Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash.

Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash.

As more of us feel the effects of isolation during this Circuit Breaker month, we can look out for those in our midst who are struggling and extend kindness to them in whatever way we can, urged Kenneth Thong from The Last Resort, the name given to his home which he opens up to troubled and homeless youth.

While the pandemic has undoubtedly been disruptive to all of us, the reality is that some are much harder hit than others.

“Those who are unseen, even during normal times, are now squeezed even farther away from society’s peripherals,” Thong told Salt&Light.

“Those who are unseen, even during normal times, are now squeezed even farther away from society’s peripherals.”

These include people from low-income or single-parent families who have lost their jobs and been kicked out of their rented rooms, as well as teenagers and young adults struggling with mental health issues, he said.

“Those with mental health issues are being silenced amid the Covid cacophony. They need space, both physical and emotional, but at this time of community crisis, their very real needs are pushed into irrelevance.

“They have no school to escape to, no school counsellors to speak with, no school mates to identify with. What they’re hearing from society is: Don’t be selfish, stay home and deal with it. Even if your family is the cause of your panic attacks, you have no choice but to suck it up.”

He and his wife, Adeline, have received an increasing number of requests for help recently, including messages from young adults confiding in them about having suicidal thoughts.

“It’s good that they wanted to talk about it. But what about those who don’t?”

Last week, within the span of three days, the Thongs received news that two 19-year-old teenagers they had once helped had taken their own lives in separate incidents.

Isolation is a luxury for the privileged 

Then there is also the threat of domestic abuse. Countries that have spent time in lockdown have reported surges in domestic violence and Singapore has not been spared.

On April 9, The Straits Times reported that the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) received 619 inquiries about family violence last month, a 35% rise from March last year.

“The harsh reality is that social distancing is a luxury only afforded to the privileged.”

One social worker also said that 60% of her daily referrals were related to family violence, compared with 30% last year.

Thong said: “In this current uncertain craziness, families are put under extreme pressure and families with existing cracks are bursting.

“In these families, home is already not safe on a normal day because they don’t have good relationships. Then you put the pressure of having everybody cooped up at home. It’s really hard.

“There is no release valve, not like anyone can go out for a drink or meet up with friends to ventilate. Physical and emotional abuse becomes the outlet for domestic frustrations.

“Not too many families can tell their children to go to their own rooms when they misbehave. Not too many children have their own rooms to run into when their parents go bonkers.

“The harsh reality is that social distancing is a luxury only afforded to the privileged.”

Charity is about self, Justice is about others

But how do we even begin to help?

“Christ didn’t just give us pittance. He loved us as He loved Himself.”

First and foremost, we should be on the lookout for people who may be in need during this time, be it the family in the next unit whom you can hear shouting, a domestic worker at the market who looks traumatised or underfed, or a friend crying for help through his or her social media posts, said Thong.

And when we see someone in need, we are commanded to love them – not as charity cases, but as ourselves – extending mercy to them just as the Good Samaritan did. This can come in various forms, from checking in on them to allowing our own homes to be their safe space.

“We love much because we’ve been forgiven much. Christ didn’t just give us pittance. He loved us as He loved Himself. He gave us as much as He gave Himself. If we’ve received mercy, do we not extend mercy?”

“This is what God expects,” Thong stressed. “It’s not optional.”

“God doesn’t require our charity to accommodate the poor. He demands our justice to restore the poor.”

He pointed out that there is a difference between restoring justice and simply doing charity.

“Charity is basically looking at what I have and how much I can donate. It looks at the self. Justice is about looking at the other, someone who has been deprived and isolated, and bringing them to parity. It’s about honouring someone else by acknowledging them as equals,” he said.

“God doesn’t require our charity to accommodate the poor. He demands our justice to restore the poor. God’s command for us toward the needy in our midst is to open wide our hands, and to keep them open (Deuteronomy 15:7-8; Deuteronomy 15:11).”

Offering our five loaves and two fish

It is not so much about how much we have something to give, but simply being willing to share what we have, said Thong.

“It is when we share whatever we have and make it available that God can make a miracle out of it.”

“Sometimes we think that what we have is not good enough. But it is when we share whatever we have and make it available that God can make a miracle out of it.”

He brings up the disciples’ attitude in Mark 6:37 when Jesus asked them to feed the 5,000 who had gathered to hear Him.

“They said: What do we have? Surely this must be a joke. How to feed 5,000? There’s no way we can raise this money to feed all of them. But Jesus’ reply to them was: What do you have? (Mark 6:38).

“Do we look at ourselves or do we look at God? Do we see that God is really interested and keen to meet others’ needs that He would even use the five loaves and two fish?”

“Will we ever be short-changed when we obey God’s commands? Will it be life changing? Always.”

While being forced to stay home may bring inconvenience and boredom to some of us, at least we have the luxury of having a safe space, a bed to sleep in and three meals a day, he added.

“These are blessings we have all the time but don’t even think about. If God has blessed us with a home that we consider safe for ourselves, are we not blessed to be a blessing?”

Let us then, as believers, step up during this time when the social norm is to stay in silos and self-preserve, he said.

“Will we ever be short-changed when we obey God’s commands? Will it be uncomfortable? Always. Will it be life changing? Always.”

Called to restore His Kingdom

It is Thong’s desire to see more Christian families throwing open their doors to those lacking safe spaces and welcoming them into their family, just as Christ welcomed us into His.

“Nothing means more to a homeless person in crisis than a stranger opening their doors and saying: Come in.”

“Nothing means more to a homeless person in crisis than a stranger opening their doors and saying: Come in, you are welcome into my family. Nothing demonstrates the Gospel more than Jesus opening his door and saying to us: You are welcome into my family.”

Thong qualified that Christian homes are not exempt from anxieties and pressures, and are certainly not immune to crisis.

But the difference for a follower of Jesus, he said, is that we have a living hope in the face of despair. And in the face of increasing challenges, God’s grace abounds even more.

Nevertheless, he added that not every Christian family is able to open their home and there are many valid reasons for that. “But whether we can or cannot, we must never be unwilling.”

In the face of increasing challenges, God’s grace abounds even more.

Those who cannot open up their homes can support the families who can. They can show support financially, emotionally and spiritually, he said. After all, that’s what a community – a family – is about.

At the end of the day, there are innumerable ways in which we can restore justice in our own capacities and spheres, he said.

“Social needs are many and varied. Homelessness is but one tiny fragment. We must not allow the tyranny of the loudest to dominate our attention.

“Instead, what ought to occupy our minds is what occupies God’s – the restoration of His Kingdom, both now and to come.”

About the author

Gracia Lee

Gracia is a journalism graduate who thoroughly enjoys people and words. Thankfully, she gets a satisfying dose of both as a writer at Salt&Light. When she's not working, you will probably find her admiring nature or playing Monopoly Deal with her little brother.