It was a chance encounter in 2017 that sparked off the desire to support Filipinas working in Singapore. Helen Gianchand writes about how God led her to start the Migrant Workers Ministry to bring His love to “the Sunday Ladies”.
One Saturday in 2017, I was waiting for new friends in Hall 605 at Suntec Singapore—we were going to attend the 5pm service at City Harvest Church together. They were late, and I waited for more than 30 minutes. Service inside the main hall already started so there were only a few people in Hall 605. A number of these were domestic helpers who would be waiting for their employers and the children who were attending the separate services at 5pm.
I noticed two Filipinas having a serious talk, and one of them was crying. I asked them what was going on and found out that the one crying was facing marital problems. Her husband was having an affair and her kids were in the custody of her mother-in-law. I wanted to pray for her but suddenly the kid of her employer called out to her, “Aunty! Aunty!”. She immediately wiped away her tears and smiled at the little girl, as if nothing had happened.
My visitors arrived and I went with them into the main hall but I was not at peace. I felt so much for that lady. Since that encounter, I would sit in the area near the Harvest Kidz rooms while waiting for the 5pm Saturday service to start, and chat with the helpers. I discovered a lot: most of them were single mothers with young children, who had been abandoned by their husbands.
I shared this with a friend, Ana Elbo, who is a potential cell group leader in my cell group. Surprisingly, she also had the burden to reach out to this group of women, so we made a plan to befriend them. So every Saturday, while they were waiting for the children of their employers, we would sit there, listen to them and eat with them. The more we spent time with them, the more desire to shepherd them grew. They needed the Lord, they needed a deeper relationship with Him, and they need someone to take care of them.
I knew it was not going to be easy, given my schedule on the weekend, giving Bible study on both days, but the conviction was so strong that I decided to start this ministry. I was blessed by my Friday cell group members—made up of Filipino professionals—who volunteered to give these ladies Bible study so I could rest some weekends.
WINNING THEIR HEARTS
Our first few attempts to approach these ladies were quite challenging. There would usually be a group of three to five of them in Hall 605. Ana and I would offer to bring them to attend service in the main hall, but they could not leave in case their employer’s children came out to look for them.
So we began attending service on Sundays, and dedicated our Saturdays to spending time with these ladies. Some would talk to us but most of them would not even look at us. Eventually, we found out that they were not comfortable considering us friends because we are professionals, and they are domestic helpers. It could have been because they felt since we were not in the their shoes, we could not understand their situations.
But I believe that our genuine care and persistence helped to win their hearts. We would intentionally find out when their birthdays are, then we would buy them cakes and celebrate with them. When I saw them crying as we sang “Happy Birthday” to them, I knew that their hearts would soon be open to us. It all began with building friendship and spending time to pray for them until we started our regular Bible study sessions at Hall 605.
We started the ministry in 2017 with four domestic helpers, and we conducted the Getting Started Bible study series in Hall 605. Out table there became longer and longer as we attracted more domestic helpers to join us. There were also few employers who approached me on the spot and asked if their helpers could join the Bible study.
Now, we have more than 80 regular Bible study attendees. At our recent Christmas party on 4 Dec, 120 people came. About 30 percent of them are the domestic helpers of our pastors and members, and the other 70 percent join us at our outdoor and house fellowship—the house fellowship is held at my home. We would invite them for fellowship, build relationship through cell group, then bring them to church.
We meet up often. We have an ongoing cell group meeting at my home every fourth Sunday, and a prayer meeting every second Sunday of the month after church service. We also hold events like Family Day at the Botanic Gardens, on Sentosa or at the East Coast Park, house fellowship to celebrate birthdays, BBQ, KTV, cooking and baking sessions, and we regularly fellowship over lunch after every Sunday service.
We are all one cell group: I have five connect groups with five connect group leaders.
UNDERSTANDING THE HELPERS
Domestic helpers come to work here because they need to—they have few viable alternatives. The difficulties they face as too many to mention. I feel so much for them, what they have been through, their sufferings, the physical and emotional pain and the abuse they endure.
Many have husbands who have cheated on them and abandoned them and their children. Some of them were physically abused by male relatives who are drunkards and drug addicts. There is one helper sends everything she earns back to the Philippines because her parents continue to borrow money from small-time lending companies. Another one has been working for years to pay off her deceased parents’ hospital bills. There are also helpers who are not allowed to access the wi-fi in their employers’ homes and so they have no means to contact their family members.
There are also those that suffer abuse. One helper served a female employer who had depression and mental disorder and abused her verbally and physically. She endured it for a year, until a neighbour reported it to the Ministry of Manpower and she was rescued. Another one lost so much weight after one month because the employer would not include her in the family’s food budget. She was given only $10 only as her food allowance for a month, so we supplied her rice and canned food.
Being away from their families is very difficult for them. There is the helper who is hurting because while she is taking care of her employer’s children and is their favourite Aunty, her own children hate her and refuse to talk to her, because they think their mother doesn’t love them. These helpers feel helpless and guilty they cannot even help their own kids to do their school homework.
There is also a helper whose daughter was sexually abused by a neighbour. She almost wanted to give up on life, but through her cell group, she regained hope. During the pandemic, one helper’s father passed away but she was unable to return home for his funeral.
These are just some of the cases, there are many more. But the good news is through our ministry we have been able to help some of them. Here are some of the breakthroughs God has brought to our members:
- A member who was abandoned by her husband for eight years received her breakthrough after her water baptism. The husband repented and came home, and the Lord restored their marriage.
- A member desired to provide for her eldest daughter’s university education. After faithfully giving her tithes, her employer offered to pay in full for her daughter’s school fees. Her daughter is now a second year student in Nursing.
- A member was in debt when she came to the cell group. We taught her to give tithes, now she is free from debt and able to buy things for her family.
- A member suffered from depression and trust issues because of the verbal and physical abuse she encountered from her own family. Today, she is a connect group leader and very passionate in shepherding her members.
- A member who experienced depression found a very generous employer who let her study at the School of Theology while receiving her full salary. This employer is not even from CHC! She is the only domestic helper to graduate from SOT, and now she is serving as my most efficient connect group leader.
I know that God has placed this ministry here to find hurts to heal and needs to meet, and we will continue to see great breakthroughs through Him.
THE GIFTS OF THIS MINISTRY
Through this ministry, those around me have seen why we must reach out to different groups of people and bring them to Christ. If they are not in my cell group, they could be in other places or in the company of friends who drink and engage in wrong relationship with other migrant workers. They could be there doing illegal sidelines and exhausting themselves too much just to gain a few extra dollars. They could give up and continue to live in lack and poverty in the Philippines.
Luke 19:9-10 says, “And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’” Salvation is for everyone! Our domestic workers need to be saved together with their family members. The lost don’t just need finding, they need saving. This is why Jesus came into the world—not only to find people, but to save people.
Luke 4:18-19 reads, “‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’”
I believe that living in poverty is not part of God’s plan for these women. God wants to see them prospering; He wants to free them from oppression and bondage. I have witnessed it! We taught them how to give their tithes and be faithful in attending cell group and services, and many lives have been transformed. Some of them have been able to build their own house, buy a farm and rice fields for the family. Some of their children are now pursuing university degrees in Nursing, Education and Engineering. All because they chose to depend on the grace of God and seek His face.
I always see myself as a shepherd than a leader. My greatest desire is to see my members to have a deeper relationship with God. I want to see them become passionate in serving and prospering to display an inspiring testimony to others.
In my Friday Group, most of them are career-oriented and accomplished: consultants, engineers, nurses, IT professionals, teachers. I have learned to cultivate their various gifts, appreciate their generosity and direct them to excel in the marketplace for Jesus.
However, in my group of domestic helpers, I have learned to appreciate the simplicity of life. I have seen courage, strength and perseverance. I wonder, how can they go on and still laugh despite all the hardships in life? I have witnessed tears of joy every time they share testimonies. I believe that they are the most grateful people in the church. They give thanks for the angpows they receive from their boss, they cried with excitement when they share that their kids have started serving in church, they give thanks when they are granted four weeks off after working for the same employer for years.
Not only that, I have experienced true generosity from them. There was a time when one helper gave one month of her salary to bless the Filipino SOT students when she found out that most of them struggled with their daily expenses here in Singapore. There’s also one helper who gave generously to the ministry of an SOT alumnus from Bacolod.
I wish to see this group grow and multiply. Two years ago, I trained praise and worship leaders and preachers. My desire is to raise up a cell group leader from this group in 2023 or 2024, and more Bible study teachers and counsellors.
I want to see them happy and being a blessing to their employer’s family. They will be the most dependable partner in their boss’s household. I want to see them having self-esteem and moving on from all past hurts. I want to witness how God will break every bondage of poverty in their lives. I want to make them feel valued and loved by people around them.
I want to see all of them enjoying the love of Christ and extending the same love to their families and people around them.