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A lifetime of wonder

by Joseph Koh, SELAH | 19 June 2018, 4:14 PM

I first knew of Aarksara when she was a guest worship leader in my home church a few years back. Her energy was not only infectious, you could feel a deep sense of joy and triumph as she sang unto the Lord. There were no traces of pretension.

Raised and educated in Australia, God started to speak to Aarksara about her heritage — she’s half-Thai and half-Singaporean — and grew her heart for Asia when she was older, drawing her to a region that she had no intention to invest into.

Today, one of the fruits of her labour is the Vocal Summit, a platform that seeks to equip and empower musicians in Asia. She shares about the genesis of this project and how it weaves into the larger narrative of musicians in our part of the world.

How did you start singing and worship leading?

I grew up in church. When I was eight years old, an uncle had asked me to sing during communion because he wanted a break from having to sing during communion every week. I sang “Shepherd Of My Soul” by Marty Nystrom — it not only made me happy, something in my spirit lifted each time I sang! It also seemed like everyone around me felt the same.

After attaining my degree in Commerce, I fell really sick; I was practically stuck at home for nine months — I couldn’t even make it to a job interview. I wanted to find something that would take my mind off the recovery period and then I found out that I could do Berklee College’s program off-campus!

I eventually received a Specialist Certificate in General Music Studies from Berklee College of Music, Boston. I am also currently undertaking a certification in Professional Voice Development with the New York Singing Teachers Association.

Was there a time where you questioned your gift in singing or call to worship lead?

There have definitely been challenges along the way! People doubted my ability to sustain myself through music, especially when it came to paying the bills. But God has always provided for me every step of the way!

Another challenge would be memorising lyrics — I used to think that I wouldn’t be able to be a worship leader because everyone seemed to know their lyrics inside out and I did not. I’ve overcome that by just placing the lyrics sheet right in front of me, even on some of the biggest stages I’ve performed on.

Through this, I felt God lifted off that “performance” mentality and replaced it with a “worship Me” mentality.

Through all the challenges, I have decided that no matter what happens, I am going to follow Jesus. He is the one that encourages me every day. Trusting Jesus in every moment of my life is how I overcome doubt or anxiety. I choose Him, always. Sometimes I have to close my eyes and cling onto Him tightly!

Could you share with us what your ministry stands for today?

Today, I travel to train and equip singers and worship teams to use their skills and talents with excellence all for the glory of God!

The starting point was during the time when I fell ill after university. Doctors discovered a lump on my lower back and I had to go for an operation. Even though it was supposed to take six weeks to recover, it eventually took nine months.

I fell into severe depression as a result. I was not only in intense physical pain 24/7, I was also in emotional pain; I battled suicidal thoughts daily and wanted everything to end.

However, one day, one of the National Youth Worship Directors called me (I was a worship leader before my illness) and asked me if I could help train a few national youth worship leaders. I told him that I couldn’t leave my house (I couldn’t drive or walk much), so he started sending these young worship leaders to me for training.

The word got out and soon other worship teams found out and asked me to train them too. This was the start of my breakthrough: by taking my mind off my hopeless situation, pushing through the pain, and walking through the fire, even though my students had no idea about the battle that was going on in my mind. God freed me through worship and teaching.

Could you share with us how you founded Vocal Summit?

We had our first Vocal Summit last year in November. I felt there was a gap in Asia: workshops and summits weren’t available to singers and songwriters who live on this part of the globe. It’s common to have amazing summits overseas, such as in Australia and America, but not in Asia.

I felt that God’s direction was: “Do it. You have the resources and contacts, so do it.” Therefore, I started gathering my friends from Israel & New Breed, Planetshakers, and Crossover Music to fly over to Asia to share their knowledge and skills with singers and musicians in this region. I’m grateful for them!

What is the heart behind this event?

The name U Wonder actually stands for “Unlimited Wonder.” I really believe God wants us to be teachable always — for us to be in a place of unlimited wonder. Instances such as, “Oh, I wonder how I can do that vocal riff’ or “Oh, I wonder how I can make my choir sound fuller.” I believe these summits will help equip, inspire, and empower singers and musicians across Asia.

Why is it held in Singapore and Bangkok?

I guess it’s because of my roots: my dad is Singaporean and my mom is Thai! I’ve always had a strong connection with both cities. I was very close to my Singaporean grandma; when she passed away right before my eyes, it hit me hard. I didn’t want to return to Singapore ever again, as I associated it with my sadness and loss.

Yet, one day, I found myself back in Singapore as a guest worship leader at Cornerstone Community Church (it is now my home church when I’m back here). It also just so happens that my grandma’s home is down the road from church. God has healed my heart slowly but surely.

I had also never wanted to return to Bangkok, as I found the spiritual atmosphere so eerie and “dark.” However, I found myself being invited to conduct workshops and was commissioned for songwriting projects in Thailand. Today, I reside in Bangkok.

God called me back to Asia — a place where I didn’t want to return to — when I was so happy in my “perfect world” in Australia. But I’ve chosen to live this life with Him. Wherever He leads, I will go.

What do you hope to see in Singapore within the next 5 years?

I pray there will be an awakening among Singaporeans, especially musicians in Singapore. There are two prevailing attitudes that could be improved upon: “I’m good enough — there’s nothing new I need to learn” and “I’m too busy; I have this and that to do and have no time to enhance my skills by taking lessons or attending workshops/summits.”

May we not be in a place of laziness, and always be willing and eager to keep bettering themselves for the glory of God. There’s always more!


U Wonder’s Vocal Summit aims to inspire, equip and empower musicians and songwriters in Asia and beyond. It takes place on Jun 30, 2018, at SLV Hub. You can register here. Enter the code, THIRSTSINGS, to get $15 off your registration fee. 

This article was first published on Selah.sg, and is republished with permission.

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What I learnt from an adulteress

by | 13 July 2018, 4:07 PM

Recently, I came across an article in which the writer chronicled her experiences of sleeping with married men.

The author wasn’t looking for a long-term relationships, and since married men have obligations to their family, she decided that they would be ideal one-night stands for her with no strings attached.

Through her hookups, the author learnt that men typically commit infidelity because their partner stopped having sex with them. And these men found it easier to get their sexual needs met elsewhere rather than to ask why. Other men confided that their wives were bedridden, but they had chosen to not leave their partners.

As I read on, it struck me that these men weren’t looking for a relationship – they already had that with their wives. They were simply looking for sex. In the author’s words: “But the other husbands I met would have preferred to be having sex with their wives. For whatever reason, that wasn’t happening.”

I was appalled when I read the article. How could a husband cheat on a wife and still claim to love her? How could anyone betray their loved ones like that? How dare they! But as angry words turned over and over in my a mind, a small voice broke through the internal rant.

Don’t you cheat on Me too?

It’s easy to point fingers and play the blame game. But it’s more productive to understand that cheating happens when we succumb to temptation.

All of us face temptations in our everyday lives. Some of us check girls out (Matthew 5:28), others watch pornography or even engage in forbidden relationships. And sometimes as singles, we may think we’re not cheating anyone when we cave in – but we are.

We’re cheating on God.

… fidelity and self-control aren’t things that just automatically start after we’ve utter our marriage vows. They start now.

Temptation is universal. I have friends who have given into temptation, I know some who were betrayed by their partners. Likewise I also face temptations, when I was single and now also as someone who’s attached. And I’m pretty sure I will continue to face temptations even after I marry.

As a married person, you choose and fight to stay committed to one person. As a single or unmarried person, you fight to remain pure. So whatever your relationship status is, fidelity and self-control aren’t things that just automatically start after we’ve utter our marriage vows.

They start now.

Temptation is that tension between the heart, mind and will.

In the heat of the moment, it’s all too tempting to simply give in. We rationalise and deceive ourselves – anything just to convince ourselves that it’s okay.

We need conviction.

A friend shared with me a passage from Jane Eyre which had helped her to overcome her struggle with physical intimacy. Jane had fallen in love with a man who she later found out was married. The man begged Jane to stay by his side, a plea which caused her great emotional turmoil. But Jane produces a remarkable response to the temptation.

“I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad — as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth — so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane — quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.”

… if we stay where we are tempted for too long, the temptation will overtake us. So we must also flee.

Many of us already know what the right thing to do is. We just lack the determination to see it through when the test comes. But that’s human nature. So beyond deciding early what we will stand for, we need to flee when temptation comes.

We plant our foot on our convictions when trials and temptations come. But if we stay where we are tempted for too long, the temptation will overtake us. So we must also flee.

In times of peace, prepare for war. Feed yourself with the Word. Strengthen your beliefs. Pray for your spirit to grow. If you ever stumble and fall, repent and pick yourself up again. God’s mercies are new every morning.

Purity, integrity and our relationship with God – these things are priceless. So fight for them.

Put your foot down and flee!

/ siqi@thir.st

Siqi often loses her footwear in the office. She is also known for her loud sneezes, huge appetite, and weird sound effects. Happens to be a writer too.

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Thank God I struggle with same-sex attraction

by H.Y | 13 July 2018, 10:37 AM

Yes, you read that right.

It sounded ridiculous – even sadistic – to me as well, when my friend said a similar prayer years ago. But today, these seven precious words have taken on a new meaning for me.

Experiencing and resisting same-sex attraction (SSA) is probably the hardest battle I have ever fought. While I’ve had crushes on guys as well, my attraction towards females has always been much stronger. Throughout the past seven years of resisting the temptation to act on my emotions, I’ve never understood why I had to go through this.

  • Doesn’t God know how disgusted I am with myself whenever I come to Him?
  • Doesn’t He know how difficult it is for me to repeatedly turn away from my most natural attractions?
  • If God really loved me, why didn’t He just make me normal?
  • Why did He allow me to go through so much pain?

Those were some of the thoughts that used to run through my mind. Even as I grappled with these questions, God used a recent infatuation I had to show Himself to me.

SUCCUMBING TO TEMPTATION

I met her on a week-long overseas work assignment and we clicked instantly. She was kind and took special care of me. Soon, we grew closer and started to confide in each other. We often deviated from the group to spend time together and even hung out in each other’s hotel room alone. I didn’t fully recognise my emotions then and hence, set myself up for trouble.

Perhaps it was the extended amount of time that we spent exclusively or the emotional connection we had that led me to develop feelings for her. As much as I knew my feelings were contrary to what constitutes holiness and Christ-like behaviour, I couldn’t help myself. I told myself every day that I couldn’t continue indulging in my feelings, but I just kept falling helplessly into sin.

One day, God intervened and graciously used the situation for my good. At that time, I had yet to share my struggle with my mentor and friends, hence I did not have anybody to turn to. As a result, God became the only Person I could hold on to. But at the same time, I felt far too dirty and sinful for God to handle.

WE CAN ALWAYS DRAW NEAR TO GOD

But even in the midst of my struggle, I was repeatedly reminded of what the apostle James wrote about choosing God over worldly passions. He instructs us to “resist the devil” and “come near to God” (James 4:7-8). It’s a two-pronged approach that we have to take – not an either-or approach – for it is impossible for us to turn away from sin without drawing near to God.

The apostle James also encouraged us in this: When we violently reject the devil, he flees from us. But on the other hand, when we run to God, He draws near to us.

That beautiful and magnificent image of God Himself being with me kept replaying in my mind.

… when we run to God, He Himself draws near to us.

When that realisation hit me, I knew what I had to do.

I had to come to God in brutal honesty, regardless of the state I was in. Humbling myself to realise that I could not do it on my own and raising the white flag in surrender was difficult, but I knew that there was no other option for me. I had done all I could with my human strength but it still did not amount to anything. I saw my helplessness and my desperate need for God.

I remember crying out to God in frustration. I whined endlessly to God in agony. I begged Him to remove my feelings of attraction. It was in these moments of vulnerability that I realised that it is absolutely okay for me to come to our Holy God in filthy rags.

God proved to me that He provides us with the strength to obey Him, so that we can resist even the toughest temptations.

In fact, just like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, He welcomes and embraces us when we come to Him in repentance – regardless of the state we are in. When we become His children, we can never be too dirty, too unholy or too distant to come back to him.

Slowly, I started to feel less alone in my struggle and I knew for certain that God was fighting alongside me. Every time I turned to him, comfort and peace, which were usually elusive to me, suddenly began to fill my heart. I felt reassured that turning to God was the right thing to do.

I also noticed how my prayers shifted from asking God to remove the temptation to asking God for strength to make the right decisions. He became very real to me in those precious seven days when I struggled with that temptation.

GOD NEVER ABANDONS US

For the first time, I was truly convinced that our Father never abandons us. Even in our times of rebellion against Him, He is never too far away for us to reach out to.

God proved to me that He provides us with the strength to obey Him, so that we can resist even the toughest temptations. In Philippians 1:6, He reassures us that He is not done with us yet and that He will complete the good work that He started in us.

… my prayers shifted from asking God to remove the temptation to asking God for strength to make the right decisions.

Since I began this journey, I have found it easier to obey God. By actively distancing myself whenever I find myself developing feelings for other girls and being honest with God about what I’m feeling, I now struggle less to turn away from temptations and turn my heart towards God.

I still do not have an answer for why God allowed me to be attracted to both genders and am far from being immune to temptations, but God has opened my eyes to see how these encounters have become a way for Him to draw me back to Himself.

I’ve seen how weak and helpless I am in the face of sin, and how the Almighty God works even through that.

Now, I am able to truly thank God that I struggle with same-sex attraction, for if I didn’t, I wouldn’t see how God graciously provides us with His own presence and supernatural strength to fight these battles and to ultimately win the war in eternity.


This article was first published on YMI.today, and is republished with permission.

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The mask he wore to church

by Oliver Kuek | 11 July 2018, 5:47 PM

You know what it’s like being attracted to the same sex as a Christian?

I certainly don’t. And for a long time I lived without knowing what that tension was like – that double-life of fear and shame our brothers and sisters go through. I remained blissfully unaware until a few years ago, when one of my mentees from cell group texted me saying that he needed someone to talk to.

That was nothing unusual. Jonathan* and I had been having regular meet-ups so I figured he just had something a bit more pressing to share that night. We agreed to meet at a park after cell.

Jon was unusually quiet during cell. Not like he was one of the louder ones, but that night he was observably unresponsive – withdrawn almost. And even more so when we sat down to talk after that. By then, his face had taken on the pale and anxious look of a person about to throw up.

So I said, “Hey man, it looks like this is something that you’re finding pretty difficult for you to say. So, take your time alright? Don’t worry about the time, you can share whenever you’re ready and when you want to.”

Even with that word of assurance, we continued to sit by the river in silence. Jon’s eyes were fixed downwards to his shoes the whole time. Some minutes later, he began tearing.

I can only imagine the pain you’ve been experiencing this whole time, not having anyone to share this with.

“Hey. What’s wrong, Jon? You can tell me,” I said. Nervous words started to stumble out as he began sobbing: “I don’t even know how to say this.”

“I’m … Attracted to the same gender.”

Bombshell. For some stupid reason I had never thought about how to respond meaningfully in such a situation. My eyebrows might have raised for a split second before I caught myself and prayed as fast and as hard as I could. God, what do I say?

Seconds later, the words came. “Jon. Thank you … Thank you for telling me.”

I remember saying something along these lines: “That was incredibly brave of you to do, and thank you for trusting me. I can only imagine the pain you’ve been experiencing this whole time, not having anyone to share this with … Your secret is safe with me.”

Jon didn’t have any more words after I spoke. He looked so alone in the dim light which seemed almost to shroud him. I hugged him as he cried hard into my shoulder.

After Jon’s “confession”, we became closer as brothers in the faith. I know he knows I don’t judge him, but I bet he knows I’m just as clueless about this whole thing as he is. I’ve never really had to think about the perpetual tension he lives in: How the heart wants a person, and yet that same heart knows deep down it isn’t the right way forward.

And how do you live as a Christian with same-sex attraction? Unless you’re out of the closet, you basically have to put on a front and lie your way through questions about your relationship status, or just be single and celibate and hope no one asks too many questions.

How tiring it must be to live with these masks. And I believe there are ways we can do better in caring for brothers and sisters like Jon.

Why have I written this? I guess I want to say to the Christian who’s struggling with same-sex attraction, that I probably understand only a fraction of what you live through on a daily basis. From the strained hope of long having asked for this cup to be taken from you, to the not knowing of why God made you with these attractions – I can only imagine what it’s like being in your shoes.

To see how you have not been faithless in striving towards the godliness and self-restraint God has called all of us to compels me in my own journey. And if I’ve acted out of ignorance or entitlement, forgive me. I am not better than you. We all come from the same fallenness. As such we are all offered the same grace.

How then can we offer each other this same grace as Jesus Christ offers us, whether the struggle be same-sex attraction, anger management, addiction, pride, body image, illness, grief or loving others not like ourselves?

In my view, we can always do better as a Church, one body of Jesus Christ. We are one family, and if we love the family as much as we say we do we have to stand together, with each other; nobody gets left behind.

There is a Jon in every Church – possibly even in every cell-group. I think it’s not so much about how we can change him, but how we can bring each other closer to Christ.


Names have been changed for confidentiality.

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When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong

by | 11 July 2018, 2:38 PM

What do you do with the mad that you feel
When you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong …
And nothing you do seems very right?
– What Do You Do with the Mad that You Feel, Fred Rogers

From 1968 to 2001, Fred Rogers hosted a children’s TV programme called Mister Roger’s Neighbourhood. It was important to Rogers that his young viewers (aged 2-5) were shown care, and taught that every person deserves to be loved.

Rogers’ message is one that even adults find difficult to hear. You deserve love. What happens to children who were bullied – who were never told they are loved? Well, they become adults who struggle to accept and receive love.

The absence of love leaves a lot of room for fear to grow. And perhaps it’s not said a lot, but we all have fears. Some fear the dark, some fear dying unaccomplished, some fear being alone forever.

Fear is real, but so is love – even in the midst of all the problems we face in life. Love is the great displacer of fear. How is it that love – a word so overused and underused at the same time – holds the key to so much in life? Yet it does.

“Fear was so important, because fear left untreated becomes anger, and hatred, and resentment, and all the toxic things we have,” said Morgan Neville. Neville directed Won’t You Be My Neighbour, a 2018 documentary about Fred Rogers’ legacy.

… when the tide of negative feelings rises beyond our level of control, we need to know that it’s okay to hit the “stop” button.

A child once asked Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, what to do with the “mad” that he felt. We’re people, and we feel things – anger, sadness, happiness, hurt, envy, brokenness – but what do we do with it?

Rogers turned the child’s question into a song to help children know that their feelings are both “mentionable” and “manageable.”

It’s great to be able to stop
When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,
And be able to do something else instead

“When you grow up, you mask your feelings, hide your intentions, you become cynical and have no patience for any of that,” continued Neville.

I realise it’s counterintuitive for us to slow down to “catch” our feelings, to think of what we should do with them – these things don’t just come with age. So when the tide of negative feelings rises beyond our level of control, we need to know that it’s okay to hit the “stop” button.

So it’s not ridiculous to pause to take a few deep breaths, to examine our anger, and to displace some of those feelings with love – for yourself and for those you’re angry at.

And think this song:
I can stop when I want to
Can stop when I wish.
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this
And know that the feeling is really mine.

Mister Rogers called it “the good feeling of control.” It belongs to us. He wanted to help children to understand how to understand themselves, to give them the tools they needed to engage with the world we live in.

Who was the person you dreamt of becoming when you were younger? It’s not too late.

When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong and nothing you do seems very right, take a deep breath and hold good words to heart.



Know that there’s something deep inside
That helps us become what we can.
For a girl can be someday a woman
And a boy can be someday a man.

Who was the person you dreamt of becoming when you were younger? It’s not too late. We’re all on this journey of becoming who we can be. And we’re not all that different after all – none of us has all the answers.

Wherever we go, we can carry in our pockets a little bit more compassion, and a little bit more forgiveness – both for ourselves and for the person we’re sitting across the table from.

“And where is this voice in our culture today?” Neville asked. “Where are the grownups in our culture? He (Rogers) was the consummate grownup voice I’d been craving. There was nothing in it for him. He was empathetic, he was looking out for our long-term well-being.”

The road is long, but the road is worth taking. Make it to the glorious end. Because at the end of our lives, I hope we will be able to look back and see that we grew to become grownups who looked out for the long-term well-being of others – just like Mister Rogers.

We can make the whole wide world a little better just by caring for someone.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious, deeply devoted to her dogs, and loves a good chat with strangers. She believes everyone needs to know that they are worthy of love – you are!

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The call to come home

by Thir.st | 9 July 2018, 1:33 PM

“You Christians talk about God’s love all the time: But where is that love for people like us?”

Someone struggling with same-sex attraction once asked the person who had just started mentoring him.

For years now, there has been the quiet effort of counsellors and community groups who have rallied around the same-sex attracted to do what Church has striven to do for every person – love in action.

But the help provided is sensitive, and personal, so you may not have heard of this realm of work before. And the many stories of hope, faith and love that arise from these journeys often go unheard by those who aren’t in the know.

Truelove.is, an initiative led by 3:16 Church, simply hopes to bring these stories to light. 3:16 Church’s Senior Pastor Ian Toh believes the silent front must end if the Church is truly to be a home to everyone.

Truelove.is was created for the Church, by the Church,” said Pastor Ian. Then, referencing Matthew 5:16, “It says to let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Rather than taking a “stand”, Truelove.is is much more of a walk – walking the people God loves back home to Him.

Or, in essence: “If others don’t see our good deeds – what the Church is doing for them – how will they glorify our Father in heaven?”

If the ones we’re called to love are not getting that message, then something is not right. If the Church does not appear to be a place of belonging, acceptance and life change, something is not right.

For a faith whose face is love – the face of Jesus Christ – His body, the Church, must represent and declare the same to the watching world.

And rather than taking a “stand”, Truelove.is is much more of a walk – walking the people God loves, and that is all of us, back home to Him.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us …” (Ephesians 5:1)

The stories of His love are already out there, said Pastor Norman Ng, Deputy Senior Pastor of 3:16 Church.

Accounts from Christians who walk the journey of faith and same-sex attraction have been slowly but steadily coming forth, some of which are featured on the Truelove.is website, and notably in the locally-produced book, Good News for Bruised Reeds – Walking with Same-Sex Attracted Friends.

“Stories of people on the same journey bring hope,” Pastor Norman said. “And the Church needs to be a place where people can find home and hope, a safe place of shelter.

Not a country club for the perfect and put-together, but a haven for every soul that longs to experience the Father’s heart. Because true love leans in; true love takes time to listen and never gives up on another.

Like every person He’s drawn unto Himself, we cannot dictate when and how God will transform a life.

We can only carry His love and make disciples of all tribes and peoples and languages (Revelation 7:9), in hopes that all who enter through our doors may find the true love they seek, and be transformed by the love lavished on them.

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Article list

A lifetime of wonder

What I learnt from an adulteress

Thank God I struggle with same-sex attraction

The mask he wore to church

When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong

The call to come home