Pandemic Meets Providence
Our Trinitarians with God on the COVID-19 frontline.
By Daniel Koh
Not all heroes wear capes. For COVID-19, our Trinitarians donned protective suits, and wore God's heart.
In the dormitories, hospitals, laboratory, and airport, each answered God's call to serve on the frontline. Each carried God's love, brought God's peace, and spoke God's hope in the midst of one of the worst crises the world has seen. Each courageously bearing witness of God's unceasing Providence, for God Himself is on the frontline.
Providence through His people
He gently swung open the door, and there she was learning to crawl on the floor. Briskly, he placed his work bag down. Glancing sideways at his wife of seven years, he hurried to the bathroom to take a shower. “Daddy’s home,” she whispered to their baby girl. Minutes later, with his hair still damp, he knelt forward and lifted their precious daughter to his chest, “I’ve missed you both the whole day.” This has been a typical work day for Dr Matthew Chen and his wife, Miranda Zhang, since the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It’s not easy for my young daughter and me to say goodbye to my husband each time he left for work knowing that he was going to come face-to-face with COVID-19 in the pandemic wards or the dormitories,” shared Miranda, “We do take extra measures to keep our household safe, like making sure he doesn’t come into contact with anything or anyone at home until he has taken a shower and disinfected his scrubs. Still, the worry can be real, and the journey can seem isolating, even more so with the Circuit Breaker.”
(Read their miracle of conceiving Elizabeth here.)
“The worry can be real, and the journey can seem isolating” – how honest, and how true also is God’s sovereignty and His comfort, as Miranda added, “God assured me He is in total control, He hears me, and He is walking with each and every one of us during this trying time. Romans 8:28 has been a source of comfort every time I felt anxious about my husband on the frontline.
Matthew’s initial fears during the early stages of the pandemic (before the Circuit Breaker) were threefold: Will he get infected? Will he transmit the virus to his loved ones? Will he infect others? But God’s peace prevailed. With three simple words – “God will reign”, Matthew put his hands to the plow with the all-transcending peace of God.
(Photo from @projectclovenuhs)
It wasn't easy. Yet, knowing his God-given assignment to "be the light for God's Kingdom in these dark times," Matthew also packed and delivered care packs with daily necessities for migrant workers. Matthew even volunteered to go to the dormitories to review confirmed cases; and together with other colleagues, developed a COVID-19 resource guide for older folks in the community. “See a need, meet a need” remains Matthew’s motto.
The couple drew strength from their spiritual family. Miranda shared, "even though isolated ourselves from our Connect Group to protect them, they had been a wonderful source of support. They constantly checked in on us, sent yummy food and kept us in prayer.
Everyday, we thank God for still being able to gather in front of the TV to worship God and receive His Word. Though through digital means, His presence is still felt very strongly. We are truly blessed with dedicated pastors. These may seem run-of-the-mill to some, but to us, these conduits of God give us strength to press on.”
Providence through His promise
When the first migrant worker was tested positive for COVID-19, it triggered a tsunami of dread and fear among the migrant workers. A new management response was implemented and Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lawrence Eng was activated.
While no stranger to handling crises and being exposed to risky situations, the police veteran of 27 years found himself in new territory. Deployed as the Team Leader for the Forward Assurance and Support Team at a dormitory in Tuas, he was in charge of setting up medical facilities, bringing in supplies and food, and managing the logistics and housekeeping. His team also oversaw operations such as swabbing, migrant worker movement plans within the dormitories, and mass conveyance of migrant workers out of the dormitories. The basic and welfare needs of more than 11,000 migrant workers fell upon his shoulders.
Said the senior SPF officer, “There were many conflicting issues. For example, there is a need to limit movement and maintain social distancing measures to curb the spread the spread of the virus. Yet, the workers also need to move around physically for mental wellness. How do you strike the balance when we are talking about eight blocks with 11,000 workers?
Many of the issues have to be settled on the ground. Everyday, I rely on God. Besides asking God for protection against the virus, I need to ask God for His favor and wisdom to be upon me. Favor to talk to the workers, favor to talk to operators, favor to talk to the workers’ employers.
Through it all, God helped me to stay calm and empathize with the migrant workers. He enabled me to engage them with care and patience. I have been here at the dormitories for two months and God has helped me to deal with every challenge. He has given me wisdom to plan and execute all the operations. I feel very honored and fulfilled to be called for this deployment. I am happy that I can contribute on the frontline in this fight. My life motto is ‘to serve God and the nation’. Hence, this deployment is so appropriate and rewarding!”
When asked if his family had concerns over his being a frontliner, he applauded his wife who took care of matters at the “home-front”, and quipped that his children are proud of their frontliner-dad. “There were times where there were concerns when the number of positive cases kept increasing at the dormitories. To add to that, I had officers working alongside me that tested positive. Then Pastor Dominic shared a sermon on Psalm 91. This Psalm rang in our minds whenever we felt uneasy. It builds our faith and assures us, knowing that God will be our refuge and no harm will overtake us. He will protect us when we call on Him.”
Providence through His purpose
Like Lawrence, SAF Doctor Ryan Tan was also called to serve the migrant workers, but in a different capacity. Deployed at the Community Isolation Facility at Singapore Expo, every one of Ryan's patients was a COVID-19 positive migrant worker. The risk of contracting the virus in the event of a breach in the personal protective equipment was real and high.
The young doctor recalled his struggle in accepting the role. “Initially when I was approached for the role, it disrupted several personal plans I had made. Yet God's question to me was clear – 'Will you serve me, even if it costs you?' And the answer, inspired from 2 Samuel 24:24 was clear as well. I will not offer the Lord that which costs me nothing.”
He soon found himself in uncharted waters. "Due to the novelty of COVID-19, national medical guidelines get regularly updated with international standards. Hence we had to adapt quickly in tandem with the guidelines and effect the changes on the ground level to ensure we deliver the best possible care.
It humbled me and taught me to rely on God's strength and provision, and to trust that He is truly in control and sovereign even when the situation may not seem that way to us."
As Ryan gave of himself to God's calling, he received much more. “One of the most rewarding experiences was through an encounter with a recovering patient. He came to the medical post to give us verbal encouragement. He felt fortunate to receive good medical care and be taken care of in the facility. He shared that he would have been fearful of his life, had he caught the virus in his home country. In his own words, "down here in Singapore, I nothing scared." This affirmed and encouraged my calling as a medical doctor, and is something precious to keep me progressing in the years ahead.”
Our God is on the frontline fulfilling His purpose and purposing those that serve Him.
Providence through His protection
At a time when everyone was putting out all measures to steer clear of contact with the coronavirus COVID-19, Lucy Tiong volunteered to closely examine the virus.
The Medical Technologist in the Singapore General Hospital, Department of Microbiology, Bacteriology Laboratory identifies and tests antibiotics on bacteria isolated from the virus specimens.
“Some of our staff were quite hesitant to process the COVID-19 specimen and feared contracting the virus. As a senior staff, I took the lead and volunteered.
But it was something new which we had not done before. I started to pray for wisdom, protection, provision and favor for my workplace and colleagues. My Connect Group members also prayed alongside me, and even baked cookies for my colleagues!"
"As I was processing the specimen for the first time, I felt God’s presence with me. God told me ‘just do it'! And 1 John 4:4 came into my mind. ‘He who is in me is greater than the one who is in the world.’ He protects me. His name is above all other names. SAR-CoV-2 is just another name that shall bow down before Him,” declared Lucy.
God's presence remained with Lucy throughout, even in heightened times of stress. “In the midst of all the fear and tension, I could encourage my co-workers with His peace, joy and strength. The return of overseas students and mass testing of migrant workers increased the number of COVID-19 cases in our community from. This meant we were exposed to so many COVID-19 specimens, but all my colleagues remain well. No one contracted the COVID-19 virus. All glory to our Most High God for His shield of protection over us.”
Our God is on the frontline protecting those who place their trust in Him. He is our shield and rampart. (Psalm 91:4)
Providence through His peace
It was the first day of Chinese New Year. Many families were gathering joyously in festive celebrations. But in Singapore Changi Airport, a different crowd was mustering. Almost 150 displaced passengers were crowding the customer service podium, demanding answers, all at once, from Customer Service Agent Jeremy Cheang. "New arrival immigration restrictions meant their flight was delayed for three hours," Jeremy explained.
But amid the chaos, Jeremy calmly prayed for God's strength and felt God's peace and assurance. "I knew I was God's mouthpiece. So I spoke peace and reassured the passengers. When the passengers were finally boarding, I made sure to wish everyone a Happy Chinese New Year. A family of three wished me back. Even though I was exhausted, I felt super appreciated and fulfilled."
In the weeks to come Jeremy, who used to prayer-walk Singapore Changi Airport's three terminals to intercede for the nation's borders, also found himself reassuring colleagues.
As the COVID-19 situation worsened, the number of sudden flight changes increased, and so did the number of frustrated passengers. Once the security had to be called in to calm the passengers down. Jeremy assured colleagues who were uncomfortable dealing with these passengers. "At times, I, like my colleagues, wish that COVID-19 didn't even happen. But God's provision and peace has been unfailing. God is good," reflected Jeremy.
Our God is on the frontline pouring out His peace “which transcends all understanding” to and through His people. (Philippians 4:7)
Providence through His passion
Isolated with no family and loved ones around. The sterile room cold and devoid of life. Only the sound of the medical equipment and each laborious gasp for breath are heard. Thoughts race through the patient's mind as he/she waits, and waits. The stench of fear grows stronger as doubts increase.
Suddenly the silence breaks with a cheery "hello!". Eyes that smile through the goggles meet the eyes of the patient. The same cheery voice gently comforts. Like a ray of light, peace breaks through.
The scenario above may be fictional, but the cheer that Nurse Ong Huirou brings to COVID-19 patients in the Emergency Department’s “isolation zone” of a public hospital is real.
“I see myself as a vessel of God's peace and joy to my colleagues and especially to my patients, as everyone is worried and anxious during this whole season.
God reminded me about the power of words, how it has the power to build others up or tear others down. I continued to encourage my colleagues with uplifting words, and keep spirits up with my cheerful personality. Speaking words of comfort and encouragement helps to cheer patients up as they wait,” Huirou shared.
It wasn't an easy role to step into. The chirpy nurse had her own initial fears to overcome as the plethora of tasks she had to handle meant close contact with confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients. The risk was high.
“Initially, I was stressed and worried about contracting the virus and bringing the virus back to my family. I was also concerned about not delivering the best care for my patients in a timely manner. However, I committed each working day to God and asked for extra strength, peace and wisdom during this time, especially when I was assigned to the isolation zone.”
Sister Ong Hui En and other family members were also supportive and prayed.
The physical and mental stresses were real. "The repeated changing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) between patients, even if contact times were less than 5 minutes, was really tiring. Wearing the N95 mask and face shield not only made it hard to breathe, but also muffled our voices, making it difficult to communicate with patients and colleagues." In her busiest shift, Huirou changed her PPE about 35 times.
"Things were very uncertain at the start. We had to work with workflows that were constantly changing. There were many times we had to make a judgement call on the spot. Patients were frustrated and panicking as they were worried about many things."
"But God's grace is more than sufficient. He has sustained me and restored His peace and joy in my life, such that I am able to also be a vessel of His peace and joy."
To the distressed migrant workers whose swab results turned out positive, that peace and joy was a lifeline. Many had never been hospitalized before. The language was foreign. Many did not understand what was happening and dreaded not being able to work and repatriate money to their families back home. Huirou made a conscious effort to slow down and explain what was happening with the help of Google Translate, basic English, and gestures to allay their anxieties. “God reminded me of Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – 'He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow,and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt'. I believe I brought God's encouragement and hope to them by speaking simple comforting words,” said Huirou, God’s bright shining beacon of peace.
Our God is on the frontline passionately defending those suffering and bringing His love to and through His people.
His Providence and us
God’s Providence was resoundingly evident with those served tirelessly on the frontline. As the fight rages on, His Providence is also with you. Whether at home or at work, young or old, each of us plays an integral role in the fight again COVID-19. Each of us is in a victorious battle that is fought and wrought together with God. Each of us is at the frontline – where pandemic meets Providence!
"For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory." (Deuteronomy 20:4)
“Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you.” (Deuteronomy 3:22)
Reflect & Respond
How have you seen God fight with you in your challenging times? Is there someone you can share your story with?
Which of these stories give you the confidence to know that God is in control and He is still fighting for and with you, even when it does not seem like it? Is there someone you can share the story with?
How can you be a conduit of God's Providence as the COVID-19 flight continues?