“Covid has taught us to say ‘thank you’ to Grab drivers and food deliverers”: Dr Tan Lai Yong
Salt&Light // April 1, 2021, 7:42 pm
Dr Tan (right) with senior counsel Lok Vi Ming (left), who wrote the foreword of Dr Tan's latest book, Encountering Covid, Embracing Covenant, Engaging Community . Photo by Ang Wei Ming.
An offer of a glass of water, a listening ear, prayers – these are all ways that God can use us to care for the community, says Dr Tan Lai Yong.
In his latest book, Encountering Covid, Embracing Covenant, Engaging Community, the well-known author, educator and medical doctor shares stories from his encounters with friends and strangers – such as a wheelchair delivery man, a teenager with cerebral palsy and a migrant worker poet – who have unexpected things to teach us about humanity during the time of Covid-19.
The wisdom Dr Tan reveals in simple things and every day encounters is a reminder to believers of God’s Covenant and an encouragement to us all to “hold fast to what is good” in a tumultuous time.
Salt&Light sat down with Dr Tan and senior counsel Lok Vi Ming, chairman of the Council of Elders at Bethesda Bedok-Tampines Church who wrote the foreword of the book, to find out more.
How do you think we’re doing in engaging the community in a covenantal way amidst the Covid season?
LVM: I think definitely there is a greater sense of awareness that there are people who are hurting, and that the pandemic has affected different people differently. We know jobs are lost and we know that some families are really hurting more than others.
“Give thanks in a very humble way, knowing that God has provided. Then look around us and share.”
And the Church, I think, is keenly aware of that. We see churches responding to calls for help, working alongside government agencies. I think this has been translated down to individual Christians on a few fronts.
One, I think a greater sense of gratitude. That God has somehow spared Singapore from the ravages that we’ve seen in so many other communities in so many other countries. And we like to think there has been a divine providence or divine protection over Singapore.
We’ve heard anecdotal stories of how churches have responded in very simple ways – food delivery, packing sanitisers, putting masks together, going out to the homes and communities distributing masks, just giving out money, scholarships, study awards.
Anecdotally, people are coming together, just doing simple works like this.
TLY: On a small scale, I think we have become more ready to say “thank you” to taxi drivers, to Grab drivers, and food delivery people. Last time, for various reasons, we didn’t say thank you so much.
One thing that encouraged me about the churches’ response has to do with the rough sleepers, the homeless.
“Go beyond the comfort. Partner somebody else who is already a few steps ahead and commit to it.”
My students and I used to have these night trips to walk around Chinatown, New Bridge Road, just to speak to the homeless. And there are very complex issues. It’s not just providing a bed; there are relational issues, anger, hopelessness, the loss of dignity.
And it’s quite amazing that many churches opened up their rooms, carparks to the sleepers. Men came forward to house the rough sleepers, overcoming the red tape, the bureaucracy, to give dignity.
There is an anecdotal, very encouraging, episode that shows that fellowship is still important. Meeting people is still important and, if we have the privilege to do it, we should gather as allowed and gather as saved.
I was having a conversation with a fellow Christian. And he was sharing with me that he had a friend with excess cardboard and could redesign this cardboard into environmentally friendly cardboard beds.
At that time there was a lockdown. You couldn’t get beds imported, say from Malaysia. And these cardboard beds are lightweight, easily assembled and can take a good sized man, no problem. And this was the little innovation that actually helped some churches be able to facilitate the rough sleepers, giving them a place to sleep.
Covid has caused us to rethink how we can help others.
Where should the ordinary Christian start looking for ways to engage the community in a covenantal way?
TLY: I would say the first thing is to give thanks. As Vi Ming has shared, it’s really to give thanks in a very humble way, knowing that God has provided. Then look around us and share.
We all have different gifts – some of us are more comfortable working with children, some of us are more comfortable working with migrant communities. Go beyond the comfort. Partner somebody else who is already a few steps ahead and commit to it, acknowledging that God has given us the time or the resources to share.
The Bible is very clear – a glass of water, hospitality, listening ear, the prayers of the saints, this is where God would use us.
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