The following is an excerpt from the book “Clean Hands, Pure Hearts and Beautiful Feet”, featuring Dr Tan Lai Yong.
“Once, Lai Yong joined a medical team on a visit to a lepers village. They went on a bumpy road up a steep mountain. There was no sanitation and no running water in this village and certainly no clinic.
“Lai Yong and his family, together with his team of health workers, tried to provide medical care to the lepers. Some would dress the patient’s infected wounds while others helped to clean the mud-huts where they live in. They also checked the children for intestinal worms and taught them about hygiene.
“The medical team was very creative. They made adaptations to the household items of the lepers so that they can use them without injuring themselves. One young staff made foam cushions in the shoes of a patient who had foot ulcers, so that her feet would not have any more abrasions. The team changed the handles of doors and cooking utensils to make them easy to hold. The team covered up sharp edges of furniture so that the patients would not hurt themselves.
“The leprosy patients were moved to tears to see Lai Yong’s team offer medical treatment and serve them in so many ways. One grateful patient told Lai Yong, ‘No one has ever touched me all these years! Another said, You are the first to drink the tea that I offer!’
“The team also brought along many small cakes wrapped in aluminium foil to the village. Lai Yong’s two children, Amber and Edward, went from home to home to visit the old folks and gave the cakes to them. The old folks were delighted to receive the little nicely wrapped gifts. ‘What is this in the package, little girl? Can it be eaten?’ One old lady asked Amber. Amber was surprised that the villagers have never seen or eaten cakes in their lives. She enjoyed watching their curious smiles when they gingerly opened their little presents and had their first bites.”
When given the proposition to write short stories for a children’s book – based on true accounts of missionaries sent from Singapore as early as in the sixties – my first thought was: “But I don’t write stories.”
Sure, I considered myself a writer, but creative non-fiction for children was uncharted waters. Thankfully, the hesitation stemming from my feelings of inadequacy did not last for long. I became intrigued by the opportunity to write the stories of men and women who heeded God’s call to surrender their lives for His purposes – to do good in the world and demonstrate God’s love for all peoples.
God provided me with a two-month window to concentrate on this project. The entire process to produce the book took much longer, of course – but it was great timing.
The book is a work which resonates with Christ’s prayer for His followers “to be one” – unity – as it cuts across denominational lines. It shows us the broad scope of missionary work that has been afoot since the sixties, detailing the stories of missionaries sent from our tiny island to far-flung places and how they served.
Children’s stories have great mileage – they travel with them for the rest of their lives.
Then there was the flight of imagination required. One example was the mystical and treacherous landscapes in Papua New Guinea. When such a locale was first described to me, I found myself thinking, “How can I convey this sublime beauty that could capture the imagination of children?” And in another story, “How can I portray a wartime scene that could relate to children, yet at the same time retain its raw authenticity?”
The writing may fall short of doing justice to these people, places and experiences. But I’m praying it will allow the children to imagine the wondrous world of God, while not shying away from accurately depicting a world that is scarred by sin, injustice and cruelty.
Children’s stories have great mileage – they travel with them for the rest of their lives. That’s the power of stories which engage children intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Powerful storytelling inspires curiosity, provokes thinking and provides children with a counterpoint for the harsh realities of the world they will encounter.
We are praying that this book will inspire children to receive the fullness of what God has prepared for them as they grow up. With clean hands, pure hearts and beautiful feet – they can be a light to the world wherever their journeys take them.
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7)
Written by Flora Man and Emily Soh, and illustrated by Jearn Ko, “Clean Hands, Pure Hearts and Beautiful Feet” is a children’s book featuring 10 inspiring stories of Singaporean missionaries serving in different parts of the world. If you are interested, you can visit their page to purchase a copy, or send them an email for further enquiries.