Brief Biography of Rev. John Paul Chan
Rev. John Paul Chan (1922-2010) used to be an aircraft engineer before he received the calling of full-time ministry in his early thirties. Starting from a family cell group, he founded Beautiful Gate Baptist Church, located on College Road in Kowloon. To Rev. Chan, the gospel is the answer to all human needs, and God saves both our body and soul. To provide physical healing, he opened Beautiful Gate Baptist Clinic as well as brought on-site service to the grass root families at the densely populated public housing areas by making use of a clinic van. He set up Beautiful Faith Primary School at a seven-storey resettlement block, aimming to provide Christian education to young kids. It is known that some of the graduates had even served in the beginnig stage of Operation Dawn. In those years, Hong Kong society suffered serious drug problems, and Rev Chan could hardly bear the miserable state of drug addicts lying dead on street, so he went to the gutter of Kowloon Walled City and preached the gospel to them.
Trusting in the bliblical promise, Rev. Chan believed there is always a way out, "if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Corinthians 5:17) Rev. Chan prayed for God's guidance and reckoned that a rehab centre would give drug addicts a chance of rebirth.
The long road of the ministry of gospel rehabilitation was very tough, but Rev. Chan walked faithfully with God, witnessing lots of miracles of life transformation. Ever since he founded Operation Dawn, numerous miserable drug addicts and their families were saved and healed. Many recovered drug addicts were not only converted, but also became gospel ministers, and some of them started up gospel rehab centres locally and abroad, spreading the ministry of gospel rehabilitation all over the world. Rev. Chan was kind-hearted and filled with vision, and he was creative yet practical, so he had always been an inspiring leader to his fellow colleagues. Because of his submission to God's calling and perseverance, gospel rehabilitation, a novel ministry no one had ever imagined half a century ago, flourished in the past 50 years, and many people followed in his footsteps.
The contribution of Rev. Chan to Hong Kong society was widely acclaimed. On June 14, 1997, Rev. Chan was presented with the Certificate of Honour by Queen Elizabeth the Second for recognition of his service to Hong Kong. In the same year, the Hong Kong government comissioned The Chinese University of Hong Kong to evaluate the effectivness of gospel rehabilitation, and it was get confirmed. In 2000, Rev. Chan was given "Outstanding Anti-Drug Fighter Life-long Award", and was called "the Father of Gospel Rehabilitation" in a personal interview by Eastweek magazine, and "the Pioneer of Gospel Rehabilitation in Hong Kong" by Ming Pao. On September 11, 2010, Rev. Chan, aged 88, passed away peacefully in Queen Elizabeth Hospital. His faithful service and life testimony set the best foundation for gospel rehabilitation in Hong Kong. May the Lord bless his ministry.
Rev. John Paul Chan’s spiritual roller coaster in his first 30 years as the father of the Gospel rehabilitation
This article is an excerpt taken from Rev Chan's book From the Valley of the Shadow of Death into the Bright New Life (2008), pp. 160-175.
"The beginning of the 'Gospel Rehabilitation' vision"
In the early sixties, drug abuse became prevalent and worsened in Hong Kong. In particular Kowloon Walled City was the hotbed of drugs and crimes.
At that time the church I served was Beautiful Gate Baptist Church which was near the Kowloon Walled City. Every morning I walked by an old dilapidated stone house on the Da Jing Street, I could see through the gap between the makeshift burlap door curtain and the door, many skinny addicts squatting or lying in rows on the floor. This dingy house emitted a unbearable disgusting odor. It saddened me to see so many drug addicts were crowding in this living hell. One morning several burlap bags were dragged out from the walled city public toilets. Inside the bags were dead addicts as I was told. The care-taker shouted loudly “Could someone kindly help and earn himself a sweet drink?” Some people helped put the body bags one after another on the garbage truck. Such event disheartened and saddened me. Surely a life is worth something after all, no funeral or proper ceremony, one dollar and some cents took care of everything? Those dead addicts in the gunny bags were thrown in and buried in some trash mound. “O God, if Gospel is God’s might. Please help me help these people!”
Grieved by such cruel reality, I began to make Gospel tracts and duplicate copies of circulars for them. I also further preached Gospel to them.
"We need a Gospel Rehabilitation Center"
In the early stages of the Walled City’s evangelism, most of the local drug abusers teased and mocked me. Their attitude toward Gospel was downright cold and cruel, until one night I met a drug addict 『Jiang Wei-min』. His drug addiction was grave, but he was truly interested in Gospel and that night he talked with me for a long time before his reluctant departure. He asked me a very poignant question, “Pastor, if you do not have a rehab center, how can you help me kick the drug habit?” At my wits’ end instead of answering his questions, I taught him to pray by saying “Father! Please make me believe in you and provide me a Rehab Center to go!”
Ever since then, Jiang’s query lingered on in my mind, for which I began to pray for the need of a rehab Centre, “Oh, God! Since you have burdened me with this mission, please help me ease into it by providing me a Rehab Centre.”
"The beautiful Long Ke Wan"
A few days after I chatted with Jiang, I ran into a Christian friend in Sai Kung who ran a local grocery store. After exchanging a few words with me, he knew I needed a place to be used as a Rehab Centre. He told me there was an abandoned village at Long Ke Wan in Sai Kung. Not only the surrounding was beautiful, but also very isolated from the neighborhood. It could be an excellent spot for a Rehab Centre. After listening to his briefing, I was so hopeful that I could not wait to ride out there to check it out whether it was truly God’s wonderful provision.
"Big Waves Of Guanman"
The day to see Long Ke Wan finally arrived. After one hour’s boat ride we reached “Guan Man”. According to the boatman, the big waves come from the high seas to merge into the Sai Kung Inland Seas. Smaller vessels were often capsized in this region. As the saying went, "one should never enter a court gate ('Guan Man') while alive nor the hell after death". It is easy to see why the boatmen were so frightened by this part of the sea. As the boat was approaching "Guan Man", the sea waves became huge and the boat was tossed up and down. Precarious is a word to put it mildly. So we gave it up and returned to Sai Kung Pier. In the meanwhile, I was a little disappointed, but not discouraged. The next day I went by boat but the trial failed again because of the big waves. Two more unsuccessful attempts were carried out on the third and the fourth day and I began to panic and doubt. On the fifth day, thank God, I ran into Ma Shu while I was looking for the boatman. He was an honest boatman. He said, “Pastor, you have been taken for a ride, whether you can approach the Guan Man depends on the weather. They knew the weather was bad and still drove you out to the sea because of the money. Don’t be a Fool! I will drive you there when the weather is good.”
One sunny morning, Ma Shu took me to Guan Man, the sea was calm, thank God, he successfully passed Guan Man, half an hour later, a long strip of White Sand beach appeared in front of our eyes. Through a grove of lush trees, we could vaguely see some houses. A really pretty beach, what a serene surroundings! I could not wait to jump into the shallow water from the boat, I walked towards Long Ke Wan with a heartful of excitement.
Strangely, Ma Shu absolutely refused to go ashore. There must be something he was afraid of. I looked around the place after Landing; The place could be a nice joint after some tidying-up. Shortly after, I met the only left-behind one-armed villager Huang Guai. After some bargaining, he agreed to lease me the place for an annual rent of HK$ 100. I was very pleased, thank God for such a great provision.
On the return trip, Ma Shu told me that the place was haunted and known as the "Ghost Village", so no one dared to live in it. But Christians were not afraid of ghosts, I thought, and It should be the other way round. Our wonderful God thus saved Long Ke Wan for His work.
"Operation Dawn’s first gospel rehabilitee"
Now we got a place. First we had to clean it up. At that time, Beautiful Gate Baptist Church was running an elementary school in Lok Fu and I was the superintendent. The school principal and teachers shared the same Gospel Drug Rehab Vision, so teacher Lam brought 20 sixth graders to the village to have a summer camp. On one hand this served as a send-off gift letting them enjoy a good time as a group of adolescents before graduation, and on the other hand to help clean up Long Ke Wan.
Jiang Wei-Min whom I previously met in Kowloon Walled City and taught to pray to God for a Gospel Drug Rehab Centre also went with us. I was somewhat apprehensive as he first revealed his wish to visit Long Ke Wan. Somehow he comforted me by saying, “Pastor, please relax, I have been in and out of jail for many decades, nothing ever happened to me, now I am in Long Ke Wan with Jesus’ blessing what else should I be afraid of ?” When the ship was near "Guan Man", his drug craving was acting up, under the blazing sun, he was experiencing a muscular convulsion and lying flat on the deck gasping for breath. That was the first time I witnessed a drug addict’s suffering from drug craving attack. I was really scared and didn’t know what to do then. About 10 minutes later, the ship arrived in Long Ke Wan. Children could not wait to get on the beach soon enough, and Jiang Wei-Min calmed down, but he was weak and powerless. Several of us carried him ashore. After a short pause, I returned to Sai Kung by boat to get ready for the next day’s Sunday worship agenda.
After the Sunday worship, I ran across a Christian brother, he said, “Pastor, I heard that you are pondering opening a drug rehab Centre in Sai Kung. I suggest you to perish the thought. Recently, someone died in a drug Rehab centre in Tiu Keng Leung. It was a big news. With the help of medicine, they still failed, and you want to do it without? Are you nuts?”, “This is really shocking.” I thought it to myself, “People still died despite the help from medicine, What else can we do?” Now I really regretted that I got myself into this mess. What if Jiang Wei-min died in Long Ke Wan, it would be a fatal blow to our work.
Due to my job obligation, I could not immediately return to Long Ke Wan to see how things were going. I worried about it day and night, and could not get a wink of sleep all night long. “Oh, God! You are the alpha, you are the omega. Since you have started this work, please bless it and preserve it.”
"God endorses the ministry of Gospel Drug Rehabilitation"
Early, in the following Wednesday morning, I took speed boat and beelined to Long Ke Wan. As soon as the ship passed by "Guan Man" I noticed there was a crowd gathering on the beach, I sensed something eerie was happening. All of a sudden the journey seemed much longer, and saddened me. When the ship was getting closer to the shore, after giving a closer look, I found Jiang Wei-Min was among the jumping crowd. He and other students standing side by side to greet me. Thanks be to God! All worries vanished. I felt God’s faithfulness and grace. Later, I learned that they were eager to see my return because they were running out of food.
After landing I learned during Jiang’s withdrawal period, it was teacher Lam’s loving care and guidance that learned Jiang how to pray to God and totally rely on God’s help through which Jiang was able to kick his drug habit without using prescribed drug but completely depending on God’s might. Thanks to God for letting me see the plausibility of Gospel Drug Rehab. Henceforth, my faith increased by leaps and bounces.
"Operation Dawn’s first boat"
Long Ke Wan Village was designated as our gospel Drug Rehab Centre in May 1968. The numbers of students had been gradually increasing, but it was not economical to routinely hire speed boat to transport people and material supplies. A fast vessel as a transportation means was vitally important to us. We earnestly pray to God for this. Meanwhile, there was a shipyard went out of business due to the economical recession after the 1967′s riot. The business owner had sold the establishment to someone else, except a 26 HP, 16 ft long Italian-made speedboat, which seemed miraculously destined for some future divine purpose. Eventually, the owner let me have this boat for a very low bargain-price. Thank God for his abundant provision.
Because it was the first speedboat in Sai Kung, it often attracted the curiosity of kids and onlookers. Each speedboat ride to Long Ke Wan required a skilful pilot to steer the boat over the ferocious waves of the sea and to evade the cliffs of "Guan Man". Nevertheless, the boat drifted up and down like a kayak. It was really scary, but when I thought of the drug addicts’ smiling faces, recalled their miraculous metamorphosis & triumphant smiles, a surge of courage in me propelled me forward and not to be afraid of the high tides. My mother once told me that males of my family rarely lived to the ages of over 30s. If I could die for Christ, why should I worry about anything else.
"A new creation"
In just one year after the opening of the Rehab Centre, the number of rehabilitees increased to over 20. Knowing and believing in Jesus enabled them to not only beat the drug, but also transform their physique from a weakling to a strong one; permanently shift their mindset on life from sorrow to joy; let go of stealing, robbery and violence as means to a sinister short-cut success or getting what they want; work and live together happily in harmony. Above all, they learned to love one another and share all their burdens despite their different origins.
"They became preachers"
Because the drug addicts changed their attitude toward us for the better, so did most of the residents and some of the addicts in Kowloon Walled City. One day, a brother who had successfully kicked the habit in Long Ke Wan accompanyed me to preach the Gospel in the Walled City. I was a few steps ahead of him. A number of addicts discerned my intent and began to mock me. They said, “Hay! Nuts, will the sky drop a bowl of rice for you? Pray? Are you out of your mind?” Astonished to see Cheung Fai, who was hot at my heels. “Wow, aren’t you Cheung Fai? Even you come to preach the Gospel! Now this makes all the difference!” Noticing the changes in Cheung Fai after rehabilitation, and witnessing his refined mannerism in speaking and behavior, the villagers were absolutely mesmerized and anxious to listen to this wonderful Gospel.
Sometime ago preaching the Gospel in prison was often sneered at and given a cold shoulder. Now whenever I went with Cheung Fai, because they noticed the great changes in him, they marveled at the wonder of the Gospel. Nowadays, prisons welcome our visits. We are allowed to preach the Gospel to prisoners.
"God’s blessing disguised in Air Force persecution"
We kept the work we were doing in Long Ke Wan at a low profile. Very few people knew us or our work. "Gospel Drug Rehabilitation" was completely foreign to Hong Kong people. Later, God allowed our work to suffer some blows, so that God could manifest His Might and Grace, and Hong Kong people would know more about our work.
The Royal Auxiliary Air Force loved to vacation on the long and sandy beach of Long Ke Wan and chose to ignore the fact we had paid rent for the use of the village. The soldiers and their families often flew in by helicopter or rode in by speedboat to the village, dressing in sexy swimsuit to swim and play on the beach, running around like chicken without a head.
It made nothing but a nuisance to us common people, but to our drug addicts – a huge temptation. They maintained their hostile attitude towards our presence. The conflict and contradiction between us began to heat up.
They planned to set up the Royal Auxiliary Air Force Club in the Long Ke Wan Catholic Church which had been leased to us by the Sai Kung parish Bishop Xu Chung Bin, for which we bitterly denied their wish.
"Rehab centre under air raid"
In the morning of Dec, 2nd, 1969, a sudden explosion noise alarmed us. We rushed out of the house to see what happened: sand blasted into the air – a British Royal Auxiliary Air Force helicopter was descending slowly in front of our eyes. When the door was opened, the air force servicemen one by one landed on the shore of Long Ke Wan. Then they moved all our bibles, books and furniture out of the church, chain locked the door, and sealed with District Office’s insignia to prevent us from re-entering. We were both frightened and angry, but we have not been belligerent or did anything to antagonize them. We surrendered ourselves to God as He always judges people justly and fairly.
On December 3, 1969 The headline of the South China Morning Post was 『British Air Force Raids Drug House』 The whole event was reported to the public, and this news brought about then Hong Kong a great shock wave. Pertinent departments in government, churches and Christian organizations all expressed their concern and condolences. The superintendent of Hong Kong S.K.H Rev. John White wired us, he showed us his wholehearted support for our work, also deemed our endeavor was in line with the truth. And Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) repeatedly reported and interviewed us. Thank God. Because of the Royal Air Force’s Persecution, Our work became better understood by Hong Kong population. For the same reason, God reserved a better, prettier place as our stronghold. Thereafter, the bickering between British Royal Auxiliary Air Force and us lingered on for quite some time. Later through the mediation of Bishop John White, the Hong Kong government was willing to settle the case by furnishing us a place used as our 『Operation Dawn』 Base.
In 1976, accompanied by some officials, Bishop John White and I were out of the sea by the government’s Clement yacht to scout for a suitable place to replace Long Ke Wan village.
Under God’s guidance, we chose Town Island, a beautiful Island of Sai Kung as our future Drug Rehab base and now known as Dawn Island. It was official. We moved in the Island on October 11, 1976. Under the blessing of our Lord, the number of students steadily increased. In less than 2 years, our student number reached over 50, and our work was gradually recognized & accepted by the government and the general public. In January 1983, Thailand Operation Dawn - Ban Lo Fu Drug Rehab Center was formally established. Since then, Operation Dawn has extended its operation to Taiwan, India, Myanmar, and Yunnan border in China. For more than 3 decades I have personally witnessed God’s blessing, also did I discern his tender mercy for drug addicts. May the drug rehab ministry through our endeavor save more drug abusers who would otherwise decimate in the drug inferno without hope, for "whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."