6 July 2018 was the day of my enlistment.
As a cell group leader prior to enlistment, I had made plans to stay back in the tertiary ministry: I wanted to disciple the younger guys there to be an example to others around them.
When I met my mentor, I was ready to share my ambitions for the tertiary ministry with him. But the meeting didn’t go the way I expected.
My mentor told me that the leaders actually planned to move me to the National Service (NS) Ministry, explaining the rationale behind why they chose me to move over.
As I listened to my plans being washed down the drain I was asked to make a decision whether I supported such a move. It was unknown territory and I was fearful of entering it.
But even within those short 5 minutes, the Holy Spirit revealed to me that my plans to stay on had been for myself: I wanted my comfort zone, to stay with people I was familiar with. My motives were mostly selfish and I felt that having invested so much in the ministry over the last 4 years, I didn’t want to bid farewell just yet.
When I realised that I could still disciple men in the NS ministry, I made the difficult decision to move on.
When I joined the NS group, there was already a mixture of guys from different NS vocations. Some were with the Singapore Police Force, some were commanders-to-be in the Army, while others had already ORDed (finished serving).
They were all open and eager to know more about my life, asking me many different ice-breaking questions over a small welcome party. That introduced me to the idea of an NS-focused cell group that would support each other 24/7, every step of the way.
The culture was difficult to adjust to. For one, it’s an all-guys ministry, and our meeting times were vastly different and a lot less flexible than the tertiary groups. Still, I decided to give this ministry a shot.
Fast forward, here I am two weeks after my Passing Out Parade (POP) and I’ve already learnt so much about why this ministry is important.
Unlike in school where people come from different courses with different struggles, everyone in NS goes through the same stage in their journey: Basic Military Training (BMT).
The NS guys all have the same starting point. It was always reassuring to know that if they’ve been through it and survived – so could I. They also gave me a lot of tips and assurance about BMT prior to my enlistment. For instance, field camp was something I was extremely scared about, but my cell group supported me by sending me a long list of what I could expect during field camp.
Each time we met, we had the chance to share about our week. Those who were enlisting could also hear about what to expect once they eventually took that fateful ferry ride to Tekong.
Regardless, we always have a lot of fun sharing our experiences with one another and listening to different perspectives on NS life.
I’ve come to realise that time is something that I’ve taken for granted as a civilian.
Time is very, very precious. Now, when we have gatherings, it’s so much more enjoyable because everyone treasures the time we share together.
We also tease, disturb, and play pranks on one another like kids. But simply having fun is something that’s needed after a long and tiring week in camp. Not only do we enjoy each other’s shenanigans, we also gather to learn God’s Word together in service and in cell group meetings.
Tertiary cell groups typically meet on weekdays, but meeting on weekdays is an impossible task for NSmen as we are caught up with training during the week. So we always meet after we book out of our respective camps (preferably on Saturdays before or after our service).
We’ve laughed, prayed but also suffered together with our brothers going through difficult times in camp. We’ve also rejoiced with brothers are victorious or who have achieved things. Without this Christ-centered bond with one another, NS would really be a major struggle.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” When our brothers suffer, we go through it together. We all have our own fair share of pains in camp, but when we share each other’s burdens, it builds camaraderie and brotherhood.
For brothers embarking on their new journey, having strong community support is essential. It’s always good times when we gather in our groups. But in camp, we face punishment, temptations and even persecution from our company mates.
In camp, conversations usually revolve around girls, sex and other worldly topics. Not only are vile things condoned, they are glorified there. Colourful language is also rampant in camp – you hear a colourful word every few seconds.
Difficult circumstances in camp push our minds to the limits. Guard duty, stoppage of leave (SOL), confinement and unfair situations make us question God. Through the week, we are placed in situations that test our faith, our selflessness, and our integrity to the limits.
The real test comes when we’re alone or with our section mates: will we still be willing to exemplify Christ, or will we live a double life? The lone soldier will find it extremely easy to fall away from God and follow his company.
That’s also where the NS ministry comes in. I am thankful that throughout the week, we keep each other in check, sharing openly about our struggles, temptations and fears. We share the Word with each other to remind ourselves to live a life in camp that honours Christ.
Even though we may be put through the fire, it doesn’t destroy us. Standing together in the company of God, we come out as stronger men (Daniel 3).
“In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.” (Ephesians 6:18 MSG)
Praying and supporting one another is essential in our Christian walk, especially so in NS where we only get to see each other once every weekend. Always be on the look out for your fellow brothers in NS as it’s very easy to fall in camp.
After all, the seventh SAF core value is care for your fellow soldiers!
The lone soldier will find it extremely easy to fall away from God and follow his company.
Looking back, moving to the NS ministry was a tough decision to make, but it was worth it.
Had I stayed on, I wouldn’t have been able to manage both my commitments to the nation and discipling younger men at the same time. Sharing my deepest struggles would have been a lot tougher as well, because those who are studying cannot fully empathise with my adversities in camp as they have not been through it.
I am thankful that the Holy Spirit revealed and corrected this hidden desire of mine for comfort, setting me instead on the right path through my NS years. Being able to bond, fellowship and journey with like-minded brothers running the same race has proven invaluable.
I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.
My cell group certainly helped to make my transition to NS smooth – even enjoyable!
If you are in NS and not attached to a group of brothers who will spur you on, I strongly encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and speak to your leaders about it.
Make it happen. Iron sharpens iron.