Over the next 24 hours, I will celebrate my 8th 21st birthday, by having lunch with none other than my best friend, Lionel, and dinner with my fiancée, Huiyi. I’m just two years from turning three decades old – that’s more than twice the age of the new youths initiated into youth ministry. I feel older but more alive than ever!
- By December, my salutation would have changed.
- By January, my ministry responsibilities would have increased.
- By February, I would have completed my undergraduate programme.
- By March, I would have accomplished another of my childhood dreams.
- By April, we would have completed the pre-wedding photo-shoot.
- By August, Huiyi and I would have changed our marital status.
- By September, I would have embarked on my postgraduate programme.
- By this time next year, I should be in New Zealand with my wife, enjoying my honeymoon.
That’s a lot of things to look forward to in the next 365 days. But before I arrive at next October, There are 28 reasons to be thankful, most of which are for people who close to my heart. I believe that people define lives, not possessions or pursuits.
1. Huiyi: My fiancée has become such a big part of my life, ministry, personality and growth. There’s no one who knows and understands me better than she does. She is the strength behind my passion and the stability within my authenticity; her grace towards me and her forgiveness of my tainted past gives me more reasons to believe in young people. Without a doubt, she is the most important person in my life.
2. Home: My family has made my house feel like home. My room is the best place to be at night. I will miss it once renovations begin to transform it from an overgrown teenager’s to a newlyweds’ room.
3. Maisie: I’ve enjoyed a relationship resurgence with my beloved younger sister, and watching her flourish in her career and achieving her dreams makes me beam with pride. I love her with all my heart.
4. Mummy: Honestly, watching my mother slow down is something I am learning to cope with. Her years of sacrifice is now taking its toll on her. It is my prayer that as my mother ages, my sister and I will adapt to her changes. Home, Maisie, Mummy – the next three thanksgivings.
5-8. Family-to-be: In the last year, my knowledge of Bryan, Uncle Kheng Leong, Aunty Rosalind and Xianyi has grown. Our conversations have moved beyond the superficial and I am thankful because I am never one who likes to scratch surfaces. I look forward to getting to understand them a little more intimately in the next year. I believe by faith that my entire family will coming to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
9-10. Shepherds: My family outside of my family is one whom I’ve the privilege of shepherding. Recently on youthministry.com, it sent out an article on “Sharing Your Life With Your Team” and I see it as God’s way of affirming how I’m doing ministry with them. Huiyi and I always remind each other that it is our absolute delight, honour and privilege to have them play the role of groomsmen and bridesmaid at our wedding. But beyond that, I look forward to doing life with two groups of them; the boys – Keith, Bradley, Kun Jie, Caleb, David, Shavinn; and the girls – Melody, Natalina, Yixian, Melissa, Andrea and Sheena.
11. Grace AG: Six days ago on 15 October, I arrived at my 2nd full year in full-time ministry with Grace AG. I still feel like it’s a dream job because I don’t feel like I’ve worked a single day in the last 730 days. I wake up everyday feeling unbelievably thankful for all the way my church believes in me. And it has been fantastic working with friends – Ps Cuixian, Ps Jadene and Suhui.
12. Ps Ronald Yow: The one most responsible for my career joy is none other than my irreplaceable boss, mentor and role model. He has been unbelievable in guiding me as a youth minister and profiling me as the youth pastor. Thank you…
13. R-AGE: My my, look at how the youth group has grown! It has been a joy pastoring the flock at Bukit Batok and I look forward to journeying with those at Tanglin Road in the coming days.
14-20. Buddies: It’s never good to walk alone. I am delighted to call Lionel, Kurk, Gideon, Johann, Kenneth, Joel and Cheryl my contemporaries whom I check on, and who keep me in check.
20. RMIT: I never expected myself to perform so well in school. It is indeed by the grace of God because I know that I’m not a brainiac. I have also enjoyed learning alongside responsible classmates, and from the occasional good lecturer.
21. Ps Edmund Chan: In the last 13 years, there has only been one man has spoken so deeply into my life into such a deep-seated issue that no one has ever ventured into… Being with him in Perth was already a treat, but the moment that I will never erase from my mind is the lunch we had together on the last day. I couldn’t stop my tears from running down my face.
22-23. Mentors: I have the privilege of being mentored by greatly esteemed and highly respected men of God. And there are three I’d like to thank God for. Peter Chao and Ps Benny Ho who has looked out for me, given me their time and attention, dispensed invaluable advice, pointed me in the right direction, and most importantly, believed in me. I cheekily (but audaciously) asked the Lord for mentors to guide me in leadership, preaching and growing deep, and He sent me the best in the business…
24. Mentorees: I am a product of mentoring and it has been instinctive for me to mentor others. Over the year, I’ve had the wonderful privilege and opportunity to journey with young people bursting with capacity and capabilities. I still believe that the greatest gift you could ever give to a young person, is to believe in him. It’s been an absolute joy!
25. Friends overseas: This year, I’ve spent Autumn and Spring with Chin Seng and Ervina in Perth and had the privilege of being Daniel Heng’s best man, who flew back from New Zealand to hold his wedding. (I would have loved to catch up with Liang Zhi in my last trip…)
26. Going overseas: It’s amazing how the Lord rewards my desire to travel with the most number of trips I’ve ever gone on in my life in one calendar year. I am always thankful to get out of Singapore – be it for mission trips, vacations or even just a short trip up North across the Causeway for a weekend getaway! May the frequency increase with age!
27. A deeper hunger: I find myself desiring God with increasing intensity… More than just the things of God (books, sermons, conferences, ministry) but God Himself. For He alone satisfies. If Jesus is all, then Jesus is enough.
28. A consistent devotion: Of course I’ve missed some days and in some periods, even a couple of weeks. (Even pastors struggle!) But if I were to put my finger on why my hunger for and knowledge of God has increased, it is simply down to spending time with Him regularly… And just enjoying His presence… And allowing His living Word to breathe life into me.
I’ve probably missed out a couple of items or people but well, these are the first 28 thoughts that come to my mind… So here goes, happy birthday to me! I pray that I’ll easily have 29 items to thank God for 365 days later! (:
Suffice to say, planning an event of this magnitude would inevitably bring about tension felt and tempers flared. And I’m no angel. I have a foul temper (that only the closest friends experience) and unfortunately, Cheryl faced the brunt of it. I regret my outburst until this day. But on hindsight, the conflict we had served to strengthen our friendship so much more.
She was that one person I knew I could count on and she played a dual role in this proposal. Firstly, she was my quality-controller; I ran almost all my plans through her – from the many overarching ideas down to the colour of the tidbit jar. I didn’t need her to make decisions for me, but the best way for me to think and decide was to have someone to talk me through my thoughts as I verbalised them. She played this pivotal role and she was superb in every role that I needed her to play.
But she dropped a huge bombshell on me. She could neither make it for the proposal nor the engagement party because it was Founder’s Day for her school and as a teacher (and someone in the organising committee), there was no way she could have, as much as she desired to, miss an annual event for an event of a lifetime. Ironic, but true. And we were both gutted by it.
However, I didn’t express my disappointment properly and ended up flaring up at her for not being able to turn up. My reaction was uncharacteristically petty, completely unreasonable, unnecessarily dramatised and certainly regrettable. I was shocked at some of the expressions I used to describe my disappointment at her impending absence.
I didn’t throw abusive language at her of course, but the content of my message was definitely abrasive and there was no reason for me to behave in that manner. It was unbecoming from a youth pastor and her ministry leader, of all people. And I was ashamed of how I had conducted myself.
And all this was in light of her creating the entire guestbook for me… It was an amazing effort, really, and I appreciate it so much more because I’m terrible with arts and crafts. She had skipped her a Bible Study Fellowship session to pick out the best set for me, spent many hours putting it together, as well as put up with my idiosyncrasies and demands.
After I came to my senses, I apologised to her profusely. But the damage was already done and there was a lot I had to do to repair the cracks in the friendship I introduced. I asked her for her grace and forgiveness, and to give me an opportunity to win her trust again. Well, I shall leave out details of our conflict… And of course, I wouldn’t have mentioned this unless we had already reconciled… Today, our friendship today is stronger than ever.
I’ve decided to include this episode in my proposal story because I wanted to state that planning for this engagement wasn’t just physically demanding, but it also took a toll on me emotionally. I stepped on some toes along the way, and I am sure that I may step on a few more as I plan for the wedding next August. But I have learnt my lesson – people are more important than events, even if that event is of extreme significance. I shall carry that into the next year.
The other reason I’ve included this anecdote was to highlight the strength of Christian fellowship. And Cheryl epitomised it for me. In fact, everyone who was involved in my proposal in big and small ways, are examples of how precious Christian fellowship is. It tested the solidity of my friendship and while I failed the test, I passed the exam by the grace of God.
Next chapter: the time to face the music.
Preparing for this elaborate proposal required a number of props, and since it was my proposal, I wanted to accomplish most of it by myself as much as possible. I sought help of course, on matters that I didn’t consider myself familiar with.
I approached Hilary to ask him to recommend a professional printer. I liaised with a printing company and paid for five A2 and three A3 full colour prints on PP sticker with a five millimetre kappaline mounting. And I made my way to the obscure Kallang Bahru on Wednesday to pick up the prints, since delivery wasn’t worth it for such a small quantity. I took leave on Thursday to complete the remaining errands. I had no idea printing these things were so costly…
I started my day at IMM where I spent an unimaginably long time in Daiso and Giant, picking out tiny plastic bags for goodie bags (so that everyone who turned up at the party took home something), a magic chalkboard as a prop for photo-taking, seven glass cookie jars to store sweets, five luminous paint markers, and a whole stack of tidbits.
It was there and then that I discovered that I have decidophobia (no kidding!). I became unexpectedly stressed at having to choose from the huge variety that was available to me. I even made distress calls to Cheryl, Melody, Yixian and Keith because I started to panic so much. Cheryl and Keith were amused by it but realised shortly that I was seriously distressed, so they patiently walked me through every decision that I had to make at those supermarkets. It was the most stressful errand, ever!
Besides helping me to record the song, Johann was also generous enough to restore my guitar to showroom condition, including drying, cleaning and dressing it with a new set of strings. Having my guitar restored was also helpful for my worship set at J333 (the Wednesday prayer meeting) anyway.
But as you would know by now, it seems like I never get to do things the easy way… The E-string snapped during soundcheck and I was frustrated, not because I had to use an inferior guitar, but because I had to buy a new string! So I swung by the Clementi Yamaha and to my horror they ran out of E-strings. But fret not (no pun intended!) for I simply purchased a new set of strings.
After Clementi, I made my way to Holland Village to make orders and pay for eight tubs of ice-cream at The Daily Scoop and arranged with Wei Kurk to help me pick it up on Friday, before the engagement party. I also swung by Party City to order enough helium-filled balloons to fill the function room. It was my first time ordering balloons and I got shocked at how expensive these items were considering they only had an eight-hour lifespan! I paid for it nonetheless and arranged with Xianyi to receive the balloons at the function room on Friday evening.
My last stop was back to the office at Tanglin Road, where I dumped the loot and packed them into plastic bags, with labels on each of them for my crew to pick up; Gideon picked up the guitar, guitar stand, projector and placards, while Keith picked up the logistics needed for the engagement party.
Oh, did I mention that it was pouring this entire time and that I didn’t have an umbrella? Okay, I just did. And I accomplished all these errands without a car. Yes, I had to make do with public transport the entire time, carrying with me big and small, heavy and bulky plastic bags. And I completed all these errands just in time to meet Huiyi at her office to head for her birthday dinner together with her family. Perhaps this justifies why I forgot to buy her birthday cake that day.
Next chapter: the one regrettable conflict.
Looking back to before the recce trip, I remember asking Cheryl about her recent experience at USS. She was the one who told me about the Pavilion and how the sun set beautifully over there. That actually prompted the site visit. She even sent me some of the photos she took at the Pavilion when she was there. It was important that I saw it for myself.
I also consulted Joel, who visited USS with Cheryl (and two others). Both of them gave me insights into what I would expect at USS as a visitor. Rudith however, could provide real advice on what I could or couldn’t do in USS, since she worked there. So I took the liberty to randomly and suddenly message her via FaceBook.
And within an hour, I received her reply via WhatsApp! I explained to her why I could not add her as a friend on FaceBook and that our communication would have to be discreet.
Normally, Huiyi has full access to everything in my iPhone (since I have nothing to hide) but in those crucial weeks, I was cautious whenever I texted or received a message from someone. I couldn’t afford to give it away due to a careless mistake of concealment.
Anyway, Rudith goes on to play an important role in my proposal. And considering that I was a complete stranger to her, what she did for me spoke volumes about the generosity of her character. You’ll discover soon why I’ve said that…
Next chapter: the red tape that I couldn’t clear.
Three years ago, CN, MO, MT and HY sang and recorded RF’s “My Wish” as part of my “farewell pack”. I remember how it made me smile and cry when I viewed it immediately on my flight to Shanghai; the passenger beside me must have given me strange stares.
Fast forward to today, I have to say, that JT’s rendition of the same song heightened my appreciation of it, to whole ‘nother level; this song seems to fit almost every other occasion, as long as it’s presented to someone you love. Every wedding seems to have a tear-jerker moment and I think for JT+WS’s wedding, it was the groom’s brother and best man belting out his wish for his newly-married brother and new sister-in-law.
In all my years of knowing JT, I’ve never seen him cry, or even display emotions so publicly. For him to express himself in such a heartfelt manner today, the occasion and sentiment must have moved him tremendously. While two strangers can forge a friendship tougher than steel, there is nothing like a bond between two real brothers. I say that as I juxtapose my friendship with LK against the Tay brothers; just when I thought, “Well, this is about as tight as brothers could be…”, the two of them demonstrated “Phileos” at a level that I’d never get to experience simply because I do not have a brother as a sibling. I will never forget their scene of embrace today – it made me want to have two sons so that they could do the same for each other. Even typing this post-wedding reflection stirs up some emotion within me.
As I’ve told him personally after the special item, I thought this was JT’s most impactful and memorable performance – and it couldn’t have come at a better time than his elder brother’s wedding. What a powerful message of brotherhood, in a literal sense!
But more than anything, more than anything/ My wish, for you, is that this life becomes all that you want it to/ Your dreams stay big, and your worries stay small/ You never need to carry more than you can hold/ And while you’re out there getting where you’re getting to/ I hope you know somebody loves you, and wants the same things too/ Yeah, this, is my wish.
Once again, heartiest congratulations to JT+WS and a great big pat on the back for JT. I’m most grateful for being able to play a part in it as one of the groomsmen and as an emcee, and I can’t wait to welcome the lovely couple to Ghim Moh. I also can’t wait to engage the “Chorister” at a much deeper level; I’m greedy – I want to progress in my friendship with both JTs. It was a beautiful wedding and I’m sure all who turned up would concur.
A couple of weeks ago, I was dealing with disappointment. In my journeying with and surrender to God, I’ve learnt that to deal with disappointment, I need to approach it with an attitude of thanksgiving and a realignment of purpose. I’m a highly committed individual synonymous with being passionate; hence I often get disappointed when people do not meet my expectations because I always wear my heart on my sleeve. When I was younger, I used to create a commotion each time this happens. As I mellow with age, I’ve learnt to be wiser in handling disappointment – sharing with the right people and only after settling my emotions with the Lord. PC once shared with me that it’s always easier to see God’s faithfulness at the end of a season; so I’ve learnt to be patient and to trust God for His timing and method.
20th March 2010 marks a significant day for the shepherds in my immediate ministry:
- KY commissioned as a 2LT,
- MF & MW had a positive cohesion with their CMs,
- KJ & BL joined my team of shepherds,
- EL & YX recovered from their cough,
- CN & JC returned safely from Australia and China respectively and
- HY completed her FYP
- I’ve removed all 25 dressings
This time, there’s something slightly different about feeling their joy and celebrating their victories with them. I can’t quite put a finger to it, but I’d like to think that it’s because I’ve been praying for them; there’s a sense of satisfaction knowing that maybe I’ve played a minute part in the spiritual shift of things. It’s like what RB shares in Nooma 018 “Open” – tapping into the creative power of God.
20th March 2010 is also a momentous day for my Church – we voted in favour for the redevelopment of G1 (on the condition that the 1.4 plot ratio is approved) and if necessary, would take bank loans to finance this project. I’m confident that the Board and the leadership of the church understands that while it is the hardware that’s being rebuilt, significant time, energy and (financial) resources must be invested into its software. Failure to do so would result in an ultimate inability and incapacity to realise the vision. The last thing we want is to have a spectacular building without the right people trained and enabled to fill the spaces which we have catered expansion for.
I am learning to trust God more and more for His providence and I believe that, in the words of BH, “When there is total submission, there is total protection“. On one hand, I’m delighted that we can finally advance as a Church, on the other hand, I pray that we will understand the sobering responsibilities that now line our way. I believe that if we, as a Church, have missed this point of investing in our people, then there really is no point in physical redevelopment. The leadership must be committed to see through this vision.
Let our hope be in You, Lord, and may You show us Your way – I desire nothing more and nothing less.