Sunday, 11 February 2018

Angels living amongst us.

You know, the Bible has a verse that reads: "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2).

There are many angels amongst us, and one of them is this year's winner of the Singaporean of the Year Award, Dr Goh Wei Leong (amongst the many, winner or otherwise).

When asked how he feels about the win, Dr Goh said: "The goodness and greatness is not in me or in HealthServe. We are just the conduit. The goodness and greatness comes through HealthServe."

Indeed, there is no ownership to sainthood. There is no one label or brand to it. Charity or generosity is not the affairs of one man, one name or one organization. Angels don't own registered copyright to doing good.

You don't cut ribbon before a cheering crowd to invite all and sundry into your chambers of charitable achievements. On the contrary, angels amongst us quietly and privately do it - day in, day out - without the fanfare, wherever they are, whatever they can give, however small, to make that difference.

Today's article by Wong King Hoh is a fitting tribute to the thousands of people/volunteers who have made the enduring difference to the lives of the many people they do not know. 

For them, it is never about the celebration of achieving an award or two. But it is about the quiet satisfaction of helping another, and to stand in the gap, one soul at a time, one willing spirit at a time, however long it takes.

Needless to say, Dr Goh's life leads the way here.

He recounted that kindness has a virtue of reciprocity, and his family was, on a number of occasions, in the receiving end of many acts of kindness.

His mother, who worked as a personal assistant to a Japanese officer, was once told to pass this message to her father: "Tomorrow, if you're asked to go for a job, do not go no matter what."

Dr Goh's grandfather's life was saved that day because his family found out that those who took the job offer were signing their death sentence. For those who went were duly executed.

On other occasions, "his maternal family also benefitted from the generosity of a wealthy businessman who let them live for years (rent-free) in one of his two garages."

In the article, Dr Goh admitted that in the beginning years, he "lost the plot for a while."

There was a period he "bought himself a second-hand Maserati, got himself a membership at the Singapore Island Country Club and lived the good life." 

Now, it is worth clarifying that there is nothing wrong with living the "good life" (whichever way one interprets it) as long as it is, above all, a life of meaning and significance too.

Anyway, all that changed for Dr Goh when he joined a friend on a humanitarian trip to Mongolia in 1995. He also went to India and started to make four humanitarian trips a year.

He summed up his experience in one of these trips with this soul-crunching observation:-

"I saw people who were alive but whose faces were dead. I had to amputate, without anaesthetic, the broken and dangling finger of a little boy. I saw utter destruction and the images still haunt me. People who had nothing had even less."

He added that, "what he did in that one week was meagre in the light of the scale of destruction and misery he saw."

This was his crossroad, and he said he had to give it all up, his sports car and membership, because "there was a disconnect. I had found far more interesting things to do by then."

The disconnect led him to set up HealthServe in 2006 when he asked a close friend, Mr Tang Shin Yong, "Don't you think there are now many migrant workers in Singapore?" 

Dr Goh realised at that time that "migration was a big issue," and as a doctor, he "felt there was a need to serve this community."

Lesson? Just three.

1) There was a part of Dr Goh's narration in the article that taught me a lesson about making a big difference by making that smallest adjustment in one's mentality and locality.

He said that, together with a group of friends, "they opened a bank account, found a place for a clinic in Geylang Lorong 23 and opened it on Saturday afternoons, charging just $5 per consultation."

But to their dismay, the patient traffic did not materialise as expected.

This was where they regrouped and "decided to cross the street to the even-numbered lanes in Geylang where sex workers ply their trade and many migrant workers live above brothels."

Dr Goh also befriended a pimp, "who introduced him to many migrant workers." That was where HealthServe really took off.

Sometimes, we have to "cross the street" to start a revolution, or a personal transformation.

It is not so much about giving up your Maserati or selling your club membership. But it is about letting go of what is holding you back from living a life of meaning and personal growth.

The rich young ruler walked away from Jesus brokenhearted not because he had not done enough good deeds in his life by complying with the strictures of his belief and giving to the needy.

He was broken-hearted because he could not bear to let go of his abundant possession. It was not so much the act of giving away that held him back, but his mindset, that is, his embedded spirit, which ultimately finds security in his possessions. 

In other words, the rich young ruler had followed the rules of his religion well like a willing disciple would, but when it comes to being open to and be transformed by his faith, he was much less willing about it.

So, "crossing the street" is a metaphor for me to allow what I know in the mind to transform what is in the soul, heart and spirit. This journey is definitely not an overnight brisk walk.

2) Although HealthServe had a humble start, what is amazing about it is how it grew into a wellspring of angels from all backgrounds, even grateful migrant workers, all coming together to touch, heal and connect lives.

As it expanded, Dr Goh and his co-founder Mr Tang realised that the issue went beyond medical problems.

He said that "many were depressed and lumbered with problems brought on by unscrupulous agents and employers; some even had no money to eat."

As needs became more diverse, HealthServe rose to the challenge and started to offer social support and legal advice.

Dr Goh said: "A full-time counsellor joined us. Then we got in lawyers, and also started offering free meals and MRT top-ups."

Migrant workers "even donated part of their workmen's compensation to the organization so that it could continue doing what it does."

Imagine that, a stranger changing another stranger's life, and as a collective group, it turned a community of strangers into a force of kindness to be reckoned with.

And finally...

3) My third lesson is a reflection premised on this extract:-

"Meanwhile, co-founder Mr Tang left the organisation three years ago. "He said he'd been a volunteer executive director for seven years and that if he didn't leave, HealthServe would not grow. He and I spent a year looking for a paid executive director," says Dr Goh, adding that he, too, plans to exit the organisation one day so that it can scale even greater heights."

You can tell a lot about a person by how he disclaims credit and shuns the limelight while he gives anonymously.

None of the finalists, or for that matter Dr Goh, set out to do what they did for the kind of recognition and attention they are getting now.

They saw a need, they crossed the street, and they met the need. It is as simple as that.

The power of their act is not just about helping another, whom they do not know, but how their act repeated over time created a deluge of gratitude that infected many around those who had received the virtue of kindness themselves.

Here, I recall what Jesus said: "'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

The prelude to that was this: "For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home." 

It is therefore comes as no surprise to me that in the HealthServe Mission Statement, it started with this "Founded in 2006 on Christian values,..."

This goes back to what Dr Goh said earlier in this post: "The goodness and greatness is not in me or in HealthServe. We are just the conduit. The goodness and greatness comes through HealthServe."

And if I take the Cross to be the hallmark of sacrificial giving, then, as a Christian, I take the empowering words of Dr Goh to mean that goodness and greatness does not come from one man or woman, or one name or organization, but it comes through Calvary, for it is only in the denial of self that you find the liberation from self, from all its entrapments of vainglory. Amen. Cheerz.

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