These past 20 years, City Harvest Community Services Association (CHCSA) has brought the Church Without Walls vision to the streets.
“Kong and I had an encounter with the Lord when we attended a conference in Hawaii in February 1996,” says Sun Ho, co-founder of CHCSA. “Jesus spoke to us to ‘find a need and meet it, to find a hurt and heal it’, and to build Him ‘a Church Without Walls’.”
“When we came back and shared that vision, it resonated deeply in the hearts of our members. We began to reach out to the poor and needy, broken and wounded in our community, to make a difference in their lives with the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.”
The rest is history: in 1996, 778 church members actively volunteered in the Church Without Walls projects, sacrificing time, finances and energy to creatively reach out to neglected children, delinquents, at-risk youth, the intellectually-disabled, dysfunctional families and destitute elderly. A year later, volunteers initiated care projects for HIV/Aids patients and the hearing-impaired, and after that, multiple sclerosis patients and their families.
“Through the volunteers’ selfless hard work, the spirit of loving, caring and sharing was demonstrated in a very real and practical way. Not only did it bless those we helped, it made us (CHC) a more loving and compassionate people.
“With the resounding success of the Church Without Walls projects, City Harvest Social Services Association was formally co-founded by Pastor Kong [Hee] and I in August 1997. We then had our office at Joo Chiat Road. Its name was later changed to City Harvest Community Services Association in the year 2000.
“CHCSA is the non-religious branch of Church Without Walls, seeking to serve the community with our resources, regardless of their faith.”
CHCSA received full membership with the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) in January 2000. It is registered as a charity under the Charities Act, and is an Institute of Public Character.
“The uniqueness of CHCSA lies in its belief that while active social care is important, it is just as crucial to engage the community to take ownership of social challenges,” says Kenny Low, executive director of CHCSA.
CHC, along with churches like St Hilda’s Church, was one of the organizations involved in the Community Outreach Programme to the Elderly (COPE) spearheaded by Marine Parade Community Development Council in 1999. Out of that, CHCSA developed House of JOY in 2011, a eldercare center which not only tends to the physical needs of the elderly, but reinstalls a purpose in those they help. Beneficiary Yew Yock Ching, now 71, used to live in isolation, until the persistent outreach by CHCSA volunteers coaxed her out of her shell. She became a volunteer with House of JOY, bringing cheer to other senior citizens who come to the center.
CHCSA has evolved over the years while still holding on to its mandate. This has meant that when a need is met, the service may develop into a new format or cease in favor of another need that requires attention. CHCSA’s interest is in finding gaps in the social sector and filling those gaps.
Likewise, its direct services also are a bridge for those in financial trouble—low-income families already on welfare may experience a period where other financial aid sources cannot support them. CHCSA steps in to provide subsistence for them in the interim period, a service few others provide.
In 2004, when the Asian Tsunami hit, CHCSA lived up to its mandate and became the first organization to send a disaster relief team into Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
MOVING WITH THE TIMES
The social scene has developed rapidly over the past two decades. “Giving” used to mean putting 50 cents into a tin on a Saturday morning and getting a sticker to ward off others selling flags. Today, giving involves not only cash donations, but much deeper involvement including fundraising and volunteering.
Volunteerism is something that CHCSA has championed from day one, starting with the congregation of CHC. The organization’s various arms have been buoyed by strong volunteer support—many of these volunteers, such as those in First Hand, the service for the terminally-ill and MS Care, the support network for multiple sclerosis patients and their caregivers, are long-time volunteers who find deep satisfaction in giving their time and support.
The times have also brought along changes in expectations and requirements from the Commissioner of Charities, Singapore’s authority overseeing charity organizations including an emphasis on good governance and financial accountability.
As CHCSA evolved, it became clear that some of its arms should be subsumed by the church, such as RAYZ, the outreach to the intellectually-disabled which had partnered constantly with CHC’s Jesus for All Minds church, Mighty Men in the Making which is now the church’s prison ministry and Talking Hands, now a ministry to the hearing-impaired who attend CHC.
“God is in total control of CHCSA and we should trust Him in good and bad times,” says Ho. “I am very grateful that we had the financial support and manpower to do so much from 1996 to 2010. CHCSA was never started to make a name for ourselves. We just wanted to help the poor and needy, and make a difference among the broken and wounded.
“We will still do the best with what we have and trust God for the rest. A little does become much when we place it in the Master’s hands.”
Scaled down but no less effective, CHCSA’s core services today are eldercare services, via HOJ, direct social services, patient care and youth and community projects. Low has recently added a volunteer manager to the organization for the purpose of amping up what CHCSA has always been strong at: providing volunteering experiences that make an impact on both the recipient and the volunteer.
“In the past 20 years, with the support of the church community, CHCSA had been able to render practical help for the poor, needy and marginalized through our centers, programs and events,” says Low.
“Moving ahead, the team seeks to build a stronger alignment with the other Church Without Walls teams to become a more effective vessel for the display of God’s goodness and positive difference making by His people.”
“Looking back on the past 20 years, I stand in awe of God for using us to touch tens of thousands of lives in Singapore and abroad,” says Ho. “To all the volunteers who have played a part in CHCSA, be it big or small, you have made a real difference. Because of you, someone’s burden got a little lighter, someone’s life became a little better, someone’s heart became a little wider to receive Jesus’ love. Your kindness and sacrifice have been worth it.”