Top Stories

Sign Up for our newsletter now.

Do Good

I got stood up on Valentine’s Day

by Geraldine Koh | 15 February 2018, 3:48 PM

It was Valentine’s Day. I could have gone on a date with my husband. But I had looked forward to meeting Miss L. She was a freelance sex worker from East Asia, pacing the streets of Geylang’s red-light district to eke out a living.

In her 30s, she was new to Singapore, having travelled a long way here from her hometown.

I had met her on a warm Friday night under the faint neon lights of a corridor in Geylang. I was on one of my regular walks with a group of volunteers who were committed to expressing the love of Jesus with marginalised communities working in the red-light district.

Miss L had been friendly during our first meeting. She was chatty, talking incessantly about her hometown. She was clearly missing home badly. She had no friends, never taking the initiative to mix with fellow sex workers from her home country who stood along the same glitzy street.

I met her the second time on another Friday. I braced myself to ask if she had someone to celebrate the Lunar New Year with. She looked down forlornly and shook her head in silence. I suggested having reunion dinner with her.

Her eyes lit up, and she said “Yes!” without much hesitation. Having a reunion dinner together would have made her feel at home during this festive season which can ironically be superficial, long-drawn and lonely.

I suggested having reunion dinner with her. Her eyes lit up, and she said “Yes!” without much hesitation.

She had agreed to meet me on Valentine’s Day, the same week of the Lunar New Year celebrations. I got myself ready and travelled quite a distance from my home to Geylang, looking forward to meet Miss L and bless her with a sumptuous meal.

I waited and waited. The dreaded message came. Miss L texted, I have not slept since I finished work with a client. I am very tired. I need to have a good sleep before heading back into the streets again. I cannot meet you for dinner.

I had a surge of mixed feelings. I did not feel too much disappointment. This was not my first time being “stood up”. Several other street ladies I had arranged to meet before also did not turn up, citing similar reasons as Miss L.

On the other hand, I felt immensely sorry for Miss L. She needed her sleep from working long hours in the prostitution trade. In fact, she needed more than a physical state of rest. She needed the rest only Jesus could give her.

I hope to have that reunion dinner with Miss L soon. Reunion is about families reuniting and getting together to celebrate love and kinship. For my reunion dinner with Miss L, it would be special; it would include having fellowship with a very special family guest — Abba Father — someone I know it would be worth it for Miss L to know and embrace.


Operation Mobilisation (OM) Singapore has a ministry reaching out to marginalised communities working in the red-light district of Singapore with the love of Jesus. If you and your friends are interested to pray, give and go with this ministry, please write to info.sg@om.org

Conversations

We Recommend

Relationships

Are you dreading Valentine’s Day?

by Darius Leow

Culture

Porn and the things I’d rather love

by JH Kwek

Culture

Life with the greatest showman I know

by Fiona Teh

Do Good

A cut above the rest: The 26-year-old barber for the underprivileged

by | 9 February 2018, 1:09 PM

“Don’t come in first, it’s a mess!” yells Chu Yin, as she rushes into her little studio to clean up.

A Bangladeshi man follows her in. Wordlessly, he picks up a broom and begins to sweep the floor. He seems to know where things should go, deftly picking up random tools and arranging them in the shop.

After the dust settles, Chu Yin ushers me into her cosy workspace – it’s a one-chair concept barbershop. She sits the man down in front of a huge mirror, as she gently fastens the cutting cape over him. “The usual?”

His name is Mahmud. He nods to his friend Chu Yin, who has been giving him free haircuts here at Telja Studios for half a year now.

1/4

|

From dream to reality, it took Chu Yin 2 years to set up Telja Studios. "Nobody glorifies the job of a barber," she says, "But I feel like I will look back and regret not trying."

In December 2016, Chu Yin founded Telja Studios to positively impact people’s lives.

It started with picking up barbering as a hobby. “I used to have really short hair and so, I was able to appreciate a good short haircut,” she tells me. 

But she began to wonder how could she benefit the community through the skills she had acquired. Apprenticing under Lex Low – a Malaysian barber who gives free haircuts to refugees and the underprivileged – Chu Yin improved her skills and saw how barbering could help people.

“Basically Lex was doing everything I yearned to do. That gave me a lot of hope and encouragement.”

Despite family opposition and the risks behind starting a business, Chu Yin opened her barbershop as a tangible way to help others. While she is passionate about barbering, Chu Yin admits that the relational aspect of her job is what she enjoys most.

I’m not here to make a big impact at this point – but to transform the life of one person. When you’re transformed, you’ll live for something greater than yourself.

“To me, haircuts are almost secondary. If I’m just cutting hair without intentionally connecting to the person, it will get very boring after a while because how many variations can a guy’s hair have?”

“It’s the relationships that I value most.”

As a barber, Chu Yin has many opportunities to engage with her customers. And as Telja Studios is a one-chair barbershop concept, both parties can converse without worrying about being overheard.

“You don’t have a choice. You sit here, you’ve got to listen to me talk, or talk to me,” she laughs, “Over time you meet your barber more than you meet your friends. You have to come almost every month. With that, you get to know a person and you get to speak life over them.”

2/4

|

Chu Yin's barbershop only has one chair intentionally: So she can build friendships with her customers personally. "It's not just a personalised haircut – it's a personal get-to-know-you session too," she says.

It’s a business philosophy which is evident from her friendship with Mahmud. Their friendship started with a simple hello.

“I try to get to know people around here,” Chu Yin explains, “I literally say ‘Hi’, but that’s it. It was Mahmud who went beyond the ‘Hi’ and asked about the haircut.”

Because Mahmud only gets off work at 9pm, Chu Yin waited past her normal opening hours just to serve him. And at the end of the haircut, she didn’t take the money he offered because she just wanted to know Mahmud better.

That was how a friendship blossomed between the 26-year-old and 48-year-old. Today, they are even able to share their worries with each other.

Mahmud recounts one instance when he was deeply worried about a personal issue. He turned up at Telja Studios’ doorstep, distressed and dishevelled.

“She said: ‘Come in, and I shave for you.'”

It was an act of service which touched Mahmud greatly. Chu Yin also offered to keep his situation in her prayers, and texted him from time to time to make sure he was doing alright.

“Sister is very kind,” Mahmud tells me.

I see a genuine two-way friendship between Chu Yin and Mahmud: While he receives free haircuts, Mahmud occasionally brings sugarcane drinks to her studio.

Chu Yin nods, “That to me is a blessing. Because sometimes the distilled water tank outside is empty, and I can’t run down to get a drink even though it’s just one staircase away because I’m cutting hair back to back. He just magically appears at the right time.”

He laughs: “Sister shares many things with her customers. So sometimes I go down and buy sugarcane!”

3/4

|

Chu Yin gives Mahmud free haircuts regularly. Personal but professional, she styles Mahmud's hair meticulously in a 45-minute cut-and-conversation.

Chu Yin tells me she has bigger plans: To mentor youths-at-risk and equip them with her skillset.

It’s why she started a barber academy at Telja Studios.

“Young people are very vain. They love to know how the hair works, how they can ask their barber to cut,” Chu Yin laughs.

Chu Yin has been volunteering at New Hope Community Services (NHCS), a charity centre for displaced families in Singapore. Beyond volunteering, she reaches out to the youths she meets at NHCS by offering them free haircuts.

“They will be like, ‘You’re a barber? Don’t bluff – show me!’ and I would be like, ‘Ya, I’ll show you. It’s so near anyway,” she says.

“Helping them find satisfaction through what they can do in the future is my way of reaching out. We believe in the potential of young people.”

It’s why she named her barbershop “Telja” – the Icelandic word for “belief”.

When asked why she doesn’t simply work with NGOs (non-governmental organisations), Chu Yin tells me that while NGOs meet the basic needs of underprivileged families – there’s still more to do. 

“It’s not just about giving them the job. It’s helping them pull out all their other roots first. This is why I want to take my time to get to know these people personally. I’m not here to make a big impact at this point – but to transform the life of one person.”

“When you’re transformed, you’ll live for something greater than yourself.”

4/4

|

"I’m not just a charity organisation," Chu Yin explains, "Just like any other enterprise, I have to make money, lah. But this business will always have a heart for the community. If my business exists but people are not impacted – my KPIs are not met."

That afternoon, I left Chu Yin’s little barbershop in wide-eyed wonder.

Here is a woman, not much older than I am, who refuses to conform to societal standards – forging a more meaningful path instead. And all it took was deep passion and purpose.

Chu Yin’s friendship with Mahmud made me see that you can bless anyone anytime and anywhere. It doesn’t need to be at a volunteering organisation – it could even be in my workspace or neighbourhood!

“I hope people will realise there’s more they can do with their time. Go and do that which will bless the community and find satisfaction through it,” she told me.

The world really becomes our mission field when our heart is touched for God’s people.

Let’s ask Him to help us care like He does. Then let’s start with what we have.


Telja Studios is a barbershop with a heart for communities. If you would like to be involved in what they do – consider joining the team.

You can also sponsor someone to take up barbering course under Chu Yin. He/she will eventually be given a job at Telja Studios. For more information, write to chuyin@teljastudios.com.

/ siqi@thir.st

Siqi loves to eat. Except for peas, egg yolk, cucumbers, livers, intestines. Among others. She also happens to be a writer.

Conversations

We Recommend

Faith

A letter to my past brokenhearted self

by Agnes Lee

Do Good

This Chinese New Year, will you be a friend to the foreigner?

by Wong Siqi

Faith

“I was told I was doomed to fail”: Belinda Lee’s journey from insecurity to purpose

by Eudora Chuah

Do Good

Why should I care about inequality?

by Jeremy Tan | 6 February 2018, 5:30 PM

A recent study by the Institute of Policy Studies revealed a new “social class divide” in Singapore: Those from different housing backgrounds (private housing vs HDB flats) and education backgrounds (“elite” vs non-elite schools) tend not to mix with one another.

The real issue, however, is not that people don’t mix, but rather, that inequality in Singapore is real and living – and has significant impact on the lives of many.

Sociologist Teo You Yenn suggests a definition for inequality: “Inequality is about how people can need the same things and indeed do very similar things but face very different outcomes.”

This suggests that doing well (or badly) in life does not depend on the “choice” of the individual. One is no longer guaranteed his reward through solely working hard. There are complex conditions that lead to social inequality and poverty: People remain poor not because of their lack of effort – but despite all efforts.

As Christians who are called to love our neighbours and serve the least among us (Matt 25:34-40), how can we play a part in addressing the real needs of those, who just like us, are imprinted with the very image of God? Here are three steps we can start with.

1. Examine our privilege

Our privileged backgrounds can lead to prejudices. As a well-paid graduate typing this comfortably on a Macbook in an air-conditioned room, I can never understand the struggles and insecurities of a single mother with two young children living in a one-room rental flat, wondering how to find proper work while ensuring her children are taken care of (no domestic helper or expensive childcare!)

When we don’t understand the constraints of others, we can perpetuate class prejudices. For instance, it is easy for many to simplistically conclude that people are poor because they lack hard work or intelligence. After all, aren’t we a “meritocracy” with “equal opportunities for all”?

It’s also easy to see our own possessions as something we earned and deserve. Even when we give, we give because we think we are generous and compassionate. We fail to see that what we have today is often a result of cumulated advantages – family generations are one example – that we had no hand in.

As Pope Francis puts it: “The earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone”. If all the fullness of the earth belongs to God (Psalm 24:1), then it is remarkably un-Christian for us to ignore the vastly unequal distribution of resources needed for basic, dignified living, or worse – to perceive those without as undeserving of it.

2. Confront systemic disadvantages

From the Methodist Welfare Services to Touch Community Services, Christians have often systematically helped those in need. As individuals, we can also do our part by donating at flag days, buying from the tissue auntie, or even giving out blankets to the homeless.

Keep doing that, but don’t stop there. Think long and hard about why social inequality persists in our society. Look at the increasingly precarious conditions for low-wage workers, or how low-income students in schools are disadvantaged. Let the inconvenient truth – that many people continue to live in lack despite their best efforts – trouble your heart.

Whether we are parents, teachers, policymakers, businessmen, bankers, lawyers or simply ordinary citizens – we can make a difference. Ultimately, rules, structures and policies are made by humans, and confronting our biases and reframing how we understand the causes of inequality in our societies is the first step to any lasting change.

3. Dismantle the false dichotomy between “spiritual” and non-“spiritual” work

But wait … Are we really called to do this as Christians? All this talk assumes being poor is bad, but is it truly? After all, didn’t Jesus say “Blessed are the poor” (Matthew 5:3)? and that “those who want to get rich fall into temptation” (1 Timothy 6:9)?

Maybe we should focus all our energies on the “spiritual” work of “sharing Christ” and “making disciples”! After all, one day we will all die – isn’t the after-life what truly matters?

I understand the good intentions behind such sentiments, but I think it truncates the mission of Jesus and the role of Christians in the world.

As Bishop Emeritus Robert Solomon puts it, social justice and evangelism should be seen as an “integrated whole, like two wings of a bird… To reduce a person to a single dimension (i.e.. only having ‘spiritual’ needs or physical/social needs) does not reflect God’s concerns and the way we are made. Individuals are part of society and larger systems. Their well-being depends on many factors related to the larger spheres, and if these are unrighteous or unjust, one cannot ignore these”.

Therefore, when we prop up a false dichotomy between what is “spiritual” and non-“spiritual” work, we prevent Christians from contributing holistically and meaningfully in our world.

On the day I became a Christian, a well-meaning woman told me: “Congratulations, you now have a ticket to heaven!”

Many of us subscribe to this “theology of evacuation”, thinking that the most important thing in life is to help others accept Christ merely so that might escape from a doomed world to a utopian heaven.

But the age to come, as N.T. Wright puts it, is “not about people going to heaven”, but more about the bringing of “God’s justice, peace, and healing to the world”.

Christianity doesn’t stop at just getting souls into heaven. It also involves the transformation and renewal of the world – where the redeemed still live and do real, concrete human things. Bringing heaven to earth, we work, play, laugh and eat in a society which is just, equitable and inclusive for all – under the sovereign rule of our Just King. 

If that is the case, then any work that we do now on earth that reflects the kingdom of God – including working for a society that is more equal and just – is valuable in itself. It is both a foreshadow and a concrete establishment of God’s kingdom here on earth.

As John Mark Comer puts it, “We’re image bearers, created to rule… to cooperate with God in building a civilisation where his people can thrive in his presence.”

Let’s drop the false dichotomy between “spiritual” and non-“spiritual” work. Let’s embrace instead, a holistic and embodied faith that serves the real needs of humans created in God’s image.

Let us work to make our society more equal and just, even as we yearn for the final day when the King returns – when injustice and suffering are no more (Revelations 21:4).


The author’s name has been changed.

Conversations

We Recommend

Culture

Life with the greatest showman I know

by Fiona Teh

Culture

Greater Love: Worship night with Thir.st

by Thir.st

Culture

The relationship I never wanted

by Olivia Lee

Do Good

This Chinese New Year, will you be a friend to the foreigner?

by | 31 January 2018, 4:58 PM

Bright lights, red lanterns and overplayed Chinese festive songs — Chinese New Year is back! But have you ever considered this: Not everyone can return home to be with their families this festive season.

He or she could be a colleague who recently fell out with family. Indeed, he might be a friend scheduled to work during the celebrations. Or she might be someone’s daughter who’s studying overseas and can’t afford to return home.

There are so many “aliens” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19) in our midst. Away from their families, they’re in our everyday lives: Along the roads, in coffee shops – perhaps even working in the same company as us!

Migrant workers. Have you ever stopped to think about them?

Recently, I visited Healthserve, a non-profit organisation that provides holistic care to disadvantaged migrant workers. I wanted to find out what life looked like for migrant workers unable to return home during the festive season.

“Some migrant workers wanted to go back to their home countries because their parents passed away — but couldn’t.” This was just one of the regrettable anecdotes shared with me by Yvonne Loo, a case worker with Healthserve.

And given that the migrant workers don’t even fly home despite family crises, Yvonne told me there’s no chance they could return for festivities. Special Pass holders are migrant workers who have had their work permits cancelled. They are usually workers who got injured and subsequently dismissed by their companies before their contract ends.

Yvonne noted that she has yet to come across a beneficiary of Healthserve who is able to return home as and when he wants.

Instead, what most migrant workers resort to is connecting with their families online: Text messages and video calls are the order of the day. But in person, they celebrate festivities with their immediate neighbours — fellow foreign workers.

Ye Hong Wei, a migrant worker I met at Healthserve, described his longing for home: “想家肯定是想家。但是没有办法。作为家庭主力,为了家,没办法。” I definitely miss home, but as the sole breadwinner of my family, there’s nothing I can do.

I also spoke to injured workers, who are awaiting delayed medical compensation: “不敢抱这个希望。” I don’t dare hope I’ll be able to head home soon.

To meet their needs, Healthserve organises activities for migrant workers to get together. The most recent event was a dumpling-making session with university students, where the Chinese migrant workers showed the latter how to prepare dumplings.

But beyond just having an event to go to, what migrant workers really benefit from are the relationships forged.

Willy Lau, who works on developing volunteer engagement in Healthserve, noted the importance of relationship building: “We want more of that between the volunteers and beneficiaries, where they get to know them and even share life with them.”

Yvonne and Willy highlighted some benefits migrant workers experience through spending time with the volunteers.

Firstly, it boosts the migrant worker’s self-esteem: When migrant workers arrive in Singapore, their value becomes measured by their productivity. Do they work without complaining without giving employers problems, and with their best efforts?

But at Healthserve, they are valued differently. They receive care and attention. They experience friendships with volunteers so deep, that some volunteers even send the migrant workers off at the airport when it’s time for the latter to fly home.

Yvonne told me: “We don’t ask volunteers and staff, ‘Are you coming for to send him (migrant worker) off?’ We just say this person is leaving. That’s sufficient for them to come on their own accord because they’ve already built a relationship with the migrant worker. So they really want to come.”

The strong bonds formed between the migrant workers and volunteers help the former leave Singapore on a positive note, no matter the challenges faced while here.

Once you have a mindset that this person is of less worth, you will have a tendency to want to give, and not also receive.

Willy added, “Once migrant workers come through the gates of Healthserve and experience overwhelming genuine friendship, when they go back to their countries, they start to pay it forward to their neighbours.”

When volunteering, we often merely meet the physical needs of the person. But as Christians, it has to go beyond that. Willy pointed out, “We are all relational beings. God is relational to us as well.” He also reminded me that humility is needed when befriending migrant workers.

“Generally, everyone comes with the mindset of ‘Migrant workers so poor thing, I want to help them. How can I help them?’ But once you have a mindset that this person is of less worth, you will have a tendency to want to give, and not also receive.”

He told me of a group of Junior College students who wanted to do an interview with a migrant worker at a coffee shop, who were all surprised when the migrant worker stood up to buy drinks for them.

“They were like, ‘Shouldn’t we be the ones to offer him drinks?’ But now he’s buying them drinks … We always have assumptions and narrow views of things. But if we are able to open our hearts, minds and be humble, we will be able to learn and receive.”

As I left Healthserve, I found myself reflecting. Was I truly willing to get to know migrant workers for who they really are?

This Chinese New Year, Thir.st is partnering Healthserve to provide opportunities where you can befriend a migrant worker. It can be as simple as treating him or her to a meal.

Whoever you choose to invite for a meal this year, remember that Jesus Himself frequently ate with the marginalised in society so He could minister to them. There’s always space for one more rice bowl at the Father’s table.


If you’re interested, sign up here! It doesn’t matter if you’re doing this alone, with your family or your cell-group. We look forward to hearing your stories.

/ siqi@thir.st

Siqi loves to eat. Except for peas, egg yolk, cucumbers, livers, intestines. Among others. She also happens to be a writer.

Conversations

We Recommend

Faith

A taste that I will never forget

by Weiren David Ong

Faith

Celebrating Selah: 4 years of realigning a generation

by Joanne Kwok

How are those resolutions coming along?

by Alex Park

Do Good

How to serve each other better in church

by | 23 January 2018, 6:05 PM

As I spoke to friends about helping cell group leaders as they lead and serve in church, a friend reminded me that everyone in church has struggles and needs – not just those who lead or serve in an official capacity.

So how can we care for the different communities in the church?

Perhaps, a more complete perspective on worship – as both a personal and communal activity – includes the awareness that as much as the church helps their members to worship, the congregation also serves the church – each other.

Loving and serving the church community varies with their needs – and while this article cannot address every single one, these are experiences I have encountered.

NEW PARENTS

As my friend and I exchanged observations about church, he pointed out the difficulties new mothers have in attending church with a newborn.

He noted that most new mothers end up being unable to attend service for several months, while adjusting to the new routines that come with parenting a newborn.

The initial months of having a new baby, he reasons, is tough. What, then, can the congregation do to help new mothers participate in church service?

While churches, including mine, have nursery programmes, these usually cater to infants at least a year old. What about those with newborns?

These sentiments resonated with me – I’m not a parent myself, but have observed friends who have only recently restarted attending the full duration of service while being able to give it their full attention. Previously, their children were too young and required full parental attention, even during service.

Now, their older child is old enough for Sunday School; the younger child, though not of Sunday School age yet, is able to be entrusted to a caregiver while both parents attend church service.

I recognise that there is value in having someone else help to take care of the newborn while the mother participates in Sunday worship – such as someone who has prior been in the same shoes.

Yet, as a single young adult, I am aware there are others who might be better equipped to care for a newborn than I would be. Nonetheless, this does not exempt me from the call of bearing the burdens of other believers, which thus fulfils the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

In view of this, one way I have helped my friends participate on Sundays when their babies were newborns, was to help them take notes during sermon – even as they take care of their babies on Sunday mornings, should they need to leave the service, they can catch up on the segments they have missed.

It might not be as significant compared to being able to lull a baby to sleep in minutes, but if I am able to love or serve someone in this way, I will!

SPECIAL NEEDS

Having congregation members with special needs within the main service, when the opportunity arises, should be the church’s joy and privilege – when this happens in my church, it warms my heart to know we remain a safe and welcoming space for those with different needs.

Yet, sometimes the service might be overwhelming on the member with special needs.

My friend recounted instances where the church community helps a family who has a child with autism, in an event of the child’s meltdown – members of the congregation have offered to sit with the child in the car. This enables his parents to continue in worship during the main service.

This reminded me of the time my friend did the same – a member of our congregation brought an intellectually disabled sibling to the main service.

How can we bear each other, such that as a whole body we glorify our head – Jesus?

It would have been draining for the sibling with intellectual disability to sit through the full service; hence my friend left midway at a suitable juncture to sit in the car with them until service ended.

Having said that, I recognise having many overenthusiastic helpers wanting to love or serve this way would likely be counterproductive and overwhelming instead.

Instead, the attitude of our hearts to show love in this way – should we get the opportunity – is a more pertinent consideration. How can we bear each other, such that as a whole body we glorify our head – Jesus?

After all, Romans 15:2 tells us that in doing so, we help to edify others and build them up in the Lord.

ELDERLY

In the church service I attend, there aren’t many elderly members – most of the senior members either attend Mandarin service, or the earlier service prior.

Nonetheless, having participated in a mission trip where members of the congregation were elderly, I glimpsed how small gestures can help them participate more joyfully in worship.

The elderly believers were squinting their eyes to read the lyrics of the songs we sang during church, which was printed in the hymn book in a font size that was far too small.

Picking up on my teammate’s initiative, I Googled the song lyrics on my phone for us to view it together. On my phone screen, we were able to zoom in on the lyrics as needed, until it could be read with ease.

Alternatively members may be able to read the song lyrics with ease, but struggle to find the song number or page number – it is the loving thing to do when we help them find or turn to the requisite song or page.

Of course, all these pointers may not be of universal relevance to every church congregation – they are practical pointers stemming from personal encounters.

Yet, at the heart of these lies the main goal of recognising that bearing each others’ burdens fulfils the law of Christ – which is summed up in the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 22:39-40, Galatians 5:14).

As people who are called to love others because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19), let’s heed this command – in any capacity as God enables us.

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

Conversations

We Recommend

Culture

A lawyer’s reflection on the City Harvest saga: The ends do not justify the means

by Darius Lee

Culture

City Harvest verdict: Has justice been served?

by Edric Sng

Faith

The world doesn’t revolve around me

by Evangelyn Koh

Culture

What does justice even mean to you?

by | 23 January 2018, 4:50 PM

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:10-11)

The first question that comes to the top of our heads when we mention the word “poverty” is: Do we really have poor people in Singapore?

Sure, we have people who are constantly complaining about how poor they are – that’s inevitable. But according to MFA and Forbes, we are the third richest country in the world today, with reference to our overpowering GDP.

While we do have homeless people, elderly who cannot afford to retire and families mired in financial difficulty, Singaporeans are nowhere near the poorest of the poor.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Besides our financial superiority over most of the world, crime rates in our country are insignificantly minute and mostly minor. One is more likely to have more money taxed or fined than robbed. The judicial system of Singapore ensures that justice is swift and imposed so heavily that it is simply not worth it to even try to commit crimes.

So, how does the idea of justice for the poor and needy apply to us? How can Singaporeans obey and work out this command of God by executing justice where justice is due? How do we become the good Samaritan to the battered Jew (Luke 10:25-37) where there is no literal “battered Jew” in our line of sight?

What if there is a way in which all of us can participate in justice in the world today? Caring for the “poor and needy” does not need to be limited to sending hand-me-downs to Salvation Army. Generous giving to the forgotten and outcast can be more than giving back the two out of the three packets of tissues you bought for $1 from the tissue auntie.

We don’t always have to go overseas and do a humanitarian mission trip even though that is a perfectly sound idea. If we are open to the idea of justice that includes but goes beyond caring for the broken and impoverished where we can see them, realising that God’s heart is to care for every single individual in the world today, we will be able to see how our every action can lead to large repercussions, both positive and negative.

THE INHUMANITY OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING

One of the most terrible forms of inhumanity is to completely breach an individual’s human’s rights for self-gain, and the way it has dominantly prevailed in the unseen world today is through human trafficking.

If passages such as Deuteronomy 15-16 give us an idea of God’s standard of human rights, then human trafficking is the law’s nemesis – a totally opposite end of the spectrum of justice.

Let that awareness hit you. Yes, people do get paid nothing at all in the world today.

Labour trafficking comprises of a vast majority of human trafficking, together with sex trafficking, and is very literally modern-day slavery. 21 million people of the world today are victims of forced labour, made to work long hours for close to, if not nothing in return.

Victims are forced into labour with threats, fraud, violence, and many other inhuman methods to fuel the selfish gains of the industry. And regardless of how small our efforts may seem, everyone can join the fight against this revolting movement that is oppressing the last, the least and the lost.

THE PRICE OF CARELESS CONSUMERISM

The prosperity of Singapore breeds a culture of consumerism: The more we are given, the more we want.

We want more and more, but want to pay less and less for it. So when we walk into a supermarket, our eyes have been trained to find the cheapest item possible.

But one of the many factors that determines the price of an item is the labour cost. After you exclude raw material, packaging, freight and advertising costs, as well as the profit margin taken by the retailer, whatever is left is how much those involved in the manufacturing process are paid.

So consider the possibility that your cost savings may be down to the labourer being unfairly paid – exploited – for his or her labour. With this in mind, maybe we should add one more dimension to our decision-making process beyond “cheap and good: The guarantee of social justice for its employees.

Consider the possibility that your cost savings may be down to the labourer being unfairly paid – exploited – for his or her labour.

Buying from manufacturers and retailers that apply the principles of fair trade – for example, transparency, the creation of opportunities for the economically disadvantaged, and ensuring that no child or forced labour is used in the process – is us making a stand for justice, that every labour receives what he is rightly due. In 1 Timothy 5:18, the Bible plainly and clearly describes this principle: “The worker deserves his wages.”

This is just one way we can fight for justice even in our everyday decisions. The point here is that we need to consider how we make our spending decisions, beyond merely looking at the state of our bank accounts. Sometimes the price is worth paying. 

THE EXCUSE OF APATHY

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

The sad truth is, revelation of injustice right under our noses is usually confronted by apathy. We struggle to care about who gets what as long as we get what we want.

We have to ask ourselves, the “Israelites” of today – God’s people – how else can we be holy as God is holy (Leviticus 11:44-45)? How can we show compassion to the poor as God cares for the broken-hearted? 

In the prophetic books, two minor prophets by the names of Micah and Amos spoke out valiantly against the social injustice that was happening in the land of Judah and Israel. The anger and conviction in their writing is apparent.

If the idea of injustice does not severely convict us, our generosity will never go beyond giving to charity foundations and spare change for buskers.

The highlighted theme of both books is not merely the ignorance of the poor, but the oppression they face, even from the “people of God themselves.” The nation of Israel, who was once an oppressed nation in the land of Egypt, forgot about their past and started becoming oppressors themselves to their own people.

They accepted the lie of apathy and forsook God’s values to care for the weak and the downtrodden. That is why Micah, a book that fluctuates between judgement and hope, is summarised in Micah 6:8.

As much as God is bringing judgement to those who are exploiting the poor and needy, His reminder to them of His standards to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God” shows His heart of desiring their repentance, to one day become a holy example to the nations around them.

We must relate this heart of God to ourselves, the people of God today. If the idea of injustice does not severely convict us, our generosity will never go beyond giving to charity foundations and spare change for buskers.

It takes a life-changing decision to embrace justice in every ounce of our lifestyles to ensure that God’s just character is being reflected in us.

Therefore, what does it mean to live a just life?

Maybe to bring it a little closer to home, think about what a just God looks like to the foreign workers we see working at the roadside? How does He look like to your domestic helper?

We will never be able to strive for a just life if we are not convicted by the reason for it.

We can choose to live a life of apathy, or we can choose to live a life that imitates Christ. In fact, the Gospel of Luke was written to show Jesus’ ministry to the minority, His outreach to the outcast. We see Jesus specifically recorded reaching out to those whom society deemed as unworthy – women, children, tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, Gentiles.

As imitators of God Himself (Ephesians 5:1), should we not then exemplify this compassionate trait of His?

From buying fair-trade groceries in the supermarket to impartial treatment for both countrymen and foreigners, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

/ roytay@thir.st

Roy has a peculiar appreciation for subtle wordplay, an inexplorable passion for competitive sports, and an insatiable hunger for delicious food.

Conversations

We Recommend

Faith

I don’t understand the Bible

by Roy Tay

Culture

Belinda Lee: My mother’s unwavering faith

by Fiona Teh

Culture

The God of love

by Joanne Kwok

Article list

I got stood up on Valentine’s Day

A cut above the rest: The 26-year-old barber for the underprivileged

Why should I care about inequality?

This Chinese New Year, will you be a friend to the foreigner?

How to serve each other better in church

What does justice even mean to you?