When I Befriended the Friendless

Written By Pearle Chua, Singapore

I met John when I was working at a library in Singapore. He had a routine he performed every morning when the library opened. First, he would greet everyone loudly and shake hands with the library staff present. Next, he would head to the counter to scan his expired identity card as he half-mumbled and half-declared to everyone that he has paid his bills to the government. Then, he would show the library staff his documents and again declare that he has paid his bills, before finally heading to the multimedia station.

Everyone working in the library knew John, and he was known as our “regular patron.” It was obvious that John had a mental illness, but no one knew what type of mental illness it was. Sometimes, he would get into quarrels with the other patrons at the library. There was even one time when the library staff had to call the Institute of Mental Health hospital to settle his case. Whenever we spoke of John, it was always with raised eyebrows.

At first, I would just shake hands with John in the mornings and mind my own business. But then I recalled the second most important commandment in the Bible, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). I tried to practice this command in my daily life, at school, at work, and with family. But what if my neighbor was someone who lives on the margin of society?

As I thought about the commandment, I began to see John in a different light. I tried putting myself in his shoes, and thought that if I were John, I would have liked to be accepted by people around me. Finally, one day, I plucked up my courage to talk to him, as a way to show Christ’s love to him. I casually chatted with him as he shook my hand, and from then on, we would often talk in the mornings.

My colleagues were surprised by what I was doing. Some started to refer to him as my best friend. While I was not afraid of John, I was worried that he might disturb me at work. Would he demand to see me when he got into trouble at the library? However, I decided to release my fears to God, and sure enough, that did not happen. Instead, John got along better with others as I became his friend, and that gave me the assurance that God was at work supporting me as I reached out to John.

I showered John with my friendship, giving him presents for Christmas and birthdays, and eventually invited him to my wedding. That’s when the breakthrough came. Although John could not make it to the wedding, he asked me to bring him to church. I don’t recall telling him that I was a Christian, but maybe he guessed from the fact that I was going to have a church wedding.

Through our conversations, I learned that John and his family were from India, but he came by himself to Singapore on a scholarship when he was much younger, and has stayed here since. John is very smart and has a master’s degree.

However, John was diagnosed with schizophrenia two years ago, when he was 55. People suffering from schizophrenia often hear voices and imagine that they are being persecuted or controlled. This can damage their relationships with others, and in severe cases, can make one lose the ability to function in everyday life.

Though John now takes medicine to keep his schizophrenia under control, it has robbed him of the ability to work. His life was turned upside down, and he now lives in a one-room rental apartment in the poorer part of Singapore, relying on government subsidies.

 

The Turning Point

Going to church was a big step for John. Anxious to return to society, he spruced up his appearance by buying new clothes and getting a haircut. At church, he approached people to introduce himself. He smiled and shook hands.

Unfortunately, these efforts were not enough for John to become accepted. People noticed John’s social awkwardness immediately. John would be too anxious about introducing himself that he would insist on shaking hands with someone who was in conversation with another person. During the introduction, he held on to people’s hand longer than usual, which made some of the girls feel a little uncomfortable. He also did not hesitate to tell others that he has schizophrenia.

When he joined a cell group, John was so excited to attend that he arrived at the host’s house two hours earlier. Taking down his cell group members’ numbers, he often called them because he was lonely. Unfortunately, everyone would be busy at work.

To help John cope with his loneliness, I taught John how to use WhatsApp and Facebook. My intention was to get him to use WhatsApp to strike a conversation with his cell group members via text message instead of calling them. However, John did not use WhatsApp and Facebook the way I expected him to. Instead, he would enthusiastically send meaningless photos or posts to everyone he knew. He would also take photos of his cell members without them knowing and post them on Facebook or send them to others without their permission. This was too much for some people and they started blocking him.

The tipping point came when he used my Facebook account to start conversations with my friends, and even called them using the Messenger app, which caused some confusion for my friends. I quickly stopped John and did my best to explain how he should conduct himself according to social norms. While John was a little disappointed when I corrected him, he took it in good stride.

John was also getting on the nerves of the people in church. However, they tried their best to show love towards him. Eventually, some members of John’s cell group started reaching out to help him. Two men in church felt prompted by God to guide John. They stepped up as male role models for him. One of them would meet up with John for a meal every Friday to talk to him, find out more about him, and give him feedback on his behavior. John was receptive to their feedback and started attending church regularly.

Additionally, John’s cell group made the effort to include him in cell outings and lunches after church. Whenever they were not available or had no outings, I would invite John to join my cell group or join my husband and I for outings.

Without us noticing, John learned to get along better with others. At the library, John no longer scans his identity card at the counter or show his documents. He is friendly to everyone, and sometimes helps out at the library. No one avoids him anymore, and some even comment on how John has changed. When John went back for a visit to India, his family was surprised and shocked to see how much he has improved.

At church, John no longer holds on to a person’s hand for too long during an introduction and the women at church now feel at ease with him. He is also able to maintain some conversation with others, something that he struggled to do at the start. John has now become a part of the church congregation, such that whenever he is not at church, people would ask about him.

By God’s grace, after attending church for a year, John confessed his sins and accepted Christ as his savior. God’s amazing grace also softened his family’s insistence that John should stay a Hindu, and now they accept that he is a Christian.

My friendship with John has shown me how powerful God’s love is, and how His love, through us, can change lives for the better.

Has Community Become Our New Idol?

Written By Jiaming Zeng, USA

“Thirst was made for water. Inquiry for truth.” – C.S. Lewis

I’ve never been good at socializing, especially at large events such as parties, networking, and happy hours. I talk to many people, yet still walk out of events feeling like I know no one. Friends tell me that they often feel the same way.

Often it seems like over half the conversation is spent on TV shows, stories about other parties we’ve been to, or random stories about a friend’s wild adventures. Occasionally, topics as simple as “how a bike lock works” or “how to make a peanut butter sandwich” can be discussed for over 10 minutes. Is this really what we gathered to talk about? We try so hard to keep the conversation going. Yet in the end, we say so much, but communicate so little.

One of the most popular TV shows of our generation is Friends. Deep down, we all hope to find a group of friends like the original Friends—a community where we laugh at each other’s bad jokes, tolerate each other’s annoying habits, and truly believe that “I’ll be there for you, ‘cause you’re there for me too.” In a way, community has become society’s new idol, sharing the stage with fame and success. In today’s world, a fulfilling life involves more than a successful career. We want to go on unforgettable adventures, engage in meaningful experiences, and build lasting friendships.

Yet why is it that, even though we are all searching for community, and we all know we are searching for community, we still can’t seem to find the community. What is amiss in our current approach to community?

Everything we long for has a natural remedy—for thirst there is water, for hunger there is food. Does our longing for genuine connection and belonging point to a deeper need in our hearts?

Our dissatisfaction with the present state of community is a reflection of our longing for God. From the beginning, God designed us to “not be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We find fulfillment not merely in community with other people, but ultimately in community with God. His great desire for a relationship with us is why Christ gave His life on the cross.

Community isn’t just about me or what I feel. For Christians, community is important because this is where we reconnect with God and each other amidst our disjointed world. When we are a community filled with God’s love, we are able to be a witness to the world. Our redeemed relationships show the world who Christ is and what He did.

But how can we build such a community?

 

Building A Real Community

The Bible has many things to say about community, but I want to focus on one particular concept: Grace.

Grace is the idea of loving someone and accepting them unconditionally. For me, Jesus is the perfect source of grace and exemplifies the ideal community we are all searching for. As the Son of God, Jesus showed us perfect grace when He came to live, drink, laugh, forgive, and even sacrifice Himself for, us even though we did not earn it. In His last command, He outlined the key to ideal community for Christians: “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

Grace is what makes hard conversations possible; it’s what allows us to be comfortable and genuine in our communities. In her famous TED Talk presentation, “The Power of Vulnerability”, Brené Brown points out that the fear of not being worthy of love or belonging is what keeps us from forming meaningful connections. Therefore, she calls for us to be vulnerable, to be authentic, and to not be afraid of who we are.

However, the fundamental reason we are afraid to be authentic and vulnerable is precisely because we don’t expect to receive grace from our communities. We’re afraid that if we do something outside the “ordinary” or accepted standard, other people in the room will judge us. We are afraid that we won’t be shown grace.

As a private and reticent person, I constantly struggle with vulnerability. Questions of doubt and fear often run through my head when I attempt to be authentic and share my life with others. What if I share too much? What if I open up and the other people don’t? What if I come across as weak and needy? I didn’t realize how much I was not sharing until a friend pointed out to me, “You know, you would talk a lot, but you really don’t say much.” By failing to be authentic, by giving in to my fear of vulnerability, I’ve distanced myself from my friends and community.

Brené’s talk is among the five most-viewed TED Talks of all time. Many of us realize the importance of vulnerability and its connection to community. Yet, we are still afraid. Brené calls for courage. While courage is admirable, not all of us, including myself, have the courage to be vulnerable. However, we do have the power to share grace. Only by showing grace to others will we find the power to be vulnerable. For “give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38). Before we can receive, we must learn to give.

Sharing grace doesn’t have to be inspirational or dramatic. It can be as simple as initiating conversation with the quiet person in the room or helping your roommate with her dishes because she has a mid-term tomorrow. It can be baking cookies for your office or inviting your friends over for a home-cooked dinner. Many times, it’s the small things that matter.

Furthermore, even if you feel that your grace isn’t reciprocated with grace, show people the grace of understanding and forgiveness. Of course, don’t forget to show yourself grace. Forgive yourself for missing that paper deadline and, sometimes, it’s okay to go to that movie even if your research isn’t working. Because remember, Christ has already shown us the perfect grace. I can always find comfort in the fact that I’m loved and upheld by Him despite my mistakes. The actions of grace can be simple, yet their implications profound.

Sharing grace is what empowers us and the people around us to be vulnerable. Personally, the practice of showing grace has helped me grow closer to my friends. By inviting friends over for dinner and helping others, I’ve slowly gained the courage to trust, to open up, and to engage in deeper conversations. When we trust others in the room to show us grace, we will have the courage to be ourselves, be authentic, and be vulnerable. Grace is how we experience love in our communities. For Christian communities, grace is how we mirror God’s love to the world.

Francis Su, former president of the Mathematical Association of America, once said that you do not need accomplishments to be a worthy human being, and whatever your level of academic success, you are always worth having coffee with. That’s what grace looks like.

So that’s my call to you. Go search for a community with grace and foster grace in your existing communities. Grace is what Christian community should embody. By fostering a community built on grace, we are not only creating meaningful connections among ourselves, but also bearing witness for the cross and embodying the love of God in our broken world. For “no one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12).

Finally, as the Apostle Peter said, “Above all, love each other deeply. . . . Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4: 8-10)

P.S. I highly recommend listening to Brené Brown and Francis Su’s talks, which heavily inspired this article.

 

This article was originally published on Vox Clara, Vol 7 Issue 1 (Winter 2018) as “Community As the New Idol, And the Sharing of Grace”. This version has been edited by YMI.

3 Things I Learned From Moving Abroad

The day finally came for me to grab my bags and board the flight. I had been living with my grandparents and other relatives for more than seven years, but it was now time to join my parents and undertake my university education in the new country they called home. I did not know this at the time, but the drastic cultural differences I would face in this new country meant I had a steep learning curve ahead of me.

Early on in my new city, I had arranged to meet an acquaintance for lunch. Wanting to make a good impression, I took ample time in deciding which pair of sneakers to wear. This deliberation made me miss my bus, and I was 15 minutes late to my appointment. For all my efforts to look my best, I got a lecture about the importance of respecting other’s time.

Back home, life moved at a slow, relaxed pace. But here, life seemed to be a stack of priorities that had to be met with utmost urgency. And time was only one of many cultural differences that I encountered. I struggled to adjust, and often found myself frustrated and uncomfortable. I felt like I couldn’t be myself in this new place.

But through my struggles, God showed me a few foundational truths about what it meant to truly live for Him here on earth. These helped me stay true to my purpose even as my circumstances changed.

 

1) Culture May Change, But Living for Jesus Doesn’t

The apostle Paul was familiar with cultural differences. He made multiple missionary journeys across Asia and Greece to establish churches among the nations. In 1 Corinthians 9:20, he says, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.”

Regardless of where God sent Paul, he acted, as far as was Christianly possible, within cultural expectations. By choosing not to demand his rights or assert his individuality, Paul sought to facilitate the advancement of the Gospel wherever he went, in whatever cultural context he found himself in. For him the most important thing was always to see people called to repentance and obedience to the Gospel.

Similarly, I realized that despite the change in culture, my purpose as a Christian stays the same: seeing the Gospel advance in whatever situation I was in. That means that I couldn’t insist on doing things the way I’d done them back home, or complain about the uptight attitude here. Instead, I needed to muster up discipline that I never previously had. I had to learn to be loving to people regardless of our differences, in the hope that I might be able find an opportunity to encourage or share the Gospel with them.

So, no more dawdling around. I needed to be respectful of people’s time and customs. I couldn’t afford to be offensive over things that didn’t ultimately matter. God showed me that I had to willingly give up some of the freedoms I’d enjoyed in my old culture, so that I could advance the Gospel in my new one.

 

2) The Church is a Global Family

Mid-semester one year, university became a hard slog meeting assignment deadlines. Little else seemed to matter. But the friends that I’d made at a Bible study continually reminded me of the truths we were learning each week.

When I found myself in a tough dilemma, they comforted me by spending time in prayer with me. I realized that these were friends who had my eternal interests at heart, which meant that we were able to share a bond much deeper than any normal friendship. We could share our struggles and encourage one another in a meaningful way.

Finding a like-minded Christian community really helped me deal with the travails of moving abroad. This brought to life the words of Jesus in Mark 10:29-30, where He promised His followers that they would be blessed with “homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields” for the sacrifices that they make. In other words, those who follow Jesus would be part of a large family we now know as the Church.

The idea of family here isn’t used lightly. Rather, Jesus saw the Church family as so loving and committed to each other that it could replace one’s biological family. This means that wherever I find disciples of Christ, I find a welcoming, nurturing community committed to truth and love.

Despite our cultural differences, the shared hope we have in Jesus and His Kingdom connects me with my new-found friends. I’ve discovered that it doesn’t matter that we have little in common by way of past experiences, it is confirmation enough that we are all being molded into the image of Jesus—we are family.

 

3) This is Not Our Home

One of the hardest parts about moving to a new country was going back and realizing that home didn’t quite feel like home anymore.

Though I miss the country I’d grown up in, every time I visited I realized that life there continues to move on without me. Friends grow up, graduate from university, and get married. We no longer share as many memories and experiences. It really hit me one visit, when I was hanging out with one of my best friends. Silence filled the car as we drove back home from a movie. We had nothing in common to talk about anymore.

At first, all this left me feeling a little lost. I didn’t quite fit in at my new surroundings, but the place I’d come from had lost its feeling of familiarity. I was cut adrift, with no place I could truly call home.

However, one day I heard a sermon that led me to God’s amazing promise in Isaiah 65:17-19:

See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.

This promise brought me comfort at a time when I felt homeless. God reminded me that I wasn’t meant to find home here on earth—but that my real Home was somewhere else. Instead, God was using my move and my sense of loss to cultivate in me a deep desire for His new creation, where we can finally be with Him.

With God’s promise in my heart, I am able to work harder for the Gospel. I can look forward to what God has in store for me, instead of getting distracted by my current circumstances.

Through the move, God has fundamentally changed my focus, giving me an eternal perspective on things. I no longer seek to cure my homesickness by chasing after comfort or success. Instead, I strive to see the Gospel advance, knowing that true satisfaction and fulfilment will come when I am in His new creation.

I am still living abroad right now, though I hope to one day return to the country I grew up in. But really, it doesn’t matter where I end up, because I know that wherever I am, God has a purpose, a family, and a home waiting for me.

 

A Call to All Women This Mother’s Day

I have a lot to be thankful for this Mother’s Day. I have two children whom I love dearly, and a husband who always plans something to make me feel special, so I truly couldn’t ask for more.

However, I have come to realize, both through personal pain and the pain of others, that while many of us joyfully celebrate being a mom each year, there are also many women who will be hurting deeply come Mother’s Day.

An example is a dear friend of mine, Sheryl, who has had a hard journey. Before we became friends as adults, she mentored me when I was a teen, and it was during those years that Sheryl shared very openly about her struggle with infertility. We shared many tears together as she modeled incredible faith and trust in God amidst great pain.

But out of that pain, Sheryl saw an opportunity from the Lord. Even though she could not have children of her own, she decided to shift her focus, and invest her time and energy in mentoring me and some other girls instead. And she did so in life-impacting, fun ways that a woman with children may not have had the time or energy for.

Years later, I struggled for a season, wondering if infertility was also going to be part of my story. It didn’t end up being the story God had for my husband Andrew and I, but in the midst of our struggles and when our grief was overwhelming, Sheryl’s example of faith and trust pointed us back to our ever faithful Savior.

A Call to Mentor

Every woman is given a call by God to invest into the lives of younger women—regardless of whether these are their own children. The biblical call to motherhood is so much more than just about having a biological child. Instead, the passages of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Titus 2:3-4 give every woman the charge to love and shepherd those in our care. These passages call us to a task beyond being a physical parent—they call us to be spiritual parents.

If God has placed any children in your path, make training them up in the ways of the Lord your personal mission. Turn everyday situations into teachable moments, impressing God’s words on them as a way of life: “…talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. . .” (Deuteronomy 6:7).

Beyond that, we also have another call, ladies. Titus 2:3-4 says, “Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good…urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”

This passage in Titus calls us to be both mentors and examples. We are to be an example to all women around us—both younger and older—to teach and encourage them so that they will not malign God’s Word. We have all been given a lofty task—to draw all women to a deeper understanding of Christ so that they will honor His Word! What an exciting calling, ladies!

I’ve known a lot of people who shy away from mentoring because they feel unequipped. The reality is that if you are a believer in Christ, that fact alone qualifies you to be a spiritual mentor. Ask God to show you if there’s anyone you can encourage and walk with. God will equip you to do it well.

A Call to Comfort and Encourage

We all have different stories of joy and pain. Some of us have lost our mothers and have no one to call up this year. Some have had years of strife and a broken relationship with our moms. Many women were never able to have children, or are currently wondering if infertility is to be their lot.

Some have had abortions. God’s forgiveness truly covers that, and there is beautiful peace and restoration to be found, but the scars from abortions do linger, and for some still bring a lot of sorrow. Some single moms are without a husband and will have no one to appreciate their tireless efforts on Mother’s Day. Some have even had children die or have had miscarriages, so today is a day that might bring immense pain for these women. My sister just lost her sweet baby girl, Isabella, 16 weeks into her pregnancy. Our family will be celebrating many things on Mother’s Day, but there will also be a unique, deep wound this year for us.

These, and many more, are the stories God has given all of us. Just as Sheryl did for me, we must let our stories—whether filled with pain or with joy—motivate us to love, comfort and encourage those God has placed in our path.

This Mother’s Day, even as we celebrate the women in our lives who have mentored or loved us as mothers, let’s also draw near to those who are hurting. Let’s give them an extra hug, pray with them for comfort and be aware of what they might be going through. And let’s continue to offer our stories and lives to the Lord as a sacrifice—allowing Him to use them each and every day to bring others closer to Him.