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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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How I finally figured out what I was doing at work

by Joanne Lo | 13 October 2017, 12:24 PM

Add some wonder into your Inbox today!
Be amazed by our new collection launching soon!!
A mind-blowing experience that will make your Friday night a whole lot better!!!
Get ready as we reveal something out of this world!!!!

These were the sort of campaign slogans I used to work with every day. My first job was in advertising, and it was important to impress, amaze and capture an audience’s mind.

What would make people go “wow”? What would make me go “wow”? Thoughts like these were constantly on my mind.

FROM PURPOSE TO PANIC

It started out really well.

I graduated from university four years ago, bright-eyed, curious and hungry for opportunities to excel. I took all the right steps, secured the right internships, put in enough hard work and placed sufficient trust in God to lead me into deeper waters.

I was ready.

There was no end to God’s grace in my life and career. In the beginning, there was so much curiosity over a new job and the new experiences that would follow. There was the eagerness to do well, the relentless pursuit for excellence in my work and the confidence of being rewarded eventually.

I started out well — or so I thought.

Months of toiling away went by and people around me — people who loved and knew me — began telling me how unhappy I had become. Overworked, tired and unhappy. But most of all, they told me I looked restless; my attention span for everything non-work related lasted less than a few minutes.

What had gone wrong? Where was the monotony coming from? Why did I feel purposeless? How could I account for the constant ennui?

I worked from morning till midnight every day. Work was on my mind constantly and nothing else mattered. I got immersed in chasing deadlines and ticking off the checkboxes on my to-do-lists.

Things at work got stressful. I experienced panic attacks at random moments in a day and my hands would tremble at my keyboard, refusing to move.

I was lost and confused. Things were not meant to be this way. What had gone wrong? I had given my best in every task and strived for excellence. Where was the monotony coming from? Why did I feel purposeless? How could I account for the constant ennui?

YOU CALL ME OUT

God reached out and got through to me. One day, as I was going about my usual routine at work and listening to songs on Spotify, Hillsong’s Oceans started playing.

One particular line struck me: For I am yours, and you are mine.

I remember tearing up the moment my ears heard the line. I was struck by how far I had turned away from the initial hope and trust I had once placed in God. I had forgotten that I had a wonderful God to call Father in times of need, and that He was there to be called mine all along.

In the drudgery of work, I had misplaced my hope and wonder in the pursuit of personal success, instead of seeking God’s purpose for me in my career.

I had sought awe in material things, distracted by instant gratification.

I had forgotten my source of inspiration and strength.

I wasn’t interested in what God had to say for my life.

By the end of the song, I knew it was time to go back to God.

I have since found my wow in God.

Too often it becomes easy to let dread and restlessness slip into the heart. It takes so much more to retain awe and anticipation for God’s wonder to take place in our lives. Tuning back in to God’s channel and being reminded that He is the only one who can inspire the best in us takes more than just a moment of adjusting our mindsets; it’s a constant choosing to fix our eyes on Christ.

He works in the most marvellous ways to help us go back to Him. God wants us to remember that He has wonderful plans for us, that we were created for bigger things.

It blows my mind to know that such a powerful God would be interested in the tiniest details and concerns of my life — that He would constantly reach out to one such as I.

WOWED OUT OF WEARINESS

“Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.” (Psalms 40:5)

I have since found my wow in God. Being in awe of what God can do in my life gives me purpose. I live my life now knowing that I have His plans and an eternity with Him to look forward to.

If you are someone who finds herself constantly bored, restless and dreary about everything, perhaps it is time to think about why this is so. Is a life of pleasure failing to satisfy? Are the countless overseas eat-pray-love trips not cutting it?

Being listless and unhappy is definitely not the way God intended us to live! He wants us to be victorious and to live life to the fullest for Him, but we cannot do this without first drawing inspiration and direction from God.

This year, my friend roped me in to join the programmes team for a conference for teenage girls, with the theme of “His Glory, Our Wonder”. This conference was born out of a desire to restore the wonder of God’s glory in ordinary girls’ lives.

Since I had realised an awakened wonder for God, I knew that more girls needed to experience it for themselves. I wanted a shot at helping young girls recapture their wonder for God, so that they can live a life knowing that they are fully loved and have something to look forward to in a world that is full of distractions and short-lived solutions for despair.

I recaptured the wonder. I hope they will too.


#KALLOSCONF2017 is a 2-day conference that will help young girls discover their true identity and understand that they were set apart for a God-given destiny. The only nation-wide Christian conference designed specially for teenage girls in Singapore this year, 3 main themes – body image, sexuality, and love for God’s Word – will be explored. Spread the world, bring your cell group or youth group and tell as many girls as you can! Register here.

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When you work freelance, you either grow in fear or faith

by Melody Elizabeth Goh | 2 October 2017, 10:31 AM

Maybe the thought of working freelance appeals to some of you. No constraints, no fixed hours. Not me though – given a choice, I’d rather be tied down to full-time commitment. But my life hasn’t panned out that way.

I’ve been searching for a full-time job since I graduated from Bible school last April. I had been praying, sending out my resume and going for interviews. None worked out; I didn’t last more than 2 weeks in any position as I had to either quit because the job scopes were too overwhelming or because I had things that needed to be settled.

I was desperate, because I was 28. At this age, I thought I ought to already have a full-time job and a stable income, but here I was still depending on my parents for financial support. I felt like my world was crumbling on me, and I dove deeper into depression as self-condemnation sucked me into a bottomless pit of self-pity.

It was a tough season for me. I began to doubt the goodness of God.

In my desperation, I asked a friend who was always posting freelance jobs on Facebook if she had an opening. She got me a freelance position as an assistant media trainer in photography. This increased my exposure to photography and I learnt so much just from assisting the lead trainer.

I loved the job because I knew I wanted to work in the media industry. But the downside was that I was earning peanuts. My company was not doing very well and their projects were drying up as their last sales staff had left the company.

I was worried. For freelancers like me, who live from hand to mouth, regular projects are very important. Sure enough, my project ended and I had no more assignments.

It was another period of unemployment for me. I had no pending interviews and no openings at that time.

I went back to wrestling with God. Did He really want me to live with the vagaries and uncertainty of the freelance life?

One night I had a dream. In my dream, God spoke to me and told me to hang in there for another 2 weeks. I did not know what that meant but I trusted God.

Sure enough, 2 weeks later I was scheduled to have 4 interviews in a week, 3 of which were freelance jobs and 1 of which was a full-time job.

When I had reached the venue for the interview for the full-time position, the interviewer told me she’d forgotten about our interview and she had stepped out of the office. Very literally, a closed door.

I went back to wrestling with God. Did He really want me to live with the vagaries and uncertainty of the freelance life? But God gently reminded me that we are in this world not to be stable and comfortable, but to have faith and to learn to depend on Him.

This was driven home by a prayer someone prayed over me soon after. Part of the prayer went: “Thank you, God, for opening so many doors of opportunities for Melody, and thank you for the flexibility in timing that allows her to meet people and to reach out to the lost souls and play a role in revival.”

That prayer opened my eyes. That was the answer I was searching for. Working freelance gave me the flexibility I was looking for. God knew what was suitable for me even better than I thought I did.

I’ve seen and experienced how God assured me and how He’s made a way for me. I need to trust that He will keep doing so.

I’m still on the journey of trusting God to provide projects for me. I know it will be a constant journey of having the faith that God will provide every school term. For example, my work schedule is slowing down as it’s the examinations period, and it will be the school holidays soon, which could mean I may be out of work till the new academic year begins.

But even so, I have at least one class almost every weekday to help keep food on my table.

I’ve seen and experienced how God assured me and how He’s made a way for me. I need to trust that He will keep doing so.

Has it been easy? No. It’s been a season of trials and testing. But importantly, it’s been a season that has forced me to fix my eyes on God. He never fails and I know He has a perfect plan for me – even if my human mind cannot see how that might pan out.

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Do you find yourself stuck in survival mode at work?

by Galven Lee | 26 September 2017, 11:58 AM

The biggest issue faced by young working adults today is the absence of spiritual ambition. While there is much striving towards worldly measures of success, a void of spiritual vision exists in how Christian working adults see the integration of their faith and vocational calling.

On one hand, it is so easy to focus on feeding our carnal appetites for validation, achievement and success. This crowds out our wonder over the Gospel, amazement at the vastness of God’s grace and commitment to the Great Commission of disciple-making in and through everything we do.

On the other hand, we need to see role models and practical examples of how it is possible not just to survive, but be an active minister of reconciliation and kingdom transformation in the world.

Together, both factors lead to a crisis of spiritual ambition, where young working adults do not realise that we have been called to such a radical partnership with God.

We need to see role models and practical examples of how it is possible not just to survive, but be an active minister of reconciliation and kingdom transformation in the world.

And I think not enough is being done to address this issue. While terms like “marketplace ministry” and “kingdom” are very much in vogue today, many events and conferences approach the topic without bringing in actual practitioners across industries and fields who are playing their part as radical kingdom ambassadors.

In fact, we often limit our imaginations of such activities purely to sharing the Gospel at work and being good at our jobs.

While both are important, it is of tremendous significance for us to realise how we are called beyond that to engage and transform the culture by transmitting God’s kingdom values through the work we do, the policies we set and the objectives to which we are working to.

So we need to affirm the intrinsic value of every member of Christ’s body. A high-flying banker does not have a more successful CV than a social worker at a Family Service Centre. Conversely, the social worker’s job is not inherently more holy or meaningful than that of the banker.

All of us are placed in various families, workplaces and communities. The Church as a whole needs to examine and understand how we can proactively go out there to be voices of righteousness and shining lights in the nation.

We often limit our imaginations of such activities purely to sharing the Gospel at work and being good at our jobs.

We are called to be gatekeepers, watching over the metaphorical “gates” of our city. This means that we need to move from a day-to-day “survival” mode in the workplace to becoming a transformative influence wherever God has placed us.

I believe that God, the God of miracles, constantly opens up creative possibilities and kingdom opportunities for the taking. It is up to us to walk into these amazing possibilities that God has prepared for us, in our families, workplaces and communities.

The desire to raise up more young kingdom ambassadors led to the formation of the LuminoCity conference, which was birthed during a discussion at the Hong Kong international airport in 2015. Horace Hui, a young professional from Hong Kong, discussed with the leadership team of FGB Gatekeepers Singapore the importance of rallying young Christian working adults across Asia over a common platform.

The team was then returning to Singapore after conducting a kingdom/marketplace training school for professionals in Hong Kong. In that Holy Spirit-inspired moment, they saw the present need for a platform to rally young professionals across Asia-Pacific to catch the vision of transforming the culture of society and discipling nations.

Thus, plans were made for the inaugural edition of LuminoCity in 2016. Although originally intended for young Christian professionals from the Asia-Pacific, the first edition saw participants come from as far as Finland and Ghana.

It was clear that the Lord was impressing on our hearts that it was imperative for LuminoCity to be a global coalition of like-minded believers, passionate about influencing cultures with the values of God’s kingdom.

The verse that God had given us came from Isaiah 60:1 – “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” – which reflected the vision of believers arising and bringing the glory of God and His Kingdom over their cities and nations.

LuminoCity is a gathering of the nations for God’s kingdom purposes. It is a rallying point and a time of renewal and seeking the Lord for personal revelation and national destinies.

It is also a significant spiritual event and a global declaration to the spiritual realm, that the Lord’s people will do the Lord’s work in the places that the Lord has placed them in – no turning back, preceding revival in the nations.

We also hope that the diversity of topics across the whole spectrum of society and insight from an eclectic, international mix of speakers will provide sufficient inspiration, best-practices and practical steps for participants to bring back to their life, living and livelihoods.

We hope that LuminoCity will serve these purposes for young Christian professionals as they dialogue with one other in this intimate, three-day conference.

Can we accomplish this in a three-day event? No – the deeper work of discipleship takes months and years. Hence FGB Gatekeepers Singapore, the parent organisation behind LuminoCity, focuses on providing a variety of intergenerational mentoring and discipling relationships and platforms.


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. Visit the LuminoCity website for ticketing information, and follow them on Facebook for updates. The early bird offer of $180 (usual price $250) ends this Saturday, on September 30, so book early to avoid disappointment.

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Am I who my résumé says I am?

by | 17 September 2017, 8:28 AM

What do you say if someone asked you about yourself?

We’ve been through the drill in school – wait for your turn, think of something witty but not over-the-top, stand up in front of a group of strangers, deliver it.

As we go into higher education or into the working world, we meet people who are less like us – in terms of age, education background, or personality – and the pressure to impress can get #real.

To introduce ourselves, most of us might bring up our work – what we’re studying or do for a living – it comes quite instinctively as a normal (and effective!) act of self-disclosure to new acquaintances. It’s personal but not too personal.

But whenever our work comes up in a conversation, it’s hard to avoid the comparison game, isn’t it?

Sometimes you hear it in the chorus that the impressed group makes when they hear a job title that commands admiration, “Wah, doctor ah!”

Other times you hear it in the falling intonation from your new friend who hasn’t even heard of your company – “Oh…”

Work has been as inextricably tied to our identity as our names are; it’s what we tell people about ourselves. And more than we might realise, it has become what we feel makes us valuable and useful.

I had a fleeting thought one day: What if all my certificates and achievements over the years become nullified?

There will be a considerable amount of unraveling that’ll take place if my qualifications were no longer valid. All our hard work down the drain aside, are we still who we think we are?

For some of us, that thought is frightening. Perhaps because we’ve more to lose, perhaps because we’ve staked so much of our worth on our achievements.

When I look at my own résumé, it doesn’t seem to be much, especially when I compare myself to my peers who have not just studied at great universities abroad, but also excelled in their side pursuits.

But then I recognise that it is much in its own way.

While it may not win the jostle for a coveted job at a big firm, my résumé is a covert testimony.

If we know where to look, we can find gold – not just in our achievements, but in our personal triumphs too.

In the empty spaces between lines of black Helvetica, in the unwritten – lie the stories of our lives. We’ve gone through so much as people on a journey and we sometimes overlook the precious, personal details. Only we know the unwritten things. 

Only I know the lengths of which my mother went to ensure my education wasn’t disrupted by changes in the family. Only I know the emotional struggle I experienced trying to fit in at school. Only I know that it is by sheer grace that I have come so far.     

And these things don’t always show on the sheets of paper on which we summarise our “professional lives”.

“We live in a society that encourages us to think about how to have a great career but leaves many of us inarticulate about how to cultivate the inner life.” (David Brooks, author and New York Times columnist)

Résumés are created for scrutiny – often quite ruthlessly– but if we know where to look, we can find gold – not just in our achievements, but in our personal triumphs too. And if we miss those things, we risk placing all our worth in our achievements.

Take stock! Our personal growth cultivates in us something that cannot be nullified – it’s our inner life. Don’t neglect the seemingly uninspiring and unique details of your life, they may not be remarkable to the #haters, but they count for more than words can say. 

They count towards a story that is yours, written by the same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 3:6). 

It may take you some time to see the greatness in you, but it’s there. So don’t stop smoothing out the rough edges and allowing yourself to be moulded into the person God made you to be (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So, yes, I am who my résumé says I am – and a whole lot more too.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious. One of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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Why I teach children with special needs

by Sheryl Tay | 15 September 2017, 5:20 PM

“One man built his house on the sand … It crashed! It crashed!”

What followed this bizarre outcry were more words I could not understand, not even as a special needs teacher. My student drew more lines on the board and made drastic hand gestures. His head turned toward different triggers, every few seconds – his mind was in chaos.

Later, this episode gave me cause for reflection:

  • Did I know what was in the mind of this child with autism? No, I think even he was not able to make sense of his thoughts.
  • Was I prepared to work with children with special needs? No, children were the last group I thought I would work with after graduation, much less so children with special needs.
  • Did I learn anything about special education at university? No, I studied linguistics.
  • Did I choose to work as an early intervention teacher for children with special needs? Yes, I did – with no regrets.

Teaching children with special needs was an unexpected but rewarding choice. Some of my greatest joys at work occur when my students show progress or express enjoyment in a particular activity – their happiness can be so contagious!

However, the work can also be draining: With children, many things can happen in the split second we take our eyes off them. Hence, I always have to keep one eye on my students – even when I am taking something from the cupboard.

I need to rely even more on God to help me love the child when he or she proves so difficult to love.

Yet, there are also times when I lose patience with my students, especially when they refuse to do  work even though the assigned task falls within their capabilities. It frustrates me because they avoid the task not because it is too difficult for them, but because they simply do not want to do it.

In such situations, it’s all too easy to start developing negative feelings toward the child, even though my frustration is with the behaviour – not the child. In such situations, I need to rely even more on God to help me love the child when he or she proves so difficult to love.

Although most of us would acknowledge that no human being is perfect, we tend to ascribe greater value to those who have no disability over those with a disability. In addition, some people may think people with special needs are vastly different from those without disability.

Yet, if we were to define “disability” as “weakness” – we’d realise that we all in fact have some degree of “disability”.

No one is without weakness.

Similarly, just as every person has strengths and weaknesses, so do people with special needs. Despite their disability, people with special needs have abilities and strengths in other aspects of life too. However, this doesn’t mean that just because a person has special needs, he or she shows special talent in music or art. Just like everyone else: some do and some don’t.

I believe that as we interact with members of the special needs community, we should treat them as we would any other person. This can mean two things: We should treat them with dignity and be careful not to put them down, just because they seem “different”.

We also shouldn’t think that they are more “fragile” than anyone else, solely by virtue of their disability. Hence, if they need to be corrected in anything, it should be done as firmly as with someone else without disability.

As we serve members in the special needs community, we seek to know them as individuals: Their strengths, difficulties, likes, dislikes and what helps them cope better. But sometimes, in our best interests, we may end up doing more harm than good.

For example, when we do everything for the person instead of giving him or her opportunities to do things independently, this may promote an over-reliance on others in the individual. Thus, knowing the individual well will help us make more informed decisions that would best benefit the person.

When we seek to include people with special needs in our community, we need to be willing to be flexible. This might even mean putting ourselves in uncomfortable positions to bridge the gap between us and persons with disabilities. However, while this may require stepping out of our comfort zones, discernment is also needed to ensure that we do not put ourselves in positions of compromise.

We might also need to change our worldview by seeking to better understand members of the special needs community, accommodating them and giving them opportunities to learn to adapt to mainstream society. Inclusion is a two-way street; both people with and without disabilities need to make a concerted effort to accommodate and adapt to each other.

For these reasons, I believe we’re not too different from people with special needs. We all have disabilities to differing degrees – yet this doesn’t make any of us any less human. I believe everyone – including people with special needs – have equal inherent value.

Every life is a gift; every life is precious.

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:14)

There is no one life that is more important than another; every person has an equal but different part to play.

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Article list

From English teacher to Hokkien peng

How I finally figured out what I was doing at work

When you work freelance, you either grow in fear or faith

Do you find yourself stuck in survival mode at work?

Am I who my résumé says I am?

Why I teach children with special needs