Pilgrimage On Earth by Merton Lee (author's background)
I was born in July 1969 in Singapore. I was born in humble circumstances. My father did not have a stable job while my mother was a full-time housewife taking care of my two siblings, our grandparents and me. Thus, I considered myself very fortunate to be able to attend school to receive formal education.
In addition, I was born with fragile health and occasional back pain due to curvature of my spine. I did not have the energy and strength to participate in sports. During my school days, apart from school text books, I did not have money to buy other books. Thus, I frequented the school and public libraries, reading a range of subjects.
From the age of fourteen onwards, I became interested in the meaning of life. I began to read the Bible and the wisdom literature of the major religions. I also became a Christian and accepted Jesus Christ as the Lord.
As the years passed by, I discovered the usefulness of practising the wisdom teaching. Besides providing me with positive thinking, they inculcated in me the value of service. They inspired me to serve noble causes. By undertaking meditation, my health slowly improved. I was able to complete two and a half years of national service in the Republic of Singapore Navy.
I did well in my academic studies. By the age of twenty-three, I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Economics at the National University of Singapore. I started to work part-time. In the next three years, I obtained a Master’s degree in Accountancy and another Master’s degree in Business Administration via distance learning. At the age of twenty-six, I joined a public sector organisation as a full-time finance manager. For the next eighteen years, I devoted my best years to public service.
Thus, for three decades, I have been studying, reflecting on and practising the key insights of the perennial wisdom of the major religions. As I reach forty-four years of age, after serving more than twenty years in the public sector including national service and after being married for seventeen years and as a father of two children, I deeply appreciate that practising these key insights has enabled me to accept life’s difficulties.
In addition, over the years, I experienced the deaths of loved ones, friends and colleagues owing to illnesses or accidents. Those dark days made me feel keenly the preciousness and vulnerability of life. They made me feel my deep need for God. I realised that only the Creator could provide me with spiritual strength to handle adversities.
Sad days and dark moments also made me realise that adversities and setbacks grow the seeds of spiritual qualities within us. They made us humble, sympathetic and compassionate. Gradually we realise the importance of becoming God-centered and God-reliant.
Further, from age forty-two onwards, due to high workload, my back pain recurred, together with gastric pain and ailments. There were instances when my back pain radiated and extended to become chest pain and breathlessness. The doctors prescribed painkillers. On my part, I lengthened my daily meditation and took herbal medication for many months. Slowly my health improved. These experiences deepened my empathy for the sick and needy. I contributed more regularly a part of my income to charitable organisations which include the Red Cross, a local hospital for the poor and the Children’s Cancer Foundation. I could more deeply understand the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
… when I discussed with my friends on religious faith, I liked to tell the following true story. It reflects an exemplary commitment to do something beautiful for God:
Many years ago a pastor named Russell Conwell saw a little girl crying near the door of a small church. It was over-crowded and she could not enter it.
"I cannot attend Sunday School …" she wept as the pastor walked by. The kind-hearted pastor took her inside and found a place for her in the Sunday school class.
The child called Hattie was so touched that she went to bed that night worrying about those children who had no place to worship God. She began saving her money, so as to contribute towards building a larger Sunday school.
Over a period of two years Hattie saved 57 cents before she contracted diphtheria and died. It was difficult for a poor girl to save 57 cents in the 1880s in the United States. Her parents gave the money to pastor Conwell, explaining to him their daughter’s reason for saving the money.
The girl’s devotion deeply moved pastor Conwell. For two years Hattie had sacrificially saved her offering of love. Pastor Conwell instantly knew what he would do. He repeated the story of the girl’s big-hearted love and devotion to God. He challenged his deacons to raise money for a larger building.
A newspaper also published this event. A realtor was so touched by it that he offered a significant parcel of land. When he realised that the church could not afford it, he offered it for 57 cents. Church members and Christians from other places also donated. Within five years the little girl's gift had increased to $250,000 -- a huge sum at that time.
Hattie’s gift and her pastor’s determination resulted in today’s Temple Baptist Church attended by thousands and the Sunday School building which can house hundreds of Sunday school children where no child need to be left outside. In one of the rooms of this building may be seen the picture of the little girl Hattie whose love for God is remembered forever.