Culture

With my rifle and my buddy and me… oh, and Jesus

by Kenneth Chew // November 25, 2016, 7:22 am

kc-from-cavalry-to-calvary

Have you ever wondered: Why must we serve?

I do. All the time. Army songs are brilliant, and each time I pass by an army camp and hear one, I think of my two-year struggle for significance. They say that when the green camouflage comes on, everything else falls off. For those of us who are called to carry the yoke of Christ, our time in National Service is a fiery furnace where faith is put to the test.

Because we love our land…

While I do love my land, fighting for freedom is a romanticised concept. The truth is, your rights are overwritten by obligation to duty, honour and country. In Singapore, where our army is by and large a peacetime army, our conundrum is mild, at least until something happens.

Thank God for that peace – that every time I scope down the head of an enemy soldier and squeeze the trigger, life does not cease. Like most who have gone before, these two years will come and go without major incident.

Congratulations, you have already reaped your first reward. Because as a deterrent force – modern day peacekeepers – Jesus calls us blessed, and children of God (Matthew 5:9).

And we want it to be free, to be free!

FROM CAVALRY TO CALVARY

But even in peacetime, the war rages on in our souls. NS presents young men with newfound freedom. Parents nowhere in sight, the gates to manhood are flung wide open to reveal newfound allures – joys hidden among dangers, toils and snares. Here many revel in unadulterated thrills, non-committal romance. Just doing what men do.

But a certain emptiness lingers through all these. As machines of regimentation for five days a week, pent-up feelings of frustration and loneliness are unleashed over the weekends. No wonder many young NSFs feel compelled to engage in alcohol-infused weekends with their peers, rather than spending time in church.

Faced with the temptation of choice, I found my time in National Service was less about changing the world or the country. It was all about how God was changing me – moulding and refining me into a useful jar of clay to carry His presence wherever I went.
As believers we are meant to sing to a different tune.

Freedom found in Your scars.
In Your grace my life redeemed.
For You chose the sinner’s crown,
As You placed your crown on me.

The ultimate price for our freedom has been paid by Jesus, our Saviour and Lord. We are no longer slaves to fear, but have become children of God.

As I intentionally died to myself daily and embraced the call of Christ, I was free from the vicious cycle of depravity and catharsis that my peers dealt with. For example, where many pick up smoking during their army days, I was never drawn by the charm of a burning cigarette.

Instead, I grew fascinated with exercise, and spent long hours replenishing the endorphin rush with calisthenics, weights and running. I moved beyond insecurity and competition, and simply loved how these made me feel alive.

I found my time in National Service was less about changing the world or the country. It was all about how God was changing me.

God’s grace saw me through my days in camp, while over the weekend, my involvement with a loving, encouraging and nurturing cell group kindled a passion for Jesus that surpassed the allure of the drunken communion that soldiers partake of in nightclubs – debauchery that happens when men do not know or fear Him.

Freedom in Christ meant that I no longer worried about what my peers and superiors thought of me, but rather focused on being faithful in the little things – caring for my buddies, being less selfish.
It meant learning to love the unlovable, which was a real challenge, but in the process I saw how the lonely and despondent could experience the fellowship of men. This also empowered the men under my charge to flourish without fear, and develop in confidence and proficiency.

WHOSE SON AM I?

As the routine of BMT ensues, mornings are ushered in by the cadence of baritone, off-pitch chants of marching soldiers. For the newly-shaved platoon, you can tell the time of day – how close they are to book-out – by the zest in their voices.

The chants are often led by the single voice of a particularly zealous and motivated soldier who will probably end up in command school. Siao on, they call them. A future sergeant or officer. All these wayang theatrics to ascend transient ladders, and fall again in a perpetual power play.

For those ascending to leadership positions, the thrill of power and prestige may become something to boast about. Our rank becomes our identity.

But dear Private, Corporal, Sergeant, Lieutenant: Is that all we are? A rank on the chest?

We are Singaporean sons by law. Yet, concurrently, we belong to Jesus.

Even in green, we remain His redemptive vessels – salt in combat rations, light on Elephant Hill.

Whatever our map coordinates, we are positioned there strategically and purposefully by our Lord. Like Daniel who resolved to not defile himself with the king’s food and wine, we need to guard against being tempted by the prevalent culture of wherever we are stationed. God knows our hearts.

So as you don the green, lace your boots, and march on, remember that it is never just my rifle and my buddy and me. Our Lord walks with us, empowers us, and carries us every blistering and muddy step of the way.

In my two years in NS, God showed up often, cementing my convictions and motivating me to serve Him in a new capacity. Within those two years, I decided to finally get baptised, and stepped up to lead a cell group for the first time. Soon after my ORD, I signed up for the School of Ministry at Tung Ling Bible School, and went on my first mission trip. My turning point was right in the mess of life as a Singaporean Son.

We are Singaporean sons by law. Yet, concurrently, we belong to Jesus.

Lord, teach us to use our time in NS for your glory in every way, that we may not simply survive, but thrive in your unfailing love, in the shadow of Your wings. At the end of our NS days, may our faith be found pure, real, and precious in Your sight. Regardless of rank, appointment, or PES status, may we strive to Lead, Excel and Overcome for Your Name’s sake.

Amen.

About the author

Kenneth Chew

Kenneth is best understood through his impassioned Instagram posts, composed in the deep of night when the tumultuous world finally lies silent. He probably prefers dogs to cats.