Do Good

The gift of home: Every day is Christmas at The Last Resort

by Joanne Kwok // December 16, 2019, 5:12 pm

Gift of home featured

Addy’s eyes are glistening with tears as her already gentle voice dips in recollection.

“I think I felt what a shame it would be for this young person who had this opportunity to go to university but couldn’t because she didn’t have a place to go, because she didn’t have a home…”

She was telling us about a 19-year-old girl who had shown up at their doorstep looking for respite because her parents had called the police on her and told her to leave their home following irreconcilable conflicts with her family.

The police had given her 15 minutes to pack her belongings before taking her out of the house. She only had $60 left in her bank account, barely enough for two nights at a backpackers’ lodge. In desperation, she started googling for help, which is how she found Kenneth and Adeline Thong’s story in The Straits Times.

By that night, she had been given a place to stay at The Last Resort until she could find stability – one of the many accounts we have heard of how the couple has saved young people off the streets over the past 12 years.

“We don’t realise that for young people who have been stranded… just not having sufficient time or always needing to be on guard, being in survival mode, can really affect their state of mind. What they really need is just a space where they know they’re safe and can have a good night’s rest,” said Addy.

BECOMING THE LAST RESORT

What makes the story of The Last Resort so fascinating isn’t actually how extraordinary Ken and Addy are, but how ordinary. Neither was born with a silver spoon in their mouths. They had met shortly after returning to Singapore from long-term missions stints in South Africa and South India respectively – at a music festival, no less. She was 26; he was 33. 

After settling back home and into marriage soon after, Addy worked part-time as a school counsellor at a local secondary school while Ken taught life skills, also part-time, at another secondary school. Not wanting to be saddled in debt, they rented a 3-room flat. This was when they first encountered someone who had found herself stranded with nowhere to go due to a family crisis.

“We thought, just come and bunk over – we have two small bedrooms, so she can have one,” Ken recounted, smiling fondly. “And since then, it seemed like God was teaching us something.”

People needing refuge started finding their way to their home. They came from all over, not just from Singapore, but even pastors from overseas, foreign interns in need of a place to stay… each time the Lord sent people their way, Ken and Addy said yes.

Their policy was simple and generous: Stay as long as you need, at no cost.

By the time their lease was up and they had to move to a 5-room flat that miraculously opened up because another couple was planning to migrate without selling their place, Ken and Addy had a steady flow of visitors throughout the year – and now with more space, they could continue providing shelter for more.

But it also grew more evident that their main guests were young people, typically in their late teens and early 20s. Like their first visitor, many had been turned out of their houses suddenly due to family issues. Some were single mothers who couldn’t go home and at times, they were homeless youth who fell through bureaucratic cracks.

“If you think of homeless, it’s the old guys at Chinatown, all those stereotypical images,” Ken said. “But homeless teenagers? This is Singapore, man.

“But as God began to open our eyes, it was like, wow. It’s more prevalent than I imagined it to be.”

Wanting to focus on this growing ministry, Addy cut down on the hours she was working at the school to spend more time with the young people staying with them, which further reduced the household’s income. But miraculously, the numbers never added up – they always had enough for all who came through their doors.

“God really does take care of everything. He takes care of us, and the people who come as well.”

“I really marvelled,” Addy said with a small sigh. “Because I wondered how could you be doing so much with so little.

“And I realised that it’s really through not worrying about that, but just being readily available and making whatever you have available.

“God really does take care of everything. He takes care of us and the people who come as well.”

They moved for a third time in 2012 when their landlord decided to sell the flat – this round it was a downsize to a 4-room flat. And the young people just kept showing up, more so than ever before.

“Some of the kids would want to come spend the weekend with us so that they would be safe from street gangs,” Ken shared. “We’d tell them we didn’t have any more beds, but they were happy to sleep on the floor!

“And so we started to learn. It was not the very Singaporean way of thinking – let me plan for it – it was looking at what we had, what we have in our hands and offering it to God to make it available, make it common. God will multiply it if He chooses to.”

It was after three rental flats in a decade of housing the homeless that God started to prompt them that a shift was coming – one bigger than ever before. This time, it was going to be a much larger space, one where they could expand engagement, not just with the people they were caring for, but also the community around them.

“We were almost resisting,” Ken said. “Like, why do we need such a big place? We don’t need that. We can still continue in a small place.

“But God knew better, and so He had to convince us with many, many, many signs.”

In their minds, Ken and Addy struggled to envision a place bigger than the HDB flats they had been staying in, until a serendipitous search for a larger place on Google led them to a neighbourhood in Jalan Kayu.

They weren’t looking for anywhere in particular, but when they reached the end of the lane they were walking along, a man came out from one of the houses and started a conversation with them. He then mentioned that the tenant next to him had just moved out and asked if they were interested in renting the four-storey, which was identical to his.

This was entirely unthinkable, given the rental costs and their shared income. But the house number was what caught their attention: 77.

“We were married on the 7th of July,” Ken explained. “And our wedding has always been significant to us, because it was almost like our commissioning – of God joining us together in service to Him.

“So we were intrigued. We wanted to know if God was saying something.”

The ball had started rolling. Despite the impossibilities and almost sheer madness of even considering a house like this, Ken and Addy started to pray together with their friends. And the signs just kept coming.

On their first house tour, they separately received similar clear impressions of what each space would be used for: from places of prayer to spaces for communal activity.

Even their friends were confirming the divine nudge. Strangers who didn’t know what they were praying for came with messages that pointed to the house. God was clearly speaking to different people in their community of the miracle He was going to do next. Of course, the logical question was: How were they going to pay for all of it?

“It’s very similar to how we have lived all this while,” Ken said. “It’s freely giving, freely receiving.” And through a series of divine provisions, they were able to make up the deposit for the first month – and the next and the next. Month by month, as they had always lived.

God had found The Last Resort a new home.

FREELY GIVING, FREELY RECEIVING

It’s a journey that confounds us – Ken and Addy included. In 2018, their first year in the house at Jalan Kayu, Ken had also left his job at a youth mission organisation to focus on the work happening at The Last Resort. 

“At that moment, I should have gone into panic mode,” Addy said with a small laugh. She had not been working in four years by then. “Because before that we still had some income, but now he didn’t even have that income.

“But what was really surprising was how I felt a lot of peace, and I felt God saying, ‘I want this to be all about Me.’

“It wasn’t anything that we could find for ourselves and contribute to what He was going to do here – He wanted to be personally involved in keeping this home and the care of the young people He was bringing in.”

From availing what little they have had through the years in the light of the very real costs of living in our nation, it would be safe to say the Thongs understand the walk of faith at an entirely different level. Resources always make their way to The Last Resort, usually miraculously, but there are months where their budgets are as stretched as their waiting.

Feeling bad about not being able to make their rent and utilities payments on time during the lean months, Addy recalled a conversation she had with God about this predicament.

She shared: “I remember asking Him, ‘God, does following You mean not being able to pay on time? Surely, it’s not very glorifying to You, right?’

“And He replied, ‘So if it is uncomfortable, would you stop following me?’

“Sometimes we think that following Jesus is going to be everything all put in place, but when there’s discomfort, we start to doubt. We wonder, ‘God, are we still following You? Are we still on track?’

“And my response was, ‘Yes, Lord, even if it’s uncomfortable, we will follow You.'”

The stories of divine provision are too many to tell in one sitting, but one, in particular, stands out: the year they had to fish for food. The household had run out of meat, and it was already a lean season for the family.

“I was thinking, ‘Chicken can be quite expensive,'” Addy said. “Ken and I, we can eat vegetables and rice and eggs, but we thought young people should have some meat.

“So I looked at Ken and said, ‘You know what? We’re gonna go fishing. We’re gonna fish for food.'”

It was almost laughable, given their past experiences with leisure fishing, one of Ken’s hobbies. But it felt right in Addy’s heart, and the couple headed to Bedok Jetty.

“‘I felt God saying, ‘I want this to be all about Me.'”

“On the way there I said, ‘Okay, God, it’ll be nice to just have enough fish for the week,'” she said. “And that morning, we just kept reeling up fish after fish.” A little more than two hours later, they had caught over 200 fish.

And when they went back the next week, the number more than doubled to 500. They had enough fish for the whole year.

Addy smiled at the memory. “I felt like God was saying, ‘You wanted fish, right? So here, eat. Eat as much as you want.”

WE MUST HOUSE THE HOMELESS

“It was part of a conversation as we were having dinner together, just laughing about our dreams to one day have a guesthouse,” Ken shared. “Our friends caught on and said, ‘It won’t be an amazing resort, but it’ll be the last resort.'”

The couple still laugh about it, but the truth is, that’s what The Last Resort should be – the community of Christ.

Ken explained: “We’re not a ministry. This should be normal. We should all be doing it – we must normalise the Christian mandate. Surely caring for the poor in our midst is not the work of a few.”

If more people were to open their homes to those in need, there would be nothing special about what Ken and Addy are doing, which is just how they want it.

The Church is God’s finest answer to the problem of homelessness

In our nation, the idea of opening our doors to complete strangers is still daunting. But to Ken and Addy, this is where Isaiah 58:7 must resound in every Christian.

“We often hear about sharing our food and clothing the naked, but we don’t always hear about bringing the homeless poor into our houses,” Addy said, Bible in hand after she reads us the Scripture. “But this is also written for the Church to respond to.”

Ken continued, impassioned. “Have we segregated our own personal lives from ministry? We care for the poor outside, we feed the hungry outside – but my house is my own.

“And we find ourselves challenged: can my home also be God’s home? And if we welcome Him to come… will we also welcome the guests that He brings with Him?”

“We’re not asking people to clone or duplicate what we’re doing; don’t feel like you need to come and volunteer or give to us. We hope for people to look at who the poor in their midsts are and channel their resources there,” Ken concluded. “The Last Resort is not us. It’s not Ken and Addy, it’s not about whatever we’re doing.

“It’s the community of Christ saying to people, ‘We want you because God wanted us. God wants you.”

For a tiny island, Singapore has about 23 institutional shelters for children. If even a tenth of local churches were to build missional communities like The Last Resort, we would have at least 50. Ken and Addy’s desire is to see more of these initiatives in our nation and they would love to connect with those who want to find out how to do so. Feel free to drop them a message here.

THINK + TALK

  1. Who are the “poor” in your midst whom you can bless this season?
  2. How might you have closed an eye to those in need around you?
  3. Would you open your house this Christmas to someone who needs to experience home?
  4. What can you do in the coming year to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless?
About the author

Joanne Kwok

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.