“God doesn’t need a gold medallist to glorify Him”: A national athlete’s journey of faith
by Tan Huey Ying // July 5, 2019, 7:03 pm
National archer Tan Si Lie is the founder of Salt & Light Archery, an archery services provider in Singapore. Photo by Dyan Tjhia.
Not many new business owners in their right mind would agree to short land leases of only three months – let alone extensions of that same length – in a business highly dependent on its premises.
But this 30-year-old operates on a different mindset, having anchored his life upon God’s Word in the Psalms: “Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2)
Motivated by the desire to glorify God with his twin passions of coaching and archery, Tan founded Salt & Light Archery (SLA) in 2016 (not to be confused with this website!), a services provider for everything archery-related.
A national archer for the last 12 years, Tan Si Lie has won medals at multiple SEA Games and has represented Singapore in international competitions such as the Asian Games and the Olympic Qualifiers in 2012.
But in direct reference to the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), a key principle that Tan abides with, he says: “I knew God didn’t want me to hide my talents, but invest them.”
Tan is someone acutely aware of the relationship he has with the Giver and His gifts.
Choosing the Giver over His gifts
It was a conviction sorely tested in 2015.
The SEA Games that year was held in Singapore; Home ground meant high stakes for everyone involved – from the athletes themselves to even the sports associations officials.
For 25-year-old Tan, however, the pressure was unparalleled.
The SEA Games was an important competition in the preparations leading up to the Rio Olympic Qualifiers in 2016, a dream he had worked towards for many years.
Would he choose to honour God or would he cling on to his one passion in life? “I had to make a choice.”
Then, news came.
The archery committee had set in place a new policy: All national archers had to attend both Saturday and Sunday trainings in the lead-up to the Games.
Tan had no issue with the longer hours, but he did have a problem with the timing: his church only held Sunday morning services. The earliest service ended at 10.30am, and trainings started at 9am.
“It’s not that going for service on Sunday makes me a Christian, but I was convinced that God wanted me to prioritise Him,” Tan explains, adding that it was a topic which surfaced frequently from the church pulpit during that season.
“I told them, I need to attend church first then go for training right after.”
His requests were flatly denied.
“So I had to make a choice,” he recalls. Would he choose to honour God or would he cling on to his one passion in life?
“But leaving the national team means I’m also giving up my Olympic dreams,” he says with a stoic face that belied his emotions. “Dreams that I had been working towards for many years. It just meant so much to me.
“If I leave, I would leave archery for good.”
Pressed to elaborate on how that had felt, Tan thought for a moment before he gave a wry laugh: “It’s like asking you to let go of a relationship that you are in for many years. Even though you are so in love, actually it’s not meant to be, or cannot be.”
He paused before adding: “I seldom cry, but that time, I cried for quite a few nights.”
Archery was something that Tan stumbled upon in 2006. He had to choose a CCA in polytechnic and, because “I’ve always loved shooting stuff”, the choice boiled down to archery or air rifle.
“Then I found out that the air rifles had to be locked in the armoury, but in archery, we could bring our bow home,” he says with a boyish grin.
What started out simply as a hobby soon became his passion – with the skills to match. In 2007, Tan was invited to join the junior national team, and subsequently the national team, which he is still a part of today.
As one of the top archers in the region, Tan eventually set his sights on representing Singapore at the Olympics. Only six years into the sport, Tan made the Final Olympics Qualifier for the London 2012 Olympics.
The Rio 2016 Olympics was next in line.
In those days, God was further from his mind; what mattered was making sure his arrows hit the mark.
As he matured in thought and as an archer, Tan gleaned many important life values from his beloved sport.
“I compete and train hard, not because I want to win that medal, but because I want to be able to glorify God.”
His spiritual growth, however, only took off in 2013 when Tan was mentored by Ivin Vikesh, a staff member of Athletes-in-Action, a Cru ministry that reaches out to athletes.
He learnt how to be a “Christian athlete”, combining his faith with his sporting career.
“That’s when I understood how I can really use archery to glorify God,” Tan shares.
One aspect was a subtle but distinct shift in how he viewed archery.
“I compete and train hard, not because I want to win that medal, but because I want to be able to have the opportunity to point others to God, to glorify Him,” Tan says.
A divine set-up
Then came the prospect of giving up his Olympic dream. His mind was made up. So, Tan approached his personal coach to tell her of his decision to leave the team and quit archery.
He got a cryptic response: Wait one week.
The next week, a divine orchestration of events was soon revealed: his coach had been appointed as the national coach, giving her the authority to make an exception for him to attend church before training.
That year, despite an old shoulder injury that had been flaring up and the academic pressures of his Final Year Project in university, Tan shot well enough to make it to the semi-finals.
He went head to head with his opponent, an Olympian, and eventually pushed the match into a tie-breaker.
In that one shot, both men hit the 9-point mark.
But Tan’s arrow was all of two millimeters further from the bull’s eye – barely the thickness of a 50-cent coin – and he was relegated to the bronze medal match.
Choosing what really mattered … again
He went on to win the bronze medal in the men’s singles.
Tan would watch his opponent lose the gold medal match – to someone who had a lower overall score than Tan!
Tan felt Jesus was speaking directly to him: “What is that to you? You follow Me!”
“I could have won. Straight set, six to zero,” he says. He was churning inside.
Then, during his devotions that night, the title jumped out at him: What is that to you?
It was Jesus’ reply to Peter who had pointed at another disciple and asked: “What about him?”
Tan felt Jesus was speaking directly to him: “What is that to you? You follow Me!” (John 21:22)
“God was so, so, so real,” Tan says with emphasis. “Why did I desire that gold medal so much? Did it even matter?
“It was not by my strength that I could reach that point (winning the bronze) and God doesn’t need a gold medallist to glorify Him. He can use anybody as long as he or she has the heart to glorify God.”
He recognised then the principle that has since guided his life and his business: “It’s not about winning, it’s just investing in what He asks me to do.”
Where Help comes from
Salt & Light Archery (SLA) is the direct result of his efforts to glorify God with the skills he has been given.
After graduating in 2016, Tan attempted to sign on as a police officer – the stable income combined with a non-desk-bound job attracted him. But he was rejected because his degree over-qualified him for the roles he was interested in.
Having been invited by several clubs to coach, Tan started to explore the possibility of running his own business providing coaching and organising archery-related events. Was it possible that he could still continue to point others to Jesus as an archer?
It was a quiet start. The archery range consisted three target boards in a space hosted by his family’s pottery jungle in Pioneer which could accommodate a maximum of eight people.
As Tan supplemented his income through photography gigs, he noticed a curious pattern: When his income from archery dipped, he would be earning more through his photography, and vice versa.
“My average monthly income was comparable to signing on as a police officer,” Tan shares, saying that he saw it as God’s provision for him.
Falling into place
Then, through a friend, Tan came to know of a government tender for a space under the West Coast Highway. Sheltered from the weather elements by the viaduct, it was the ideal – though unconventional – location for an archery range!
It was a huge investment for a three-month lease, but Tan and his partner decided to push ahead. They applied for the lease and doors opened in rapid succession.
Approval for a Temporary Occupancy License (TOL) was given, friends chipped in, and within one week, the 70m-long sheltered range stood ready for business.
“This was all very last minute,” Tan says, recounting how everything fell into place.
Business was quiet at the start. But Tan requested for another three-month extension – and it was granted. Then another three, as the business stabilised.
He asked for yet another lease renewal. This time, however, there was no forthcoming approval.
Tan was about to leave Singapore for a personal holiday. “I was ready to cancel my trip,” he says. If the extension was not granted, he needed to vacate the grounds within two days. But he was not flustered; his peace came from a certainty that his help came from God and God alone. (Psalm 121:1-2)
“God’s will, God’s bill,” Tan quips.
“Then on the very last day, the day just before my flight, they extended the lease for 1.5 years!”
More than just shooting arrows
Today, one year into that extension, SLA, now with a full team of coaches, has expanded to include an indoor range at SAFRA Punggol.
And Tan is in talks for another lease extension for the viaduct.
Tan’s vision for archery, however, has also grown beyond his individual endeavours in the sport. In fact, for SLA, community is the goal.
“What’s important is the relationships and friendships we build based on the platform that this business provides,” Tan says. “I want people to be comfortable, but at the same time, to glorify God more through what we do.
“That’s why our tagline is: More than just shooting arrows.”
For this sharpshooter, his sights are set on the prize for which he has been called heavenward.
About Athletes-In-Action (AIA)
Athletes-In-Action (AIA) seeks to win, build, and send athletes in their respective sports to become multiplying, life-long labourers for the Great Commission. They also run an annual event called the Ultimate Training Camp which is a high intensity sports camp for campus and national athletes. They teach athletes biblical principles and then allow them to be tested in a 20-hour sports marathon known as The S.P.E.C.I.A.L.
Find out more about their ministry here.