Answering God’s call to serve Jurong: Teo Tee Loon and Lakeside Family Services
Teo Tee Loon // September 16, 2020, 7:06 pm
Teo Tee Loon, who has been at Lakeside Family Centre for 28 years, as its first social worker and now its Executive Director, met his wife Serene Lowe, 54, at the 1988 event where he surrendered his life to Christ. All photos courtesy of Teo Tee Loon and Lakeside Family Services.
In the late 1980s, a group of leaders from Faith Methodist Church answered the call to start a family centre to bless the community in Jurong which, at that time, had few social services and few churches.
Through God’s provision, Lakeside Family Centre, which opened in 1993, multiplied and became nine centres serving various facets of the community including youth-at-risk, women with unsupported pregnancies, and prisoners and their families. The organisation was renamed Lakeside Family Services in 2013 to better reflect this diversity.
Also answering God’s call was Teo Tee Loon, who came to Lakeside, fresh out of university, to be its first social worker in 1992. Teo, now 52, leads Lakeside as its executive director.
In a sermon at Agape Methodist Church on Lakeside Sunday (July 12, 2020) Teo shared the 4Cs – calling, convergence, conviction and consistency – of Lakeside’s journey and his. The following is adapted from his sermon.
God calls us to make our lives count
From the moment we receive Him as Lord and Saviour, Jesus has called us to a life of service. Whether or not we heard Him or obeyed Him is another matter. But there is no doubt in my mind that God has called each Christian to serve Him. And He’s saying to us: “I want you!”
“God has blessed us so much in the church, we can’t keep it all to ourselves.”
We live in a world full of darkness, and in Matthew 5:13-16 Jesus has called us to shine the light so that people will know Him – the only way to Heaven. And in this world of death and moral decay, we as Christians are to be a blessing and a positive influence – to be the salt of the earth, to season this world with God’s grace.
This was the burden that came on a group of church leaders from Faith Methodist Church in the late 1980s. As they were meeting and praying, this question came to their minds: How can we bless the community?
God moved their hearts with this thought: “God has blessed us so much in the church, we can’t keep it all to ourselves. We must share it with those who are not in the church.”
And so a team was formed, and their search led them to start a Family Service Centre in Jurong. At that time, Jurong had very few social services, and also very few churches. This centre was Lakeside Family Centre, or Lakeside Family Services, as it is known today.
As for me, I came to know Christ as my Lord and Saviour in my early teens. By my late teens, I was convinced that, if Jesus was really the Son of God and He died for my sins, I needed to follow Him 100%. Nothing less would do.
And so I began to serve actively in the Christian fellowship in my school, and in Sunday School. In 1988, while I was still serving my National Service, the Lord convicted me.
Conviction comes from the Holy Spirit
I believe that true life change and conviction can come only from the Holy Spirit. (Zechariah 4:6) It is not by human manipulation, forceful coercion or powerful displays of strength that move our hearts.
In July 1988, I was attending the Festival of Missions organised by the Methodist Church of Singapore. For three days and three nights many preachers, missionaries and pastors, men of God who had given their lives to serve God in the mission field, shared about the needs of this lost world.
They all shared the same message in different ways: If Jesus is the Son of God, and He is the way to Heaven, and there are so many people out there who do not know him, what are you going to do about it?
On the second night of the conference, I recall Rev Eric Leach from World Literature Crusade speaking. I felt God’s conviction very strongly within my heart. If there are so many needs out there, how could I not go?
“True life change and conviction can come only from the Holy Spirit.”
I stood up that night, went to the front of the church, and surrendered my life to Christ. I told Him: “Wherever you send me, I will go. Whether you want me to be a pastor, missionary, church worker, is up to you. I trust you to lead me each step of the way.”
This was my prayer that day. Basically, it was the prayer of Isaiah, in response to God. (Isaiah 6:8)
From that night, I became deeply aware that I was no longer my own. I had been bought at a price, and my life belonged entirely to the One who had redeemed me, Jesus Christ. It like what Paul said in Galatians 2:20.
When God moves, there is convergence
In obedience, after the Missions Conference, I sought the Lord on how I should proceed with my calling.
One Sunday, I looked at the church’s Missions Notice Board, and saw the sign The Hiding Place (Christian Home Mission). I wondered: “What is this place?”
To my surprise, while walking home one day, I realised that The Hiding Place was across the road from where I lived.
(The Hiding Place provides a 12-month rehabilitation programme, with practical and spiritual components, for drug addicts, ex-prisoners, alcoholics, gambling addicts, homeless orphans, inhalant abusers, wayward teens, young offenders, troubled youths and others needing help.)
“As I obeyed, the plan began to unfold.”
I went in and spoke to the residents there, who directed me to Pastor Philip Chan and his wife. They told me, if you would like to come here to help out, you can consider studying social work and request an internship here with us.
That night, I read in my Bible:
During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (Acts 16:9)
This was God’s confirmation for me. And in this way, God led me to social work through the Hiding Place.
The next year, I began university, and studied social work to equip myself with helping skills, and linguistics – in case God called me to be a Bible translator. I also served actively in the Varsity Christian Fellowship (VCF), Sunday School and the Missions Education programme under the VCF.
As I obeyed, the plan began to unfold. He provided me with the training, and then he opened a job, just in time for my graduation.
In 1992 when I graduated, I found out that Faith Methodist Church was starting a new centre. I applied for the job and was employed as a social worker for Lakeside Family Centre.
Conviction to be salt and light
That first year on the job, God convicted me again.
Part of my job was to start a youth centre for the neighbourhood youths. There were many youths from varied backgrounds. Some of them were gang members. But because they came every day to play games and hang out at the centre, we became friends.
“I was deeply moved when I saw these boys, some of them so called gangsters, stand up to receive the Lord.”
At the end of that year, the church organised a youth camp. They called it the Mega Youth Camp because there were more than a hundred youths who came from the various segments of the church, including the Sunday School, Boys Brigade and Youth Fellowship. I brought a group of 18 youths from Lakeside.
After three days filled with fun activities, on the final night of the camp, there was an evangelistic concert and message by the pastor. To my surprise, during the altar call, more than half the youths I brought stood up to receive the Christ. I was deeply moved when I saw these boys, some of them so called gangsters, stand up to receive the Lord. That night, I felt the Lord was saying to me, convicting me again: “This is why you are here! This is my purpose for you.”
Of course, there were challenges. One challenge was how to do the follow up with these young people. I tried to do Bible study with them, but I found it difficult to do it on my own.
I tried to bring them to Faith Methodist Church, but it was quite far away for them and they had difficulty fitting in. . I was not able to do a satisfactory follow-up. And this became a nagging concern.
“Wherever you send me, I will go. Whether you want me to be a pastor, missionary, church worker.”
The third conviction came to me through one of my counselling cases. He came for help for his marital problems and family violence issues.
He told me he was a boxer.
He wore on his body all kinds of talismans and charms which he had acquired from a temple. He boasted that he never lost a boxing match, because the charms gave him supernatural power.
But he was also a man tormented by nightmares. He would tell me of how he was often haunted by the ghost of a little girl who had committed suicide in his neighbourhood.
One day, as he came to the office for counselling, the spirits in him began to manifest. It was then that I realised the reality of the demonic spirits within him.
I began to talk to pastors and friends who were experienced in deliverance ministry, and invited him to come one evening for deliverance. He agreed and the date was set.
We fasted and prayed fervently for him. But on the night he was supposed to come, he did not show up. I later learned that he had changed his mind because he was afraid to let go of his way of life.
Though this was not a success story, I share it because God taught me an important lesson that day about the reality of the spiritual realm.
God dropped this thought into my head: “There are so many needs in Jurong.” This is only one example of the many spiritual needs in this community. You need to do something about it!”
“As we serve the Lord, and obey Him a step at a time, He makes things converge, fall in place in most unexpected ways.”
It was this conviction that led me to leave my home church to to be part of the team to build up Jurong Preaching Point, which is today Agape Methodist Church.
Together we said: Let’s start a church so that the people from the community can have a place to be discipled. So that the youths who come to the Lord, can have a place to go and be cared for. Let’s start a church that will welcome all who need Jesus.
As we serve the Lord, and obey Him a step at a time, He makes things converge, fall in place in most unexpected ways. In Psalm 18:30, the Psalmist writes: As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him.
And in Jeremiah 29:11, it is written: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
As I worked in Lakeside through the years, I saw God give many opportunities for ministry.
For example, through our work with schools, we were able to bless many students, parents and teachers.
One of the highlights in those days was when Pastor Neville Tan, an ex-prisoner, came to share his life testimony at the school assembly. In this way, the love of God was shared in many schools where we served.
We also provided counselling, Rainbows grief support groups and parenting workshops.
We were able to do outreach programmes, and camps for the children and their families, sharing the love of Christ with them. Often, we would have members from Agape who came along, to help befriend and reach out to the families.
“Wherever you send me, I will go. Whether you want me to be a pastor, missionary, church worker.”
As a result of these interactions, people came to know and experience the love of God for themselves firsthand. We used to organise Christmas outreach events, including a bus ride to Orchard Road to see the Christmas lights. Many from the community would attend these events and many of them came to know Christ as a result.
The function of salt is to season and enhance, To heal, restore and preserve.
The function of light is to shine wherever there is darkness, To show people the right path, to eternal life
Through Lakeside, I have seen God bringing these two things together, again and again. As we made ourselves available, God provided the avenues. (Matthew 5:16)
Consistency means never giving up
As we serve the Lord, His Spirit enables us to be His hands and feet in the community.
There is much we need to do to build relationships with partners and community, and sometimes we can get overwhelmed and exhausted. How do we keep going in the calling and conviction that He has placed on us?
Isaiah 61:1-3 has been an inspiration for me, and many of us at Lakeside.
From one centre in 1993, the work has grown to nine centres today. Through the Lord’s leading and providence, we have been able to take care of a wide variety of people including:
- Women with unsupported pregnancies
- Helping children learn to read
- Caring for more than 200 children through our student care centres
- Reaching out to children and youths in the community and youths at risk
- Serving more than 2,000 inmates and their families
- Providing casework and counselling to more than 1,200 families
- Coaching parents in more than 30 schools
- Reaching out to more than 200 seniors
Through the years, the Lord has blessed and enlarged our work, as we continued to serve Him consistently.
“Consistency means never give up, even when times are tough.”
What does consistency mean?
Firstly, to me consistency means never forget the mission to be salt and light, to share the Love of Christ in the midst of the good works that we do.
Secondly, consistency means never give up, even when times are tough. When work seems overwhelming. When you feel unsupported or misunderstood. When there may be negative criticisms of you or your work. In due time, you will see the harvest.
Remember the mega youth camp I shared about earlier? I’ve always wondered what happened to those youths after that camp. Did they all fall away from the faith? Are they doing well in their lives? A few months ago, I received this email:
13 March 2020
“Hi Uncle Tee Loon
Ben here. Not sure if you still remember me. I used to visit Lakeside Family Centre in the 1990s.
You used to mentor me for a while and brought me to the youth camp where I knew the Lord. How are you?
Will you be free for coffee to catch up??”
I met Ben for dinner. He’s married with two kids, serving actively in his church children’s ministry. Still walking with the Lord. I haven’t met him for more than 25 years. He’s now in his late 30s.
In my heart, I’m saying: “Thank You Jesus. Thank you for preserving this fruit. Thanks for your affirmation after all these years.”
I was reminded of 1 Corinthians 15:58: Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
You may be a member of the church, or simply a Christian struggling to live a Christian life. May I encourage you? Don’t give up. It’s all worth it.
Teo Tee Loon will be embarking on a 35km cross-island walk from Lakeside in Jurong to Changi Prison from October 18-24 as a sign of his commitment to walk the long journey of recovery and and reintegration with prisoners and their families, and to raise funds for Lakeside’s work with ex-inmates and their families. To find out how you can participate or donate, click here: A Million Steps. If you would like to know more about Lakeside or how you can help, click here.
Reflection and Discussion
- Calling. Would you respond to His call to be salt and light?
- Conviction. Would you surrender your life to Him, as His Spirit moves you? Your life is not your own.
- Convergence. Would you walk in obedience and see how God weaves everything together. He will unfold his plans for you.
- Consistency. If you’re feeling discouraged in your service, don’t give up. Your work in the Lord is never in vain.
How we lose our saltiness
- Apathy:Having grown cynical and hard-hearted, can’t be bothered.
- Bogged down: By the cares of life, or past hurts, and we feel we are unable to serve God.
- Carnal lifestyle: Plagued and entangled with sin and pleasures of this world, we become ineffective.
Why we hide our light
- We may feel shy or embarrassed about our faith.
- Due to our past experiences, we feel ashamed, guilty, or afraid.
- We feel inadequate.
If that’s how you are feeling, you can:
- Be restored in your walk with God.
- Be authentic in your lifestyle.
- Be bold in your witness.
How do you do this? Through repentance and restoration.
Repentance means simply coming back to God and asking Him to forgive you for and to restore you. Like King David, after he sinned against the Lord, he prayed: Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 51:12)
God, like the loving father to the prodigal son, is waiting to receive you back, to forgive you, and to restore you. He has promised that whoever comes to Him sincerely, He will never cast out.
Just tell Him: “Lord, forgive me for straying from you. Forgive me that my heart has grown cold. Heal me, restore me, make me the person that you want me to be, so that I can be salt and light for you.”