“Trust and obey, there is no other way” is a popular Christian slogan. For five 2020 graduates from City Harvest’s School of Theology, this was not just a saying but a way of life. Some obeyed God and crossed oceans to enrol in SOT; others fought cancer while adjusting to online classes and exams. Against all odds, they graduated from SOT and won the Courage Award.
JOELLE KONG: ALL FOR A DEEPER RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
For Joelle Kong, 30, enrolling in SOT 2020 was not an easy decision to make. “But I chose to obey God because I wanted to have a deeper and more intimate relationship with Him,” she said.
In November 2018, Joelle was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer and had two-thirds of her large intestines removed. She was only 28 then. Following the surgery, Joelle had chemotherapy. That did not stop her from enrolling into SOT in 2020. Despite having a list of medical appointments to attend post-surgery, she took a step of faith and trusted that God would make this journey adventurous and memorable.
It was indeed memorable. COVID hit, and SOT went online. Technology helped Joelle’s team to bond and interact with one another, celebrating birthdays over Zoom, and keeping each other updated through text messages.
Joelle was keenly aware of her limitations due to her health. “Naturally, I was most worried about the deadlines for our assignments and exam revisions. My weakened immunity also meant that I would often get tired easily,” she said. Moreover, Joelle had to help her dad at his hawker stall on weekends.
“There were days I had to take medical leave for my appointments and would miss classes. But I thank God for the recorded lectures and for my friend, Elizabeth, who would always share her handwritten notes with me,” she recounted. “My team leader, Jacqueline, often texted me to ask how I was coping with SOT.”
Throughout the seven months, there were many times that Joelle wondered if she could really complete the course. “As the modules got tougher, I realized that I needed to revise more diligently and pay more attention in class. On top of that, living with my mother also created some friction and frustration at times.”
It was only when Joelle started learning to draw strength from God, to depend on His strength, and to submit all her burdens to Him that things became better.
“I had to learn to be gracious to my mom and love her more. I would often pray and ask God to teach me how to love her, showing her grace and mercy,” reveals Joelle.
To Joelle, the most impactful encounter was when she received inner healing during a ministry sessions with Pastor Choong Tsih-Ming over Zoom.
“I felt God’s presence in my living room healing my wounded heart. I could feel His intense love flowing throughout my body. After that encounter, I was able to show my love to my mother better, and I also felt a change in my mother. She was able to better express her love to me and wasn’t so easily frustrated or angered. This change helped me to cope with my emotions,” said Joelle.
At the end of the school team, Joelle came to understand that going to SOT was one of her callings and all the blessings that happened were truly through faith, by grace, and in Christ alone.
“Thank you team leaders for nominating me for the Courage Award. My revelation upon receiving this award is that ‘Courage is not the absence of fear but knowing that God walks with you every step of your way’.”
“I am so thankful for my family, friends, and my cell group and everyone who has helped me by walking this SOT 2020 journey with me,” she added. “Most importantly, a big thank you to my Heavenly Father for loving me for who I am and not forsaking me at my lowest.”
HAYASHI SHIZUKA: STEPPING OUT OF HER COMFORT ZONE
Mdm Hayashi Shizuka, 61, literally stepped out of her comfort zone when she traveled from her home in Japan to a hostel in Jurong West. She did it just so that she could pursue God at the School of Theology.
“In 2015, my daughter attended SOT. During her graduation ceremony, I decided I would enrol in SOT when I retired,” she said in Japanese.
Living with people of different cultures and ages required great love and understanding from all parties. When her fellow hostel mates dropped by for some food and started eating without washing their hands, she had to gently remind them like a well-meaning mother.
But the communal living created many happy memories. “We were celebrating a friend’s birthday and had to borrow a lighter from our neighbors. After singing the birthday song, we turned the lights back on and we saw others celebrating with us too—some came into the house and some stood by the window outside the unit. It was very heart-warming, I have never experienced this before.”
That was before COVID-19 struck. When the pandemic started spreading worldwide, Mdm Shizuka prayed and trusted that God’s hand of protection would be upon her family, friends and her ex-colleagues who are nurses. She gave glory to God, for not one of them contracted the virus.
The pandemic brought about other challenges for her, especially when SOT went online. Prior to SOT, WhatsApp and Zoom were completely foreign to Mdm Shizuka.
“Every morning, when I clicked on the Zoom link, I was unsure if it was the correct link. Only when the worship leader started singing, then I knew I was the right place,” she laughed. Nevertheless, she picked up these skills quickly— and now, even a cross-country Zoom interview is no problem for her.
Aside from gaining new skills, God did a work in her heart too. There was a time when Mdm Shizuka had difficulty asking for help, apologizing and thanking others. During SOT, with everything going online, she found that by God’s grace, she was able to ask for help and apologize if she was unable to do certain tasks. Time and again, God proved Himself faithful by sending someone to help her out or lift her spirit. “It doesn’t matter how old we are, try your best, and God will definitely send someone to help you,” she encouraged.
Stepping out in courage turned out to be a rewarding journey as God brought her to a whole new level of intimacy with Him. “The biggest thing that happened was that God spoke to me, and told me that in His eyes I’m so accepted, loved and precious to Him,” Mdm Shizuka said. “Even when there was no one else in the room, God was so close to me.” These precious encounters strengthened her God-given identity.
CHEW CHWEE KIM: LEARNING FAITH THROUGH CANCER
Chew Chwee Kim is not your average 62-year-old. She considers herself young and is full of life. But one thing scares her: studying and taking exams.
“One of my girlfriends wanted to sponsor my fees for SOT. I told her no,” Chwee Kim said. She was a fairly young Christian at that time and felt that she did not understand the Bible enough to attend Bible school.
“The second time, she told me, ‘Once you miss this chance, there will never be another one’. I agreed without a second thought,” she shares.
Looking at the fact that there would not be SOT next year, Chwee Kim is now glad that she heeded her friend’s advice.
“Reading the Bible is a little tedious for me,” she admitted candidly. “Give me a love story and I can finish in one day. Because there is no test, no exam—those are what give me pressure.”
When she realized that she had to write 800-word book reviews as assignments, Chwee Kim started to panic. “My girlfriend, Janilaine Lau helped me with the first one. The second one, I asked my group leader, ‘Can you give me an extension?’ He said no.”
Janilaine also could not accede to Chwee Kim’s request to help her with the second assignment and Chwee Kim had just two days to submit it. “Most of the time, I hid in my room and cried because I didn’t know how to what to write,” she said. “But God is really good. All of a sudden, when I started doing the assignment, everything was okay, I found I could write. When I finished, I realized I had 806 words.”
When Cindy Ng, SOT’s administrator, realized that Chwee Kim was a new Christian, she gave her the option of not doing assignments and exams. “But I asked her to let me try; if I really can’t, then I’ll stop. So I was really happy when I passed my first exam!”
This was her attitude–whenever she faced challenges in life, she would do her best. Even when she was diagnosed with colon cancer in June, Chwee Kim remained cheerful.
“From the time I was told I had colon cancer, I have felt no fear,” she said boldly. “I tell everybody, it’s because I know that God is with me and I have faith in Him. One day, I received a vision of God telling me, ‘I have to let you go through all these in order for you to know what pain is. So that you can relate to people through your experience.’”
Despite going through an operation in early July, Chwee Kim continued doing all her assignments. She prepared sermons and even went for her preaching tests. When she failed her exams, she continued to press on and sit for re-examinations.
What gave her the motivation to continue her studies even when she was in pain? “I could cope, so I did everything,” she explained. “If I went for a medical appointment, I would get the recordings of the lecture from school. If I could not sit up and join the Zoom lesson, I would listen in bed. I would do the assignments when I was fit enough. And I’m very stubborn—even when the pain came, I would go to the doctor only after the class. I didn’t want to miss all the teaching and preaching. In the recordings, you can hear the teacher’s voice but you can’t see his actions.”
“All the pastors are good, but I especially like Pastor Ming,” she said, laughing at the memory of his preaching. “He is so funny and I love listening to him. He really livens up the class.”
One thing about SOT that encouraged Chwee Kim the most was her team. “My Team 8 is beautiful. When I was in the hospital, they met me on Zoom every night to pray for me. Every night we would have fun, so I looked forward to 8pm.”
“I want to thank all my brothers, sisters and my SOT Team, the pastors, my friends, and family members for their love and care, buying food and blessing me,” she said. “Especially Janilaine Lau who filled my freezer weekly with meat and salmon until I had to stop her.”
KATHRYN WONG: GOD TURNED MY SITUATION AROUND
Matthew 13:45 reads, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Through this rhema word, God planted a desire in Kathryn Wong to pursue this one pearl of great price: God, Himself.
“Pastor Bobby Chaw (Principal of SOT) shared about it at my church, and I realized that I had a desire to learn more from God and to know Him more,” she shared.
Kathryn serves as an Assistant Zone Leader and cell group leader in Skudai Harvest Church in Johor Bahru. She had plans to travel back and forth across the causeway to serve every weekend during her time in SOT. Shortly after SOT started, Kathryn’s elderly mother fell ill and required her to care for her, so traveling back to Malaysia became even more essential.
However, the border between the two countries was closed due to the pandemic, and her plans were disrupted. Kathryn felt helpless and found herself breaking down in tears from the pressure and from missing everyone at home.
But what the enemy meant for evil, God used for good. Kathryn managed to arrange with her brother back home to help to look after their mother.
“Because of COVID-19 and the border closure, I started connecting with my cell groups back in JB more than before. We had Zoom meetings three times a week, to fellowship, to pray, and for me to teach them what I learned at SOT,” Kathryn explained. “My husband and I also began to pray for half an hour every night through video calls. We prayed for our family and friends, naming them one by one.”
Spending time together online helped ease her longing for her friends and family back home. Over time, prayer also built up their inner spirit man and strengthened her marriage.
The challenges were not few. “Right before my first SOT examination, I received news that my church friend was in a dangerous condition, having to be resuscitated twice. He went home to be with the Lord that morning,” Kathryn recounted. In those few short moments, while grieving for her friend, she soldiered on with administrative duties, coordinating the cremation and funeral before starting on her test paper. It was even more heart-wrenching for her to be away from home that day, to be physically absent from her friend who had lost her husband.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, it is not by my own strength,” Kathryn admitted. “God gave me this Courage Award as an encouragement, but I feel this award should be for everyone instead, to motivate all students.”
“When we hear Pastor Bobby preach, we see Jesus exemplified in his life,” said Kathryn. “That is what I desire to learn to do, to exemplify Jesus in my life.”
JOAN TAN: GIVING MY STRUGGLES TO GOD
“My biggest struggle during SOT would definitely be my health issues,” said Joan Tan. 60. “Especially during the preaching tests: I would only sleep at 2 or 3am each night as I had to prepare for my recordings.”
Joan is a cancer survivor who is still recovering from chemotherapy. Due to the stress of juggling school and treatments, she suffered a fall in June and was sent to the hospital.
“They put me in a cast and only when my daughter brought me to a private clinic three weeks later did we find out that it was only a torn ligament that would eventually heal by itself,” she recounts.
But those three weeks in the heavy cast gave Joan much pain and discomfort. She wasn’t able to rest properly and her body started to develop multiple illnesses.
“It started with hives that eventually became so big, like roti prata, around my neck and I found it difficult to breathe. During my visits to the hospital, I started to develop shingles as well which caused a lot of pain and drove me to depression.”
On top of that, Joan also found it hard to cope with the SOT exams and she became very discouraged. “Some of my friends even chided me and told me that it was my fault for enrolling into Bible school at this age.” Their words cut her deeply and Joan started crying out to God asking Him why He allowed her to undergo such pain.
“Thankfully, I have many other supportive friends, a wonderful team in SOT, and an amazing family that stuck with me through all my struggles,” Joan reminisced. “They constantly prayed for me and gave me the courage to renew my mind—to not look at my circumstances but instead to fix my eyes upon Him and choose to speak life into my situation.”
One of those who stood by Joan was her team leader. Two months before graduation, Joan called her with the news that she was giving up. “It was my team leader’s perseverance and reassurance that gave me the strength to continue trying once more,” she shared.
Two verses that Joan clung tightly to in these difficult seven months were Philippians 4:7 and Exodus 14:14.
“I knew they were a revelation from the Holy Spirit as these verses were never my favorite, but they simply came to me one night,” she said. The Holy Spirit taught Joan to give her struggles to God, and He was faithful in showing up. Through it all, Joan counts it as her blessing to be able to attend Bible school at her age.
“Slowly, the peace of God started to enter into my life and it thoroughly changed my mindset. It showed me that the reason I realized I struggled so much was that I sought to do well for my personal achievement. But when I learned to let go, to trust God and relax in His presence, I knew that God would take over. The struggle may still be there but I’m no longer affected by it.”
SOT not only widened Joan’s mind and knowledge of God, but the journey also brought her so much closer to Him.
“One thing I learned about the Holy Spirit is that He’s not just a force, but He is really a Person. When I was struggling, I found that He has been standing next to me all along. The moment I am willing to surrender is the time He comes and just takes over.”
Receiving her graduation certificate was a joyful and meaningful moment for Joan. “It is so precious to me because it really wasn’t about what I achieved or what I could do with the certificate, but rather, it showed me God’s goodness.”
On receiving the Courage Award, Joan was reminded by a good friend not to treat it as an idol, but as a reminder of how God’s goodness. “He said, when you look at it in the future, be reminded of this journey that God has brought you through and that you are an overcomer.”
“If I could offer a word to encourage those who are struggling, I would remind them of Proverbs 3:5-6,” she said. “In all our ways, let us continue leaning onto God and not on ourselves. We may not fully understand, but we know that our victory comes not from our personal strengths, but that it is because of Him and He will surely come and direct our paths.”