great experience for me, and I learned so much from the whole summer that I spent. It was through OM, and I got to meet George Verwer in the early 1980s. I've been in contact and we've been friends all these years and we're still keeping in touch with him. He's such a great mobilizer. For me, he is such a role model of someone who is so passionate about preaching the gospel for missions.
Then, I also started to attend a fellowship in London that was serving the West Asian community while I was working in London. I managed to find a job right after finishing my master's. In fact, that's where I was contemplating going into full-time ministry and I even received blessings from my parents.
And my parents told me, “Well, if you can get a job in the UK and even if it's with the church or in Christian work, please go ahead.” They gave me their blessings. I was almost about to do that, but the Lord had other plans for me. I distinctly heard the Lord speak to me one day and told me, “Go back to Malaysia and get a job there.” I prayed about it, and I felt confirmation from the Lord, so I decided to do that.
The moment I got back to Malaysia, I landed a job immediately with a merchant bank. In those days, a merchant bank is the traditional name for what we call an investment bank today. So, out of so many people who applied for the job, I was the only one selected to work in the corporate finance department. So, I started to deal with mergers and acquisitions, capital, restructuring of companies, and assisting companies to go public with their IPOs.
So, it was very exciting. It was very hard work and I used to work long hours to get all these deals done. But it was interesting and I learned a lot. In one sense, it related to what I studied at university. So it was really, really interesting to be able to apply some of my knowledge to my work.
And in my first job, I got promoted every year, rising from a junior executive to an officer, then to assistant manager, and then finally to a manager, all in less than four years. It was tough, and I keep asking the Lord, “Why am I having so much work to do?” But at the same time, I enjoyed it.
And then, I got headhunted by a large stockbroking firm to be head of their corporate finance. I prayed about it, and I felt peace about moving over. In fact, every year, I had been headhunted and approached by different banks and companies, but I didn't feel the peace about moving until this. On the fourth year, somehow things fell in place. And so, I moved, and I began to be the head of corporate finance in a very large stockbroking firm.
A few years later, I was sent to handle the start of our overseas operations. I was sent to Hong Kong, a major financial center. I became the CEO of our stockbroking company and I was there for three years, running the stockbroking operations out there.
Later, I was called back to head office because they needed my help and they worried that I would get headhunted by other big firms. So, I went back, and I was not only heading the corporate finance department but also in the general management of the whole group.
But finally, I was called back to the old company, and I was made CEO. This is quite major, I would say job, because it's become one of the top financial institutions and grown very large. We were not only in financial services but also in a lot of properties and investments and hotels all over. So, we had investments in Canada, Australia, India, South Africa, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia. As well as having our headquarters in Malaysia, we had over 1,000 staff worldwide.
But shortly after that, I was to be kidnapped at gunpoint by robbery. They were after my car, but I got abducted at gunpoint. I was not hurt, but after the incident, I began to have PTSD in form of memory lapses. Because of that, I needed to be rested to recuperate from the memory lapses. I decided to resign from my position as CEO of the firm and get a good rest for a few months at least until my memory was restored.
But after that, I decided not to go back into the full-time job, but to continue as a business consultant. So, that's really what happened within my career. The other reason why I decided to also remain as an independent consultant is so that I could take care of my elderly parents, as well as an uncle who is a bachelor. He had a stroke, so he was half paralyzed. I had to take care of three elderly persons. Both my parents were facing health situations, so I had to take care of all three of them and run around the hospital all the time.
But it was also during this time that my parents and my uncle all became Christians. They accepted Jesus. This was almost about 30 years after I first became Christian. I had been praying for them and sharing the gospel with them but finally, they all became believers.
So, Philip, as we're coming to the end of our interview here, if you think about stewardship and the concept of stewardship and how that ties into how you're seeing God at work, give us some thoughts from your perspective on stewardship and how God is moving in the world.
For me, the concept of stewardship means I need to live and work with integrity and excellence in whatever I do, especially in the workplace. To me, this is to be salt and light for Christ and to be His ambassador. I think Matthew 5:16, it says, “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Many times, in my situation or environment, I'm not allowed to proclaim the gospel directly or openly. But there's nothing to stop me living out Christ in my life. So, people can see the good deeds and I will glorify the Lord. I will give honor and glory to Him.
I think some people will say that he's doing that because he's a Christian. In fact, they are commending our Christian faith and commending our God at the same time. So, this to me is a very important verse to remember.
So, if we live according to whatever the Lord commands us, to be salt and light, I think that's being a good steward. Whether it's with our own skills or with our knowledge or in whatever actions that we do. Whether it is at home, within the family context, or in the workplace or marketplace.
That's a beautiful picture, Philip, and seeing your journey and the way that God has used you to be salt and light in very different ways, both in the corporate professional environment, as well as in a missional context.
As we wrap up, any final thoughts you would have for us on anything the Lord has put on your heart?
I think what's exciting now is to see God at work in the world around us. I'm seeing more and more Christians realizing that they need to be an influence in the marketplace. So, it's not only the responsibility of the clergy or people who are working in full-time ministry. I think Christians are having a better understanding of the theology of work so they can understand what it means to have an identity of being a Christian.
Also, they need to balance it with the practice of Sabbath. This is where having integrity and excellence in our work is so important. I'm seeing more and more people, especially from Asia, who are using their skills and professions to work in other places where it's tough for the gospel to be proclaimed openly, but where it is possible to live out Christ in the workplace. And so people can see Christ through them and in them. And as a result, some of them may encounter Jesus through these people.
As for my final thoughts, I would like to remind friends and fellow believers, there are four very important fundamentals or pillars. It's like a four-legged stool with four legs. I would call this the “Four Great Cs.”
First of all, as Christians, we need to be committed to the Great Commission. I think I don't have to explain or elaborate what the Great Commission is.
Secondly, while we have a heart and desire to share the gospel, we need to do it with the right motivation, and that is with love. So the Greatest Commandment is so relevant. We need to do it with the right attitude, with love, when we do the Great Commission.
The third great C I like to highlight is the Great Commendation. Whatever we do, we need to commend God, we need to give all glory and honor to God's name. So that's the third great C.
And the last and final one, I think a lot of people are unaware or choose to ignore is the Great Collaboration. We can achieve a lot more if we collaborate with others, if we work together and partner with people. We can’t achieve the Great Commission all by doing it ourselves, all alone. We need to collaborate and work with others.
After all, we are the body of Christ. We need to be united and to show love and unity. We need to work together. We cannot be involved just doing the Great Commission or alone or by ourselves. So, we need to collaborate.
So, I would say these Four Great Cs are very important for me as fundamental in my life. In everyday life, I need to remind myself these are very important principles. And don't forget, if we overemphasize one C or the other, then it becomes very unbalanced. So, we need the four legs to be equally balanced.
I keep telling friends, “Remember the Four Great Cs and be balanced as Christians in carrying all these things.” I think God will be pleased when we live out the Four Great Cs.
Great final word. The Great Commission, the Great Commandment, the Great Commendation, and the Great Collaboration.
Philip, thank you for your time today. This has been tremendous.