Port Macquarie Baptist Church’s new reverend, Simon Chen, has an interesting story or two to share … born in Malaysia, emigrating to Australia, he also spent seven years travelling aboard the ship “MV Doulos”, a floating ministry and bookshop. A loving husband and proud father of three girls, Simon doesn’t have a lot of time to call his own these days … but he’s happily settled into life and his new role in Port Macquarie.
Hi Simon. Where are your originally from?
I was born in the city of Johor Bahru, in Malaysia. Its current claim to fame is that it is only 15 miles north of the historic Trump-Kim meeting!
My family moved to Malacca when I was only a few months old, and that’s where I grew up.
Please introduce us to your family …
I am married to Susanna, who was born in Wagga Wagga but grew up in rural NSW. She was actually living and studying in Canberra when we started going out. We got married in 2011, and we now have three little girls – Beatrix (4), Elizabeth (2), and Catherine (11 months), all born in Dubbo.
I believe you spent seven years aboard the Doulos. This must have been an amazing experience! What can you tell us about the ship and your time aboard?
During my time on board, I lived with 350 people of about 50 different nationalities. It was an opportunity to learn all about different cultures and languages (and how miscommunication can happen, even though we all speak English!)
I spent two years in East Asia, two years circumnavigating Africa, and three years in Europe. By the time I left, I’d visited almost 60 countries in total.
Some of my jobs on board included deckhand, on-shore ministry coordinator, on-board programmes director, sound engineering, project management, journalist, press officer, and telephone receptionist.
I know that the refugee/asylum seeker issue is a complicated one, but a visit to a refugee camp in Djibouti has always been with me. If there is anything at all we can do to help refugees/asylum seekers, we should do it.
When did you feel the call to become a pastor?
When I was 15 years old (and still living in Malaysia).
Your career has taken you to a few places, including Mudgee and Narromine. How long have you been in Port Macquarie – and how do you feel you and your family are settling in?
We have lived in Port Macquarie for nine months now, and we love it. What’s not to love about Port Macquarie? Our girls would visit the beach every day if they could!
As the new reverend at Port Macquarie Baptist Church, what do you see as the most important aspects of your role?
Happy to be just known as Simon (or Simmo, if you feel like it)! I think it is important for any pastor to love his (or her) people and preach faithfully from the Bible. As far as possible I want to be there for the congregation, to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and to exercise grace as often as possible.
What do you hope to share with the church, your congregation, and the greater Port Macquarie community?
I only got to Australia in 2007, and I feel I still have much to learn about this country. Even so, I sometimes wonder how many of us are driven by fear. Fear of the economy tanking, fear of illness, fear of abandonment, fear of losing control. It’s not good to be driven by fear. It can cause us to make decisions that may be good for us, but not necessarily for others.
I think Jesus calls us to be more than that. He taught us to think of others before self! What if we made choices based on how good they were for others? What if we all did our best to be ridiculously patient, kind, gracious, forgiving, generous, even when we didn’t feel like it? Wouldn’t that be revolutionary?
Personally though (and not that I always get it right!) I believe it is only the power of Jesus working in me that makes it possible for me to do these things. I actually think knowing, understanding and following Jesus is very radical!
What are you most looking forward to with your new role?
I love Jesus and hope to challenge people to take a fresh look at the man. We often hear about him from others, but we should read about him first-hand.
I also believe that everyone has a life story; everyone is on a journey. I enjoy listening to people share about where they have been, how God has worked in their life and reflecting and learning from them.
I know you enjoy writing and still write a “Spiritual Snack” for the Narromine News. When you’re not running around after your three little girls, what else do you like to do?
Being with my wife and girls takes up a lot of time (!) but whatever time I have left is spent studying (I’m a part-time student), reading fiction (sci-fi and fantasy), watching movies, thinking, and playing CRPGs (computer role playing games). I might fish more one day.
Interview: Jo Robinson.