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Hydie Valdez being prayed over at St George's Church before receiving her Certificate in Theology. Previously a domestic helper to three families over 18 years, she is now a pastoral worker at the church as a helper to helpers. All photos courtesy of Hydie Valdez.

When Hydie Valdez was growing up in the Philippines, her mother worked in Singapore as a domestic helper for six years. Her father committed suicide when she was 11. Valdez’s mother did not go home for the funeral as she was still paying off her agent fees. She returned when Valdez graduated from high school.

But the family soon fell into crushing debt. An aunt then told Valdez about a recruiter looking for women to work in Singapore as domestic helpers. She signed up and found an employer after a few months. “I wasn’t so sure about it but I was also excited to have a job and help my mom,” Valdez told Salt&Light.

She arrived in Singapore in 1997, and worked with her first family for six years. She went through many challenges, worked long hours and lost a lot of weight. Yet she still loves the family like her own and said: “They are a part of what I am now.”

Hydie Valdez St George's Church

Hydie had always dreamt of being a missionary. The multicultural, international St George’s Church in Singapore is now the mission field where God called her.

Looking back on that season of her life, she muses: “It was like the life of Joseph … The Lord was molding me into what I will become in the future.”

The hardest part was not being able to go to church regularly; Valdez only had one Sunday off per month. Previously in the Philippines, she had been actively involved with a prayer group and was hungry for all things of God, even if she did not know the Bible well. She dreamt of becoming a missionary one day.

Out of a sense of loyalty, Valdez did not want to be the one to end her contract with her employers.

That prayer was answered. Six months before her contract ended, her employer told her they would not need her help anymore. Valdez had to search for a new employer quickly.

“I told God: ‘If you want me to have an employer, please find me one. I want this employer to tell me they want me. You choose an employer for me.’”

She also prayed for Sundays off and promised to give all her Sundays to the Lord.

Future treasure

During an interview with a British family, her prospective employer told Valdez that she liked her very much. Valdez got more than what she prayed for. She was given every Sunday off – as well as public holidays, a yearly visit to her family back home, and free calls home every week.

It was just before Christmas when she transferred to work for the British family. There was a surprise for her: Her new employers asked what she wanted for Christmas.

“My employer said: ‘I don’t want you to be a domestic helper for the rest of your life.'”

Stunned, Valdez asked for a Bible. It was the first Bible she owned. “I really felt like I got a treasure. I read it every night.”

The family also encouraged Valdez to think about her future.

“My employer said: ‘I don’t want you to be a domestic helper for the rest of your life. Why don’t you find a course that you want to take so that it will be useful for the future?’”

With their permission, Valdez attended a computer course. She also learnt skills to be a nursing aide.

Valdez paid for the courses even though her employer offered to. “Their support was enough already,” she said gratefully.

It was also during this time that Valdez was introduced to the church where she would eventually work at. Her employer’s daughter was participating in a concert at St George’s Church on Minden Road. Valdez was invited.

“When I saw the church, I felt very peaceful though I hadn’t heard the preaching yet. My employer said: ‘This is a nice church. Why don’t you try it?’”

It was the first Bible she owned. “I really felt like I got a treasure. I read it every night.”

Valdez started attending St George’s, and soon got involved in the welcoming ministry. The following years she and the team started the Filipino Fellowship that meets at church every Sunday for Bible study.

Valdez moved house with the British family a few times. Even when they moved to Sentosa, Valdez continued to attend St George’s faithfully. Her supportive employers would drive her to church on days when she was running late, even though they were not attending the service.

After six years with the family, Valdez felt it was time to move on.

New training ground

Her next employers were from different countries. Little did she know that it was going to be a new training ground for her.

Her employers’ daughter was diagnosed with a rare disorder that causes a progressive loss of motor skills and speech. Valdez brought the girl for her physiotherapy and speech therapy. Soon, she was doing more than caring for the girl’s physical needs.

“It was humbling. Even though I’m a domestic worker, I was the first to graduate from St George’s.”

“It was not sufficient to just have therapy once a week. Whatever I learnt from the therapist, I continued at home. People thought I was her private therapist.

“For example, I would put her on my lap facing me. She would take a blueberry and eat it. ‘Can you give me one?’ She would feed me. It was rewarding to see her condition improve.”

Sometimes, she would bring her charge to Toddler Time at St George’s. Every Tuesday, the team tells Bible stories, sings songs and prays with the toddlers before breaking them into groups for playtime. Through it, the team has the chance to befriend and reach out to the domestic helpers accompanying the children to the programme. Valdez was a volunteer on the team.

While serving her third family, Valdez found out about a theological course offered by Moore College. It was the first time that the school in Sydney offered distance learning from Australia, in St George’s Church. Valdez still dreamt of being a missionary, and a pastor encouraged her to enrol in the course.

She asked her employers for permission to take the night courses, promising that it wouldn’t affect her work. They readily agreed.

Hydie Valdez St George's Church

Hydie receiving her Certificate in Theology from one of her teachers.

She now saw that the long hours she worked with the first family as a blessing – they gave her the stamina to stay awake and prepare for her exams. “Sometimes I stayed up to do my readings till 2 or 3am in the morning.”

Valdez persisted and finished the course in 3.5 years, completing 18 subjects to earn a Certificate in Theology. As a domestic helper, she could not fly alone to attend her graduation ceremony in Australia. Her certificate was sent to Singapore and she received it in front of her church.

“It was humbling. Even though I’m a domestic worker, I was the first to graduate from St George’s.”

Reverse culture shock

Still hungry to learn and grow, Valdez applied to study at the Discipleship Training Centre, a small residential evangelical theological school. Her application for a student visa was rejected multiple times.

Thinking that perhaps her chances were not good because she was a work permit holder, Valdez resigned from her job as a domestic helper and returned to the Philippines in 2015 to await the result of another appeal. That too, did not work.

Her application for a student visa was rejected a total of six times.

“I told the Lord: ‘You did not lead me back to Singapore. I’m not sure at this point if this is Your plan for me.”

“God does not call the able, but enables those He calls.”

That was the start of a season of struggling to readjust to life in the Philippines.

“I had reverse culture shock after 18 years in Singapore. Everything was shocking to me in Manila. The noise, the pollution, the way of living, the services. I complained so much!”

On the recommendation from the dean of the Discipleship Training Centre, Valdez enrolled at the Asian Theological Seminary at Quezon City. During this season, Valdez relearnt her culture and how to lead bible study in Tagalog, something she was not used to doing.

Valdez graduated in June 2017, and she earnestly sought God’s will for her next steps.

She tried to come to terms with the multiple rejections of her student visa applications. What exactly was God’s plan for her?

A household of hundreds

Looking back on her life, going from household to household, she heard God speak. “The Lord said to me: ‘You used to work in different households, now you will be working in My household.’”

She then went on a trip to Taiwan with the mission agency OMF. While exploring ministry possibilities there, the Vicar of St George’s Church in Singapore wrote to her. They were looking for a coordinator of Toddler Time, and would she be interested in applying?

“Even though they look at me as someone with a better job, I’m still a servant – just to more people.”

Around the same time, the daughter of her first employer was getting married and invited Valdez to her wedding. Valdez had looked after her as a child, and had seen her grow up.

She returned to Singapore to watch the young lady get married.

During this visit, she was interviewed for the job at St George’s and secured the position. The next mountain to conquer was getting her S pass application approved.

“I prayed: ‘Lord, if this is Your will for me, I know You will provide everything, even the things I think I do not need. You are the boss.’ I gave that matter to the Lord.”

The S pass was approved and it was nothing short of a miracle to Valdez.

Hydie Valdez St George's Church

“If our earthly fathers plan for what we need even when we were in our mother’s womb, how much more will our Heavenly Father?” says Hydie.

Believing that “God does not call the able, but enables those He calls”, Valdez relies on Him for all that she does.

Today, she is a coordinator of the ministry that has served hundreds of children and domestic helpers over the years. Covid has not stopped them: Toddler Time currently meets on Zoom.

Valdez also leads Bible studies twice a week, and spends time counselling domestic helpers in need, even late into the night. “They apologise after crying and say: ‘Sorry, I made you stay up so late.’ I tell them: ‘This is nothing new to me. When you need someone to talk to, I’m always here.’’

In February this year, Valdez and her team ran an Alpha course for domestic helpers at lunchtime on Sunday.

Hydie Valdez St George's Church

Hydie (fourth from right) with members of the Filipino ministry during a Christianity Explored course at St George’s Church. “I am now a helper to the helpers. Even though they look at me as someone with a better job, I’m still a servant – just to more people.”

To Valdez, this is the mission field where God called her. “Although I’m not being sent elsewhere, it looks like they’re coming to me, in our multicultural, international church.”

While other domestic workers may look up to her as someone who has moved up the ranks in life, Valdez has a different perspective. “I am now a helper to the helpers. Even though they look at me as someone with a better job, I’m still a servant – just to more people.”

Little wonder then, that one of her favourite verses is from Psalm 121:2. “My help comes from the Lord. He has helped me in everything,” she says, with gratitude. “I keep telling others that if our earthly fathers plan for what we need even when we were in our mother’s womb, how much more will our Heavenly Father?”


MORE STORIES ON EMPLOYERS AND HELPERS MAKING A DIFFERENCE:

“Whatever the law states, we must do better”: Employers who cook for their sick helpers and pay for husband’s airfare because “love begets love”

Former domestic helper in Singapore finds new future in tea

“God gave me the love I was craving”: Former foreign domestic worker now married to a Singaporean

About the author

Ting Siew Lee

Ting Siew Lee, a former television news producer, has been a missionary in Timor-Leste since 2007. She enjoys deep conversations with friends and making people think. She believes that dark chocolate is the answer to every question.

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