Ethan Chia

CHARIS Volunteer

Stories - Ethan

I was first introduced to social volunteerism when I joined the Interact Club in Junior College. Interacting with my beneficiaries for the first time exposed me to our country's fragile and vulnerable side. It shocked me how many people in our midst conceal the pain and struggle they endure every day to make ends meet. Serving as a project leader for a home improvement project for the elderly and a tutor for disadvantaged children, I learned more about struggles my beneficiaries faced, many of which were circumstantial. The problems they faced were deep-seated and would take a lot of effort to mitigate.

The simplicity and spirit of grateful remembrance my beneficiaries held had a significant impact on me. God had shown me the need for simplicity in my own life through them. Despite their struggles, many of them lived happy lives, finding joy in the ordinary and the simple and being grateful for the little they had. As much as I was able to help my children beneficiaries to improve academically and for my senior beneficiaries to have a clean home again, they too taught me what living in joy and simplicity meant. Even as the workload towards A-Levels piled up, it still brought me great joy serving them.

The temptation to turn away from the social mission for good was particularly strong during National Service. It was often exhausting, and it took a toll on me physically and mentally when I was still actively volunteering. After two years away, I was determined to focus on my studies to "make the most" of my university education, determined to advance in any way possible en route to a stable career.

Near the end of my National Service, God prompted me to take a silent retreat in Chiang Mai in early 2020. Deep within the retreat, I was deeply struck by one of the passages my spiritual director gave me. "For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you invited me in, I needed clothes, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you looked after me, I was in prison, and you came to visit me… Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'" Matthew 25:35-40.

How could I bear to see so many in my midst suffering and unable to make ends meet, so many who are alone and rejected, and not extend a helping hand to them? By loving the least among me, it is a tangible way for me to love my God, who has been so faithful to me, and sow the seeds in my beneficiaries to serve God in my small way. All this service all these years was my little prayer to God – all I did to help them was, in my own small way, an expression and a prayer to love my neighbour. A spark was reignited in me as I remembered how Jesus cared for the least among Him, healing the lepers and the blind, and curing the sick. Called to live in His image and likeness, I was called to step out of my comfort zone to go on mission again.

Returning home to Singapore, I received an email asking for volunteers to teach piano lessons to children in a convalescent home. Being passionate about music, and with the newfound call to go out to serve once again, without hesitation, I gave my "yes". To this day, I continue to teach my lovely beneficiaries every week.

In Philippians 2:12-13, St Paul exhorts how "we are set in motion by God to do good, to achieve selfless greatness, and to glorify Him." As I continue to journey through university, I recognise how God continues to give me grace to serve the least among me, and to lift them up to God. I am determined to work wherever God calls me to uplift the downtrodden among me.

As we celebrate 200 years of Catholicism in Singapore, I had the privilege of attending micro-events CHARIS, and Caritas organised. Listening to the testimonies of so much God-filled social mission happening in our midst, locally and regionally, was a glimpse of the beautiful mosaic God is piecing together to heal the brokenness in our world. With the gifts we have been given by God, we too are called to share it with those around us. Find your light, and let it shine for others, regardless of what or where our mission field may be. God will provide and multiply what we offer - loaves and fishes, or our two copper coins, as we carry Him to the people around us and let His light shine through us as His vessels.