In Singapore, Captains Leonard Heng and Peck Ee Wong were familiar with The Salvation Army as a charitable organization, but not as a church. In 2006, they moved to Canada, where they eventually became officers, and in 2016, they returned to Singapore as international personnel. Today, Captain Heng is the training principal and Captain Wong is the integrated training officer at the School for Officer Training (SFOT). Features editor Giselle Randall spoke to Captain Wong to learn about their lives and ministry in Singapore.
Can you share your journey to officership?
After we moved to Toronto, Leonard enquired about volunteer opportunities and was directed to Scarborough Citadel. They were looking for a multicultural ministries co-ordinator, and Major Everett Barrow, the corps officer at the time, offered him the position. I joined him later as the family services co-ordinator. We saw the need to belong and so we were enrolled as soldiers.
We entered the field-based tailored training program at the College for Officer Training (CFOT) in 2011 and were assigned as cadets to North Toronto Community Church and then Agincourt Temple Community Church in Toronto. We were commissioned in 2013 and continued to serve at Agincourt Temple for a year, followed by two years at Peace River Community Church in Alberta, before we were transferred to Singapore.
Why did you apply for international service?
We see serving overseas as a missions opportunity to share Jesus with people, and we wanted to experience Salvation Army ministry in the Singaporean context. It is our privilege to be on staff at SFOT, where we can use our gifts in pastoral ministry, teaching and administration to care for the cadets and help guide them in their academics (head), spiritual formation (heart) and ministry (hand) while they’re in this phase of training and equipping.
What was it like to return “home,” but with a different perspective?
After a decade of living in Canada, you could call it reverse culture shock. Many places and neighbourhoods once familiar to us had changed, and it was harder to get around some of them. The population density has increased by a great measure; the malls, subway trains, buses and all other public places are a lot more crowded. People in general are more “productivity” driven than ever before.
We also noticed the widening gap between the haves and the havenots. Those with less education have fewer opportunities, and with limited income must work very hard to make ends meet. Their children are not as privileged as the others in school, as their parents are unable to afford all the extras, including tutoring classes to help them raise their academic level. It’s a vicious cycle.
In my first appointment as the corps officer at William Booth Corps (WBC), we were involved in the community in several ways. I always enjoyed our time at a monthly women’s ministries event, where we shared fellowship, recipes and crafts—such as lanternmaking, Chinese calligraphy and making mooncakes for the midautumn festival—with one another.
We ministered to seniors, who are increasingly sidelined in a culture with an overwhelming focus on productivity, efficiency and technology. Due to their age and growing physical immobility, they may also suffer neglect by their children. We offered a monthly program of simple exercises, sing-along sessions, gospel videos and lunch.
We were also involved at Carehaven, a residential shelter for domestic helpers in crisis. In Singapore, there are many domestic helpers from the Philippines, India, Myanmar and Indonesia, and sometimes they are caught in challenging circumstances. Twice a month, we prepared an inspirational talk, games, crafts and snacks to offer them some relief and encouragement.
In September, I moved out of the corps to join Leonard at SFOT, but WBC continues to reach out to the community, except for the current interruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How has the pandemic affected the Army’s ministry?
Due to the current situation, we are not allowed into Carehaven, but the women are now watching our online Sunday meetings. Two of our corps members have resumed their Chinese and English classes among the helpers. We are thankful to the Lord that one of the helpers from Cambodia has made a decision for soldiership, and we are looking for a way to enrol her even though we still can’t physically gather. She has also expressed her desire for officership, and we’re hoping that she can do so under the Korean Territory when she returns to Cambodia.
How do you understand integrated mission, and how do you live it out in your context?
Integrated mission is to extend what we do in our corps to ministries at our centres, as well as in our community. There should not be any dichotomy in what we do in our corps and the community; ministries should intertwine as one. We are to emulate the spirit of Christ in embracing others that they may come to know God’s love and salvation in a practical way.
Even now at SFOT, we continue to practise integrated mission as trainers and cadets lend help in catering to the needs of Malaysian workers who are stranded here in Singapore and can’t go home due to border restrictions.
We also help with transporting the homeless to venues for transitional housing. With willing hearts toward God’s call to specific projects and purposes, there is no limit to what one can do, whether it be a corps or centre.
Why is theological education so important?
In this territory, we are particularly in need of more Singaporeans who will respond to God’s call to officership. Indeed, the harvest is ready, and we need more labourers, especially those who are willing to be trained and equipped.
Churchgoers in Singapore are generally well educated and informed. Our officers need to have a strong theological foundation not only to teach, disciple and equip corps members as disciplers of others, but also to convince those outside our walls that Christianity is not just a religion that we are propagating. They need to know that our faith and understanding of God’s Word rests on solid ground, that it makes sense and is practical in meeting the challenges of daily living in this fast-changing world.
What gives you hope as you participate in God’s mission?
We have God’s assurance that his plans and purposes for this world cannot be thwarted despite the odds, including COVID-19. We cannot rest our trust in humankind, institutions and governments to improve our lot or offer answers to our social, political and emotional problems. Jesus is our only hope and answer. We believe that when all is done and over with in this earthly world, what awaits us is our celestial home and God’s presence. For these reasons, we count it our privilege to be in partnership with God in fulfilling Christ’s mission for the lost, the last and the least.