In 2014, Reverend Calvin Lim joined World Vision Malaysia on a one week field trip to Arpana, India, and witnessed what this non-government organisation (NGO) does for the slums. World Vision is an Evangelical Christian humanitarian aid, development and advocacy organisation.

After the transformation of the villages under this NGO’s area development programme, people had running water and children could go to school, according to Lim. The 42-year-old is a pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Petaling Jaya.

In another village, he was touched by how HIV-positive children were hopeful about their future.

“They had dreams to be teachers and policemen,” said Lim, inspired by the children’s optimism. But he was also sad that some of the children had no dreams at all.

Lim then learnt all about World Vision’s concept of charity, and how it uses its resources to influence people to give back to society.

“It’s not about giving money, but empowering the poor communities. Over a period of time, the villagers became happier and more independent,” said Lim, one of 20 people selected as ambassadors of World Vision Malaysia (WVM).

WVM is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and its ambassadors are amongst those who helped to maximise the impact of the organisation’s work.

Lim (in blue) and another World Vision Malaysia volunteer distributing relief items to communities affected by the 2014 floods in Tumpat, Kelantan. Photos: World Vision Malaysia

World Vision’s programme to empower communities to be independent and achieve self-sustainability apparently lasts 10 to 15 years.

After the Kelantan floods, Lim was amongst 50 WVM volunteers who went to help in the aftermath of the floods in January, 2015. They were in Kota Baru and Tumpat to clean the villagers’ houses. They also helped to clean the flood-ravaged SRJK (C) Chung Hwa in Kota Baru.

Said Lim: “It was quite an experience for us to see how badly the floods had affected the people. The trip widened my perspective on charity. The villagers had no clean water to drink and were waiting for help. When we were with them, we could feel their pain and suffering. They didn’t have anything. The school was flooded up to two storeys high. Fans, books and computers were damaged.”

He believes that church work can be extended outside its four walls. He would like to engage youths to lead active lifestyles and participate in outdoor activities.

Lim hopes that youths can gain more exposure to the outside world and learn to be more compassionate.

The church also works with PJ Old Town Fellowship, another NGO, by allowing its premises to be used to teach English to children of hawkers trading at the nearby market. Twice every week, they also work together to feed the homeless in PJ Old Town.

Beyond the church

Outside the church, Lim is quite an outdoorsy person.

During his free time, he runs and climbs mountains.

Lim at the peak of Nanhu Mountain, Taiwan, on Aug 31, 2016. Photo: Rev Calvin Lim

Four years ago, Lim – who weighed 120kg at that time – started running and over time, he lost 40kg. Two years ago, he ran a marathon and asked youths in his church to run with him.

These days, if he has the time, he tries to run 10km after work in the evenings.

“I injured my ankle and can’t run longer distances. I can only attempt 10km or 20km runs. A full marathon (42km) would be very challenging,” said Lim.

“I want young people to make changes in their lives. They should be tough and healthy.”

Lim is married to a Taiwanese and sometimes, accompanies his wife back to her homeland.

In August last year, he went there with nine others to learn about outdoor activities and leadership, hoping to return as instructors to teach others.

They climbed Nanhu Mountain (3,742m), the fourth highest mountain in Taiwan, and spent 11 days surviving in the wild.

Nowadays, he aims to engage young people in mountain-climbing and hopes to introduce survival skills in the wild to Malaysian youths.

Serving the people

As a pastor, Lim is a salaried staff. But on busy days, his work does not stop after office hours.

“I’m on call 24 hours,” he said. “I have to serve the people.”

He is called upon when someone is sick, on the verge of dying or wants him to solve their problems. Sometimes, even on public holidays, Lim has to be around if there are church camp activities.

“You still have to work although others assume you’re on holiday,” said Lim.

Generally, Lim feels blessed about the nature of his job.

“I get to know so many young people. They give me a chance to be their mentor and walk beside them during an important period in their lives,” he said.

He also provides a listening ear to the elderly.

“They will tell you everything – what makes them happy or sad or even their regrets. They are a lonely bunch and some really want their children to visit them more often.”

Children from a local village in Arpana, India, gathering for a meeting with Lim and other faith partners during a visit to the World Vision Malaysia-supported Area Development Programme in 2014.

Rich in the heart

Although he is a pastor, he does not only preach. He is also privy to other people’s lives. He gets to listen and learn from them.

His presence is significant when people get married or babies are born. He prays for the sick and the dying.

He said: “If I’m an ordinary person, I don’t get the chance to experience all of these.”

Lim often hears in eulogies how the departed are remembered.

“I never hear children tell people how many cars their late father had. They speak of how he treated them when he was alive. For example, they would talk of where their dad took them to eat,” he said.“There are wealthy people who have money but no families. Some have nice homes but have no peace in the heart,” mused Lim.

Being wealthy does not mean you need to have money.

“If you’re willing to give (to others), you’re truly rich in the heart,” he concluded.

Turning over a new leaf

A rebel in his youth, Calvin Lim would go clubbing, smoked and drank alcohol. He lost interest in his studies and dropped out of college.

Rev Calvin Lim feels blessed about the nature of his job. He said: “I get to know so many young people. They give me a chance to be their mentor and to walk beside them during an important period in their lives. Photo: The Star/Art Chen

One night, he saw all his friends in a drunken stupor and had an awakening. He realised his folly.

“I thought that if I continued to live like that, my life would be finished!” he said.

Lim, a Christian, promised to go to church the next day. He decided to go on the mend; this was in 2000.

“I reached home at 6am and my mother woke up at 7am. She thought I had woken up early but actually I had just returned home,” he recalled.

That morning, he kept his word and went to church with his mother.

“Nothing happened. I still slept like I always did while the pastor was preaching away,” he said with a chuckle.

Lim is the youngest in the family and has two older brothers.

His parents were pasar malam traders. His father, who had Parkinson’s disease, passed away a few years back.

Over time, Lim continued with his soul searching and went to several church camps.

Then, at one camp, a pastor asked who wanted to be a pastor and Lim thought, “Why not me?”

Inspired, Lim enrolled at the Singapore Bible College.

The church and his mother supported his decision and sponsored his studies. But he still needed to do odd jobs such as cleaning dishes to “survive” in Singapore.

“People who know me thought it would be impossible for me to become a pastor,” Lim recounted.

When he succeeded in achieving his dream, others thought, “It’s a miracle!”