Posts

Will-You-Ship-Others(2)

Will You Ship Others?

Photo taken by Blake Wisz

The week before Valentine’s Day, my students taught me a new word, “ship”. According to them, to “ship” means to support or be in favor of two people getting together. For example, “I ship Mr. A and Ms. B together” would mean, “I hope Mr. A and Ms. B would be in a relationship”.

Curious, I probed further and asked them what “shippers” did. They proceeded to show me through Instagram how shippers would create “ship names”, usually a combination of the names of both parties, as well as edit “ship photos”, capturing the couples in matching outfits, gestures, etc.

They also showed me a photo of Korean popstar Rain and his wife Kim Tae Hee, a popular Korean actress, leaving for their honeymoon. Some of the students went on to say that married couples didn’t need to be “shipped”, while others argued that one could ship whoever he or she liked, regardless of marital status.

In my own journey with my husband—first as friends, then as a couple, and eventually as spouses—I cannot help but disagree with the former view.

When we were teenagers, we led a cell group together. At first, our friends teased us and cajoled us to get together. As we grew older, we realized how similar we were—from the way we counselled our cell members to the way we led Bible study. Needless to say, we ended up getting together.

Throughout our relationship, our friends were constantly there; they witnessed our quarrels and cheered us on. On our wedding day, they lovingly decorated the church, filling the place with a joy and simplicity so aligned to both our personalities. Today, we’ve also become their “shippers” as they involve us in their own journey towards marriage or their struggles as singles; we rejoice with those getting married, mourn alongside those who are walking out of broken relationships, and lend a listening ear as well as reach out to those who are single.

The “shippers” we’ve come to value the most are those who journeyed with us and gave us counsel. Whether single or married themselves, they spent hours with us during pre-marital counselling, were vulnerable, and shared their lives honesty and openly. Hearing how they resolved their differences, or even how they could serve God together in spite of challenges, encouraged and inspired us to do the same when we had our own doubts and challenges.

They brought us out to coffee and prayed for us—as individuals then, and as one entity now. They were always a phone call away when we got into intense arguments; they cried with us, listened to us, and most importantly, shared godly counsel with us. These precious ones constantly pointed us back to the creator of marriage, the God of love. And they reminded us that the sole purpose of marriage—in fact of any Christian—was to reflect His glory.

More than any other point in the relationship timeline, marriage would require “shippers” the most. I say this not in pride, but in utter humility and out of sheer need. Because I know how hard it is to be married and more so, to stay married. Sure, there are many wonderful things about being married, but the reality doesn’t reflect this truth so well. We are confronted with broken relationships on all sides. A friend just filed for divorce last month and another has been living separately from her husband and son for two years now. I myself come from a broken family and will always remember the confusion, hurt and betrayal my brother and I felt as children when our parents got divorced.

The wedding lasts but a day, but marriage is for a lifetime. I think a large part of the latter can only be possible if married couples have support from their community—from like-minded Christian individuals, couples, parents, and others who will be a part of their lives and come into their homes. At every stage of our relationship, we have been blessed and encouraged by the “shippers” that came alongside and today, continue to journey with us.

Will you “ship” others?

After-Being-Told-I-was-promoted-I-quit

After Being Told I was Promoted . . . I Quit

If the interviewers knew the type of student I was in school, they would probably have rejected my application right away. I was hyperactive, restless, and even “overly dramatic”—according to one teacher’s description in my report card. Apparently, I talked too much in one class, slept through another subject, and was highly distracting on other occasions. In short, I was far from your model student.

But I was confirmed—as a teacher. And the first thing I did upon receiving confirmation for my first job was to sit down and write, sign, and seal my resignation letter. (I’ll explain why later.)

To cut the long story short, what changed for me between then (as a hyperactive teenager) and now (a manager of a leadership training company) is that I became a follower of Christ. And a key part of my transformation happened during my first internship.

During my university days, I joined a tiny company as an intern. They were barely one year into the business and were highly welcoming towards young, energetic undergraduates—like me—who could help with filing, packing, and all the other menial tasks around the office. At first, I found them a little too positive and encouraging. But I understood when I found out later that all the owners were Christians. Their vision was to reach out to young people across the country by weaving biblical principles and parables into a tailor-made curriculum which they brought into schools in the form of leadership, life skills, or character development programmes.

Training and planning alongside them inspired me; I saw how daily work and the gospel message could work hand in hand. Every trainer was passionate, not just about teaching or the students’ welfare, but also in communicating biblical truths. What caught my heart were the long hours spent in the meeting room, reading the Word, and brainstorming, with the aim of improving the content to better engage students of different ages, learning abilities, and family backgrounds.

So, as I neared my university graduation, I decided to apply for a full-time position in the company . . . only to be flatly rejected by the directors. They shared with me openly that as the company was new, things were not stable. They weren’t sure how things would pan out, and didn’t want me to take a risk in joining them. They suggested I considered teaching instead.

It took them some time to convince me, as I could not imagine how a “bad” student like me could be a teacher. Eventually, it was a statement made by one of the directors that set my mind on teaching: “It takes a difficult student to truly understand and empathize with the least interested student in a class, so go and teach as how you would have liked to have been taught.”

I graduated from the teaching course with a distinction, and in my second year of teaching, became Acting Level Head, and then Subject Head in the following year. My department also won a nationwide student engagement competition, then took third place in the global version of the same competition. In my third year, I was invited to be a part of the curriculum development team; in the next year, I joined the strategic planning team (which comprises school leaders and potential school leaders).

I guess you could say I was doing well in my career and was considered an award-winning educator. On the personal level, teaching had become a passion and joy, and my students had become a huge part of my life. At the end of my fourth year of teaching, my principal offered me a pay raise and a promotion.

And that’s when I handed in the resignation letter I had written before my first day of work.

To many, I know my resignation appeared senseless; but I knew that it was what I had to do. Right from the start, I knew that I wanted to work for the company I had interned with, and that my teaching years were simply a training ground and a season of preparation for what God was leading me to.

At the time I quit my teaching job, that very company was still small—there were only six full-time staff and about 40 regular clients. Joining them would mean not only losing the promotion and pay raise offered by the school, but also having to settle for half the salary I was drawing. My friends and family tried to dissuade me from resigning and said it was foolish to do so just as I was doing well in my teaching career. One of my colleagues said I was “committing career suicide”. Worse still, I had to deal with the pleas of my students when they heard I was leaving.

But the heartbeat of the company—sharing the gospel and biblical principles to students—kept my resolve. No other offer could take my eyes away from my dream of working with it and being a part of the work.

It’s been five years since I joined them, and I have not once regretted my resignation. Scouring my Bible day after day for curriculum ideas, teaching students about the importance of biblical principles, and honing their God-given abilities, have proved to be far more rewarding than a raise, promotion, or the affirmation of my family and friends.

I’m also thankful that God has blessed me with the opportunity to “teach” my former students when they join us as interns or part-timers, to work with former colleagues who are now my clients, and to find good friends in my directors.

And although the company is far from “successful” at this stage (because the gospel has not yet been planted in every school and in every student), I’m motivated to continue laboring on in the Lord.

Why-I-hated-the-Youth-Ministry

Why I hated the Youth Ministry

After six years, I was annoyed with the whole Sunday school affair. Crazy action songs. Kiddy puppet Bible stories. Even the sweets for reciting the week’s memory verse no longer appealed to the pre-teen in me.

The youth ministry, however, sounded promising. On occasion, they came to lead us in a time of songs. The songs they sung was loud and lively; they dressed well and sang passionately. In short, I thought they were very cool.

But when I finally got old enough to join them, it took me only three weeks to conclude: I hated the youth ministry.

In the first week, the girls sitting behind me “whispered” nasty comments to each other about my boyish dressing and choice of short hair. In the second week, a close friend of mine got herself a boyfriend and abandoned me. In the third week, I overheard some of the youth leaders discussing how to “deal” with the “hyperactive” me. According to them, I wasn’t the “right fit” for this youth ministry. I was too loud and disruptive for their taste.

And so I left.

A couple of months later, I had run out of excuses for not attending the Saturday youth service. Rather than risk incurring my mother’s wrath, I began to visit other church services that were being held at about the same time. At least I wouldn’t be lying when I told her I was going to church. And I reckoned that I would eventually find one that would suit me—where I would be loved and accepted for who I was.

This went on for about a year and a half. Visiting a new church, making new friends, discovering problems—the whole cycle would begin all over again. It was a cycle that not only wore down my self-confidence, but also affected my belief in God. What was new and exciting at first became exhausting—to the point that I started to consider giving up on my faith entirely.

It was at this juncture that a youth leader from my home church invited me to attend a spiritual leadership boot camp. She had heard through a mutual friend that I was struggling in my faith journey and that I was resistant to returning to the youth group, and so didn’t push me. Instead, she reassured me that this camp was external and interdenominational; only two or three others from our church were attending it. I rejected her offer at first, but then decided to register for it on my own after I discovered that some of my schoolmates would be attending.

Truth be told, I no longer remember what the sermons were about or what games we played, but one particular session left a deep impression on me.

On the second night, when we entered the worship hall, we were surprised to see that the musical instruments had all been removed, leaving the stage bare. After singing three worship songs with just a guitar, we were told to remain silent, to imagine we were alone in the room with God, and to read whichever Bible passage came to mind.

This left many of us bewildered. For a start, singing songs with a single guitar was quite unlike the usual music we were used to. Furthermore, as we were in a place away from the sounds of the city, it was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop. The silence was uncomfortable, and every minute that passed felt more like an hour.

After about half an hour of trying not to fall asleep, the numbers “27” and “4” suddenly came to my mind. I had no idea which book I was supposed to flip to, so I just went to Psalms—right in the middle of the Bible.

This is what the verse said:

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)

As I read these words, I immediately felt rebuked. Why did I go to church in the first place? Whom did I go to see? Whom did I worship? What did I truly seek?

Before I knew it, tears began to well up in my eyes. I got up quickly, barely making it to the door. Outside, I sat down and wept freely.

That night, through Psalm 27:4, the Lord revealed to me that my motives for attending the youth ministry were wrong. No matter how many different youth services I visited and no matter how many churches I tried, I would never find the “perfect” youth group.

The same night, I confessed my self-centeredness and my pride to my camp group leader. I also sought God’s forgiveness—for the bitterness I had against those who I felt had criticized or abandoned me. Immediately, I felt both relieved and at peace with God; it was a peace which I had not felt in a very long time.

That episode taught me that church is not instituted to serve my needs or to meet my desires. The early Christians met to pray, to worship, and to study the word of God. We too are called to do the same, so that we may know God better, worship Him, and make Him known.

The very next week, I went back to my home church and started to serve as a small group leader in the youth ministry. I’ve been serving there ever since, 15 years now . . . and counting.

3-Reasons-Why-I-Pray

3 Reasons Why I Pray

Photo Taken by Ian Tan

I was 11 years old when my family went on a holiday to Beijing; that was my first trip to China. One morning, my brother became ill and had to stay in the hotel to rest. As my mum had to be with him, she told me to buy breakfast from the food store in front of the hotel. She assured me that she would be right by the window, watching over me.

Had I been back home, it would have been a simple task. But the unfamiliarity of the environment and my inexperience turned it into a highly challenging experience that I still remember vividly today.

The dumpling shop had an endless flow of people coming and going. Some were eating their breakfast, some were waiting for their takeaways, and the rest were shouting their orders above my head. I had no idea what to do or say. To add to the confusion, there was not even an actual queue.

Overwhelmed and on the verge of tears, I suddenly recalled what my mum had told me. I stepped out of the shop and looked up. True to her word, she was by the fifth-floor window, giving me the thumbs-up. I was immediately comforted.

Although she wasn’t right by my side, knowing that she was nearby gave me the assurance and courage to complete the task.

This scene played out in my head recently as I was reflecting on why I need to pray.

1. Because God is always with me.

Sounds clichéd? It’s true. Often, I go back to being that little girl again—in the midst of the unknown, when I’m overwhelmed by the situation, I forget that God is watching over me.

God is always with us, although we cannot see Him. In times of trouble, all we have to do is to turn to Him in prayer. He may not always intervene in the way we want Him to, such as to give us good exam grades or to heal our loved ones who are ill, but nothing happens outside His will.

Jesus promised that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). It is this promise that keeps me praying day after day—sometimes even year after year, presenting the same request to Him. I know that He’s there, He hears my prayer, and He cares.

2. Because I am doing His Work.

Being presented with more than 20 different dumplings and steamed buns was overwhelming. On top of that, the menu was written in Chinese, with half the characters unrecognizable to me. In that moment, bewildered, I forgot my task. My mum had given me very simple instructions—buy six steamed meat buns—but amid the unfamiliarity and chaos, her voice was drowned out and I was at a loss as to what to do.

In this world, there are many voices calling out to us, demanding our attention and telling us how we ought to look like, behave, and live our lives. These voices are often so loud and so overpowering that they drown out our Maker’s voice and perplex us.

But God has designed us for a specific purpose. He entrusts us to rule and to take care of the world He created, as well as to make disciples of all nations. This is the role He gave to Adam, the disciples, and to all of us. Jesus himself said that His food was to do the will of His Father who sent Him. Ephesians teaches me that I am God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God himself prepared in advance for me to do (Ephesians 2:10). And so I pray, because it is His work that I’m doing.

3. Because I am a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.

Looking back on that episode, I realize that the biggest challenge I faced was being out of my comfort zone. I had no idea what to do, how to order, or whom to give my orders to. Had I been back at my favorite stall back home, the aunty behind the counter would have already known what I wanted—two char siew buns, two big chicken buns, and two red bean buns. The errand would have been a breeze.

And even if I could read the menu in that Beijing shop and make my orders heard, my accent and my clothing would have given me away. I was clearly a very lost foreigner in a local crowd.

Have you ever felt that being a Christian meant sticking out like a sore thumb? It’s inevitable. Try as we might to blend in, this world is not our home. This earth is not our final destination; we are merely passing through. So the best way to navigate life is to turn to Jesus, the Lord of our lives. I pray because I need His guidance.

When I get to heaven, I will spend hours walking in the garden and talking with my Lord. But for now, while I am here doing His work, I find that the only thing I can do is pray. “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”