Shelter kids

Heah Yong Chian and his wife Brenda Chong (back row, second and third from right) with the children from the shelter in India. Since 2018, they have been supporting eight children living there and have been involved in the ministry started by Ps Raja and his wife (back row, left and second from left). All photos courtesy of the Heahs.

“We have no kids yet,” quipped Brenda Chong, 28.

Yet Brenda and her husband, Heah Yong Chian, are responsible for one fur-baby, a dog they rescued from a shelter, and eight children they are supporting who live in a shelter in India.

Brenda and Yong Chian with their dog which they rescued from a shelter.

They were newly married when Brenda met an Indian pastor and his wife at a 4/14 Window conference in Singapore in March 2018. The reference to 4/14 points to children aged four to 14.

“Their hearts are so big, they can’t turn away any child even though they are always in debt.”

A key leader in her church’s children ministry, Brenda had gone to the conference to be better equipped to reach children.

“There were a lot of overseas participants. I saw this couple and I just got the impression that I wanted to get to know them more.

“I guess it was the Holy Spirit who touched my heart and I just decided to take that leap of faith to talk to them,” she recalled.

She approached them, started a conversation and discovered their story.

Eugene Chong, Brenda’s father; Joyce Tham; Ps Raja; his wife Josephine; Brenda and Yong Chian with the pastor’s children in front of the school his mother had set up.

Pastor Raja and his wife, Josephine, had come from Tamil Nadu, sponsored by someone who had given them just enough money to fly to Singapore for the conference. In India, they pastor a church started by Ps Raja’s father and run a school started by his mother. They also run a shelter for about 16 under-served children.

“They take in disabled children, orphans, abandoned children or those whose families cannot take care of them. The villagers will let them know about the situation and they will decide whether to take them in,” said Brenda.

“Their hearts are so big, they can’t turn away any child. Whatever kid they can take in, they will take in, even though they are always in debt.”

The Singaporean team – Eugene, Joyce, Yong Chian and Brenda – having a meal with the pastor and his wife as well as the children from the shelter.

Brenda would discover that the couple was staying with a relative in a rental apartment and had little else during their time at the conference. She and Yong Chian decided to host them in Singapore.

“We brought them out, bought them meals and a friendship was formed.”

A forever thing

Over the course of the next few days, Brenda and Yong Chian found out more about the situation in India.

Said 30-year-old Yong Chian: “The school and the church generate the funds for the shelter. But because of the economic situation there, a lot of the time the people cannot pay the school fees.”

The Singaporean team of four with the primary school children at the school Ps Jaga now runs.

Husband and wife decided then to support eight of the 16 children in the shelter S$20 each a month. Each child’s expenses actually come up to S$50 which would cover food, school uniform and school books.

“We could see that the little we did made a difference to them.”

“Our support just covers their basic necessities, mostly food,” said Yong Chian.

He was working part-time then and Brenda was a tutor at a tuition centre.

“It was a very small sum but we did feel it, because we were just married and figuring out our finances,” Brenda admitted. “We were getting ready for the house, everything was brand-new.”

Still, they were determined that their support for the children would be “a forever thing”.

Said Brenda: “I have been serving in the children’s ministry since I was 13. I have a passion for children and have always wanted to be involved in an orphanage or a shelter.

The secondary school children.

“When the couple shared with me their story, I thought, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity for me to help.’

“I felt that God was speaking to us to help them in whatever ways that we can.”

In December 2018, just months after their first encounter with Ps Raja and his wife, the Heahs, Brenda’s father and a friend made a trip to Tamil Nadu to visit the shelter to better understand the situation.

Said Brenda: “When we went there, we could see that the little we did made a difference to them. We could see how much it meant to them.”

Walking the ground  

The trip was like nothing like they had imagined.

Said Yong Chian: “Although the area is pre-dominantly Hindu, everyone in the village knows that the pastor and his family are Christians.

Brenda’s father Eugene, Brenda, her friend Joyce and Yong Chian on their visit to Tamil Nadu to see Ps Raja’s work in the school, shelter and church.

“And everybody knows that the work they do benefits the people. So, even when there were some people who wanted to give them some trouble, the villagers stood up for the pastor and told the people to get out.”

“It was easy to invite people because they simply told them, ‘Singaporeans are coming.'”

During their stay, the foursome lived in the pastor’s house which, they were told, was provided for “by God’s grace”.

The original house had been totally destroyed by a storm. But with the compensation money paid out, they were able to build a two-storey house to accommodate the family which included their two young children, Ps Raja’s parents and his sister.

In the week they were there, the four got to be a part of the pastor’s ministry. Aside from conducting services in the church, Ps Raja also runs home churches in villages, visiting the various churches he and his wife had reached out to previously.

Because both Brenda and Yong Chian serve in their church’s children’s ministry, they conducted children’s evangelistic sessions in the villages.

Yong Chian at the church Ps Raja founded.

Brenda and Joyce sharing at the church service.

“While the adults met in the house, the children would meet outside. It was close to Christmas when we went, so we told stories and prayed for the children,” said Brenda.

“They would set up tents in the middle of the village. Each time, a few hundred people would come.” 

The sessions were a rousing success.

Said Yong Chian: “It was easy to invite people because they simply told them, ‘Singaporeans are coming.’

“So, even while we were walking, people would come and join us.”

Added Brenda: “In one house we went, it was so packed that we couldn’t walk around. Everyone who came just wanted prayers.”

They were also involved in a few large-scale evangelistic meetings.

“They would set up tents in the middle of the village and rent a speaker so they could blast the music and message.

“Each time, a few hundred people would come for prayers.”

Yong Chian sharing at a tent evangelistic meeting for children in one of the villages.

In the schools, the team ran lively programmes for the children including physical training and upcycling workshops.

Ps Raja included them in his house visits as well.

Brenda and Yong Chian teaching children at a house meeting.

Said Brenda: “It was all rather impromptu. We would be going somewhere and then we would stop and go into a person’s house to pray for the person.”  

The needs are dire

It was through the visit that the Heahs got to see first-hand the needs in India. Their resolve to support the ministry strengthened.

Said Brenda: “It really made us think a lot about other people in the world. When God teaches us to reach out to others, we can’t just see within our local ministries alone.

Brenda teaching the children in the school about upcycling.

“I have always been a strong believer of meeting the people‘s need first and then from there they can see God’s love. In Biblical times, people share resources with one another and that is how they show love and that is how they reach the community.”

Over the years, the needs of Ps Raja’s ministry have sometimes been dire.

Said Brenda: “Sometimes, they can’t even afford to pay the teachers in the school.”

Brenda conducting craft lessons in the school.

Added Yong Chian: “They struggle with providing food for the children in the shelter.”

“When God teaches us to reach out to others, we can’t just see within our local ministries alone.”

There were days when there was no food.

“They told us that on those occasions, they just had to tell the children to pray because there was nothing else to do,” said Brenda.

“If I have my own kids and they tell me they are hungry and all I can tell them is to pray because I cannot do anything, I would be really broken by it.”

Yet, almost every time, food would appear miraculously. Villagers would donate food. Leftovers from weddings and birthday parties would be sent their way.

Said Yong Chian: “Through them, we really saw that God will always provide. We hear their stories then we look at our lives and we say, ‘Wah, my faith is really very small.’”

Yong Chian giving out clothes to the children at the shelter.

Added Brenda: “And we really saw that God would never forsake His people.”

“They struggle with providing food for the children in the shelter.”

In 2019, the area experienced a drought.  

“It was very sad then. They didn’t even have flour. They only had enough flour to make two loaves of bread. So, the children were praying over those two loaves of bread.”

As the drought dragged on for the rest of the year, the wells dried up and they had to buy water. It cost over S$1,000, a sum they could not afford.

“So, we did a small fundraiser for them. We asked our friends to help,” said Yong Chian.

“After that, we also increased our monthly giving.”

Pivoting because of Covid

The next year, Covid struck. The school had to close and, with that, a major source of income disappeared. To diversify, Josephine, the pastor’s wife, started a small farm. But they needed money for water and electricity.

Said Yong Chian: “The government was offering this scheme where they could apply for free electricity for farming but they had to pay for the motor and the administration.

“We thought that it was good to for them to go into this because then they would be able to scale up the farming to finance the shelter and the school.”

The Singapore team with the children from the school.

This time around, they needed S$5,000. That was when the Heahs struck upon an idea.

Said Brenda: “We have a dog and we follow these dog profiles on Instagram and saw someone doing a fundraiser during a Zumba class.”

Continued Yong Chian: “We know of these groups of our friends who conduct exercise classes, and our neighbour is a personal trainer. So, we asked them if we could use their sessions to get people to donate.”

“Our wish is that we can get a sponsor for every child.”

The plan was simple – join a class, get fit and donate however much you feel compelled to.

They publicised the workout sessions by word-of-mouth and got the children from the shelter in India to join in virtually via Zoom.

Said Brenda: “We realised the difficulty of telling their story and for people to believe us. We wanted something more than just photos to show. So, doing the exercise with the children involved was a better platform to tell their story.

“When the kids came, everyone was looking at them, especially since some of them were disabled. Then, they realised that these children are real and not some made-up story.”

Through three exercise sessions, nearly 30 participated and they managed to raise the money they needed.

The Heahs and their friends at the exercise session to raise funds for Ps Raja’s ministry. The children from the shelter (second row, middle) also attended the session.

“There were even people who didn’t join the exercise but gave anyway,” said Yong Chian.

“When the kids came (onscreen), people realised that these children are real and not some made-up story.”

But more needs remain. Ps Raja is hoping to install solar panels in the school to offset their electricity needs.

Said Brenda: “Our wish is that we can get a sponsor for every child. Then, at least they have money to see them all the way through to university.”

So, the Heahs are prayerfully thinking of how else they can raise funds to help.

For the couple who have always had missions upon their heart – they met on a mission trip organised by their church when Brenda was 17 and Yong Chian was 19 – partnering the pastor is their way of being part of the mission work.

“We keep in touch all the time. They tell us how the children are doing, what they are doing and ask us to pray for them and their church members.”

If you would like to help support the children in the shelter and St Paul Nursery/Primary and High School, run by Ps Raja in the village of Nainarpalayam in Tamil Nadu, you can email Brenda and Yong Chian here


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About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.