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Speaking with my eyes: Living out loud in a silent world

by Isabelle Lim | 10 September 2018, 5:54 PM

Isabelle is a 24-year-old aspiring photographer who has Nager Syndrome, a rare condition. Born with profound deafness, she uses sign language to communicate. This interview was held in sign language, with her mother, Mrs Jacqueline Lim, who also acted as the interpreter.


There are only a few hundred known cases of Nager Syndrome in the world. I was born with multiple physical challenges in the areas of seeing, breathing, hearing and eating.

Besides my sight deficiency and being profoundly deaf, I was born with with a boneless thumb on each hand. Very early on I had my thumbs surgically removed and my index fingers re-positioned as thumbs. I also have fused elbows, as well as limited dexterity in my wrists.

When I was just a month old, the doctors at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) were unsure about how to treat my breathing difficulties but recommended a tracheostomy, an incision that would be made in my windpipe to allow air to flow better.

During those days, Singapore did not have the necessary kind of medical interventions, so we were recommended to a surgeon in Australia. The recommended hospital had more experience handling children with complex cranial-facial issues and jaw operations.

Because of my recessed jaw, it was also difficult to swallow food, which meant I had to be tube-fed for many years. Only around the age of 8 was I slowly progressing to porridge, and I had to carry packets of “Ensure” milk and porridge whenever I went to school, camps or family outings.

But even after my first jaw operation, I continued facing issues with my breathing, and I needed a Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) machine to assist my breathing at night. Together with my packed meals, I would have to carry this with me whenever I travelled.

Of all these physical limitations, being deaf is the most challenging because I need to communicate with people all the time. My parents put in the effort to learn sign language to communicate with me. Not every parent of a deaf child knows how to sign; this was their way of showing their love and support.

I studied at Balestier Hill Secondary School, one of the two mainstream schools in Singapore that accepted deaf children during that time. This meant I had resource teachers who interpreted lessons for the deaf.

Although I scored twelve points for my N-Levels, I decided to go to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) to study accountancy. I was told by my resource teachers to be mentally prepared to survive without an interpreter.

I tried my very best to cope with the help of my buddies, but every day was like a battlefield – and I felt like I was fighting three times harder than I ever did. Lessons were like a silent movie! I was constantly chasing after lecturers for help outside classes. This eventually led to a loss of interest in studying altogether.

I had rarely experienced failure in secondary school, so this was a big blow to me. Thankfully, into my second year, God must have heard my cries, because the Singapore Association for the Deaf began providing an interpreter for deaf students in institutes of higher learning.

Finally, lessons came to life. There was progress shown in my results. In the same year, I found myself another buddy. During the next few months, I tried to catch up as much as I could, hoping that I would still able to gain admission into my dream polytechnic.

Although I did not go to that polytechnic, God opened a new door to pursue my new-found passion in photography through LASALLE College of the Arts, having honed my skills through the photography club in ITE as part of my co-curricular activity.

God even provided a three-year full scholarship through the Dare to Dream Scholarship. I was their first recipient.

In the same way, God opened doors for me in church. From a young age, I joined the Special Sunday School ministry at Wesley Methodist Church. I only joined the youth ministry when I was in ITE, as I didn’t feel prepared to transition to a mainstream service before that.

In the first three weeks, my mother stayed with me to show the youths how to communicate with me. She found me an interpreter – my cell leader helped take notes and sign for me! My cell members started volunteering to take turns to note-take every Sunday to support me.

Initially I felt very stressed about bothering them, and worried about whether I would be accepted as the only deaf person in the ministry. However, in the end, they were very warm and accepting of me. After a while, many of them wanted to learn how to sign so that they could communicate with me.

Some of them even registered with our church’s Ministry of the Hearing Impaired (MHI) to learn sign language and become interpreters for our church. I have been so blessed by this community.

I remember when I was in secondary school, I would get jealous of other deaf children who were able to do physical exercises such as stretching and sit-ups.

However, now that I am older, I’ve learnt to turn my deafness to my advantage. Today, I work as a professional photographer, and photography makes full use of my gifts. I can focus on capturing whatever is in front of me without environmental distractions. I also do not need to speak much!

Still, I am faced with a lot of communication barriers in my industry. My mother is usually there to interpret for me when I have client work, but when she or an interpreter is not present, I face issues with people who assume that deaf people can naturally lip-read.

Sometimes, people with special needs may be forgotten or treated as invisible. I would like to see more employers hiring people with special needs in the workforce. What I do not like to see is for the deaf to be excluded and unemployed. It is a terrible feeling.

Whether it is through my deafness or my physical challenges, I want to be a walking testimony for God and an inspiration to others. God is my Father who knows me well – He knows my abilities, my strengths, and He knows what I can overcome.

The size of my camera does not matter. What matters most is using my God-given skills as a medium for my voice, and ultimately to shine for Jesus. I hope to overcome challenges and share the importance of looking beyond special needs, to the person and talent that lies within.

Because of His grace and provision, I graduated with a diploma in Fine Arts (Art Photography) from LASALLE College of the Arts in 2016, with the support of the Dare to Dream Scholarship. That same year, I held my first solo exhibition, “See What I See”, at the Enabling Village.

Photos taken by Isabelle

Last year, I held my second exhibition, “Living with Grace” a photo essay collaboration with my cousin, Tham Yin May, to raise funds for the Today Enable Fund.

To end, I would like to share a quote from Perception, a photography series of the special needs community by ND Chow, a Tokyo-based Singaporean portrait photographer.

“We hope for a world that looks beyond disabilities. A world where disabilities are not perceived as no abilities. A world that is kinder. A world that is free of bias. A world that is full of love. A world that is more inclusive, where everything is beautiful. Perception hopes for such a world.”


Isabelle’s story is from “Call Me By Name”, a collection of 23 stories of Singaporeans with special needs, and their families. It was curated by the Family Inclusion Network, a group of parents and volunteers with a heart to embrace persons with special needs and disabilities. 

The book will be available on Gracework’s online store from September 1, 2018 onwards. 

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Alabaster Co: Presenting the Bible to a visual generation

by | 14 August 2018, 11:28 AM

I first heard of Alabaster Co when one of the designers in my church shared their Kickstarter campaign on her Facebook feed. That was sometime in late 2016.

A brand dedicated to redesigning the Bible for a highly visual generation was largely unheard of at that point in time. The next time I came across this name, it had become an actual product, on bookstore shelves in Sydney’s Hillsong Church.

Bryan Chung and Brian Chung (they’re not siblings), founders of Alabaster Co, were both university students when the idea came to them. Bryan, then 23, was an art and film student while Brian, then 27 – and also Bryan’s mentor in their campus ministry – was studying business entrepreneurship and communication design.

Bryan, now 25 and the creative director of Alabaster Co, shared with me that in his university days, he struggled to see how his faith and field of study could ever intersect.

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Founders of Alabaster Co, Bryan Chung (left) and Brian Chung were university students when they decided to start the business together.

I studied art and film and was also heavily involved in our campus ministry … but I always felt like those two parts of me were separate. I struggled with believing that God cared about my creative practice, or that art and beauty was an integral part of the Kingdom of God,” said Bryan.

That all changed one day when he read Real Life: A Christianity Worth Living Out by Pastor James Choung.

In the book, Pastor Choung describes how each generation asks a “spiritual question” that helps lead them toward Jesus. In the past, these questions have been: What is true? What is real? What is good?

Choung predicts that the next spiritual question younger generations will be asking is: What is beautiful?

The Scripture is a living document. It interacts with where we’re at in our own spiritual journeys.

“This felt so true. As our culture is becoming increasingly visual, bent towards an appreciation for aesthetics and good design, we have to ask the question, how do we show that the Gospel is beautiful?”

As a graphic designer myself, I’ve asked the same questions that Bryan had as well. Communicating beauty is our responsibility as creatives and artists – our garden to tend.

Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote, “In a world without beauty, good loses its attractiveness, the self-evidence of why it must be carried out, and truth loses its cogency.”

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The second part of Alabaster's The Bible Beautiful series – all 150 Psalms in a 232-page book.

In Bryan’s senior year, he and Brian (now business director) began discussing ways they could show the Gospel is beautiful. Those discussions gave birth to Alabaster Co, and are the reason why the brand remains committed to the ongoing conversation about creativity, beauty and faith.

The name is inspired by the passage of Mark 14:1-9, where a woman breaks an alabaster jar of incredibly expensive perfume and pours it all onto Jesus’ head in an act of worship.

Bryan continued: “Many people in the room scoffed and said her act was a complete waste. But Jesus defended the woman saying, ‘Leave her alone, why do you bother her? What she has done is a beautiful thing.’

“This complete act of sacrificial giving – Kalos in the original Greek – literally means ‘beautiful as a sign of inward goodness’. We wanted to create something with the same level of intentionality and thoughtfulness as the woman in this story.”

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Their first product, The Gospels, was launched on Kickstarter in October 2016.

The Bible Beautiful was their first project.

Filled with visual imagery and thoughtful design integrated within different books of the Bible, it launched them into the conversations of many Christian creatives. And since then they’ve released Psalms as well.

Bryan shared that the ideation phase for The Gospels began in May 2016. They spent the entire summer planning and compiling images and designs that would make up their aesthetic. In October 2016, they launched Alabaster on Kickstarter.

“We hit the launch button and honestly had no idea what to expect. By the end of the first day of the campaign we had already raised US$10,000. By the end of the campaign we had raised over $60,000 – exceeding our initial $35,000 goal.”

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“As our culture is becoming increasingly visual, bent towards an appreciation for aesthetics and good design, we have to ask the question, how do we show that the Gospel is beautiful?”

The initial response was overwhelmingly good, but the journey wasn’t without hiccups. Bryan shared that their biggest mistake was a typo made on the first print-run in the Gospel of Mark. It was easily anyone’s biggest nightmare – an entire line of text went missing in Chapter 5.

“It was incredibly disappointing. We reprinted the book and sent a new copy to all of our initial Kickstarter backers. It was painful. We lost a lot of money.”

Besides The Bible Beautiful, Alabaster Co also tells stories through The Journal: an online blog filled with stories and profiles of creators and other artistic content.

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"On the first print-run in the Gospel of Mark, an entire line of text went missing in Chapter 5. It was incredibly disappointing. We reprinted the book and sent a new copy to all of our initial Kickstarter backers. It was painful. We lost a lot of money.”

“We know the conversation doesn’t end with exploring Scripture. It continues through the stories of real people in the world today doing real work.”

I asked Bryan about their creative process: How do they approach ancient scriptures and transform them into modern visual imagery?

“We always start by studying the text. We look for insights into what each passage is saying, find connections between passages, and read different Bible commentaries.”

Bryan says that the images they create come out of an intensive study of scripture, mixed with their own emotional responses to the different passages.

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For Bryan and his team, God taught them what it means to experience Him beyond words – they encounter Him through other formats in their creative process.

“Humans have emotions … and in many ways, I think it’s the artist’s job to steward those emotional responses into something creative, authentic, and good. Some passages give us immense joy, while others make us feel angry or uncomfortable. There’s beauty in our raw emotions. The Scripture is a living document. It interacts with where we’re at in our own spiritual journeys.”

Bryan acknowledged that there are a lot of Christian artists who get paralysed in the creative process. Many of them feel the pressure to make sure they’re creating the “right thing”, or something that doesn’t seem offensive or controversial to the Christian community.

“But that’s the best thing about art! Art is provocative, it makes us ask questions, and think about the world in challenging new ways.”

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Besides producing print products, Alabaster Co also runs an online blog featuring stories of everyday people and discipleship content.

For Bryan and his team, God taught them what it means to experience Him beyond words – they encounter Him through other formats in their creative process.

“So much of how we currently experience God is through words … We read scripture and Christian books, we listen to Christian music with words, and we listen to pastors who speak to us in words.

“None of these are bad things. But through our creative process God has shown us that we can experience Him in other ways too … beautiful and artistic visual ways that help us experience Him in ways we hadn’t imagined before.”

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"The Scripture is a living document. It interacts with where we’re at in our own spiritual journeys."

For the Alabaster team, things are looking busy for the next few months. They just launched the Alabaster Notebook on Kickstarter, a notebook designed to help inspire people towards prayer, reflection, and creativity. Bryan reveals that they also have a new book in the works, Romans, launching in the Fall.

“We feel beyond thankful for all of the love and support from our customers. We had no idea what to expect when we initially launched – we’ve been floored by the response. It’s showed us that this dialogue matters, and we’re excited to be a part of the conversation between beauty and faith.”


From now till December 31, 2018, Alabaster Co is offering a special discount for all Thir.st readers. Enter <THIR.ST> for a 15% discount.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer who memorises Pantone swatches. Her standard bubble tea order – oolong milk tea with 25% sugar, less bubbles and no ice. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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GET IN WITH THIR.ST

by Thir.st | 1 August 2018, 1:44 PM

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So if you’re in the business of writing, video production, photography, animation, coding, preaching, composing, acting – and more – say hello and GET IN with us.

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THIR.ST TALKS: Getting real with Hillsong Young & Free

by Thir.st | 27 June 2018, 6:00 PM

Formed in 2012, Hillsong Young & Free is known for their contemporary electropop worship tunes that have been played in churches worldwide. Thir.st sat down with two of their members, Aodhán King, 26, and Renee Sieff, 25, while they were in town for the “UNITED X Young & Free” tour to chat about their upcoming album, III, and how they cope with the spotlight that comes with a global ministry.

Hey guys, welcome to Singapore. How’s the Asia tour going so far?

Aodhán: The whole tour has been amazing, every night it’s been incredible. But we did three nights in Manila in one of their biggest indoor stadiums which was like, over 30,000 people. It was pretty amazing, that was really special.

Also, because we get to do it with UNITED, and we’ve never done that before. I rolled my ankle one night and it’s still like super black and bruised underneath my shoe, but that was a great moment.

Renee: And in Manila as well, we got to do this thing with Compassion, where we go and we see kids who are being sponsored by other countries. We got to spend time and worshipped with them, they played music for us and we got to just hang out with them. That was a lot of fun as well.

Tell us more about your upcoming album, III.

Aodhán: You probably kind of know this, but it’s a studio record so that’s new for us, we’ve never done that. It’s got 17 songs so it’s more songs than we’ve released ever, so that’s really cool. And I think it’s the best stuff we’ve ever done.

Renee: It’s been a while, ’cause we haven’t released an album since 2016’s Youth Revival, that’s like two and a half years.

Aodhán: We’ve been working on it intensely for probably a year and a half to two years.

Here’s something many of us are wondering: How did you get involved in Y&F?

Renee: Well, the crazy thing is like, we were all just part of the youth ministry (at Hillsong). So we just attended week in week out, and we started singing at church, leading worship in our youth ministry.

But then our youth pastor put out the proposal to start writing songs for our generation, because our generation was kind of missing something a bit more – not depth – but actually, simplicity to worship God. We needed to be able to articulate worship in words and ways that we could understand as our generation.

So we started writing songs, and the best and most crazy part is that none of us auditioned to be in Young & Free. None of us were hand-picked, literally we were all there at the same time, at the right time, in God’s timing. Everything just came together and God blessed it. We’re still pinching ourselves because we get to do this.

Aodhán: And we get to be in Singapore.

Renee: Yes, we get to be in Singapore eating chilli crab. (Laughs)

Aodhán King with Hillsong Young & Free at the Singapore leg of their Asia tour with Hillsong UNITED.

So what’s it like being on such a huge ministry like Y&F?

Renee: It’s an amazing honour because like I guess if we were doing this for secular reasons, it would be a lot harder. But because we get to do this for God and tour for our ministry, it’s the biggest honour ever. It’s the dream. It’s the dream job. It’s the dream situation.

Aodhán: It’s amazing.

Renee: But at the same time, the reality is we are a part of a local church and we are constantly going to our church whenever we’re home. And we’re staying grounded and we’re not anyone special at home at all.

Aodhán: Yeah, not at all. We’re just people who want to build the Church and do what it takes to do so. So getting to do this, being a part of building the Church, it’s really special and I think doing this feels like you’re doing something that matters, and that matters to me.

How old were you guys when you first started doing this?

Renee: I was 17.

Aodhán: I was 20 turning 21. I turned 21 right after we released Alive.

Renee: Okay maybe I wasn’t 17 then, ’cause the math is off. (Laughs)

That’s really young. So how do you handle such a large spotlight that’s put in your lives?

Aodhán: I think going back to what Renee said, being part of a church community, being a part of people who are all doing the same thing that just looks different.

For example, to our ministry, “building the Church” looks like playing music and travelling the world. But it’s not any different than somebody at home who’s putting out seats in the church. That’s their ministry, that’s how they build the Church.

We’re part of something way bigger than ourselves and we’re just, in the same way that the body of Christ works – the hands and the feet. Everyone has different roles, and when we come together, we’re the best.

So as soon as anybody starts to get big-headed or starts getting cocky, I think you’re separating yourself from the main thing and that’s not how the body of Christ works. Unity is so important. In terms of dealing with the spotlight, I think we have amazing people around us to help us.

Do you remember the first time you noticed your influence growing, like gaining more Instagram followers and getting recognised by people? What did that feel like?

Aodhán: It’s cool that people want to connect with you. I think it gives you a platform to speak on things that matter and that’s really important and it makes our job easier – having a platform and having influence makes bringing the message of Jesus easier.

I think a lot of people can look at that (influence) negatively and be like “you’d wanna steer clear of that” but I think if you use your influence in a positive way, it’s actually amazing and I think God honours that.

Renee Sieff with Hillsong Young & Free at the Singapore leg of their Asia tour with Hillsong UNITED.

We all go through seasons of highs and lows. What happens when life’s not that great at the moment but the spotlight’s still on you?

Renee: I think the best part is, when you read the Bible, you see people like Moses and David. You read about them and you realise that they actually didn’t have a great life. The spotlight was on them and they didn’t have a great life. But the thing that you do notice about them is that like, for David, there are the songs of lamentations and there are songs of praise.

He’s in the journey, he’s still committed to God, he’s still faithful. And I think that’s what’s important. It’s okay for people to see us broken and hurting and struggling, but the reality is we need to stay strong in our faith and know that through everything, through the trials, God is still in it. We just commit to him.

So I think when people put us on a pedestal of perfection, they’ve kinda got a jaded perspective of us because that’s not who we are. We’re actually just humans, just loving God and wanting to see people love Him as well.

Aodhán: There’s nothing special about us. You just have to stick it out. The best always comes after the hardest seasons, so when things are not working, if you’ve been struggling and hitting walls, just keep pushing through it or take a break. The breakthrough is always a second away.

But I think we can’t neglect hard work either. All the guys who make Young & Free what it is, these millions of people – okay not millions – but you know there’s a lot of us.

The videos, for example, the music video. The album, it’s not just a few of us involved, there’s so many people and creatives empowering others as well to get on board with the vision and not trying to wear it all yourself. I think that’s what we do well, that we include people. And I think that’s really important.

Hillsong UNITED at the last stop of their Asia tour in Singapore.

What’s it like writing music for our generation?

Aodhán: I think it’s a huge honour being able to write songs that for people – it becomes their worship. You’re giving people words, you’re giving people theology. It’s a huge responsibility.

Our influences are obviously the Bible, that’s super important. I think with this new record, III, the influences for this are – it sounds cliché – really just our life experiences.

Sometimes you can write worship songs and just be like, “Alright I’m just going to write about this because that’s what we need to write about”. But we’ve actually gone, “Let’s write things that are real to us, things that we’ve experienced”, ’cause that’s the most honest.

And so those things have really been the carriers for making this album what it is. And that’s why I think this album is our best stuff, because I feel like it’s us going, “This is what’s happening in the last couple of years, now this is how we responded and this is how God responded, so we’re going to write about it.”

Tell us more about your songwriting process. Is it always different?

Aodhán: I think it’s different every time. But it always starts pretty similarly, like you know, whether you’ve got a lyric or you’ve got a thought. Whether it be a Bible verse that you can’t shake off and you want to write about it, or “this happened and I want to write about it”, but for me I can only speak from my own personal experience.

I’ll just sit down at the piano and spend time with God and sing whatever comes to me naturally. I think it’s different for everybody, but you have to shake it up. You can’t try the same thing every time, there’s no formula.

Renee: One thing that we like to say to people is to try new things. Try sitting in your car, singing out prayers. Or like try playing something on the piano and then switching to the guitar and then see if the musical vibe will change. Just try new things.

We often write in groups of threes, or like he’ll (Aodhán) have an idea by himself and he’ll bring it a producer because he can have a different approach to it.  Don’t think that you are restricted to doing everything on your own. Hear other’s people’s influence and be open.

Especially for us, because it’s worship music, we’re not trying to do it for ourselves. We’re open to hearing what other people have to say because we just want the best for the song and the best for the audience.

Aodhán: I think open hands in this is honestly the key to everything. Being creative and open-handed, and not being precious about your ideas, be it a song, a music video, a painting … I think being open to letting God do something with it, and also being open to other people coming around and being involved, that helps.

And you never remember the hard work. That’s the one thing. It’s hard to look back and be like, “I spent 57 million hours on that song”. I don’t think about that. I remember we spent weeks and weeks on this particular song and but I can’t remember how annoying that time was. All I can remember is we have a good song. So that’s really important.

Album artwork for Young & Free’s new album, III.

Lastly, can you share with us one thing you have personally come to love about God through this journey?

Aodhán: Faithfulness. I think that’s one thing this album is about. It’s about the faithfulness of God through every season, through highs, through lows. I think God’s faithfulness and compassion towards us is what I’ve learnt the most about in this album. Especially when you grow.

I think from our first album, we had a very childlike perspective of God, which is a really amazing thing. But we hadn’t gone through anything. We were young. A lot of our songs, I think a lot of people have been like, “It’s very lovey dovey”. But to be honest, that was just true to us at that time. We hadn’t experienced things, life hadn’t hit us the way it might’ve hit other people.

I think since then till now, we’ve grown, we’ve gone through hard times, awesome times. The one thing that has remained the same is God’s faithfulness and God’s character that is just amazing.

Renee: There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “The same God that started a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6) and I love that about Him.

That means when He put that desire or that dream in your heart in the beginning, then even in the journey along the way, the highs, the lows, that God is going to bring it to completion, He’s going to be with you till the end.

So I love that. He’s always with us, there’s absolutely nothing that we can do that can separate us from the love of Jesus. And He’s really good.

Aodhán: He is really good.


Hillsong Young & Free‘s first studio album III is available for pre-order now and will be out June 29, 2018, on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube and Amazon. 

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Sewing into His Kingdom

by Alison Choo | 15 May 2018, 12:24 PM

“Did you sew this?” is a question I’ve been constantly asked when people learn that I sometimes sew my own clothes and crafts around the house. Compelled by an interest in anything related to yarn, thread and fabric, I taught myself over the years to cross-stitch, knit, crochet and embroider as a hobby.

Requests to sew and customise handmade items for family and friends grew more frequent, and I wondered whether I should turn my hobby into a business.

And when the relationship I was in ended with my ex-boyfriend cheating on me, I spent even more time sewing. The long insomniac nights that followed were painful, and sewing was an outlet to process the tumult of thoughts and emotions.

I considered starting a local non-profit initiative like Tiyamike Sewing in Africa, a charity started by Australian missionary Jo Ong. By teaching women from low income families how to sew, the organisation has helped increased their capacity to provide for their households.

But as a speech therapist by profession, I already had my hands full. Perhaps something later in life when I’d have more time and resources, I thought.

Until one day, as I was reading through Matthew 25:14-28, my perspective shifted when I was meditating on the Parable of the Talents. The Master had distributed talents – what their coins were also known as – among his three servants before he left on a long journey.

While he was away, two of the servants invested their talents and doubled their wealth. Well done, he told each of them upon his return. But the third played it safe, earning nothing but his Master’s scorn. Maybe it was time for me to be a better steward of the gifts the Lord has blessed me with.

I was initially apprehensive about taking Ally Crafts Co into a social media space, not knowing where it would lead me, or if it would take off at all. But there was a calm assurance and deep confidence within, knowing that I had God on board with me on this. He the captain, and I, the servant.

As I started with baby steps, I continuously prayed for every decision made to be in line with God’s. Some of them were unconventional and counterintuitive to growing a business, but I did what I could to honour Him.

Over the months, I saw how God indeed used my gifts to reach out to His people, and to use it to honour and glorify Him. Orders for customised embroidery hoops grew, requests for workshops poured in, and opportunities for collaboration came my way.

I’ve partnered with Kins, a social skills and training programme by Hello Flowers! to empower local women from disadvantaged backgrounds by equipping them with crafting and simple entrepreneurial skills. And last year, my work was featured on YMI and in an art exhibit at Kallos Conference 2017.

What I embroider are usually a result of my thoughts, faith and reflection. Knowing that many ladies have been encouraged through my embroidery hoops and hand embroidery workshops, the grief and sorrows I felt earlier on in this journey have also gradually turned into joy. I’ve seen firsthand how God has been with me every step of the way.

When the hustle and bustle of each day winds down and the quiet and stillness of the night creeps in, I pick up my needle and thread to embroider. The repetitiveness of the stitching always brings me much solace and peace. These moments are when I have my long conversations with God.

Like the intricate stitches in my embroidery, where every stitch matters, God too doesn’t skimp on the tiniest of details; I can trust Him and the grand tapestry He is weaving with my life. I take comfort in letting go and resting in Him to provide the help, strength and guidance I need.

While the work of Ally Crafts Co isn’t done and hasn’t been entirely fulfilled yet, I look back at how far and wide God has lovingly brought me, and am truly excited for the beautiful things He has in store.


Want to pick up embroidery? Ally is collaborating with Kallos to conduct an embroidery workshop, “Stitched with Joy!” on Saturday, May 19, 2018, for young women aged 13-25 years old. Register your attendance here

Kallos is a ministry that helps young women discover their God-planned design and is excited to share what it means to have joy in a world full of worries.

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“God showed me 4 digits”: The 22-year-old jewellery maker with a vision

by | 6 March 2018, 5:26 PM

“Is this like Vogue’s 72 questions? I’d better get rid of this dead cactus!”

Laughter fills the small studio as Caroline, 22, welcomes me into her studio. It’s a small space – smaller than a usual single bedroom, but it is evident that she has made that place her second home.

Warm ambient lighting nestles the room, and an acoustic R&B playlist plays softly in the background. I recognise the scent in the air; it’s the same cedarwood freshener I have at home.

This is the newly opened studio of local artisan jewellery brand, 3125. I sit down with Caroline to find out more about the greater story and vision behind her brand.

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Caroline Goh, 22, the founder of local jewellery brand 3125.

It was 2014. 18-year-old Caroline was working on a school project that required her to come up with her own fashion brand and product line. Something that could be sold at an actual pop-up market. Caroline, then a final year fashion design student in LASALLE College of the Arts, was struggling with the project.

“The entire process of getting approval from my lecturers and digging for ideas was very tiresome,” she shared.

“I realised I was trying to do everything on my own and not seeking God — our actual source of creativity.”

Caroline then decided to take some time out during class and went to the library to pray. What happened next sounded incredibly unbelievable.

“God showed me these 4 digits: 3125. And no, it wasn’t for 4D! I wish,” she laughs.

She didn’t quite know yet what He meant back then at that moment. But she remembers heading to the cafe downstairs in school right after. In the washroom hung a frame with the Bible verse: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the future without fear.”

“I went back to Google where that verse came from, and spooks! It was Proverbs 31:25!”

Caroline headed back to class with this new God-given vision and pitched an entirely different proposal to her lecturers. To her shock, everything went smoothly from then on.

Looking back, she believes that God’s intent was to give her the opportunity to share His Word everytime someone asked her what 3125 meant.

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"I went to the library to pray ... And God showed me these 4 digits!" Caroline shares the moment God gave her the vision for 3125.

It is not conventional to have someone at Caroline’s age to start a venture from ground-up.

“After I graduated, I was actually involved in quite a few freelance projects – some design projects here and there, creating a fashion line for the disabled and working at a local jewellery brand,” she tells me.

Like any other fresh graduate, the thought of looking for a “real job” also crossed her mind multiple times as well.

“I knew that I wasn’t as ready as other entrepreneurs.”

But she couldn’t ignore the question that kept tugging at her heart: If not now, then when?

She gives credit to her freelancing experience for sharpening her vision and helping her to know better what she wants to do.

“I found myself more inclined to set up my own business and work for myself. It’s not that working for others is bad or working for myself is any easier, but I just wanted to take this risk with God. If all else fails, I am not afraid because He is with me.”

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Everything at 3125 is handmade by Caroline, and occasionally her family members.

I asked her if she’s ever felt lonely running the business on her own. Afterall, it’s a one-woman business and she usually spends her days alone in her studio crafting new designs and working on new orders.

“I think I struggled the most when I was transiting from student life to this. It was fun managing the business while schooling back then. But as I pursued this full-time, there were many things that I didn’t know that I had to know! Like business registration and bank accounts … Figuring out all this adulting stuff alone was really tough.”

That wasn’t all. While any friend of hers might think that she’s got it all together due to her funny and outgoing persona on social media, she reveals that she’s faced some internal battles over the years too.

“I struggled a lot with self-confidence. You can’t tell at all from the outside, but frankly a lot of times I can’t help but to compare my works with others,” she says.

“People have more following, more business going on, more mentions … But I find a lot of comfort when I am reminded that God works in His perfect timing. My ‘best’ cannot be compared with others because we all have our own battles to fight and our own race to run.”

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One of Caroline's biggest struggles starting up her business was figuring out the administrative matters with the relevant authorities and businesses. "I didn't know what I had to know!"

Thankfully, Caroline’s family has been more than supportive of her venture. I have seen for myself over the years how her parents and siblings would come down and help out at 3125’s booth during the pop-up markets that she goes to twice to thrice a month.

Besides helping to tend the booth and even doing sales, her family members have contributed their own strengths to value-add to the business.

“My dad is more of the business guy. He reminds me to do my PNL (profit and loss), finances and operations. On the other hand, my mom is more of the creative person. Recently, she learnt a bit of jewellery-making just so that she can help with the production. She follows me overseas for material sourcing too.”

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In her free time, Caroline also practices handlettering. Samples of her works line the walls of her studio.

Besides just crafting trendy minimalist jewellery, 3125 is also committed to larger causes. Caroline shares with me that she’s been involved in projects revolving around entrepreneurship, volunteering and community work since young.

“When I decided to study fashion, I somewhat knew that I wanted to do something different in this industry. Apart from just producing beautiful jewellery, I wanted those products to actually mean something to someone.”

3125 currently gives 10% of their sales proceeds to Tamar Village, a daytime restoration centre for people affected by or involved in the sex trade. Interestingly, it wasn’t just a random choice.

“I came to know about Tamar Village through three friends who completely didn’t know one another — one of my clients Jin Yong, Amanda from SELAH and then my friend Elisa. I guess when God has reiterated something thrice, it means something right?”

Spurred on by this thought, Caroline reached out to Tamar Village in 2016 and shared with them the possibility of a partnership. Ever since then, 3125 has been giving financially to support their ministry.

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Photos from 3125's latest campaign.

In December 2017, 3 years after that school project, 3125 moved into its own brick and mortar space at Sultan Plaza. Tucked away in a corner of this deserted strata mall, Caroline got to know of the available space through a church brother who runs a tailoring business a few doors down.

It’s an unconventional location for young businesses and business-owners, she acknowledges. Human traffic is minimal and many shops have their shutters down even in the day. The washrooms in the building are dingy, and Caroline admits that she’s heard of strange rumours about the building. But the bubbly 22-year-old is undaunted.

“I think the studio and showroom is a great testimony of how a beautiful space can exist in an old and forgotten building,” she laughs, recalling the times that her family and friends have reminded her to watch out for her safety.

Caroline hopes that the doors of 3125 will see more people coming in for a different kind of retail experience. Besides being her own workspace, the studio also retails products from other local brands.

“This space is small and cosy, so that people who enter into the shop don’t feel pressurised to buy anything. I am more interested in building relationships and making meaningful conversations actually!”

She has one more dream for her studio – to hold a live worship session here one day.

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3125's brick and mortar shop located on the third floor of Sultan Plaza.

She reflects on her journey for the past three years, and tells me that she has learnt many lessons big and small along the way.

“Although it can get tiring sometimes, but it taught me a lot about building your spiritual stamina. If I can invest so much time and effort into an interest of mine, how much more should I in Kingdom affairs?”

“God has really blessed me with a lot of mentors too, from fellow entrepreneurs I met through the markets to lecturers, and really supportive friends who are not just interested in the business but yourself, as a person. Sometimes you really need to hear from others and communicate with them, just to remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing.”

I ask Caroline how long does she envision herself doing this. She ponders, and tells me that she’s taking things one step at a time.

“I trust that this is just one of the many things that God has given to me to steward. Should there come a time when it’s time to move on, I hope that I would gladly move on to the next season God is bringing me to.”


3125 is a local artisan jewellery brand dedicated to empowering women. 10% of their proceeds goes to Tamar Village, who supports the street women of Singapore by providing job opportunities, training and workshops to improve their livelihood. Besides crafting regular product lines, 3125 also does bespoke jewellery.

Their studio is open strictly by appointment only. To make an appointment, click here.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer who memorises Pantone swatches. Her standard bubble tea order – oolong milk tea with 25% sugar, less bubbles and no ice. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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“God showed me 4 digits”: The 22-year-old jewellery maker with a vision