Eileen Toh and Samuel Phun

The children’s church is not a babysitting ministry, but a place where they grow and have encounters with the Lord, said Pastor Eileen Toh. Photo by Thirst Collective.

Pastor Eileen Toh has a deep, unflagging passion for children — for their well-being, their provision and their salvation.

Over the course of her ministry, which has exceeded three decades, she and her team of children’s church workers have gone from basketball courts to void decks, even right up to the homes of strangers that have children’s shoes lying outside the door.

She and her team befriend these children and their parents, and invite the children to church.

Every Saturday, Harvest Kidz, the children’s ministry at City Harvest Church, sends out 30 buses to pick up children from all around Singapore and take them to church. Many of these children became the first Christians in their families. 

Pastor Eileen, who is in her early 50s, shared her experiences of over three decades with the Harvest Kidz ministry on a panel led by Pastor Daniel Wee, Senior Pastor of Church of Our Saviour, at the LoveSingapore Pastors Summit 2024 held in Malacca in January this year.

How did you get started with the children’s ministry?

When we first started the children’s church (in the mid ’90s), there were only about 40 kids. Like many others starting out in ministry, I felt very inadequate. I felt fearful. I felt unsure.

One quiet time, the Lord said to me: “Don’t limit Me.”

My pastor talked about building a “Church Without Walls”. I asked myself how I would go about reaching out to children – the community kids and the poor and needy out there. I was not very experienced and I was not married. I did not have a kid. In fact, I did not marry for a long, long time. I was not sure what to do.

But I remember one quiet time I had with the Lord where He said to me: “Don’t limit Me.”

I thought about that word and I told God: “I will not limit You. I will do whatever You want me to do.” And so, from the 40 kids, we grew by reaching out to children in the byways and highways and everywhere.

Ps Eileen, her pastoral team and ministry workers minister to thousands of children every weekend, including those in needy households who are transported by the ministry’s buses to church. Photo courtesy of City Harvest Church.

From basketball courts to everywhere else, you’ll find us going around looking out for children and getting them to know Jesus.

Over the last 30-something years, we were able to grow Harvest Kidz, the children’s ministry, to about 2,500 kids coming to church regularly.

Can children really receive salvation at a young age?

I was saved when I was six years old.

I remember I read a comic book that featured Jesus carrying a cross, and I was very touched by the picture.

I was the first Christian in my family of eight. After I became a Christian, my parents came to know God, my brother came to know God – he is now a pastor – and my sister came to know the Lord.

So, I do believe in kids’ salvation. I do believe that children can be saved. That’s why I do what I do. I believe that for the next generation, we don’t repair, we prepare. 

What qualities must one have in order to minister to children?

I have three Cs.

The first thing is commitment. I believe one must commit to the Lord what one has. A lot of us come before the Lord, look at what we don’t have and lament over it.

We must look at what we have and let God multiply whatever we have in our hands. I always tell God that whatever I have – if I only have one worker, or one child or 10 kids – I will make full use of the resource that God has given me.

I’m passionate. I like to pray so I get my workers to pray with me because that’s what I have. I have a few people with me, and we hang out a lot. We commit ourselves to the Lord, whatever we have. I think that’s very important.

I do not look at the numbers. I look at souls and everyone counts.

The second thing is consistency. When we first started, everybody was very excited about doing outreaches and a lot of things. But at the end of the day, time will tell who stands and who consistently does it, whether in good times or in bad.

I remember busing the kids to church for the first event. It was amazing. There were more than 200 children that came. It was very exciting.

But after that, when we did this on a weekly basis, we had days when the buses were empty.

I remember once, eight kids turned up, out of the 200 over kids that were supposed to come. My team was telling me: “Pastor Eileen, no kids are here today. No street kids are coming.”

So what did I do? I did my best, as if there were 200 kids. I do not look at the numbers. I look at souls and everyone counts.

I consistently help them — we keep doing what is needed and we consistently work on it.

The key is relationship.

A lot of people say it’s hard to mobilise church members to do visitations. They say a big church has a lot of manpower that small churches do not. And small churches cannot do busing. But I think the key is relationship.

Whether you’re a big or small church, we all can have relationships, and that’s on every level.

If you have a relationship with a family, with a child, with a principal or whoever, you must consistently reach out to them.

You may not be able to visit them, you may not be able provide a bus to take them but if you have a relationship, you keep them because they come for that.

“Be creative. God speaks new ideas to us all the time,” Pastor Eileen encouraged. Children’s devotion by children on social media. Photo courtesy of City Harvest Church.

The third one is creativity.

We need to be open for new things in the new norm. During COVID, many of our outreaches shut down. We had to restart and rebuild many of the things we did. We needed to ask God for creativity.

The harvest is really plentiful. Not just for us but for everybody.

What came out from it was we went online. We held lessons and reached out through Zoom to kids who could not come to church. We went hybrid. We went into a new norm.

Though COVID has ended, I found another group of audience: Kids that are not in church that need help. I found I could be a pastor to them beyond my four walls.

I found that in India, there were kids that were very poor. There were people that needed help. There were street kids.

Now, with a partner church there, we reach out to them monthly through Zoom to conduct children’s church, get them to lift their hands, to believe in Jesus, to be saved. I give them a curriculum. I’m excited about it.

For every difficult situation, there’s always a way for us to break through. We don’t limit God.

So, wherever we are, whatever we have, commit. Be consistent, never give up. And be creative. God speaks new ideas to us all the time. I’m excited because times have changed and we have to move with the times.

What does establishing relationship with children look like other than coming to your church?

We do visitations on a regular basis. But over the years, the number of people (ministry volunteers) available to visit has dropped because adults are now very busy, as are kids.

In the past, parents would invite us to their house to talk, even as late as 11pm. Now, after 9pm, they say: “Please don’t come. I need my kids to sleep.”

Things have changed. So what do we do?

Although the methods are different, the key is still relationships. We maintain relationships with the parents through phone calls, WhatsApp; through different ways of technology.

It’s important to talk to the parents. If you want to reach out to kids, you need the parents’ permission; the parents must trust you.

The children’s church is not a babysitting ministry, but a place where children have encounters with the Lord.

We need to build bridges to the parents so they understand why we are doing what we are doing for their kids. Then their kids will be with us.

Every kid has somebody to turn to in my church. Every newcomer that comes in has somebody that will follow up. And we do that regularly.

The “teachers” (Harvest Kidz volunteers that serve regularly as teachers during service) that are attached to this group of kids are not just for now, but for many years.

We involve the teachers for as much and as long as we can, as long as they are around. If they are not around, we find another person to take over. It’s a simple structure.

Make sure you reach out and pray for the children. Reach out to them every week. Give them a call if you can, through the parents, and make sure they come to church.

We care for them, one at a time.

What are some core values that drive Harvest Kidz?

The children’s church is not a babysitting ministry, but a place where children grow and have encounters with the Lord.

My principle is for the kids to have as many encounters as possible with the Lord, that they will experience God in a genuine way.

Kids raise their hands 10,000 times before they genuinely get saved. It was the same for me as a child — I lifted my hands many times until one day it clicked in my heart.  

So I do not look down on kids who lift their hands many times or think is not genuine. I let them do it because there will come a day where they will have an encounter with the Lord.

We provide the environment for them.

Every year we transition more than 100 kids successfully to the youth ministry in our church. The youths need to be converted by the Lord and all that starts from children’s church.

My greatest joy is seeing many of the kids grow up in church. I cry whenever I see them come back to me and tell me they are now a cell group leader, or a leader, a helper or just a good Christian. I get very excited about it. That’s my greatest reward.

How do you engage non-church children beyond the walls of the church? Where do you find them? Who goes out?

Every Saturday at about 11am we bring in about 30 buses of children from everywhere. They are all the first Christians in their family. The parents are not saved.

These kids bring other kids.

For every big event (such as Christmas, Easter, Children’s Day), we go to the (HDB) blocks and knock on doors where we see kids’ shoes outside. We tell them about the upcoming programme.

We let the parents know first – we always respect the parents. We give them the information, whether they are interested or not. Some families need prayer, so we take a step of faith. We say “Can we pray for you?”

The Harvest Kidz team all dressed up for Children’s Day. Weeks before every “big day” event, ministry workers knock on doors to invite children to church. Photo courtesy of Pastor Eileen Toh.

Then we tell them that the bus will be at their block downstairs, at 2pm or 5 pm or whatever time on the day of the event.

You’d be surprised how many parents actually sign the consent form on the spot. Most give us their phone numbers too, so they become new contacts.

We conduct children’s church through Zoom for street kids in India to get them to believe in Jesus.

The harvest is really plentiful. Not just for us but for everybody.

Take a step of faith. Don’t be afraid. Just knock on the door, say hello, talk to them and find out if they have any needs. Pray for them.

Some of them will give you their contact, some may not but you remember the unit number and you try again the next week. You go again.

You take note of those who are not happy with you so you do not go. But take note of the unit number, and pray for them.

There will always be people that are not happy; don’t worry about it. They are not against us. It’s a spirit. Don’t sweat over all that. Don’t feel rejected by all that. Move on to the next household.

That’s what we have done all these years. We never stopped even though our church is big now and we have a lot of parents with kids.

What were some of your biggest challenges when you were trying to start the ministry?

Two things we face, then and now. Number one, of course, is manpower. It is the biggest challenge for all of us.

I do believe that if you commit yourself to whatever God has given to you, and you are faithful with it, the Lord will multiply it.

Take a step of faith. Don’t be afraid. Just knock on the door… Pray for them.

The second thing is isolation. Sometimes we are located in a room in some corner. We miss services and we are isolated.

Don’t isolate yourself. Don’t just hang around with people from the children’s ministry. Hang around with the pastoral team because you need them also – the youth, the senior pastors, the senior leadership.

Don’t think they are against you, don’t have this mentality that you don’t have the best because you’re in a second-class ministry.

Think good, think big.

The church is a family and everybody has their own portion. Work together, fight together as one. Don’t isolate yourself.

What is the one thing that you want to say to the pastors who are doing children’s ministry?

I hold very dearly to the words “Don’t limit God”.

God can do above and beyond anything we can ever imagine. Don’t look at your lack. Look at what you have. God is a multiplier. God is a miracle worker, a way maker. God is everything you can ever imagine.

Don’t limit God. We all can reach out to someone out there. It can be done.


This interview is an adaptation from the session on children’s ministry at the LoveSingapore’s Pastors Summit in Malacca, held in January 2024.


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About the author

Peck Sim

Peck Sim is a former journalist, event producer and product manager who thankfully found the answer for her wonderings and a home for her wanderings. She now writes for Salt&Light and also handles communications for LoveSingapore.