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Born without sight, raised without my parents: Seeing hope in the darkness

by Stephanie Ow | 11 September 2018, 9:15 PM

Born with retinal dystrophy, Stephanie plays the erhu with The Purple Symphony, which comprises musicians with and without special needs, and the Singapore National Youth Chinese Orchestra, where she is the only person with special needs. This is our first story written by a person with visual impairment.


I have been blind since birth. At infancy, I was diagnosed with retinal dystrophy, which means that by the age of 5, I was almost completely blind. I can only perceive light, which means I live mostly in darkness and shadows.

Around the time that I was losing whatever little sight I had, my mother left me in the care of my father’s sister and her husband. They never heard from her again. My father, an odd job labourer, would visit once in a while, but we barely talked. Over the years, we grew very distant.

My aunty and uncle treated me like their own instead of a strange who suddenly appeared in their home. They even brought me to various specialists, hoping to find out if anything could be done to help me see again.

However, the answer we always got was: “There is nothing we can do. We will have to wait for future research to discover something that will cure her condition.” And my aunty and uncle will be disappointed, even though it really wasn’t a big deal for me. It still isn’t now.

Yet, they never stopped hoping. They still tell me, “You know, if only your vision gets better, you will be much better at whatever you want.”

I have been so blessed to have them in my life, which is why I worshipped whatever they worshipped, and believed whatever they believed.

To me, at that time, God was a distant being who watched over us, rewarding those who did good things and punishing those who were evil. The statues on my family altar and those in the temples were what I knew as gods.

I had Christian friends who told me about Jesus, although I didn’t bother to find out more. But that changed when one of my teachers, a kind and loving woman, shared the Gospel with me. It was then that something clicked within me, a feeling I cannot describe even until now.

It was like a sense of direction given to me, a guide for my life ahead. I wanted so badly to go to church with her, but my family believed it was an “ang moh” religion. We were Chinese, so we should worship Chinese gods!

But I remember thinking to myself – if the Christian God is an all-loving, supreme deity and He alone is God, shouldn’t we all give Him our reverence, regardless of our ethnicity? And if He sacrificed His only Son to save the whole human race from eternal separation from Him, shouldn’t we turn back to Him?

So I decided to persist in my faith. I read the Bible in braille and listened to sermons in my bedroom. My family wasn’t averse to my exploration of this faith as they felt it was good for me to learn about other religions, but they hoped that I would stay true to our Chinese beliefs.

But at age 14, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour. This was the same year that I started going for music lessons.

My uncle always loved traditional Chinese music, so I began with the erhu, a two-stringed fiddle. At first, I wasn’t too happy with this, as I’d always thought this was played at Chinese operas for the elderly. I wanted to learn the guitar or violin instead.

As it turns out, the erhu wasn’t as outdated as I thought. In fact, the pieces I was learning to play were written by musicians in the 20th Century who were trained in western music, but had a passion to write for Chinese instruments. And they did not write for operas.

Interestingly, their music reflected the struggles of native Chinese before the 1949 liberation, and their aspirations for a better future. Within a year of lessons, and with the encouragement of my first music teacher, I sat for an exam and scored a distinction!

This motivated me to keep getting better, and soon I was receiving invitations from various organisations to perform at their fundraising events from time to time. At 17, I had the privilege of performing with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO), and the next year I joined their youth wing.

Being part of the Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra (SYCO) gave me the opportunity to be tutored by one of the musicians in the SCO, and by age 19, I had also joined the Purple Symphony, Singapore’s largest inclusive orchestra consisting musicians with and without disabilities.

At this time, Deutsche Bank awarded me with a scholarship to study music, which would have been impossible without their help. It was a real blessing from God and a dream come true, as it had always been my goal to be a full-time musician who could teacher the visually impaired to read scores in braille.

In the whirlwind of these happenings, I drifted away from God slowly. I stopped praying, reading the Bible and listening to sermons. Instead, I began to obsess with my current ideals and goals. I felt like I was the master of my own destiny. Whenever I ran into trouble, it was my friends I turned to for advice.

Wasn’t it enough to acknowledge that God exists and that Jesus is the only way to Him?

It took a long while – 4 years to be exact – for me to realise I was becoming more of a lost soul than I was before I became a Christian. It was as though I was holding the Word of God in one hand, and the world in the other.

Fortunately, a senior in the music institution I’m studying at reached out to me. Her father is a preacher, and she introduced me to a phone app that had sermons and hymns for me to listen to. She also invited me to Bible study with other students, where her father would teach us.

Through their mentoring, my understanding of Scriptures and my Heavenly Father became much clearer. I learnt how to put all my hope and trust in the Lord, even though there were times where I had so many questions.

But I would be lying if I said I did not envy other children who had their biological parents with them. I always knew this was something I’d never have in life. But it took a lot out of me to accept that fully.

On some days my mood got very bad; I felt like the whole world was against me. I had no appetite and just wanted to be alone. There were nights I cried myself to sleep as I prayed. But one day, as I was deep in thought, the words of Isaiah 55:8-9 surfaced in my mind.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

A sense of peace, hope and joy surrounded me all of a sudden – it was something I’d never felt until that moment. I realised I did not need to feel sad about not having biological parents when I have a Father in Heaven who loves me in spite of all my flaws, but continues to renew me every day.

Through the difficulties of life, I have the Lord to lead me. Even as I graduate with a diploma in music in less than a year’s time and am feeling anxious about the new season of life to come, I know that He will guide me through this once again.

My family is also warming up to the idea of me being a Christian. I am praying for their salvation, and for God to lead me to a church where I can grow spiritually.

I have never seen with my own eyes, but I believe that God can heal me in His beautiful time. Of course, I might never get to see in this lifetime, but when my eyes finally open in a new and perfect body, the first person I hope to see is my Saviour Jesus Christ.

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Being bullied ruined my life, but I found a way out

by Natalie Tay | 15 October 2018, 4:15 PM

My family is a very traditional Chinese family with staunch religious beliefs. So though I’ve wanted to come to church since I was 5 years old, I was not allowed to do so.

When I was in primary school, I was introduced to what I felt was a nightmare. I was bullied physically, emotionally and verbally. And it wasn’t just one mean girl saying a few childish things about me – I was bullied by my entire class from when I was about 10 years old.

Coming from a class of rich and smart students, there was a hierarchy. I just happened to not be a part of the popular gang. I was bullied verbally: they would search up mean words from electronic dictionaries to label me with every day, like “slut”, “vixen”, “fat” and “spastic”.

They took my things and broke them, told me I shouldn’t eat or hide away my personal things, tore up the songs I wrote and made fun of my diary.

Whenever I tried to run and seek help, they would stop me by pulling me by the hair and telling me they’d stop … but they never did.

They told me to go and do everyone a favour and die. I didn’t, and I still don’t understand why I was treated that way.

They would “use” me when they needed me, but when they didn’t – I became irrelevant. Eventually, I thought that I was bullied because I was just me, and that it was my fault for being the way I was. My family put a high emphasis on grades and being in the best class, so being one of the worst students in class only damaged my self-esteem even further.

They told me to go and do everyone a favour and die.

Over time, this resulted in a few disorders. The eating disorder was the first. I hated my looks and my self-esteem plunged. I developed anxiety and depression from around the age of 11. I also had really bad insomnia, sleeping less than 4 hours on a regular basis.

I resorted to self-harm, cutting myself in hidden places like my hip to distract myself from the pain that I so desperately wanted to alleviate. I told no one about what I was doing, wanting to die more and more each day. I didn’t seek any help from anyone, not wanting to be even more of a problem or burden anymore.

I began to plan ways and means to kill myself. 

Life did get a bit better in secondary school: I wasn’t being bullied anymore, though I never really did fit in.

My negative mentality and poor self-image were already fixed in place. I was socially awkward, unable to talk to anyone properly without feeling judged or paranoid. I identified with the labels everyone had given me in primary school and was so used to hiding.

Just when I thought I was slowly getting over my eating disorder, something really bad happened. In secondary 2, I had a really bad anxiety attack in school after finding out I failed one of my papers. They had to send me to the hospital in an ambulance.

Because of this episode, my parents and my school finally found out about all my struggles. Everything came out and I was terrified. I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies and an eating disorder. I could no longer engage in physical activity because I would hyperventilate every time I ran.

People would sneak in plastic knives to harm themselves and it was blatantly obvious that everyone there was driven by the desire to die.

I got even worse after the diagnoses. I was very, very suicidal and was put on constant watch because I overdosed on pills and self-harmed constantly – desperate to find outlets to escape.

I was then admitted into the hospital for about week in the psychiatric ward so doctors could watch me. Being in the psychiatric ward was a huge struggle for me and it seemed like a never-ending nightmare. They would take away simple items such as soap and toothpaste to ensure that no one would harm themselves. People would sneak in plastic knives to harm themselves and it was blatantly obvious that everyone there was driven by the desire to die.

In the psychiatric ward, all we did was talk about death and share about ways to die. I never got any better and I eventually simply aimed to get discharged as soon as possible instead of getting well because it felt like I was drowning.

My life only turned around when I first truly encountered Jesus.

After being discharged, there was one night when I got extremely suicidal. But in the throes of depression, I had this strange and clear urge to call my school’s house captain. I wasn’t very close to her and I had no reasons to call her, but I did anyway.

While I had never been one to talk about my struggles, I surprised myself by sharing about my struggles with her, telling her that I didn’t know what to do.

She happened to be with her cell group from church and she invited me to get to know more friends from the cell. I was super apprehensive when they added me into the cell group chat, anxious about everything – very skeptical about church. I didn’t believe anyone could really accept and love me.

I was certain that I’d end up ostracised, that even God couldn’t understand my pain.

… though life doesn’t get simpler, God makes a way for me.

Besides, I also highly doubted that my parents would allow me to go to church due to their religious beliefs. I turned out to be wrong about that.

My parents surprisingly allowed me to attend church, so 29 November 2014 was the day I first attended service at Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC). There I experienced the tangible and amazing presence of God in worship. I broke down during the alter call, and it was then I knew that God was real.

God opened my heart and showed me true love and acceptance that day. That was the beginning of my healing as God started to become very real in my life.

It’s been four years since I’ve accepted Christ, and it has been the best decision of my life.

Life didn’t magically get easier, I still had my struggles in life. I made many mistakes and had my faith tested. But I can say this: though life doesn’t get simpler, God makes a way for me.

I no longer rely on any form of medication or go to the hospital for any treatment anymore. I was personally convicted to trust in God alone for healing, and He came through for me that way.

I struggle much less with anxiety and no longer feel suicidal or depressed all the time. I eat consistently now and I can do exercise – even joining a sports CCA in JC after not having done any physical activity for 3 years.

It isn’t that God makes problems go away. He can do that, but in my experience He transforms people in the process – He changed me as a person through my trials completely. I was someone who was used to fear every day, but now I’ve grown to see the good in life even when things get tough.

I can praise God in every situation and circumstance. I now know that my identity and worth come only from the Lord and that He makes things beautiful in His own time and in His own way. I’ve been blessed with a community in FCBC that truly supports me and I really am grateful to be given the life I have.

It’s been four years since I’ve accepted Christ, and it has been the best decision of my life.

The song I wrote, Guide Me, is about the fear, anxiety, depression and pain in my life that I struggled through. The lyrics reflect the goodness, grace and truth that I’ve come to see in God.

It’s a song that God gave to me, ministering to me when I was at my lowest point. I pray that as we all struggle, we’ll remember that God is sovereign and He is the same God in the good and the bad. We can truly get through everything and anything, not by our own strength, but by His. All Glory to God!

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” ( 2 Corinthians 12:9-10)


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I was obsessed with being self-sufficient

by Eunice Tan | 11 October 2018, 3:29 PM

I don’t know if I was born the independent type, but somewhere along the way I actively sought to develop the ability to take care of myself.

Having always dreamt of living alone, I looked to move out when I started a full-time job. Eventually, I left Singapore for the enigmatic, multi-faceted country of Japan without even first understanding the language and culture.

The freedom to choose what I want to do had always been something I delighted in, and I did not want anyone – maybe even God – to direct my path. This was despite having grown up in a Christian home, being a member of a biblically sound church and serving as a youth group leader.

While I still relish the flexibility and possibilities of my life here, I am now aware that it can come at a dangerous price: self-sufficiency.

Charles Spurgeon once warned, “Do not become self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency is Satan’s net where he catches men, like poor silly fish, and destroys them.”

I honed my self-sufficiency into an art. I established a fulfilling life in Japan, tackling all the legal, cultural and linguistic obstacles a foreigner has to face here. And in my limited Japanese, I did it all by myself – refusing to ask for any help.

I took careful measures to avoid developing complacency (one of the pitfalls of foreigners teaching English in Japan) and once, even laughably refused repeated offers of help from my friends to assemble a semi-double bed from IKEA.

So much pride. So self-sufficient. And just like that, I joined the ranks of Adam’s Eve and Austen’s Emma, set to confront my humanity.

If my life was a car on a journey, God was still in the driving seat, but I was expending all my energy trying to wrestle the steering wheel away from him.

Four things happened in dizzying succession immediately after this year’s CNY celebrations.

  • My dad’s health suffered which stopped him from working.
  • I needed help in writing my dissertation but could not get it.
  • Relationship matters struck …
  • My body joined the party – insomnia meant I only got 4 hours of fitful sleep each night.

Trying to tire myself out in the day just piled on the stress. Worry, frustration and sadness kept my brain awake for hours on end.

I was still going to church, still praying and still thinking my life was aligned to His will. If my life was a car on a journey, God was still in the driving seat, but I was expending all my energy trying to wrestle the steering wheel away from him.

The day after I handed in my dissertation, my friends (who live in faraway prefectures) turned up on my doorstep excitedly thinking they could surprise me, then hang out together to help me get over the post-dissertation stress.

When I opened the door and saw them, I started crying messily, uglily and without restraint. Stretched so thin mentally, emotionally and physically, I broke when faced with God’s love in the form of my friends’ surprise care package.

I was self-sufficient up to a point – and then I was not. When God wants your attention, He gets your attention.

My friends let me sob and share everything I had been going through as they made me a cup of coffee. That day, I learnt the consolatory magic that happens when love meets vulnerability.

God broke the proud person that I was. But He also put me back together again as a new and humbler person – someone who is ready to serve Him.

Now I am ready and willing to listen and help others, and less quick to offer glib answers to those who are hurting. Because I understand suffering more now – I have become more human in that way.

So God placed healing in my path, making sure it was through others this time. No more of that self-sufficiency stuff for me. Healing started simply, and progressed into something so wondrous I can barely move sometimes – so enveloped am I in His mercy.

 

Over the next few months, I read the Bible more and more, listened to sermons, and found opportunities to serve in church and pray with others. I learnt that there is comfort in giving up control to God. There’s peace – not fear – in being vulnerable and asking for help.

Ecclesiastes 6:9 was an anchor verse that helped me align my will with God’s: “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of desire. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.”

I focused on enjoying the scenery of the roads God drove along, and stopped thinking of where I wanted myself to go. I concentrated on doing my work well. Served in church. Savoured the time spent with friends.

Gears switched, and we cruised along. Basking in the sunshine of God’s company, I believe He was probably happy that his passenger had finally stopped being a backseat driver.

I tapped into a true Sabbath rest and spent time with God, because when you love someone you want to spend time with that person. And God shows us the way to move forward when we spend time with Him.

For “He who would love life And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it….” 1 Peter 3:10-11 (NKJV)

I sought peace and pursued it.

I actively prayed for peace, looked for it in the Bible, in others’ testimonies and in my daily experiences. I challenged myself to pursue peace no matter what happened in life. Every negative or positive thing that happens is an opportunity to develop discipline and peace. And so even the agony of sleepless nights turned into opportunities for remembering others in prayer.

“Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.” (Psalm 37:3, NKJV)

The most recent part of my healing process has come in the form of both passive and active actions. While I trust in God and wait on His direction, I do the good I know how to.

I wonder if Spurgeon envisioned self-sufficiency as a net not only because it enables Satan to ensnare us, but also because it prevents us from reaching out to take hold of God’s promises and “feed on His faithfulness”. It stops us from seeking out ways to depend on God.

I’m looking to never get caught in this net of self-sufficiency again, and through His grace, I might actually be able to steer clear of it.

Whatever happens next, I am buckled in and ready. Wherever God is driving me to, I’m down for the ride.

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Don’t waste your time in university

by June Ong | 10 October 2018, 2:27 PM

For many of us, university is the first real chance to decide how we want to live our lives.

As young adults, we are suddenly presented with opportunities to make decisions by ourselves. What modules should I take? Which internship should I go for? Which CCA should I join?

And as Christians, we know that our decisions should bring us towards fulfilling God’s calling and purposes for us. However, many of us get caught up in life, and find ourselves swaying from the path God has called us to.

Before I began university, I told God that I would dedicate my time in university to serving Him and advancing His Kingdom in my school.

Because God had given me a vision of revival before university, I started school as this hopeful and enthusiastic Christian ready to proclaim the Gospel. But when I participated in my hall’s FOC (Freshman Orientation Camp) and captured a glimpse of life there, I was culture-shocked. I felt torn between my faith and hall life.

I identified as a Christian but found myself swaying from time to time. For 2 years of my university life, I was an active hall resident. I received favour and affirmation constantly, I also held several leadership positions. I was enjoying the recognition and affirmation so much that I completely forgot about my promise to God and the vision that had captured my heart before university.

I even found myself drifting from my spiritual community, losing the most stable source of support and godly guidance I had. But the affirmation I derived from hall life continued to increase as I poured everything I had into it.

I felt like an Esther who had ignored the state of her people, who continued to enjoy the luxuries given to her.

At the end of my 2 years, I attended my church’s camp for university students.

My pastor shared the story of Esther: a young woman who was put into an influential position “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Esther risked everything she had – even her life – to save her people.

And what about me? I felt like an Esther who had ignored the state of her people, who continued to enjoy the luxuries given to her. In that camp, God reminded me of the commitment that I made to Him.

He set a new fire in my heart for the harvest field of my campus.

There are many things we can learn from Esther. First, Esther was aware of God’s plan for her.

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to the royal palace for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14)

God granted her divine favour and orchestrated her circumstances so that she would be put in a high position. That meant Esther could use her position to advocate for her people.

Many of us are in influential positions because of divine favour and empowerment from God. It is especially important for us to recognise that, and realise why God put us there.

Second, Esther prayed and fasted together with a godly community.

“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do.” (Esther 4:16a)

Many of us have underestimated and neglected this discipline of praying and fasting. However, there are many examples of how God moved after the people prayed and fasted. Doing it together with a godly community helps to build faith and unity. By praying and fasting, Esther and the Jews were opening doors for God to move.

Lastly, Esther stood with courage: “When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16b)

This was the true mark of Esther’s love for God and her people. She was willing to speak against her king to save her people – even willing to die.

I know many Christians out there who are struggling with what they want and what God wants.

They struggle with what makes them happy and what makes God happy. Many of us are in influential positions because of divine favour and empowerment from God. It is especially important for us to recognise that, and realise why God put us there.

Life is not about us. As Christians we will have to run against the wind, speak out against popular opinions and be in a positions of discomfort. But we must never sit back and relax while our generation drifts further and further away from God.

I personally do not know what God has in store for you, but what I do know is that affirmation that comes from God is infinitely better than the world’s affirmation.

I know that hearing “good and faithful servant” from the One who created me, is far more rewarding than hearing a worldly compliment. God will not shortchange us when we choose to glorify and honour Him.

This is a call to all the Esthers out there who have been placed in a position for a time such as this – to rise up and declare God’s love over our generation.

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This is our God, the Servant King

by Alarice Hong, Awaken Generation | 10 October 2018, 1:11 PM

Traded heaven for humanity
Our God eternal who became a man
Who is this God who’d exchange His life?
For the beggar and the dead

I was sitting at my piano one day and playing around with some chords. The phrase “traded heaven for humanity” came to me and that helped in setting the direction for the song I was writing.

As I progressed to coming up with a chorus for the song I had in mind, “this is our God, the Servant King” emerged. This cemented the anthemic sound of the song that I was going for, and it was so clear that I could hear the drumbeat of it.

This is our God, the Servant King
Nailed to the cross but rose again in victory
This is our God, King Jesus
Lamb who was slain, exalted now forever

The verses of the song reflected my own personal Biblical revelation of the paradox of Christ – that He was both a servant and a king. There is actually an old and amazing hymn that is also entitled “The Servant King” so it was encouraging for me to put a modern spin on this compelling concept as well.

King of Heaven humbled to a cross
He knew no sin yet He bore the world’s
Who is this God, who would save my life?
And wash me clean by His blood

And what makes it compelling is the immense contrast that is embedded within – He who is holy and almighty was willing to become a bondservant to serve humanity as the Messiah (Philippians 2:5-8); Jesus washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:1-17). And in that humanity, He gave them and us freedom from any worldly bondage (John 8:36).

The veil was torn at His final breath
And the tomb could not contain His pow’r
Who is this God who defeated death?
He is risen from the grave

Another phrase that reflected this contrast, “God eternal became a man” came in very early in the development of the song. And that encapsulates the audacity of Christ and the gospel, that He willingly became mortal and suffered the extremes of human suffering all because of and for love.

I would give my life
For the cause of Christ
To love like you loved and
To serve like you served

The bridge of the song than moves into a personal response from us as worshippers, a cry from which each of us. I’m imagining this song as a congregational piece as well. A.W. Tozer has a beautiful quote which comes to mind when I think the transformational power corporate worship has to individual worship.

“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”

So as each individual within the congregation declares their desire to be more like Christ, that actually ties them even closer as a community. And that will be how the church is strengthened with each of its members desiring to be servant leaders, simply because their eyes are fixed on the true Servant King.


“Servant King” is a song from Awaken Generation‘s latest album, “Our Light Has Come”, which will be released on October 11, 2018, on all major music platforms.

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Born without sight, raised without my parents: Seeing hope in the darkness

Being bullied ruined my life, but I found a way out

I was obsessed with being self-sufficient

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Don’t waste your time in university

This is our God, the Servant King