Major Francis Ng is the regional officer at The Salvation Army in Malaysia, overseeing the organisation’s various ministries in the country. Here, he shares his personal story of finding identity, joy and purpose in our Heavenly Father.
On 24 October 1960, Francis Ng was born in the Sungai Buloh Leprosarium, the son of parents with leprosy. According to regulations at the time, newborns with parents suffering from leprosy were immediately given up for adoption or placed in foster care. And so, Francis grew up as an in-between — not an orphan, but not truly belonging to a family either.
“My parents migrated, or rather sneaked in, to Malaysia from a small fishing village in Medan, Indonesia when they heard the British had set up a modern facility for leprosy patients in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur in the 1940s,” Francis says.
Throughout history, those suffering from leprosy have been largely shunned by society
Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a chronic infectious disease caused by a slow-growing bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae. It affects the skin, nerves, eyes as well as nose lining and if untreated, can cause progressive and permanent blindness and disability. Today, there is a cure for leprosy and if discovered early, disability can be prevented1.
Back in the day, even as far as Jesus’ time, leprosy was a greatly feared disease due to its contagious nature and the lack of treatment or a cure. In Malaysia, the British ruled in the 1930s that lepers were not allowed to integrate with society or leave the leprosy settlement.
The British then set up the Sungai Buloh Leprosarium (now known as the Valley of Hope) which eventually became the world’s second-largest leprosy settlement2. It was here that Francis’ parents found their way (learn more about Francis’ father’s story here), and where Francis eventually came into the world.
Growing up, Francis was told by his father not to reveal information about his family or background. It was a heavy burden for a young boy to carry.
Growing up, Francis’ earliest recollection of his childhood days only goes as far back as kindergarten. In those days, he lived with the Good Shepherd Sisters in the Batu Arang convent. He was one of 12-15 boys the sisters raised until their teenage years.
“I went to primary school in Batu Arang, but after I turned 13, my parents had to find a new arrangement for me as the sisters only ministered to women and children,” he remembers.
At the time, his parents were unable to find a place for him in a boys’ home and left without a choice, Francis lived with his parents in the leprosarium for a year. He was not allowed to sleep there at night, however, leaving each evening to sleep at a family friend’s home.
“I can recall my father’s advice not to reveal the background or disease that my parents have for fear I would not have any friends in school. Growing up, it somehow affected my self-esteem and confidence knowing my parents’ background as leprosy patients and the stigma that came with it.”
At 14 years old, Francis was placed in the Salvation Army Boys’ Home. There, he found God’s love.
When Francis turned 14 years old, his parents found a place for him at the Salvation Army Boys’ Home in Ipoh. He spent the next five years of his life there, and looking back, he says there was never a dull moment.
“Life in the home was never dull with the routine of school days, house duties, playtime, weekly Sunday school, youth fellowship, church service and so on. We would have yearly youth camps and other activities too.”
It was there at home that he came face to face with his loneliness and desperate longing for parental love. But God gently revealed to the young boy this truth: that as our Heavenly Father, He loves His children with a deep, perfect fatherly love and that Jesus had paid for it all.
The revelation, Francis says, was gradual but transformative; it was helped along by Sunday School and services conducted by the home leaders based on stories in the Bible.
“The turning point of my life (14 yrs) came when I knew the true gospel message of Jesus’ death on the cross for my sin, and that I could find forgiveness through repentance of my sins. From then onwards I felt and knew of God our Heavenly Father’s great love for me. It was life-changing for someone who had never experienced parental love.”
Eager to work and build a life for himself, Francis threw himself into every opportunity
After completing his O Levels, Francis took on a job with a para-church audio visual literature (AVL) evangelism ministry. He travelled the length and breadth of West Malaysia laden with 16mm Christian films and books.
“I would travel with Reverend Kon back then and it was my job to get the projector and books in place as we visited different churches that invited us. If I recall correctly, I lived on RM70/month with accommodation provided for!”
After a year, Francis headed across the causeway to Singapore, where he worked in installing and manufacturing air-conditioning ducts. It was there, in the Lion City, that God reminded him of a nudge he’d felt years before.
“When I was 17, there was an altar call for full-time service at one of our annual youth camps and I felt led to respond. But God in His mysterious way led me to gain exposure and work experience [first]. It was in Singapore that God reminded me of my calling during one of the special Sunday services at the Salvation Army corps (church),” he shares.
Stepping into his full-time calling, God gave Francis more than he ever dreamed of
In obedience to God’s prompting, Francis began his training as an officer. He became a houseparent at a boys’ home in Penang for a year, where he was mentored and guided.
He then headed to the Salvation Army Training College in Singapore for two years and after completing his training, was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Salvation Army.
Today, Francis holds the rank of Major and is the regional officer for Malaysia, overseeing the Salvation Army’s various initiatives and ministries here. “My first appointment was to Penang Corps (church). Today, it is a privilege and honour to provide leadership for Malaysia. I count this a humble and sacred responsibility, too.”
The Word of God remains precious to Francis as he stays faithful to his call. He cites Psalm 1 (yes, all 6 verses) as a foundational Scripture and the basis for all of his life decisions and responses.
Through the years, the call remains to save souls, make saints and serve suffering humanity
The Salvation Army in Malaysia runs various initiatives today, mission stations as they call them — boys’ and girls’ homes, kindergartens, work with refugees, emergency relief, a home for the aged and Red Shield Industries (a social enterprise selling pre-loved items).
“In every mission station, be it the corps (church), residential care for children or elderly, community outreach; these are our mission stations for ‘saving souls, making saints, and serving the suffering” throughout each year,” Francis declares.
He adds that there are also seasons of focus and that keeping in step with the Spirit is critical in order to remain effective in ministry and impact.
Francis had two fears in life: preaching in front of a crowd and not being able to find a life partner. But God proved Himself yet again.
In and out of work, Francis is a practical man. He had two fears in life and knew the first (preaching to a crowd) could be overcome with training and practice. And so it has.
The second, however, was a little less straightforward, he says with a laugh. “In the Salvation Army at that time, an officer could only marry another officer, and there were not many to choose from!”
But God, as always, had something up His sleeve. Francis first met Mary at a national youth camp on Pangkor island when he had just finished high school, but only got to know her better in Singapore. Mary, too, was completing her officer training there.
“I thank God for sending Mary to be my future wife and mother to our four wonderful children, all of whom are a great blessing to us. Yes, there is wisdom in The Salvation Army set-up because when couples serve together, they can be sent or deployed anywhere.”
Francis and Mary have four children (three are in Singapore): Carmen, 34 years old, is a Captain with The Salvation Army, Singapore. Alicia, 33, works at a mission station, providing care and support for domestic helpers that may have issues with their employers. Caleb, 27 is a nurse and Angelynn, 18 is completing her O Levels.
Today, Major Francis is a testimony of God’s faithfulness even in the darkest times
“When I was in homes or foster care, my parents would visit me once a month or bi-monthly. But the family bond and connection were never as strong as I would have liked a healthy family to have,” Francis shares.
However, the love he has found in God our Father has taken him through turbulent years and trying times, always reminding Francis of his identity as a son of God. As he reflects upon his life, from the son of lepers to leader of The Salvation Army in Malaysia, Francis holds Jeremiah 1:5 close to his heart.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5; this verse holds so true to me when I reflect upon the journey God has taken me thus far,” he says.
“God must have plucked me from the fourth most populated country in the world (Indonesia) and dropped me into Malaysia. He never makes a mistake in my life and yours. It is for us to discover His marvellous plan for our lives.”
- Leprosy Fact Sheet, 2022 World Health Organization
- Soo, WJ 2019, Sungai Buloh’s Valley of Hope: From leprosy settlement to gardening hub, Malay Mail