From the time he was newly born-again, Kenny Low was called by God into a lifetime of service.
Kenny Low is many things to many people. To the students of City College, he is Mr Kenny, school principal and, until recently, a teacher helping those who need a second chance at passing their ‘O’ Level exams. To the dancers of O School, he is the man who started it all, giving street kids a purpose and significance through dance. To the beneficiaries of CHCSA (City Harvest Community Services Association), he is the executive director who is leading the organization through a time of renewal. To his family, he is the steadfast husband of Serina Wee, who is currently serving time following the trial of City Harvest Church’s pastors and leaders.
Low first came to CHC in 1995, when services were still being held at Westin Hotel. Although he never admitted it to anyone else, he had been seeking a God that was real. A tutor, Miss Yang, who taught him in his primary school days would share the Gospel with him and bring him to outreach meetings. “In Primary Five, I prayed to the Christian God because I wanted to be top three in my class,” Low recounts. “It came to pass, and I thought ‘I owe Him one’.”
When Low stepped into the Westin Hotel room for the first time, “the thing that struck me during praise and worship was that these people are singing to Someone. You felt they were inside this space and you were standing outside. This Christian God was very powerful—it was the first time I could feel something. I thought ‘If You are the real one, there’s no need to look further.’ Then Serina Perera (then Wee’s cell group leader) came to me and said ‘How? Would you like to receive Christ?’ and I said, ‘I don’t mind.’ But she was not satisfied with my answer and she said, ‘You will become a Christian.’ I thought about it for two seconds, and I said yes.
“From the beginning, what was very clear to me was God’s Lordship,” says Low. “You become very eager to serve Him, but He is more interested that you get to know Him. He wants you to understand His values, His ways.”
When God gave CHC’s senior pastor Kong Hee the call for the Church Without Walls movement, Low found himself in deep. “That really spoke to me, bringing the Kingdom outside the four walls.” At the 1996 Festival of Praise—Low had been in church about nine months—Kong preached about full-time ministry and gave an altar call. “I heard three words: ‘Are you willing?’” recalls Low. “Time froze, and I had to make a choice.” When he went down for that altar call, he heard another three words from God: “I saw you.” “That was it. I knew that it was a promise [I had made]. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do; I just felt like I’d signed off on some title deed.”
The first year Low was in university studying to be an accountant, he had an epiphany during a lecture and decided to change his course of study to Business and Applied Economics. He had much less studying to do, and could lead four cell groups during his undergraduate years. Plus, to this day, Low says he still applies what he learned in university.
Before he graduated, Low was offered a job by the church to run tuition classes. Part of the Church Without Walls movement included a tuition ministry where tutors coached young members of the church and helped them to excel in school. It was the start of Low’s lifetime ministry of helping the needy, particularly youths.
One day, when he was walking home past Bedok Reservoir, where buildings were being constructed, Low asked God, “What do you want me to do?” The answer came, “Build me a school.”
He obeyed. City Harvest Education Centre (CHEC) was registered with the Ministry of Education in 2002 and was set up as a sub-department under CHCSA. It was also the first year of the Crossover Project in which Low was involved as a dancer. CHEC had 20 students in its first year and it flourished despite him being away most of that time.
Then Kong told him, “Plan me a concert.” Low found himself producing Sun Ho’s whole concert—the show that played across the Asian region and reaped a harvest of over 140,000 souls.
As the project grew, Low felt that it was good to have a Singaporean choreographer who could grow with them. Someone told him about Ryan Tan and Low attended one of Tan’s classes, offered him the post of choreographer for the Crossover concerts, and that began a beautiful relationship that has created a ripple effect that resulted in O School being set up in 2006 and a dance movement happening in Singapore. O School birthed competitions like the Singapore Dance Delight and the popular Super 24, as well as the lauded Asian urban dance competition The Big Groove.
In 2016, CHCSA found itself in a season of change, and Low found himself returning to the organization where he began—this time as its executive director. The organization had been through a lot, particularly in the years of the CHC trial; it had seen a decline not only in works and donations but also in volunteer numbers.
“The first thing I tried to do was connect CHCSA back to the church,” says Low.
“CHCSA was birthed to carry out the Church Without Walls vision, bringing the goodness of the Gospel beyond the four walls of the church. To enter into the social service space, we thought that putting aside our Christian identity and association with the church would help us to be more ‘considerate’ of the multi-religious landscape. However, no matter how much we tried to separate or identify ourselves as ‘CHCSA’ the community still saw us as ‘City Harvest’. To them, these two are one entity.
“So let’s embrace it. We are City Harvest. And if the community trusts us and is open for us to serve, we serve. If they are apprehensive, we respect their decision.”
CHC and CHCSA are interdependent, says Low. “We are the social service arm of the church, an extension of CHC in a non-religious landscape. We carry the values of the church, we are resourced by the church; but for CHCSA, the harvest is not souls, but Kingdom values.”
Low took on the role and began to pare down and build up again. He started by making sure that the organization was able to operate on a balanced budget. Next he strengthened the team, which had endured a number of departures. The current team is smaller, but well-focused. Low also began building bridges with the community and grassroots leaders such as the Member of Parliament over Pine Close, where CHCSA’s House of JOY is now located.
The return to the heart of Church Without Walls saw church staff and members volunteering for various activities, from English classes to excursions and festival activities. With clarity in its mission statement and a more involved Board, Low feels CHCSA is now positioned to grow by doing better.
“When people talk about what CHCSA should be doing, I ask, ‘What is the pain you feel? How would you like to serve? What is stopping you from serving?’” he says. “Every work [CHCSA does] has its genesis at Church Without Walls: it starts with one person helping one, just as Jesus reached out to people, one by one.”
Low says concerned friends and family members have asked if he is okay and if Wee is okay. “Honestly the answer is more complex than yes or no. I miss her. The kids miss her. Her parents miss her. But we also know that she wants us to be well, and she will do her best to be well too, and to walk towards the day we can be together again.”
He adds, “You cannot measure the Christian life by what happens to you. The core thing is, He is the King, and you are the subject.”