What is it like for a pastor to live with cerebral palsy in Singapore? How did he study, work, fall in love and raise a family? How did he, despite his disability and limitations, cope with challenges and lead Christians to grow in their relationship with God?
Pastor Michael Yeong has released an autobiography in December 2020. He turns 50 this year. Below is an edited excerpt of his book Walking with Grit and Grace.
A Birth Accident
My mother was about 40 years old when she conceived my twin brother and I. She had much difficulty during labour, and we were born prematurely. Due to a brain injury sustained in the birthing process, I was born with cerebral palsy, affecting both my legs. My twin brother, unfortunately, died at birth.
Cerebral palsy is a physical disability that affects a person’s movement and posture when a part of the brain is damaged. In my case, my brain does not send the right signals to my legs, so I have difficulty maintaining my balance, especially when I need to stand still or go up stairs without railings. My condition went undetected until I was about seven months old when I started to learn how to crawl.
Growing up, I remember Mum telling me that upon discovering my condition, the doctor advised her that it would be better if she abandoned me as I would be “no good”. Thankfully, she did not, and instead, by God’s grace, she chose to give up her job as a nurse to become a stay-at-home mum so she could devote her time to caring for me.
Am I An Accident?
Am I “no good” because I was born with cerebral palsy? I have experienced a birth accident, but am I “an accident”?
I was not embarrassed about my disability, and I did not feel a sense of loss since I had walked the same way throughout my life, but I often felt disadvantaged. I was keenly aware that many people might simply “write me off” or “discount” me when they see my physical disability, without getting to know me as a person.
“God, why can’t you make me smarter or give me better social skills?” was one of the cries of my heart. “Certainly you could give me better IQ or EQ to compensate for my physical disability, couldn’t you?”
I was greatly encouraged when I read a chapter of Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life, aptly titled “You Are Not an Accident”, in 2005. Some people may find this truth – that we are not an accident – so simple that they miss the significance of it. This truth is so important, and the human need it addresses is so fundamental, that it is worth repeating.
As a pastor, I have met many people who struggle with accepting who they are. They may struggle with accepting the family that they were born into, or accepting their personality or temperament. Or they do not like a physical attribute they have; for example, they think they are too fat, too thin, too tall, or too short.
The Bible reminds us that “we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago” (Eph 2:10, NLT).
We are not an accident. We are not God’s afterthought. We are His masterpiece. Each of us is uniquely created by Him. Every detail in our lives is shaped by Him to make us the person we are today. It was not a haphazard process, but a thoughtful one.
Special… For What Purpose?
I often ask myself, “Why did God allow me to have cerebral palsy?” Because of my disability, I cannot baptise people (I would not be able to stand firm in the water) and it is difficult for me to go on mission trips. “Wouldn’t I be able to do more for God if I were able-bodied?” As I reflected on this, I was reminded of the story of a blind man in John 9:1-3.
This man was born blind so that God could be glorified through his life. It doesn’t mean that God made the person blind for years so that the regaining of his sight would reveal God’s greatness. Rather, God overruled the person’s blindness and worked it out for good, so that it became an opportunity for God to be glorified through the man’s life. Similarly, my disability is an opportunity for God to reveal His glory as He works in my life.
The formation of a pearl comes to mind. When an irritant works its way into an oyster, the oyster secretes a fluid to coat the irritant, as a defence mechanism. Layer upon layer of this coating, called “nacre”, is deposited until a lustrous pearl is formed.
Likewise, God has been doing a moulding work in my life. Over the years as I get to know God more personally – through His word, prayer, fellowship with other mature Christians and experiencing His work in my life firsthand – I have come to a place of peace.
I would rather God be glorified when I am healed of my disability. But if God sees fit that others can see His hand at work in my life because of my disability, then for that, difficult as it may be, I rejoice!
I may have experienced an accident at birth but as I look back now, I see God, in His sovereignty, working in my life. He is moulding and shaping me purposefully, layer upon layer, that He may create in me a masterpiece!
To get a copy of the book, go to tiny.cc/grit-grace
About the author
Michael Yeong – Husband, Father, Pastor, Counsellor
Michael Yeong has been a pastor at Bethesda Church Bukit Arang (BCBA) since 2004 and is a trained professional counsellor. He was born with cerebral palsy due to a brain injury during his birth. He is happily married to his wife, Cynthia, and is a father of two children, Abigail and Nathanael. Michael is an avid reader and loves to watch movies. He enjoys meeting up with friends and would not decline an invitation to meet for a meal or coffee.