With church buildings left empty during the circuit breaker, these Methodists decided that loving their neighbours didn’t have to be put on hold. They decided to put their premises to good use by registering as Safe Sound Sleeping Places (S3Ps) with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), so that they could provide shelter to the homeless and displaced—they are a reminder that we can always find ways to serve the community.
Each church has a different story on how they were led to this ministry. For the leaders of sister churches Ang Mo Kio Methodist Church (AMKMC), AMK Chinese Methodist Church (AMKCAC), and AMK Tamil Methodist Church (AMKTAC), the decision was swift and unanimous. After getting registered upon referral from Homeless Hearts of Singapore (HHOS), team members across all three churches pitched in to run the shelter, 24 hours a day.
The work included liaising with HHOS and the MSF, providing amenities like Wi-Fi and laundry facilities, as well as hospitality duties. It was a learning experience for all involved. By connecting with their guests and listening to their stories, the team gained greater understanding of a group of people who are all too easily overlooked when it comes to societal support.
Before COVID-19, the three churches were already regularly working together to serve their neighbourhood community. This shelter project was an extension of their ongoing efforts, which include home visits and grocery deliveries.
AMKMC Pastor-in-Charge the Rev Anthony Lee has these words of encouragement for those who feel helpless during this pandemic: focus on what you can do, rather than what you cannot. “We have to remember being shut in or shut out may result in an entirely new season. After Noah emerged from the floodwaters, he began life on behalf of a new humanity. After Moses was up on the mountain for 40 days, he came down and his face shone as a result of God’s glory. Finally, only after Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness did He begin His ministry. Let us spend as much time as possible in God’s presence through prayer, worship and reading of His Word. More than just simply doing our part to stop the spread of the virus and stay home, this period of being shut-in can be a real season of growth in the Lord.”
Quoting Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung’s MCS135 sermon, the Rev Lee reminds us to ask ourselves: to whom can I be a good neighbour today?
At full capacity, S3P@Faith sheltered eight female stayers, who were Malaysians and Singaporeans ranging from middle-aged adults to the elderly. Some had been living in public spaces for years, some were displaced from their housing by the COVID-19 situation, while others were Malaysians unable to return home due to travel restrictions.
A team of staff and volunteers from both churches were responsible for practical and pastoral care. Part of the work was ensuring that requirements such as cleaning standards, temperature-taking, safe distancing and contact tracing protocols were met, which received approval from MSF authorities before the shelter was opened. During the stayers’ time in the shelter, the team also provided them with emotional support. One stayer even received Christ because of the love she experienced through the community of volunteers.
“When I came [to Faith], it was an eye-opener for me… In all my life, in Singapore, I had never been to a church. I was received with open arms, everybody was very friendly, and I was very, very touched,” said another stayer.
For the Faith MC family, S3P@Faith was a practical way for them to take a step towards building a more inclusive community. Faith MC sees every encounter with these members of society as opportunities to bring our kingdom family to those around us both in thought and action, as whatever we do for the least of us, we do for Him (Matt 25:40).
Meanwhile, Toa Payoh MC (TPMC) has been operating as an S3P since September 2019, and will continue to do so after the circuit breaker has ended. With COVID-19, TPMC saw an increase in referrals for rough sleepers to their shelter. Knowing that rough sleepers are especially vulnerable during these challenging times, the TPMC team saw this as an open door for them to serve and to share God’s love.
Apart from keeping the space clean and comfortable, implementing safe distancing measures and providing food and drinks, TPMC also looks out for their guests’ mental well-being by slowly building a relationship of trust. Every occupant is assigned a social worker who journeys with them and helps them move forward, be it in terms of housing or other pressing issues. In one case, a businessman, who had started sleeping on the streets after his business folded, reconciled his rocky relationship with his father, and both are living under the same roof once more.
TPMC was also on the lookout to meet the community’s needs in any capacity that was needed. With stocks in our blood banks running low during the circuit breaker period, TPMC conducted an Easter Sunday blood drive in partnership with Red Cross Singapore. More than 120 people turned up, and 98 packs of blood were collected from the one-day event.
The Rev Ming Feong Ching of TPMC reminds us: “If you are feeling helpless and anxious about the situation you are in, I want to encourage you to remember the goodness of God. Remember the faithfulness of our Lord. Remember how God has seen us through every storm we have faced in the past. He has delivered us in the past, and He will see us through the storm of COVID-19.”
For Aldersgate MC, becoming an S3P was an extension of the efforts of various members who had been reaching out in their own ways to rough sleepers. They then decided to respond as a church to meet this need, in a prayerfully considered decision.
This ministry was new to them, as they had had no prior experience in running a shelter. However, with an eagerness to learn, and the guidance of many experienced partners, the Aldersgate team cleared these initial hurdles to get the shelter up and running. They also expressed their thanks to FMS(P) for agreeing to open the shelter on school grounds. Additionally, the Encounter Fund was initiated in May 2020 with donations from church members and worshippers, in support of Methodist Welfare Services, HHOS and the Covid Migrant Support Coalition.
It was extremely heartening for them to see the whole Aldersgate community taking ownership of this initiative, as seen by the forthcoming responses to calls for volunteers, befrienders and donations. Aldersgate MC is grateful for the opportunity to respond to God’s call in a tangible way. “As Methodists, we must love our neighbours by being missional and by practising social holiness. Our mission is to advance His kingdom on a daily basis, being and making disciples who worship and follow Jesus,” says Pastor-in-Charge the Rev Dr Lynette Sathiasingam.
Even as we emerge from the circuit breaker period, we hope to continue honouring our Methodists who have been reaching out to neighbours in need, and to inspire others to do the same!
By the MCS Communications Team / Photos courtesy of Aldersgate MC, AMKMC, AMKCMC, AMKTAC, Faith MC, Queenstown CMC and Toa Payoh MC