Because City Harvest Church members were not afraid to knock on the doors of strangers to invite them into the house of God, CHC’s Dialect Service was started in 1996, and its volunteers and staff continue to serve the dialect-speaking, mostly elderly congregation with passion.
Answering the call of their senior pastor Kong Hee to reach people beyond the four walls of the church, many cell groups in City Harvest Church went out to nursing homes and suburban estates with one-room flats to meet the needs of the elderly in Singapore.
“We knock on their doors, introduce ourselves to them and befriend them,” recalled Lee May Chuen, who has been serving Dialect Service since 1996. She was just a teenager when she followed her cell group to visit the elderly. She did not really know what to do and she did not speak dialect fluently, but that did not stop her from connecting with them.
“The good thing was that we went in pairs, so even if I couldn’t speak their dialect or didn’t know what to say, I could depend on the other person,” she says.
Veronica Tan, another volunteer, remembers organising block parties for the elderly residents. “We would first introduce ourselves to them when they opened their doors to us, then we would tell them about the event we are holding and ask if they want to join us. The elderly enjoyed coming together weekly for food and to play some games. They also liked that there were often goodies to bring home,” she shares.
But knocking on the doors of the elderly was—and is—not always a bed of roses. “Some of them were very fierce and would slam the door [in our faces]. Some of them even sent their dogs to bark at us,” she recalls.
“But when we went from door to door, we could see the actual lives of the elderly, and from there get to know their needs.” The volunteers would then come together to find a way to meet their needs.
“We reached out to them using the CHC Caring System: reach out to them, befriend them, and get to know their needs and meet their needs. Slowly, they became open to going to church,” Veronica says.
When the ministry saw that there was a growing number of elderly residents joining the block parties regularly, they launched a weekend church service for the elderly. In Veronica’s memory, it was three to six months after they first start visiting the elderly folks.
THINGS WE DID TO SERVE THE ELDERLY
John Koh joined the ministry in 1997 and his first visitation was to a nursing home. He would follow the team to visit the nursing home once a month, to sing with the elderly and to befriend them.
Later, he began serving in a cell group for the elderly. “They had cell group every Saturday, for about an hour. I would do whatever I could to help, for example, bring the elderly residents to the (host’s) house, prepare refreshments, and help to build the atmosphere for the meeting,” John shares.
He was also involved in busing the elderly folks to Hollywood Theatre—where CHC used to hold its services—and visiting them during the week. “We just do whatever we can do to serve the Lord. Every week, the service was very packed—even more so on Big Days like Easter and Christmas. Before the Big Day, we would be out almost every day for visitations, going from house to house to invite them for our evangelistic events,” he shares.
Back in the day, John was also involved in drama productions. “I had to attend the drama rehearsals which ended around 1 or 2 am. On the actual day, if there was not enough manpower to do busing, I would also have to help,” he added.
“(When the bus) reached the church, I had to quickly run up to change and put do my make-up. Those were the days when things were very exciting. Whatever talents we possessed, we used them to serve God,” he says.
For May Chuen, she found joy in visiting the elderly each week. “Interaction goes both ways. When you visit them, you warm their heart and make them feel loved. They would then open up to you and you become friends. It no longer feels like you’re serving a ministry,” she says.
She remembers an elderly couple whom she used to visit many years ago. They were in their 80s and lived by themselves. “The husband was a very mild person, and he was bitten by the wife a few times,” May Chuen recalls. The old lady had dementia and act up if she missed her medication .
Even though she did not know Cantonese, May Chuen tried to speak a little Cantonese and Mandarin to communicate with the couple. “By God’s grace, I managed to communicate with him, and he opened up to me. Every week, he would look forward to our visits with a smile on his face—that was so different from the first time we met him.”
As the couple aged, their son moved them closer to his place in Tampines, which was outside of May Chuen’s visitation purview. She had to hand his case over to another volunteer. After two or three years, the volunteer showed Mei Juan a photo that surprised her.
“I had given the elderly man a photo that we took together, and he had put it on the wall. That really caught me by surprise. I feel that I must have really touched his life in such a way that he would put my photo on the wall. That was one memorable thing that showed me that I impacted a life,” she shares.
Besides the usual chit-chat with the elderly, Dialect Church’s volunteers sometimes have to take on frightful tasks, such as like cleaning up an elderly member’s home. Veronica remembers her first home makeover vividly.
“There was this uncle, rather old, who lived alone because he was not married,” she started. He was a karung guni (rag-and-bone) man who kept all sorts of things at home. “His house was infested with bed bugs. The bed bugs sucked his blood. The bed was in terrible condition, and even the walls were covered with bed bugs.”
A team of Dialect Service volunteers went to remove the bed bugs and clean up the place. “All my hair stood up when I stepped into the house,” she laughs. “It was our first time, so we didn’t know what to do—we just tried our best. But now, I’m an expert at housecleaning!”
Veronica and the team also gave the elderly members a new mattress and linen, and a bag of groceries. “It was most memorable for me because we managed to transform the house. The uncle was smiling from ear to ear after the clean-up—it was like getting a new home.”
SEEING LIVES TRANSFORMED IS THEIR GREATEST JOY
Despite having to do these seemingly “dirty” jobs, Veronica finds it a joy to serve the old. “It is an opportunity for me to show God’s love to the elderly and to meet their needs. From being strangers, we become friends, and they slowly begin to open up their hearts to me and I’m able to help them. Then, I’m able to share the gospel with them, and see their lives transform,” she shares.
“The happiest thing (in the ministry) is to get an elderly person saved and water baptised. That is mission accomplished,” she smiles.
John agrees. “The salvation of the elderly is really what motivates me. They have come a long way. Some believed in other religions for a long time before they come to church. To see them lift their hands, or even the simple act like praying is a joy. They are probably already accustomed to their own lifestyle, but they manage to kick their habits like smoking and gambling–to see their lives transform really motivates me.”
“If you ask me, you do not need to have talent or be fluent in your dialect to serve in Dialect Service,” May Chuen says. She adds that the elderly members the ministry sees now are more affluent and no longer only speak in their own dialect.
May Chuen explains, “To be a Dialect Service volunteer, you only need two things: be sincere and put on a smile. Be sincere by showing your care and concern to them, as though you are showing God’s compassion towards them. A smile will warm the hearts of people, so put a smile on your face. It will cause them to be open to you and to receive you into their lives. Through sincerity and our smiles, we can reflect the love of God and tell the elderly folks that God wants to accept and receive them.”
If you’re interested in serving in the Dialect ministry, contact your cell group leader or sign up via www.chc.org.sg/cww.