Small Beginning... Great Destiny...
Our God is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He has a sovereign plan for His people, and He loves every one of us, especially the people in Penang. He causes situations and policies to change so that He might fulfill His sovereign plans for us. In 1953, political upheaval rose in China, and she closed her doors to foreign missionaries, expelling or forcing them to flee. Many of these missionaries, carrying the burden for Chinese souls, redirected their ministries to Southeast Asian countries where they could sow the seeds of faith among the overseas Chinese immigrants.
Called to Penang
Penang First’s inception began with Evelyn Hatchett, a young American lady. When the door to China slammed firmly shut, she sought God for direction. While on her knees seeking God for direction, God spoke clearly to her, impressing the word PENANG on her heart.
She searched through a world map and located this tiny island tucked away in Malaya’s northwestern corner. By faith, she left the comfort and security of her home in America and made her way to Penang, armed with this divine mandate to bring the message of salvation to a people she had never seen before.
She rented a house at 35 Thorpe Road, Green Lane, and started her humble pioneering work from scratch. She began with a Sunday School, followed by bilingual Sunday Services (Chinese-English) with a faithful attendance of 10 people. Then, she started the Prayer Service, Christ’s Ambassadors (a special meeting for youths), and a Church Choir.
Evelyn Hatchett was not alone in her labor. God raised co-workers and missionaries from all over the world to assist her. The Chinese Ministry was greatly assisted by four missionaries from Hong Kong: Chan Yuet Keng, Choo Thean Yong, Wilson Wong, and Suet Yoke Khong. Besides these four co-workers, George Yip also came from Hong Kong to assist the Chinese Ministry for five months in 1955.
In the same year, an American Chinese missionary couple, Rev David Nyien and his wife (both fervent prayer warriors), came for a week-long evangelistic meeting in Penang. Eight people accepted Christ and were baptized. However, this couple did not stay on as they left for Bible School to train more Chinese workers for evangelical work.
Later, Rev Siu Wai Pun and his family arrived in Penang. After two years of perseverance, a measure of progress was seen, and four new chapels were established in Gelugor, Mee Wu Village, Pantai Acheh, and Carnarvon Street. Rev Siu and his family also left to minister at a church in Jalan Sayor, Kuala Lumpur. Incidentally, Jalan Sayor Chinese Church and Penang First were the first two Assembly of God churches established in Malaysia.
In 1955, Loren Chang took a step of faith to become the first convert to attend Bible School training in America. He returned in 1959 to help the work in Penang. Later, he left to become the Business Manager of the Bible Institute of Malaya. Over the years, God had called many other faithful Christians from Penang First and raised them up to become dynamic international preachers.
The Youth Ministry grew tremendously under Rev and Sister Guynes. All too soon, they left for Kuala Lumpur to start the first Bible Institute of Malaya (later renamed The Bible College of Malaysia, Selangor) in 1957.
After five years of pioneering work in Penang, Evelyn Hatchett returned to the States on furlough for one year, and the work continued under Rev V. C. Baird and his wife.
Rev Baird organized a rally for the first time in the city stadium with Rev Veldez (the speaker) from the US. God used him mightily to stir the hearts of the people. Thousands flocked to the venue to seek God; the rally even touched City Council workers on duty as they witnessed the miracles of healing. The speaker was so overwhelmed by the crowd’s response that he had to crouch on the floor of the taxi to hide while it whisked him away. God had indeed visited Penang.
In 1959, Evelyn Hatchett returned to Penang to continue her pioneering work. Since the Church did not have a permanent base, it has always been on the move. Historical records noted that the Church had moved to the following locations: 8C Carnarvon Street, 45 Kimberley Street, 12 Kinta Lane, and 60 Rangoon Road. As years have gone by, the Church decided that it was high time it had a permanent base. During the Christmas night service in 1960, both the Chinese and English sections successfully raised $5000 for the building fund.
Good News Preached
The Church has always given evangelism the top priority. Two campaigns were held at the Chin Kwong Huay Koon and Dato Kramat Padang with Brother Herman and Brother Byrd as the preachers. As was the norm of the day, a mobile unit equipped with loudspeakers went around the island making announcements regarding the evangelistic meetings. God was indeed stirring the hearts of His beloved people in Penang. Some 400 responded to the crusade despite the fact that Penang was reputedly the most difficult place to preach the Good News!
Demise of Evelyn Hatchett
However, in 1961, Evelyn Hatchett was called home to be with the Lord due to a sudden heart attack. Her body was taken back to the United States for burial. During her funeral, the Lord moved the hearts of foreign Christians to be part of the excellent work Sister Hatchett had begun. A generous sum of money was raised to enable the Church to purchase the campus at 286 Macalister Road for $50,000.
The infant Church was left to Rev Baker, who pursued Sister Hatchett’s vision of purchasing a permanent site for the Church.
In 1963, Rev Fred Abeysekera became the first official Pastor with Rev Baker as the Advisor. The Church was officially named Penang First Assembly of God.
Rev Donald McMurray took over the pastorate in 1966. He returned to the United States in April 1967. Rev Anthony Chong pastored for a short while but succumbed to tuberculosis. Then Dr. C.D. Thomas took over the pastoral duties for a brief period.
Rev Jameson Yeoh from Singapore, who succeeded Dr. Thomas in 1971, renovated the premises and enlarged it in accordance with God’s promise; “Give me the space, and I will give you the people.” Converts began to flock in, and the number rose from 60 to 150. Rev McMurray faithfully raised $3,000 in the United States through the Missionary Field Fellowship to contribute to the renovation project.
After Rev Jameson Yeoh had returned to Singapore, Rev Johnny Yeoh took over the pastorate, assisted by Rev Fred and Rev Margaret Seaward. Their fiery sermons took the Church to greater heights of maturity and set the spiritual pace for her congregation.
The attendance for the Sunday Services ranged from 120 to 200. Simultaneously, the Inter-School Christ’s Ambassadors (ISCA), comprising secondary school students, penetrated various schools. Many young people answered God’s calling to become pastors.
After Rev Johnny Yeoh had left, the Church came under Rev Elisha Foong, with Rev Ezekiel Choong as Associate Pastor. Both were the fruits of Penang First and graduates of the local Bible School.
Large-scale evangelistic services were jointly organized, such as: – In 1980, Dr. Cho Yonggi from Korea came and held three nights of meetings at the City Stadium. More than 10,000 people turned up on the final night. – In April 1982, a second joint-rally was organized for Rev Bernhard Johnson, also at the City Stadium. – In 1983, Rev Idahosa from Africa was invited to speak. – In 1984, Jennifer Yen, former Bintang RTM artiste, sang at a meeting where Dr. Prince Guneratnam was the speaker.
Over the years, Penang First had marched triumphantly from victory to victory. Rev Marcus Tan and his wife, the late Rev Khor Eng Lian, took over the Church in 1987. It was during this period that the Church witnessed tremendous growth in various aspects.
The number of adults attending our church services had multiplied over the years. The congregation was blessed by the dynamic preaching of God’s Word from the pulpit each Sunday and the systematic and sound teaching of biblical doctrines each Tuesday night by the late Rev Khor Eng Lian, who was indeed gifted with the gift of teaching. Pastor Ruth Tan and Pastor Jimme Lee joined the Church in March 1992 to complement their ministry.
The Church values the importance of adult conversion and also the nurturing of godly children. Hence the birth of our child-care center in Solok Mas. The children are trained holistically from the spiritual, intellectual, and social aspects. Through this ministry, the Church is seriously stretching out in every direction to win more souls into the Kingdom of God. Even at a tender age, these children can uphold our vision to produce a Joshua Generation who will continue the good work we have begun.
In August 1995, we began two English services. The attendance for the English Services grew from 280 to 500 by April 1996. The Hunza Sanctuary in Green Lane was purchased in May 1996 to meet the growing congregation’s needs and to house the Hokkien-speaking members.
In April 1997, the number increased to 600 regular members, making it necessary to begin the third Sunday Morning Service. In May 2003, Penang First confidently started a fourth service for the English-speaking members at Hunza Sanctuary.
Demise of Pastor Eng Lian
One of the most heart-rending events was perhaps the day when the Church mourned for the loss of its beloved pastor, Rev Khor Eng Lian. She was called home to be with the Lord on June 15, 2001. Her compassion for the members and her sacrificial nature are memorable. She was an inspiration to everyone who knew her, a counselor to the lost, a shepherd to her sheep, and a friend to both the young and old, rich or poor alike.
She had equipped the congregation for the works of God and helped in edifying the Body of Christ in her brief time with us. Today, she has left us with the legacy to continue running that arduous race with faith in Christ.
Our Present and Our Future
One of the most heart-rending events was perhaps the day when the Church mourned for the loss of its
Under Rev Marcus Tan, the Church gears itself to Enlarge, Stretch Forth, Lengthen and Strengthen, as promised in Isaiah 54:2.
Hunza Sanctuary in Green Lane where Penang First occupies three lots on the 1st Floor. Another three lots on the Ground Floor house the office, mini classrooms, and a multi-purpose hall. Recently, God has blessed us with a two-acre piece of land strategically located along the Jelutong Expressway. The Church plans to build a Multi-Purpose Ministry Complex (MMC) where we can effectively serve the people of Penang.
There are long-term plans for a dialysis center and day-care centers where we can safely leave our young children and elderly parents in the hands of capable staff while we go to work. We want to use the MMC to reach out to the youths, the disabled, the poor, and the needy.
We strongly believe that God is working in our midst, igniting us with a passion for building His Kingdom and filling us with compassion to take Penang for Jesus. We boldly declare that we are:
a praying church,
a praise & power-packed church,
a peaceful church,
a propagating church,
a possessing church,
a prevailing church.
Penang First is what it is today because of God’s faithfulness throughout the last 6 decades. All we want to do as a Church and as a people of God is to fulfill His Will on the earth.