From homeless to seat of honour: The wedding feast that clothed the needy with dignity
In a generation where grand and lavish weddings easily become the talk of the town, newlyweds Abraham Yeo, 37, and Peng Cheng Yu, 24, recently garnered attention for a refreshingly different reason.
They had invited about 50 homeless friends to their wedding at Yio Chu Kang Chapel (25 of them came). It’s a gesture that has been well-documented. But not many know about the efforts they took to make this a reality.
So it wasn’t entirely shocking when Abraham and his wife saw their wedding as more than just a private celebration of their love. To them, it was an opportunity to reveal God’s greater love – a love that welcomes everyone (Luke 14:12-14), regardless of their race or economic status.
But to my surprise, a few days before their wedding, I got a text from the couple who asked if I wanted to go shopping with them and some of their friends from Homeless Hearts.
I was initially confused, but accepted the offer anyway. After meeting them, I learnt that many of their homeless friends had actually turned down their wedding invitation because they felt embarrassed that they had no clothes to wear for the occasion.
Until then, it had never occurred to me how great a divide clothes can have on people.
But Abraham pointed out how this seemingly simple problem may actually be symptomatic of hidden socio-economic divides in the Church.
He said: “I have personally seen how the middle-class people have their own cultures and fail to understand why poorer brothers and sisters feel unable to fit into the Church.”
The couple had already reassured their homeless friends that they could turn up in whatever outfits they felt most comfortable in, but the shame of having to turn up in “shabby clothes” still prevented their guests from accepting the invite.
At this point, Abraham felt that God was speaking to him about something else.
“Listen to them,” he felt God saying.
God then showed Abraham that this cry wasn’t just a matter of appearance.
He explained: “We realised that what God really had in mind was to raise the poor up to royal class status and seat them together with government ministers at a lavish wedding feast as equals.”
It was never just about welcoming the homeless to church and making them feel comfortable – it was about raising them to “inherit seats of honour”, said Abraham, sharing how God led him to read 1 Samuel.
“He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honour…” (1 Samuel 2:8)
Convicted that they had to obey God’s prompting, the couple then searched for ways to clothe their homeless friends in dignity by reaching out to various people for clothes donations. But they were amazed by God’s provision when a friend offered to donate $3,000 that would go towards buying new clothes instead.
It was on this shopping trip that I met Uncle, a Malay man in his 60s.
Uncle came in a salmon-coloured oversized polo shirt, his keys dangling from his well-worn jeans. He was a quiet man who didn’t really speak much, although I learnt that he has a young daughter who lives with her mother. They are currently separated because he’s financially unable to provide for his child. He also needs weekly kidney dialysis, but hasn’t been going because he is scared.
Over dinner, Cheng Yu (who is a nurse) helped Uncle measure the water he’s allowed to drink and continued to watch out for him whenever he was walking. She mentioned how he had fainted at home several times or simply fell down out of weakness.
When we reached a clothing boutique, Uncle stood outside for a while and looked nervous, as if something bad would happen because of his presence in the shop. Seeing him timidly tiptoeing outside the shop, it made me wonder just how many other places he felt similarly unworthy to enter. To think that a church could be one of those places broke my heart.
Abraham soon managed to coax Uncle inside and, with the help of Cheng Yu, they were able to choose an entire outfit for him: navy blue pants, paired with a sleek long-sleeved white button-down shirt and a stylish Irish hat to complete the look.
Uncle was a completely different person when he stepped out from the changing room. It wasn’t just his outer appearance – he also exuded a new confidence. He couldn’t stop smiling as he looked at his reflection, fixing his cuffs and straightening his tie. He also walked around the mall more comfortably than before, finally feeling as if it was okay for him to be there.
Seeing how his countenance changed, it dawned on me just how a simple act of buying clothes for a person can, in fact, result in clothing them in dignity and love.
To me, buying clothes seemed like a solution to a problem. But Abraham and Cheng Yu never saw their homeless friends as problems to be solved. They didn’t treat their wedding as an extension of their ministry or another platform to serve. It was all part of a genuine desire to welcome their friends into God’s Kingdom.
Sharing my thoughts with the groom, he replied: “One thing that God taught us was to rethink our approach to blessing the needy. God helped us realise the importance of honour and shame in welcoming the poor, instead of just helping them.
“God wanted our homeless friends to be able to step into a church and feel at home in the house of God.”
Cheng Yu added: “We didn’t want to make the wedding about ourselves. As Christians, we wanted to live in the light of eternity and steward our marriage… to invest in things of eternal value.”
She explained how many of their homeless friends hadn’t experienced a church wedding or enjoyed the blessing of nice food and clothes – and so this was what the couple wanted to spend their money and time on.
God wanted our homeless friends to be able to step into a church and feel at home in the house of God.
Sharing in Abraham and Cheng Yu’s vision, their friends also came alongside to make the wedding extra special, from volunteering their expertise to create fun station games for a carnival and packing goody bags, to putting up performances during the banquet.
Others also lent their support in other ways. One of the organisations was the Salvation Army, who helped transport their guests from various locations to the wedding venue.
If there’s any encouragement the couple wants to leave others with, it would be this: As a Church, let’s come together and help one another to help the needy.
“Looking forward beyond our wedding, as brothers and sisters, we should think of inviting the poor and needy, the handicapped, widows and orphans into our churches, our cell groups, our homes and treat them as if they were our own family.”
THINK + TALK
- Have you seen the homeless and needy in Singapore?
- What are some ways you can clothe them in God’s love?
- How can you encourage your church community to be more inclusive?