“Would you want to sleep in the rain amidst the bustle of the city tonight?”
That was the question that plummeted onto my head when I read the news. I then realised that loving others as yourself means taking action immediately.
On March 17, 2020, a record number of Malaysian workers crossed over to Singapore as a result of Malaysia’s movement control order.
The vast majority of them were properly accommodated by their employers, through a variety of means like hotels, dorms, rooms or HDB flats and private residences. Others stayed with relatives, friends or colleagues.
However, on the next day, news surfaced that most hostels and budget hotels had been fully booked until the end of the month – and Malaysian workers were found sleeping rough near Kranji MRT station.
I shared that article with two of my like-hearted peers whom I knew would head down with me that night in a heartbeat. I also asked another friend if he knew of existing efforts to help our Malaysian neighbours.
He linked me up with Abraham Yeo from Homeless Hearts who was planning a recce in the northern part of Singapore to see what the needs were.
So, we started off at Kranji MRT. The first neighbour we met was sitting right outside the Singapore Turf Club with a bag of his belongings and a can of beer, doing something on his phone.
He had been working in Singapore previously as a horse rider but lost his job due to the economic changes this year. He had been coming into Singapore to apply for a different job in the same company. Revealing that he didn’t have a work permit because he wasn’t employed, she saw no other solutions apart from persisting in looking for work in Singapore.
He shared with us that his training was very specialised and that it would be impossible for him to find a job anywhere else. Working in that company was his entire livelihood, so he knew he had to stay in Singapore during the Malaysian lockdown.
He was in a limbo situation.
Through Dr Tan Lai Yong, one of our mentors at a school programme, we found out about Transit Point @ Margaret Drive. Run by New Hope Community Services, the former Queenstown Polyclinic has been transformed into a shelter for the homeless and rough sleepers in Singapore.
We offered to send him to Transit Point where he could rest for the night, explaining to him that he might be able to get help with his job application there. However, he wanted to wait for a friend staying in Singapore to get back to him about whether he could stay at his place. But he accepted my phone number and promised to call me if that option failed.
Before we set off to look for the next neighbour, we offered to pray for him in the name of Jesus. There was a mutual understanding that Jesus, too, was a stranger in a foreign land and would understand his plight. Praying with us, he verbally proclaimed the good news of an upside-down kingdom where the least will be the greatest.
An “amen” was followed by warm gazes, as our neighbour sent us off in search for others.
We went around a few more places: Old Woodlands Town Centre, Woodlands MRT, Marsiling MRT and Yew Tee MRT.
An uncle in Kranji whom we mistook for a neighbour (and who unwinds almost daily with a can of beer at Kranji MRT after a day of hard work) shared with us that after the previous night’s news report, many journalists started to appear – and our neighbours probably dispersed to find other places to stay.
As we trekked around to search for them, we fondly recalled that scene in Hacksaw Ridge where Desmond Doss prayed “Lord, help me get one more” each time he ascended the ridge to look for more survivors. We were praying that same prayer.
“Lord, help me get one more.”
Another neighbour we spoke to shared why he chose to sleep in Kranji MRT. He works just across the train station, and since work begins before the break of dawn, even the first train may not get him to work on time. He declined our offer to take him to Transit Point because he would not be able to get to work on time and feared losing his job.
As medical students who were familiar with being posted to hospitals on the other end of Singapore, his sentiment was not foreign to us. Taking a taxi or hitching a ride from parents was, however, a foreign concept for him.
To truly love our neighbour as we love ourselves, we learnt that we would need to provide more than just a place to stay. Hasn’t our Lord likewise called us to seek and practise hospitality?
Indeed, The Bible is very consistent about this message.
From the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:33-34) to the New Testament (Matthew 25:42-43), this same command to love the needy as ourselves rings through. This is important to God.
After all, it is the second greatest commandment for us: “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
When I first learnt about this, I remember my church pastors asked: “Who is then your neighbour?”. Reading the article of the rough sleepers at Kranji, I realised the plight of our Malaysian neighbours was an opportunity to obey Jesus’ commandment.
I had doubts about what I was going to say when I met them, and how a 24 year-old would be able to find them a place to stay. My parents would be so confused and irate if they were to find me bringing my neighbours back home.
But this was really a lesson in seeing how the Church is a body of many body parts, each performing different functions the others cannot do. For it was Dr Tan who told me of the places I could send the neighbours to, and my personal shyness was lifted with the help of my two friends.
So in the midst of COVID-19, as we practise various forms of social distancing, it has been divinely ironic to see how spiritually near the various parts of the Church are (and should be).
Learning this truth should wedge a burden for the lost into our hearts. Statistics in Singapore show that church-going Christians belong to the middle-to-upper income bracket. So we must use what God has given us to bless our communities.
May our churches ask who we are a neighbour to, and where the poor, the foreigner, the orphan and the widow are. These are the ones that God so loved.
And may we then execute justice for them and demonstrate God’s love.
Malaysia’s movement restrictions have been extended by 2 more weeks until April 14. Here’s how you can help:
- Volunteer at Transit Point, which is one of the venues under the Home Away From Home movement, an informal network of churches and Christian charities.
- As of March 27, Transit Point is almost at maximum capacity. Own a home? Shelter our neighbours.
- Donate to Micah Singapore, which is working with Homeless Hearts of Singapore to help vulnerable persons.