Tom Nearing: Into the Light

Tom Nearing knows what life looks like holding on to a secret. When Tom had a revelation at 18 years old about a childhood trauma, this new knowledge only added to the shame and disconnection from God that he was already experiencing. This would eventually lead Tom to a breaking point where he found himself at the end of himself: almost homeless and living a purposeless life.

And yet despite this, Tom also knows what life looks like with the realization of God’s overwhelming love, forgiveness and acceptance.

Watch Tom’s journey from shame and secrets to forgiveness and acceptance through relationship with a loving God.

Heidy Quah: Giving Up University to Serve Refugees

Written By Priscilla Goy, Singapore

The turning points in our lives often come when we least expect them. For Heidy Quah, 24, it was after secondary school in 2012, when she was only 18 years old, and had time to spare before going to college and wanted to do something productive.

After searching for volunteering opportunities, Heidy and her best friend Andrea Prisha decided to teach English for four months at a Burmese refugee school in Sungei Besi, a town in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. At the time, Heidy’s main interests were in arts and crafts, baking and hanging out with friends. She was going to pursue a degree in accounting and finance, and planned to work for one of the “Big Four” accounting firms.

Heidy Quah with RFTR co-founder Andrea Prisha

But it was at the school that the children “taught me how to love as Jesus loves us,” says Heidy.

“I was just a teacher, but they scrambled to give me their best. They drank tap water, but they made sure to buy me bottled water. Once, an eight-year-old girl with bracelets picked the most beautiful one and gave it to me. It may not seem much, but she was giving her best to me.”

This was in stark contrast to some companies who donated items to the school. “They were giving their trash—clothes with period stains, coffee stains, all sorts of stains; expired milk powder; old undergarments. Perhaps to them, giving something is better than giving nothing,” she says.

“We throw around the word ‘love’ quite loosely when we say words like ‘I love you’, but to what extent do we go for a person? The children loved in such a big way, they loved so differently.”

Towards the end of her four-month stint, the school’s headmaster told her and Andrea that the school would be closed as their funding from the United Nations Refugee Agency would not be renewed. Heidy says: “I was going to pursue higher education, but here were children who were going to be robbed of their only access to education.”

So the duo raised funds for the school, turning to social media and going door to door to sell cookies. Within a week, they had raised enough money to keep the school open for six months. They then set up Refuge for the Refugees (RFTR).

In September, RFTR marked its sixth anniversary. It now supports 35 schools—10 in Malaysia and 25 in Myanmar—which care for 2,000 children in total. RTFR connects the schools with aid and resources such as volunteer teachers, syllabus help and fund-raising.

 

Overcoming Loneliness and Self-Doubt

Last year, Heidy was named the sole Malaysian winner of the prestigious Queen’s Young Leaders Award for her work with refugees. She was among 60 winners, selected from thousands of applicants across the Commonwealth, to be recognized for “taking the lead in their communities and using their skills to transform lives.” Heidy received the award from none other than Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

And in June this year, she joined politics, becoming a member of the Democratic Action Party (DAP). The conversations she had with other winners of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award sparked her interest in politics, as many of them wanted to be in a position to make changes in their communities.

But Heidy’s journey in helping refugees began as a lonely one, with much self-doubt, no thanks to older adults who asked when she would get a “real job”. Setting up a new organization and having it formally registered was something that Heidy and Andrea had never done before, and they could not rely on their peers to learn how to navigate through the amount of paperwork required.

They also had to overcome language barriers and learn the Chin dialect and Burmese language in order to communicate with the children. “I used to stay up almost the entire night preparing lesson materials in two languages, just to communicate with the kids. But I am thankful that they speak really fluent English now and the years of hard work paid off,” Heidy says.

 Andrea and Heidy were often reminded of their lack of experience. Heidy says: “I’ll try to convince people that I knew what I was doing, but I would go home and struggle with self-doubt. Are we seriously doing this? Why are we doing this?”

In those moments, she would hold on to God’s call upon her life. “It’s important to know my identity and worth—is it found in the comments of man or what God has called me to do?

“I’ve been very aware that our work with refugees is a calling. We’ve seen God’s hand so clearly, that we know it’s God’s grace. When we have child-like faith and take that step of obedience, He’ll never leave you stranded. As long as it’s His will, He’ll continue to cover the bills.”

Sure enough, God sent various people to support them through different hurdles, and opened many doors for them. The process of registering RFTR, for instance, went smoothly despite it being set up by young co-founders who were clueless on how to register an NGO.

 

Overcoming the Fear of Missing Out

 After registering RFTR as an organization, running RFTR was still a huge challenge for Heidy, especially in their first year of operations. Heidy says: “There was a huge disconnect between my peers and me. It was frustrating on so many levels. Their conversations were revolving around J-Pop, K-Pop.”

“The RFTR work is difficult sometimes. There are days when I feel like I’m missing out on things that other young people do—they have more free time and can juggle a much smaller load of stress—and it can get lonely. I follow their InstaStories and sometimes think that I’ve got zero life and have not had a break in the longest time.

“But I chose this life, which has its perks and its sacrifices. I also love spending time with the kids, being on the ground with the community. So, in a sense, I have not missed out much either.”

RFTR work is less lonely now, with her team of volunteers. She has also had many supportive friends who volunteered with RFTR.

The moments of struggling with FOMO (fear of missing out) and other challenges in running RFTR are real, she admits. “But every time I spend time with God, He realigns my perspective and reminds me that He’ll bring me through.”

 

Heidy Quah (extreme left) with members of the RFTR core team and refugee children

 

Living Out Her Dreams

Thinking back on her journey so far, Heidy says she had recurring dreams of herself on stage for a year, before she accepted Christ into her life when she was 11 years old.

“I didn’t know then that people gave talks on stage. I thought I was going to be a performer, like a singer or dancer. I spent the next six to seven years wondering what the dream was about,” she says. She also used to speak so little that her parents thought she needed speech therapy.

Heidy now understands what those dreams meant. She has been granted not only opportunities to give talks on human trafficking, refugees and youth empowerment, but also opportunities to preach and share the love of Christ.

And God has continued guiding her as she leads RFTF. She says: “He gives me new vision for the work, shows me what needs to be done, who I need to speak to, in the everyday of spending time with Him.”

The visions get bigger and bigger, she says. “Each time I feel that we can’t go any further, because we’re already covering so much, He tells me to be humble and obedient, that it’s His plans and not mine.”

Over the years, she has also felt God leading her to venture into politics, in order to work with authorities to change laws and policies.

 

From NGO Founder to Politician

The life of DAP politician Hannah Yeoh is a great inspiration to Heidy. In 2013, Hannah became Malaysia’s first female and youngest speaker in a state parliament at the age of 34. In the general election in May 2018, she won the Segambut parliamentary seat and is now the country’s Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development.

 

Heidy Quah with Hannah Yeoh

 

Heidy says: “There isn’t one thing that Hannah did that stands out for me; they are all amazing feats. But the very fact that she’s always been grounded in her faith and clear in her calling inspires me.

“Hannah went into politics without knowing what politics was about. She portrayed obedience to chase after God.”

But Heidy also had her doubts about politics: she only agreed to join the DAP after being approached twice.

“The first time, I had confirmations but they didn’t come with peace. There was a lot of support from friends, but I felt God was saying ‘not yet’,” she says. She spent a year thinking about her decision before agreeing to join politics after she felt peace. She hopes to “elevate the voice of refugees”, influence policies that would protect refugees and migrant workers, and address issues of human trafficking, child abuse and child marriage.

Asked about her advice for young people, she says it boils down to following God’s call. “Find your identity in Christ and understand where your worth lies. Know your why. Many of us get so caught up chasing what the world wants, instead of asking God what He wants us to do,” she says.

“Catch on the urgency to do more for Christ. Don’t wait until Sunday; there’s so much more we can do. You’re never too young to make a difference.”

Thompson: Why Am I Battling Depression?

“Why am I this way?” The question had played through Thompson’s mind many times. He had seen others healed from their depression and anxiety. He had been prayed for numerous times. When healing didn’t come, he wondered if it was his fault. He felt like it was out of his control.

Hear Thompson’s story as he shares about his journey with depression and anxiety along with the insights he discovered on the way about himself, about God, and about the church.

 

 

For more stories on depression:

I Have Depression And This Is What I Want You to Know
Letter to A Depressed Christian
Why Am I Depressed?

Ken and Addy: Sharing Home with Complete Strangers

Photography By Ian Tan

The four-storied terrace house (left) that is currently the home of The Last Resort.

 

Standing outside the four-storied terrace house, it’s easy to get lost in awe. In land-scarce Singapore, it’s huge. It towers over you, its modern concrete exterior—a combination of clean, sleek lines with glass railings and a high varnished wood gate—showing you what luxury looks like.

Stepping inside, you’re greeted by a huge living area with marbled floors and an overly enthusiastic black toy poodle practicing sprints around an imaginary circuit under and between the furniture. On the dining table is an impressive array of local foods: curries, pratas (flat bread), pancakes, and curry puffs.

 

Berrie, the black toy poodle, sprinting around the house.

 

Upstairs, the bedrooms are cozily furnished—each with a bed or two, desks, toys, books, and the odd musical instrument. They evoke a feeling that’s best described as homely, as the cat taking a nap on one of the desks can attest to.

Back downstairs, 47-year-old Kenneth Thong is hard at work preparing more food in the kitchen and laying it out on the table. Ken, as everyone calls him, is soft-spoken and self-deprecating in a charming way. His sentences tend to trail off as his voice gets softer, before breaking out in laughter over a joke he’s made—often at his own expense. His wife, Adeline (just call her Addy), 39, is giving a tour of the house—all four stories plus basement, both balconies, and six rooms. Like her husband, she sports a permanent warm smile and a cheerful, gentle demeanor.

Today, most of the occupants of the house are out except for a young man who’s helping Ken out in the kitchen.

Perhaps the only giveaway that this isn’t just another upper-middle class dream is a large sign made from Lego bricks, hanging amid the packed bookshelves in the living room. It reads: “The Last Resort, welcome”.

 

The large sign that greets all visitors in the living room.

 

What Is The Last Resort

Ask Ken and Addy what this sign means, and they have a ready answer. “The Last Resort is a place for young people, with young people, by older people,” says Addy. Ken chips in: “We want young people to know that if there is really nowhere else to go, there is a place for you.”

This is what The Last Resort is all about: Since they got married in 2007, the Thongs have opened their home to a wide range of young people seeking a refuge, especially from abusive families or unlivable conditions. In general, their guests are welcome to stay for free, though they can choose to help out with the living expenses if they can. For the past 10 years or so, Ken and Addy have been living with “strangers”.

“They’re invited as part of family,” says Ken. “We want them to have the experience of what a normal, safe, functional family looks like. And that means they’re free to have whatever we have here.”

Indeed, from doing the chores to going grocery shopping to cooking and eating together, the couple tries to create a sense of belonging and community for their guests. “That’s something that many of them have never experienced,” says Addy.

Some would call this radical hospitality—going beyond what most people would be willing to do—but Ken and Addy see it far more modestly. “Being radical doesn’t mean doing things that nobody has done before,” says Ken. “Being radical is simply to do what needs to be done.”

The couple also invites other Christians to come and share in their ministry, mobilizing them to serve at The Last Resort.

 

One of the cozily furnished bedrooms at The Last Resort.

 

How the Idea Began

The idea for The Last Resort had come even before Ken and Addy were married. After spending four years as missionaries overseas—Ken in South Africa and Addy in South India—they connected in 2004 over a shared desire to make a difference in the lives of those from troubled backgrounds. On their first mission trip together in Hoedspruit, South Africa, Addy was struck by how close-knit Christian communities there were. They not only lived together, but shared everything with each other. It was a great example of loving both God and people, something they wanted to bring home.

Ken and Addy on a mission trip in Myanmar in 2007.

Back in Singapore, they saw another need: to help young people whom existing social services couldn’t fully support. It reminded Ken of Matthew 9:36, which describes Jesus’ compassion for the helpless crowds. “That’s the challenge to us,” says Ken, “would we have the same compassion?”

The couple found their own answer to this challenge: offering themselves and their home as an example of what Christian community should look like—loving, compassionate, and nurturing. “Building communities was something that God had laid on our hearts, and when we got married, we knew we would want to open and share everything we had,” explains Addy.

The opportunity to do this came shortly after their wedding, when they came to know of a young lady who needed a place to stay. She had just become a Christian, a decision that her family opposed. She had nowhere else to go, so Ken and Addy opened their home to her. At the time, all they had was a two-bedroom apartment.

Before long, word got out about this couple who was willing to house anyone who needed a safe place to stay. Some came through social workers, while others found their way through friends. “We didn’t set out to look for people,” says Addy. “We just made space for those who had nowhere else to go, when we came to know of them.”

Since then, Ken and Addy have hosted missionaries from overseas, Christians needing a retreat, and young people needing a safe place. Some stay for a few weeks, while others have stayed for more than a year. Right now, The Last Resort is a refuge for a 25-year-old mother, her newborn child, as well as a 19-year-old girl needing an alternative place to stay. Also staying with them are two Christian young adults wanting to live out radical hospitality in a Christ-centered community.

 

The young occupants are free to make their rooms look as homely as possible.

 

One of the adopted cats lounging lazily on a table.

 

Overcoming the Challenges

This ministry, however, has not come without its own set of challenges. For one, the couple has found that providing refuge for people often means having to deal with some aspects of people’s troubles. Once, loan sharks came looking for one of their guests. It eventually led to someone breaking in to steal some of their family heirlooms.

There’s also the not-insignificant detail of paying the rent and providing for the people staying with them. This is made all the more challenging by the fact that neither Ken nor Addy currently have a paid job—Ken left his director role at a non-profit organization some months ago, and Addy stopped having an income since 2014. Both saw the need to be fully devoted to this ministry, in availing their time to be present with people.

When asked about such challenges, Ken and Addy say it’s all about responding to what God has laid on their hearts and believing Him, even when their ministry may not seem pragmatic.

Their housing has been a testament to this truth. Not wanting to be weighed down by a housing loan, the couple decided, early on in their marriage, to rent a three-room flat. They moved to a larger flat later. Throughout this time, God was sending them people in need—while expanding their capacity to serve others. “We were being taught along the way how to avail ourselves, no matter how much we had,” says Ken.

God honored their obedience, providing support in the form of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who chipped in for the ministry needs and provided practical help.

In early 2018, the couple felt directed by God to look into moving to a bigger place. The search led them to a four-storied house that seemed perfect.

There was just one problem—the rent. “At that point, it felt like we had no business to be here,” Addy recalls her thoughts when they first viewed the house. “But we felt that if God was showing us that this was the place, then we would go ahead with it.”

Despite not knowing how the provision was going to come, the Thongs took the step of obedience and moved in. True enough, God provided them with enough to pay the first month’s rent. It was just one of the many examples of God’s provision that they had seen in their ministry.

“It’s been a journey of walking with God and seeing how He provides, and how He takes care of every single detail,” says Addy. Whether it’s much-needed food items, money, furniture or even appliances—mostly shared by friends and acquaintances—the Thongs readily attest to how God has come through for them on a daily basis.

 

It’s About Christ

It’s hard not to be inspired by the Thongs’ spirit of sacrifice and generosity. In a world where godly, philanthropic dreams are often derailed by cold, hard pragmatism, Ken and Addy seem to have succeeded in escaping the things that many of us chase.

“All of us pursue what we deem as important to us. It is in discovering what matters much more that we shift our priorities. We’re not telling people to not pursue their dreams, we’re simply inviting people to experience for themselves this great joy of pursuing what truly brings delight,” explains Ken.

But the couple is quick to dispel any notion that they are in any way special. “We’re not saying to people, ‘Oh, come and look to us’,” says Addy. “No, not at all—come and look to Christ!”

“If there’s anything that our experiences have taught us, it’s that we’re all broken because of the effects of sin in our lives, even in a so-called stable family,” she continues. “We are not a perfect family. And we are not trying to create a perfect family. But we are forming a community who looks to Him.”

Ken adds: “We want to build communities. We want to be near people, to be involved in the daily lives of people by caring for them, as well as to be very clear in our proclamation of where our hope really lies.”

In many ways, that’s the simplicity of their ministry: modeling godly living while walking alongside young people and encouraging them to ask bigger questions about God.

And this, he hopes, will have a knock-on effect on other Christian couples. “Our crazy idea is for two or three newly married couples to dedicate their first year of marriage to living together in community, while creating room in the shared space for someone else in need of refuge,” he says.

Call it a utopian dream. But Ken believes that if every church has a community home like that, it would put the church in a good position to foster the next generation.