The year 2020 brought about many changes, a key one being social distancing. Because of the pandemic, City Harvest’s School of Theology suffered all kinds of disruption, with students having to go for lessons online. As the Class of 2020 graduates this weekend, one SOT student recounts the most unusual year the school has ever experienced.
By: Melissa Koh
“Do you feel like you were shortchanged in SOT this year?”
This is a question I get asked very often when people hear I am in SOT. Truth be told, the Class of 2020 did miss out on many things that School Of Theology students traditionally experience. However, there were also many things that became uniquely ours.
I am sure every student started SOT 2020 in February feeling excited, looking forward to the seven-month course at City Harvest Church’s Jurong West building. Having heard wondrous accounts from SOT alumni, they would have imagined spending break time bonding with fellow course mates over kopi and chee cheong fun, eye-opening deliverance sessions with Pastor Mike Connell, and of course, the highlight of SOT: heading overseas on a mission trip in our teams.
I can remember the day we were introduced to our teams. Levels 4 and 5 of the Jurong West building hosted a flurry of activity as everyone scrambled to find spots for their teams to gather and have lunch together. I met my team which was made up of Singaporeans from Pastor Aries Zulkarnain’s zone and Christians who are ministering full-time in Indonesia. We were all excited to learn more about how God has moved in each other’s lives, and I was looking forward to spending more time getting to know each of them.
I was fortunate enough to have had a handful of meals with different groups of friends from SOT—I even joined a ukulele group hosted by a classmate—before the coronavirus effect set in.
FROM SAFE-DISTANCING TO TOTAL DISTANCING
On March 16, the cohort moved from the cozy Level 4 hall to the basement auditorium where we could practice proper safe-distancing during class. Some of us were glad because we had seats with a fold-out table which made note-taking so much easier. Our lives were still not too disrupted at that point–just like students from other SOT batches, we would still be rushing to Jurong West to get our attendance taken by 8.45am, find a seat in the auditorium and prepare our hearts for morning praise and worship. During break times, we would see students gathering near the pulpit, taking turns to ask Pastor Lin Jun Xian or our principal, Pastor Bobby Chaw questions on the lesson we just had.
Looking back, it was such a privilege to be in the house of God every day of the week, to be able to gather physically with hundreds of brothers and sisters in Christ.
As March wore on, the Singapore government began to put in stricter measures in an attempt to contain the virus. We could not meet at Jurong West anymore. We started attending SOT classes via Zoom—from our homes or hostel rooms—with our Dalgona coffees in hand. We fellowshipped via occasional lunches over Zoom with our teams. It was five days of Zoom sessions a week, starting with praise and worship, followed by a study of the word of God with our SOT lecturers, peppered with stories of their encounters and testimonies. Instead of being in a classroom setting, it almost felt like we were having personal lessons with our lecturers—all we saw on the video were their faces for four to five hours a day.
We are the first (and hopefully last) batch of SOT students who have had to fight Zoom fatigue. Being unsupervised, it was also way easier for us to get distracted by WhatsApp chats and social media feeds. The Holy Spirit, being my omnipresent Teacher, convicted and reminded me to honor the things of God. Without needing to be physically in school, it felt as though we had so much more freedom to behave as we liked. However, this new measure of freedom also required a greater level of consecration from us. The Lord sees our hearts.
The silver lining to these online lessons were the question and answer sessions with CHC’s senior pastor, Kong Hee, and the SOT lecturers. We also had prayer sessions—called prayer tutorials—with some of the pastoral supervisors. Previous batches did not have the luxury of time to do the same. It was akin to having conversations with a friend over a meal, where you could hear them share their heart about what God was speaking to them, and to hear their answers to our questions, about the Bible, their ministry, or issues of our lives. These online sessions also allowed us to ask questions anonymously and our pastors would make an effort to address them one by one. Thank you, Pastors!
FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS
Towards the end of the school term, when Singapore entered Phase Two of its reopening, given the low community cases of COVID, we finally got to resume some classes. Starting August 11, each SOT team was scheduled two precious days of lessons at the Jurong West church building. It was definitely the highlight of the month for us. My teammates went to great lengths planning our break time menu, bringing snacks, cup noodles, coffee, and chee chong fun. The feeling of being physically back in the church building was indescribable–it was like having a drink of water after being in the desert for months. As I worshipped God that morning, I realized what a privilege it has been to able to sing to God freely in church all our lives. Though we could not sing out loud because of the safety measures, the presence of God was so tangible in our midst. I am glad to report that none of my teammates had Zoom fatigue that day.
Many have called the COVID-19 season a divine reset. For me, it has reminded me to be thankful for the things I may have taken for granted, like gathering together in church at Suntec Singapore, having meals with my cell group, praising and worshiping in church. I am certain that our Father is still in control, that He knows beginning to end, and in His perfect timing, He will heal our land of this virus He did not send.
I learned in SOT that there is no word for “coincidence” in the Hebrew language. God who has foreknowledge would plan for everything to work for His redemption plan. Hence, I am certain that every single student in the SOT 2020 batch was handpicked to be equipped for His Kingdom for such a time as this. This is clearly not an ordinary time, a time when a plague of biblical proportions has swept the lands, killing 921,000 people worldwide at the time of writing; a time when even non-believers agree that this is could be a divine reset.
Proverbs 16:9 reads, “A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” My hope is for every SOT student to have the full school experience. For our batch, because we made the choice to go this year, it is undeniable that we now have a greater love and understanding of the Word of God, a stronger faith with more reasoned trust, more hunger for the things unseen, and new friendships with like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ. By God’s grace, I can say that SOT Class 2020 is more ready for the new normal world than we were seven months before.
To God alone be the glory!