By Ps Lim Wei-en
As humans, we naturally gravitate towards those whom society or our in-group holds in high regard (usually the strong, smart and successful). Few of us like to be, or be associated with those, at the margins for being at the margins seems to suggest that we are “less than” and thus less worthy of friendship, respect and love.
Yet, as Christians, who we choose to associate with and care for should not be governed by such social forces and values but by Scripture. And from Scripture, it is clear that God has a heart for those at the margins.
Two weekends ago, Asst Ps Gift Daniel preached from Deuteronomy 10 in which we learnt that God is a God who “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among (Israel)” (Deut. 10:18) – three groups of people at the fringes of society then. Through Jesus’ ministry on earth, we also see his heart for those who, in his day, were at the margins – women, people with disabilities (e.g. the blind and lame), of a different race (e.g. Samaritans), who were ceremonially impure (e.g. lepers), and who held questionable jobs (e.g. tax collectors).
Believers who aspire to grow in godliness must thus minister to those at the margins, beginning with those in the Christian community, then looking beyond our walls to those in society. We can do so in practical ways, such as through our Good Neighbours Initiative (https://www.biblechurch.sg/good-neighbours). We can also do so by seeking to better understand those at the margins.
“What we do not understand, we will fear. And what we fear, we will ostracize. But if we understand, we can begin to empathize. We can give space. We can give grace.”
So said our speaker, Mr Leow Wen Pin, last weekend in the first of two sermons in the “Ministry at the Margins” mini-series. Mr Leow was speaking on the topic of dementia and this weekend, Rev Jasper Sim will be addressing the topic of mental health challenges.
Dementia and mental health issues have been on the rise in Singapore, the former because of our aging population, the latter because of the increasing stress of modern life, exacerbated by the pandemic. (This past week alone, CNA ran an article detailing how COVID has affected those aged 18-35 and The Straits Times, an article on the need to address mental health at the workplace). It is therefore imperative that the church grows in our understanding of such social issues, lest in our lack of understanding, we end up ostracizing the very ones we are called to love and serve.
Helpfully, there are plenty of online resources to turn to with regard to these two concerns. Here are a few which have given me greater understanding of dementia and mental health challenges, mostly from a Christian perspective.
Helpful Resources on Dementia
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6h_BcVYiCjY (A CNA documentary entitled “Facing Dementia: Do I Have Dementia?”)
https://www.abc.net.au/religion/gentle-discipleship-theological-reflections-on-dementia/10096784 (Dr John Swinton reflects theologically on dementia)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U57SKAQf79A (Ps John Piper reflects on the dignity of those with dementia)
A difficult privilege — Salt&Light (saltandlight.sg) (A testimony by a caregiver encouraging other caregivers)
Helpful Resources on Mental Health
https://www.cru.org/sg/en/stories/helping-others-grow/lets-talk-about-mental-health-in-church.html (An article reflecting on a talk by Dr Tan Soo-Inn on mental-emotional health)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-9Kc45aY30&t=131s (Dr Matthew Stanford clarifies misconceptions about mental health which some Christians have)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Bz0VnUw1PI&t=478s (Dr Russell Moore interviews pastors Rick Warren and Tony Rose on the subject of mental health)
https://faithit.com/depressed-christian-church-redeemed-mama/ (a blogpost by a Christian writer reflecting on her own experiences and encouraging Christians who are depressed)
Let us not, because of our fear, pride or nonchalance, shy away from equipping ourselves to better understand the issues facing those at the margins. And as we grow in our understanding of those at the margins, may we learn to empathize with and minister to them with the grace of Christ. In this, we would only be doing what Christ first did for us when, by grace, he reached out to us, and brought us from the margins into the very centre of God’s love.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph. 2:13)