Calvary City Church Tawau (CCC) is an apostolic church with a mission to be ‘a church without walls for the transformation of cities and nations.’ Since it began in 1980, CCC Tawau has ventured into food and beverage, education, event management and fitness businesses. The church also runs the only school for primary-aged stateless children that is licensed by the Education Ministry.
“We are here to fulfil God’s kingdom purposes,” says Pr. Teh Yung Huat, the senior pastor of CCC Tawau. A visionary who doesn’t shy away from a holy challenge, Pr Teh is a simple, no-nonsense man whose mission is clear: to obey God’s leading and go wherever He calls.
CCC Tawau is not a heavyweight in the church circle (considering its size and financial resources), but its impact on the community has been significant since it began more than 40 years ago. With a ten-storey building that also houses an international school, cafe, fitness centre and local canteen, CCC Tawau is certainly not a normal church.
How a sound mixer revealed what the kingdom of God looks like
In tracing back to the start of what has been a progressive journey of discovery, Pr Teh says it all began with his hall’s sound system. In 2004, his “poor sound man” had enough. Their church’s mixer and sound system were unable to cope with the increasing load from new instruments having been added over the years, resulting in terrible sound.
“So, I realised we need a new sound system. God connected me to a South Korean sound engineer, who said he would have to overhaul it. I could see he wasn’t trying to sell me a product; he really wanted to improve our sound.”PR TEH YUNG HUAT
Pr Teh shared that the total cost came up to RM280,000, a whopping amount for a sound system in a small-town church at the time. “I didn’t even dare open my mouth to the members, I was so afraid. But I knew God was taking us on a journey. We must be consistent. If worship is important, if preaching is important, we must invest into making it the best offering to the Lord,” he shares.
When the time came for him to fundraise for the sound system, only 20 individuals out of several hundred members gave, but a large chunk of the cost was covered. And when the work was completed in 2005, God’s presence came down in a mighty way at the rededication service. “Every person knew God was there, the Lord was giving us His approval.”
Having gone down the path of excellence, there’s no turning back
This experience, Pr Teh says, was a pivotal point in CCC Tawau’s journey towards excellence and brought about a spiritual breakthrough that has led them down this path of business, impact and social outreach.
“We want to do great things for God, and not just the cheapest and easiest way. How can we make this worth all the resources, time and energy put into it? The answer was to make it commercial. As we bulked up our media equipment, I asked myself, “Can we venture into event coverage, weddings, etc so that the equipment is put to good use, we can buy the best and our trained team can grow their own income? We look at things differently now.”PR TEH YUNG HUAT
Pr Teh also voiced his frustration at the ‘poverty mentality’ he says plagues many churches today. “Sometimes, we are so cheap! Just because we are a church, we expect people to give us a discount then we turn around and say, Hallelujah, God provides. I’m not saying to spend unwisely, but we must live what we preach. If we say God provides, do we trust that He does?”
Through Calvary Canteen, the church ‘stumbled’ into business
With a new perspective, Calvary Canteen became the church’s first venture into a business model. From a members-only model open only on weekends, Pr Teh shares how they decided to open it up to the community to make operations more sustainable.
“We never really wanted to start a business. Our church building didn’t have eateries around it, so I thought we could let our ladies run a small catering business after church and they can earn too. But it didn’t work. After a few weeks, the food was the same every week and people stopped coming. And the ladies were not happy because the food wasn’t being sold,” he says with a laugh.
The solution, Pr Teh says, was to run the canteen professionally. He roped in a church member with hawker experience, who revamped operations. But locals were still not stepping in. “People thought, “I’m not a member, I’m not a Christian, I cannot go.” So we had to work hard to provide good service and good food so that people who came were not guilty church members feeling they had to patronise the place but families who actually wanted to be there.”
Pr Teh also states that it was clearly a spiritual battle as well. At a prayer meeting, the project leader saw demons sitting on the canteen tables and had to cast them out. Only after that, did the business begin to pick up and today, Calvary Canteen is known in local circles for its char kuey teow and pan mian.
From feeding tummies to inspiring minds, Taska Superkids was formed
In 1996, CCC Tawau opened the doors of its preschool, Taska Superkids. The idea was birthed from a desire to build a bridge to the community through good, professional services.
“There was the mindset that because you’re serving the Lord, you must sacrifice and accept lower pay. But when I started the preschool, I wanted it to be the best preschool in Tawau,” Pr Teh says, investing in proper training, facilities and competitive salaries for teachers.
He recounts a recent visit by the Director of Social Welfare to the preschool, which has over 100 children enrolled and is one of the largest in Tawau, where they received feedback that “they are the best nursery school in Tawau.”
“The intention was never to make a profit, but it is to serve the community with the best while paying our team reasonably well. Today, Taska Superkids is a thriving business that is a bridge to the community. Can you imagine people who used to call you a cultic church, now send their children to your school?”PR TEH YUNG HUAT
As the vision expanded, so did the need for their own space
As CCC Tawau’s influence began to grow, its children’s ministry was exploding. The church was running the town’s largest children’s ministry and holiday camps (700 children would attend these three-day camps) and space were becoming a challenge.
Pr Teh wondered, “What if we had our own building?” From there, plans unfolded for an upmarket cafe, event space, fitness centre and eventually, Charis International School. This was in line with the church’s vision to be at the forefront of the city in terms of leadership, trends and technology.
“The world is cutting edge, but the church always lags behind. Why? We lack the finance. But that’s not consistent with what the Word of God says. The way we do church is wrong, to use the building only on Sundays. So we wanted a building that was ultra-modern, one that would bless the church and community.”PR TEH YUNG HUAT
Calvary Crown: A vibrant hub to bless and impact the local community
Today, Calvary Crown sits in the heart of Tawau, designed by award-winning UK interior designer Mike Watson. A glistening crown of thorns tops the ten-storey building, and it is a beehive of activity every day of the week. “We’re building for the future,” Pr Teh says. With a beautiful banquet hall and event space overlooking the city skyline, Calvary Crown has also become a popular spot for weddings and parties.
In addition to Calvary Canteen, CC Cafe is a trendy eatery offering delectable local and Western fare. Cardio Health & Fitness is a fully-equipped gym with a spa and sauna as well as group classes. “Taking care of our own bodies is part of living purposefully too. We want to be a holistic church, not just dealing with you spiritually and mentally. Young people are into fitness and bodybuilding now, so we thought of having a gym. Then they can be in the church, rather than being outside,” Pr Teh says.
Charis International School was also a miracle. Without any agent or political influence, the school obtained its licence from the Ministry of Education in three months (usually unheard of). Pr Teh says that was confirmation from the Lord that His hand was upon the international school.
“The international school has become so important. Without it, our church building would have been a little like a white elephant. It changed the whole concept and how people perceive the building — this is not me, it’s all God. We didn’t plan, we just followed and obeyed God’s leading. But looking back, I now understand. God’s hand has really been in this project from the beginning.”PR TEH YUNG HUAT
Grace Training Centre: Serving stateless children for more than a decade
But as Pr Teh says, in all of CCC Tawau’s work, profit is never the goal. Impact is. One of CCC Tawau’s initiatives, Grace Training Centre, is the only school in Malaysia licensed by the Ministry of Education to provide primary-aged stateless children with education. The centre covers five shop lots and is located in Pekan Kinabutan.
“The base is our national curriculum, but we don’t have to follow it fully. We teach Chinese, English and BM. We also teach extra skills including culinary arts, and computer classes. When there are needs, we give out food parcels to their families. This is about reaching the underprivileged and undocumented communities. Now, we have 527 students. The needs are great in Sabah, and the needs are different as well.”
Today, the centre is equipped with a computer lab, library, office and staff room, student lounge and six classrooms. And it’s clear that teamwork makes the dream work. In partnership with other NGOs, awareness talks and free medical checkups are also carried out for the students.
“Our students receive graduation certificates, and families print and frame photos of these certificates to hang on their walls. To us, it’s just a piece of paper but to them, it’s everything. One of our graduates eventually went back to her home country, the Philippines, and attended university,” Pr Teh recounts, saying this is what keeps him going.
Carrying out the Lord’s work requires ridiculous, sacrificial giving
Pr Teh, acknowledges that God has granted him a unique position and advantage. Although he draws a salary as a senior pastor, he was born into a family of business owners and until today, has several investments that contribute to his income.
His father came from China with nothing and worked hard to build a life for his 10 children. Six of his ten children, including Pr Teh, received an overseas education. And it was in the UK whilst pursuing his physics degree that Pr Teh found Jesus for himself.
He returned to Sabah as a teacher for two years, at the same time serving as a lay pastor. Eventually, he started a fast food business with his sister that lasted for a decade. When the time came to decide if he wanted to be more hands-on, he closed the business. “By that time, I already knew I was called to be a pastor.” He has led CCC Tawau for decades.
For Pr Teh, the work God has called him and the church too requires giving. “You have to give sacrificially. You have to give ridiculously. If I am just a pastor and cannot be an example, I think many of my members find it hard to follow too.. I have to also give, I am one of the top givers. When I think about it, I thank God I can do that because of my investments, and am not just preaching, but I am giving too in an amount that makes an impact,” he says.
“I am not a normal pastor and we are not a normal church.”
When you take a step back and look at everything CCC Tawau is doing, you can’t help but wonder how it’s all unfolded. Pr Teh, too, says it baffles him at times.
“My church is not big, but I have to keep reminding myself that it was through this congregation, this small group of us, that God has done great things. And I think that our small congregation, being in Tawau, is exactly why God has chosen us. To be a model for others. Big churches may look at us in surprise, but they won’t need to learn from us. It’s the smaller churches, ones like us who have struggled like us, that can be inspired by the greatness of God. This is part of our purpose.”PR TEH YUNG HUAT
He shares a recent encounter with an indigenous Christian leader from another denomination. “He had been asking, “God, are You not the same God of our people as the Chinese people? They are so rich, they have so much.” But I could see his heart, they have been struggling for so long.”
In response, Pr Teh invited him to Calvary Crown to see firsthand what God has been doing. When the leader saw the size of his church and the work that’s been done, he said, “You aren’t just talking about kingdom living, you are living in the proof of what we preach.”
Pr Teh now has plans for a fully-funded retreat for indigenous leaders. “I hope they will come here, eat our food and stay in our rooms, see how small we are and then catch the impartation of the Spirit so they can go back to their own churches and pray, “What do You want to do here, Lord?”
In God’s kingdom, there is no divide between the sacred and secular
All of this, Pr Teh is quick to add, has not resulted in people wanting to join CCC Tawau. Its numbers have not changed much, and even today some members still have not caught this apostolic vision Pr Teh believes the church is called to.
But Pr Teh maintains that the proof is in the pudding because it is “humanly impossible to do what we are doing” if it were not for God. A British pastor once told him that CCC Tawau is a living miracle as in the days of Moses.
“We’ve always thought that to be holy and spiritual, we have to be separate from the world. If you venture into business, politics, oh that’s worldly. Christian workers were supposed to always be dealing with only ‘spiritual things’ — that was the old-school thinking. When we begin to look at our lives holistically and from a kingdom perspective, we realise God’s kingdom encompasses every aspect of life. There can be no separation between secular and spiritual.”PR TEH YUNG HUAT
To learn more about CCC Tawau, its various projects and businesses, click here. For more information on Grace Training Centre and to find out how you can support its work with stateless communities, click here.
All images provided by CCC Tawau.