“maybe that’s what life’s all about: there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moments of beauty, where time is no longer the same”

Children help us to defer the painful task of confronting ourselves, and grandchildren take over from them. Television distracts us from the onerous necessity of finding projects to construct in the vacuity of our frivolous lives; by beguiling our eyes, television releases our mind from the great work of making meaning. Finally, God appeases our animal fears and the unbearable prospect that someday all our pleasures will cease.

I was in bed last night, at about 1am, reading this part from The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

I remember all that rain… The sound of it drumming on the roof, the paths running with water, the sea of mud at the gate to the farm, the black sky, the wind, the horrible feeling of endless damp weighing upon us as our life weighed upon us: neither consciousness nor revolt. We were sitting huddled together by the fire when suddenly my mother got to her feet, throwing the rest of us off balance; we watched in surprise as, driven by some obscure impulse, she headed to the door and flung it open.

All that rain, oh, all the rain… Framed in the door, motionless, her hair clinging to her face, her dress soaked through, her shoes caked with mud, staring lifelessly, stood Lisette. How did my mother know? How did this woman who, while never mistreating us, never showed us that she loved us, either by deed or word- how did this coarse women who brought her children into the world in the same way she turned over the soil or fed the hens, this illiterate woman, so exhausted by life that she never even called us by the names she had given us- to the point where I at times wondered if she even remembered them- how had she known that her daughter, half-dead, neither moving nor speaking, but merely staring at the door without even thinking of knocking, was just waiting in a relentless downpour for someone to open and bring her into the warm room?

Is this a mother’s love, this intuition of disaster in one’s heart, this spark of empathy that resists even when human beings have been reduced to living like animals? This is what Lucien said: a mother who loves her children always knows when they are in trouble. Personally, I do not care much for this interpretation. Nor do I feel any resentment toward that mother who was not a mother. Poverty is a reaper; it harvests everything inside us that might have made us capable of social intercourse with others, and leaves us empty, purged of feeling, so that we may endure all the darkness of the present day. Nor do I nurture any sturdy illusions, there was nothing of a mother’s love in my mother’s intuition, merely the translation into gesture of her certainty of misfortune. A sort of native consciousness rooted deep in the heart, which serves to remind poor wretches like us that, on a rainy night, there will always be a daughter who has lost her honour and who will come home to die.

Lisette lived just long enough to give birth to her child. The infant did what was expected of it: it died within three hours.

Reading the part about Lisette standing outside the door and then dying made me tear up. How alone she must have felt. There are many single mothers in the world, how many of them just function on survival mode hoping to give their kids a better future. Nationality, ethnicity, religion, such boundaries don’t matter when it is a bond between a mother and a child. How many people are alone in this world? Choosing to leave your family and identity behind is a difficult decision, until you have done it you will not be able to imagine what ‘never again’ means. Because you can’t return to the past. Other people will be affected.

I don’t like emotions because I always feel terrible when I have them. Shame, anger, guilt, loneliness. Sometimes, occasionally, true joy and comfort, but most a bland neutral outlook. But I have lived without the ability to feel for a long time, and I don’t want to go back to that situation when everything was the same, nothing mattered because there were no feelings involved. The same with dating- I am only comfortable going out with people I feel nothing for, because then whatever happens wouldn’t matter to me. Perhaps it is not a fear of commitment, having to stick to just one person and the feeling of novelty, but the fear of intense feelings and not knowing what to do about those feelings. How would I react, how would he feel, what can happen next, am I changing my life in a way that would matter?

“I’ll say it again to make myself perfectly clear,” says Kakuro, with the sort of infinite patience one exercises with children or, rather, the simple-minded. “Renee, you are not your sister.”

And as I go on sitting there like a moron, staring at him:

“I’ll repeat it one last time, in the hopes that this time you won’t choke on a piece of sushi that -I might mention- cost thirty euros apiece and normally require a bit more care in their consumption: you are not your sister, we can be friends. We can be anything we want to be.”

—–

Got an allergic reaction to the medication I’m on, and then intense sleepiness so I took a long nap again. I still have overdue work so I need to drink coffee and then get my shit together for a long night. I am just upset that nothing in life seems to be going right now all because of health reasons, that my panicky moments affect how I see my day. Did it go well, did it go badly, how many times did I feel like I was in a cage and couldn’t breathe? I know that I am in a good place compared to many other people, I also feel that I am in another low point in my life. No longer able to look at events retrospectively and think, “all these were my becoming”, now it’s like “fuck what the fucking fuck again??!” Sorry for vulgarities- they are necessary because that’s my mind right now.

That said, I’m pretty normal most of the day, my mood is only much lower when I am alone or when I have to take a long nap to stop the yawning and it’s really late when I wake up. There are client proposals to be done this week hence I can’t afford to continue this medication, I don’t know when the side effects will end but I would rather not risk more allergic reactions. Other parts of my life are good- children’s church went fine, it got kind of zoo-like during the story time when kids suddenly decided to stop listening, some were walking around, which is unusual because they are all quite quiet during story-telling. Then Andrew, the youngest, he always gets overshadowed by the older and louder ones, he just gave up and laid on the mat fully outstretched and I was like “what are you doing LOL”. Esther is quite sticky, I had to carry her a few times today because she wasn’t crying but she just doesn’t like to be with the other kids on her own. And Ethan and Calvin, they fight for the same things whenever they are together- will remember to separate them in the future. It’s like it doesn’t matter what toy Calvin has, Ethan wants it. Until Calvin gives up and walks away. Then depending on his mood, Ethan might follow Calvin.

Sermon was by Pastor C. Which reminded me of how I have to be careful to not make stupid choices. It’s really easy to go from friends to friends with benefits. Or maybe I am just really open to experiences, I really like to try new things. And cute guys are exciting, it can be quite fun. Like a spark of light during the rather boring day where work is impactful but not exciting all the time. Pastor C. reminded us that if we don’t call on Christ (not his surname, it means the ‘Messiah’) when we are facing temptation or while sinning, we are likely to be ‘finished’- did not clarify what finished meant, because our sins were taken away by Christ when he died for us, and also when we continually repent. I was seriously considering sinning in a rather obvious way and then repenting, and be like a life-stage Christian where I am sometimes a Christian and sometimes not, and continually tick-tocking between the two. The response is that, if that is so, salvation isn’t ensured because your repentance at the end of your life might not be genuine. And what kind of heart are you carrying to church on Sundays then. But I’m also really tired and I would like constant company.

Bible study was back to basics, we are covering Mark for the next 13 weeks. Likely to miss a few because of overseas trips but we learned basic tenets of faith today. Who is Christ, why did he come, and what are we supposed to do in response to him. It is not just to turn away from sin, but also to do good works, and learn the experience of faith- how to trust God and let God lead.

Prayer requests:

Please, that at least let one of the problems in my life become less burdensome- health, work, finances (due to health) or relationships (or the lack of feelings). I don’t think I can last the whole month if my issues don’t pick themselves up.

That people in the world will not be so lonely or troubled. That even if they don’t find meaning or God, at least let their troubles be alleviated temporarily. Suffering is useful for long-term growth, but too much of it over the years can force a person to do odd things that a rational person wouldn’t normally do.

And pray that I will learn to pray more, and worry less. Be less anxious about work, about how people see me at work, about whether or not I am liked, be less anxious about the impact I’m creating and trust that a combination of prayer and sufficient sleep will work. Prayer is not just about communicating with God, for me it is trusting God.

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

-Hebrews 6, ESV

Love is patient, love is kind. 

(Disclaimer: All my posts have been rambles, this one is no exception. It is midnight now, and I have been not been sleeping too well. Hopefully I will be able to finish this within half an hour. Before waking up for work in seven hours.)

I was trying to fall asleep but the key word being ‘trying’ to. I was just lying there, thinking about the books I read today. The nth time of deathly hallows, Joseph Heller’s ‘god knows’ that has been sitting in my storeroom since I was 15, and a Chinese book published by a weibo author. I was thinking about the lunches I had this week. On Monday, I met with a fellow associate who joined six months earlier, to eat the nasi lemak burger. It is really good by the way, the chicken patty is delicious and I love the sauce. On Tuesday, I met with a senior from my unit, we had subway. I could relate to how she can’t sleep during the week but crashes on the weekends, and how she works on government projects and has to follow all sorts of compliance rules. Today, I went out with my new friends from a different department, we all joined three weeks ago so everyone was still getting to know each other and asking simple questions to start the conversation ball rolling. Beef pepper rice bowl was good! Tomorrow, I have lunch with people I sat with on the very first day of work, then pork ribs with tonkatsu and on Friday I have anopheles and DG! Shaping up to be a good week.

I love meeting ENFPs and ENFJs because I always get along very well with both groups, but not everyone fall into those categories. But sometimes, I really just can’t talk to a stranger. You know in the initial conversation, by the sort of questions a person asks and how fast he talks or his body language, it is usually possible to get a sense of what kind of personality he has, what his priorities in life are. Occasionally I will wonder about why is his opinion so confined and unaccepting, why does he not see that he has an unpleasant personality, and can he stop whatsapp-ing me because I have to keep archiving his chat. Or when the person says A and I am eating my sandwich and I say B and the topic moves on to C as if none of us mentioned A or B. Or when I do something unintentionally to him or he does something unintentionally to me, that little bit of annoyance and whatever happened to love is patient, love is kind? Is there any value or joy in those unremembered moments, when the relationship isn’t progressing fantastically?

I want to talk about the people whom we meet for the first time, or the friends whom we have been around for a long time, and conversation for some reason, on that day or that morning, does not flow well, idiosyncrasies are really glaring and everyone is just not blending in together. It rarely happens in groups but sometimes I just meet one or two people that I cannot click with. And I realised in that past three weeks that people are no longer one of my KPIs. If I go out to lunch with them, it is because I want to. It is because I genuinely enjoy being around people for lunch, it is not because I have to report to my boss about their job satisfaction levels. One of the key reasons why I didn’t want to do internal HR is because it would mean that I would be separated from all my colleagues, because I am privy to policies that can change the nature of their work. 

It is the ability to love someone else that I’m honing. A capability. Of loving a stranger, or a friend who has changed from his or her original personality. I am not perfect, sometimes I say weird things and I interact in weird ways, and sometimes I overthink things. The feeling that every human being is worthy of respect and should be treated with love and kindness was foreign to me. I only realised it this month when I started intentionally interacting with people, trying to get to know them, and to see them as they see themselves, and more. I finally understand a little bit of what it means to love the unloveable, the people whom we would not naturally gravitate to, and not just see them as an interesting specimen that I can analyse and then write about.

Learning to love might take a lifetime, I am just scratching the surface with many of my colleagues, I see their flaws and their hobbies and what they enjoy talking about, I see their smiles and sometimes their insecurities when they talk about their job search. I can let go of things much more easily now, in the past I used to not remember grudges because I couldn’t be bothered to, now I see  that such things are unimportant. Truly unimportant. There are many parts of love that I have no idea how to describe. I still don’t know how to commit to someone else. But perhaps I have it in me to love others.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8  (NIV)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

My work is proceeding smoothly, I understand a lot more of what we deliver to clients now. My relationships are proceeding smoothly, I say hi to almost everyone, although there are definitely pockets of time when I don’t know what to do and feel snubbed by people, or snub people accidentally. It’s all in my head, literally. I can see that others are struggling too. And I thank God for my hr research experience, which is really useful when reading a tonne of materials online. And for my current company allowing me to practice the growth mindset, trying out so many new things this year. Especially for my food allergies and rashes having recovered just before I started work. This week is a week of just one symptom, a highly upset stomach. Not a single hive has appeared. But the stomach was highly upset.

Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.

-Soren Kierkegaard

Book of Hebrews and prayer requests

A long time ago, I wanted to do a ‘Why I decided to return to church’ post but I decided that that was only intellectual knowledge and experientially, I was not a Christian yet. Even now, I don’t think I am ready to make that post. It wasn’t until this evening when my DG was studying the book of Hebrews, that R made a point that really resonated with me. The point is this: we can use all the philosophical arguments and scientific arguments to say that there is no God, and also that there is a God, and use external verification (not from the Bible) to prove that the Bible is indeed the word of God. But all of this reasoning will not bring a man to faith. It will not increase his willingness to follow Christ, for since the beginning of the Old Testament there have been humans who hardened their hearts and refused to listen, and it will be so until the end of time.

Intellectual reasoning and the dissecting of arguments about why the Bible is true does not make a complete case for why God is important in our lives. Faith is only something that can be experienced through a combination of reading the Bible, fellowshipping with other believers, being tested in our daily lives, serving in church, and allowing our minds to be reshaped by the new words in our lives. Faith in the word of God is something that takes time to cultivate, otherwise it is just untested emotions based on unsound beliefs, because no one can comprehend the whole Bible (old, new, connections between the two etc) in a single day. Or week. Basic tenets yes, but the deeper ones like how the old prophecies were fulfilled, the meaning of individual words, how God is changing lives daily (experienced through testimonies in church), that takes at least months. Which is why I find it very difficult to explain to people who ask ‘why can’t you date a non-christian’ or ‘why do you go to church’ or even ‘don’t you have better things to do in life’, because all of that stems from my experience in church. Which all stems from a belief that God exists, and more importantly, I am worshipping the right one, and my actions are pleasing to Him because I am reading the right books and it’s not just gobbledygook.

July marks the beginning of my 6th month in church, and the second journey I am taking with a church. The first was FCBC, with my friends from JC, but that was basically for fun and I don’t think I really changed much. This year, I committed myself to a four-year long journey with God, with the right people. The sermons in ARPC are known to be solid, plus my DG has a lot of scarily smart people with a strong faith. I told myself that I am not allowed to stray from that path. It was honestly a punitive mindset because I started out with a “you better get this right, or leave the church forever if you can’t figure out your faith within four years”, but now I think I finally understand what it means to live under a God who is love, grace, compassion, faithfulness, a God who is willing to sacrifice his son (Christ) to die for those who are sinners. It is a mind-blowing concept because there’s nothing like this in the secular world, or in other religions (although I still maintain that Buddhism is a very useful way to live a life by), only in Christianity is there a non-punitive idea of salvation not by good works, but by faith.

One thing that can only be found within a church community (or any small group of Christians) is the fellowship- the trust that we all need God and that we are all on the same long journey towards being better Christians. It is what I really appreciate in my church, because we do a lot of outreach missions, not just overseas but also within Singapore. To those that the world thinks less of- the sick, the poor, the imprisoned, those who live on the margins. Our efforts may not be perfect, but if there is one message that is sent, even if none of them turn to God, I hope it is that they know they are still loved and not forgotten.

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.

-Deuteronomy 31:6

As Christians, we don’t look at other people with the same lenses that the world uses. You are not worth more than others because you have more abilities or earn more money; you are not less sinful because you don’t visit brothels, we are honestly all the same. None of us should be made to feel small and worthless just because we are not as eye-catching or as bold as others. None of us should be made to feel that we shouldn’t be here, or that we will never be good enough. Because we were not made to live like this, our self-esteems fluctuating depending on what happens during the day. The biggest sin is to live as though there is no God in our lives, to be self-reliant, self-criticising, self-approving, to hold all our anxieties within us and not commit our fears and worries and troubles up to him.

The book of Hebrews is connected to Thessalonians (during camp) in that it reminds us to admonish those who have strayed, and to encourage those who are faint-hearted. And to help the weak.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

-Hebrews 12:3-6 (read as: Hebrews chapter 12, verses 3 to 6)

During DG we will have a small prayer session after the bible study. During the prayer session we will each share about our troubles, group size can vary from 3 to 8 depending on who is on call, and I thought I would just list them here so I will remember what I am supposed to remember- it gets a bit fuzzy after a while.

Dear Lord I would like to pray for these people:

A, that her mother-in-law will be supported by her family members and live out the remaining few years of her life with dignity and peace, even as she suffers from dementia, and that all of A’s family members will be able to get through this period of their lives with faith and love and patience for one another.

Y, that as she starts her new job on Monday that she will be courageous as the most senior doctor on call, and not be intimidated by her consultant (grr, stop being unfair towards subordinates!), that no matter what happens she will remember to look towards you and your words, and that even in her most fearful and anxious and lack-of-sleep periods, she will have at least a tiny silver of peace in her heart.

A, that as she is still finding her way around as a fresh lawyer, that she will be able to find a company that really suits her, even as she overcomes this current obstacle of not knowing what to do next, and that she will always have the support that she needs to get past her anxieties in this period.

And in general-

Of those in the DG and in the church and in the world, people who are living by your word, and especially those who are not, that they will have the peace and comfort that they need when they are facing new beginnings. Beginnings are honestly scary- I am really scared of next week- please show those who are lost, a path, so that they will not live in negativity or be stuck in the doldrums. And those with a path, please send them the support they need to be encouraged, so that they will not stray from that path.

Of good health, especially to the underprivileged and the young, both mental and physical good health.

Of courage, the ability to meet our weaknesses and fears in the darkness when it is just us and them. To confront truths about our lives and how we are fearful to move on, or unwilling to, because we don’t know what lies ahead.

Of love, that we can love one another even in our angriest moments. I constantly struggle between not helping my mother and helping her, but then knowing that I am only helping her hold on to power and more gossip in her church commitments. Case in point: helping her do the roster this afternoon, oh boy I was ANGRY. I know that she volunteers for things she cannot do because she thinks we can do them, and excel spreadsheets are really not her forte. It has been that way for the past few years, and she still can’t kick her power/gossip habits. I really wish she would fulfil the promises that she made in January about resigning from all those committees by April but nope, gossip mode still on.

Of finances, that no one has to degrade themselves or lose their integrity just to survive and to feed their families. Especially those who are living on the margins and about to make that decision to cross that borderline, to have an alternative source of income, which reduces their integrity as a whole human being and how they see themselves as humans.

Of sufferings bravely suffered, let us bend but not break under pressure.

Of strong relationships– to build them up, to maintain them when life gets tough.

To mend the church;

The world;

And our hearts.

And humility, patience, tolerance, and faith to those who follow your word.

On ‘Last Things First’, church camp’17

bus

(I wrote a thank you email to the pastor, because one of his two dogs just passed away, so I figured he would be a bit encouraged by that fact that his work matters. Actually no one really thanked the organizers. Apart from clapping and some general ‘thank yous’. Haha sometimes I’m very extra lol.)

Dear Pastor C,

I attended the church camp last week, and I just wanted to say that it has made a difference in how I trust in God and also in my comfort levels of fellowshipping with my DG mates. I started attending ARPC in February this year, and since then I have always felt rather alienated from the rest of the church goers- partially because I am very new, but also partially because my DG is quite big, and people in church are generally not super welcoming (but I know they are good people). Through camp, I got to know a lot more people- the BSLs, the cute kids in CC, the BASIC girls on my coach, my own DG mates etc. 

Before the camp I only had ‘head’ knowledge of God, and frankly my heart did not fully believe in God’s grace. For a few weeks I entertained the possibility of me being ‘unsuitable’ for ARPC (because of the socio-economic demographic at Adam) and giving up on Christianity for the 2nd time in my life. After all, none of my friends think church is necessary and books can’t do much if one does not feel the presence of God in her life. 

The camp made it possible for me to live for five days in an environment where people were unashamedly meditating and living out God’s word, praying wholeheartedly before meals and during talks and bible study groups. I felt the energy of everyone around me as they devoted their time and energy to run the events, and it reminded me of Galatians 5:13, “through love serve one another”. From the smooth running of the children’s church program to praying for each other during talks, I could see that everyone was putting God first, and no one was relying on the effort of man alone. (I also prayed for better food and less cockroaches in my room, but anyway I don’t need to be too comfortable.) Through these experiences, I finally understood what does it mean to trust in God with all my heart, and to not worry about how things will play out. 

I just wanted to thank the church committee for their efforts- everything was done well, the execution of coaches and rooms were flawless! If possible, please squeeze in separate workshop time slots next year, I really enjoyed the workshop. Special thanks to Fook Ngian and Thomas for running BS Group 13, Priscilla and Mitchell from BASIC who took care of everyone on Coach 13, Fang Yi, Edward and Zi Yang from Pine Grove DG, Sin Ee and Ying from the Taiwan workshop, and Jasmine, Ian, and Desmond from P1 Children’s Church. And everyone else who worked behind the scenes- thank you all for providing me with the opportunity to appreciate the grace of God 🙂 

tagkidschurchtwo

I learned that the tag is for the kids to identify you, but also for the parents to identify you as “the person to ask things like when will the talk be over/where is my kid/can I take her out earlier”.

kidschurch

 

I lack faith on most days. Although 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says “the one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it”, I mostly feel that I am fighting a kind of protracted battle on my own. To be better at things, to try out new experiences, to not drown in social awkwardness and to treat other humans like humans. I still don’t know how to do that, and I have dinner with my new BASIC/DG friends later. At least I tried out variations of breaststroke today- four kicks, one pull. I realised that I can hold my breath for much longer if there is no one in my immediate surrounding (i.e., the whole pool).

skyjuice
A “luxury hotel” which serves sky juice.

Queen Elizabeth I had a parting line- “all my possessions for a moment of time.” I don’t want to go to death like that. It is beautiful, because it means that she finally felt the intensity of being alive. But it is also terrifying because my religion teaches that there is a life after death, and those who do not repent etc will go into purgatory/hell/depends on the unique teachings of the church you go to. I would like to go to death without fear.

My choices are never perfect, but it reflects the kind of life I want to have. I like creating things, including terribly ugly dinosaurs, and what I create matter to me more than the profits I can make in my day job. And the profits go to clients anyway, what am I saying.

 

 

Learning about: befriending people who live on the margins of society.

TL;DR: How can I practice acceptance and friendship with people who live on the margins of society, and is it possible for me to go on mission trips to other countries given that I am a stunningly oblivious and unsociable sloth?

I first heard about mission trips when I joined the DG (discipleship group) in February and they were in the preparation stage to go to Davao, Phillipines. A lot of the work seemed to revolve around games and lessons to connect to the youth, and sharing of the gospel. I thought it was a hi-bye thing to people who are receptive to the Bible, and it was only until church camp (last week) that I realised how much effort was needed just to stay on in a primarily Muslim community for 7 years. The place that the missionaries are based in is a tightly-knit, strongly Muslim community. The youths who come to the camps/retreat face the difficulty of living with their family, and secretly believing in Christianity (forbidding the worship of other Gods etc) or professing their belief in Christ and then face expulsion or at least, being ostracized by their friends and family. Their parents will also be ostracized because the community will begrudge their parents for not bringing up children according to the Islamic faith.

When the short-term missionaries i.e. my DG friends were sharing about their journey, I honestly was a bit taken aback because I didn’t know that so much energy and effort were poured into an undertaking that on the surface, bears no fruit. And there is the whole issue of ‘how far will we go to convert people of other faiths’, and ‘how far will we go to get secular, non-believers to join the church’. We could stay inward-looking and only cater to those who are already within the church community, or we could go out and spend years befriending those who have not felt the hand of God in any way in their lives.

There was a sharing on the missionary experience to Taiwan too. The missionary, let’s call her S, gave up her prestigious career path as a scholar to pursue her work in Taiwan. Friends spoke about how missionaries can feel like aliens in their homeland (Singapore) after spending so long overseas, because by the time they come back, to be reintegrated into Singapore, friends and family members have moved on without them. Lives have changed, families have been built, and their missions work overseas might not have been fruitful.

https://omf.org/asia/taiwan/

The group of people that S administers to are called ‘tea shop ladies’, or prostitutes. She shared in sermon and also during church camp about how hard it was to befriend these people, because they were wary of evangelists who only wanted to preach the gospel. The mixing of social work and also gospel work took up a lot of her time- when you are a missionary, you not only preach the gospel, you do things like bring people to hospitals (because the lady was illiterate) and fill out social visas and do lots of paperwork. It was also difficult to see the ups and down of progress. The ladies had practical concerns such as how to get the next meal, or how to support themselves without prostitution. So there would be a baptism one week and the hope for a better future, trusting in God, and two weeks later they might return to working the streets because it is necessary to support a life, and also because it is habitual.

  • Literacy gap – Most working class people are not highly literate because they do not continue to read books after finishing their middle or high school education. Because reading Chinese requires you to know the individual characters that represent each word, one quickly loses the ability to recognize the characters once out of practice. Churches in Taiwan are book-heavy. When you walk in, you typically receive a bible, hymn book and the church bulletin… and spend the morning fumbling through a confusing combination of the three books.

Audrey Lin, OMF appointee

S mentioned that as a missionary you have to go to a completely foreign place and start from the bottom, integrating yourself into local life, removing all feelings of you being a superior being. A lot of people in this world are in misery because of circumstances or self-imposed expectations of the self (I fall firmly into the latter category), and we are hurt. We want to find meaning. But such meaning cannot be found by just reading a pamphlet distributed on the streets, by however well-meaning Christians. Meaning and love has to come from an experiential level.  Only when one experiences the grace of god or the warmth of the church then does one accept that Christianity has any value. This is where it becomes difficult, because friendship and acceptance cannot be forced on either party. It has to come from the heart, over a long time. And even then, the fruits of friendship might turn sour due to unexpected events.

I admit that most of the time in church, it is difficult to experience grace from other people. Singaporeans and humans in general can be nit-picky, choosy, cold, selfish, and I myself also fall into those categories. I call myself a learning Christian, because while I enjoy learning, sometimes I do not enjoy being in church. There are a lot of rules to follow and it is not like Buddhism where they teach you to observe yourself first. In Christianity you look towards God, you have to learn the basic teachings of why Christ died for us and why the biggest sin you can commit is to live without a God in your life. Even accepting that as my biggest sin took me a few months. It was when I read about grace and parables of how forgiveness is because of who God is, and not who we are, did I finally accept that while my life might not be enough for a perfect God, it is possible that he still loves me.

Going to my current church is difficult, I sometimes feel like there is a huge (cold and windy and dark and treacherous) gulf between me and my current DG mates, because of our different socio-economic backgrounds. I fall firmly into the ‘margin’ category, because I might work for the next 60 years of my life and still be unable to afford even one of the landed properties that my friends own. They are also not the friendliest of people because they have been together for a long time, but thankfully I have heard many people say that while they can be cold, it is a form of tough love, and as long as you stay on, people will grow on you and you will grow on others like a tough barnacle. But I still get anxious and a bit unhappy whenever I have to turn up for DG. Because while I am accepted by God, I am not sure if I am accepted by men.

In the movie The Last Emperor, the young child anointed as the last emperor of China lives a magical life of luxury with a thousand eunuch servants at his command. “What happens when you do wrong?” his brother asks. “When I do wrong, someone else is punished,” the boy emperor replies. To demonstrate, he breaks a jar, and one of the servants is beaten.

In Christian theology, Jesus reversed that ancient pattern: when the servants erred, the King was punished. Grace is free only because the giver himself has borne the cost.

-Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?

Returning to the point of mission trips. The role of a missionary is immensely difficult, and if we cannot accept the marginalized amongst us now- BASK (Brothers’ And Sisters’ Keepers) and the Indonesian maids etc- it is difficult to take the leap towards joining mission trips overseas. BASK is part of the mercy ministries, where they administer to ‘the sick, the dying, and the dead’. The team goes on prison visits every week and the hardest thing for ex-convicts is not just to find a job. A job is concrete, many of the business people in church can find jobs for newcomers. Acceptance, love, and kindness is not concrete, it is harder to cultivate.

Pastor J was sharing that he went on a night cycle with someone who just came out of prison, and after the ride, he thought that he had missed the chance to share the gospel because the friend was really fit and cycled so far ahead of him. But when the ride ended, the friend said that that was truly one of the best times of his life. Pastor J was able to touch a person’s heart by just being present. By just being with a person without an ulterior motive or second thoughts about how he can be somewhere else, doing other more productive things. The question remains- how can we, wholeheartedly, lay down our differences and practice being friends with people who live on them margins?

My friendship with him has strongly challenged my notion of how grace should affect my attitude toward ‘different’ people, even when those differences are serious and perhaps unresolvable.

-Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?

As for the maids in the community- a lady in the room mentioned that she once brought her Indonesian maid to the same service as her. The helper usually goes for Rhoda fellowship, and she told her employer “I shouldn’t be in the same service as you, you are my mam.” The lady shared that there should be no difference between the Indonesian colleagues she works with on a daily basis, and her Indonesian helper. And yet there is this divide between human beings because of the job they do, so much that it becomes subconscious and everyone just subsumes themselves into little pigeon-holed categories. Categories are useful because they contains stereotypes that helps us to minister to other people. Such as ‘business managers in China are very focused on relationships’, ‘the Japanese are not brutally straightforward’ etc. But categories should not be used to demean other people.

The last sharing during the workshop on the marginalized people around us. It is a story of the ups and downs of conversion to Christianity, and how sometimes, being a Christian can seem like an additional burden, on top of all the financial and physical burdens that a person already has. There was a lady, named Y, who shared about how she got to know a toilet cleaner in her office. In Singapore the line between graduates and support staff seems more clear, I remember back in my temporary job with the bank, the two teams ate separately, even though they worked side by side. Y said that she did worry about how her boss and colleagues would perceive her, “hanging around talking to a toilet cleaner”. The cleaner in question, named T, worked on the weekends as a prostitute to pay for the medical bills of her son back in China. The son had developmental issues, the husband was separated from T, and all her family members and friends were no longer willing to lend her money.

Y and a bunch of Christians from her office got together and pooled their resources (including a spare HDB flat) to help that family. Progress was good for three months, with the son making progress and the husband being willing to reconcile with T, until the family had to return to China. With the source of support starting to dwindle as it got difficult to help T remotely, things changed and at the end of a year, the husband obtained a divorce, stopped being a Christian, and the sister-in-law of T has been trying to turf her and her mother out of the house. Funds also dwindled because the salary of T decreased when she went back to China with her family. Y said that it was a time when they wondered, “why have our prayers grown cold?” What happened to the initial spurt of belief and progress?

Faith is not a straight path. It really is a mountain range. The climb upwards is long and tiring, and the dips downwards bring you closer and closer to the final destination, but you might never see the peaks if you lose faith in the middle. It is difficult to climb the mountain range on your own if you have no support, especially with an ailing son and marital problems and a lack of financial stability. Even Sunday school teachers (the mother of my camp group mate) can turn away from church completely, and renounce God. Whatever happened to their faith? Is it the gulf between reality and expectations?  If we are unable to maintain our faith in comfortable surroundings, how do we find it in us to love those who are vulnerable and much worse off than us? Love is action-oriented, it is not just words. How can one sustain love over a long period of time? These are some of the many questions I hope to find the answers to when I am older.

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.

-Mother Teresa

I really like listening to testimonies of faith and grace, because sometimes, preaching the absolute truth does nothing for me. It is like a chemistry equation for Prozac, so what if the equation is true and might one day save my life? I am used to feeling as I do and doing as I do. Why should I acknowledge your truth, something which gets most religious people riled up, if it doesn’t affect my current life?

But testimonies are different- it goes directly to the heart of a person. What are our struggles, and how can our struggles inform the way we live and work as Christians. Pain makes us more relatable as human beings, and testimonies are often about loss and emotional struggles. Why does he live as he does, how can we befriend him and shape his life.

To end off with a quote by S. ‘You might not have a family, but you will always have a church community’. It takes time to build up that church community, with generous portions of faith, hope and love. Above all, love. 😊

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

-1 Corinthians 13:13

 

Because God is ‘Love’.

One of the reasons why I am positioning myself as a ‘learning Christian’ is that while I do not(yet) completely believe, I am still keen to know more. About all beliefs, actually. My new-found Buddhist friend who lives in Medan, she told me that a few of her Christian friends uses Buddhism teachings to help them in their daily life, and they don’t see a conflict in it. They are not the only ones, if you read this:

https://www.ncronline.org/news/double-belonging-buddhism-and-christian-faith

(I also managed to get my hands on The Heart is Noble by the Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje.)

The Book of Daniel came to an end today. A lot of the sermons seemed to revolve around judgement and how people turned away from God and was punished, and how Daniel was given insight into the dreams and prophecies of this time. Pastor C gave quite a touching sermon today, he included anecdotes of his own sister (fighting cancer) and of the prison ministry within the church. Like a magpie who collects shiny things, I collected a sentence that he said about how his sister turned her back on him to wave goodbye, so that neither of them would break down at the train station. “If there’s no resurrection from the dead, then that’s all you have- goodbye.”

A main belief of Christians is that there is a heaven, where we will be reunited with God and it will be joy and peace like we have never known before. I would like the people who could not find peace and luxury in their current earthly lives, to find it in the life beyond death. Those who suffered their whole lives, the poor and sick, the oppressed, those who lived without God and in a self-imposed mental cage. I would like all beings to find happiness and justice, with a fair judgement of all.

The main question that I had in my head through the first half of the sermon was ‘living without consequence’. I am someone who is very curious, to the point of not caring about gender or religion. I just want to know what it feels like to be someone else. But my curiousity sometimes leads me down unwanted paths, like pornography (bestiality, bondage, threesomes, Japanese etc) and while I have been able to view all of what I discovered with a sort of neutral eye, like I will think to myself “why are they doing it this way”, “what camera are they using”, “what props, who are the actors”, I know that I am supposed to avoid all forms of pornography altogether. But I want to know what others are so obsessed with.

To me, as long as I maintain a casual attitude towards finding out what A or B is about, it is not a sin. Because there isn’t an element of lust to it- I don’t want to try any of that out. But Pastor C mentioned that it gets harder to form connections to real-life human beings as time goes on, although I think I am quite far from that stage, the question still remains- is what I do, even for curiousity’s sake, worth the consequences? The unlived consequences that don’t manifest now, but “if only our sins were written on our skin”. I might think that I am not physically depraved but it is more of a mindset that I have. I am still reading A.M. Homes- a lot of her books have an alternative sexuality/ liberal sexuality undercurrent to them- perhaps it means that I am not serious about learning the ways of Christianity after all. Words do affect me a lot more than moving pictures or audio recordings.

Another part of his sermon was about questions. It is the ‘epistemic depression’ that I sometimes go through, that “just because I cannot understand everything, means that I understand nothing”. I always get discouraged because I am a perfectionist and I would like nicely-rounded answers to all of my questions. Beautifully worded essays on the beauty of mankind and the reasons for God’s actions etc. I am so impatient- eager to not only know what I have to do, but tell other people what they have to do, because telling others means that I am 100% confident of my answers. Which I am not. And I don’t think I ever will be. Pastor C focused on ‘epistemic humility’, which is “God knows all things, I know some things”, and to trust that taking the next few steps will be enough for Him.

Between Pastor C and Pastor J, they have conducted the final blessings for hundreds of people. Old, young, sick, absolutely healthy. People pass away. Funerals take place. The mourning period starts. I have only been to two funerals in my whole life, and both were of distant relatives in Malaysia. I can barely remember the 2nd one, I know I burned a hole in the shirt of the person kneeling in front of me because my joss stick (Buddhist/Taoist influences in the family back then) touched her shirt and it was made from a flimsy white cotton material. That is the only thing I remember. Oh and the tidbits at every table. As a primary school kid, I thought seaweed chicken was a delicacy and I remember dreaming about how when I finally got to conduct my own funerals (LOL), I would have seaweed chicken at every table. And the scattering of rice afterwards, on the floor.

I don’t remember where I read this story, but it was about an author conversing with a woman, the woman said that she felt really blessed to have not attended any funerals even though she was middle-aged already. And then the author wrote, that the woman stopped and seemed to realise that loss was in the near future for her. None of us can escape death. None of us can escape the loss of a loved one, or a faraway friend. I will grow older and accept the fact that everyone dies, and remember that I typed this paragraph as a 23-year-old with no experience of funerals. And try to maintain my faith that while I might never be able to answer the question of ‘what happens?’ when I am still alive, I can keep an open space in my heart. A space for unanswered questions.

As Pastor C puts it, faith is not simply seeking answers, but also seeking acceptance. I don’t want to just think of human existence as a short hyphen between two dates, and that if I miss the final goodbye of a loved one, then I will never see that person ever again. That a consciousness can just disappear and all the beauty and joy that was the person, is also gone. Perhaps I am too hopeful, but I want to believe that the people who lived small and cramped lives on earth, persecuted and unacknowledged, can find their happiness in heaven.

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

-1 John 4:8, ESV

Suffering forced me to recognize the futility of what I had built in my teenage years. Suffering also made me rethink the definitions of success and happiness, and what I am paying for with my life. With my time and my efforts. But I am (more) at peace now, and not just overwhelmed by all the different teachings of Christianity. I believe that with each year, I am one (tiny) step closer to understanding why I am here on earth. For God is love, and with love, patience, and with patience, acceptance, and then understanding.

For God is love.