The staff of City Harvest Church was looking forward to a restful 2020 as decreed by the senior management. But “rest” did not quite take the form they expected. As COVID forced church services to go online, the head of CityTV (who also heads CHC’s social media team) found herself the person everyone turned to to make service happen… again and again and again. We invited Danielle Ho to share how she and her team managed the flood of work these last two years, and still remain standing today.
At the end of 2019, as the CHC team, we said we’d take it slow the next year (2020), not knowing that the pandemic would hit shortly after the year began. COVID still has us all trying to catch our breaths today. It wasn’t the “light switch” we hoped for—a change in pace—but instead, the gradual emergence of a new normal began.
When City News asked me to write about how I “stepped out of my comfort zone” over the last two years to do the various things I’ve done and initiated, I must admit I didn’t quite know what they meant because, honestly, it’s felt like survival mode for me all this while.
As I lay in bed on New Year’s Eve last year, reflecting on the year that was 2021, I realised that I had not stepped out of my comfort zone as much as it had been repositioned, adjusted and reshaped for me. I was reminded of Isaiah 54:2-4 (MSG): “Clear lots of ground for your tents! Make your tents large. Spread out! Think big! … Don’t be afraid— you’re not going to be embarrassed. Don’t hold back— you’re not going to come up short.”
So, based on this verse, I share the five things that I learned to do these two years that have brought me where I am today.
1. EMBRACE THE TENSION
Let it be known that when you attempt to “clear lots of ground for your tents”, you are almost always going to step on some toes.
When CHC’s senior management team decided to take our church services online in February (just one day after we had discussed that possibility), all of us—CityTV, CityWorship, Audio, Lighting, Visual Communications, Events, IT/IS, among other departments—sprang into action to make our first broadcast happen in fewer than 36 hours. Though creating live broadcast for service was not new to us, the constantly evolving parameters we had to keep—safe distancing, manpower limits, filming, editing, etc—were daunting, particularly on a short lead time. (Read how the team pulled this off)
Pressure mounted as we planned in a hurry. Intensity built as we worked to execute in the midst of the unknown. Everyone had our own ideas of how things should be done.
Someone once said that “Crisis is an accelerator.” My question is: what are we accelerating toward?
I’ve come to realise that all we do at CHC is about love. When we are able to embrace the tension—the stress, the anxiety, the frustration, the differing opinions—we are then able to make each process constructive, help bridge divides, and find a way forward together. Through enduring the tensions, I found my trench buddies: we cried ugly tears, bickered fiercely, hugged tightly, and cheered each other on.
And it’s now writing this that, hey—I realise we had never taken a picture together during those crazy days! So much for being in this time and age of digital presence. But let me say to my trench buddies: you guys made the scary journey a joyful one.
2. ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES
I have learned that “making your tents large” has less to do with numerical growth and more a thing that’s done out of necessity. After we got through that first broadcast, how were we going to make it sustainable, since we didn’t know how long we were going to need to keep doing it this way? Was there a better way? What did our members need in that season?
The longer the “new normal” persisted, the more ideas flowed. Despite the ever-changing safe management measures, rules such as having to work in split teams to avoid paralysing a whole department, and the constantly shifting goal posts of needs versus wants, God showed up in the midst of the chaos every time.
Looking back now, He did exceedingly, abundantly more than we could imagine. We had online churchwide Bible study sessions, early morning online prayer meetings, late night online prayer meetings, worship sessions, IG Live sessions, leaders’ meetings on Zoom ad nauseam, only meetings for adults, online meetings for youths, the relaunch of Church Without Walls, a virtual missions conference for our THN affiliates with close to 100 workshops, and 13 water baptism session for more than 400 church members. All this and more, on top of returning to service on site and setting up the hall for 50, then 250, now 1,000 seats, while maintaining online services for our English, Chinese, Children, Dialect, and JAMs congregations. (Read what it took to bring all these many service online)
My secret to rolling with the punches while clothed in humility and grace (most of the time anyway), lies in having the best team ever. They have seen both the worst and best of me, yet they choose to love me anyway. They fed me, sent me drinks, made sure I slept, took on extra responsibilities to relieve me, and kept things running when my focus had to be elsewhere. For them, I am constantly proclaiming Phil 1:3-4: “Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart.”
To “Spread out! Think big!” (scary exclamation marks!), we need to question the status quo with a focus on actually making things better. One of my favourite authors Adam Grant says, “The joy of learning something new eventually exceeds the pain of unlearning something old.”
When it seemed like bleakness and hopelessness had started to impact our community, the social media team pivoted to feature authentic stories of our members, tackling issues we don’t speak of often in church—those who might not have overcome, those who were still in the midst of their struggle, and of course those who had emerged victorious—to show that God is still real and still working through us and in us.
It wasn’t easy, because most testimonies we hear on stage or through the grapevine are about the miraculous and the supernatural. Because of that, many in the congregation felt like theirs was not a story worth telling, and it was tough trying to convince them otherwise. Kudos to the team who continued to dig deep and push on, reaching out to many of their personal friends one by one, to feature the Christ-reality of love, loss, struggles, breakthroughs and life.
4. WALK THE TALK
This was the part of I struggled with the most: “Don’t be afraid—you’re not going to be embarrassed.” Because who wants to suggest an idea only to have it shot down?
The answer? Nobody. The second answer? Do it anyway.
One of the values I’ve learnt in church since I first came, is to find a meet and need it. So when I saw a post by Bethel Church offering their recording services to other churches in the United States, I immediately took the idea to the team and the SMT.
The Singapore government had announced in March 2020 that all meetings of 250 persons and more had to be suspended. This meant that some churches who did not have the resources to record their weekend sermons at such short notice were greatly affected. I thought it would be good if we could offer them our help since we were equipped.
I didn’t know if we could actually do it because it would have to involve the same production team that handled our online service recordings. We didn’t know if there was actually a need for it. I had no idea how to administrate it. It seemed like piling unknowns on top of a mountain of unknowns.
Thank God for the CHC staff—different departments came together to bless the local churches with whatever God had given them: location, equipment, manpower, gifts and talents. We succeeded in helping a number of churches to record their weekend service messages for a short period before the Circuit Breaker kicked in. But because of the divine connection that now existed, we were also able to provide some pastors with guidelines on how to use simple equipment to film and stream their own services. We were truly blessed to be a blessing! (Read how other churches in Singapore took CHC up on its offer to record sermons for their congregations)
5. GIVE GOD YOUR YES
This one’s personal for me: “Don’t hold back—you’re not going to come up short.”
I think a lot—too much sometimes. For every idea that I have, my brains will throw up 10 reason why it will not succeed. It’s a constant struggle even when I know certain thoughts are from God; you wouldn’t want to hear my conversations with Him asking to be shown the entire staircase before I take a single step.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the last two years, it is to give God my yes. To normalise feeling the fear and deciding to step out anyway, and through that, witness how He does immeasurably more than I could ask or imagine (Eph 3:20)—a lesson I’m still learning after more than 20 years as a Christian.
One such thought I had (and fought) was to step up as an on-camera interviewer in a series of conversations on mental wellness. I could probably have engaged a better-looking interviewer, a more experienced facilitator, or anyone else for that matter. In fact, I was filled with dread while editing the videos: Why was my hair so messy? Why do I keep stepping on my shoe? What was I thinking? My gestures were weird! So many whangdoodles!
But ultimately, I’m glad I said “yes”, because I was so blessed and I learnt so much more than I could have imagined. The story of our church member Gershon Liew and his late wife Wiki will stay with me for a long long time to come. When preparing for the interviews, I also reflected on my own faith crisis many years back and how I almost burnt out in late 2020. Each exchange was so divine, even when talking to Dr Joyce Tan, who answered so many of my questions about therapy and counselling.
INTO THE UNKNOWN… WITH GOD
So how have I stepped out of my comfort zone since 2020? People say “it takes a village” when it comes to raising kids, and the same thing applies to me. In the last two year I’ve done things I would never have imagined doing had there not been a pandemic. I’ve stepped into so many unknown situations, asked so many questions, and learnt so much—and it was all possible because God gave me the village, the tribe I didn’t know I needed.
Our “comfort zones” will shift and adjust as we step out in faith. Each time we push ourselves or allow those around us to challenge us, we grow a little more. I pray that in 2022, you too will find a supportive community that will journey alongside you as you draw closer to God and do what He tells you.