On a Sunday night, among the neon- lit signboards and back alleys along Joo Chiat Road, Gladys Han and a group of volunteers from Charis Methodist Church (CMC) participated in a joint outreach event with four other organisations to provide health screening for the migrant workers who live in the neighbourhood. Fewer than the anticipated 150 migrant workers turned up but among those who did, one received Christ that night.
The outreach efforts by CMC’s Outreach & Social Concerns (O&SC) ministry is referred to as ‘Joo Chiat Ministry’. It was set up in January 2018 to share the love of Christ to, and meet the social needs of, migrant workers who live in the Joo Chiat neighbourhood near the church’s premises at Koon Seng Road.
Gladys, 66, a retiree who heads the O&SC ministry, tells Methodist Message how it began. “It all started one morning when God stirred my heart. He said, ‘I put CMC at Koon Seng Road for a purpose. How long is CMC going to ignore Joo Chiat?’”
Pray, trust and obey
It was a daunting task setting up the Joo Chiat Ministry. “I asked God, ‘Who in the church would partner God and me?’ I constantly prayed for him to send people to help and teach me.”
Gladys soon found a committed co-founding member of the ministry in Isaac Goh, 46, a self-employed father to two teenage boys. But they did not know what to do or how to begin. She says, “We trusted God and prayed, and he sent help through Operation Mobilisation (OM), an international missions organisation, to partner us in the outreach work.”
Isaac recalls, “We walked the streets of Geylang with OM staff to understand the outreach efforts to the sex workers and migrant workers. Then we started our own prayer walk at Joo Chiat and got to know about East Asia School of Theology (EAST) that is also in our neighbourhood.”
“Together with EAST, we partnered SG Accident Help Centre (SGAHC) for outreach events. SGAHC was started in 2016 to help and rehabilitate the injured migrant workers. Most of their volunteers and members are Christians,” Gladys adds.
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, they conducted their prayer walks through the back alleys where they had first encountered the migrant workers. That marked the beginning of their outreach efforts to this community in Joo Chiat.
God gives the results
At times, Gladys feels stressed over whether there would be enough volunteers and participants at the outreach events, and whether there would be positive outcomes.
She recalls, “At a recent health screening outreach event on 9 October, where we collaborated with EAST, SGAHC, Glory Presbyterian Church and Boscombe Life Church, we were more focused on meeting the targeted number of migrant workers to be screened.”
But a numbers game is not always how God works, as Gladys realised. “An East Asian migrant worker, who had come all the way from Tuas, received Christ. Max (not his real name), a first-time CMC volunteer, used to serve in East Asia and was able to share the gospel in the migrant worker’s native language. On top of that, Max had also lived in the same hometown of this migrant worker, strengthening the connection between them.”
There were times when Gladys and Isaac felt discouraged by the low number of new believers, and by a poor turnout of volunteers for the prayer walks.
“We used to help with the Alpha Ministry and would always see visible results in the number of people who prayed to receive Christ,” shares Isaac. “In comparison, it was more difficult to sustain long-term relationships with most of the migrant workers and lead them to receive Christ. Language barriers also made it difficult for us to share the gospel.”
It has been a challenging four years since the Joo Chiat Ministry was founded. With the partnerships formed with the other organisations, this ministry is now poised to make a difference to the Joo Chiat migrant worker community. There are signs that the ministry is beginning to bear fruit. The migrant workers feel the love and concern of the volunteers and are motivated to participate in the outreach efforts.
Biswas Sumon, a migrant worker in his 30s from Bangladesh, attended a health screening outreach event for the second time. “I feel happy and supported because there are people like Isaac who come to my workers’ quarters to visit me. He keeps in touch with me and cares for me. I will invite my friends to come here too.”
The team at CMC welcomes volunteers to join them in their outreach efforts to the migrant workers in Joo Chiat and the surrounding area. Contact email@example.com for more information.