Late last year, an MWS family service centre conducted a groupwork session for mothers and children whose families struggle with violence and abuse, poverty and unemployment. Their social workers and counsellors had referred them in the hope that they would benefit from the groupwork curriculum and be equipped to overcome their adversities.
I was invited to the final session as a guest of honour and to share some thoughts. After considering a few ideas, I settled on a message around “You are not alone”, thinking I would remind them that help is available in the community.
On that day, I arrived early to find that the participants—six adults and 14 children—had already gathered. Laughter greeted me and I caught some of the light-hearted conversations in the room. As I approached the women to thank them for their presence, they plied me with accounts that spoke of the deep bonds they had formed with their caseworkers and fellow groupwork participants.
These women had become fast friends and cheerleaders for each other in the marathon of life. One woman shared how other mothers often texted her to encourage her to hang on during difficult moments, even offering to care for her children if she needed help.
The children were chatting about school, friends and the food provided—casual banter about simple things in life.
As the closing session kicked off, the mothers were facilitated to speak words of affirmation to their children. Many of them had highly strained relationships with their children because of the intense pain that they personally had to deal with daily. That day, however, all six expressed their love for their children and re-dedicated themselves to caring for and protecting them. In return, the children reached to embrace their mothers. I could not stop my tears from welling up.
It then dawned on me that I had gotten it all wrong. In my mind, I had reduced the complexities of these families into a singular, linear narrative—that of “victims”—and put myself on a pedestal, as if being a social work professional suggests I have life “all sorted out”.
These women and children are much more than victims. They are people capable of desiring and developing relationships with others like themselves, and willing to extend beyond themselves for others. Like me, like us, they are complex beings with both vulnerabilities and strengths. They are as complete an embodiment of humanity as any one of us is.
Proverbs 11:25 reminds us: “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” As we give to those who are in need and struggling with life, we are often blessed in turn, by God, and many times over, by the very people we serve.
During this season of Lent, as we mobilise Methodists to perform acts of love through The Giving Methodist campaign, my prayer is for us to relate to our beneficiaries as fellow sojourners in life, all deserving of God’s grace and mercy. I pray that even as we serve, we will “in humility count [those we serve] more significant than [ourselves]” (Phil 2:3).
Cindy Ng-Tay is the Director of Professional Standards at Methodist Welfare Services (MWS), and a lifelong champion for those broken by distress in families. Her personal mission, which mirrors that of MWS, is to bring about interventions that will heal and help families break out of generational strongholds.
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