“When families serve together, they stay together”: How God uses kids in ministry and missions
Salt&Light wishes all families a Happy Children's Day!
by Christine Leow // October 9, 2020, 1:12 pm
Serving together in worship and missions has become part of the Tan family's lifestyle. (L-R, back row) Ariel, Gerald, E-Laine, Ethan with (L-R, front row) Andre and Anna Tan. Photo courtesy of the Tan family.
The Tan children have been part of ministries inside and outside their church since they were babies, all because of their parents Gerald, 51, and E-Laine Tan, 44.
“I had no helper so they had to come along,” said stay-at-home mum E-Laine who is the worship co-ordinator of Grace Methodist Church’s children’s ministry, Grace Star.
“From young, we wanted to demonstrate faith, not just in words, but through actions and in truth.”
For a few years, Gerald, who is a medical doctor, would go every few months to Cambodia on medical missions as well. E-Laine would sometimes follow, taking their then-infant son Andre with them.
“When Gerald was taking his ‘A’ levels, he really wanted to be a doctor. He told God that if he became one, he would use his medical expertise to serve God in missions when he could,” said E-Laine.
The mum of four is also actively involved in Shachah, a para-church organisation that trains people in the creative arts so they can contribute to their church in worship, music and dance. When the children were young and E-Laine had to go to Shachah’s overseas conferences, the whole family would go along as well.
In 2014, they went as a family to Cambodia on a mission trip.
“My eldest Ethan helped out whenever he was asked to on that trip, including teaching English. The other three were very young so they just played with the children there.”
Now, the Tan children are all grown up – Ethan is 19, Ariel is 16, Anna is 12 and Andre is 10. For several years, they have been serving together in the worship team of Grace Star.
Said Ethan: “From young, we wanted to demonstrate faith, not just in words, but through actions and in truth. So, walking the talk as a Christian is a value I hold close to my heart.”
On the fifth Sunday of the month, when the church celebrates inter-generational Sunday, the Tans serve as a family. Dad and Ariel play the keyboard, while mum and the other children dance.
Even E-Laine’s 68-year-old mother, Rosemary, serves with them. She is part of the church’s dance ministry.
Added Ariel: “I like serving with my family. I feel that serving together as a family is more effective because we are comfortable to share any ideas among ourselves.
“It also strengthens our bond with each other, it’s an extension of serving each other back at home.”
Reaching parents through children
But E-Laine admits that serving with young children in tow has not always been easy. As a young mum with two young children, she had stopped serving.
“I was going through a low time in my life, stuck in the house. My oldest was three and Ariel was an infant. I was backsliding and I was just praying for God to do something.”
That “something” came in the form of an invitation to watch a performance.
“My mum was involved in Shachah. They were performing on Orchard Road during Christmas. Watching that presentation, I had a revival there and then, just watching the dance.”
Subsequently E-Laine, who had been a worship leader in church, returned to the worship ministry to serve in dance.
Still, the Tans were not yet serving together as a family. That came later.
“Eight or nine years ago, the children’s ministry Grace Star needed people to serve in the worship team. I was roped in to help. So, I roped my children in to play,” said E-Laine.
“These children were opening up opportunities for their parents to serve.”
But Gerald had bigger plans for the ministry.
Recalled E-Laine: “He had the idea of training the children to serve in the worship ministry. We did a recruitment drive and over 20 kids signed up.”
What the Tans did not anticipate was how the training sessions would become a way to draw families to serve together.
“At first, the parents came because they had to drop their kids off. Before long, they stayed and found areas to serve within the Grace Star worship ministry,” said E-Laine.
One mum who used to sit with her son throughout the training ended up learning to work the PA system and now manages the sound system for the children’s ministry worship. Another dad who used to drop his son off at the training ended up staying and volunteering to manage the slides for the songs.
“These children were opening up opportunities for their parents to serve,” said E-Laine.
As the other children watched their peers, they also got excited.
“One rambunctious eight-year-old came to me one day and asked if he could serve in the worship team. He plays the violin. But he said, ‘I think my parents won’t allow me because they say I’m very naughty’.”
“Serving together as a family is something very close to my heart.”
E-Laine welcomed him to the team and says she has not seen him distracted even once during the practices.
“He is very serious when he serves. Even his mum tells me she is shocked he is so serious when he plays for worship.”
There are now several families serving together in Grace Star’s worship team.
“Grace Star has been an awesome platform to start families doing ministry together. Our family’s area of ‘expertise’ is in worship so we use this channel to bring other families on board to serve together in worship teams,” said E-Laine.
“Serving together as a family is something very close to my heart. God has been showing us that a family that serves together stays together.”
A way to anchor youths
Beyond the worship ministry, Gerald is also a youth cell group leader.
“Ethan was on the verge of going to another church when he was 15. We would have let him go because going to another church is better than no church,” related E-laine.
“We found that when a family serves together their children stay in church.”
“But Gerald decided to teach his class. Maybe out of a sense of loyalty or duty, Ethan started to attend the cell group and he even brought a friend.”
Father and son soon bonded over the ministry.
“After the class, Ethan would give his father feedback and, based on that, his father would craft the lessons. In a way, they were serving together. That helped anchor Ethan in the church.
“Many churches, not just our church, are losing their youths. We found that when a family serves together their children stay. It’s a way to keep our children in church.”
Several parents of youths have since joined the youth ministry as cell group leaders.
Finding their personal calling
The Tans cautioned that introducing children to their parents’ ministries does not mean that the children will remain in those ministries.
“It exposes them to service but they still have to find their own calling,” said E-Laine.
Ethan, for example, does not serve in the worship ministry anymore. He has a heart for missions instead. He has since gone on two service trips with his school to Cambodia and Thailand, raising his own funds each time. His team brought supplies to the locals, taught English in the school and even built a well.
“I was inspired by their founder’s response to a calling she received early in life to serve in Cambodia, and the ways God enabled her to realise her calling there.
“She helped to establish a primary school and provides F&B jobs to those in need. But, most importantly, she’s saved many souls of schoolchildren who otherwise wouldn’t have come to know God.”
Ariel, who started dancing with her mum even before she was in primary school, has chosen to be a keyboardist for the worship team. She found her calling while at a conference with her mother.
Said Ariel:“Once there was an impromptu song but, in that crucial moment I heard a tune in my head that was the piano intro to that song. That was when I felt my calling to serve in worship.
“At first, I was nervous leading worship for adults, and I was afraid of making mistakes. But I found that instead of focusing on the keys I was playing, I could focus on worshipping God.”
A family’s burning desire
For the Oh family, it was an announcement during a worship service last year about a youth mission trip that got their attention.
The call was for people to sponsor the team heading for northern Thailand. When Jeremy Oh heard it, he had “a strong urge” to bring his older son, Ayden, then just 10 years old, for the trip.
Said Oh who became a Christian only a few year ago: “I immediately told my wife that I wanted to part of the mission trip.
“I wanted Ayden to see God’s work in other countries, to see that God is bigger than just Singapore.”
The mission trip was just for youths, though. Oh, at 42, was too old and Ayden too young. But Oh approached the team anyway, so strong was his desire to be part of the trip.
The youth mission team welcomed the pair, happy that Oh was so willing to give his son an early exposure to both missions and the youth ministry.
Labouring with adults
As with any mission trip, the preparation was rigourous. Months before they set off in December, the team met on alternate weeks to be trained to conduct the different programmes.
“God is bigger than just Singapore.”
“I have tuition on Saturdays before church service. So, after the training, I would go for tuition. I had to give up my rest time but I feel happy I can learn to do God’s work,” said Ayden, who is now 11.
On the agenda were several items. The team was scheduled to teach English and Math in a secondary school over a few days, as well as to share the Gospel with 350 students.
They also volunteered to run workshops – worship, sharing the Gospel, studying the Bible – for a Christian youth home they were visiting. For the Sunday service in the local church, they promised to present a song in both English and Thai.
Because there were only 15 members doing all this, everyone was given a role, even Ayden. He was put in the team responsible for teaching English to the students.
“I liked learning how to fold origami Ninja stars as part of the teaching programme. And I enjoyed singing the Thai song. I thought it was fascinating learning the Thai language.”
To make it for the mission trip, Oh also gave up their family holiday at the end of the year.
“I committed to the mission trip very early in the year. So, I told my wife I couldn’t take any more leave. Instead, I asked her to take Ayden for a holiday while I stayed in Singapore with our younger son, Adriel, who was four.”
Throughout the six-day trip, Ayden laboured alongside youths much older than he. The days were long, often starting at five in the morning and lasting past 10 at night, and packed with activities and, sometimes, long hours of travelling. But Ayden did it all, always with good cheer.
“It was my first time teaching anyone. I was a little awkward and quite shy but (the students) told me they liked me a lot and I had fun interacting with the people,” said Ayden.
In fact, he became quite the favourite with the Thai teens in the school.
“The local children put in so much effort to worship God.”
“Ayden is the sort who can talk to anyone and get along with everyone,” said Oh.
What impressed both father and son most was the disciplined life of the children and youths who lived in the Christian home. Every morning, they had devotions at 5.30am, taking turns to lead.
“I was surprised by their commitment. They would wake up so early and it was so very cold. And after that, they made their own breakfast and then went to school. On Sundays, they had to travel so far just to attend church.
“It was a very good chance to show Ayden how these children had to put in so much additional effort to worship God. In comparison, we are so privileged and pampered.”
The example set by the Thai youths so inspired Oh that he has since started doing weekly devotions with his family.
“Previously, we seldom had family devotions. But after the trip, I told my children, ‘You are doing this at a comfortable time, not at five in the morning, and it’s only once a week. So, you have nothing to complain about’.”
Of his experience, Oh said: “I really got to see how wonderful God is and how He has given people everywhere a chance to believe in Him and trust Him. We only got to see one small part of His work throughout the world.
“Given the opportunity, I would like to take the whole family for another mission trip. And when Ayden is old enough, I want him to go on one on his own.”
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