Growing up in a lower-income family, I hated my life
by Shanice Lim | 20 March 2018, 4:23 PM
My parents separated when I was 10.
I was too young to understand anything about separation, but one thing I knew for sure was that our house now felt emptier.
After the separation, my mother moved us to our aunt’s place where the 4 of us settled in a single room. Over time, I began to realise how difficult it was for my mother, being the sole breadwinner of the family.
I saw her struggle to pay off bills and rent to the point that our allowances became a problem. I was still too young to help her so all I could do was to worry with her. I worried about money and all kinds of things other 16-year-old teenagers wouldn’t really bother about.
I had no choice but to grow up quickly into an independent person.
In 2013, I entered polytechnic. Honestly, by that point of time – I hated my life.
Why was life so unfair? I started comparing my family to other people’s families. At every turn, I felt like I was on the losing side. My family wasn’t complete, it wasn’t financially stable. I wasn’t pleased with anything in my life.
And around this time, I stopped taking money from my mother because I knew it was more important for her to provide for my younger sibling. That meant I had to scrape through my polytechnic days with a part-time job.
Thankfully, despite having to work part-time, I was able to graduate from polytechnic with a Diploma with Merit, and got into a local university. In retrospect, I believe God knew me even before I knew him – He was already guiding my way back then.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
The period right before I began university was my turning point – it was then I encountered God.
Ever since then, I came to experience who God is and also His unmerited love for us. He has provided for my family so abundantly, and I have truly been blessed by the people who He has placed in my life – especially my Church family.
Our financials have improved since, and despite the occasional hiccups in my family, I believe that God will heal and bind our wounds because He makes everything beautiful in His perfect time (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
After being a Christian for just under 2 years, God has revealed so much to me: How He has plans to prosper and not harm us and how these plans give us a hope and future. God can turn our suffering into greater things.
There is a reason for every thing that has occurred in our lives.
I hope that we will be like Job, who never lost faith in his sovereign God despite incredible suffering in life. God doesn’t promise that the Christian would be smooth-sailing, but He delivers us and guides us through it all.
I thank God that He has been so good and faithful. In dry seasons or rainy days, I choose to say that He is good to me. For all the problems in my life, I still know that nothing is too difficult for God.
If you’re struggling, feeling like you’re suffocating you – if you hate your life – I want to leave you with the promise that God loves you.
He hears us and collects every single tear we shed. And if mere tears are precious to Him – how much more the one who cries?
This is a submission from a participant of our Greater Love Giveaway. From now till the end of March 2018, we are giving away a pack of limited edition Thir.st “Greater Love” Stickers in exchange for every story. Stories must have a personal/local angle and be of 800-1000 words. Send us yours here.
I was in Crazy Rich Asians, and it showed me how I want to live
by Jonathan Cho | 27 August 2018, 3:45 PM
Yes, that’s right. I was in Crazy Rich Asians, the movie that’s recently made history for minority representation with an almost all-Asian cast – and placed our little red dot on the Hollywood world map.
The truth is, I didn’t even know what Crazy Rich Asians was. Not the movie or the book on which it’s based. So I have to admit I wasn’t particularly excited about being asked by a friend (of a friend, of a friend) to join the calefare cast.
Well, the hype did eventually pick up for me when I arrived on set at MBS. Aside from the glamour and opulence of the scene we were shooting, it was an unforgettable experience to be surrounded by famous personalities I’d only ever seen on screen.
Another thing I remember was a quiet thought that surfaced in my heart, strangely familiar yet never quite as clearly articulated before: Would I have a chance to be seen?It’s not an uncommon story, but if I hadn’t been a lawyer, I’d have joined the entertainment scene in a heartbeat.
Jonathan singing his song “Strive” for #ThirstAcoustic
Forget the nonchalance from before, something in me suddenly wanted to be a visible part of the movie.
In July 2018, about a year after filming, I started to see interviews, articles, trailers and movie stills being circulated. Even my friends and family were getting excited and making plans to watch the movie. Knowing that this could be my moment of Hollywood fame, I couldn’t wait for it to be released in Singapore.
But the questions I’d kept inside also returned, this time more desperate than before: What if no one finds out I was a part of this?
Before I could catch the show, my brother texted me from Sydney, where it’d been released earlier, to say: “It was a great movie! But sorry, I didn’t see you inside.”
My scene had not made the final cut.
HEIRS TO THE GREATEST INHERITANCE
One of the main themes of Crazy Rich Asians is “inheritance”, what its predecessor The Great Gatsby terms “old money”. The male protagonist, Nick Young, is essentially modern day royalty. From a young age, he was primed to take over his father’s legacy – his business, possessions, and of course, family name.
Perhaps some part of me craved to be part of a grand story like that, and while the line between fiction and reality is obvious, being part of a movie like that did seem to give me a sense of significance – even if just for a nanosecond.
In the midst of googling production images to find out if I was truly nowhere to be found in the movie, I suddenly understood what my heart was grasping for: It wasn’t as simple as a superficial desire to be seen in a movie. I wanted to be known.
The fact of the matter is that many of us tussle with this – even in the Christian ministry that we do “for God”. Underneath much of our Christian activity and service lies a heart-cry to be known, to find significance, value, and our place in the Kingdom of God: Who am I if nobody sees me?
Do I count it my riches that I am known by the King of Heaven and have been brought into His family as His child and a co-heir with His Son, Jesus Christ?
The premise of Crazy Rich Asians is precisely that the glamorous, quantifiable – visible – nature of one’s life is what determines a person’s worth.
The characters in the movie are part of the “seen” crowd – they are at the forefront of fashion trends, constantly are the talk of the town and are so ridiculously good-looking that you cannot not pay attention to them. That is their inheritance and their legacy.
But what about me? What riches do I have to my name?
Is it to have people lauding me as a respectable and skilled member of my profession? Is it being recognised as an “anointed” worship leader, preacher or mentor in my various Christian circles?
Or do I count it my riches to be known by the King of Heaven, my Father God, and have been brought into His family as His child and a co-heir with His Son, Jesus Christ?
DO YOU KNOW WHO YOUR FATHER IS?
In 1 Samuel 18, we read about a prince – one primed to take over the kingdom from his father, but who chose to lay it down in order to offer it up instead to God’s anointed. I’m talking about my namesake, Jonathan, son of Israel’s first king, Saul.
“Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armour, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.” (1 Samuel 18:3-4)
Jonathan was content not to have his name known or celebrated in the public eye. Indeed, how many of us remember Jonathan as a once future king of Israel? Most of us remember him only as “David’s best friend”, something he was totally fine with it because he understood what was of greater importance.
In partnering with God, Jonathan knew he possessed a far greater inheritance than a crown or throne. People would’ve said he was crazy for giving this up to an unknown shepherd boy. I say that this was his true richness and mark of kingship – not the royal robes, sword, bow or belt.
When we recognise whose Family we belong to, perhaps we’ll start really living as children of the One who owns everything in Heaven and on Earth. We have in our possession, conferred onto us as believers, the fullness of God’s power and provision for everything we need for life and godliness.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature …” (1 Peter 3:3-4)
He acknowledges us as His, the way He did at the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:17). We are His children, whom He loves, and with us He is well pleased. In Him we find all identity, security and significance to live the craziest and richest lives possible. That, my friends, is true privilege.
We are crazy rich Christians.
Jonathan in the far left corner of the engagement party scene
I guess I should mention that I did have some screen time after all, but the joy of knowing this was incomparable to the fact that it was my mother who spotted me amidst the crowd. And she was able to not because she saw someone crazy, rich, or both – but simply because she saw her son and knew it was him immediately.
I run a public relations and marketing business that’s rather small, not very innovative, and wholly unremarkable. We only have one goal: Make as much money as possible, and give away as much as we can.
I enjoy making money. I always have. When I was 10, I “bought” my first shares in an off-book exchange with my father. I sold all our family’s baby guppies when I was 12, making a respectable profit (and possibly avoiding an overpopulation crisis in the process).
During my university years, I spent most of it working as a freelance journalist and copywriter, so much so that in one particularly lucrative month I didn’t see anyone outside my household for nearly six weeks. Despite what happened with the guppies, we still had fish at home to keep me company, though the conversation was rather one-sided.
I enjoyed making money, but I enjoyed giving it away more. This was an instinct best suppressed in any Asian household, especially those carving out a living as immigrants in a country with a penchant for elitism. “You think anyone will look after you if you go hungry?” was the catchcry of my pre-Christian household.
Years on, with my family saved, it’s easy to answer yes and amen: To repeat the promises of Matthew 6:25 and Psalms 37:19, and numerous other verses that speak of how our Father will neither leave us nor forsake us.
It’s also easy to answer as Paul did: That it’s better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). But the muscles of generosity were left atrophying over the years until I began to flex them again.
I never intended to go into business. When I did, no amount of prayer could remove the sensation that I was leaping into an abyss – one where if He didn’t catch me, I’d crumple on the rocks of poverty below. But as I was in mid-flight and His promises started to reveal themselves, I knew He had bigger plans for me than to simply fill my own rice bowl.
He’d placed in me a desire to give, and my only question was, “How?”
The first answer He gave me was time. Running my own business, coupled with the flexibility of the type of work we were doing, suddenly opened the hours between 9 and 6 to expanded possibilities for ministry and service.
Preparing materials for our cell group; fixing doors and lightbulbs in the church; meeting the young men under my care for lunch at their offices, on their terms. Giving me time taught me faithfulness in the little things, husbanding my hours and minutes to bear fruit for others wherever they could.
My goal is not dissimilar from an ah long’s: Earn money, give money.
The second answer was treasure. As the business grew in revenue, it gave boldness to my vision: To aggressively sow into Kingdom-building work throughout South-East Asia. We invested in church projects, funded missionaries, donated to charities devoted to the “pure and undefiled religion” (James 1:27) of helping the widows and orphans whom Singaporeans all too often avert their eyes from.
My business partner – himself a committed leader of similar organisations nationwide – literally wrote me blank cheques to use where I felt the Holy Spirit leading me. We put Luke 6:38 to the test and the more we gave, the more He gave back in return.
The final answer was – and is – talent. It came on a winter’s night in the hills of Chiang Mai’s outskirts, where a young man told me the story of his own leap of faith. And as he did so, I felt something stir in my heart as well – the desire, entertained since young but never really exercised, to tell everyday stories of hope and life that would otherwise go untold.
From that point on, the business became a tool. It gave me the flexibility and time to travel afar, and bring testimonies like that young man’s to a world in desperate need of hope and light. It also became a wellspring of resources to support those whose stories I had the privilege of encountering.
I also realised it had been the refiner’s fire to my talent: Two years of managing high-pressure operations and completing last-minute jobs from the back of pick-up trucks, in oily sampans, and under foreign skies clear of cloud and cellular reception.
“For by You I can run against a troop,” declared David, the ultimate action-hero, in Psalm 18:29; “By my God I leap over a wall.” What was once the impossible had, through unrelenting training, become the unremarkable.
It’s increasingly difficult to separate treasure out from time and talents. And I think that’s what He always intended. He wants us to give not pieces of ourselves, but the whole – just like He gave Himself for us.
My goal at the start was simple, not dissimilar from an ah long’s: Earn money, give money. That’s still what motivates me to stay in business today.
But as I’ve learnt to give, that vision’s grown to encompass far more forms of giving, and I hope it never stops. The only thing remarkable about my business is how He’s made it His.
“If it’s God’s will, it’s God’s bill”: Lessons and miracles over coffee with Jason Chua
by Joey Lam | 10 July 2018, 1:52 PM
I was having coffee and catching up with Jason Chua when he blew my mind with a few stories.
6 years ago when he came back from Kansas City, he had only $250 left in his bank account. At that time he knew God had called him to establish a house of prayer, but back then no one in Singapore would pay you to make worship and prayer happen.
Besides, Jason’s brother is a pastor who doesn’t earn much either and has 4 kids to feed. His parents back then weren’t believers, and wouldn’t give him money because they wanted him to get a job. Their actions simply said: “If this is what your God has called you to do, He will feed you.”
So with little left in his bank account left, Jason prayed that God would give him the faith of George Müller.
George Müller was known as the apostle of orphans. He once sat all his orphans down at mealtime to give thanks to God for food – all while holding empty plates. The next moment, a milk truck broke down outside the orphanage. Because milk would spoil by the time the wheel was fixed, the milkman gave Muller all the milk for the orphans to drink.
Jason told me about a date he once had with Constance – then his girlfriend, now his wife. They were walking around Cathay when she turned to him and said, “Let’s watch a movie.”
Jason told me that he didn’t like the idea of having to ask Constance to pay for their movie tickets. But the reality was that there was no more money left in his bank account. So he said, “Well, we will see, let’s just put the card into the ATM.”
That was when he saw there was suddenly $500 in his bank account.
If God has a will, He will pay His bills.
Back then no one knew who Jason Chua was. So it wasn’t possible that anyone would have transferred money to him, because no one knew his bank account number apart from his brother and father. He rang them up to ask if they had transferred money to him – they both replied no. He exploded in faith from that moment on.
Jason told me about this other time a random teenager came up to him with an angbao with a few hundred dollars inside. He’d never even met the teenager before. Even more incredulous was Jason’s testimony of how his bank account kept “replenishing” itself to the amount it originally held, even after he drew money.
And there’s more: Jason once put his phone on top of his wallet, and when he picked up his phone some time later, he found new notes underneath it. And there was another occasion when he was walking on the street, and he suddenly felt uncomfortable in his feet. He took off his shoes and you guessed it – money inside.
Right before we parted, Jason left me with a word of conviction and encouragement: “If it’s God’s will, it’s God’s bill.”
As I sat listening to Jason, I realised I was meeting a person who has experienced God’s supernatural provision. And I was reminded: God put the stars in their place with His fingers, by His breath He separated light and darkness, by His thought He fashioned each of us uniquely yet in His image.
What miracle is beyond Him?
Read Elijah’s account in 1 Kings 17 – there are two kinds of provision in there. First, God calls Elijah to hide by the brook in Kerith, where he would drink from and where ravens would feed him. So Elijah drank from the brook, and the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and evening. Talk about Deliveroo from above!
How humbling it must have been to be fed by some random birds twice a day. Supernatural provision, in God’s amazing way for every unique situation.
I struggle to empty my wallet into the offering bag, fearing there won’t be enough to buy lunch after church, and yet Elijah asks this widow for her very last meal.
Next, the brook dries up and God instructs Elijah to find the widow of Zarephath – a foreign woman in a foreign land.
According to God, she was going to provide for Elijah. So he finds the widow (in what I’m sure is their first meeting) and asks for a cup of water and some bread. He asks her for these things in the middle of a drought!
She replies honestly, saying that he is free to join them for one last meal before she and her son die from starvation. Elijah assures her that she and her son will live, but insists she feeds him first. He promises that the God of Israel (a foreign god to this widow) would ensure there will always be food on the table until the rain falls once more.
That’s … ridiculous. The widow just told him she was going to eat her last meal, yet Elijah – possibly an imposter for all she knows – insists on eating her last meal first and that a foreign God would take care of her?
I struggle to empty my wallet into the offering bag, fearing there won’t be enough to buy lunch after church, and yet Elijah asks this widow for her very last meal. The beauty of this passage is that in Elijah’s need and the widow’s obedience – neither died from hunger.
But God in His amazing way, orchestrates miracles around such intersections, showing Himself to be the ultimate provider and conductor over our lives.
I don’t know if you’re like me, but I’ve been tempted to think things like, “Cool story, bro.” I’ve also found myself reasoning before, “This is a Bible story, I am not in the Bible, so God isn’t calling me to such things.”
But it isn’t about us. God used ordinary, flawed and imperfect humans for His purposes. I’m sure that if could speak with these biblical characters, we’d realise how ordinary they are.
The same God who’s working these miracles in the Bible, is the same God we worship today. So the miracles He performed in the Bible – He can do them today as well. The question is whether we have the faith to believe He can do likewise through us.
The same God who’s working these miracles in the Bible, is the same God we worship today.
As I listen to Jason’s testimonies, I am made to reframe the way I view money again and again. Money does have many uses, but the one thing I can’t let it do is trap me. And it’s easy to be trapped by our perception of money, forgetting we worship a God who is not restrained by financial limitations, who has infinite resources beyond what mere money will ever get us.
To us, money meets needs. But do we attribute more power to money than to God? We cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24) – one must take precedence over the other.
When we dare to say, “I can have nothing left in my bank account, I do not know what I will eat for my next meal, but I am sure He will provide, I am sure He hears my prayer,” that’s when we faithfully attest to His character and timely provision. That’s when the grip of financial security over us loosens.
Many workers live by such faith, not because they enjoy uncertainty, but because they rest in His provision.
I pray that as you finish reading this article, more room in your heart will be given to God, to let Him walk with you through financial uncertainty. He will certainly be faithful to provide no matter the circumstance, because we live not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of our living God.
When we dare to live with little or none, we’ll realise how He is truly everything we need. When we have a renewed understanding of God and money, we’ll have a new perspective in the songs we sing about His provision.
Getting a job shouldn’t be that tough. Besides, I’m a Singaporean and I’m going to graduate with a bachelor with an honours degree.
That was my mentality towards my impending job search while still in university. Though this was going to be my first time stepping into the workforce, I was sure I’d land a job easily because my industry was always publicised on the news as an one that is constantly growing and in need of employees.
I couldn’t be more naive.
As my job hunt began, I decided that I shouldn’t be idling around at home, waiting for interviews to be offered to me.
So I decided to work as an Uber driver as the incentives were enticing then. After my last exam in university, I took the car and started driving. I signed a 5-week contract with the car rental company, believing that I would be able to find a job within that time frame and I could return the car by then.
I imagined that the job search wouldn’t be too tough as long as I kept sending resumes out. What I didn’t realise was that I was going to be sending resumes for a much longer time than I had imagined.
God is working in my waiting.
After a month of driving, chasing after incentives and earning the most that I could out of it, I still had no job. My situation then evolved from “I should look for engineering jobs” to “I need a job – any job will do.”
The stress of this silent wait was compounded by the fact that my wife was pregnant with our first child – we had even more financial responsibilities to bear. I started to worry about my situation. I became desperate.
I started to send out resumes everywhere like a mad man. I even applied for jobs that weren’t in my industry or area of expertise. The outcome was not good: Less than ten out of the many companies that I’d written to had even gotten back to me, and I wasn’t offered any second interviews or positions.
It didn’t help much when friends around me started asking if I’d found a job. Some even questioned if I was being picky. The truth was, I had nothing to even be picky about! It was honestly a very trying and disappointing time.
Some thought that my asking salary was too high as I had no prior experience. Other jobs rejected me because they thought my results were “too good” for the positions they were offering. I was simply running into dead ends.
It didn’t help at all when I read a viral article about a Singaporean’s eight-year-long unemployment. It made me wonder if I might never get a full-time job. One by one, my peers started working in their full-time jobs, and there I was wondering why I was still unemployed. My self-esteem plummeted and I started faulting and condemning myself.
I should worked harder. I should have decorated my resume with more work experiences. This is the end for me.
… prayer should be our first response rather than our last resort.
I wondered whether God would ever give me a stable job – whether I would have to do odd jobs for life. What was all that hard work and studying for?Did God forget about me?
But each night, as I spent time alone with God, He assured me that He was there for me. It was in this difficult time in my life that I decided to trust God by faith and continue to press in and pray. A friend once told me that prayer should be our first response rather than our last resort.
Even though I was very discouraged, I kept this reminder close to heart and hung onto God, knowing that He is with me.
In November, I received a phone call from a company that I’d applied to some months ago. They were going to set an interview date with me, but that dragged on for yet another few more months. I was all ready for it to be yet another futile attempt.
But six months after that phone call, I actually secured an interview and to my surprise – I got the job!
The commencement salary offered to me was also way beyond what I could’ve asked for as a fresh graduate with no prior experience. And as I write this, I’m finally starting work soon.
In retrospect, God’s timing is always perfect.
My year of not holding a full-time job meant that I had the flexibility of time to meet the needs of my family. While working as a driver, I had the flexibility to send my wife to work from the northern part of Singapore to the eastern part of Singapore.
I could bring her for check-ups comfortably in a car, send her to her night classes and pick her up afterwards. Our trips to baby fairs were always done quickly and efficiently with a car. We could bring home our purchases to prepare for the arrival of our newborn comfortably with ease.
The community of God around me has also been a tremendous blessing and support to me. My mentors and my cell group never once gave up on me, and they’re always spurring me on despite my imperfections and the negativity I held on to.
God’s timing is always perfect.
I’ve learnt that even through unfavourable situations, God is still watching over me. Even when it seems completely hopeless, God is still at work. God is working in my waiting.
While my eyes were fixated on what I was lacking and not getting, God was actually pruning me for something else. He planted me elsewhere to lead and serve my family in that season. He never forgot about me once even as I sat there in the waiting room.
Through this year-long wait, I have learnt to never look at the circumstance I’m in, but to God who’s backing me up and is in control of everything, even when it feels like I’ve run into a dead end.