Written by Mimi Tang
In the beginning of January 2020, a century pandemic that has later completely reversed the normal life of modern humans was about to explode. Right before this drastic global pandemic unfolded, Johnson Yip, who previously worked with medical research and studied biochemistry in college, decided to return to his alma mater as the Director of Theological Education by Extensions (TEE).
In the early 1990s, “biochemistry” was regarded as an emerging field. In addition to medicine study, this field involves more forward-looking medical work and drug research in enhancing the development of the health care system. It should be perceived as a stable career. In order to get some peace of mind about his future, Johnson asked his chemistry teacher about his job opportunities. The answer he got was “the worst-case scenario is you can teach Chemistry and Biology!” He was filled with passion at the beginning of the study, only to return to reality when he realized that “biochemistry is just biochemistry”, and not a combination of both! Although it felt a bit like he was “trapped” into it, the more he studied, the more he actually fell in love with this field. And his grades were not bad at all. After graduation, he planned to further his studies by pursuing a doctoral degree. But this idea was later dismissed: “It's all because of my wife!” His vigorous voice still lingered around the room as he pulled out his signature laugh. His wife was his classmate and first love. They were making plans to start a family: “Hong Kong has always been extremely commercialized. It is just not easy to do research and find funding. I have someone to feed and take care of, so I need to start planning for the future.” It happened that the medical school of Chinese University of Hong Kong was looking for a technician at the time. So he worked in that capacity for eight years. He was doing his favorite job every day, traveling twice a year, living comfortably in his nest with his beloved wife – a stable and typical middle class life. Even from time to time he felt the calling of God to serve Him, he still managed to find a reason for delay: “I won’t forget about it. It’s just that I am not doing it right now. I may go for theology when I retire. And still that’s not breaking my promise!”
Johnson encountered Christianity at the Billy Graham’s crusades in 1991. His secondary school was located near the Hong Kong Stadium. When everyone in school heard that there was “something interesting” happening, he followed along. In the end, he raised his hand to accept Christ, and started to attend the church “designated” by the Crusade. He continually attended the morning service of that church on every Sunday, until the year when he advanced to Form 7. When he was in college, a Christian classmate invited him to join the Saturday Fellowship. But what motivated him to keep going was the fun stuff that came after fellowship time: Eating street food and playing video games. However, as his classmates suddenly left the church, he also lost his motivation to go. And then he got married. His wife who had stopped going to church during college because of the distance between the dormitory and the church, now started to attend the Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA) Mei Foo Church service with her colleagues. It later became Johnson’s mother church, which also aroused his interest in further pursuing God’s words.
His wife is his greatest motivator and support on his journey of faith and ministry. The moment he decided to commit himself to serving God during the 2007 Hong Kong Bible Conference, his wife was actually about to give birth: “On my way home, I was feeling really nervous! I was always honest with her! Here I was about to get a promotion at work, and my wife was going to deliver a baby. How was I supposed to tell her about my new plan? I was afraid she was going to get into depression (laugh)! But when she heard about it, she came around and comforted me: ‘Actually I had the same burden. I knew you were going to dedicate yourself to God one day. Don’t worry! We will see how it turns out.’ Wow! I was so moved by her words! But as soon as I returned to work, I did not want to leave because I really loved my job. This was true until my son was born. He completely turned me around!”
His son was born on September 11, the day Johnson can now smilingly describe as his “home terrorist attack”. But that night was indeed an emotional roller coaster, when his joyful excitement quickly swung to deep anxiety: “I was so happy about the smooth delivery and started to tell everyone about it. But as I was getting ready to leave, the nurse told me: ‘Mr. Yip, it seems your son is having difficulty drinking milk!’ After rounds of examination, they found that my son’s esophagus was separated from the stomach and could not be connected.” The doctor immediately arranged for a surgery the next day. When he returned home, it was already past two in the morning: “On my way home in the taxi, I couldn’t help crying! As I was about to get off, I saw a cross on the rear mirror of the car. At that moment, I felt like God was speaking to me: ‘I will be leading you along the way, just like this car.’ When I returned to the hospital early in the morning, the doctor bluntly told us that he was not confident about the surgery because there had not been too many of such surgeries in Hong Kong.” As I waited outside the surgery room, it was the most nerve racking six hours in my life. I could only keep praying, until the doctor finally came out and said, “It’s all good now!”
What this sudden “attack” ultimately meant to Johnson was not fear, but a taste of God’s love that he had never experienced since he became a Christian. “I had not been with my son for more than 24 hours and already I felt the inseparable love between us. When I was praying, God made me realize His great love for all of us - so great that He was willing to be apart from His son! So I told Father God, ‘Now I finally see what your love is about! I am willing to offer myself and serve you. I will stop worrying about my job and promotion, or even about my son! None of these will affect my decision to serve you. Lord, it is purely your love that I want to respond to!’ Just like that, I decided to go for theology.”
Johnson has always been passionate about studying the Bible. While in seminary, he was doing fairly well in Biblical languages, especially Hebrew. But his goal was to serve as a pastor in his mother church upon graduation, and study the Word of God with his congregation: “Having served at the church for about a year, I decided to go back to seminary and audit classes. And that felt very refreshing. After that, I enrolled in a Master of Theology (ThM) program. The first course I encountered was the book of Leviticus taught by Dr Wong Ka Leung. I really admired his meticulous and rigorous approach in studying the Bible. I wanted to work with him on my thesis. Besides, he specialized in the book of Ezekiel which I was not familiar with. And it was just wonderful to have him as my guidance!” The process of conceiving and writing the thesis evoked the long-lost satisfaction and joy from research work in his heart: “It reminds me of how it feels to do biochemistry research before, something I really want to dwell in and enjoy doing! I absolutely love working in the research world! God showed me another side of myself through this experience, so I decided to further my studies in the Old Testament in the United Kingdom.”
Johnson has always had a conviction in training and equipping committed believers, but he never imagined doing so in a seminary. “Compared to the church, the seminary must attain a certain academic level. While respecting the study of the Bible, it also ensures that brothers and sisters would be capable of learning about it during the course of study.” Johnson came across an unprecedented pandemic shortly after he started his career in the seminary. It means he needs to modify his teaching method. For him, the term “extensions” does not only apply to the course: “‘Extensions’ also implies a broadened perspective and understanding of the word of God. It is a willingness to allow God to mold us continually, thereby renewing and extending lives, and leading the path for future ministries, in which we can become the servants of God in this era.”
Johnson is a passionate fan of all types of ball games. When he was a child, he wanted to be a sports commentator on TV. Now his pulpit has become his stage. In his eyes, life is just like a soccer game: “When you are playing in the field, you want to go for the trophy. For us, our trophy is to receive praise from God.” Playing this game of life is the same. When you are tackled, you will fall to the ground and get injured. You need to stand up again and again, and continue to play until you leave the field. You would go back and face God: “It is not up to me to define my position in the game. It’s all up to God who is my life coach. If He wants me to be a forward, or put me as a defense, I’ll follow and do so. What’s more important is to respect the position we are playing. As soon as we step into the field, we must strive to do and play our best! As we come to the end of our life, we will then be able to hold our heads high when standing before the great white throne.”