Uniting Heritage & the Word: A Father Figure’s Brushstrokes of Faith

In June, we celebrate Father’s Day. Since I shared about my father last June (link to article here), I would like to introduce you to another father figure in my life –  my Uncle!

My uncle is one of my mother's eight brothers. Uncle Chong Tien, or Dr Tan as many call him, is one I am closest to in proximity and passion. Whenever we visit him, there’s always a table with his brushes, paper, and lots of practice!

My Uncle and I have collaborated on the Chinese version of the Botanical Calendar since 2023. His steady hands are a gift from God. His love for God, His Word, and our Chinese roots is expressed in his beautiful Chinese calligraphy. In shining a spotlight on this calm and measured man, I hope this sharing encourages you to glorify God in the gifts that He has given you.  

My Uncle and I with the Chinese and English versions of the calendar in our hands.

Share with us a bit about yourself! 
I grew up in Penang attending Chinese primary school and 3 years of Chinese secondary school. After that, I went over to Melbourne to complete my high school education followed by a medical degree at Monash University. Knowing the Chinese language is certainly a great advantage for pursuing calligraphy as a hobby. In my earlier years, I practised calligraphy now and then on my own. For the past 15 years, I took it very seriously and took lessons from reputable teachers, and have been writing calligraphy almost daily since. Currently, I am still practising as an orthopaedic spine surgeon. Slowing down in my work in recent years allows me to devote more time to indulge in this wonderful hobby.

My Uncle in his office during his lunch break

Finding Where Faith and Culture Meet

A major objective in my pursuit of this hobby is to explore using Chinese calligraphy as the medium to express Biblical truths. This is quite challenging. Ancient Chinese philosophies, Taoism, and Buddhism have been using Chinese calligraphy as the medium for expressing their teachings for the past few thousand years. While there's evidence of a Christian presence in China during the Tang dynasty, it hasn't had a steady presence, facing periods of suppression and resurgence throughout history. Christianity has made a lasting impact in China only in the past few hundred years with the arrival in 1807 of Protestant missionary Robert Morrison who translated the Bible into Chinese and had it printed in 1823. No Chinese calligraphy expressing Biblical truths was ever written by well-known calligraphers over the past few thousand years. Nonetheless, a small number of Chinese Christians who are accomplished calligraphers are writing Biblical teachings into Chinese calligraphy. It is my hope that the number will grow and they will increasingly produce high-quality calligraphic works that express Biblical truths. I was delighted when Emily invited me to contribute to the Chinese calligraphy version of her calendar as it was very much in line with my passion.

Excerpts from John 1:1-18, my Uncle's favourite Bible passage, which was a fitting prologue inside the 2024 Botanical Calendar, 耶稣是谁  ('Portraits of Jesus').  

On Finding Answers through God’s Word

Over the years God has also been maturing my faith as He led me through many difficulties and assured me of His reality. My favourite Bible passage is John 1:1-18. Apostle John announced to the world the astounding truths about Jesus (the Word) as God, the creator of all things, the source of truth and life, yet willingly became man to reveal God to us and to save humanity from the grasp and the consequences of sin. There are so many Biblical truths in the book of John alone that can be expressed in Chinese calligraphy. Scripture is indeed the treasure trove for godly wisdom and instructions on right living. Chinese calligraphy is a natural and effective medium to communicate Biblical truths, especially to the Chinese people. 

These two beautiful masterpieces that are currently displayed at my Uncle's home.
(Left: 1 John 4:10 -- In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Right: John 3:16 -- For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.)

Thank you Uncle Chong Tien for sharing your journey with us!

Some things to ponder:
Is there an avenue in your life where faith and culture meet?
How do you see your unique position as God’s gift to communicate His truth to others?

Leave a comment