Many don’t know what fostering is and they may mistake it for adoption. The two are different. Adoption is a process which legally removes the rights and responsibilities of the child’s birth parent(s), and transfers them to adoptive parent(s). The child will lose all rights of inheritance from his birth family, and will take the surname of his adoptive family. Fostering is placing a vulnerable child in another family temporarily — from a few weeks to more than 10 years — until her natural family is ready for her to return home. Legally, the child still belongs to her biological family.
In 2014, the government via the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) push launched the fostering movement in a bid to raise public awareness and encourage more people to step forward as foster parents. If you can remember, at this year’s Good Friday Service at the Expo, someone from MSF via PCS (Presbyterian Community Services) also came to share with us the increasing need for foster parents. As more children enter into the foster care system, inevitably the demand for foster homes will rise.
Children who come under MSF’s radar range from new born to 18 year-olds. They have been seriously abused, neglected or abandoned. Others may have parents who are incarcerated, chronically ill or dead. I understand from our church member Priscilla Ang who is with Prison Fellowship Singapore and oversees the Care Club that she is aware of inmates’ children who are in need of foster care.
If no suitable foster family is found, the child will be placed in a children’s home. The government’s motivation for the fostering scheme has always been tied to the belief that children grow up best in a caring family environment. Studies have shown that children in foster families are less prone to anxiety and depression; they feel more secure and thereby more able to relate with others. On the other hand, children living in children’s homes tend to exhibit higher levels of hyperactivity, delinquency and aggressive behaviour.
At present, MSF’s fostering scheme protects vulnerable children and tries to reunite them with their families until they turn 18. Beyond that, if reintegration fails, the teenagers land up living on their own which is a big challenge because most of them are still studying and there is no way they can support themselves.
Over time, other agencies have sprung up to plug the holes in the system. One such agency is The Bezer Initiative which one of our young adults, Emma Lee, did a summer internship with. ‘Bezer’ in the Bible was one of the cities of refuge (Deut. 4:41-43) for those who had killed their neighbours unintentionally. The person who adopted this name for the initiative saw that he and his team could be instrumental in providing a place of refuge for displaced youths. I conducted an interview with Emma via WhatsApp so as to help you appreciate the work of such an agency.
Me: Of all the places, why did you choose to do an internship with The Bezer Initiative?
Emma: Hmm… I guess it’s because I was very surprised and convicted by the vision of discipleship behind The Bezer Initiative and the earnestness and genuity of the heart that go along with it. If all of us were to really live as Disciples of Christ in our own specific capacity and situation, to feed the hungry and clothe the poor, how different could the world look?
While we seek to provide a place of refuge for displaced youths, it’s also how we can show Jesus to anyone in need or in crisis, which can honestly be anyone of us if our lives take a bad turn. That realisation for me — that I could be the displaced youth if my life panned out differently — made me want to do more with the current privileges that I have. I’ve been discovering a lot more lately about social issues, be it mental health or migrant workers or sex workers. When I heard about the work of The Bezer Initiative, it aligned with the desire I had on my heart to serve others!
Me: In your time with The Bezer Initiative, what encouraging stories have you come across where displaced youths were rendered help?
Emma: I think the most memorable one was in the case of a boy, D (for anonymity). D came from a family where his father did not know how to manage him because he had ADHD. However, the treatment was not significant enough to warrant a Child Protection Act from MSF. Even then, it’s not the best environment for any person to live in a home with conflict. D lived with two foster families (the second family stepped in when the first went on holiday). This allowed him to experience two alternative forms of parenting apart from what he was used to, and this was very beneficial for him because he could develop greater social skills. On top of that, the time away from his biological family allowed social workers to put the family through therapy, slowly integrating them back together. Now, D has strong relationships with the two couples who invited him into their homes and a much healthier relationship with his father and is now involved in the family business. It astounded me that at sixteen, he was able to say that he understood why his father treated him the way he did. To me, that showed a great degree of emotional maturity and growth!
Me: What are some misconceptions people have so that they are hesitant in coming forward to extend foster care?
Emma: There’s a lot of stigma around displaced youths in Singapore, because a lot of them are seen to be delinquents. (Some are, of course, but they are the products of unhealthy environments and influences). On the contrary, some of them are studious and hardworking, filial and giving. Also, Singapore has seen the shrinking of the family unit over the decades and people putting a high premium on their privacy. Therefore, they prefer to keep strangers at many arms’ lengths.
Thirdly, the stakes seem very high. They fear that they need to be responsible for caring for the youth 24/7 or be totally responsible for everything that happens. However, through Bezer, we integrate the host parents and the youth into a healthy ecosystem supported by a cell group, social workers and couples who have previously fostered to offer holistic support. I guess people think it seems like a big huge mountain to climb, but many of our fostering families have seen that it’s not actually the case! Some parts are difficult yes, but not unbearably and they’ve found it more worthwhile than expected.
Me: Is there something that you would like to say to us, which you have not had the chance to say thus far?
Emma: Hmm… I guess it’d just be a question — what does it mean for all of us to live as Disciples of Christ wherever and whoever we are? I think when we really consider that question we’ll see the difference God can make in our lives and in the lives of others through us! And it’ll be worthwhile.
If there is a stirring in your heart towards extending foster care, feel free to approach Priscilla Ang (email@example.com) and Emma Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org) and they will be most delighted to answer your queries and connect you with the relevant people and agencies for you to practise loving your neighbour as yourself through this particular ministry.
For some of us more rational minded Christians, it might strike as peculiar that the Old Testament saint Daniel would open his windows three times daily and pray toward Jerusalem, doing so even on the pain of death. We wonder what good does facing Jerusalem add to his prayers to God? Surely God is everywhere and the orientation which we face during prayer matters little to his reception of them?
Perhaps if we were to examine his actions psychologically, they may make more sense. If I were my grandfather who travelled to this part of Nanyang from Swatow in his youth in search of a better life, I might have occasionally open the windows of my shophouse and gaze in the direction of my homeland, reminiscing my childhood amongst the rivers and plains of my village. A look into the horizon in the orientation would seem to draw me closer to the place of which I yearn for but cannot return to. Certainly, that would have been true of Daniel, who was forcibly brought to Babylon from Jerusalem in his youth. Would he not have missed his homeland terribly every day, and wanted a sense of closeness to it with an unobstructed gaze into the horizon?
Perhaps so. However, his actions seem to indicate more than a mere wistful gaze. Rather, it would strike one as a ritual action suffused with meaning and purpose, and not merely done out of sentimentalism. For would one not keep one’s sentimentalism under check on the pain of death? Yet Daniel continued his daily routine regardless. What he was doing was deeply liturgical and harked back to King Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8.48-9):
… if they repent with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you…
Daniel’s action of orienting himself toward Jerusalem is derived from Solomon’s prayer and it is an embodiment of the hope that God will one day restore his nation and return to his people.
More importantly (and this is something us rational persons will have difficulty grasping), while God may be everywhere and filling all things (1 Kings 8.27), God chose to be present for Israel in the temple in Jerusalem (8.29). That was the place where God chose to be for his people, hence the temple was the sacramental location to which his people had access to him. This was why Solomon would have the people of Israel orient themselves spiritually and physically toward the temple in Jerusalem in prayer (1 Kings 8.31-51). All the Jews in the diaspora after the exile held on to this understanding. While not being able to access a temple, they built synagogues that were oriented toward Jerusalem and prayed in that direction day and night, never losing sight of the hope that God would one day carry them back there. In one simple action of physically orienting oneself to Jerusalem, one recalled the past promises of God for the present in order that one may live into the future.
It may come as a surprise to most of us that, like Daniel and the diaspora Jews, the early Christians also oriented themselves toward a single direction during their prayer. They did not face Jerusalem but the east. In fact, the term “orient” originated from the Latin oriens which means “rising”, in reference to the direction whence the sun rises: the east. Hence, Christians prayed ad orientem, or toward the east. This is expressed in how many older churches were constructed – the length of the church ran from west to east, and the people gathered in the nave facing east for their services. While most contemporary churches are no longer built in such a manner (including ours), we still term the end of the church which the congregation faces the “liturgical East”.
Why the fuss about orientation? The early Christians did so because it was an action that had meaning and purpose. While they could have continued this manner of praying from Jewish practice, they gave it new meaning in light of Christ’s fulfilment of the old covenant. The rising of the sun in the east dispelled the darkness of night, symbolic of new birth, of Christ as the light of the world, and of the dawning of truth in Christ. Furthermore, Christ himself said, “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Here, Jesus’ metaphorical self-description of his second advent has been symbolised in the ritual action of ad orientem. Hence, ad orientem is really also ad dominum, a turning towards God who will come again to judge the living and the dead.
More than vanity, the direction faced when praying tacitly reminded early Christians of the Christ event and Christ’s promise that he will come again. In this sense it is eschatological. When Christians gather in a church, where they face is the symbolic direction from which Christ will return. This symbolism is especially striking should one walk into a medieval church in the morning. The sun would have risen and shone into the stained-glass window on the east-end, producing a magnificent sight for the gathered people and reminding them of the glorious return of Christ. The gathered people then become the called-out people of God who are awaiting the return of Christ as expressed in their corporate orientation toward the compass/liturgical east. This direction orients all our present prayers in which they are prayed in remembrance of the past work of Christ and directs them toward our future eschatological hope in Christ. In so doing, it also orients our entire lives toward the risen and coming Christ. Just as Daniel took his entire life’s orientation from the hope he had in God’s promise to restore Israel, so also we take our orientation from the fact that Christ has died and is risen, and the hope that Christ will come again.
By now, you would have heard about the escalating anti-extradition bill protests in Hong Kong that have caused much social tension as well as disruption to the public transport system including hundreds of flights being cancelled. What some may not be aware is that when the protests first began, the NY Times claimed that with hymns and prayers Christians help drive this protest. In fact, some observers even suggested that the constant chorus of “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” has become an unlikely anthem for the protest.
As I read some of the comments from Hong Kong Christians who are supportive about these protests, I must confess I have trouble understanding their rationale. For example, a church leader said: “Wherever the flock goes, the shepherd should be there.” For me, I would differ because it should be wherever the Shepherd of my soul leads me, I will follow. And when it comes to the situation in Hong Kong, the Christian community certainly has much to grapple with in terms of the role that the Church and the individual should play during such a crisis.
Admittedly, I have to be more careful in commenting on such matters given that I have families and friends in Hong Kong. Siding either party can easily lead to a “crisis”. Here, I am also reminded by one writer from the Gospel Coalition who wrote that “the politicized nature of Western Christianity had witnessed the counterfeit gospel of activism that gives us “culture warriors” from the Right and the world’s “errand runners” from the Left”. The author warns of what happens when churches unite around a cause rather than the cross and the results are indeed averse.
When it comes to how Christians are to relate to authorities, Scriptures teaches us that civil authorities are ordained by God (Romans 13:1 – 8). Here, the word “ordained” expresses a definite, specific appointment; something deliberately planned and specially instituted in this case by God. The governing authorities or the magistrate functions like a “servant” of God and our submission unto them is to be to a religious obligation. The duty of civil obedience is made to rest on conscience, because God personally rules over the nation, in the “powers and principalities;” that is, in those abstract and fundamental principles which we call a Constitution, and in the laws of the nation; and, by his ministers, the magistrates of the nation.
What the apostle Paul had pointed to us is because men are prone to forget their civil obligations; and because self-will, or some transient grievance, or fancied hardship, prompts to sedition and rebellion. Simply stated, as good citizens of the land we are to pledge allegiance and compliance. Paul further bases these duties of loyalty on the ground of piety. As long as we can do so without denying Christ or compromising our faith, we must always strive to cooperate with the ruling powers. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we will endorse all of their policies or approve of every specific action they take. Christians are responsible to uphold biblical righteousness in a hostile culture while also expressing respect for its leadership.
While Christians are to obey the authorities, we know that the Bible does not whitewash reality and gives us examples and warnings of abusive leadership.
Pharaoh’s Oppression (Exod. 9). The Passover is a celebration that commemorates resistance to a totalitarian dictator and God’s powerful deliverance of his people from slavery (Exod. 12).
Samuel’s Warnings They wanted a king “like all the nations”(1 Sam. 8:5). The Israelites were seeking conformity and security. What they failed to see was that unchecked kings would “become militaristic, conscript Israelite men, confiscate property, and lead ultimately to enslavement.” (1 Sam. 8:10-18)
Rehoboam’s Arrogance The king rejected the advice of his elders that he should listen to the people and took the advice of young friends who grew up with him (1 Kings 12:14). This misjudgement led to the division of the kingdom and a rejection of Rehoboam’s authority.
Although there should be a separation of church and state, it is rather unfortunate when in today’s culture, it may be misunderstood as if the state is answerable to no one but themselves—as if the government didn’t have to respond to God. But we know that God does hold governments accountable. It is he who ultimately raises them up and brings them down.
For many, they feel that they are living through perilous and polarizing times where the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith seem to be at stake. Thus they are inclined to this vision where the church’s role is to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ. But the more important question that we need to face is this: Who is Jesus Christ for us today? What does our loyalty to Christ, as disciples, require at this moment in our history?
The answer is to point back to everything the Gospels tell us. We must not isolate the sayings of Jesus we like and fit Him into our vision for how the world should work. Instead, let’s fall at the feet of King Jesus, ready and willing to do whatever it takes to fit our lives into His vision, a vision of the world to come that has crashed into the world that is.
In a time of moral and political crisis, let us recover the power of confessing our faith. Lament, repent, and pray “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (I Timothy 2:2). Since Jesus is Lord, there is always space for grace. I believe it is time to speak and to act in faith, not because of politics, but because we are disciples of Jesus Christ. God is always in charge. Under normal circumstances, we can demonstrate our trust in God by cooperating with the state, participating in the system and generally staying out of trouble. But should a situation ever arise in which there is a conflict between with one another, Christians are to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). And we pray that situations of such nature will be few and far between.
Grumblings (i.e. murmurings) are not going to work! They only cause the situation to worsen. They are the attitudes of a sinful heart. In the Old Testament, we saw how the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron. In Exodus 16:2-3 ESV, the Word of God states that the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” When you are asked to do something, do you do them with a glad heart or a grumbling heart? I encountered this kind of unpleasant attitude just last week. Instead of a glad and willing heart, I did it with a grumbling heart! I was reminded of why I was doing what I was doing. Inconveniences affect our mood of doing things sometimes! When I finally got to do them and completed them, I suddenly realised that they were necessities rather than inconveniences. If the things which were supposed to be done were left undone, what would the implications be? This really taught me a lesson of having a right attitude towards what I was thinking and doing. It is a learning curve which I need to learn and am still learning.
With a humble and teachable heart, then shall I really overcome the obstacle of doing anything, especially doing them to the Lord and for the Lord. In the New Testament, I know that I should “do all things without grumbling or disputing.” (Philippians 2:14 ESV). The purpose is very clear. It is so that “you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15 ESV). In order to be that bright shining light for Christ, I ought to live my life differently, not that of the world, not following the patterns of this world but that of Christ.
“Give Thanks To God” is a good and right attitude which I should cultivate in my life in Christ. All other things must go but Christ Jesus must reign in my life! Christ Jesus must increase but I must decrease. (John 3:30 ESV). There must not be any struggles in my heart but peace of heart and mind in doing what God wants me to do. Most importantly, I must be thankful. This is what Colossians 3:15 ESV has taught and ministered to me: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” For the sake of Christ and His Body, for the sake of the Unity of the Church, the peace of Christ in our hearts is crucial. What we do does affect others, whether we like it or not. There are always implications in what we are doing affecting the whole community of believers.
“Be Thankful” in our hearts release us in what we are doing for one another and especially for the building up of the Body of Christ. I am aware and realise that it is never easy to have a thankful heart. At the same time, I know that, by the grace of Christ and the help of the Spirit of God, I shall be empowered to do so. If it is impossible to accomplish, the apostle Paul would not have told the Thessalonians Christians to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV).
Recently, I thank God for:
- Turning my sorrow into His joy.
- Turning my disappointment into His appointment.
- Turning my failure into His success.
- Turning my negativism into His positivism.
- Turning my discouragement into His encouragement.
So, no matter what situation or circumstance which we are in, we need to look at them with the right perspective. “Give Thanks To God” will help us appreciate what God has in store for us and at the same time, help us entrust the whole matter into the loving hands of our generous and kind Heavenly Father. As for me, I thank God for all that He has allowed in my life, though many a time, I may not understand but I am confident that He knows how I feel and that He will provide me with the strength to carry me through and to help me go through them all. My encouragement to all of us is: to give thanks to God regularly, knowing that God has our best interests at His tender-loving heart.
During a recent YZ DG session, I asked the youths “who is someone whom they look up to or aspire to be”. I was heartened when one of them readily shared that she looked up to her mother who has been juggling between hospital visits to her ailing grandfather as well as caring for her and her sibling. As a pastor, it is brings me joy whenever I hear of how a parent has made a positive impact upon his or her child and when the children gladly acknowledge their parent’s labour of love and faith.
Sometimes, I wonder if “familiarity breeds contempt” and thus it is far easier for us to spot the warts and all of someone whom we are in regular contact with. It could be our parents, a Christian colleague or DGL. We may find it difficult to think of them as being an example to us not because they have nothing we can learn from but because we think that role models must be the epitome of excellence in everything. Thus, while we may eagerly lap up every word by a best-selling Christian author or be inspired by the passion of a social-justice activist, all that we pick up are the grammatical errors or idiosyncrasies of those whom we know face to face. Indeed, if there is one thing Christians can do more of, it would be to learn to give encouragement and affirm those who have been faithfully (and often quietly behind the scenes) pouring into our lives.
In his letter to the Thessalonian Church, the Apostle Paul commended them as being “an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1 Thess. 1:8). Even though they were a relatively young church, Paul who is more mature in his faith spoke well of them and shared that “in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith” (1 Thess 2:7). Instead of only focusing on the areas that they needed to work on, Paul also highlighted specific areas that they were exemplary in.
Firstly, we recall that while they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (v.9), it was not a bed of roses for them. In Acts 17, it was recorded that there were Jewish people who sought to agitate and stir up the crowds against Paul and Silas as they went about proclaiming the Gospel. Nevertheless, we hear from Paul that these Thessalonian Christians had “received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess 1:6). In other words, even though there was a price to pay for their conversion to Christianity, they gladly did so after they carefully considered what the apostles preached (Acts 17:11-12).
Here we learn that an aspect of becoming an example worthy of imitation is how Christians treat God’s Word and respond to trials in the midst of following Christ. While it is easy to have faith when everything is going well, trials have a way of testing and stretching a believer. Yet, whenever one learns to face adversity as a result of their faith and glad-hearted dependence upon God, we know that God is honoured. In addition, we trust that God can use their example to encourage other believers when the latter are going through challenging moments themselves. As you look around you, are there believers whom you can imitate in this area of displaying faithfulness to God in the midst of their afflictions even if they have some other traits which may not agree with you?
Secondly, we learn that the “word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia” (I Thess 1:8). For the Thessalonian Christians, their faith did just remain a private and personal matter. In an age where a monotheistic religion would be socially marginalised and deemed as unacceptably exclusive, these believers were not ashamed to live out their faith as they continued to interact with their pagan neighbours. If anything, it would seem that their lives have made such a positive impact beyond their local community that Paul would say that their “faith in God has gone forth everywhere” (1 Thess 1:8).
Judging from what Paul commended the Thessalonian Church for, one could easily summarise it as they were exemplary in their Worship unto God, their Witness to the world through their good Works unto God and man. Whether it was in the first century or today, we thank God that there is certainly many examples of such churches throughout the ages. Their encouraging testimony is a powerful demonstration of what can happen when God’s people who are work-in-progress give of themselves unto Jesus and imitate other godly Christians.
Undoubtedly, the need for such churches is still great today. However, instead of losing heart and feeling stumbled by other Christians, let us be more intentional about encouraging one another in the areas where the person is beginning to show growth. Even as we wait for Christ’s return, there will always be those in our midst who may be “idle, fainthearted or weak” and really test our patience (1 Thess 5:14). Nevertheless, we know that God is still able to use them as those belonging to the Thessalonian Church to be an example to others. If this is so, let us take heart that as we rely on God’s grace and press on in our call to love God and make disciples, we too can be a model to one another.