City News traces the history of the City Harvest Children’s Church and how it has touched the lives of the young for more than a decade.
Contributed By Glynisia Yeo
October 7 is Children’s Day and all around the island, children celebrate and are celebrated this weekend. At City Harvest Church, kids are in for a delightful time as Eileen Toh, pastor of City Harvest Church’s children’s ministry, together with her dedicated team of workers, prepare for the annual Children’s Day celebration party this weekend, Kidz Wonderland.
More than 15 years ago, the CHCC ministry began with a handful of volunteers led by Toh.
“Back then, most of the church members were students and not married so there were very few children in CHC. Together with some friends, we volunteered to take care of the children and started conducting weekly Sunday School classes,” she describes.
As the children’s ministry began to take shape, God was also doing a work in CHC.
GOING BEYOND CHURCH WALLS
It was in 1995 when City Harvest’s senior pastor Kong Hee and his wife Sun had just returned from a conference in Hawaii. They came back challenged to start what they called the “Church Without Walls program,” which was an initiative to go beyond the four walls of CHC and meet the needs of the community, touching individuals like the elderly, the intellectually-challenged, youth at risk, families and children.
With this vision, CHC members began to reach out to the lost and unsaved people outside the church, sharing the love of God. Within months, thousands of people were blessed by the efforts of CHC members as they gave their time, effort and even finances to spread the love of God around them. They went all out to “find a need and meet it, to find a hurt and heal it,” as the saying went.
The church grew rapidly in number as people from the community began to flock to CHC, having been touched by the love of God that was demonstrated in practical ways by its members. As every department in CHC was going through tremendous growth, the children’s ministry was also experiencing a revival of its own.
Toh and her children’s church team planned an evangelistic outreach event on Children’s Day in 1996. They went to the residential estate in Ghim Moh without
much of a concrete plan. Toh was only prepared to simply befriend the children she would meet at the estate and to casually invite them to the Children’s Day party.
She recalls, “We met some children playing basketball and our volunteers went ahead to play with them and befriended them. After the game, we asked if they were interested to attend our Children’ Day party and they agreed. These kids came to church in their slippers, carrying carrying plastic bags but we were ready to include them in our activities.”
As Toh and her volunteers began to get to know the children better, they also organized block parties for them and befriended their parents and families along the way, showing a genuine concern and love for these people even though they were not members of the church. As a result, many of these children became the first Christians in their families.
“That Children’s Day event in 1996, we saw an overwhelming attendance of 300 children who came through our neighborhood outreach efforts!” Toh recalls. “The work didn’t stop there as we continued to do the same thing in other estates such as Ang Mo Kio, befriending the kids and inviting them to church. We also visited the poorer estates in Singapore and reached out to the street kids, who subsequently brought their classmates, neighbors and friends to our children’s church. This was how our ministry began to grow.”
In the midst of the revival that was happening among the children, Toh saw a need in the area of the children’s studies, a chance to help those who were weaker in school. She organized free tuition classes on a weekly basis to help these kids improve in their schoolwork.
The children’s church team followed this formula tirelessly, and within four years since 1996, the children’s ministry grew from 40 to 900 children.
Toh first heard about Bill Wilson [see story on cover] when she, together with three friends, attended a conference in Kuala Lumpur in 1995. “That was the first time we heard Pastor Bill Wilson preaching and we were immediately captivated by his sermon. It was a simple message and a call to respond to be a teacher. Somehow all four of us responded with tears in our eyes. I believe something happened in our hearts that day and we knew that our lives would be transformed. That night, I read one of Wilson’s books, Whose Child Is This? which changed me and my mindset about reaching out to children.”
One of the things Toh remembers from that conference was this phrase that Wilson uttered: “If you know why you are doing it, you will know how to do it!” Those words moved her heart and she sensed God telling her that He would use her to reach out to the next generation if she was willing.
Kong and Sun had heard Wilson preaching in Hawaii, and this led to a sharing of hearts and a unity of vision between Toh and her senior leaders as they envisioned reaching out to people beyond the church. And just as CHC launched its Church Without Walls program, Toh too stepped into her destiny to head one of the most exciting chapters in the church’s children’s ministry.
Today, CHCC has an attendance of 2,500 children on a regular weekend and each week, the teachers and volunteers visit over 2,000 children on weekdays.
GROWING BEYOND THE DREAM
The Children’s Church today is closely patterned after Wilson’s ministry. While some changes were made through the years, the core values of constant outreaches, home visits, transporting children to church and meeting needs are a direct result of his ministry.
“I visited Metro Ministries in 1998 and saw firsthand how Metro Ministries conducted their Sunday School. It was an unforgettable moment for me as I witnessed Bill Wilson’s ministry come alive before my eyes. From the bus ride I took that Pastor Wilson was driving, to watching the children sit and listen attentively in the service, I was deeply impacted. Everything was done in an orderly yet loving manner.”
Toh implemented certain aspects of Metro Ministries into her children’s church programs when she returned to Singapore. What she also did was to adapt the service settings to suit the local context to meet the needs of the children here. For example, Toh introduced age group teaching so various kids from the same age group could receive more age-appropriate teaching and activities.
Toh also developed other aspects of the children’s church ministry, drawing on the creativity of her workers and volunteers. One of the first milestones they achieved was writing their own curricula, Dream Factory 1 and Dream Factory 2, which are now used by other churches outside CHC. Previously, Toh used materials from Metro Ministries or other overseas resources.
In addition, Children’s Church has ventured into the creative arts, producing two children’s praise and worship albums, First and God Of My Universe,
with songs composed by the Children’s Church’s own singers and musicians, as well as three full-scale musicals, When I Grow Up, Special and Fishball Ping
Pong, which celebrated the artistic talents of the kids in children’s church.
REACH OUT AT ALL COST
Toh attributes a significant part of the ministry’s success to Bill Wilson’s influence in her life and that 1995 KL conference, which left a permanent stamp in her heart regarding the direction of the children’s ministry.
When Wilson visited CHC between 1996 to 1998, he helped to lay the foundation of the children’s church in CHC, strengthening the team and inspiring them
to reach out at all cost. More than a visible pulpit ministry, Wilson also showed a new dimension of what real love was by practically demonstrating the love of God to those around him.
Those early days were what motivated Toh and her team to always do their best to serve God and the children. So whenever you catch a glimpse of the enthusiasm and efforts of the teachers and workers in children’s church, you know why they do it with so much passion and drive—it’s all about loving God and loving His people.