July 2017-Issue-This is GRACE not a RACE-

by Kevin Pang & Lucy Toh

Mrs Chua-Lim Yen Ching, an alumna of St Margaret’s School, shared that coming back to her old school brought back fond memories, which meant a lot to her.  She shared that her father, although not a Christian then, wanted her to study in a mission kindergarten followed by St Margaret’s Primary and Secondary because of the good values taught and, it was here in St Margaret’s Secondary that she became a Christian. She asked the audience to reflect on who we are, why we are where we are, and why we are doing what we do. It is important to stay grounded and be reminded that even challenging times are meant to be a season of growth.


A calling from God

Mrs Chua shared how in her own life, teaching has been a calling from God referring to her personal philosophy of what it means to be called by God as summed up by the acronym, G-R-A-C-E.  The following is a summary of her sharing.
1.     It is God’s will
We often ask others: “How do we know we have made the right decision?” Mrs Chua shared that in truth, only we ourselves could answer that question because only we could experience the peace of mind. No one could tell us what truly God’s will was for us.
She recounted how in 2006, she contributed as a resource person for the conceptualisation of NorthLight School. A decision was to be made on who should head the school, and Mrs Chua shared how she was keen to take up the role, as she had the heart to work with this profile of students. However, she was worried that she did not have the experiential empathy and might not be able to fully understand the challenges faced by the students.
As a result, Mrs Chua prayed about it, and sought advice from her father. He advised her not to take up the post as he feared that she would get discouraged and leave the public service. However, she was not deterred as she continued to harbour a deep desire to serve this group of students, but was apprehensive of what it could entail.
Mrs Chua continued to pray about the decision, and asked God for clarity. Just at this moment, she received a note from a person from Malaysia, someone who had attended one of her talks. The note was on how when God called Moses to bring people out of Egypt, Moses did not ask so many questions, but simply took up the job. This was very clear to her and she offered herself for the role.
She recounted how earlier in 1997, she was the leader of a project team to explore ways to better support the EM3 and Normal (Technical) students. This was one of the 32 project teams under Thinking School Learning Nation, initiated by then Permanent Secretary Mr Lim Siong Guan.  At that time, the project team had already suggested starting up a specialised school to cater for this specific group of students. However, while the idea was good, the timing was not ripe. And indeed, it was only 10 years later that NorthLight School was set up in 2007.
2.  Importance of Resilience
We may ask ourselves: “I am very tired, how long do I persevere?” However, it would be important to never let a bad situation bring out the worst in us, but rather choose to stay positive. We can be the strong person that God created us to be.
3.  Importance of Authentic Leadership
A question that is often asked: “Why do my colleagues at times misunderstand my actions and intentions?” Mrs Chua shared that while our intentions are invisible, our actions are the only area that is visible. When people simply look at our actions, they may not appreciate our deeper intentions.
She shared that though there were difficult times, there were also many rewarding moments. In 2007, a very generous donor donated Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to all in the school. Ten years later, one of the students who benefitted from the gesture came back to school, and bought 850 cups of ice cream to give to every child. The ex-student shared that while the ice cream was no big deal, he could never forget the important experience of being cared for by the gesture, and wanted to create the same experience for others. In the same way, Mrs Chua asked everyone in the audience to keep focused on our mission. Teaching is about touching lives. We all can make a big difference, if we keep authentic and remain focused on our mission.
4.  Belief in Collective Relationships
Collective relationships were Mrs Chua’s core theory of success. She shared that as educators, we must collaborate. We should not look to compete, but to recognise who our true boss is.
Success at work need not be at the expense of friendships or character. For ultimately, it is not material things, but eternal character we want to strive towards. In an organisation, we are part of a bigger whole and the collective wisdom is important.
Mrs Chua shared the example of an ex-student of NorthLight School. He aspired to be a graphic designer, but when he could not clear his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) twice, he gave up his dream. He shared his aspiration with his teachers in NorthLight School and with their support and encouragement, he did very well and went on to pursue his education in the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).   He eventually graduated and did well in ITE and then, progressed to Nanyang Polytechnic. Now, he shared that he could see his aspiration coming back to him. The collective relationships and leadership of the teachers in NorthLight School had made the difference in him.
5.  To be an Exemplary worker for Christ.
It was important for all of us to not only talk the walk, but walk the talk. To reiterate this point, Mrs Chua shared a humourous story of how she had showed a lack of faith when first organising a briefing to teachers, who were interested in applying for a position in NorthLight School. She was keen to rally people, who were fully passionate about the cause so she wanted teachers to apply rather than to be posted in.  However, at the last moment, she got cold feet, and fearing that there would be a very small response, she requested to shift the briefing from the large-sized auditorium to another venue of 80-person capacity. The aim was to make the gathering feel more crowded and generate a more positive buy-in from the potential applicants.
However, Mrs Chua was caught by surprise when eventually 150 teachers turned up at the briefing. There were insufficient chairs and teachers were made to sit on the steps and the floor during the briefing.
The following Sunday, she was to lead Sunday School in church. The passage to be taught was on how Peter showed little faith when Jesus asked him to cast the net for fishes.  She found it difficult to teach the lesson with conviction, when she herself had displayed the very lack of faith that Peter was rebuked for. 
Mrs Chua encouraged all of us to always persevere in being exemplary workers, and always have faith in walking the talk, thus inspiring other teachers to have the same common spirit in helping the children we serve.
To conclude, Mrs Chua shared that with God in the picture, our journey was not a RACE, but blessed by God’s GRACE. She shared God’s provision for her family while enduring a recent personal crisis after her daughter suffered from a fall with internal bleeding in the brain. God was present throughout the ordeal, and despite the many times she found it hard to keep faith, God was faithful and did not let her be tempted beyond what she could bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). In the end, her daughter recovered and she not only understood God’s sovereignty but also experienced it.
Each time when we felt that we were self-sufficient, Mrs Chua encouraged all to remember His provisions, and to reflect on the lyrics of the song, “Follow Me” by Ira Stanphill, the second verse of which says:
"I work so hard for Jesus" I often boast and say, 
"I've sacrificed a lot of things to walk the narrow way, 
I gave up fame and fortune; I'm worth a lot to thee," 
And then I heard Him gently say to me, 
"I left the throne of glory and counted it but loss, 
My hands were nailed in anger upon a cruel cross, 
But now we'll make the journey with your hand safe in mine, 
So lift your cross and follow close to me." 
With His grace, we can look at the past without regrets, manage the present without anxiety, and face the future without fear.
To end her address, Mrs Chua presented all with a gift of a bookmark with seeds embedded. Mrs Chua encouraged all to plant the seeds in soil, and “bloom where they are planted”.
(This talk was given at the Teachers’ Christian Fellowship Dedication Service and Seminar on 27 May 2017 at St Margaret’s Secondary School)