The Sams Move to the UK for Further Studies
31 Oct 2021
Around March 2021, Elder Sam Ye Han and his family received the sudden yet exciting news: the opportunity for Sam to further his studies abroad had finally arrived! Though the family had expected that Sam would be furthering his studies in the near future, they did not expect this opportunity to come so soon – with only 6 months of preparations to leave Malaysia and get on a plane en route to the United Kingdom (UK). In August, a month prior to their move, we spoke with Elder Sam and his wife, Joni about their plans as they prepare to head off.
Interviewer: I hear that both of you are moving to the UK soon. Why are you heading there and how long will you and your family be there?
Sam: We as a family (wife, Joni and daughter, Wibrandis) are heading off to London specifically because of me (laughs). I am commencing my Master’s studies in the UK and we will be staying there for three years – that is, the duration of my course. We hope to be back in Malaysia in 2024!
Interviewer: Three years spent in the UK is quite a long time! Could you describe your Master’s program and why you chose to pursue this pathway?
Sam: To give a bit of context, my field of postgraduate study is (in the field of) dentistry. There are three reasons as to why I decided to take up this pathway. First, I hope to take up a job that is stable and flexible. Once I obtain my Masters, I will be returning to Malaysia to work as a researcher in academia. Second, I hope to work for as long as I can. If I opt to work as a clinician dentist, at some point in my life as I grow older, I think my hands would fail me. Whereas, working in the academic setting allows me to support the church for a longer period. Third, being away from the clinical setting gives me more flexibility, which is important for me so that I can focus on raising my family – especially with my daughter’s chronic lung condition.
Interviewer: You have the option to commence this program locally as well as overseas. Why did you choose to take up this program overseas instead?
Sam: My studies and accommodation expenses will be sponsored by the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE), Malaysia. When I was applying for the MoHE’s scholarship scheme, it only allows for studies in the UK commencing in 2021. If I had applied to further my studies elsewhere, I would need to commence my studies in 2022 instead.
Well, why not pursue my postgraduate studies in Malaysia, you may ask? Firstly, it is because I will get a better education overseas – though I am not opting to empty the bank or sell off my house just to finance an overseas education, which would have been unwise! Second, my program is specific and niche. There is probably only one of its kind of program in Malaysia, with an irregular yearly student intake. In the UK, however, the student intake for such a program happens all year round.
Interviewer: How is studying abroad in the UK a unique opportunity for you as a Christian?
Sam: Studying abroad is a unique opportunity for anyone. However, for Malaysians especially, getting an education overseas allows us to explore and discover the ways people conduct ministry, interact, and think. Though we say that Christians are like-minded everywhere, we know that there are other powerful forces that infiltrate Christianity, for example, culture is one such powerful force! Hence, it is interesting to observe how Christians from different cultures think and act, and we are looking forward to this.
Interviewer: As Christians going to study abroad, what are your plans for you and your family in terms of which church to attend there?
Sam: As we are all Christians in one body of Christ, we will be looking for a local church to settle in while we remain in the UK for the next three years. We have a few churches in mind that we plan to visit, but we have not narrowed down as to which one we would settle in yet. We will be visiting some churches, but the closest to where we will be living is St. Helens, so we will pay a visit to it. Other churches include All Souls, Euston Church and Grace London. There are a lot of factors to think about before deciding on which church to settle in, so we cannot promise anything. Settling in a church is important so that we can hold ourselves accountable to the church while we are there. We look forward to meeting up with other Malaysians in the UK, ministering to them, and exchanging information about CERC’s ministries with them! I have been overseas before and one of the biggest mistakes I made was not connecting with other Malaysians in a predominantly white congregation! At the same time, however, we will also keep in touch with our brothers and sisters, and keep up with CERC’s sermons while we are away in the UK.
Interviewer: What advice would you give to Christian students who are seeking to study abroad?
Sam: My advice would be the same for myself: I should be vigilant and on guard, and I hope others will watch out for me, and Joni too. You do not go overseas to pursue something that is idolatrous. I prayed about it, but not prayed for it. I repeat: Pray about it, but not pray for it. Secondly, you need to be grounded and rooted here before you go off. Joni and I will be stripped bare of our roles and responsibilities here in church when we go off to the UK. We will be basically starting from zero. So, it is important for students who have committed to CERC and yet, thinking to study abroad, to stay close to the church family and the people here in CERC. I am thankful for all of you who keep us occupied! Revel in the opportunities where you can serve. Be involved in our parachurch ministries like GGF, WWSC, and RUF etc. But at the same time, do not be myopic – go and make friends outside of church too!
Interviewer: Besides opportunities for exploring how other Christians think across cultures, what are some of the other plans you would like to explore while in the UK?
Joni: The UK will be facing the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)* virus soon. Our daughter, Wibrandis, has a chronic lung disease and due to the high costs, she could not be vaccinated against RSV here in Malaysia. As Wibrandis will be going along with us to the UK, we will be more cautious about how we will spend our free time abroad. If it were not for the pandemic, we would look forward to visiting the grocery stores, parks, museums, and other historical sites! But, we will need to be more careful about going places in this pandemic situation.
Interviewer: So Joni, you mentioned how you would have liked to spend your free time in the UK, if it were not for the current pandemic situation! How are you adjusting to this whole move to the UK with your family? Tell us about your worries and fears.
Joni: I have mixed feelings about the move overseas. Prior to marrying Sam, I knew that he may pursue postgraduate studies abroad and that this move (to the UK) would eventually happen. Now that we are finally moving abroad for a few years, I am adjusting to the move. But at the same time, I am sad that I am not able to see my family and the church physically before I head off.
I also worry about bringing my daughter on a plane in the middle of a pandemic due to her lung condition and whether she can handle the altitude up in the plane. In addition, I worry about her health, given that the RSV is ongoing in the UK and she is not vaccinated against it.
Then again, I ask myself. “To what extent should I focus on my anxieties and fears? How long can I keep her sheltered from the realities of the world?” On one hand, I am careful to keep her indoors. On the other hand, her life is God’s – I am not sovereign over her life (that would be idolatry, trying to be “God” to her!). Besides, I want her to experience the world, the realities out there, and see the experiences of the church.
Interviewer: You have talked about your worries and fears as a mother. What about your worries and fears as a wife to Sam?
Joni: I can imagine that for Sam, going back to studying life, preparing for exams, assignments, and deadlines all that etc. is quite different from, and possibly harder than his working life. I worry that if I struggle with motherhood alone overseas like, managing myself and the household well, then I would cause added stress to him on top of his own stress with managing his studies. I would want him to be able to manage his studies well, not squander the government’s money, and come back to Malaysia in three years. I would also want him to get involved in the local church there.
Interviewer: In terms of motherhood and parenting, Joni, what are some specific roles you would like to do while in the UK? How would you like to serve the church while there?
Joni: As a young mother, I think to myself, “Hmm, it will be nice to take a walk in the park and mingle with other mothers!” I think that would be both nerve-racking, but an exciting experience! I look forward to getting involved in Sunday school and seeing how the local church in the UK runs its Sunday school. Of course, if the church needs people to fill other roles that I could help out with, like administrative roles, I am glad to get involved in that as well!
Interviewer: Both of you have mentioned about how you would like to serve the local church there in the UK and reflected on how it would be good to learn how churches there are like. Let’s go back to the time when you joined CERC. Sam, how was your experience in CERC from the time you joined CERC as a student?
Sam: I came to CERC through Pastor-In-Training, Jerome Leng’s invitation, back when we were both students studying at International Medical University (IMU). I thought he was pretty cool and I wanted to be cool like him too (laughs)! On a more serious note, I saw him evangelizing using the Two Ways To Live chart and I was curious about it. He showed it to me. Over time, Jerome challenged me about my understanding of Romans 1-3 and then taught me to ‘exegete’ Bible verses. I remember being amazed and a bit shocked at how Jerome was talking about a God who predestined and saved a people for Himself. It made me realize that I didn’t know this God as I thought I did.
There was another time when I remember it was after the exam season, while everyone was worried about how they performed in their exams, Jerome instead was worried about the health of the church in Malaysia. At that time, I thought that he was very odd! Jerome then invited me to Word Works (WW) on Deuteronomy in 2009. During WW, there was an exercise – a “test” sermon, to test whether we could get the content and context right. I found this to be challenging and interesting. Jerome later invited me to CERC and I first attended CERC in December 2009. The following year, during the Gospel of John series, I decided to commit to being a member of CERC. I became a member in 2011 before I left for New Zealand and then returned to Malaysia in 2014.
Interviewer: What has kept you going in CERC all these years, from 2009 until now, 2021?
Sam: If you are a Malaysian Christian and understand the Gospel and the mission that we have here, you should commit to CERC! I think we understand our mission here is to impact the Malaysian Christianity landscape in the Klang Valley. It is logical why we are working so hard, working our guts out to build a foundation that is strong – one that hopefully will persevere on into the future generations.
Interviewer: You have been a council member for the past 3 years now (2018-2021). What are your reflections on your tenure as an elder?
Sam: The church had very few available, suitable men back then. I remember telling Pr Robin that I was very young. But, he said that age does not matter – it is the attitude that matters. The experience of considering to be part of the council of elders reminded me of what I learnt in membership, that membership to a church is a commitment, like marriage!
So for me, I have officially served in CERC as a member for the past decade now, whereas for my wife Joni, it has been about 7 years now. In my time as an elder… Firstly, I learnt about articulation, especially in the face of difficult situations that require much wisdom, I need to think about how to present myself and also provide counsel to Pr Robin. In contrast to our naysayers’ claims, Robin always asks the elders for feedback and opinions. Secondly, I wish I could have done more to improve myself. I was also caught up in other ministries that I was placed in. Thirdly, I learnt to take initiative. This has been heightened in the past 2 years because of the opposition we faced as a church.
Interviewer: Has it been a challenging experience for the both of you to transfer your current roles that you have in CERC and “pass the baton on” to others to take over before you both head off?
Sam: The passing on of my roles to others has been quite smooth because I have brothers and sisters whom I know well and trust to take over and handle the responsibilities that I have been carrying out here in CERC. I will remain in touch with them and guide them in these roles. It is great that the people who will be taking on my former roles here in CERC are keen on growing these areas under my guidance.
Joni: Unlike Sam, the transition of roles to others has been challenging and slow. There are areas to settle before going away, like the roles that I was serving in church and also, in the household. Like Sam, however, there are people whom I can pass on my roles to, people who can take up these tasks and opportunities to serve and expand these roles.
Interviewer: What are your hopes and prayers for yourself and your family?
Sam: Though we are counting down the days to leaving Malaysia, we hope that we will be able to remain in touch with the brothers and sisters here in CERC. Given the amount of time we will be away, we are also counting the many camps, conferences, baptisms, and weddings that we will be missing out on – which is quite sad because they play a very big part of our Christian lives and I am often involved in planning these events. We would also like to grow in the Word, keep up with the sermons and other important meetings pertaining to matters of the church while we are away.
Joni: Like Sam, I hope to keep in touch with the church. I also pray that we will remain as servants wherever we are and not slack in growing theologically in the Word. Now that CERC is growing into its 14th year, I will miss being able to witness the growth happening in person. Being away from the church and watching it grow from afar is a different experience altogether from spurring the church’s growth on in person. Lots of things will change and happen while we are away, but I thank God that He is ever faithful in persevering the church.
Interviewer: How can the church pray and support you and your family while all of you are away in the UK?
Sam: Pray for us, that:
- Joni will be able to keep up with managing both the household and the communication back home with the church family in Malaysia.
- Wibrandis will be able to grow and thrive in her new environment in her own way. We are thankful to God that He has sustained her in the past year of her life!
- We can parent our daughter well.
Joni added: Pray that:
- We will not lose the fervor in ministry.
- We will remember all that we have learnt in CERC over the years, not forgetting what we have learnt just because we are away in the UK for a few years!
- We will be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us about Christianity – be witnesses for Christ.
- We can raise our daughter well in the Lord.
Editor’s Note: The Sams flew to the UK on the 20th September 2021 and have arrived safely.
*RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. It occurs during the cold months – October to February in the UK. It can lead to severe infection among infants, if not vaccinated.