City Harvest Church’s associate pastor Tan Yah Lan tested positive for COVID-19 on March 31. She was discharged from the isolation facility at D’Resort Downtown East on April 27. CityNews speaks with her about her 28-day COVID experience.
On March 22, Pastor Tan Yah Lan, an associate pastor at City Harvest Church, went to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) to get tested for COVID-19. She had received a call that a church member she had come in close contact with was confirmed to be a carrier of COVID-19.
Without knowing what being swabbed was going to be like, Tan was nervous about having something go deep into her nasal passage. Fortunately, Xanthe Chua, a CHC member who is a frontline healthcare worker was on duty at the screening center that day. Xanthe conducted the test on Pastor Yah Lan, doing it so gently that she felt no pain, even though, she admitted, it was uncomfortable.
Pastor Yah Lan headed home to await the swab result. Meanwhile, she had been informed by the Ministry of Health (MOH) that she needed to be on 14 days’ quarantine in a room by herself, and to not be in contact with any of her family members. She was relieved when her first swab test result came back negative.
However, on March 30, Pastor Yah Lan started to develop a fever that went up to 38.6 degrees Celsius. Sensing something was not right, she called the MOH hotline to inform them that she was experiencing symptoms. Within two hours, an ambulance arrived at her house to bring her to NCID for another swab test and an X-ray. After five hours there, she was sent home in an ambulance to await the results.
On March 31, Pastor Yah Lan received a phone call at 1pm, informing her that her second swab was positive for COVID-19 and that an ambulance would arrive within the hour to bring her to the isolation ward. She had to pack her belongings and essentials and say a quick goodbye to her family before the ambulance took her away to NCID.
Pastor Yah Lan stayed at NCID for a week—she had no other symptoms the rest of that week. On April 6, she was discharged from NCID, and transferred to the community isolation facility at D’Resort Downtown East, where she shared a room with another patient until her discharge today (April 27).
Pastor, when you were first diagnosed with COVID-19, what went through your mind? What were you most worried about?
I was most concerned about whether this was infectious, and whether I had spread it to my family members. I was also concerned about my children’s and my mother’s feelings—how they would be worried about me, and how my children would cope when I was away. I was also concerned about the well-being of the members and friends who came for the funeral where I was in close contact with the member who had COVID-19. I was also anxious about my health condition.
Your husband Kai Kong and your children also had to be quarantined at home. Can you share with us the biggest challenges of being away from them, and how you as a family dealt with those challenges?
As Kai Kong has been busy at work even during this period of time, my two children Ann-ya and Joakim have had to be responsible for their own home-based learning (HBL). They share the load of doing housework like folding the laundry, vacuuming and mopping the floor, and washing the dishes. We are grateful for my brother-in-law and my friends who helped with food, groceries and schoolwork when my family was in quarantine for 14 days.
How did you spend your days while warded in NCID and at D’Resort? What do you miss the most?
At NCID, the room is air-conditioned and the windows cannot be opened. We were confined to the room and not allowed to walk around in the ward, so I missed the sun and fresh air.
In D’Resort, I turned off the room air-conditioning in the day. I could walk to a small balcony linked to my room and enjoy fresh air. Though we were also confined to the room and not allowed to walk around the premises, I was contented there.
My day started at 7am: I would wake up and do some light exercise. I would spend another 20 minutes meditating, and then have breakfast. At 9am, I would start to reply texts from the night before because I put aside my phone by 10pm every night. I’d do my quiet time and read the Bible. I also read books. At D’resort, I also cleaned the room and washed the toilet.
At 1pm, I would have lunch, then continue to read and pray. I’d catch up on news and also rest. At 5pm, I would exercise again, have my dinner, and fellowship with my roommate. At 8pm, I would connect with members. At 10pm, I would do some meditation and worship before bedtime.
What were some challenges you faced during this period in terms of managing your family, and your work as an associate pastor (overseeing a zone and also other ministries)?
Thank God for technology that allows us to be connected during this time! As my children are going through HBL, I would call them in the day to ensure that they are managing well. I would give them another call by the end of the day just to have conversations with them to talk about their day.
I have members who are giving birth or hospitalized, and members’ parents who are sick or have to go through surgery. As much as I wished to be with them physically to pray for them, I could not, so I took time to pray for them and also recorded prayers to send them over the phone.
Besides these urgent needs and prayer requests, I did not do much for work. Instead I took this time to rest.
Could you share with us about the background of you supporting your member G through the illness of his wife in the UK, and then coming back to Singapore and going to the funeral? What went through your mind and guided your actions as his pastor? Were you at any point afraid or concerned about COVID-19 while you were supporting them?
In February and March this year, it was a very trying time for my members, G and W, who were married and then living in the UK. W was diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2019. They came home to Singapore and two months later, headed back to Cambridge, London to continue with W’s studies, to fulfil her dream of obtaining her doctorate.
Things were going well until in late January this year when her condition started to worsen. I decided to travel to Cambridge to be with them. We spent a couple of days together, and we were hoping that she would be able to come back to Singapore for treatment.
However after my return to Singapore on Feb 23, while waiting for G to make arrangements to return home, news came that W was not allowed to be on the plane because she had pneumothorax (a collapsed lung). We were shattered. Her condition continued to deteriorate over the next few days. I flew to Cambridge again to be with them and she went home to be with the Lord on March 5.
G was heartbroken and in grief. While waiting for W’s body to be repatriated here (it took 14 days), he had to grapple with his loss, and this was also the stressful time of the COVID-19 outbreak. He managed to make it back to Singapore hours before restrictions for those travelling back from the UK kicked in. He showed no symptoms at all for a few days while we were preparing for the funeral. I made arrangements for the funeral and spent time with him as he grieved for his wife. Five days later, he started to show symptoms, and tested positive on March 22.
During this whole time, I simply wanted to be with G and W in their challenging times, to pray for them, support them and to let them know that they were not alone. But in turn, I was more blessed by them. I witnessed their unwavering love for each other. W’s courage and strength never failed to amaze me, and she held on to her faith in God till her very last breath. G was tirelessly looking after her every need as her full-time caregiver in UK. This couple showed me what it means to stand in the midst of adversity.
Were there any messages or acts of love from your family and friends that really touched you or surprised you?
My mom cooked my lunch and dinner every day. She would call me every morning to ask how I was doing and if I liked the food she cooked the day before. My sister and brother-in-law would deliver the home-cooked meals every day, rain or shine. They really touched me by their acts of love.
Pastor Kong and Sun have been praying for me and my family. Sun would also be in touch with me to check how I am doing. I am touched by their love and support.
I’m blown away by the attentiveness of my friends Stephen and Rebecca (who live 600m away from D’Resort) to what I need despite facing their own challenges. My friends Cuen Cuen, who baked and cooked regularly for me and my family, and Andy and Napalie who blessed my family with tingkat delivery, when I was away. There were also different ones who brought food and groceries for me and my family.
Pastor Eileen Toh and the pastoral staff would pray for me via Zoom every Monday. My fellow pastors, friends, colleagues, leaders and members all prayed for me, and dropped me numerous texts to encourage me and checked in on me. I am so thankful for all they did.
Pastor, you spend a lot of time communing with God. What have been your biggest revelations from this experience? Can you share the impact of this experience on your outlook on life, as well as your understanding of God?
On one of the days while I was in NCID, Jesus encouraged me with these verses from Hebrews 4:14-16 (The Message) during my quiet time: “Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.”
I was so touched when I read that we don’t have a High Priest who is out of touch with our reality, but He has been through all the worries, anxiety, sadness, disappointments and frustrations too. He can understand and sympathize with all my weaknesses. As I walked right to Jesus and asked Him to help me, His wrap-around presence and love came and assured me, “It is well with your soul.”
Pastor Kong also encouraged me to take this time to read, pray and think of the Lord. This was the best time to learn complete trust in God, and for me to discover that Jesus can be fully trusted. I learned to slow down, take time, and breathe. In spite of what I was going through, it was a season to learn to be joyful, to allow the peace of God to guard my heart and mind, and to truly rest in God.
What Bible verses did you hold onto and meditate upon consistently during this season? What revelations and rhema did you receive from these verses? Did you see them in a totally different way this time?
This was a long haul for me. There were times of disappointments and loneliness. I felt weary and demoralized, especially after the swab test results came back positive several time. (Swab test results need to be a double negative for a patient to be considered recovered).
Isaiah 40:28-31 has been the meditation of my mouth and my heart: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.”
Isaiah 40 is a message that was given to comfort God’s people while they were in exile and being oppressed in Babylon. The Hebrew word for “comfort” is nahamu (pronounced na-kha-moo). It suggests that though the people are discouraged, depressed and suffering, the words of God through the prophets would bring them hope, encouragement and good news, to ease and soothe their troubled hearts.
The word “wait” is “hope” in another translation. It describes the essence of confident, expectant faith. It also describes the attitude and actions of those Israelites who believed the promises of the Lord and were ready to step out when God began to move. They believed the release was coming; they waited for it. They knew it would happen—they just did not know exactly when.
“Wait” in Isaiah 40:31 is specifically translated to qavah in Hebrew, which means “to bind together”. The essence of this term is about one being in relationship with God. Being able to listen to God, being aware of His presence, paying spiritual attention to Him. Your heart—as in your instincts and deepest affections—is aware of His presence and guidance. In fact, Jesus Himself taught that, without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Waiting works its way out in very deliberate actions, very intentionally searching the Scriptures and praying, providing intense moments of humility, and self-realization of our finiteness. Waiting has brought renewed strength, spiritual perspective and supernatural endurance into my life during this season. I realized I must build strongly on qavah, so that I will live and not get weary, especially when I did not know how and when this would all end.
What lessons would you say you have learned from this unusual experience?
Honestly, this is a humbling experience for me. I always thought I trusted God, but this experience has taught me to trust Him completely, and to slowly discover that He can be trusted.
I’ve learned that to trust is to cultivate intimacy with God. I’ve learned patience, that some things cannot be hurried and I need to let things unfold by themselves, instead of being impatient to hurry to the next important thing. I’ve begun to see what is important and what is not important in life. I’ve learned that when my faith is tested, it stirs up the power within me to endure all things. Our endurance can grow and become stronger. I’ve also learned that in times like this, it is a season of joy, not of frustration or dismay.
Finally, Pastor, we’re so happy to hear you’ve been discharged!
The first swab was taken on Saturday (Apr 25), and I only knew it was negative when they came to do a second swab on Sunday. Just this morning (April 27), I was informed that second swab was negative as well!
I almost thought I didn’t make it. I was anticipating the call from 7.30am, as the check out is at 9am. However, the call did not come even after 9am. Suddenly, the phone rang at 9.20am, and the person apologized for being late in informing me I could be discharged. Within an hour, I had to pack and shower, and get discharged. It’s such a huge relief to be able to be home with my family after 29 days. I’m so grateful to God!