As she recalled her mother’s final days in her 6-year-long battle with cancer, Belinda Lee took a moment to compose herself before she continued.
The former Mediacorp actress and host spoke of moments when her mom would get up in the middle of the night, when she was in great pain, to cry out to God.
“At that time, she was already on morphine and was very weak. I don’t know where she got the energy from, but she would shout with all her strength for God to take her home.”
“She would cry out with all her might like this: ‘Jehovah, I beg you to bring me home.’
“It was then that my family knew that she was ready to go home. It was painful for us to let her go but we knew that she was ready,” Belinda said.
It was the beginning of the end of a journey which saw her mother go from being anti-Christian to embracing the love of Jesus.
Said Belinda: “My mom, who told the whole world that she would never become a Christian, received Christ when I was in Bible college, and she actually got water baptised on her own without telling the family.
“To me, that shows how true her conviction was, because she willingly did it on her own without pressure from anyone – she did it on her own accord because she truly wants to know who this amazing God is, and she welcomed Him into her life.”
(Belinda Lee’s sharing on her mother’s faith begins at 40:44 in this video)
Belinda shared that her mother, who was illiterate, would pray for God to teach her how to read the Bible.
And He did.
“A miracle happened one day. She came to me beaming with joy, sharing that God answered her prayer and she could finally read the Bible! Not every word, but she was able to at least understand the gist of what she was reading.”
Belinda found it hard to believe, but was encouraged by a neighbour, who said the same prayer had come true for her own elderly parents. “She told me that I have too little faith in God!”
And the way her mother spent her last days stood out to Belinda.
“A week before she finally took her last breath, she instructed one of my aunties to cook a scrumptious breakfast to serve her friends, the members, and the pastors of the Chinese Church she was attending – because that was what she used to do when she was still mobile.”
Belinda recalls her mom saying this to her in Hokkien: “Belinda, I wasn’t educated and I’m not good at studying, but I know how to cook. With my gift, I hope that I can serve God and His children.
“My mom was a dying women, but while on her deathbed, she wasn’t thinking about her own needs or blaming God. All she was thinking about was how she could continue serving God and His people to the very end of her life.
“Mom did not fear death because she believed with all her heart that our Abba Father was going to welcome her with open arms and personally lead her through the white gates of heaven when she meets Him one day.”
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a Relevant in Singapore?” was a question I found myself asking back in the early 2010s, sometime after I’d graduated and was wondering how to creatively contribute to the Kingdom.
It was a rhetorical question. In our own quiet spaces, we appreciated the faith-based, culturally savvy content that had made its way from the USA to our digital shores, even though there was always something slightly misaligned for the local reader.
We didn’t always get references to US politics or their cultural landscape, and neither were their Christian young adult issues always resonant with us. A Singapore Relevant was the dream.
But it was a stalemate, of course.
We had never seen anything close to a “Singapore Relevant” on our social media radars, much less local editions of DesiringGod or The Gospel Coalition. And from the looks of it, we probably never would. Producing digital content at that quality and quantity was going to take a full-time job, my friends and I concurred, every time the topic was raised.
At that point, most of my peers were waist-deep into our first jobs, barely able to even enjoy a stress-free week night. If we were still serving in church, that included our weekends. And where would the money to do any of this come from? The dream would remain what it was – a dream.
Until one day in 2015, as I was scrolling through Facebook one Sunday afternoon and a post from selah.sg caught my eye. It tackled a familiar Singaporean topic, so it had to be local, but it was all polished and hipster, and the writing was on point for a young adult reader.
I don’t remember which article it was, but I will never forget how it made me feel.
Thank God someone’s finally done it.
SELAH SEES FIRST LIGHT
In 2013, a 23-year-old Joseph encountered God in the Scandinavian woods. He was on exchange in Copenhagen, Denmark, at this time, when God addressed the growing discontent he’d long felt in his heart over Singaporean Christians having only western literature to read online.
He tells me this in the most millennial way – over Skype, in a midnight conference call with two of his SELAH teammates, Lemuel and Natalie.
There’s more than 10 of them in the group, church friends who’d been super tight since their teens. From what I gather, they were the teenage version of the Acts church: Studying together, hanging out regularly, staying over at each other’s houses, even holidaying together. They prayed together. Worshipped together.
The friendship that made SELAH.
“But we all felt a dissatisfaction that there had to be more to life than just hanging out,” Joseph admitted. “We knew there could’ve been a reason why God put such a diverse group of individuals together.”
So when Marvin, one of the members from the group, dropped by Denmark for a visit and told Joseph that the rest wanted to work on a project together, it immediately clicked with the dream he’d received. So when he returned to Singapore, he pitched the idea of starting a hyper-local, faith-based website to the group.
“I remember hearing Joseph asking with raw passion: ‘Aren’t you all pining to read content that is relevant to the Singaporean culture?’” Natalie said, and the three of them laugh as she re-enacts his speech.
“Personally I couldn’t see it happening – God spoke to Jo, not me – but as I saw how everyone was getting on board with it, I started think that God could do something with this, and we would be missing out if we just let it fly by.
“It sparked something in me to believe in the vision, that if we put our hearts to it, worked hard and obeyed God, the dream could be realised. And I could commit to what it was going to be.”
One of the first concept drawings for the SELAH site.
Lemuel was one of the first few to cast a positive vote. “I’d already started a blog to write about my lessons from the Christian walk, but it was getting really hard to sustain alone. So when Joseph mooted the idea for SELAH, I thought it was perfect.”
Not every member of the group was gifted in writing, but together they were a creative dream team: Photographers, videographers, singers, communication executives … And by August 8, 2013, SELAH held their first official meeting to bring the dream to life.
DREAMING FOR A GENERATION
“We just wanted Singaporean faith stories to be told and published,” Joseph replied when I asked him about the big vision for SELAH in the beginning. “And over the years, people have told us that what we do has ‘discipled the nation’, even though we’re really not the most competent in the media publication space.”
Their mission is threefold: To glorify God in the edification of the Singaporean body of Christ, to inspire readers to pause and realign – their tagline, and also selah‘s Hebraic meaning – and to ignite Christ-inspired living.
“Christ-inspired living is a cornerstone of all SELAH does,” Lemuel added, “We referred to it often in the early months, when we were still wondering what we were doing.
“And now that we all have full-time jobs somewhere else, we also try to pause and realign ourselves first, because balancing SELAH with our other commitments can be really challenging.”
Late night SELAH meetings in the early days.
The response to SELAH since they went live in February 2015 has, however, proved the long fight worthy.
“We wanted to throw in the towel at least three times before the launch,” Joseph shared. “It was a coordination nightmare.”
Natalie interjected, “We couldn’t even agree over whether we were good enough to call ourselves a ‘magazine’!”
But the initial rate of uptake surprised and humbled the team, and keeps them doing what they do. “Comments like, ‘Wah, that was a good article, I was really blessed’ help keep us going,” Lemuel said. “Writing is an incredibly personal experience and some articles draw from places so deep within my soul, making it very difficult.”
Natalie, also one of the main writers, agrees. “Needing to bear your heart on the Internet is a struggle. I ask God, ‘Why do You have to take me through such pain in order to produce this article? What or who is it for?’
“But as God has laid it on our hearts to steward these stories well, our hearts are constantly renewed to do so.”
FOUR YEARS AND COUNTING
On February 15, 2018, SELAH celebrates their 4th anniversary. It’s also the start of a year that will see most of the team get married – including Natalie and Lemuel, respectively. Nobody can say how things will unfold from here for SELAH, Joseph said. But who knew they’d even be where they are today four years ago?
“I look back fondly on the moments of bouncing ideas off each other in the early days,” Lemuel shared with a smile. “Back then, every article posted, every interview done, every image taken was a milestone. We celebrated every little thing.”
A huge milestone for the team: SELAH’s first worship night at CHIJMES.
“We all knew Ronald would be the very first one to fall asleep during our meetings,” Natalie added in jest. “We’re more ‘business-like’ today.”
“Business-like” has even meant creating a separate work-chat for the group of friends, as not everyone was ultimately part of the current SELAH team.
And though things may continue changing as the team grows up, the work is far from over for SELAH.
“The digital space is where transformation happens in this day and age, and we have a mandate to put something out there that is relevant to a Singaporean,” said Lemuel, his tone now serious. “I love Singapore and I want the church in Singapore to be strong.”
With SELAH, we’ve always wanted to break that perception of Christian perfection; we’re all struggling, and we all need grace.
Joseph agreed. “With SELAH, we’ve always wanted to break that perception of Christian perfection. The narrative we’ve tried to write is that we’re all struggling, and we all need grace. We all need saving and help and God.”
It’s the same heart that Natalie has for their contributing writers. “I wish we could disciple our contributors more,” she shared later, in another conversation. “That I would be discerning and sensitive to what the Lord is saying to the one who’s writing the story.
“I believe God wants transformed lives over great stories.”
And over 180 of those great stories later, I can still say: Thank God someone’s finally done it.
This story was originally featured on SELAH, in collaboration for their 4th anniversary.
SELAH is an online magazine that seeks to tell Singaporean stories of Christ-inspired living. Find out more at: www.selah.sg.
Artiste-host Belinda Lee is no stranger to most Singaporeans. You’ve seen her on TV, at the Star Awards (where she was voted one of Mediacorp’s Top 10 Most Popular Female Artistes four times), in adverts for her various endorsement deals, and even on the cover of the book she authored.
But while she seems to permanently be in the limelight, her past was far from glorious.
“I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth,” Belinda shares.
Belinda’s parents had three children to feed – she was the youngest. To make ends meet, Belinda’s mother took on various odd jobs, ranging from babysitting to sewing umbrellas, to folding joss paper or drying ikan bilis in baskets under the sun.
Each job paid a meagre wage – hence, every dollar and cent Belinda’s parents earned was precious.
“I felt that no one loved me, that I was nobody’s child.”
“As children, we were taught to be as thrifty as possible. My schoolmates would buy a few sets of school uniforms a year – but I could only afford one set a year. And I had to wear my school shoes till they were completely worn out and had holes in them.”
She adds: “Because of that, I was often judged and looked down upon by my school teachers and friends. Because of my shabby appearance.”
For example, Belinda says, as a Primary 1 pupil, there was an occasion when Primary 6 seniors came to bring their juniors to the canteen. One by one, they picked other children, until in the end, Belinda was the only one left in the classroom.
“没人选我。没人带我去吃东西。我觉得好难过，很伤心 。” I was so sad that no one chose me.
“At seven years old, I picked myself up and went to the canteen to eat alone.”
PICKED ON AT SCHOOL
She didn’t just feel judged by her fellow students, but by teachers as well. A teacher once made her stand on a bench as punishment, in front of her classmates.
“It was like I was standing on a stage so that everybody could see me. My teacher pointed her finger at me and told everyone that I was a bad role model. She said, ‘Don’t be messy like her! Look at her – she’s like a jungle girl. You must never be like her.'”
Aged about 8 or 9, young Belinda learnt the meaning of humiliation.
“I had never felt so ashamed, so rejected, and so condemned in my life. I felt that no one loved me, that I was nobody’s child,” she says.
“Since young, I’ve always yearned for acceptance, but no matter how hard I tried to please others, I was never accepted.
“I never had any words of affirmation when I was a little girl. I grew up believing that I was a low-life – people told me I would be doomed to fail when I grew up.”
INSECURE IN LOVE AND WORK
And true enough, life as a grown-up did not get any better. Belinda admitting to looking for love and acceptance in the wrong places.
“I had one failed relationship after another, and I’m not proud of it. All I was searching for was security and a sense of belonging with the man whom I was with,” she confesses.
She plunged deeper into darkness after each broken relationship. With her love life in a mess, her career wasn’t doing much better, with Belinda battling deep insecurity in her early years in the entertainment industry.
“I was very concerned with how people would look at me – do they like me? Do they not like me? The public’s opinion mattered so much to me that I became a people-pleaser. I would only say yes, and I would never say no. I didn’t dare to stand up for myself.
“I was afraid of offending or rejecting other people because I was afraid of being rejected.”
“Some would see me on the streets, come up to me, and tell it in my face that they would switch channels whenever they see me on TV.”
This led to her taking on projects she wasn’t comfortable with. In her own words, “I wasn’t exactly in my element hosting wacky variety shows. I just didn’t know how to be strong and to be something that I wasn’t.”
And if she didn’t like her own performance, the audience felt it all the more.
Recalls Belinda: “Some would see me on the streets, come up to me, and tell it in my face that they would switch channels whenever they see me on TV.”
It got so bad that Belinda was once voted “turn-off of the year” by a local newspaper.
“It was a very big blow to me. I tried my best, but my best was never good enough.”
Over time, she grew detached from work. Belinda was miserable – and on the verge of giving up.
“I was still living life and resolving issues based on my own strength, but I was so tired,” she recalls. She was a Christian by then, but “still had no faith in God”. She questioned God: Did He even know or care about her situation at all?
She slipped into depression and wanted to end it all – both her work and her life.
At this lowest point of Belinda’s career, her company called her and told her about a new travel show, Find Me A Singaporean,which required her to travel off the beaten track around the world in search of Singaporeans in unique places.
But even this silver lining began with a dark cloud. “The reason they chose me was because another host wasn’t available. I thought to myself, ‘Huh? Why am I always the second choice? Why can’t I be the first choice?'”
Why am I always the second choice, she wondered. When Belinda hung up the phone, she wrestled with God.
“If this is a project that is planned by You and given by You, then You perform a miracle,” she told Him.
“I told Him what I wanted. I said I wanted the show to be on prime time, so that it would touch and impact the lives of many. That was my specific prayer,” Belinda recalls.
God answered that prayer. Find Me A Singaporean was aired on prime time. Starting with an airtime of half an hour, it got so popular that it later became an hour-long show.
“Most importantly, the stories that we featured were so inspirational that many viewers wrote in to share with us how impacted they were by the show.”
For example, while filming an episode in a rooftop shanty town in Hong Kong, Belinda realised that it was a misconception that Hong Kong is a city of affluence. In reality, poverty exists in Hong Kong too – families live in cramped rooms on the rooftops, in fear of bad typhoons. These houses are easily destroyed in extreme weather.
In that tiny, rickety house, Belinda allowed her conscience and emotions to guide her. Through hosting Find Me A Singaporean, Belinda experienced God’s overflowing love and compassion for the poor and needy.
“For the very first time in my life, I felt that I could afford to be the real Belinda on TV. While filming, I could cry whenever I was moved, and smile or laugh whenever I was happy. I didn’t have to pretend to be something that I am not,” says Belinda.
BROKEN TO BE A BLESSING
She says it was then she came to understand how her difficult childhood and numerous setbacks in life helped her grow a heart of empathy.
“If I had never tasted what it was like to be poor, rejected, condemned, abused and depressed, I would never have been able to understand and feel the pain of the people whom I have interviewed, and even weep silently with them.”
Now, Belinda believes that God worked through her brokenness to prepare her for His work.
“God has chosen to use my past hurts and weaknesses for His greater purpose. He has seen me go through brokenness, so that I can be used as His vessel to reach out to the broken-hearted, to be a mouthpiece for Him, to be a voice for the voiceless, the rejected, abandoned, wounded and depressed,” reasons Belinda.
“It was very, very clear that all God wanted for me to do was to stop pleasing the world, just go please Him alone.”
Through her travelogue, Belinda also had the opportunity to become the goodwill ambassador for World Vision, a non-profit Christian humanitarian organisation – a role she remains involved in. Her experiences with her travelogue also inspired her to write her book, Larger Than Life: Celebrating the Human Spirit.
In 2016, Larger Than Life won Popular book store’s Readers’ Choice Award.
Says Belinda, who had grown accustomed to rejection, of the accolade: “I was overwhelmed.”
SCHOOL OF FAITH
As she closer and closer to God, Belinda felt a desire to go to Bible school.
“I took that leap of faith and took six months of no-pay leave. But many people talked to me and told me, ‘Belinda, are you crazy? It’s not a wise move if you want to do well in the industry. You shouldn’t take leave. You should work very, very hard.'”
But for the first time in Belinda’s life, she “did not go around seeking advice and approval”, she says.
Twenty-eight days after Belinda started school, she attended Mediacorp’s annual Star Awards ceremony. She went to the awards ceremony with Matthew 6:33 – Seek HIM first! – engraved in her heart, and ended up bagging three awards that night.
She made sure to thank Yahweh – God – on stage.
“The reporters actually asked me who was that ‘Yahweh’ whom I thanked on stage,” Belinda says, laughing at the memory of how the media thought it was the name of some romantic interest.
“It was clear – it was very, very clear that all God wanted for me to do was to stop pleasing the world, just go please Him alone.”
OUT OF THE COMFORT ZONE
Belinda left Mediacorp at the beginning of 2017, a choice she made in order to get out of her comfort zone, to pursue a greater purpose in life.
“Was it difficult? Yes. Was it a struggle? Yes. Did I take a long time to think about it? Yes,” she admits.
“But I knew I had to do this. I chose to get out of my comfort zone to pursue a greater purpose in life.”
She appreciates the freedom of being able to decide on her schedule, so she can prioritise serving God. The lack of a fixed contract means she’s learnt how to depend more on God, to trust Him no matter what.
It’s a lesson she is learning how to apply in every area of her life. As she looks back at the mistakes she’s made, and sees how her life has turned around, she knows it can only be the grace of God at work.
“I gave my heart to all the wrong people. They abused it, even crushed it, and threw it away,” she says.
“But the moment I gave my heart to Jesus, not only does He cherish it, He actually engraved my name in the palm of His hand (Isaiah 49:16) – that’s how much I knows He loves me.”
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.
by Sherman Ng, Executive Producer, Salt Media | 23 October 2017, 9:26 AM
I believe the film market is ready and hungry for movies with good values.
I’ve looked at the sales numbers globally, and I believe the weak numbers put up by films such as Blade Runner 2049 suggest that audiences are tired of post-apocalyptic films and are looking for hope.
Then I looked at the statistics behind Dangal – a film about family, overcoming impossibility and achieving dreams – and realised it got more than half its box office revenues from China despite being a Hindi film!
I believe that films can inspire, encourage and disciple people when used in the right way. Media content can change the culture of societies.
For Christians in the media space, it is important to recognise that we are strategically placed as agents of change.
And sure, there will always be that tension between creating profitable work that appeals to audiences and staying true to the values that you espouse.
But the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. For instance, beyond having Kingdom values in our content, we also demand a level of excellence high enough to withstand the scrutiny of the market.
When we truly understand the media’s potential for the Kingdom, we will then be motivated to take the market in the right direction.
At Salt Media, we not only produce content that is of Hollywood’s pedigree, we also import content which we assess will take the market closer towards a Kingdom direction. At this moment we already have two projects helmed by Hollywood stalwarts like Geoffrey Rush, Sofia Vergara and Joe Manganiello. These are all values-based films waiting to impact Hollywood next summer.
Likewise, we hold all the rights for distributing The Case For Christ in Singapore and Taiwan. We took a risk to bring that film in because we hoped that people would invite their friends and family to watch it. It’s a great conversation starter on the Christian faith.
Personally, it’s not just about producing values-based content. For me, I try to carry these Kingdom values into the way I do my work. The values that we stand for and want to communicate to the world must be the same ones we carry in our business’ DNA.
For example, we pay our service providers on time. We also care for the well being of our team and those who work with us. There was an occasion when we sent a talent home from an overseas shoot because of a family emergency. It cost us time and money but we valued her well being above our comfort. Ultimately, God still enabled us to complete the production below budget.
Even if you’re a Christian who doesn’t work in the media industry, you still have a role to play in shaping culture.
You can vote with your money by choosing what kind of films you’d pay to see. So when you go to the movies, look for a film with good values. Your choice impacts box office sales, which in turn tells cinemas what kind of content is being sought by consumers.
It’s so important to recognise and understand the influence that the media carries. Because when we truly understand its potential for the Kingdom, we will then be motivated to take the market in the right direction.
As a producer with years of investment and financing expertise, Sherman creates values-based content with the goal of inspiring audiences worldwide towards the Kingdom. He will be speaking at LuminoCity 2017.
LuminoCity is a 3-day forum that will bring together thought-leaders and disciples in the marketplace for conversations to shape the culture of our day. It will be held from November 3 to 5, 2017, at The Pavilion. Thir.st readers can enjoy a special discount of $50 from now till October 23, and a discount of $40 from October 24 till October 30 with the promo code “THIRSTY”.
I joined the teaching profession in the year 1965. I was a passionate primary school teacher, who aspired to become a principal in time.
Four years later, in December 1969, the Ministry of Education (MOE) sent me for a 22-day Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) course in Pulau Ubin. I had to do cross-country runs, abseiling, rowing and all kinds of other strenuous physical exercises.
I really suffered. I asked myself: Why am I even here?
I soon got my answer. Just after my OBS course ended, I received an official letter from the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). It read: “Dear Sir, we are pleased to call you up for National Service.”
They were “pleased”. But inside I wanted to die. I was 23 years old, en route to becoming a principal! Why did I have to do National Service?
I found out later that it was because the first soldiers who were recruited only spoke Hokkien. They were known as Hokkien peng, and they were unable to understand any English instruction from the course officers.
When Dr Goh Keng Swee, then Defence minister, learnt about this, he made a decision that changed my life: All male teachers 25 years and below were to be enlisted into the Army for 3 years to teach English to the Hokkien peng.
I can vividly remember my enlistment date: January 24, 1970. I was there together with all my teacher friends. A Member of the Parliament gave a speech exhorting us to die for our country. I remember thinking to myself: “Stupid man, you ask me to die for what? I want to live for my country, why should I die?”
My mom cried as the truck I was on started to drive off. I cried as well. It was like I was about to be executed!
When I finally reached Taman Jurong camp, I realised the corporals and sergeants were 18 or 19 years old. They were younger than most of the teachers. They began shouting at us. Get down from the truck, get down!
Can you imagine teachers being shouted at? Unthinkable! It was so humiliating! In school, students bow down and greet me, “Good morning, Mr Goh!”
I told myself: “Jeff, you’ve only been in the army for half a day and you’re crying like this. You got 3 years, you know? You’ll go mad!”
Then they lined us up at the football field. Good, I thought, we’re going to play football! Then they gave us razor blades. Good, I thought, free toiletries!
Then they asked us to squat – and cut the grass on the football field with the razors. One blade of grass at a time.
So here was “Mr Goh”, now in short pants and a smelly green T-shirt, cutting the grass.
I was crying in my heart. Why am I here?What have I done wrong? But I told myself: “Jeff, you’ve only been in the army for half a day and you’re crying like this. You got 3 years, you know? You’ll go mad!”
I couldn’t change my posting, so I began changing my mindset. I told myself I was very fortunate because I had gone for an OBS course before enlisting; at least I was physically ready. Sure enough, I was ahead of all other recruits in every run.
I became so positive about National Service that after 3 months, I was named the Best Recruit in my company. That changed my life once again, because Dr Goh decided that all the best recruits in the company should not simply become language instructors.
Instead, we would become combat soldiers. I almost died again.
All my friends laughed at me. While they were teaching English in air-conditioned rooms, I was running up and down a hill. “Jeffrey Goh gei kiang, act clever lah, now have to suffer!”
But later on, I was sent for Officer Cadet Training and I eventually became a Second Lieutenant. I was an officer, while all my friends were corporals. When they saw me, instead of shouting out “Eh, Jeff!”, they had to salute and say, “Morning, Sir!”
“Good morning,” I would reply. “Now who gei kiang?”
I served the nation as an officer until my 3 years were up. One week before I was to go back to school to be a teacher, I was interviewed by Colonel Winston Chew, who later became a Lieutenant-General and Singapore’s first Chief of Defence Force.
“Jeff, sit down. What are you going to do after this?”
I told him I wanted to teach. He asked me to sign on for a career with the Singapore Armed Force (SAF) instead.
I refused. I was a man of peace. I told him I would rather teach than fight.
“Jeff, here’s my proposal,” he replied. “Why don’t you serve 5 more years in combat? I promise to put you somewhere in SAF MINDEF where you can teach.”
And that was it. I transferred from MOE to MINDEF and served there 22 years until I attained the rank of Major. I never went back to teaching at MOE.
By putting on the uniform, I made sure we were all men of peace.
I began to realise how important and meaningful my job was. I defended the future that our leaders and the pioneers had fought for, for their children and the generations to come. By putting on the uniform, I made sure we were all men of peace. God gave me a sense of purpose and built resilience in me.
Now, I can say I’m proud to once have been a part of the SAF.
And because attaining the rank of a Major allows you to retire early, I retired at the age of 45. If I was a school principal, I would have retired at 62 instead. Thank God for that!
I had an abortion, and the guilt and shame almost killed me
by June Bai | 27 September 2017, 6:05 PM
I stared at the rows of bottles in the room Marina had ushered me into. I’d been awestruck by the sights in New Zealand over the past few weeks, but nothing could prepare me for this.
In the jars were hundreds, if not thousands, of buttons. In any other setting they would have been an impressive collector’s item, but I knew I stood before something a lot more sacred. Every button represented a baby lost to abortion, sent in by those who mourned to Marina Young, founder of the Buttons Project.
“Through my own abortion experience I came to realise many women feel the same – that it can be difficult to gain any sense of closure. There is no grave to visit, no tangible way of remembering,” Marina shared with me.
“That’s why I started the Buttons Project. To create a memorial for the babies we’ve never met.”
The familiar sadness I’d carried for years inside me stirred. Most of it had healed over and been replaced by a renewed sense of hope – but I would never forget the dark place I’d left behind. Just like Marina, I too had an abortion in my early 20s. I too had searched for peace, the unknown face of my unborn child etched in my heart like a scar.
It was the greatest irony; I had always wanted my own children as a young girl. But when the second pink line appeared on the pregnancy stick, indicating I was most likely with child, the only thing I could think of was to erase it immediately – like I’d written something wrong.
Although we’d been dating for some time, my boyfriend was not ready to get married and start a family. We hadn’t considered the possibility of pregnancy. I could see my father’s crestfallen face. I could imagine how my mother would have chastised me. I told you not to anyhow stay over at people’s house. They wouldn’t know about my ordeal until years later.
My boyfriend and I agreed that the only option was an abortion. To us, this wasn’t our baby. This was our problem. And problems needed to be solved. Back in school, I’d written impassioned pieces on how I was against abortion, but now abortion wasn’t the only problem. I had a problem. This was the solution.
Everything the pre-abortion counsellor told me flew over my head. Yes, I know the risks. No, I don’t want to reconsider this. Get this out of me so I can move on with my life.
And when it was all over, I walked out of the clinic clutching my bundle of relief. My old life was waiting for me. My relationship was waiting for me. No one would ever have to know.
But that night, I struggled to sleep; it was more than the physical pain I was in. Somewhere, growing in me, was a new pain where my child had been.
The child I had killed.
Very much like its cousin shame, guilt is like a tumour. It appears insidiously in a place you cannot quite put a finger on but announces its presence like thunder – throbbing in your head or in your gut. I couldn’t tell if I was guilty of getting pregnant or terminating the pregnancy or not hesitating to terminate the pregnancy – but within the next few days of the abortion, I was a wreck.
What was happening to me? I’d never even met this child or thought of it as a life, as my own. I was supposed to be the same June as I’d always been, unpregnant, not-yet-a-mother. This episode was supposed to be a blip on the screen for my boyfriend and I. A small error reversed as quickly as possible. Control-Z. Undo.
So why did I feel like a part of me had died?
My boyfriend was very supportive at first; he was the only one who knew about this. He’d promised that we’d go back to normal once we’d crossed this hurdle, and I believed for a while that we were stronger together after the abortion.
But as the mounting guilt of killing my own baby sapped the colour from my life, the strain on our relationship soon reached its tipping point.
Six months after the abortion, we called it quits and broke up.
The time following the end of our relationship was what I can describe as my own private hell. Depression sunk its ugly teeth into me and along with that came nights of bitter tears. I had never felt so alone, having isolated myself from most of my social groups.
If the topic of abortion ever came up, the enormous tumour of guilt burned inside me. It was easier to avoid conversation altogether. I felt like the worst of sinners, crying out for comfort yet believing I was undeserving of any. I was grieving the loss of my child, but I was the one who killed him in cold blood.
For more than a year and a half, I cried myself to sleep every night.
It dawned on me gradually that the wound was too deep to heal with time, and I was going to need something stronger – or never stop hurting.
I saw all the other women who were spending the weekend together with me, and it hit me: Each of us had lost a child to abortion and was suffering for it.
I needed God.
It’d been a long time since I’d attended Church regularly. I had stopped all Church activity after the abortion, unable to bear the tension of my secret shame.
But now I was desperate. The dark tunnel I’d been walking in was only getting darker. So I asked a friend if I could follow her to Church. I was like the woman in Luke 8:43-48, grabbing onto the border of Jesus’ cloak, believing with all her heart that it was the only chance she had to be healed.
It didn’t happen all at once, but I look back now to see that this was precisely where healing began.
“If you want to walk into your destiny, you need to come to a point where you have nothing to hide, nothing to lose and nothing to prove,” the preacher said.
It had been several months since I’d started coming back to Church. I was in a much better place – surrounded by good people, reminded of God’s love for me, ready to believe there were brighter days ahead. And when I heard what the preacher said that morning, I realised I wanted so badly to walk into my God-given destiny, whatever that looked like.
Sure, I had nothing to lose and nothing to prove at this point. But I still had something to hide. Up till now, I had never spoken about the abortion to any of my Church friends. Honestly, I was hoping I’d never have to.
But now I knew I had to.
Taking our secret sins out of hiding is very much like coming before God with our confessions. I’m glad you told me, I imagine He’d say, though He’d have known it all along. Now let’s get you out of there.
And that’s just what happened when I finally told my cell group about the abortion. Instead of judgment or disgust, love came pouring forth. It was like a veil had lifted in my relationships. With my friends’ support, I found the courage to go for Rachel’s Vineyard, a weekend retreat for anyone affected by abortion.
The experience of group therapy was terrifying to step into. I remember wanting to run away the moment I entered the retreat centre. But then I saw all the other women who were spending the weekend together with me, and it hit me: Each of us had lost a child to abortion and was suffering for it.
During one of the group sessions, we were sitting in a circle for an activity. Suddenly the room faded, as though in a dream, and the talking around me dissolved into a faint murmur. Right in front of me stood a man I somehow recognised to be Jesus, and in his arms was a wiggling, happy boy whose face I could not see clearly.
I sat frozen in my seat, but Jesus walked towards me and placed the child on my lap. Immediately I knew he was the baby I had lost, and a peace I’d never felt before enveloped my heart.
All this while I had been struggling to believe my child was in Heaven; after what I’d done to him, how could he be in a happy place? He should have been bitter and angry at me for denying him life – his own mother! Where is my baby now? I’d cried for so long.
But as I held my son for the first time, I had my answer. With Jesus standing beside me, eyes full of love, I felt all the guilt and longing fall like chains.
I was finally free.
When I found my way to Marina Young’s house in Auckland, New Zealand, I knew God was up to something. I’d quit my job and come to the country as part of my healing journey, unsure of what lay in store. I had never heard of the Buttons Project previously, but when a pastor I met at a local church heard my story, he immediately referred me to Marina and her husband, Peter.
As a young unmarried couple, Marina and Peter got pregnant before they were ready to settle down. They took the advice of well-meaning friends and family and decided to abort the baby. Although they eventually married and had three children, they never stopped mourning the loss of their first child.
This compelled Marina to start the Buttons Project, to help others who grieve in silence find a place of solace and community. She started the website, which invited anyone affected by abortion to send in a button, either physically or digitally, to create a memorial for babies we’ve not met. To this day, the Youngs have received over 20,000 buttons.
With their blessings, I decided to bring the Buttons Project to Singapore earlier this year, in hopes of helping women and men affected by abortion in our nation take a step towards healing.
If you are on a similar journey, please know that you are not alone. What happened matters. It will always matter.