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Faith

From English teacher to Hokkien peng

by Jeffrey Goh | 13 October 2017, 12:51 PM

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!

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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.

Problem solved.

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.


If abortion is part of your story, visit the Buttons Project Singapore website to send in a button of remembrance, or join their support group.

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‘We want to be their family while they’re in Singapore’: Migrant Worker Ministry

by Tan Wei En | 22 September 2017, 11:24 AM

The Migrant Worker Ministry in Hope Church Singapore was started in 2014, by a few church members who felt the need to advance the Gospel to migrant workers from China who are based in Singapore.

I was one of those we started the cell group for those involved in the ministry, and later on took over the co-leadership of the ministry. Since then, we’ve witnessed how the lives of these migrant workers were changed when they came to know God.

Initially, I thought it would be very difficult for them to understand what we were sharing with them. Apart from the language barrier, I thought that their cultural background might hinder them.

But God is amazing. While not all migrant workers have many years of education, it has never been a barrier – God’s love can be experienced by anyone who sincerely seeks Him. Proverbs 8:17 tells us: “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.”

At the beginning, it was quite encouraging to see many migrant workers joining us. They all came with eager hearts to receive and find out more about Christ.

But soon, it became challenging when many of them stopped coming due to their work schedules. We also found it quite difficult to find time and disciple them individually as well.

So each time we plan for our services or cell groups, we never really know how many people will turn up. Our services’ attendance can vary quite drastically – we can never predict the attendance of our events. We only know when the event starts!

During these times of uncertainty, there were many moments when I was losing hope that people would come.

But we do it all by faith. We continue to persevere in meeting them, and encouraging them to come for cell group. We really want them to experience the grace and love from God.

Our vision is to see these new believers start their own cell groups in China. We hope that when they return home, they’ll bring the Gospel with them and start their own cell groups and churches there.

I’ve come to see that God is always faithful. We are merely His vessels, and He will see His work come to completion in His own timing.

And God has been faithful in leading His people to Him in every service we have conducted so far. Sure, we don’t have hundreds of people in each service. But there still really is no greater joy than witnessing the transformation of lives in Him.

Our vision is to see these new believers start their own cell groups in China. The idea is to be their family, and disciple them well when they are in Singapore. We hope that when they return home, they’ll bring the Gospel with them and start their own cell groups and churches there.

We’ve learnt a lot from our mistakes along the way. We’ve gone through many changes, like how our programmes are run, and where they’re located. 

We started at a place in Chinatown, then shifted to Lavender. Now, we are based in Geylang. The previous locations were comfortable places, with good facilities. However, because they weren’t near supermarkets, or the migrant workers’ living quarters, many would hesitate to come.

We really saw how we needed to meet their felt needs before sharing the gospel effectively. We’ve evolved to better cater to their needs and find more ways to engage them.

It’s difficult to have faith in the midst of messiness. The team experienced an especially tough time when we became really busy with our own work and personal life. The number of volunteers were dwindling, and the ministry seemed to be dying out. We were exhausted.

So we decided to start this ministry-specific cell group. The leadership team bonded when we witnessed how God was with us through the ups and downs. We held on to our Maker and continuously reminded each other that God must always remain at the centre of what we do, no matter what happens.

Thankfully, God kept us together.

If anyone out there is thinking of starting a similar ministry, my advice for you would be: Don’t do it for anyone, or even for yourself. Do it for God. He is the only constant in life, one that will never fade away.

Because of this perspective, I now have a better understanding of what it means to serve from a position of “rest”. It sounds like a contradiction, but the amazing thing about God is that our service to Him will never be more important than our relationship with Him. We want to be Mary – not Martha.

So, when we serve from a position of rest and as a recipient of His Grace, we are able to witness the power of God working through and in us. And all glory belongs to Him.

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Where every phone call could be a matter of life and death: The Samaritans of Singapore

by | 9 September 2017, 10:19 PM

As he walked into an austere interview room at Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) over a year ago, Shawn Lai had absolutely no idea of what he was getting himself into.

“I was quite clueless in terms of the kind of work I would be doing. I was aware that SOS was a helpline but beyond that, I wasn’t sure what else I would be tasked to do,” he tells Thir.st.

As a former Youth For Christ (YFC) staff, Shawn’s expertise was in working with young people. Suicide prevention was a new realm for him.

As Shawn was soon to find out, this people group was certainly growing and in need.

According to an SOS press release from July, 429 suicides were reported in 2016, 20 more than the year before. There was an average of about 6 suicides a month among young adults aged 20 to 29 – the highest among all age groups.

SOS is playing its part keeping this number down: It gets 100 to 120 calls a day. Who knows how many lives may have been saved by that one phone call?

Today, as a counsellor with SOS’s Client Services, Shawn supervises the volunteers who man the 24-hour hotline at SOS. He also directly intervenes when high-risk cases come up.

Shawn also supports those contemplating suicide through one-to-one counselling and offers grief support to “survivors” — those who have lost loved ones to suicide. As part of his work with SOS, he also offers professional consultation to fellow social services professionals dealing with those who are suicidal.

This all sounds like a lot for a reserved man who looks deathly shy at first glance.

“I got anxious quite easily and lacked self-confidence. I really had to grapple with my own anxiety and inner struggles,” says our hero in question, speaking softly. “But where there’s discomfort, there’s growth”.

It’s a hopeful outlook in a field which wars against hopelessness. I begin to see a spark in Shawn, and understand why he’s suited for the job.

I realise I had a lot of preconceived notions about how a Samaritan would look like or behave. For some reason, I thought someone chirpy and irrepressibly joyful would man the phones. Shawn isn’t quite those two things, but he’s proving to be another two: Willing, and a good listener.

It’s the main skill Shawn has learnt on the job, he tells me: Be quick to listen, slow to speak.

“The Bible is spot on in James 1:19, about being quick to listen and slow to speak and become angry. We need to practice active listening; it helps the caller feel understood, so he is more open for you to help him,” says Shawn.

“Too many people want to talk, but not many people are patient enough to listen.”

The paucity of open and honest conversations is a big contributor to the issues many of the callers to the hotline face, says Shawn, who is mature beyond his 27 years.

“Many of the family-related cases we come across stem from a lack of open and honest communication about issues in the family. Most people find it the hardest to talk to family, where they feel most vulnerable, and many family members can be quick to criticise.

“It’s really sad to see that many people are not willing to face their family-related issues, and would rather choose to flee from them.”

Working in a profession which daily tackles despair head on, Shawn tells me he’s come to see that “true joy can only be found in knowing Christ and being satisfied in Him”.

As I hear this spoken with an unashamed conviction, somewhere in me I commend someone like Shawn, who speaks life through the phone lines — into someone whose spirit is close to death.

I find the notion heroic until I catch myself. Why do I find it heroic? Shouldn’t this be normal?

What would the world around us look like if every Christian was a Samaritan? Each of us living out Proverbs 15:4 – soothing tongues serving as trees of life – or Proverbs 18:21?

In a culture of death, we need to be a shifting force that brings life. We’re called to love. We’re called to bring life to a parched land.


If you know anyone in distress or contemplating suicide, call the SOS hotline at 1800 221 4444, or email pat@sos.org.sg. Visit their website to find out more about SOS or their campaign for World Suicide Prevention Day 2017.

You can also seek help at the following numbers:

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800 283 7019
Institute of Mental Health’s Mobile Crisis Service: 6389 2222
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800 353 5800
Tinkle Friend: 1800 274 4788

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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Depression, dyslexia and the hope I hold on to

by Nigel Teo | 4 September 2017, 11:40 AM

I was never the “normal” kid, even from young.

With ADHD and dyslexia, I never really fit in with the “crowd” and got bullied and ostracised often growing up. I’ve always longed for love, acceptance and a place to belong among the people around me, but never seemed to get that. I was often labeled as an “extra” among my peers, and the butt of many jokes.

Things took a turn for the worse when I entered secondary school. Entering a totally new environment without the friends I made in primary school, I felt even lonelier and more ostracised than ever.

Because of this transition and lack of social support, I fell into depression and had thoughts of committing suicide.

I started to question my existence and things involving my purpose in life. Though I was going to a church, I started to ask hard questions about whether God really existed and if he really is as loving as people portray Him to be.

One day, after school, I passed by a chapel as I headed back home. It had been a bad day for me, and I really didn’t know why all these bad things happened to me.

I walked in, all alone, and cried out to this “God” whom I’d been hearing so much about but did not understand.

“If you really are the loving God people say you are, why do you let me go through the things that have happened to me?”

And there I had my first experience with Him. An inner prompting came out of nowhere, and I felt God telling me that “before any of these bullies came to existence, I’d already made you, loved you and called you my own”.

“If you really are the loving God people say you are, why do you let me go through the things that have happened to me?”

Bewildered, I walked out of the chapel questioning if what I had gone through was all in my imagination. But now, on hindsight, that incident marked the beginning of my journey to knowing this God who calls me His own.

It was much later on in my life that I learnt that this “prompting” I had felt was actually from Psalms 139:13-14. Borrowing the words of David, this is what he says of God:

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

God had made us with a purpose and plan, regardless of what the world may tell you. You are not an accident.

I still struggled considerably with bouts of depression that came and went over the years. I doubted how the truth in Psalm 139 might apply to me, a misfit. Although this incident spurred my pursuit for a true, living God, it took many years and many different people God had sent to love and accept me for who I am, before I began to see healing and could change this ungodly belief of mine.

Even now, I still struggle. There are times where I cannot control what I think, nor can I control the anxiety or despair I feel. I’ve also grown to learn that depression and anxiety are not easy things to understand, and although I know what I should do (or not do), I cannot seem to do them.

When I choose to follow Jesus, it does not mean life will be easy from now, but it does mean I won’t walk alone anymore.

This despair, triggered by my depression, and the constant reminders of my flaws remind me of the imperfect world I was born in. I’ve grown to learn that when I try to solve things by my own strength – to pursue things I perceive to be anchors of peace, hope and happiness – all my efforts came to naught. Merely broken wells, as Jeremiah 2:3 states, which only bring brief relief at best.

There have been many sleepless nights where I’ve stayed awake, wondering if the morning would ever come – if I would ever wake up from the nightmare of my destructive thoughts.

But yes – morning will come. Every struggle points me to a life that is yet to come, a life that’s perfect and without sadness of pain. No matter what I do by my own strength, I cannot solve or change anything that I am going through. But in partnership with the Holy Spirit, I can change and be the person God has called me to be.

Grace is given to us through Christ, so that we may live in this moment and take the opportunity to experience the life God has promised to us.

We are given a new self and a new power through Christ. We are shown in 2 Corinthians 10:5 that we are not the sum of our thoughts, and we need to bring any thought that sets itself against Christ captive, bringing it to obedience in Christ.

But as we empty our minds, we cannot stop there. We need to fill our minds with what is noble and good (Philippians 4:8-9). And as we do that, we renew our minds to understand what is good, acceptable and pleasing to God (Romans 12:2).

Jesus’ act of love – death on the Cross – gives me a choice to truly live. I could choose to live my way, which results in death, or choose to follow Jesus. It does not mean life will be easy from now, but it does mean I won’t walk alone anymore.

Though I struggle I know there will come a time where I won’t have to. That is the hope I have in Him.


This is solely written based on the experience of the author. It is by no means a fixed, one-shape-fits-all solution if you find yourself struggling with depression, anxiety or any mental health issue. Your journey may look very different. But you do not need to walk alone. If you have any further questions about mental health, or would like a platform to talk about your struggles – we would like to be there for you. Please drop us an email at hello@thir.st.

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When I was kicked out of OCS

by Raphael Chang | 30 August 2017, 11:52 AM

I had the opposite experience to the writer of When I didn’t make it to OCS. I made it, to my surprise. But not for long.

When I received my posting after completing Basic Military Training (BMT), I was shocked to see the three letters “OCS” on the online portal, indicating that I was going to Officer Cadet School. Only the most outstanding and exceptional recruits from BMT had the privilege to enter OCS. I’d struggled with physical fitness a lot in BMT, so this was unexpected.

I believed that God had placed me in OCS for a reason, and I held on to the belief that He would see me through the next nine months of my training.

And God did place me there for a reason. But not for the reason I envisioned.

The best man that I can ever be is the man God created me to be.

Barely a month into OCS, I suffered from an asthma attack during one of my exercises.

When I was brought to the Medical Centre, the doctor took a look at my medical records and nonchalantly commented: “There was a mistake in your physical employment status. I’m afraid that due to your asthmatic condition, you are deemed unfit and will be unable to continue your training in OCS.”

He prepared some documents, sent me back to my platoon commander, and that was that. From that moment on, I was out of OCS.

Everything happened so fast; I was completely devastated. That night, I lay on my bed and cried out to God for an explanation.

How could this happen? I thought you placed me here for a reason? God, was I not good enough? Why can’t I be like the rest of them, who have so little difficulty excelling in the army?

The days and months that followed were the most painful of my NS life. My faith in the goodness of God was shaken and I began to retreat from the community that God had placed around me – for fear of being labelled as a failure.

I simply could not fathom how such a loving God could put me through a recurring cycle of failure and emotional pain.

One year later, I’ve begun to see God’s hand over the whole situation. He was bringing me through a long and painful process of refinement and closure. He led me to understand how His plan for me was better than anything that I could ever imagine.

WHAT I LEARNT FROM GETTING KICKED OUT OF OCS

1. My worth as a man of God is not determined by the world

In the testosterone-fuelled environment of NS, I struggled with my identity as a man of God. I dismissed the emotional side of me as uncharacteristic of guys, and actively strived to fit into society’s perfect mould of how men should be like, in terms of my physique, looks, intelligence and personality.

This led me to place my worth as a man into factors such as my physical abilities. Getting kicked out of OCS made me falsely believe that I was simply not “man” enough; it was a sharp jab at my already-fragile male identity.

However, God gently and gradually revealed to me that society’s portrayal of the ideal man was one that was completely flawed. He impressed on me the meaning behind Psalm 139:14 in relation to male identity.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvellous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. (Psalm 139:14)

The best man that I can ever be is the man God created me to be. There was no need for me to strive to become the guy that I wanted to be.

I had unconsciously made officership one of the checkboxes in my mental list of male attributes that I wanted to possess. I didn’t need to be an officer to be a mighty warrior of God. My identity as a man of God can be attained by first allowing my soul to understand this fundamental truth: That God had already made me perfect and marvellous, according to His will for me.

When we begin to understand that our worth as a man is first and foremost found in our Father, we will break the power that society’s false portrayal of male identity has on us. We will seek validation of our identity from God, and not from society, or our own abilities.

What a liberating truth: That every aspect of our identity has been specifically shaped by God for a reason. And knowing this, there is no reason for us to try to be someone else.

2. Releasing control of my life brings about true freedom in God.

My desire to become an officer as a form of validation of my identity made me to yearn for control over my life. I wrongly believed that being able to control the outcomes of my decisions and efforts would allow me to gain freedom in my life.

However, my asthma attack led me to realise that attempting to gain control was an exercise in futility – it would simply make me tired, weary, and cause me to miss out on the greater things that God has prepared for me. It was only after I laid down my personal, prideful ambitions that I began to wholeheartedly trust in His will for me.

If we are willing to approach the throne of grace with a yielded heart, God will give us rest (Matthew 11:28), strength for our current season (Isaiah 41:10), direction (Proverbs 3:5-6) and hope (Jeremiah 29:11). When we lay down our pride and tell God, “yes I am willing to release control over my life and let you reign instead”, we will be able to step into true freedom, where our burden is light.

I wrongly believed that being able to control the outcomes of my decisions and efforts would allow me to gain freedom in my life.

For those who are serving NS and have unexpectedly hit a roadblock, I pray that God will reveal to you the indescribable amount of love that He has for you through the situation.

I pray that even though your current circumstances might be painful and seemingly inescapable, God will break through the barriers and comfort you with His peace.

I pray that you will have an identity that is rooted in being first and foremost a son of God, without the need to strive to be anyone else.

I pray that you will come to a place of complete surrender to Him and personally experience the goodness that comes from trusting Him wholeheartedly.

There will definitely be twists and turns in your NS life and things might seem bleak. But hold fast to His promises. His way is infinitely better than the best thing that the world has to offer.


Raphael believes that fried chicken and a good gym workout go well together. He is passionate about community and loves a good conversation. In his spare time, he also tries to take photos at @raphaelhugh.

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