Stories: Jonathan Chan

Who are you, and what do you do in Cambridge?

My name is Jonathan Chan and I’m a third-year English student at Wolfson College. I was born in the US to a Malaysian father and South Korean mother and I was brought up in Singapore. I started my degree after completing mandatory military service, thus explaining my matriculation into Wolfson, the retirement home of West Cambridge. 

Tell us about something that matters to you

Increasingly, I have become passionate about what it means to pursue reconciliation amidst difference. This has been something that became increasingly clear to me as I found myself involved in the Decolonise English campaign and antiracist activism. I was driven by a desire to foster empathy and understanding between groups that have had historically, culturally, and epistemologically fraught relationships, a vagary of the legacy of British colonialism. It was the same desire that led me to serving as an interlocutor of sorts across the different Christian communities I became involved with in Cambridge. 

What’s your story?

I was born into a Christian family, so churchgoing formed the scaffold of my upbringing, complemented by the ubiquity of the Christian message in the Methodist school I attended, but it wasn’t until I was 14 that I began to interrogate the tenets of the faith more deeply. Part of it came from a desire to be able to defend my faith against the vast number of contrary positions I’d encountered online. Long nights spent reading the bible and digesting rational arguments for faith helped to form the basis of an intellectual foundation for my faith. It granted me a security in my identity that helped me begin reconciling the different cultures and places that had formed how I understood who I was. I no longer had to regard these fragments as disparate, but found that they were woven together in a tapestry of divine, unconditional love. 

Yet, it was only much later that the immediacy and the urgency of walking alongside Jesus became clearer. Enlistment into the military had placed me in situations that had left me physically, emotionally, and spiritually depleted. It proved exceedingly difficult to hold close to Christ as I assumed duty as a sergeant and was tasked with training, disciplining, and leading soldiers. At the same time, I had begun leading a small group of youths at my church, trying my best to guide them in building their relationships with Jesus. A devastating series of mistakes in the army left me exhausted and disheartened. It was by the wise counsel of friends and critical intervention of prayer that my perspectives began to shift. I learned what it meant to journey alongside Christ each day, understanding every interaction as an opportunity to share His love, and to be transformed by Him in the process. It was a process through which I found myself being wrested from despair and rooted in more deeply in the sacrificial love of Jesus. 

I’ve carried this certitude with me since- through new challenges, new difficulties, new pressures, and new relationships. There is no shortage of any of these things in Cambridge, but I continue to give thanks each day for the enduring compassion of Jesus, that has sustained me and given me the strength to strive toward generosity and gratitude each day. 

Is the story of Jesus good news in a world like this?

There are no easy answers to this question. To insist that there are would be to mischaracterise the Christian faith entirely. It is hard to insist on the goodness of God to patients that are suffocating, doctors that are exhausted, and families that have been torn apart. Yet, it is just as hard to deny that to be essential to His character- the goodness of God and the suffering we face are not mutually exclusive entities. What Christ offers to those who are tired and weary is rest: physical, emotional, and spiritual. 

Jesus promises a love that is abundant and given without expecting anything in return. He provides an empathy that reaches into the deepest caverns of the soul. He rejoices with us, but He also weeps with us. He knows better than anyone how it feels to be betrayed, abandoned, and punished. He has also shown us how to respond in dignity and in grace. It is the humanity of Christ that I continue to find utterly compelling.

That Christ rose again after the pain of humiliation and His crucifixion is an indication to us that neither suffering, nor death are conclusive. There is a solidity to His resurrection that assures us that the brokenness of our world is not permanent, and there is something that endures far beyond what we can perceive right now. Christ promises His followers that they too will rise from the grave and live in a world that He will remake, one bereft of weeping, hurt, or pain. It is a hope that renews and clarifies itself every day.

This has given me reason to continue trusting in the plans of God, however unknowable, and to continue loving others, however difficult. It is my prayer that you will interrogate the story of Jesus and encounter this abiding hope for yourself.