Kara Loft Sessions: The power of community and safe spaces to come as you are
Anyone meeting the owner of Kara Café & Dessert Bar would immediately be struck by her warmth and candour. But beneath her story of entrepreneurial success are many other untold tales of angst and strife.
This downward spiral of rebellion began in secondary school, Li Ping shared in an interview.
“I felt a sense of separation and isolation for not being seen, heard and understood for who I am,” she recounted.
A bad experience in class, in particular, perpetuated these feelings. Once, her teacher held up a news article of a young girl going to prison and declared that “this will be Li Ping in the future”.
“Because of this, I struggled to find a sense of belonging, and felt like either I was constantly doing something wrong or that there was something fundamentally wrong with me.”
This sparked a phase of outright rebellion where she would sneak out of the home, go clubbing and more.
Li Ping said: “I was unaware at the time, but I realise now that I was actually dealing with a bout of disappointment and disillusionment towards people and the system as a whole. I also experienced culture shock, having not attended the same primary school like the majority of the students.
“At the time, I also recall being punished for asking questions or having a different perspective, and I struggled to conform to traditional expectations. That led me to develop a resistance and anger towards authority, towards the institution and subconsciously towards God.”
Even though Li Ping grew up in a Christian home, she recalled how easy it was to forget God and her family’s support amidst her struggles. Instead, she sought shelter and protection in a group of friends who were engaged in various vices.
“I stopped having a relationship with God. I didn’t want to attend church, I didn’t pray and somehow along the way, I really just lost it. He just wasn’t relevant anymore.
“In hindsight, I can say that I was blindsided by my cynicism and angst. I also had no tools to deal with my emotions at that point in time.”
This lifestyle persisted when she left to study in Los Angeles. Immersed in a more liberal culture and being far away from home, Li Ping felt free to experiment.
But it was also during this time that she discovered a deep passion for entrepreneurship and frozen yoghurt. After returning to Singapore, she started her first business venture, Sogurt, which grew rapidly to employ over a hundred Sogirls, and launched up to 15 stores over the span of her career.
Yet, despite having attained a level of success, Li Ping was still in the pits, emotionally and spiritually.
“It’s like the law of diminishing returns – the more I chased after worldly success and pleasure, the more I experienced a sense of meaninglessness and futility,” she shared.
“And that led me to dig deep and ask myself questions that were more existential.”
This sense of despair eventually led Li Ping to search for answers and return to God in 2012. She attended a church and rediscovered the grace found in Christ.
She said: “I was reminded again that we’ve been saved by faith and not by works. Coming from a place of rebellion and making many unwise choices, knowing there’s no condemnation in Christ really spoke to me.”
Li Ping eventually found an authentic community in SonShip (or Tuesday Group at that time), which provided her the safety to be real and vulnerable.
“In that community, I didn’t feel like I had to play perfect. People were real and honest with their struggles and had a deep love and hunger for God. There was no need to wear a mask,” she said.
“It was an environment where there was no topic too taboo to talk about, enabling me to break free from shame because I didn’t have to hide who I was or what I’ve done.”
Through the safety of the community, Li Ping was able to find courage to confront her emotions, process the hurts from the past and experience healing.
Old friendships were restored, and she rediscovered her identity as a daughter of God, leading to a deep reconciliation journey with her earthly father.
But her healing didn’t stop there.
“God started teaching me how to connect better with others, equipping me with the skills and perspectives on how to do relationships well, while learning how to deal with my own issues,” she said. “I can now function from a place of health, where I‘ve learnt to take care of my own needs on top of others’.”
This was only possible because of her own journey from brokenness to wholeness.
Having experienced the pain of struggling and the joy of healing when those hurts were allowed to surface within an authentic community, Li Ping desires for others to be able to tap into the power of safe spaces too.
“I used to think other Christians didn’t have to deal with the deep emotional struggles I faced. But actually, everyone struggles,” she observed.
Hence when Li Ping had the chance to take over the loft above her cafe, she was moved to bring in God’s presence and do something special. That idea culminated in Kara Moments, a multi-purpose space that hosts Christian events as well as regular worship nights called Kara Loft Sessions.
“That’s the purpose of Kara – it’s so important to let everyone know that there are safe spaces out there for them. And hopefully to teach others about safe spaces so that in the future, more of such spaces can be nurtured,” she pointed out.
In Hebrew, qarah means “to be at the right place at the right time”, while in Latin it translates to “beloved” or “loved”.
Li Ping said: “When we did the first worship night (in December 2018), we saw the bonding and the relationships that were forged. Even collaborations and entrepreneurial ideas were birthed. I saw the power of community and safe spaces where people can come in and be themselves. Since then, I started seeing God’s vision more strongly.”
From nurturing a tightly knit community of Sogirls, building Sogurt as a brand committed to “love, joy and friendships” and eventually opening Kara where many have come to receive healing, Li Ping realised that she had always been chasing His vision all along.
“I didn’t even know what my heart for community meant. But it was just taking one step, and then everything started fitting together,” she said.
Even before she truly knew God, He was already at work. Despite her brokenness, He had placed in her heart a burden to nurture deep and meaningful connections with others. And in pursuing this, Li Ping ended up walking into her calling.
She said: “There was no one moment when I suddenly knew this was my life calling. I see it as more of a vision deepening and maturing into something that’s more real, more multi-faceted and more multi-dimensional.
“God was always there, and He had been shaping me and setting me up for this.”
If you’re curious about what an authentic community and safe space could look like, you’re welcome to pop by Kara Loft Sessions. The next one will be held on July 17, 2019 at 7.30pm. For latest updates, head over to its Instagram page.
THINK + TALK
- How honest are you in your friendships?
- Do you have hidden sins that you have not told anyone about? Are there safe spaces where you can process these with someone?
- How can you create a safe place for authentic relationships to flourish?