There is a saying that life is a stage, especially so if you are involved in the media world. There is an irony in this, because it means that the people who are most visible are also frequently people we do not really know. But every so often, it also means that these persons have an unsuspected hidden depth in them.
Last Sunday, the renowned actor-comedian-singer, Gurmit Singh, shared a courageous and soul-baring testimony at the New Covenant Church (tNCC) in Damansara Kim.
‘Many people would probably know me as Phua Chu Kang [the archetypal Ah Beng in the eponymous hit sitcom] but not many people know my real story,’ he shared. Coming from a poor background, Gurmit had parents that were regularly absent, trying to make ends meet.
‘My father worked 24 hours a day. In the daytime, he would be working as a security guard at a shop, and at night after the daytime shift had ended, he would work as a security guard at a bank. We did not have many of the opportunities others had but we were carefree. I had holes in my socks and my clothes kept shrinking, so I knew we were poor, but I did not realize how poor we were until I was in my Pre-University.’
‘You see, one of the studies in the pre-u was economics, and one day the teacher taught us about economies of scale, supply and demand, things like that.’ Trying to explain the concept of supply through a real-life example, Gurmit was picked to give an example through his allowance.
‘The teacher asked about my allowance and I replied 40 cents. I immediately knew something was wrong when the teacher said, “That’s alright. You can sit down”.’ One by one he found that the other students had daily allowances of $2 or more.
In those days, as young people usually do, the students would frequent McDonald’s. ‘I had to think up of clever excuses not to join them, and I would save my money so that on Friday, I would have enough to buy something and could join them.
‘People often say do not hold onto the past, but holding onto your past can be a good thing. Letting the past become bondage can be bad, but not when you let your past remind you of how much God has provided for you, and how far He has taken you.
‘Until this day, whenever I go to a new place, the first thing I would do is to go to McDonald’s and buy a Fillet-O-Fish. The Fillet-O-Fish may not be anything special, but it’s a reminder of how faithful my God is. From the time when I had to starve so that I could save enough, to this day when I can buy as many as I want in a day, God has been incredibly faithful to me.’
Gurmit also shared how his career in the media world was also through God’s providence. From a young age, Gurmit yearned to make something of himself. ‘While I knew my dad loved my family, I knew that growing up to be a security guard was no way I could provide for mine when had one of my own. Because my parents were busy most of the time, I spent a lot of time in front of the television. The shows I watched gave me dreams about becoming rich or having super-powers. It was escapism. I wanted to be like one of those people in the TV.
‘I was never studious, and books would send me to sleep. But I was very active in co-curricular activities, even taking part in traditional dances of the other races. At the end of the year, when most of my friends had a few lines of activities and clubs they had joined, mine would fill up an A4 page. When I was in National Service, I took part in plays, singing and dancing. One of the pieces came to the attention of a producer.’
Gurmit was thrown into the deep end and given the task of hosting a show solo. ‘I watched so much television and wished so hard to find a career outside of being a security guard that I was sucked into television,’ Gurmit related light-heartedly. ‘God had answered my prayers, and once again, He provided.’
Along the way, however, God also taught him many things about heart issues. Being in the competitive media world can be a hectic experience. There were times when he spent more time in front of cameras than with his family.
‘As an entertainer, I felt my responsibility was to entertain. No matter what struggles you go through, or how you feel inside, you’re not supposed to show it on camera. So, I seemed happy and funny on TV. Inside, however, there were many times when I felt what a lousy father or husband I was.’ Towards the end of 2014, Gurmit took the decision to end his 20 years of full-time TV career at MediaCorp.
‘My parents were not always there, but they cared for the family. In fact, one of my heroes was my mum. To me she was this incredibly strong woman. She had to work until midnight at a hawker’s stall to pitch into the family funds. Normally, a person would be entitled to some rest after working for a whole day. Yet, when she came home, she chose to be a wife and mother to us all.’
After work, Gurmit’s mother would still do household chores and even cook for the family for the next day. He related that it would surprise him that his mother never fell ill. ‘Strangely, the only time she would fall sick would be on her off-days. Most of the time, she would take some Panadol and the pain would go away.’
So when he found out that his mother had 4th stage cancer, he couldn’t believe or accept it. “I was so angry with the doctor. I raged in my mind, ‘How dare you say she has only six months to live? This is my mother you’re talking about, the strongest woman I have ever known.’ But of course after all the test and x-rays, I knew he was right”
At that time, Gurmit’s sisters had already become Christians. ‘I was so angry with them. My father was a staunch Sikh. To me, this was added trouble on top of everything else. But my sister was wise, and the pastor they invited to pray for my mum was also very grounded and wise. My mother became a Christian.’
One day, his sisters invited him to a rally held by Reinhard Bonnke. Up to this day, Gurmit still could not explain why he agreed to attend. Probably he was searching for answers. Gurmit saw miracles in that rally, and Reinhard had the anointing to speak right through a person’s soul. ‘I heard a voice saying, “Would you like to be My child?” and I just knelt down and surrendered my life to Jesus.’
After becoming a Christian, Gurmit prayed for God to prolong his mother’s life until he had a family and his mother could see her grandchild. ‘I was seventeen. It seemed to be a naive request at that time. But God answered my prayers.’ He healed Gurmit’s mother, and in a checkup soon after, the doctor found her to be clear of cancer. Not only did God clear her of cancer, he prolonged her life for sixteen years!
Sixteen years later, when his mother’s cancer relapsed, Gurmit was angry with God. God only gently reminded him, “Remember what you promised? Now you have a family and a child. It’s time to let her go.” Gurmit shared that his mother passed away peacefully, surrounded by her loved ones. ‘It was the first time I had seen my dad kissed her forehead and say that he loved her.’
Gurmit’s father passed away of cancer two years later, but in that two years, the bond between father and son grew deep and they got to know each other before the father passed on. ‘He was such a stubborn man but towards the end, he finally became a Christian. To this day, I miss them, but in my heart I know that I will meet them in Heaven one day because they had given their life to Jesus. And when I die, I will be there with them.’
God is love and no word can express the amount of love He has for us, Gurmit shared. ‘He has been so faithful and so much a part of our lives. Amidst all the challenges and everything in life, this is my greatest security, that we can find rest in His love and provision.’
Gurmit’s testimony is a powerful testament of the faithfulness and provision of God. From the time when God brought him out of poverty, to the moulding process He guided Gurmit through, to the miraculous deliverance out of his darkest moment when his mother was struck with cancer, God has been there all the time, not just in provision but also in a close bond of Fatherhood and friendship.
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NOTE: While there have already been coverage about Gurmit Singh on Christianity Malaysia, his story is a remarkably powerful and impactful one that should be known by more people. This article is an attempt to flesh out his story more by providing another window into his testimony. It is written through the lens of God’s providence and faithfulness. It is the writer’s hope that this article will be a blessing to readers who are struggling with hardship and trouble.
All pictures of Gurmit at tNCC were kindly contributed by The New Covenant Church (tNCC).