Hou Ann attends Sunday School. He has been coming to church since he and his sibling were referred to the church for help. His karung-guni father has struggled to take care of him and his younger brother. There is no mother at home; she left even before divorcing his father.
I mention Hou Ann because he seems so out-of-place in a church where most children have loving families, a wide selection of nice matching clothes and footwear. The other children in church would have attended nursery and kindergarten before going to a primary school. Such children would have learned simple arithmetic. They would be able to read and spell a wide selection of words, and they could express themselves clearly in English with some Chinese as well.
But 10-year-old Hou Ann cannot string together a proper sentence in English.
“He is in Primary 5 and he cannot even spell ‘elephant,’ ” said Chee Guan (Hou Ann’s Sunday School teacher), his face etched with pain, obviously caring dearly for this boy. “Children like him who are so hidden in our prosperous society tend to be easily ignored.”
I was told that apart from attending Sunday School, Hou Ann and a few other children from the poor neighbourhood would be given lunch, which would probably be the only meal that they would have for the rest of the day.
I am no futurologist, but Hou Ann will end up dropping out of our school system and fall through the gaps in our social safety nets. He will be struggling in life like his illiterate father, unless there is dedicated intervention nourished by compassion to help children like him break out of the socio-economic poverty trap.
Hou Ann caught my attention during the Sunday School promotion exercise. He was in church sitting in the front row, wearing an ill-matched faded T-shirt and pants that were far too short and looked more like pyjamas. He was a little restless, having to sit through the first part of the worship service before being led to his new class. But he was cheerful and he gave me a big smile.
The church is one place our Lord can use to intervene in the lives of children like him even if they do present massive challenges for any middleclass church where members are relatively well-educated and living a reasonably comfortable life.
We may think that the church is doing persons like Hou Ann a favour by helping and accepting them, and in fact that might be the case.
But I see the reverse: It is people like Hou Ann who are doing the church a great favour, reminding us of who we really are or should be. To paraphrase the great Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, the church is the only institution in the world that exists for the benefit of non-members.
My prayer for Hou Ann and children like him is that they will find liberation, both in the spiritual sense and the socio-economic sense, in the churches where they are currently attending.
Background picture by obey leesin/Bigstock.com
The Rev Dr Daniel Koh Kah Soon –
is Pastor at Christalite Methodist Chapel, a lecturer at Trinity Theological College and the Chairperson of the Methodist Welfare Services.