THIR.ST TALKS: Getting real with Hillsong Young & Free
by Thir.st | 27 June 2018, 6:00 PM
Formed in 2012, Hillsong Young & Free is known for their contemporary electropop worship tunes that have been played in churches worldwide. Thir.st sat down with two of their members, Aodhán King, 26, and Renee Sieff, 25, while they were in town for the “UNITED X Young & Free” tour to chat about their upcoming album, III, and how they cope with the spotlight that comes with a global ministry.
Hey guys, welcome to Singapore. How’s the Asia tour going so far?
Aodhán: The whole tour has been amazing, every night it’s been incredible. But we did three nights in Manila in one of their biggest indoor stadiums which was like, over 30,000 people. It was pretty amazing, that was really special.
Also, because we get to do it with UNITED, and we’ve never done that before. I rolled my ankle one night and it’s still like super black and bruised underneath my shoe, but that was a great moment.
Renee: And in Manila as well, we got to do this thing with Compassion, where we go and we see kids who are being sponsored by other countries. We got to spend time and worshipped with them, they played music for us and we got to just hang out with them. That was a lot of fun as well.
Tell us more about your upcoming album, III.
Aodhán: You probably kind of know this, but it’s a studio record so that’s new for us, we’ve never done that. It’s got 17 songs so it’s more songs than we’ve released ever, so that’s really cool. And I think it’s the best stuff we’ve ever done.
Renee: It’s been a while, ’cause we haven’t released an album since 2016’s Youth Revival, that’s like two and a half years.
Aodhán: We’ve been working on it intensely for probably a year and a half to two years.
Here’s something many of us are wondering: How did you get involved in Y&F?
Renee: Well, the crazy thing is like, we were all just part of the youth ministry (at Hillsong). So we just attended week in week out, and we started singing at church, leading worship in our youth ministry.
But then our youth pastor put out the proposal to start writing songs for our generation, because our generation was kind of missing something a bit more – not depth – but actually, simplicity to worship God. We needed to be able to articulate worship in words and ways that we could understand as our generation.
So we started writing songs, and the best and most crazy part is that none of us auditioned to be in Young & Free. None of us were hand-picked, literally we were all there at the same time, at the right time, in God’s timing. Everything just came together and God blessed it. We’re still pinching ourselves because we get to do this.
Aodhán: And we get to be in Singapore.
Renee: Yes, we get to be in Singapore eating chilli crab. (Laughs)
Aodhán King with Hillsong Young & Free at the Singapore leg of their Asia tour with Hillsong UNITED.
So what’s it like being on such a huge ministry like Y&F?
Renee: It’s an amazing honour because like I guess if we were doing this for secular reasons, it would be a lot harder. But because we get to do this for God and tour for our ministry, it’s the biggest honour ever. It’s the dream. It’s the dream job. It’s the dream situation.
Aodhán: It’s amazing.
Renee: But at the same time, the reality is we are a part of a local church and we are constantly going to our church whenever we’re home. And we’re staying grounded and we’re not anyone special at home at all.
Aodhán: Yeah, not at all. We’re just people who want to build the Church and do what it takes to do so. So getting to do this, being a part of building the Church, it’s really special and I think doing this feels like you’re doing something that matters, and that matters to me.
How old were you guys when you first started doing this?
Renee: I was 17.
Aodhán: I was 20 turning 21. I turned 21 right after we released Alive.
Renee: Okay maybe I wasn’t 17 then, ’cause the math is off. (Laughs)
That’s really young. So how do you handle such a large spotlight that’s put in your lives?
Aodhán: I think going back to what Renee said, being part of a church community, being a part of people who are all doing the same thing that just looks different.
For example, to our ministry, “building the Church” looks like playing music and travelling the world. But it’s not any different than somebody at home who’s putting out seats in the church. That’s their ministry, that’s how they build the Church.
We’re part of something way bigger than ourselves and we’re just, in the same way that the body of Christ works – the hands and the feet. Everyone has different roles, and when we come together, we’re the best.
So as soon as anybody starts to get big-headed or starts getting cocky, I think you’re separating yourself from the main thing and that’s not how the body of Christ works. Unity is so important. In terms of dealing with the spotlight, I think we have amazing people around us to help us.
Do you remember the first time you noticed your influence growing, like gaining more Instagram followers and getting recognised by people? What did that feel like?
Aodhán: It’s cool that people want to connect with you. I think it gives you a platform to speak on things that matter and that’s really important and it makes our job easier – having a platform and having influence makes bringing the message of Jesus easier.
I think a lot of people can look at that (influence) negatively and be like “you’d wanna steer clear of that” but I think if you use your influence in a positive way, it’s actually amazing and I think God honours that.
Renee Sieff with Hillsong Young & Free at the Singapore leg of their Asia tour with Hillsong UNITED.
We all go through seasons of highs and lows. What happens when life’s not that great at the moment but the spotlight’s still on you?
Renee: I think the best part is, when you read the Bible, you see people like Moses and David. You read about them and you realise that they actually didn’t have a great life. The spotlight was on them and they didn’t have a great life. But the thing that you do notice about them is that like, for David, there are the songs of lamentations and there are songs of praise.
He’s in the journey, he’s still committed to God, he’s still faithful. And I think that’s what’s important. It’s okay for people to see us broken and hurting and struggling, but the reality is we need to stay strong in our faith and know that through everything, through the trials, God is still in it. We just commit to him.
So I think when people put us on a pedestal of perfection, they’ve kinda got a jaded perspective of us because that’s not who we are. We’re actually just humans, just loving God and wanting to see people love Him as well.
Aodhán: There’s nothing special about us. You just have to stick it out. The best always comes after the hardest seasons, so when things are not working, if you’ve been struggling and hitting walls, just keep pushing through it or take a break. The breakthrough is always a second away.
But I think we can’t neglect hard work either. All the guys who make Young & Free what it is, these millions of people – okay not millions – but you know there’s a lot of us.
The videos, for example, the music video. The album, it’s not just a few of us involved, there’s so many people and creatives empowering others as well to get on board with the vision and not trying to wear it all yourself. I think that’s what we do well, that we include people. And I think that’s really important.
Hillsong UNITED at the last stop of their Asia tour in Singapore.
What’s it like writing music for our generation?
Aodhán: I think it’s a huge honour being able to write songs that for people – it becomes their worship. You’re giving people words, you’re giving people theology. It’s a huge responsibility.
Our influences are obviously the Bible, that’s super important. I think with this new record, III, the influences for this are – it sounds cliché – really just our life experiences.
Sometimes you can write worship songs and just be like, “Alright I’m just going to write about this because that’s what we need to write about”. But we’ve actually gone, “Let’s write things that are real to us, things that we’ve experienced”, ’cause that’s the most honest.
And so those things have really been the carriers for making this album what it is. And that’s why I think this album is our best stuff, because I feel like it’s us going, “This is what’s happening in the last couple of years, now this is how we responded and this is how God responded, so we’re going to write about it.”
Tell us more about your songwriting process. Is it always different?
Aodhán: I think it’s different every time. But it always starts pretty similarly, like you know, whether you’ve got a lyric or you’ve got a thought. Whether it be a Bible verse that you can’t shake off and you want to write about it, or “this happened and I want to write about it”, but for me I can only speak from my own personal experience.
I’ll just sit down at the piano and spend time with God and sing whatever comes to me naturally. I think it’s different for everybody, but you have to shake it up. You can’t try the same thing every time, there’s no formula.
Renee: One thing that we like to say to people is to try new things. Try sitting in your car, singing out prayers. Or like try playing something on the piano and then switching to the guitar and then see if the musical vibe will change. Just try new things.
We often write in groups of threes, or like he’ll (Aodhán) have an idea by himself and he’ll bring it a producer because he can have a different approach to it. Don’t think that you are restricted to doing everything on your own. Hear other’s people’s influence and be open.
Especially for us, because it’s worship music, we’re not trying to do it for ourselves. We’re open to hearing what other people have to say because we just want the best for the song and the best for the audience.
Aodhán: I think open hands in this is honestly the key to everything. Being creative and open-handed, and not being precious about your ideas, be it a song, a music video, a painting … I think being open to letting God do something with it, and also being open to other people coming around and being involved, that helps.
And you never remember the hard work. That’s the one thing. It’s hard to look back and be like, “I spent 57 million hours on that song”. I don’t think about that. I remember we spent weeks and weeks on this particular song and but I can’t remember how annoying that time was. All I can remember is we have a good song. So that’s really important.
Album artwork for Young & Free’s new album, III.
Lastly, can you share with us one thing you have personally come to love about God through this journey?
Aodhán: Faithfulness. I think that’s one thing this album is about. It’s about the faithfulness of God through every season, through highs, through lows. I think God’s faithfulness and compassion towards us is what I’ve learnt the most about in this album. Especially when you grow.
I think from our first album, we had a very childlike perspective of God, which is a really amazing thing. But we hadn’t gone through anything. We were young. A lot of our songs, I think a lot of people have been like, “It’s very lovey dovey”. But to be honest, that was just true to us at that time. We hadn’t experienced things, life hadn’t hit us the way it might’ve hit other people.
I think since then till now, we’ve grown, we’ve gone through hard times, awesome times. The one thing that has remained the same is God’s faithfulness and God’s character that is just amazing.
Renee: There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “The same God that started a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6) and I love that about Him.
That means when He put that desire or that dream in your heart in the beginning, then even in the journey along the way, the highs, the lows, that God is going to bring it to completion, He’s going to be with you till the end.
So I love that. He’s always with us, there’s absolutely nothing that we can do that can separate us from the love of Jesus. And He’s really good.
“Did you sew this?” is a question I’ve been constantly asked when people learn that I sometimes sew my own clothes and crafts around the house. Compelled by an interest in anything related to yarn, thread and fabric, I taught myself over the years to cross-stitch, knit, crochet and embroider as a hobby.
Requests to sew and customise handmade items for family and friends grew more frequent, and I wondered whether I should turn my hobby into a business.
And when the relationship I was in ended with my ex-boyfriend cheating on me, I spent even more time sewing. The long insomniac nights that followed were painful, and sewing was an outlet to process the tumult of thoughts and emotions.
I considered starting a local non-profit initiative like Tiyamike Sewing in Africa, a charity started by Australian missionary Jo Ong. By teaching women from low income families how to sew, the organisation has helped increased their capacity to provide for their households.
But as a speech therapist by profession, I already had my hands full. Perhaps something later in life when I’d have more time and resources, I thought.
Until one day, as I was reading through Matthew 25:14-28, my perspective shifted when I was meditating on the Parable of the Talents. The Master had distributed talents – what their coins were also known as – among his three servants before he left on a long journey.
While he was away, two of the servants invested their talents and doubled their wealth. Well done, he told each of them upon his return. But the third played it safe, earning nothing but his Master’s scorn. Maybe it was time for me to be a better steward of the gifts the Lord has blessed me with.
I was initially apprehensive about taking Ally Crafts Co into a social media space, not knowing where it would lead me, or if it would take off at all. But there was a calm assurance and deep confidence within, knowing that I had God on board with me on this. He the captain, and I, the servant.
As I started with baby steps, I continuously prayed for every decision made to be in line with God’s. Some of them were unconventional and counterintuitive to growing a business, but I did what I could to honour Him.
Over the months, I saw how God indeed used my gifts to reach out to His people, and to use it to honour and glorify Him. Orders for customised embroidery hoops grew, requests for workshops poured in, and opportunities for collaboration came my way.
I’ve partnered with Kins, a social skills and training programme by Hello Flowers! to empower local women from disadvantaged backgrounds by equipping them with crafting and simple entrepreneurial skills. And last year, my work was featured on YMI and in an art exhibit at Kallos Conference 2017.
What I embroider are usually a result of my thoughts, faith and reflection. Knowing that many ladies have been encouraged through my embroidery hoops and hand embroidery workshops, the grief and sorrows I felt earlier on in this journey have also gradually turned into joy. I’ve seen firsthand how God has been with me every step of the way.
When the hustle and bustle of each day winds down and the quiet and stillness of the night creeps in, I pick up my needle and thread to embroider. The repetitiveness of the stitching always brings me much solace and peace. These moments are when I have my long conversations with God.
Like the intricate stitches in my embroidery, where every stitch matters, God too doesn’t skimp on the tiniest of details; I can trust Him and the grand tapestry He is weaving with my life. I take comfort in letting go and resting in Him to provide the help, strength and guidance I need.
While the work of Ally Crafts Co isn’t done and hasn’t been entirely fulfilled yet, I look back at how far and wide God has lovingly brought me, and am truly excited for the beautiful things He has in store.
Want to pick up embroidery? Ally is collaborating with Kallosto conduct an embroidery workshop, “Stitched with Joy!” on Saturday, May 19, 2018, for young women aged 13-25 years old. Register your attendance here.
Kallos is a ministry that helps young women discover their God-planned design and is excited to share what it means to have joy in a world full of worries.
“Is this like Vogue’s 72 questions? I’d better get rid of this dead cactus!”
Laughter fills the small studio as Caroline, 22, welcomes me into her studio. It’s a small space – smaller than a usual single bedroom, but it is evident that she has made that place her second home.
Warm ambient lighting nestles the room, and an acoustic R&B playlist plays softly in the background. I recognise the scent in the air; it’s the same cedarwood freshener I have at home.
This is the newly opened studio of local artisan jewellery brand, 3125. I sit down with Caroline to find out more about the greater story and vision behind her brand.
Caroline Goh, 22, the founder of local jewellery brand 3125.
It was 2014. 18-year-old Caroline was working on a school project that required her to come up with her own fashion brand and product line. Something that could be sold at an actual pop-up market. Caroline, then a final year fashion design student in LASALLE College of the Arts, was struggling with the project.
“The entire process of getting approval from my lecturers and digging for ideas was very tiresome,” she shared.
“I realised I was trying to do everything on my own and not seeking God — our actual source of creativity.”
Caroline then decided to take some time out during class and went to the library to pray. What happened next sounded incredibly unbelievable.
“God showed me these 4 digits: 3125. And no, it wasn’t for 4D! I wish,” she laughs.
She didn’t quite know yet what He meant back then at that moment. But she remembers heading to the cafe downstairs in school right after. In the washroom hung a frame with the Bible verse: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the future without fear.”
“I went back to Google where that verse came from, and spooks! It was Proverbs 31:25!”
Caroline headed back to class with this new God-given vision and pitched an entirely different proposal to her lecturers. To her shock, everything went smoothly from then on.
Looking back, she believes that God’s intent was to give her the opportunity to share His Word everytime someone asked her what 3125 meant.
"I went to the library to pray ... And God showed me these 4 digits!" Caroline shares the moment God gave her the vision for 3125.
It is not conventional to have someone at Caroline’s age to start a venture from ground-up.
“After I graduated, I was actually involved in quite a few freelance projects – some design projects here and there, creating a fashion line for the disabled and working at a local jewellery brand,” she tells me.
Like any other fresh graduate, the thought of looking for a “real job” also crossed her mind multiple times as well.
“I knew that I wasn’t as ready as other entrepreneurs.”
But she couldn’t ignore the question that kept tugging at her heart: If not now, then when?
She gives credit to her freelancing experience for sharpening her vision and helping her to know better what she wants to do.
“I found myself more inclined to set up my own business and work for myself. It’s not that working for others is bad or working for myself is any easier, but I just wanted to take this risk with God. If all else fails, I am not afraid because He is with me.”
Everything at 3125 is handmade by Caroline, and occasionally her family members.
I asked her if she’s ever felt lonely running the business on her own. Afterall, it’s a one-woman business and she usually spends her days alone in her studio crafting new designs and working on new orders.
“I think I struggled the most when I was transiting from student life to this. It was fun managing the business while schooling back then. But as I pursued this full-time, there were many things that I didn’t know that I had to know! Like business registration and bank accounts … Figuring out all this adulting stuff alone was really tough.”
That wasn’t all. While any friend of hers might think that she’s got it all together due to her funny and outgoing persona on social media, she reveals that she’s faced some internal battles over the years too.
“I struggled a lot with self-confidence. You can’t tell at all from the outside, but frankly a lot of times I can’t help but to compare my works with others,” she says.
“People have more following, more business going on, more mentions … But I find a lot of comfort when I am reminded that God works in His perfect timing. My ‘best’ cannot be compared with others because we all have our own battles to fight and our own race to run.”
One of Caroline's biggest struggles starting up her business was figuring out the administrative matters with the relevant authorities and businesses. "I didn't know what I had to know!"
Thankfully, Caroline’s family has been more than supportive of her venture. I have seen for myself over the years how her parents and siblings would come down and help out at 3125’s booth during the pop-up markets that she goes to twice to thrice a month.
Besides helping to tend the booth and even doing sales, her family members have contributed their own strengths to value-add to the business.
“My dad is more of the business guy. He reminds me to do my PNL (profit and loss), finances and operations. On the other hand, my mom is more of the creative person. Recently, she learnt a bit of jewellery-making just so that she can help with the production. She follows me overseas for material sourcing too.”
In her free time, Caroline also practices handlettering. Samples of her works line the walls of her studio.
Besides just crafting trendy minimalist jewellery, 3125 is also committed to larger causes. Caroline shares with me that she’s been involved in projects revolving around entrepreneurship, volunteering and community work since young.
“When I decided to study fashion, I somewhat knew that I wanted to do something different in this industry. Apart from just producing beautiful jewellery, I wanted those products to actually mean something to someone.”
3125 currently gives 10% of their sales proceeds to Tamar Village, a daytime restoration centre for people affected by or involved in the sex trade. Interestingly, it wasn’t just a random choice.
“I came to know about Tamar Village through three friends who completely didn’t know one another — one of my clients Jin Yong, Amanda from SELAH and then my friend Elisa. I guess when God has reiterated something thrice, it means something right?”
Spurred on by this thought, Caroline reached out to Tamar Village in 2016 and shared with them the possibility of a partnership. Ever since then, 3125 has been giving financially to support their ministry.
Photos from 3125's latest campaign.
In December 2017, 3 years after that school project, 3125 moved into its own brick and mortar space at Sultan Plaza. Tucked away in a corner of this deserted strata mall, Caroline got to know of the available space through a church brother who runs a tailoring business a few doors down.
It’s an unconventional location for young businesses and business-owners, she acknowledges. Human traffic is minimal and many shops have their shutters down even in the day. The washrooms in the building are dingy, and Caroline admits that she’s heard of strange rumours about the building. But the bubbly 22-year-old is undaunted.
“I think the studio and showroom is a great testimony of how a beautiful space can exist in an old and forgotten building,” she laughs, recalling the times that her family and friends have reminded her to watch out for her safety.
Caroline hopes that the doors of 3125 will see more people coming in for a different kind of retail experience. Besides being her own workspace, the studio also retails products from other local brands.
“This space is small and cosy, so that people who enter into the shop don’t feel pressurised to buy anything. I am more interested in building relationships and making meaningful conversations actually!”
She has one more dream for her studio – to hold a live worship session here one day.
3125's brick and mortar shop located on the third floor of Sultan Plaza.
She reflects on her journey for the past three years, and tells me that she has learnt many lessons big and small along the way.
“Although it can get tiring sometimes, but it taught me a lot about building your spiritual stamina. If I can invest so much time and effort into an interest of mine, how much more should I in Kingdom affairs?”
“God has really blessed me with a lot of mentors too, from fellow entrepreneurs I met through the markets to lecturers, and really supportive friends who are not just interested in the business but yourself, as a person. Sometimes you really need to hear from others and communicate with them, just to remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing.”
I ask Caroline how long does she envision herself doing this. She ponders, and tells me that she’s taking things one step at a time.
“I trust that this is just one of the many things that God has given to me to steward. Should there come a time when it’s time to move on, I hope that I would gladly move on to the next season God is bringing me to.”
3125 is a local artisan jewellery brand dedicated to empowering women. 10% of their proceeds goes to Tamar Village, who supports the street women of Singapore by providing job opportunities, training and workshops to improve their livelihood. Besides crafting regular product lines, 3125 also does bespoke jewellery.
Their studio is open strictly by appointment only. To make an appointment, click here.
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.