Despite physical impairment due to a rare neurological illness, a Winnipeg musician has released an album to give back to his home church.
By day, Jonathan Wong works as a palliative care physician for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. By night, though, Wong moonlights as a multi-faceted musician.
His impressive list of instruments includes bass and acoustic guitar, piano, violin, drums, and most recently, cello.
"The violin and I never really got along," Wong shared, "and I've always wanted to play the cello, but more importantly because of health issues, I didn't need to use two fingers on my right hand to play cello, so it kind of came out of necessity."
Wong has what he calls an ill-defined neuro-muscular condition which has affected his movements in hands and has restricted the strength of his lung muscles. It began two years ago when he started to notice a curling in some fingers on his right-hand fingers. "As a result, I've lost a lot of dexterity and speed in my fourth and fifth digits."
When others might have become angry and embraced an attitude of self-loathing, however, Wong chose to manipulate a negative situation and turn it into good.
"You're impaired, and you're disabled to a certain degree, but you're not done," Wong says, explaining the words he feels came from the Holy Spirit during this time.
A congregant at St. Mary's Road United Church for the better part of a decade and co-music director since 2010, Wong decided it was time to give back to his church in a tangible way, beyond his own service and time each week.
"I wanted something I could hold in my hand," Wong expressed, " and alongside, I wanted something to kind of document where I am in my own path and journey, and my own struggles in life now."
From there, The Journey, an album of instrumental praise and worship songs well-known and loved by St. Mary's Road United Church, came to life.
Wong's title selection represents a meaning beyond the album's journey. "It's not easy being sick, and even as a physician, I don't think I truly grasped the effect of what being sick meant... because it's not just you. It's hard on your spouse, it's hard on relationships, it's hard on your children, and that part you can read about in a textbook or hear about in a lunch room or hear me tell you about that in a tutorial setting, but until you experience it, it's just someone telling you that."
Grappling with his own physical losses, and with that his abilities to pursue pastimes he enjoys, Wong says the album posed a huge emotional hurdle for him, and the problems are things he's still grappling with today.
"As kind of cheesy and cliché as it is to say, doors close on us all the time, and for me being able to physically do things, that door is closing," Wong shared. "But then windows open... and if you don't see other opportunities or windows opening, then I think the one at a loss must be you."
Wong's faith has been hugely instrumental in keeping him going each day, and says he hopes that this album is a representation of the Holy Spirit flowing through him.
His family, and his kids especially have also been a large influence on his work, Wong says. "I want them to grow up and know, 'hey, daddy did this in 2018'... and I'm certain that in 10 years' time this music won't be cool to them, but I want them to be able to look back and say 'hey, daddy overcame some physical and emotional obstacles to put this together.'"
With regards to the wider perspective, Wong hopes his music will be able to reach those within and beyond the church community, and help draw people to faith.
All proceeds from The Journey will go to St. Mary's Road United Church. The album is available at McNally Robinson's at Grant Park and online at Wong's website.
"On paper, this album should never have happened," Wong says. In spite of the challenges he's dealt with in producing this album however, Wong is thankful for the opportunity to support the local church that has supported him for so long.