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Charlene Ong

Beit Av – My Father’s House

Not too long ago, Pastor Daniel Wee spoke about Beit Av – My Father’s House.  In Matthew 21:13, Jesus quotes scripture that says, “My house will be called a house of prayer”. This house, or Beit Av, refers to the church. Pastor Daniel exhorted us to see the church as Beit Av – a community of love, kindness, and mercy; a family marked by loyalty.

In the world today, young people use social media to upkeep a certain public image. Social media has become a go-to platform to make ourselves feel better about ourselves. Social media posts revolve around showing off the close relationships that we have and broadcasting the “happening” lives that we live. At the same time, we put down the “frenemies” – friends who have turned into enemies – or the “haters” – people who just don’t like our faces, are jealous of us, or are hostile toward us. In frenemy or hater-bashing posts, we refer to the “true friends” whom we have, and declare that we don’t need these frenemies or haters in our lives.

This pattern of how the world rejects the people who reject us, and hates those who hate us stands in sharp contrast to the way in which disciples of Christ are called to conduct our relationships. Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:44-45).” Love, as 1 Corinthians 13 instructs us, “is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Unfortunately, the way Christians relate to the church today reveals a lack of understanding of Beit Av. Many hop from church to church, attend services without intentionally connecting and building relationships with others. Many of us are guilty of being selective about whom we choose to befriend, preferring people who are like us in manner, perspectives, and social economic status. When we have conflicts, how often do we see ourselves respond lovingly to the other party? How often have we refused to reconcile out of pride or show mercy? In many ways we, the church, have reproduced the pattern of the world.

Personally, God has used relationships in the church to disciple me. When I was 17, a pastor chose to invest in my life in a way that I had never known before. He fathered me, was patient with me in my immaturity and lack of understanding, and gave me opportunities to serve even when I had my reservations. He was the person God used to speak His forgiveness and restoration over me. Till today, this pastor continues to walk with me through seasons of darkness and failure. It is a safe and nurturing relationship that spurs me on to live practically as a disciple of Jesus.

Conversely, I have also experienced communities and relationships in the church that have disappointed and hurt me. I am still learning that it is important to reconcile instead of just move on in life. I am learning to persevere in love, even when I don’t get the response I am hoping for. In short, I am learning what it means to live in Beit Av – in the community that is my Father’s house – one in which I must be active in showing loyalty to others.

Should any of us be hurt by community, remember that Jesus Christ himself was mocked and crucified by the people He came to save. Remember that Christ showed us the full extent of His love, by washing the feet of disciples who were soon to abandon and disown Him (John 13). Remember that we are called to love as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:24). Embark on a healing journey with God, and allow Him to minister to your hurts and disappointments. Seek advice from trusted people on how to re-establish communications and relationships that have broken down. Reconcile with those who have hurt you, or those who you have hurt, and find closure.

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another” (John 13:35).

Let the desire of the church be to make this community a Beit Av; a community that brings glory to God because we are of Christ and not of the world.

“We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see…” (C. S. Lewis). Writing is Charlene’s endeavour to enter into the beauty she sees, to connect dots that may help us see more clearly the face of God.

Love & Marriage

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her…”

– Ephesians 5:25 –

I marched into marriage on 31 October 2015, armed with the belief that my husband should love me just as Christ did.

Just as Christ did… What a high calling!

The love of Christ for me is immense – He forgave me of all my sin and hypocrisy, and restored me to a place where I was once again able to worship God freely, without the weight of sin standing as a wall between me and God. He walked with me through various heartaches and gave me assurance of His faithfulness. He was patient with my character flaws, and never once condemned me for them, but gently reminded me that I was not to be flippant about changing and becoming a better person. Christ is the epitome of perfect and loving faithfulness to me.

And my husband was not. Or so I thought.

I found myself constantly picking on everything that he did or didn’t do, and measuring it against what I thought the perfect, sensitive, husband and leader of the household should be like. I wondered why he couldn’t always be gentle and kind with his words and actions. I was embittered by his dedication to serving others at work and in church, seeing it as costing me his time and affection. I was fearful that I wouldn’t have enough of his love. That left me constantly grasping for more, and never satisfied.

Of course, this lack of peace in my heart took its toll on us as a newly wedded couple. But I thank the Lord that He saw us through that, and used that season to mature my perspectives.

I learnt that I needed to trust that my husband loved me, just that he didn’t always love me in exactly the way I wanted to be loved. I learnt to give him the benefit of the doubt that his intentions were good, instead of being prejudiced and suspicious of him.

I learnt that whatever ideals I had of marriage needed to negotiated between the two of us, not just insisted upon and imposed on the other. I needed to bear in mind that if I believed in, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her…”, then I should also believe in, “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22).

Finally, I learnt to not make my husband’s love an idol, but to be satisfied in God’s love so that I wouldn’t substitute my husband’s love for God’s.

This first year of marriage has not been the easiest, but it has been a place of great encounter with God.

If the flapping of a butterfly’s wings a few weeks earlier can alter the formation and trajectory of a hurricane, Charlene who finds joy in being a special needs teacher, hopes to flex the power of writing to make a difference in the lives of readers.

More than Special

Weird. Crazy. Sub-human.

I teach at a school for children with autism, and this is a choice selection of comments I typically hear about those with special needs.

I never expected to work with special needs individuals. In fact, because I believed my background to be vastly different from this vulnerable population, I had perceived myself as somewhat invulnerable by comparison.

At nine, I was the pint-sized ‘chilli padi who won the 800m race at sports day – the runner-up was a whole head and shoulders taller than me. That marked the start of an eight-year long winning streak for my pet-event at sports day in school. I was also the one who breezed through the requisite IQ tests to school in the Gifted Education Programme. To add to that, I was musically inclined, and these talents came to the fore when I rose up as a leader in church. With all the recognition I received from my talents, I was puffed up with pride and didn’t realize that I had looked down on those who were not as successful as I was.

Since starting work in June 2014, God has been molding me through my work. I needed to stop looking down on those I considered weak and instead, learn to respect and empower them, loving them with the love of God Himself.

I have been tested and found wanting in many ways. There are days when my temper is short and I become impatient with the students. There are times when I demand unreasonably high standards from them. In doing so, I have not served them well. When this happens, I recognize that my love is insufficient and I am brought to a place of utter dependency on Jesus because the love of God never fails. He is always gentle and long-suffering with the students. He always seeks first to understand them. He always empowers them to be the best that they can be.

Are we truly that different from those with special needs? Do we not have our own vulnerabilities that we expect those close to us to forgive us for? Are we not all disordered in one manner or another?

We may not possess abnormally enlarged brains like individuals with autism may have, but we might have disordered thought patterns – a protracted struggle with lust, anger or bitterness; or tinted lenses through which we view the world. Some of us are even tempted to think these thoughts: “people don’t value me”, “I don’t understand why everyone and everything is just out to get me”. Some of our struggles seem more normal or even socially acceptable and some may not even see that they have a problem. But nonetheless, we all fall short of the glory of God.

Do we dare believe that our full acceptance of those with special needs will take our church one step closer to her destiny? Do we dare believe that an army of chosen ones (including and especially those with special needs) can be empowered to change the world? Will we speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves? Will we understand what it means to value people – to build the kind of ministry that is true to the heart of Jesus?

“Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” – Proverbs 31:8

“We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see…” (C. S. Lewis). Writing is Charlene’s endeavour to enter into the beauty she sees, to connect dots that may help us see more clearly the face of God.

Youth Christmas Outreach 2014

COOS Youth celebrated Christmas in a different way. Or more accurately, we should say, we celebrated in many ways.

Recognizing that every person has been created with unique interests & talents, our ministry decided to create 3 different teams under our Christmas outreach ‘Being A Giver’. The Street Team, the Serve Team, and the Stage Team each contributed something distinct to the outreach, but were united by the common theme of giving.

Why ‘Being A Giver’?

Among Christians and non-Christians alike, Christmas is often known as “the season of giving” – but is there a certain kind of giving God desires? In line with our youth ministry vision, “Being the kind of people God wants us to be”, we spent some weeks pondering the question “What kind of giver does God want us to be?”. Through this ‘Being A Giver’ journey, we as a youth ministry hoped to grow more into being the kind of giver Jesus himself was.

In addition, we also wanted our friends outside of church to join us in this journey. Many of our non-Christian friends are already ‘givers’ in their own ways, and we welcomed them to come and give together with our church community. We believed that our non-Christian friends could catch a glimpse of Christ by actively serving alongside us and being part of what we do as the Church. So, we invited our friends to join us in door-to-door carolling, in performing for our Christmas concert, and in preparing welcome gifts & hospitality. The idea was simple: If you are serving, invite a non-Christian friend to do what you do. Quite a few friends agreed, and gave generously with us!

Read on to find out what each of the 3 teams did, and hear reflections from youths we interviewed:

Street Team

84 youths // 14, 18 & 19th Dec // 780 rental-flat households across Ghim Moh, Commonwealth, Stirling & Mei Ling

 Youth - Street1                                                 The Street Team practicing
their songs together before visiting the residents.

 

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) highlights a love that overcomes barriers and compels us to give extravagantly. We were challenged to love in like manner and be uncomfortable for God in reaching out, taking to the streets to bring the Church out of our 130 Margaret Drive walls and into the neighbouring communities.

We pioneered a work in Ghim Moh on 14 December, going door to door to give out calendars for the new year to the residents. The two objectives of this work were to increase awareness of our church in the nearby community, as well as to prepare them for a follow-up visit by the Community Outreach Ministry (COM) in February 2015. 

Following that on the 18th and 19th of December, the streets of Commonwealth, Stirling and Mei Ling rang with (hopefully) melodious voices, as the Street Team carolled their hearts out unto God

The repertoire of Christmas songs included Jingle Bells, Silent Night, Joy to the World and We Wish You a Merry Christmas, in English and Mandarin.

Youth - Street2A resident gamely participates in the songs by playing the tambourine.

Each group also prepared Christmas Bags to bless the households they were visiting. The Christmas Bags consisted of whatever the group wanted to give, and came from the group members’ own pockets. COM also contributed cakes for each household.

Alicia Chew, 17, was a group leader from the Street Team. She says, “I think personally, I’ve given my time (and energy) this outreach. (: I wanted to serve in an area this Christmas and was super interested in carolling! I was super busy (camps + trainings) during that period... But I’ve promised to set aside time to serve people this Christmas so despite having to rush from one place to another, I decided to go for the outreach! During one of the visitations to a lady's house, I asked if I could pray for her and she was very willing to let me. But she only spoke in Chinese and I suddenly panicked abit because I didn't know how to pray in Chinese. Then the lady reminded me, 'it's okay you can pray in English, after all your God can understand any language'. And it hit me how much sometimes when serving people, I bother more on the little details and get so worried about it than really serving from my heart.”

Youth-Street3
Alicia (middle) and her team with one of the residents.

Indeed, we learnt that what God really wants is a Giver who gives from the heart.

Joyce-Lynn Chua, 12, says, “I’ve given my own time as well as my love. Through this outreach, I think I’m a less self-centred person. I’ve learnt to give more to people and give with a cheerful heart.”

Similarly, Stephanie Lee, 18, says, “Being the Christmas season, I've spent quite a fair bit on presents which made it quite tight on my budget to part with a few extra dollars for the street Christmas Bag. But my dad reminded me that it really doesn't matter how much money I spend. What I have is an opportunity to bless someone, so why not just make the full use of this opportunity and give just as God himself gave. He gives lavishly and generously, so why shouldn't I?”

Youth - Street4
The Street Team after a night of carolling.

Serve Team

61 Servers // preparing + serving for the 20th Dec concert

The next team on board were the Servers. 61 of us - COOS youth as well as non-Christian friends - contributed behind the scenes, preparing gifts and food to welcome those who came for our concert on 20th December. 

The Serve team made souvenir bookmarks for concert-goers, prepared welcome packs for newcomers, sourced for refreshments, did the decorations, and ushered for the concert, among other things. A member of the Serve team committee, Jacqueline Lee, 19, shared about how the team put a lot of work into planning and re-planning for better food and gifts. "The team decided to strive for excellence when we give stuff to the newcomers; we really wanted to give them the best we could possibly think of. So if I learnt something, it would be 'to be an excellent giver'." 

Youth - Serve1
The Serve team committee – Jacqueline, David, Elvira and Natasha.

Working within a tight budget and timeline, we faced many challenges in our quest to give the best. For instance, we wanted to put a gospel booklet into each welcome pack, but the bookstore didn’t have enough copies of the one we selected, nor did we have enough budget for a more expensive option. It's here that we experienced God’s grace in miraculous provisions: Without much experience or money, we took a step of faith to write and print our own gospel booklets. God gave inspiration for the content in a short time, and a non-Christian friend generously helped do the layout and design of the booklet in the midst of her exams. And the biggest surprise? The printing company offered us a price far below market rate, and even gave us 50 extra copies for free, after they heard that we were doing this for a church Christmas event. They even went the extra mile to improve our booklet’s design before printing it! 

On concert day itself, the Servers arrived in church hours earlier to decorate the place and to prepare for our duties. For many of us, having to usher and befriend newcomers took courage. Server Melody Tay, 18, shared: “Personally, I think I have given up on my internal battle within me of ‘awkwardness’ versus ‘doing my duty to God’. Being part of Serve team brought me to a point whereby my role required me to remove such negative thoughts and to give all that I had in evangelizing, or maybe just saying a simple ‘HIIIIIIIIIIII!!!’.”

Youth - Serve2
Servers at the doors to usher in concert-goers!

Indeed, the Servers learnt that giving required sacrifice. While everyone was in the auditorium watching the concert, many Servers had to miss it because they had to stay outside preparing food for the intermission. Our comfort was in seeing God work even as we sacrificed. Said Geric Sim, 24, "Even though I did not watch the performance (sad face), I enjoyed myself tremendously by being able to serve beside my brother and sister, and knowing that God is indeed at work because this has never happened before in the history of my family (my mum and dad have also stepped up to serve in their church also). So this made it all the important to give Him praise!"

Above all, many Servers learnt to give humbly. Jacqueline shared that giving this way was new and challenging: "Usually I would do the more upfront stuff, like Street or Stage team. But this time I was doing Serve, which needed me to change my perspective about how I can give. Doing all these small small things, it felt like 'does it matter?' But in the end I see that it's the small things that God uses to bless the congregation."

Janelle Loh, 14, aptly sums up the heart of the team: "I have served God and learnt to give instead of wanting to be served."

Stage Team

60+ performers, overseers, and stage crew // 20th Dec "Being A Giver" Concert

Finally, a third group of youth were recruited for the Stage Team! All who were willing to contribute were welcome, even if we did not have any idea what we wanted to perform at first. Usually, some people determine what we can sing and how we should sing it, but this time we took ownership of what happened on stage and during the service, and gave what we chose to!

Youth - Stage1
The Stage Team, including those who worked behind the scenes!
 

On top of joining the Street Team, Stephanie also chose to give of her time in the long hours that it took to get her playing and singing right. She was part of The ‘A’-Level Band (TAB) that put together a medley to tell a story of their journey through the ‘A’ Levels. Beginning with “Worn” by Tenth Avenue North, TAB sang of how they were so tired of life in general - studying and going through the motions of school - and how they desperately needed God to pull them through that time. Crying out to God to be nothing but the people he calls them to be, they declared God’s power over themselves and surrendered the outcome of their hard work to God with “It is Well” by Bethel. Stephanie thanks God for “the ability to sing and to testify of His goodness through the songs that we sang” and “for his faithfulness to me through ‘A’ levels. He's been my source of strength and comfort. Though there are times when I feel so tired and dry, he reminds me that I can rest in his presence and that I have the strength to continue through his journey.”

Youth - Stage2
TAB. Stephanie is shown on the right playing the guitar and singing about God’s faithfulness to her through the ‘A’ Levels.

Perfomer Elisa Toh, 14, wanted to share what Christmas meant to her and the importance of love. The song she sang, “Grown Up Christmas List”, was a song that dreams “not for myself/ but for a world in need”. Elisa says, “This outreach has definitely sparked a passion to serve the people around me. It brings me joy, knowing that I can bring others joy just by playing a part. It also encourages me to spread the love of Christ to everyone in my midst. To give is definitely more satisfying than to receive.”

It was no mere show that was put on, for God also changed the hearts of the performers.

Brian Wong, 16, says, “This outreach changed me in the sense that it has made me a giver. Many people think that being a giver is just to give. But really, being a giver is putting your heart and soul into this particular production etc. Giving 110% and to really do it for God.”

Also, Lemuel Lee, 16, shares, “I would say that serving in stage has really opened up a new world for me in COOS. Before serving in the Stage team I was always reluctant to serve in church because I was afraid to. But after this year, I feel more comfortable to sign up for the next event that arises, mainly because of the leaders and participants who were really open and friendly :)”

The Christmas season may be over, but Being A Giver is not a one-time job. It is a way of being!

We celebrate three salvations and one rededication to Jesus Christ at the end of the concert! It is a joy to win souls for Jesus. More than that, it is a joy to be transformed more into the image of God, the ultimate Giver!

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” – Acts 20:35. Amen!

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