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KonVL

Vui Leong Kon 上官威良 (pinyin Shangguan Weiliang) (1899 - 1973)
by David Kon, 2013
Basic Biographical Data
Born December 31, 1899 in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia, and died on Februaray 1, 1973  in Bangkok, Thailand.

Parentage: Father Kon Fook Hee; mother Kon Phin Kyau.

Siblings: He was the fourth child of a family of seven children.  Chung Ko Kon (oldest brother), Lily Kwan (older sister), Rosie Loh (older sister), Vui Leong Kon, Vun Fong Kon (younger brother), a sister (who died as a child), Fui Kon (youngest brother).

Marriage: Vui Leong Kon married Sui Len Hee on December 25, 1928 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Children: 3 boys and 3 girls; from oldest to youngest: Jonathan Kon, Esther Kon Tonasut, David Kon, Chintana Kon Phipatanakul, Irene Kon Enzensperger, and Chuckrit Kon.

Education: He went to an Anglican Christian school for his early school, but was trained at the Southeast Asia Union College for the ministry.

Summary of Service: He began his ministry by serving the Thai Chinese students, formed the first Thai Chinese Church in Bangkok, and nurtured it to a prosperous congregation. He co-operated with the missionaries to establish and nurture several schools in Bangkok, and also the Bangkok Adventist Hospital.

Family Background

Vui Leong Kon attended Anglican Christian school under the British system where he studied both English and Chinese. He was proud to be in the school boys’ choir. At his late teen, he became friendly with a few Seventh-day Adventist youth in Sandakan. Despite strong opposition from his mother, he decided to become a Seventh-day Adventist. 

Since then he could not quite get along well with his mother, he left Sandakan to further his studies at Malayan Seminary, Singapore (later became Southeast Asia Union College). It was not a full college at that time, so he did not earn a formal degree. But he studied English and Chinese as well as religion in the ministerial course. He left Singapore around 1924.   

Entering Ministerial Work

About mid-1920, he was sent to Bangkok, Thailand to do colporteur work mostly among the Chinese in Thailand. At that time, the Seventh-day Adventist church in Thailand was in its infancy, because the Adventist mission was just established in 1919 by two missionary families, Ezra L. Longway, and Forrest A. Pratt1. Other early American missionary ministers who arrived there included Pastor A.P. Abel and Pastor A.P. Ritz. 

In 1919, Longway and Pratt started Sabbath School meetings at the home of a Chinese businessman, Mr. Tan Thiam Tsua. In 1921, a building on Si Phraya Road, Bangkok, was rented for use as a place of worship. The missionaries also established schools in Ban Pong and Bangkok2

The majority of the early members were Thai Chinese (the first indigenous Thai was baptized in 1925). But there was no formal Chinese Seventh-day Adventist church as such. Since Vui Leong Kon was proficient in both English and Chinese as well as having a good knowledge of Adventist doctrines, he was invited to minister among the Thai Chinese students.  Fluent in English, he worked compatibly with the American missionaries. He was well liked and fully respected by them. He was very conscientious and totally devoted to his work of teaching the gospel message. He would frequently travel on his bicycle to visit various families to recruit students for the Seventh-day Adventist school. 

One of these students,  Sui Len Hee (pinyin Xu Ruilian)  許瑞莲, later became his bride. They were married on Christmas Day, 1928 and officiated by Pastor Pratt, one of the two pioneers who founded the Adventist Mission in Thailand. Together Vui Leong Kon and Sui Len Hee raised six children, three sons and three daughters. From the oldest to the youngest, they are:
Jonathan Kon, 
Esther Kon Tonasut, 
David Kon, 
Chintana Kon Phipatanakul (a daughter who passed away in 1998),
Irene Kon Enzensperger, and 
Chuckrit Kon.

Thai Chinese Church Prospered

In 1928, VL Kon was ordained by Pastor Forrest Pratt. He started the Chinese SDA Church first at his small home with a handful of members. Thai people, including Thai Chinese were predominantly Buddhists. It was very difficult to convince or convert them into Christianity. But Pastor Kon worked hard. He often visited their homes, telling them the love of God and Jesus Christ. He also encouraged them to send their children to the Adventist school and invited them to his church on Sabbaths. Because of his warm friendship, genuine sincerity and generosity, they perceived him as a true Christian . Slowly many attended the church and were baptized. The membership for the Chinese church grew. In 1936 they were able to build a new Chinese SDA Church at Sapan Leung (Yellow Bridge). It was located at the central part of Bangkok city and in the Thai Chinese community. That Chinese SDA church still stands at the same location today. 

Mrs. Kon helped with the women’s ministry and also the children's section. She would schedule her Sabbath afternoons to visit the mothers and female members of the church, especially those who missed coming to church on Sabbaths. The converts and members were from all walk of professions: mostly business people, teachers, some medical, educated, non-educated people and some from poorer background. Several were homeless but Pastor Kon allowed them to have free board at the rooms located at the back of the church. They could stay as long as they needed to. The missionaries were supportive of Pastor Kon's approach and gave financial assistance as needed.

In mid 1930, Dr. & Mrs. Ralph Waddell arrived at Bangkok and started the medical services for Thai people.  First a small clinic was opened. But within a few years, a full- fledged hospital, the Bangkok Adventist Hospital, was built in 1947 at Sapan Kao (White Bridge). The school of nursing was also established in 1947 and it is still there today. Many Thai Chinese were impressed by the high standard of medical care in this Christian institution.  They decided to accept the Adventists faith and joined the Chinese SDA church in Bangkok. 

On two occasions, one just before the Second World War, and the other in 1952, the two SDA school buildings were completely burned down to the ground. They could not find out the real causes of the fire.  Both the original and rebuilt school buildings were just adjacent to the Chinese church. However, both times the church was completely spared from the fire unscathed. Pastor Kon often said it was God’s greatest provision to spare the church for his ministry.

During WWII the Japanese invaded Thailand and occupied Bangkok.
Most of the citizens including the SDA members had to be evacuated to live in the country as there were constant bombings in the city of Bangkok. Pastor Kon’s family retreated to Bang Cherg Nang, about 25 miles west of Bangkok. Despite the danger, he chose to remain behind in Bangkok as he wanted to keep guard of his beloved church. Many important sites in the city were destroyed by the bombs. However,   the Chinese church stood intact, safe and untouched without any casualties.

After the war, he resumed his faithful ministry for the church. The membership steadily grew. There were assistant pastors, elders, deacons, ushers, chaplains, music specialists and children’s section. At special occasions, several evangelistic meetings were held at the church for the general public. Well-known ministers/speakers were brought in from Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Vietnam. The results were successful as quite a number were baptized! Pastor Kon also traveled to other churches outside Bangkok and to the south of Thailand to assist them with their ministry. 

During his furloughs or vacations, he would oftentimes travel to his beloved homeland and birthplace, Sandakan. On many of the early occasions, he was accompanied by his wife and children, but later on he would go by himself.  He would visit many of his friends along his way from southern Thailand to Malaysia, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah.  While being with them he assisted them in their worship activities - preaching, baptizing, conducting communions or dedications etc. He was very much appreciated by those who he helped along his way.

Among the Bangkok Chinese church members, there were many talented people: politicians (e.g. Goa Tuck), business owners (e.g. Black Cat Co., Thu Fook Go Leather Factory, and Koh Sae Noong Leather Factory), doctors (Drs. Shen Tao Chun, Lee Buang Sua, Liaw Fah Yin and Jack Wong). The contributions of these people helped the church a great deal. In addition, Pastor Kon had many friends both inside and outside the church. Many of them gave generous donations during the "ingathering" season .    

Retirement

After his retirement and for many years, Pastor Kon continued to be involved with the ingathering and was quite successful in receiving large donations for the on-going projects of not only the Chinese church, but also for Bangkok Adventist Hospital, Ekamai SDA School and other local churches. At that time the president of Thailand Mission was Pastor R.M. Milne. He admired Pastor Kon’s talent of being a successful ingatherer. They worked closely together. As a results, the church prospered, the school earned excellent reputation with growing enrollments and the hospital was known as one of the best in Thailand both among the Thai people including the Thai Royal Family, and among the foreigners.

During his retirement Pastor Kon made several trips to USA to visit his children. He never stayed in the US for a long period of time. He often said the work in Thailand was not finished and he was still greatly needed. He would return to assist them with fund raising for the never-ending series of projects. 1972 was his last trip to USA. After returning to Bangkok, he was too busy doing the ingathering work and did not have time to look after his own health. He acquired a benign bleeding gastric ulcer which required partial gastrectomy. The surgery went well; however, postoperatively there was a complication of sepsis. He passed away on February 1, 1973 at the age of 73 years. He was and is still being greatly missed by his wife, his children, relatives, and friends who truly loved and respected him. He was buried at the SDA Sriracha Cemetery, Thailand. 

After her husband's passing, Mrs. Kon moved to USA to live permanently with her children. She passed away on March 15, 2005. One daughter also passed away on September 13, 1998. Living now are 5 children, 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. 

To his children, Pastor Kon always encouraged them to recognize the importance of higher education. All six children have done well in their respective professions. There are three medical doctors (MD), one dentist (DDS), and two with a MA degree. Among the ten grandchildren, there are five medical doctors (1 MD/PhD, 4 MD), one dentist(DDS), one  nurse practitioner (MSNP), one CPA/MBA, one MBA, and one MS. God has indeed richly blessed the family of Pastor Vui Leong Kon.

Authors' Reflection

In closing, the author wishes to share with readers, one of Pastor Kon's favorite scriptures 2 Timothy 4: 6-8:

For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept my faith:  Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.


Figure 1: Portait of Pastor Vui Leong Kon taken 1966.

 
Figure 2: The wedding of Vui Leong Kon and Sui Len Hee on Christmas Day, Dec 25, 1928 officiated by Pastor F. A. Pratt. This picture was taken in front of the old Chinese Church in Bangkok. The flower girl on left was the bride's younger sister, Lee Lee Santimalapongse who later became the Director of Nursing at Bangkok Adventist Hospital.

 
Figure 3: This picture was taken in front of the Bangkok Chinese Church in 1955. From left to right were Mr. Koh, granddaughter, Mrs. Lee Buang Sua, Mrs. Kon, and Pastor Kon.

Figure 4: Some members of Bangkok Chinese Church in 1954. Along the back row were Pastor Kon (second left), Pastor and Mrs. Wayne Martin (first and second right).

Figure 5: Staff of the first Adventist Medical Clinic in Bangkok 1937. Seated in font were, from left to right, Mrs. Kon (assistant nurse), Dr. & Mrs Ralph  Waddells, and Mrs. J.T. Ee. Pastor Kon was the third person from left standing among the clinic staff. 

Figure 6: Far East Division Meeting, Singapore, in 1954. Pastor Kon was the fourth person from right, seated in the front.

Figure 7: Taken in 1956 with Pastor & Mrs. Wong Ket Sam (third and second from right) who later took over the Bangkok Chinese Church from Pastor V.L. Kon (back row left) and Mrs. Kon (front row right).

Figure 8: A family photo taken 1971 of Pastor and Mrs V.L. Kon (seated) with their children; standing at the back, from left to right were: Chuckrit, Irene, Chintana, Esther, Jonathan, and David.


Figure 9: Pastor V.L. Kon (left) and son David (right) with former missionary Pastors A.P. Abel at Huntington Library in Pasadena, CA, in 1966. 

Figure 10: Pastor & Mrs V.L. Kon with their children and grandchildren in 1971. Rear from left: David, Phoebe, Chuckrit, Esther, Jonathan, Weera; Front from left: Kelvin, Irene, Pastor & Mrs. Kon, Chintana & Wanda, and Dennison.


Figure 11: Pastor V.L. Kon with son David, author of this article, taken in 1938.
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