This month, CHC marks its 33rd year of existence. City News speaks to four staff members who have worked for the church for decades, and gets them to share the ups, downs and the meaning of serving in God’s house.
The church is not just a building. At its core, the church is people, people who are loved, valued and chosen by God.
The staff of CHC shares a calling—each person plays a part in the plan that God has called the church to. They are united by common spiritual goals and serve shoulder to shoulder in one place.
The staff also shares a common sense of destiny and purpose. It is this strong bond that ties the organisation of 169 together. Over the last 33 years, the CHC staff has experienced highs and lows, mighty exploits for the Lord along with heavy challenges and sacrifice. Heeding the call to serve full-time in God’s house is no walk in the park, but for those who endure, there is much fruit, reward and joy.
7 May 2022 marks CHC’s 33 year as an organisation. City News talks to four staff members of the church, some of whom have been part of the organisation even before “City Harvest Church” was registered as an organisation. They share with us the joys their work brings, the sorrows they have braved, and the reasons why they do what they do.
SERENE KOH: “THE PRESENCE OF GOD IS THE HALLMARK OF CHC”
Serene Koh, 49, is a foundational member of the CHC staff. In 1992, at the age of 19, she joined the organisation as a zone supervisor, looking after church members. This was when the church office was located on the second floor of a shophouse on Mackenzie Road.
“It was always a dream come true, to work in that office,” Serene says, adding that there were fewer than 10 people on staff at that time.
The married mother of one has spent the last 30 years being part of CHC’s office and is one of its longest serving staff members. After a period of working as a zone supervisor, Serene was made personal assistant to the senior pastor, Kong Hee. A self-proclaimed “very disorganised” person, Serene’s administrative skills were developed as she served the senior pastor, while her pastoral skills—she was a lay cell group leader at the same time—were honed by Sun Ho, the church’s co-founder and wife of Pastor Kong. “Pastor and Sun were the best mentors I could ask for,” she says.
Following that post, Serene went on to the School of Theology department, which runs the church’s Bible school attended (until the last two years of COVID) by students from all over the world.
In 2006, she took on her present role as head of the pastoral administration department which supports CHC’s pastors and zone supervisors. In addition, Serene is the church’s liaison officer who sees to members that call the church in search of pastoral aid.
In Singapore, to work in one company for three years is a long time by today’s standards. To work for the same organisation for 30 years is practically unheard of.
For Serene, being part of CHC’s office for three decades has happened because of the leading of God. She says with gratitude, “At every step of the way, God gave me a word.”
The burning desire to be close to God and to dedicate her life to serving Him was what motivated her to join CHC full time. “There’s no better place to serve than here in this place, which is like the gate of heaven to me,” she says. “The presence of God is the hallmark of our church—this has always been the place I feel the presence of God, until today.”
Looking back 30 years ago, Serene shares that her entry into full-time ministry took place one week after she made a memorial prayer to God. “We are often encouraged to pray earnestly and to cry out to the Lord if we want Him to move in our lives,” she says. “That is exactly what happened—I got the job after I cried out to God. I feel that God really heeds the prayers of His people, prayers that come from the depths of your heart.”
Throughout her time in CHC, Serene has made scores of friends with members of the church staff, but it is her closest colleagues in the departments she has served in that she considers her tribe.
She is particularly proud of the pastoral administration team, which demonstrated a strong willingness and dedication to serve in different capacities during the last two years of the pandemic. From the managing the e-ticketing system to allow church members back to live service, to assembling COVID care packs, Serene says that throughout these two years, this group was ready to respond, adjust to the different changing needs and be available for the members, for her, and for one another.
She has rarely faced a shortage of manpower, despite the challenging COVID season, because the pastoral administration team members consistently go beyond their job description. “If there is something that needs to be done, they say, ‘don’t worry, we have your back’.”
She also has deep care and appreciation for the pastoral staff of CHC.
“No one has paid a greater price than the pastors and zone supervisors, simply because they are on call, 24/7,” she notes. “Even when they are in pain or they’re tired, or sick, they are there for their members. For that, I gladly serve the pastoral staff.”
The demands on the pastoral department go from “standard” issues like preparing for sermons and counselling members to the occasional unexpected situation. Serene recalls how once, a member’s parents walked in to CHC’s Jurong church premises to seek help from pastoral staff when they discovered their son was missing. A hunt for the young man was organised, and he was eventually found, safe and sound. “Sometimes, at all hours, pastors and other pastoral staff are called upon to solve these issues,” she explains. As the liaison, Serene’s role is to be the bridge between worried parents and pastors.
Serene is proud to be part of a church that carries the presence of God, not just during service but beyond the walls of the church. It brings her back to her first days as a newcomer to the church, when service was held at Duke Hotel.
“When I walked in, I felt like this was what church was meant to be like, making the presence of God so real to the attendees,” she describes. “That first encounter with the presence of God left an indelible impression on my mind, and that same presence I felt tangibly 30 years ago is still undeniably present in CHC.”
IAN CHONG & TAMMY LIM: SERVING THE GREAT CALL TOGETHER AS A COUPLE
Tammy Lim, now 48, came to City Harvest Church at the age of 14 and was one of the 20 pioneers who were there when CHC was registered as a society in 1989.
Her first designation was pastoral worker, but she explains that way back in the beginning, every employee took on whatever roles they needed to meet the various demands of the church. There was even “job rotation”, she says, adding that she has been a zone secretary, a zone supervisor and a receptionist. She also served as Sun’s personal assistant and was part of the Crossover team.
Mission trips were also part of her job. “I was not yet 20 when Sun and I went on a mission trip to the Philippines that Pastor Kong organised,” Tammy remembers. “My job was to support Sun as she did home visitations and prayed for the sick. It was an eye-opening adventure for me!”
Ian Chong, 49, joined the church as a janitor in 1995. “We had just acquired Hollywood at that time, and I felt that being a janitor was the best thing I could do,” he shares. “I was very proud of my job: taking care of the house of God.”
Cleaning the building and washing toilets was part of his daily work. He explains his view: “A janitor in the house of God has high value. To me, if you’re working in the house of God, any job is of high value.”
He adds, “I gave my youth, my strength to cleaning Hollywood Theatre and making sure it was spick and span, and enjoyed it. I had no regrets even though it was hard work.”
Ian went on to serve in the church bookstore under the manager, Pastor Aries Zulkarnain. It was here he developed a love for reading. Eventually Ian became a zone supervisor, a post he has held until today.
While he was still a janitor, Ian met Tammy when Sun introduced them to one another—“we were matchmade by Sun,” quips Tammy. “I had to wait for him to finish cleaning so that we could go out and paktor (date).”
As their relationship grew, Tammy started serving together with Ian in his zone. “I truly felt like his helpmate—we did everything together, ministering and meeting the needs of the members.”
Serving God in His house may be a dream come true for many young Christians, but the reality of life—having to juggle work and family—can make the journey challenging. When Ian and Tammy got married and started a family, the dynamic of their relationship began to change due to new roles and responsibilities, particularly for Tammy when they started having children.
In the late 2000s, Tammy became the executive director of CityCare, a now-defunct social enterprise and subsidiary of CHC that conducted volunteer trips to help those in need in and outside of Singapore. Things became stressful when, in the 2010s, the church trial involving senior pastor Kong Hee and five others happened. It turned out to be a most stressful and emotional decade for the couple.
Ian shares that in the early years of the trial, he distracted himself with his family because it was “heart-wrenching” to see what the church was going through. As the years went by, he also saw a number of close colleagues leave to pursue different paths. Without those friendships, serving God sometimes felt lonely for him.
“[But] By and by, I began to see that God is still good to CHC—that is really a miracle,” says Ian today. The pain and hurts took a while to pass, but God began to do an inner healing work within him.
That same period, Tammy also went through extreme stress. She was pregnant with her third child when CityCare wound up and she was now faced with going for job interviews.
When there was a job opening for a volunteer manager at CHC’s community services arm CHCSA, Tammy applied, and got the job. “I’m still working through this with God, because my role now is very different from what I used to do,” she says candidly.
Despite all they went through the last decade, the Chongs maintain a positive attitude and sweet spirit, having let their trials develop fearlessness and strength. Ian shares how he has learnt to be content and to stop comparing himself with others—this helps him to not feel frustrated if he ever feels he has less financially. “It doesn’t make a difference if we have more or less,” says Ian. “Our trust is in the Lord.”
Tammy shares that the tough times made them “stick together and not complain too much”. “Overall, my life has been a fun adventure with God, but I’m still learning to surrender to Him,” she says. “I have no regrets serving Him these last 33 years, because I feel fulfilled serving His purpose.”
These last two years, despite the pandemic, Ian has experienced a renewed fire and zeal for the things of God. “I think the Lord is going to bring forth more hunger for Him… that everyone will be awakened and really understand that this relationship with God is really the most important,” he says.
”If you are a full-time member of the CHC staff, but it’s just a job to you, you’re missing the point,” Ian asserts. “The point is, you serve in church because of your relationship with the Lord.”
Likewise, Tammy says that the last three decades, she has served in this church because of God. “What made me who I am today is really God. My security, my confidence is in God and the church. I think without the church and without God, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she says.
MICHAEL CHAN: CAPTURING THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH THROUGH THE LENS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
While he may be largely unseen behind his camera, Michael Chan’s photographs serve as a powerful chronicle of CHC’s journey through the years. He has been there through the good, the bad and the ugly: the Crossover Project, the disaster relief missions, even the court trial that marked the 2010s.
“Ministry is not about impressing Jesus,” says Michael, 52, a married father of two. “Rather, it is a by-product of your relationship with God. For me, it is the Holy Spirit that leads me to capture moments in the life of our church.”
As the senior photojournalist for CHC, Michael’s job is to oversee the photography of church activities, big and small. This includes weekend services (the main English services and the weekly Chinese service), and when needed, the Dialect, JAMs and HarvestKidz services.
With his colleague Daniel Poh, Michael also takes photographs for Church Without Walls outreaches, mission trips, disaster relief efforts, and many other duties including photographing people and events for City News, social media and editorial purposes. There is also backend work that he oversees, including archiving and tagging of all photos, and the training of Photography Ministry volunteers.
Photography is a labour-intensive task that often goes unnoticed. For Michael, the willingness to do it well comes out of his love for the Lord. “We have to prioritise our relationship with God,” he reiterates. “Coming to the altar means valuing that personal connection with God above all else. Even when there is a lot of do and ways to improve, all that cannot supersede your walk with God. It is only out of that love that what you do becomes meaningful and precious.”
Michael came to church when it was still known as Ekklesia Ministry. As he watched many of his peers enter full-time ministry at the church office, it birthed in him a desire to join the staff.
His journey as a member of the staff was not as straightforward as others’, but God had His plan for Michael. In 2001 he joined CHC as a contract web designer, later switching to a full-time position. He then left the employ of CHC to work in an advertising agency from 2005 to 2009, before returning to the church as a staff member in January 2010.
What’s unique about Michael is that although he now heads the Photography Ministry, he failed the photography module at school, when he was a Year 2 student taking Temasek Polytechnic’s Visual Communications (Graphic Design/Advertising) course.
His skills were hard-earned—he developed most of them on the job. He shares that when he travelled with the Crossover team to capture the tours, his skills were still rather raw. Back in the early 2000s, photographs were shot on rolls of film—Michael admits he made many mistakes and used a lot of film.
But he persevered, like Obed Edom, in serving the house of God. As he tells his ministry members, serving God is not about being perfect—it’s about being faithful.
To Michael, the best part of his job is the chance to “capture history”, even if the work can get repetitive, or even dangerous, like the times it took him to places like Haiti where CHC’s mission teams conducted disaster relief work after the 2010 earthquake. He knows he is making a difference because those photographs capture “significant milestones”, not just for those on the trip but for the church.
It is not only the big events that make a difference, says Michael. God can use very small things to touch someone’s heart. He tells of a church member who had drifted from her cell group. One day, her friend shared with her a photograph that Michael had taken at a salvation altar call. The photo touched this member’s heart, and she decided to reconnect with her cell group.
“It was a very ordinary photograph, there was nothing exceptional about it. No nice angle, or dynamic lighting—it was just two friends responding to an altar call,” Michael remembers. “But you never know how God uses our pictures to bless someone, to encourage them.”
It has been more than 20 years since Michael began working at CHC, but he is continually refreshed by how God uses what he has to offer.
“I believe that photos, even videos, are a medium that God uses to encourage believers. It is a form of visual encouragement that serves to sustains a person’s mission or keep them in hope of what God has promised them.”