8 March is Women’s Day! In this special feature, City News has a heart-to-heart chat with four young women aged 18 to 22—who grew up in City Harvest Church, about the things that really matter.
Growing up in church can be both wonderful and challenging. First-generation Christians come in from the outside world because they are attracted and drawn to the church, and intentionally choose to make it their sanctuary. But second- generation Christians are different: they grow up within the walls of the church, never having known any other world. In a way, we can say theirs is not as much a conscious choice for the church, and in some cases, it feels like it has been chosen for them.
This second generation of women sees the church through a different set of lenses than their mothers. They may be more aware of its shortcomings, but this does not diminish their love or loyalty to the church. Rather, they may possess a sensibility when it comes to navigating the expectations of the world while holding on to their Christian values and beliefs.
Four young second-generation Christian women from City Harvest Church share their honest thoughts and feelings about being a woman in today’s world, a world governed by social media, filled with movements and messages. How do they, as products of this era navigate the world, and how does growing up in church and being a Christian inform their ideals and choices?
GROWING UP IN CHC
Shirley Chew, 22, came with her mother to City Harvest Church at the age of 10. She has nothing but great gratitude for the many older role models she has found over the years in church, and the many opportunities to learn skills and express herself in CHC.
It was only when she transitioned from HarvestKidz to a youth cell group that she felt disconnected for the first time. She was unable to adapt to or engage with her cell group, and eventually she settled into the same cell group as her mother, W201, which is filled with older adults.
While some youths may find it uncomfortable being around older people, Shirley loves being in her current cell group. She finds the members of W201 “very wise” and enjoys learning and growing through interacting with them.
Shirley has fully immersed herself in the CHC way of life. During her secondary school years, she served in HarvestKidz and the Tuition Ministry. She attended the School of Theology, and today, she is a ministry writer for City News and guitarist for her cell group.
“My reward is seeing how people are being blessed by what I do and are so touched that we are helping them. We do it out of love for God and for them—they experience God through us,” she explains.
THE PRIVILEGE OF A SAFE SPACE
Denise Lim, 19, was born into CHC—her parents are both members of the church staff, and she is currently interning in City Harvest Church’s Events Department. She is thankful that through her growing up years her parents have given her an avenue to dialogue and share her opinions; even when she and her parents did not always agree, they could always communicate and hear one another out.
“My mom always says, ‘You know, I’m your friend, right? Like you could treat me like your friend.’ By telling me this, my parents create a safe space that they won’t judge me for what I see or what or how I feel. They make me comfortable enough to go to them and tell them about my opinions. I’m allowed to share my thoughts with them so we can have a discussion.”
Growing up in church through the decade of the CHC trial, and then COVID, has not been without challenges. But Denise has great gratitude for the church and its leadership.
“I’m very thankful that the leaders can still carry on to help our church grow,” she says. “Even if it means that we have to take a longer road towards what we want to achieve, it’s very heartwarming to see that we as a church have never once given up.
“As for our leaders, they could have taken an easier way out and chosen to escape from all the heat that we still face now. But they didn’t. I’m thankful we have such leaders in the church that will go to the ends of the world and continue with what they are meant to do with life.”
IN THE WORLD BUT NOT OF IT
If one has grown up in church, does it make the outside world and its freedoms more appealing? How does a young Christian woman achieve the balance of being able to engage with the world but not be swallowed up by the multitude of temptations around her?
Belinda Chai, 18, who has been in church since she was born, there are challenges when in a campus environment, where she is surrounded mostly by non-believers.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to remain holy and Christlike when everyone around you is doing all sorts of other things,” she says. An addition complication is that “on social media there are a lot of people who have had bad experiences with Christians—I don’t want to be that sort of Christian. I want to be be someone who understands where they are coming from.”
The way Belinda navigates these differences with her schoolmates is through understanding. Even though they sometimes have different moral values from her, there is a mutual agreement not to impose their own values on one another.
Belinda honestly shares that there are times she is tempted to stray from her Christian beliefs, or to think about life if she was not a Christian, which may seem easier. But she is convicted that being a Christian is an important part of her.
“It is part of my character, my foundation, it makes me, me,” she says.
NAVIGATING TODAY’S CULTURE
Beyond being a place of temptation, the world today is filled with strife and unrest, an atmosphere where everyone hyper-aware of other people’s mistakes, a pressure cooker environment where one’s personal life is scrutinised through the sharp lens of social media.
To Bethany Ng, 20, “social media is really a double-edged sword”; there is good and bad to this heightened awareness of issues. The bad is that there is a common phenomenon for young people “to rely on other people to have opinions”, and that makes for “a competition of who said what first”.
“People see something and then that’s their first impression of it and then it never changes,” she notes. “That’s such a whack way to think but I also kind of understand it.”
On the flip side, Bethany feels a good consequence of social media and “woke culture” is the recognition of problems that have existed for those struggling or the marginalised.
“People feel more comfortable addressing the things that have happened to them and finding justice for other people,” she observes. “And I feel like that is in and of itself a good thing because people are starting to think and talk about the things they have never wanted to talk about because they were scared of the repercussions. On social media, you’re able to talk about these things and find community—a safe space that understands what you went through and people who sympathise with you.”
It’s a task many Boomers, Gen Xers, even some Millennials find daunting: how does one navigate through “woke culture” without making mistakes or risk being “cancelled”?
Bethany sums it up like this: to her, the baseline is non-discrimination. “These things are not jokes; if what you say hurts somebody’s feelings or insults somebody, or invalidates somebody’s identity, that’s not a joke. That’s just straight up bullying.”
She adds, “the most Christlike thing to do is really just be kind to (the discriminated).”
THE GOOD & EVIL OF SOCIAL MEDIA
If women of previous generations think they had it hard with society’s expectations, they should consider what young women today face, in particular cancel culture—ostracising or withdrawal support of a person because his or her opinions, actions, looks offend you.
Bethany feels that it is unhealthy and reductive. “I feel like cancel culture really kind of criminalises and antagonizes over small things. For example, disagreeing with an opinion is not grounds for cancelling somebody.”
Belinda has keenly felt the presence of judgment when putting yourself out there on social media.
She used to have a social media account for her art when she was younger—sharing her artworks was a vulnerable act on her part. Unfortunately, a follower started repeatedly posting mean comments, to the point that Belinda felt pushed to take her account down.
While constructive feedback helps people grow, an onslaught of negative words, even from strangers, can damage a person’s self-confidence. These days there are even TikTok videos mocking Christians, which are clearly made to offend.
This is why social media can be scary or even a stumbling block for the young person.
Denise shares how social media affected her during her pubescent years. Having a tall frame and an athletic build, she often stood out from her peers and for a season she struggled with overly controlled eating. Seeing “ideal bodies” on social media worsened her own insecurities. However, she found a way to grow through it – by consistent self affirmation, finding her identity in God and also drawing inspiration from positive role models. One such is Hwasa from Mamamoo. She inspires Denise because of the way she promotes body positivity in pop culture and is comfortable in her own skin.
“The reason why I really look up to her is because she sparked this body image movement in Korea,” Denise explains. “When she first came into the industry, she was big according to the Korean pop standards and she was always called out to be fat and not pretty enough. She said, ‘if I don’t fit into the beauty standard, then I would change the beauty standard such that it fits me.’
“That really impacted me a lot because I’m considered big in Singapore, where everyone’s so skinny and small and wants to have that perfect shape. Hwasa reminded me there are people out there who are big-sized and they are still living their lives and achieving stuff. That gave me the confidence and motivation to grow and be comfortable with who I am.”
On the topic of role models, it was quite endearing to hear many of them refer to their own mothers as their role model.
Denise shares how her mother’s life story inspired her to develop inner strength, “It’s not easy for a little girl to grow up in a broken family, and yet be told ‘hey, you have to mature and you have to take care of yourself.’ My mom really influenced me to speak up for what I what I believe is right and who I am, to really create my own story in my life, not to let other people write it for me, because I’m the one in charge.”
Bethany says of her mother, “She’s who I want to be. She’s content with her life. She doesn’t care about what other people say. She loves who she loves, and whatever she gets back, it’s enough for her. She doesn’t find validation in the external world, or things like that. I feel like that’s the kind of person that I want to be, like, super humble and just doing my own thing. I could never be as soft or caring towards people who I gave birth to as much as she is. I always say my mom is my female role model. Because she is.”
As they grow older, this generation’s little women are also starting to look out for those that come after them.
Denise, Bethany and Belinda have younger sisters and/or younger people in church that they are beginning to take care of. Hence, they are starting to feel the weight of responsibility in being a role model for them, even as they are still changing and evolving themselves. In their own individual ways, they hope to do just that: to be a good example, and to be the older sister that they themselves would have wanted.
“I’m living in this world, not for other people but for God,” says Denise. “People can say a lot of things about me, but as long as I know what I’m doing and I’m living life for God it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. I struggle with my relationship with God, as I’m pretty sure other Christians do. The revelations, dreams that He gives me help me accept we are all unique and we aren’t robots.”
Shirley feels that even though she is in a position to teach others, there still so much left for her to learn, and she’s content in that place of looking forward, thankful for all those who have gone before her.
Her advice to any young person reading this story: if you feel called by God to do something, go all out!
Indeed, to listen to these four young women share their hearts and wisdom, one is reminded of what Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”