I attended my 2nd National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) Conference on the 25-26th of May, 2005. The first NVPC Conference I attended was on the 27-28th of July, 2004. When I heard about that conference last year through the newspapers, I was quite excited and wanted to attend it. However, when I found out that the cost of the conference was over $200 (though with government subsidies for VWO workers, it would be lower), I was quite unhappy and emailed NVPC. For Singaporeans like me who are interested in such conferences and who aren’t part of a VWO to qualify for subsidies, how can we afford to attend such conferences? Or rather, why the hell would we pay so much for it? And let us not forget, these are conferences about non-profit issues. These are conferences which enable us to help people better and not so we can make more money. So there’s really no excuse for charging so much! Charging so much for a volunteer conference is just way off! I don’t think there’s any justification for that at all. And so I emailed NVPC and in the end they said I could sit in the conference for free if I become a volunteer there (i.e. doing the ushering…etc). So I agreed and that’s how I managed to attend both last year’s conference and this year’s for free!
I’ve attended some conferences that deal with non-profit issues like volunteerism, humanitarianism and development. Everytime I go to these kinds of big non-profit related conferences, I can’t help but feel the spirit of non-profit-ism is somehow compromised. Nowadays you hear people saying that CEOs and employees of non-profit organizations (NPOs) ought to be paid market rate wages. If not, we won’t be able to attract capable people. And then there’s the trend to run NPOs the same way we run a normal profit-orientated organization. We need to keep with the times and discard the ineffective traditional ways in which NPOs were run, so says the wisdom of the day.
I think there is much to learn from this type of thinking. Indeed, times have changed and things are changing fast. We need always to be open to learn and change when needed. No doubt the professionalism we normally see in a for-profit organization is to be admired. And very often it’s good for us to take into account market forces. Thus NPOs can learn much from the way for-profit organizations are run. But I think we also need to be very careful in how we tread our ground. The non-profit spirit is very different from the spirit that is nurtured in a for-profit organization. In our enthusiasm to learn from the for-profit culture and professionalism, it’s very easy to lose that non-profit spirit which at its very root is compassion.
An incident during last year’s NVPC conference demonstrated to me how easily it is to lose that spirit of compassion. It was during one of the forum sections with about 5-6 people (mostly ladies from what I recall) sitting down on the stage. Many of these were leaders of certain foundations which gave out money. And so they were dressed all prim and proper and all spoke very well and eloquently. It so happened that during the conversations on stage, the phone (could be a walkie-talkie type) of the official cameraman (who was of Indian ethnicity) started making some noise. This cameraman was filming from very close to the stage and so the noise distracted some on stage. What happened next really made me angry. Some of the people on stage started to stare at the man with irritated faces. From what I recall, one or two started speaking to the man and telling him off and eventually one lady spoke into the microphone and very rudely asked that the noise be stopped. Meanwhile, all this time, the cameraman had been trying to stop the sound but with great difficulty. It was obviously not really his fault.
I was really shocked and angry at the way the panelists reacted and treated the cameraman. It was very clear to all that there was no courtesy or graciousness on display but that these panelists of status were talking down to the cameraman as though he were of an inferior race or class. This was so unbecoming of people in the non-profit sector who ought to have displayed more compassion and graciousness. What I saw so irritated me that I nearly went up to the microphone during the Q & A session to tell the panelists off :) Maybe I should have done that.
This is precisely what I meant when I spoke of the for-profit culture and professionalism causing us to lose our non-profit spirit of compassion. Yes, these panelists may be big shots in the non-profit sector and they may be people who have given out a lot of money for the purpose of non-profit work. This really doesn’t impress me. I think ultimately it’s the way a person treats other people that matters. It’s not about the size of the your cheque that impresses me, but how you relate to and treat people that may be of lower status to you in society. The non-profit spirit is about showing compassion to those less fortunate than you or of a lesser status than you. Obviously, some of the panelists have lost that spirit. Methinks they’ve spent too much time being and acting professional in a way the for-profit sector would be proud of.
Yes, I’m really not happy with non-profits being too influenced by the for-profit culture, professionalism and mindset. It has caused many non-profits to start organizing expensive conferences. The justification for that is that we have to pay for the quality speakers brought in and the expensive location it’s held in. But really, no one asked for it to be held in an expensive location and nobody asked for it to be so professional that it becomes so fake and out of touch with the non-profit spirit. I’m not sure how paying over $200 for a two-day NVPC conference or over $150 for the Singapore Humanitarian Conference (organized by the Singapore International Foundation) is being true to the non-profit spirit. If the conferences are there to help us better help the poor and unfortunate, aren’t we sending out the wrong message by setting such a high fee? Shouldn’t we do everything within our means to make it more affordable to everyone who wants to attend? There are ways we can easily make the cost of the event cheaper. If you’ve attended some of these events and go for the free lunch and tea breaks, you’ll totally understand what I mean. Some of the lunches I went for during the NVPC conference was so good that it would have cost easily over $20 per person outside. I remember the lunch during the 2nd day of the NVPC conference last year that the group of volunteers and I had. We basically ate the leftovers after the conference participants had finished their lunch and settled back in the conference room. I was not happy that so much food was going to be thrown away after we finished our lunch. The volunteers and I thus tried to get plastic containers to take away the food but the management wasn’t happy as the rule was that no food is to be taken away as they do not want to be responsible for what happens to the food and what it does to people after that. I could understand their reasoning but we weren’t going to let so much food go to waste. We eventually got them to give us plastic containers to take away the cold food but we secretly (though later exposed) used them to take away the hot food! Not only are some of the lunches – and also the scrumptious tea breaks 2 hours before and after lunch – provided by these conferences just beyond what we really need to eat but I think it’s the height of hypocrisy when we think of an NPO allowing the extra food to go into the rubbish bin and not arranging for something else to occur. Perhaps, they didn’t really think this small thing mattered, as what was more important to them was that the conference ran in an efficient and professional manner. The for-profit capitalistic spirit is all about the big things. It’s all about worshipping the god of efficiency, where the cultivation and demonstration of humanistic values clearly become secondary. Here’s professionalism the for-profit way with the spirit of non-profit-ism lost in the act.
2) Social Entrepreneurship again – and financial advising
On the 29th and 30th of August, 2005, I attended a two-day workshop on social entrepreneurship organized by the National Council of Social Services (NCSS). It was like a shortened version of the four-day Weekend Entrepreneurship Bootcamp (WEB) I attended in August 2004 – except of course, geered towards the “social”. Two types of social enterprises were mentioned: affirmative and unrelated. An affirmative social enterprise is one that not only makes money (that would be used to benefit an organization doing social good) but through the actual business itself it is doing a social good – e.g. it provides jobs and income for drug addicts. In that sense, the double bottom line is met: making money for social causes while at the same time doing good. An unrelated social enterprise merely makes money. Therefore, it’s utilitarian in that the actual business doesn’t do any good for people except in bringing in revenue and profits that would be used to do good.
I think the ideal is to set up a social enterprise that meets the double bottom line. Many people see that as true social entrepreneurship and somehow in other countries we see more of that happening, as opposed to the “unrelated” social enterprise. The cost of doing business in Singapore is so high already and that makes being a successful entrepreneur hard. I think it would take extra creativity to set up a social enterprise that meets the double bottom line. Maybe it’s already good enough to see “unrelated” social enterprises sprouting up? And perhaps it’ll be more productive if we don’t expect too much from others and are satisfied with merely seeing people starting “unrelated” social enterprises? There seems to be trade-offs here. Is it better to get more profits from an “unrelated” social enterprise or lesser profits from an “affirmitive” social enterprise?
It was around this time that I started searching for a job. I had finished my final module (in order to graduate) through the Internet by early August. One of the friends I made through the Spanish meet-up gatherings started going into financial advising. Being open to any kind of job, I started to talk to her about it. I met up with her agency’s manager to find out more. Somehow, I came into contact with another friend and found out that she just started her financial advising career too. She told me about how her manager was a Christian and how wonderful he was. So a day after meeting with the first agency’s manager, I met up with this Christian manager – both of them were from Prudential. Over the next month or so, we met up about 3 or 4 times.
This manager was indeed inspiring. He’s definitely not in this for the money. He serves as the national director of a Christian missions organization here in Singapore and also teaches short courses on Christian missions. We connected quite well because both of us were interested in development. He supports development work overseas in various ways. He understood where I was coming from when I said that if I were to go into financial advising, it would not be to make a lot of money but rather to give me some income and free time to pursue my passion for development.
I seriously considered joining his agency. I thought with a bit of work I could probably get some income. I never desired a lot of money. My interest was really to start an NGO to promote awareness of development issues and to be involved in development work. I thought financial advising would give me the time to pursue this passion alongside making money. Yet I knew it was a great challenge to go into this line. I didn’t want to hound my friends to buy policies, nor did I want to seem so fake whenever I meet up with friends, as everyone would know I probably had an agenda in mind. I’m more comfortable with approaching and talking to strangers (just like how I did street evangelism years back!) rather than my friends.
I realized that financial advising is very important. It is not all about making money for the agent but the client actually benefits too. Being insured against unfortunate circumstances and being forced to save and invest money is definitely a good thing that few people bother to do. Many times, it takes a financial advisor to make us plan our financial lives properly. Therefore, I do believe that financial advisors are doing something good for society. The more I think about it, the more I believe that being a financial advisor is almost like starting an “affirmitive” social enterprise. The financial advisor is doing social good in serving his client, while at the same time making money. Of course, the money made is really for himself and doesn’t exactly go to contributing to a wider social good.
The sad thing about financial advising is few people actually recognize the good of being advised financially! Until I started to find out more about financial advising and insurance, my impression of financial advisors and insurance agents was like that of most people: “these people are so fake and just out to make money!” Indeed, there’s a great stigma attached to such a job. I guess this is the reason why I ultimately decided against being involved in this line.
Overall, it was a hell of an experience – eventhough too short. The purpose of our trip there was to see how we can provide help to the Karen people on a more long-term basis. They wanted us to stay a few months to teach English. However, both of us couldn’t do that at that point of time. Instead, we went there to connect and see what their needs were and what they wanted of us. In future, we hope to organize more trips for ourselves and other Singaporeans to be involved with these people.
In February 2006, I organized some workshops on development entitled “Exploring Sustainable Development” together with a friend of mine from UNSW. Held over two full Saturdays (4th and 11th), an average of 20 students attended each Saturday. The workshops consisted of presentations, group discussions, games and role-plays. Additionally, we got representatives from more than 5 organizations to speak and interact with the students. This was the first time I had organized such an event and it was definitely a great experience. I spoke on “What is Development?” and “Economic Globalization”.
I have always had a great passion in Development Education – i.e. raising awareness of Development issues – among youths. Not only am I interested in International Development in general and hope to work on the ground eventually, but I’ve always wanted to bring such an interest and knowledge of Development issues to young people. The workshops were a good start and from then I started to do a lot of research and preparation in anticipation of organizing more workshops on Development in future.
Since I returned to Singapore, I’ve also gotten to know more about the International Volunteerism scene here. In Singapore, there’s what you call the YEP (Youth Expedition Project). This is a program where a group of about 20 or so youths participate in an overseas volunteerism project in a Third World country not too far from Singapore. Each project lasts about 2 weeks and the cost is heavily subsidized (up to 60%) by the government. Since 2000, over 10,000 youths have gone on such trips.
Eventhough the primary purpose of the YEPs is to develop Singaporean youths and promote a positive image of Singapore and Singaporeans, rather than to help the Third World community, the YEPs have definitely done much in raising the awareness of International Development issues among Singaporean youths. Add to this increasing globalization and the growing use of the Internet (and thus awareness of the global) among youths in Singapore and one gets the impression that the time is really ripe for the International Development scene in Singapore to develop. Indeed, there is a small but definitely growing group of Singaporeans committed to this area.
Beyond the above, I’ve also been involved in various events related to International Development. I attended various events like the World Vision 30 Hour Famine in June 2006 and the ECO National Youth Environment Forum in September 2006. Also in September 2006, the IMF and World Bank held their Annual Meetings here in Singapore. This was a big thing as both organizations had much to do with International Development. The World Bank office here held their Youth Open Space Dialogue. This two-day event saw over 200 youths come together to engage in conversation and discussion on how to make this world a better place. It was based on Open Space Technology (OST) which is basically a way to convene meetings and discuss issues where participants themselves decide on the agenda of the meeting and can host their own discussion groups. This was the first time I had encountered such an event based on OST and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. In fact, I thought it was totally awesome! It was definitely the most enjoyable event for me I’ve attended in years. I loved the discussions and also meeting other like-minded youths. I was involved in starting and facilitating two sessions – one on “Fair Trade” and the other on “Bringing Global Issues to Singapore Youth”. The latter was something that has been on my heart for a long time – as I mentioned above in my discussion on Development Education. I’ve been fortunate enough to read about global and development issues during my late teens. That has made me passionate about Development. I know that before one will feel the need to take action to help the poor in the world, one first has to be aware of the issues. And that’s why I believe it’s so important to bring global and development issues to Singapore youth. And I’m glad to say that I’m not the only Singaporean youth who realizes its importance. The session on “Bringing Global Issues to Singapore Youth” was one of the most attended ones and was eventually voted the most important issue out of over 50 issues that were discussed.
Because our infamous authoritarian government would not tolerate protests or dissenting views, anti-globalization activists organized an alternative conference in Batam, Indonesia from the 15th to 17th of September, 2006. Some friends and I attended this conference. Altogether, we saw around 10-15 young Singaporeans over the 3 days. Having been to such events in Australia, this was nothing new to me. Most of us Singaporeans agreed that the conference wasn’t very balanced. But then again, what do you expect when you go to a conference like that? As I’ve always believed, it’s important to be knowledgable about the issues and be balanced in one’s views. It doesn’t serve one’s cause to be only one-sided about things. Passion was in abundance among the people there. Most of the activists there spoke from personal experience. They know what it means to suffer and have met many people who have suffered due to economic globalization. That’s why they were passionate. However, most of us wished that that passion had been combined with thoughtful reflection and understanding that this world is more complex than we hope it to be.
In the end, the conference brought cheer to the already converted – for the organizers and speakers were basically preaching to the choir. It would take more balance and thoughtful reflection in what one says if one desires to reach out and convert the neutrals. This wasn’t done. However, overall, I did enjoy the conference as it was always good to hear more about what happens on the ground as well as to get to know other people.
Since returning to Singapore, through the above events and other ways of connecting, I’ve met so many like-minded youths passionate about International Development. Many have started their own organizations to promote their own passions – e.g. fair trade, eco-tourism, environmentalism, foreign workers, social entrepreneurship, etc. Mixing with them has certainly inspired me. I know that things are changing – slowly, but surely. To see so many youths promoting so many wonderful social causes would have been unheard of 5 to 10 years ago in Singapore. Singapore, after all, ain’t like other developed countries where for so many years – partly due to colonial guilt and a more developed and free political system – there have always been idealistic youths fighting for the poor, marginalized and oppressed. No doubt, the globalization of media has been instrumental in bringing greater awareness of issues like poverty, war and injustice to youths in the past 5 to 10 years. The future is indeed exciting for youth activists passionate about International Development in Singapore.
(I’d also like to mention a bit about youth activism related to the local Singapore community. I’ve met many young activists passionate about local community issues through being part of 2006-2007 panel of the Young ChangeMakers. The panellists consist of a group of young Singaporeans active in local community work. The Young ChangeMakers is a program that provides funding and resources to youths who desire to make a meaningful change in their community. Youth with a project in mind that would help the community can apply for funding of up to S$3,000. The panel exists to review the applications. While not one of the more active panellists due to my other commitments, I’m a huge believer in this program. It rewards youth who have a good and meaningful idea and plan to help the community. Passion is thus rewarded and I believe youth who go through the process not only of applying for the grant but of actually implementing their plans would learn so much. Being on the panel has exposed me to the many young change-makers that exist in Singapore. I give my two thumbs up to programs like this one and Youth For Causes.)
I returned from Canada in May 2005 still needing to complete one additional module before graduating. I was able to take that module online and completed it in July 2005. From then on, the search for a job started. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of New South Wales. My majors were in 1) Development Studies and 2) Politics and International Relations. I also did quite a bit of units (mainly language, though also some politics) from the department of Spanish and Latin American Studies.
I had 4 areas of interests then:
1. International Development Fieldwork: International Development was my passion. I knew that I wanted to do something related to it. Of course, there are so many areas I could go into. I would love to one day manage an NGO. But if I were to do that, it would be in a way very different from how most NGOs are run. I don’t like the bureaucracy or politics that is present in how big organizations and even NGOs are run. I’m not naïve to think that NGOs are exempted from power struggles or that we won’t see the money motive triumphing over the compassionate spirit among NGO workers just because they are NGO workers! No, we still see lots of backbiting and desire to make one’s name for oneself among people working in the NGO line. Hey, if there’s so much shit going on in so many churches, so many pastors just out to make a name for themselves and to build their own kingdom, can we expect any less within NGOs?
To me, the place where you’re challenged to live the truly compassionate and sacrificial life is in the field. The people I admire most are in the field, not those people that get all the attention because they are leading the NGOs, not those in the administrative (be it high or low level) jobs far away from the ground. No doubt, I do like administrative jobs like organizing, managing and planning, but that’s not where the true challenge and true work is. I probably like administrative jobs more than fieldwork, but I wouldn’t be satisfied with myself if I didn’t spend a fair amount of my time down on the ground.
Fieldwork is what I think of when I think about the hard work of truly helping and aiding people. It’s not glamorous. And it shouldn’t be. Helping people isn’t about glamour. It’s not about the job or about oneself. It’s really about the life of the person down there.
2. Development Education / Global Citizenship Education for Youths: I have written much about this already in many life entries like here and in the above section. In my university days in Sydney and Toronto, I was involved in promoting development issues among youth. I’ve always been a firm believer in the power of education – though not so much mainstream education! My past experiences in reading and learning have made me who I am today – a person with a meaningful purpose and passion. And I believe in influencing others positively in such a way that they find a meaningful purpose for their lives.
Too many youths live utterly meaningless lives, influenced by the culture of consumerism, the media (television & movies), the pursuit of more and more money, and an education system nowadays which is not only boring, but also lacking in vision and relevance. Education (especially in countries like Singapore) is increasingly seen as a means to the end of getting a job and making a living. As mentioned elsewhere, we have reduced the purpose of education by measuring its success with the yardstick of how much money it brings us. How sad can that be? Isn’t there a greater purpose to living than just getting money so that we can merely continue to live? – even if it’s continuing to live comfortably? Is there no deeper sense of purpose as to why we live?
Education has to lead us to a more fulfilling life. Fulfilling not in the sense of having more money. Education ought to question the assumption that money brings us happiness. Education ought to lead us to a deep-rooted sense of purpose and passion. Education ought to encourage us to be daring and question long-established assumptions. And education ought to lead us to do right too.
That’s the positive power education can and ought to have. And that’s why educating youth has always been in my heart. I want to truly shape and inspire lives.
More specifically, I want to see youths see the broader picture of life and the world. And when I say youths, I mean youths in the First World. Those that live comfortable and pampered lives compared to hundreds of millions of youths in places far away from us and so are out of our sights, and very often out of our minds too.
This kind of education is called development education – i.e. education about international development. However, the more common term used nowadays is global citizenship education – i.e. education and awareness of how we’re all global citizens (citizens not just of one’s own country but of the world) and thus have a moral responsibility to aid others in need. To me, global citizenship education is one aspect of an education that is interesting, relevant and full of vision and also one that produces purpose, direction and meaning in the lives of students.
While primarily interested in such education, I was also interested in alternative forms of education.
3. Progressive and Holistic Christianity: By progressive Christianity, I mean a form of Christianity that accepts progressive ideals – like helping the poor. By holistic Christianity, I mean one that sees things from the whole, not the part. It is one that ministers, and is relevant, to the whole person, not just a part.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the Christianity most of us know nowadays – what we call evangelical Christianity (be it in its charismatic or non-charismatic forms) – is really a Christianity that has been hijacked for many decades by narrow-minded, dogmatic Christians who saw God’s calling only in terms of evangelizing the lost. For years, evangelical Christianity has looked skeptically upon social concerns like helping the poor, seeing such social activism as coming from the liberal ideology that they so hated. Because political liberals and theological liberals, who were/are greatly defined by their social concerns, threatened their beliefs in some ways, evangelicals pronounced Christians passionate about loving the socially oppressed and marginalized for God guilty by association. To evangelicals, a passion by Christians to help the socially disadvantaged meant such Christians were missing out the most important calling of God (i.e. to evangelize the lost) and thus such Christians were no different from liberals – especially theological liberals. Such Christianity is reductionistic, not holistic. It’s concerned only of the spiritual (and sometimes emotional) needs of people, bypassing the physical/material realm. It is also a Christianity that is almost irrelevant to billions of people in poverty. A holistic Christianity ministers not just to the spiritual and emotional, but also the physical/material needs of people.
Beyond the progressive ideal of social concern, a theology and Christianity that is more progressive is also one that is more humble in its claims. It eschews modern certainty because of its irrelevance in this age. Evangelistically speaking, unbelievers aren’t looking for dogmatic and arrogant claims that Christianity has often made. They know the harm Christianity has caused. They see the Christian church filled with doctrinal divisions and innumerous denominations. “You’re so certain of your claims to truth? Why so many differences and denominations?” They laugh. I laugh. They wouldn’t give us a ear if we continue in our arrogance. Questioning certainty doesn’t mean abandoning all truth. We abandon truth claims which are not worth fighting over – and down the years, Christianity and our denominations have given us many.
The progressive Christianity I believe in that questions modern certainty is not relativistic. I believe in truth. I don’t believe that we can never know, for example, whether believer’s baptism or infant baptism is biblical. Sure we can. I just believe it’s probably not going to be in this age. Which side is biblical, I don’t know. And frankly, I won’t waste too much time caring. But I have a sneaking suspicion that both sides are wrong and that in the coming age God will reveal to us the truth that will humble Christians who concern themselves with such doctrinal debates that are, in reality, so trivial in comparison to the needs of this world.
Such a progressive Christianity is thus not postmodern in a relativistic, free-for-all, there-is-no-truth-sense, but postmodern in a critical realist sense. There is truth out there. It’s just that it’s darn difficult to grasp a lot of it. And those who think it’s actually rather easy are just kidding themselves.
And lest I be criticized of theological liberalism, I do believe that there’s truth worth fighting for. I believe in all those beliefs that Christians call the “fundamentals” of faith. But they’re called fundamentals for a reason. That’s because such doctrines like the virgin birth of Christ are fundamental and essential to our Christian faith. Other beliefs that are not “fundamentals” are not “fundamentals”. It’s not worth fighting over – believer’s versus infant baptism, Calvinism versus Arminianism, women in ministry, etc. So a progressive Christianity would major on the majors (fundamentals of faith), not on the minors. Like someone wise said:
In essentials, unity.
In non-essentials, liberty.
In all things, charity.
But let’s go beyond this. A progressive Christian like me accepts the fundamental beliefs or doctrines by faith. But he’s not satisfied at leaving it there. He wants to propose that we need another kind of fundamentals that sets a Christian apart and is essential to her faith: fundamental actions.
It’s time to move orthopraxy (correct behavior) up the ladder – not to dislodge orthodoxy (correct beliefs) as the most important, but to bring to a higher importance the fact that God desires that we live correctly. And the focus on orthopraxy would only be progressive if we move social morality up the ladder of importance to come alongside personal morality. For too long, when Christians talk about behavior, they reduce it to personal morality, neglecting correct social behavior.
4. Overseas Missions: Although I flirted with Universalism (see here and here) to a certain extent in the previous 2 years or so, at no time would I have considered myself a dogmatic Universalist. Right now, at times I’m a hopeful Universalist (hoping it’s true) and at others I’m agnostic about the issue. Universalist or not, the call of the Christian is still to proclaim the love of God to all nations. Even the evangelical Universalist would believe this – or at least some versions of them would. However, there’s no doubt that the Universalist would see evangelism and Christian missions as less of a burden than the non-Universalist. Whether my contact with Universalism in the past has affected my desire to evangelize, I don’t know. But I do believe that my passion to help the socially disadvantaged certainly affected the burden I felt to evangelize and do missions. I saw Christians totally consumed by evangelism to the neglect of helping the poor without strings attached – i.e. helping the poor out of love for them and not to get them ot be Christians. I do believe that it is biblical and thus ok to help the poor with no strings attached. That is, the Christian needn’t always feel that God would be pleased with him only if his main purpose is to reach out in everything he does. The main purpose of the Christian isn’t to evangelize through everything he does, but to glorify God in everything he does (1 Cor. 10:31).
When comparing helping the poor with evangelizing the lost, most evangelicals see evangelism as more important than social concern for the poor. And thus the focus has overwhelmingly been on evangelism. You get maybe a dozen sermons on evangelizing the lost to one on helping the poor. Though I would probably agree that evangelism is more important, I have always believed that this should in no way result in the kind of underwhelming support for helping the poor that is so prevalent in evangelicalism. I guess one could say that the excuse for my overwhelming focus on helping the poor was to do my part in correcting such an imbalance that has existed for decades.
Despite the above, my interest in missions started taking root after a meeting with my friend Zach and the subsequent reflection upon his beliefs on missions. Since I’ve already described quite thoroughly what his beliefs are in another place, I won’t elaborate exactly what they are here. I’m not exactly clear how his unique views on missions caused me to feel an urgency for missions, but it did. Perhaps it’s because before getting to know Zach’s radical beliefs, I only admired missionaries for their willingness to sacrifice their comfortable lifestyle to reach the lost in the Third World. Not more than that. I think I was never attracted to missions before encountering Zach’s view because the vision constantly sold in evangelical churches wasn’t a vision big enough to captivate me. The vision was a watered-down one of what was in the Bible. It presented a view of God, missions and the Christian life that wasn’t big enough to result in His people living radically for Him. It was a vision that was too focused on man, and not enough on God. It was a vision that was too trusting of human methods and wisdom, rather than one of total reliance upon God.
As I started to reflect on Zach’s view of missions, I started to see God magnified. I started to catch that vision of God that demanded my all. I started to see missions differently and I started to feel the urgency of missions. Only such a view of missions reflected the bigness of God; all others made God seem smaller than He truly is. And when one sees God in all His glory, then one is inspired to do what He wants of us. Because only when He’s all that He is, is it worth living all of your life for who He is.
And so… What to do? Where should I work? What should I work as? The above were my interests. But it wasn’t exactly the case that there were many opportunities out there for me. I didn’t want to live in Australia because I simply didn’t like living there. Singapore was where I was born. It’s my home. My family is there. All my friends are there. I’m very familiar with the place and I know so much that’s going on in relation to development which keeps me excited. I know there are more opportunities to make a difference working in Singapore than in Australia. I would definitely earn more in Australia and live more comfortably, but living there wouldn’t satisfy me as much emotionally as living in Singapore. All in all, Singapore is the place I would feel most comfortable.
And yet I knew that being comfortable isn’t what life is all about. I knew since 2002 that my heart was to live in the Third World for most of my future life and in a way I wanted to live there ASAP before I get too comfortable living in Singapore and justify my living there. One one hand, I felt I should just forget about finding a normal, decent paying job like every other normal person would do. I felt I should just go to the Third World and see how things go. Just like what I wanted to do in 2002 with my best friend. Just like how people take a year or so before or after University to travel around the world and explore – however, in the case, I could do that knowing that I may never return. Just go out there and see where God leads me. The normal way to do development or missions is of course to go through various organizations. But I wasn’t fond of that. All the bureaucracy and legalistic rules – in both NGOs and Christian mission organizations. Who’s to say that the only way to go and help the poor and do missions is through an organization? If that’s the only way, then only those with a masters degree would be doing development fieldwork and only those who have been to Bible College would go far in being a missionary. This is all nonsense that results from too much institutionalism.
I believe there is so much more need out there than all organizations can meet. Which means, there is a lot of need that is not within the scope of what all organizations do. And thus there’s always something we can do without being part of any organization. Go to the Third World, for example, and go to the urban cities. In many, there would be lots of street children and families who live in absolute poverty. There are definitely NOT enough orphanages to house all the street children, nor enough organizations to help these families. Can we do something about it? Can I do something about it?
So on the one hand, this appealed to me. If I had such a great conviction and desire to do so, why didn’t I just go? I’m not afraid to say that it’s probably because I’m just a coward who lacks courage. Don’t need to justify it in any other way. If I had a close friend to go with, I would most definitely do so. It takes courage to go alone. It takes great faith to trust God would provide for you in all ways as you’re going without organizational support. I’m very independent in my thinking and quite so in my living. But still, I didn’t have the courage to give up everything and just go. In Singapore, I had many friends. I had a home to live in for free. I had goals I could set myself to accomplish. It would have been a huge step to give it all up and to move into the unknown. Too huge for me. Not enough faith in me. Not enough courage in me. End of story. No need for excuses.
And so I continued on in Singapore looking for a job. I applied to almost every organization somehow involved in International Development work in Singapore. There actually aren’t that many. And most of them didn’t offer jobs that were that interesting. But nevertheless, the fact that they were somehow involved in development work was good enough for me. I was offered a job in one of them but decided that it probably wouldn’t lead me anywhere so I didn’t go for it. I went for interviews with others but ended up not getting the job. I was very disappointed and sad, but then again that’s life. We don’t always get what we want. There aren’t exactly that many jobs in the NGO line in Singapore and as a fresh graduate without much experience, I couldn’t expect much.
I also tried my hand at teaching – or at least at applying to teach. I loved teaching, but I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied teaching in pre-tertiary level because at that level, Singapore offered no subjects that I was interested in teaching. I got to know a very unique tertiary institution – Republic Polytechnic (RP). They were the newest Polytechnic and adopted a Problem Based Learning (PBL) teaching methodology institution wide – the first in the world to adopt PBL institution wide. PBL attracted me greatly because it was an alternative teaching methodology that focused on thinking processes rather than mere rote learning. I applied to be a facilitator (we are “facilitators” because they “facilitate” discussion, not “teach” content) and was an interviewed by the director of the relevant department in January 2006. He offered me a job straight away – for the new term which started in April. I was very excited to start work as I was quite fond of the PBL teaching methodology. However, to my great disappointment, in late March I was told that I would not be offered a position by the HR department of RP. I called the Director who gave me the job and he told me that it was out of his power to hire me. I was told the Ministry of Education (MOE) had the final say as to whether I could be hired. He said he told me I got the job in January because getting final approval from the MOE was normally just a formality and he expected it in my situation. However, in my case, the MOE didn’t approve. I was not too impressed. I talked to the people at the HR department of RP and explained to them in a very kind manner that I was offered the job more than 2 months ago and based on the word of the director, I didn’t look for another one but excitedly waited to start work. The least they could do is to tell me the reason why MOE rejected me. Of course, I wasn’t expecting much from them. Part of their reply:
The reasons are withheld by the management. We are afraid that we would not be able to let you know.
I was extremely pissed and angry. If I were in America, I would have definitely taken this further. I had written proof – emails – of the job being offered to me. But somehow, I just couldn’t be bothered to take this further. For one thing, I didn’t want to get anyone into any trouble. The director seemed a nice person and if what he said was the truth (and I hope so), it wasn’t his fault. Furthermore, I know nothing would happen anyway. It wasn’t as though I would get the job back. You don’t wint against the Singapore government. It wasn’t worth the hassle.
I spoke to some people after that and most of them questioned whether RP really had to get a stamp of approval from the MOE as they’re independent of MOE in a way. So I’m not sure if this was really the decision of MOE or that RP is just using the MOE to cover their butts. But I wouldn’t surprise if the MOE did really have the ultimate say because they are the MOE! As to why they rejected me? I may have a sneaking suspicion but I’ll leave that up to the imagination of whoever reads this. The matter is over. There was an injustice done to me. And it wasn’t righted. And maybe I should have gone further to investigate and to get answers. But really, there are bigger issues in this world than this and so I told myself to just get on with life and trust God.
After this incident, feeling a bit lost, I decided to pursue something that I had been thinking of doing for a couple of years. It was related to Development Education / Global Citizenship Education (see above). As mentioned before, in February 2006 I organized some Workshops on Sustainable Development for Junior College students with a friend. I thoroughly enjoyed planning for the event and giving talks on various issues related to International Development. This was a one-off event but for a long I had pondered starting an organization that would bring these issues to Singaporean youths. Since 2005, when I wrote a paper for my Project Management class entitled “Development Education Leadership Camps in Singapore”, I have been doing a lot of research on the Internet in the view that one day I would spend more time raising awareness about development issues among youths. I started to find out how other countries did Development Education. And I started to formulate my own syllabus on Development issues. I started to find out more about various educational methodologies and how I could make the development issues relevant and interesting to youths. And so now was the time I decided to try to make this dream a reality.
I worked with my best friend for a few months. We planned to start an organization (Young Global Citizens) formally. We started to apply for funding to help us get it started. We thought through how we could make it sustainable. One way was to do short presentations during assembly time in schools, as well as conduct longer workshops for groups of students. In a sense, we envisioned our organization being like an organization that provided enrichment activities or classes. Other organizations touched on things like the arts, theatre, sex education, public speaking, etc. These organizations provided non-curricular education like lifeskills or other things that would enrich and benefit the student’s life. Our organization would provide an education in important global issues. We wanted to do this not on a volunteer basis, but in a large enough scale that would support two full-time staff. As far as I knew, such an idea wasn’t tried before. There were organizations that dealt with development issues. But none really focused on raising awareness of these issues among youth in a consistent and regular way. And by consistent and regular way, I don’t mean holding something just once a year. Some organizations did have large events once or a few times a year that engaged youths. But I wanted something that did it on a regular basis, did not sacrifice quality (not dumbing down the quality of the program to reach a larger quantity) and that had follow-up plans with youths to keep them continually involved, learning and doing. A successful program, in my eyes, would not just raise awareness of development issues but also move youths to action and aid them in their follow-up action.
After a few months, however, we didn’t continue our pursuit. One reason was that it was a challenge to make it sustainable. The other was that my partner started losing the motivation to carry on and in a way I couldn’t blame him because he had other more important things in his life.
And so my job search started again. I had spent far too long getting a job. It’s been more than a year since returning from Canada and I still hadn’t gotten a permanent one. That’s not good. You know, society and family expected me to get a job – any job – that would demand my whole life, take away my joy but would give me some good hard cash in return. That’s life. You have to be pragmatic. Even if you don’t enjoy your job, you had to earn some money to survive. You have to think about saving up for your house and your retirement. Job with no meaning? Well, you gotta run the race anyway…
In response to those invisible societal pressures, I told myself that I would widen the scope of jobs that I would accept. I applied for a position in a Christian organization that dealt with working on a charity project. I knew little about the organization and even less about the project – I hadn’t heard of it before eventhough it was the longest running project in Singapore! I accepted the job offer eventhough I wasn’t totally crazy about this project. At least, it was something meaningful, so I told myself.
I spent the next 8 months (from end June 2006 to end February 2007) there and it was a tremendous learning experience for me. Besides being the longest running one, it was also one of the biggest charity projects in Singapore. This was really my first “permanent” job and I have to say that I was sad when I left the job.
To start, this project wasn’t just huge but it was huge for me personally. Eventhough it took so much of me (time and energy) because I was on a really steep learning curve, I do not regret having taken the job because I learnt a lot that has enrichened my life experience. I learnt a lot about how big charity projects – and big projects in general – work and also how corporates work (in relation to their support of, and involvement in, charity projects). Here are some thoughts:
1. Professionalism: While I’ve already written about some of the things I don’t like about the increasing professionalism and capitalistic spirit found in the non-profit sector, my experience with this project and this NGO has led me to highlight here the need for professionalism (in a good sort of way) in many NGOs. Well, I can’t speak for other NGOs, but I suspect that in many there’s a strong need to be much more professional in the way things are done.
I came out of this project feeling so strongly that while there’s so much good in this project, things could be so much better for all of us (including the beneficiaries) if only we were much more professional in how things were done. Who’s to blame for the lack of professionalism? Most obviously, people are to blame when there are failures. Sometimes it’s the extraordinary circumstances that are to blame. But most of the time if things don’t go as well as it should, it’s people who are at fault. It boils down to them not doing their work well. People don’t do their work well for two reasons. One is that they lack the capability to do the work well. The other reason is that they lack the time to do all the work well – i.e. there are just so many things to be done and so little time available. If it’s the first reason, the solution is to hire better people. If it’s the second reason, the solution is to hire more people. Either way, the organization needs more money to hire either better people or more people. And of course, for non-profit organizations this isn’t such an easy thing to do as funds are limited. And so, ultimately, professionalism is in a way a function of wealth. Non-profit organizations have limited wealth and that’s why they don’t do things as well as they should. That’s a sad truth and I experienced it in a great way during my time here.
2. Sponsorships and Public Relations: One of the most enlightening aspects of my job was in seeing how corporations were involved in this project. This project needed a lot of sponsorship – both money and in-kind. A lot of our sponsors (though certainly not all) wanted something in return and we tried our best to give it to them. Most interesting for me was what our two biggest sponsors wanted. Our biggest sponsor gave us a lot of money, while our second biggest sponsor gave us much less money (though still quite a lot) but supported us in-kind in a very important way. Both organizations were thus extremely important to the success of the project. They knew it and thus they were demanding in what they expected in return. What did they want? Very simple: good media coverage of their organization’s involvement in the project.
This is completely understandable. Most corporations won’t give money away for free. Maybe some do. Maybe some set aside some money every year to contribute to a good cause. They desire to be socially responsible and thus support good causes without any strings attached. However, I don’t think many of such corporations exist. After all, if corporations can get something in return through supporting good causes, they would want to maximize their returns. Corporations are after all about making money primarily, not about doing good. Most corporations will thus only do good if doing good ultimately increases its profits.
Many corporations thus treat their spending on good causes as though they are spending on advertising. Maybe even the money used on supporting socially responsible causes comes from their advertising budget. The purpose of advertising is to increase the company’s sales. Advertising accomplishes its purpose through attracting people to buy the company’s products or services. The company’s products or services are made attractive when their good points are played up (i.e. this perfume would make you smell irresistible, this drink tastes wonderful, etc). The other way people are attracted to the company’s products or services is when they feel good about the company and want to support the company through buying its products or services. And this can occur when people know that this or that company uses its money for the good of society through, for example, supporting charitable projects.
Most companies therefore treat their support for charitable projects as a way of advertising their goodness to the public:
Look, we’re supporting so many good causes and helping so many people. We’re a good company. Don’t you believe in our values? Wouldn’t you like to support our company through buying our products/services? By doing so, you’re helping us help many people.
However, the only way supporting a charitable project can function like advertising is if the public is aware of the company’s support for the project. And the public will only be aware if they notice it in the media. That’s the reason why media coverage is so important. Corporations want to see their names mentioned in the newspapers or in the television news. They want the public to know that they have contributed much to help many people. This creates good vibes in people’s minds of the company and hopefully sales increase and profits increase. And so while the company gives money away to the project, if there’s good coverage of the project, this support for the project functions like an advertisement of the company. The hope is that through increasing sales and profits, they would gain back more in the long term than they would have spent on supporting the project. Isn’t that sound business sense?
Sound business sense it may be, but oh so superficial. Take for example what a very high level representative of our biggest sponsor said regarding the kind of children’s home his company would like the Media Conference of the project to be held in:
The children involved need to be cute and not sick as this would be more attractive for the media.
That’s quite despicable! Such corporations don’t do good with the right motivation. They don’t do good because it’s good, but they do it with the sole motive of making more money in return. But I guess that’s the way it works in this world. I don’t want to argue the rightness or wrongness of this. But seeing that this is the way the world works and can’t be changed, at least one benefit of focusing on getting enough (and good) media attention for its sponsors is that one is also focusing on getting good media coverage for the project itself. And it’s always good to get media coverage for the project especially if that increases the support the public gives to the project.
Anyway, so our two biggest sponsors wanted good media coverage of their involvement. We hired a Public Relations (PR) company to work for us. Working with them gave me a closer look at how PR works. Basically, the way to garner PR for the project and sponsors is to create events that attract the media. Thus, the events have to be media-worthy. Media are attracted to events for basically two reason. The first is if the event is graced by a prominent Guest-of-Honor (GOH). The more prominent the GOH, the better chance there is of the event being covered by the media. It gets even better if the GOH gives a speech in which he/she announces something newsworthy – e.g. a minister announcing a new policy. However, even without a very prominent GOH, the event could still be covered by the media if it’s interesting enough. There’s no incentive for the media to cover every single charity fund-raising dinner, for example. However, if your event is something different and novel, the media would be interested to cover it. Thus, the need to be creative and novel in one’s conception of events.
As the project I worked on was huge, we held a few events – a Media Release, an Opening Ceremony and a Closing Ceremony. We also planned a few other interesting ones, however only one other succeeded. One event was cancelled because the main attraction, a very high-ranking GOH, had to cancel his appearance at the last minute. To go on without him wouldn’t make much sense as the media probably wouldn’t come. In all, it took a lot of hard work to come up with interesting events we felt the media would cover. Almost every event we held had something special to attract them.
Beyond getting a good GOH and conceiving and interesting event, connections play a great part too. PR companies are hired not only because they are good at what they do, but because they have established good connections in the various media. If you have good connections in the various media companies, you stand a better chance to get your contacts down to cover the event.
In the end, I wouldn’t say our two biggest sponsors were very satisfied. However, both still decided to stay on for at least another year. Despite the impression given to us that they were disappointed with the media coverage garnered for themselves, I think ultimately they know that they are getting something out of it. A big project by its very nature will draw a lot of media coverage. Though a better job would have ensured that even more could have been garnered, what they got was at least enough to ensure that it was beneficial for them to stay with us another year.
3. Committee vs. Secretariat: Being part of the secretariat, my colleagues and I had to do all the work that the project committees decided upon. We had to implement what the main and sub-committees wanted us to do. The main committee consisted of pretty big shots and decided on important decisions. They were also responsible for bringing in the sponsors. Other sub-committees were responsible for lower level decisions. Suffice to say, the secretariat had a lot of problems with the committees. But, we had to do what they tell us – at least in regards to the main committee. And most of the time, they asked the impossible. And most of the time, we try to please them. The people on the committees aren’t really those who do the day to day job and so aren’t those who know what can be done and what can’t be. Yet, they act as if they know best. But I’m sure this is a problem everywhere. Peace!
4. Nasty People, Grace and Justice: I faced many challenges on the job. Perhaps the biggest was in dealing with some colleagues of mine. Thankfully, both didn’t work that closely with me although we did have a bit of contact. While I’m hardly perfect, I was amazed to see how nasty and unkind some people could be. This was a Christian organization and all in it were Christians. I didn’t expect everyone of us to be saints (I’m hardly one), but then, I wasn’t prepared for what I faced from some of them.
There were times I was tempted to give these people a piece of my mind when they were being unreasonable and rude. Some of my other colleagues told me I should speak up and not keep quiet. I wasn’t scared to answer them back, even if it was in front of others. I wasn’t scared of what my big boss or other colleagues would think of me. When one’s conscience is clear and I know I’ve done nothing wrong to deserve such a treatment, there’s nothing to be afraid of. In fact, I told myself I would welcome an opportunity to state my case because I knew that I had nothing to hide. Many times, I was the verge of wanting to get even, to expose them, to embarrass them, to confront them – all of which is really repaying evil with evil.
In the end, I didn’t do anything. I just kept quiet in the situations. Bitched about it to some other colleagues – which I shouldn’t have, but I’m not perfect! Partly, I didn’t want to make too big a deal of it because I had a more important project at hand. Also, I was reading Safely Home, a novel by Randy Alcorn. While not a true story, it was one about the persecution that a Chinese Christian in China suffered for Christ. Reading this book constantly reminded me of how small my problem was in comparison to the immense sufferings that so many Christians face for Christ daily. This fact puts my problems into perspective and puts me to shame. If I can’t even show grace to those who do me a little wrong, how can I aspire to live the kind of life that God desires of me? So tried to let it pass. And I succeeded in not speaking back even once to them. I told myself I would leave everything to God. There are, after all, more important things to focus on…
I don’t think that every person who has been wronged ought to just show grace by letting the wrongs go unpunished rather than seek that justice be done. God is a God of justice – who doesn’t let wrongs go unpunished. Yet God is also a God of grace who overlooks wrongs (because of Christ). How do we reconcile these two? Some people believe that because Christ suffered and showed grace to those who wronged Him, we ought to take suffering in our stride and show grace to those who wrong us. However, we see God’s anger towards those who oppressed the poor in places like Isaiah and Amos. In these cases, God didn’t ask the poor to take the suffering and show grace to those who wronged them. Rather, he was hard upon those who did wrong. In a sense, justice was emphasized as God sought to right the wrongs. God didn’t ask the oppressed to show grace to their oppressors.
How we reconcile this, I don’t know. However, I have always felt that I should fight for justice for those who have been wronged. For those who can’t fight for justice for themselves, we should fight for justice for them. However, when faced with injustice in our own lives, if we can take it, then take it and show grace.
I think fighting for justice for another person is especially important if the person being wronged is an unbeliever. Showing grace, after all, is for those who have experienced grace and know that He would want us to be gracious to those who have wronged us by overlooking their wrongs. You can’t expect that out of non-Christians who have not experienced grace and do not understand the logic of grace.
So as Christians we ought to fight for justice for others – especially if they are helpless to do so themselves and if they’re unbelievers. As they are not us, we should never presume they would like to take the grace route and overlook the wrongs committed against them. We should never assume they have experienced grace or understand grace in such a way that they want to act it out. But for us Christians, we ought to challenge ourselves to take the grace route. For in doing so, we are reflecting the route that Jesus took. We are imitating Him. And that’s being Christlike.
Two things, I believe, will help us to demonstrate grace. Firstly, if we keep in mind we’re sinners just like those who have wronged us, we would realize we’re just as bad as them and thus we ought to have no great reason to get back at them – for we wouldn’t want others to get back at us. We may not be as bad and sinful as them in that particular area in life, but we’re probably worse than them in others. And anyway, we’re all sinners and that’s what matters in the end. We’re guilty.
Secondly, putting things in perspective helps. Oh, how a lot of our problems are so small in perspective! The world is bigger than our world and there are so many more problems so much greater than ours.
Around 7pm on the 14th of November, 2005, I went to do a bit of work at a MacDonald’s near my place. On arrival, an Indian man came up to me and asked for money. His name was Ramasamy Rasandare or “Rama” for short. We sat down and talked for about 20 – 30 minutes. He told me about his life and about how he couldn’t find any job. He had mental problems and an injured arm and took medicine for both. I prayed for him and gave him a bit of money before he left. This was the start of a short but beautiful friendship.
We met up every now and then for the next few months. I also met his cousin who introduced himself as “fuckabone” =) His cousin also had a history of mental problems. Rama would call me regularly on my mobile, most of the time asking for money. I hardly had any money on me during this time (having not found work yet) so I didn’t give him much. On the 5th of December, I visited him at his one-room government flat in Ang Mo Kio. This was the first time I had ever seen a one-room flat. We also bought some canned food together as well as a mattress for him to sleep on.
Early February 2006, Rama went to live in a Christian centre to kick his smoking and alcoholic habit. He was going to be there about a year. I was quite happy because I knew his smoking habit cost him a lot of money. I didn’t mind giving him some money every so often but didn’t want it to go towards him buying cigarettes. However, a few days after going into the centre, I received a call from him from the hospital. He had left the centre about two days earlier because he couldn’t stand not smoking. And he was in the hospital because he just had a heart attack! He was going to stay there a few days and I was going to visit him one of the days. During one of the calls we had, he asked me to bring him a packet of cigarettes. When he said that, I gently but firmly scolded him:
Rama, are you crazy? Do you want to die? You know the reason you had a heart attack is because you’re not healthy and you smoke too much. And you want me to help you to kill yourself? Rama, you have to go back to the centre and kick your habit. If you don’t, I’m not going to give you money anymore because I don’t want you to buy more cigarettes. Rama, if you don’t kick this habit you’re going to die, you know? Do you want to die?
When I said that, he was just laughing. Inside me, I probably laughed too: “What a silly fella…” I never knew how serious the situation was and I guess neither did he. The next day (18th February 2006), I received a message that he died of another heart attack…
Though I only knew him for 3 months, we had a good friendship. He was a really nice guy. He was fun to talk to and very sincere and honest. On our first meeting, he was already telling me about his “mental problems”. He turned 50 in February. In January, I thought of celebrating Chinese New Year and his birthday with him and his friends at his flat – before he entered the Christian centre. But as I was working on a project during that period, I never had the time to follow-up on that thought. He was a Christian and I would normally end our meetings praying for him. He went to Church. He believed in Jesus. I guess that’s something I can take heart in: that he’s with his Creator now. It was during one of our last conversation that he asked me to bring him to my Church every Sunday. Well, the very next Sunday after that call, He was with God.
I received the message (SMS) of his death when I was talking with my best friend on the phone. We were talking about living a life of meaning, a life for the poor and dying in the developing world, and not just joining the rat race in the developed world to earn more and more money when we started working. Indeed, Rama’s death was a reminder to us that life is short and our lives can be taken away at any moment. We shouldn’t be focusing on building our own kingdom (i.e. our career or even our own family) here on earth. What would last when we die? What would be eternal? Not my status before I died, the position of my last job or how much is in my bank account. If only we lived everyday as though it were our last. Then we would live it meaningfully.
There are so many people dying in the developing world. There is so much need out there. I don’t want to live the typical life of a typical Singaporean or of a typical person in the developed world – being concerned about one’s future, one’s career, one’s family, the future of one’s kids…etc. Really, it never ends. And these concerns aren’t really important at all from an eternal perspective. I want to live a meaningful life and live a meaningful life NOW. Not 10 years time after I have saved enough money. I may never get to live that long. People are dying everywhere. The fact I continue to live is a gift from God. And if my life belongs to God, then may I use the rest of my life to serve Him wholeheartedly…