Jonathan is a Senior Associate with Tan Kok Quan Partnership. He graduated from Singapore Management University (SMU) in 2013. He started ReadAble in 2014 to serve illiterate children from low-income homes.
This letter is addressed to his 18-year old self, who has just graduated from Junior College.
Dear Jon Muk
For some reason, you’d remember this quote from Mrs Albar, your Secondary 3/4 Form Teacher: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
You’ll come to learn that you’ll remember the weirdest of things, this being one of them. But 10 years down the road, you would have come to experience the power of faith more viscerally than you could wish for, and you’ll come to appreciate this phrase ringing true in your life.
You would have, by then, been privileged to enter and graduate from SMU’s law school (SMU will not have been your first choice for law school, but a phone call received at Newton MRT station will change all of that). Know that you are the privileged few in a world of 7 billion people to have the opportunity to do so. You’ll soon come to treasure how your mom read stories with you every night in your formative years – little did you know they set the foundation upon which your learning ability was constructed.
Remember that phrase “To whom much has been given, much more shall be required”? Be a good steward of the education you will receive. Don’t squander it by being “damn anyhow” with your life. As much as you’ll enjoy the challenge of working in the public sector and private practice, give generously of yourself to those in greatest need. Know that the God you worship was born in a humble manger and grew up in a remote outpost of the Roman Empire as the son of a nobody carpenter so that you may be redeemed eternally. Let His example serve as your inspiration.
Professionally, you would also have worked for 3 employers, all 3 of whom you would not have considered working for. In the course of your work, you’ll learn not just about the application of an artificial edifice called “the law”, but also about politics, business, and how decisions made in the shadow of “the law” are often multifaceted ones laced with innumerable considerations. The course you took in university will require you to take a significant number of non-law courses. Don’t bitch about it. You’ll soon come to appreciate how they will shape the way you view the law and the world governed by it. Oh yes, you’ll come to treasure how SMU law school made it compulsory for you to study Conflict of Laws, Financial Accounting, and Finance. Super useful. Better take them seriously hor.
You’d encounter both joy and disappointment in the course of your legal career. In times of joy, learn to never bask excessively in the glory of your achievements. In times of disappointment, learn to never wallow overly in despair. As a friend (whom you will consider one of the brightest intellectual minds you’ve met) will write to you, “拿得起，放得下” (“What you have the courage to try, have the courage to let go”). This is sound advice; the legal career is a marathon, not a sprint. So keep calm, stay the course, and continue with the fortitude that you must have. Whenever you feel that life’s kinda hard, take inspiration from your forefathers who braved civil wars, crossed seas, and conquered immeasurable hardship for a better life – there is much to learn from their examples. 天下无难事，只怕有心人 (“There’s no task too difficult in this world; the question is whether there’s anyone determined enough to try”).
By the way, remember that niggling discomfort with societal inequality that remained with you since that mission trip you went on 6 years ago to the villages of northern Thailand? I have good news for you. This discomfort will spur you to ask God one night what can be done for kids in the Chinatown area who would otherwise grow up illiterate. Little will you realise that God would take that little request of yours pretty seriously. You’d soon meet two friends who would embark on a crazy journey with you, one Michelle Yeo and one Amanda Chong. You’d broach this idea of starting a reading programme to them, and they’d both somehow readily agree to start this together with you in the home of a child growing up in Chinatown. You may never find out what got into them to decide to do this, but ok.
I probably should not reveal too much to you, but it’s too much to resist. Would you believe it if I told you that this little reading programme would one day be called ReadAble, serve more than 40 children weekly through literacy sessions (many of whom would otherwise never learn the power of phonetics or learn language apart from the assessment books in schools, which are really damn boring), and partner with numerous other people and groups to start or improve reading programmes for underserved children? If it sounds like a pipe dream to you now, don’t worry. God leads with a lamp to your feet, not a flashlight that shows you what’s to come a kilometer down the road.
You’ll eventually get to this point in life. When you do, don’t fear. God will show you what He truly means when He says “My grace is sufficient for you, My strength is made perfect in your weakness”. You’ll see provision every step of the way as you reach roadblocks. How about the balance with intense practice hours? Somehow, you’ll manage with the help of wonderful employers and dream co-workers. Must give you some surprise – I won’t say more for now.
Through this work, you will also come to see your inadequacies and flaws more clearly than you ever have, and realise how much you’ve taken for granted in your privileged life. Take comfort from the reality that even though you are more flawed in yourself than you ever dared believe, you are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than you ever dared hope. As you have been unconditionally loved, so love unconditionally.
Only in your adult years will you come to appreciate that you’ve been blessed with a family and friends who accept you for who you are and put up with your quirks. They are the best things life has to offer. More than these, you’ll find yourself being a friend to many children and their families in Chinatown, walking with them through some of the darkest moments of their lives – remember what a privilege it is for you to do so. Take inspiration from a God who has walked with you through some of the lowest moments of your life. As He has walked with you, so walk with these families.
Excited? Scared? Mix of both? Let me remind you of your floorball coach’s words – you can either live life with faith, or with fear. I’d leave you with this verse of encouragement from John 16:33: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Go for it. You won’t regret it.
Yours in Christ
A much older Jon Muk