|Mount Calvary Baptist Church (Singapore)||
|Mount Calvary Baptist Church (Singapore)||
by Sally Soong
Thanks be to GOD that I finally had the opportunity to share my testimony to my church, hopefully to touch the hearts of many unsaved souls who read this sharing.
Throughout all these years, I must admit that GOD has been merciful, forgiving and generous in His provisions in various stages of my life. I believe He will continue to do so as long as I pledge my loyalty to Him.
As our church celebrates another anniversary in July, it also reminds me of another year of safety back home in Singapore for me.
Unknown to many people, I was among one of the Singaporeans who managed to escape from the May 1998 riot in Indonesia… I happened to be in Indonesia at that time due to project participation for six months. Hence, between Nov. 97 and May 98, I was a frequent flyer from Singapore to Jakarta and vice versa. Since my daughter Vanessa was around 6 months of age, I always made it a point to travel back at the end of every month, thus making sure that my return trip was confirmed. However, there were two occasions when I did not manage to secure the seats smoothly.
The first was on 19th of Dec 1997 when SilkAir 185 crashed! Our air tickets were normally booked through Singapore Airlines and on that day when I was supposed to return home, my ticket was not confirmed until very late. Thank GOD that my travel co-ordinator did not suggest that I switch to that flight as I believe the transfer was easier due to the fact that they were sister companies. It was scary when Steven, my husband, fetched me from the airport that night and told me about the tragedy that happened hours ago which sent cold shivers down my spine!
The second occasion was on 6th of May 1998 after celebrating Vanessa’s first birthday which falls one day before. As it was only the beginning of a trip for me, it did not cross my mind to confirm the return ticket early. On the other hand, there were already small scale riots bursting out in the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta, (whereas the office where I was stationed at was located in the outskirts of Jakarta which I presumed to be very far from the incidents) but still under control by the military police, thus not causing any alarm to me as my main priority would be to concentrate on the project.
Another few days passed until the 14th of May, 1998. On a fine Thursday morning around 10.20 am some Indonesian colleagues ran to inform me about the outbreak of riots reported by their media. A lot of roads were closed. There were curfews everywhere, houses were burnt, goods were being looted, people were robbed and killed especially non-locals and even local Christians, etc. It was also emphasised for the safety of foreigners, they should return to their home country! I started to contact our Singapore embassy for advice. It was a hard time trying to dial through as I believe every Singaporean stranded in that country was calling them. When I finally got a chance to speak to the officer in charge, the only advice was to stay put in the building as it was the safest thing to do. Only when the situation was deemed ‘disastrous’ at the discretion of the embassy, then would a private jet mission be arranged. Next, I tried calling my Singapore office for assistance. Similarly, there was not much help given as I was advised to remain at the company hostel and wait for further instruction. Then it was lunch time. It was the first time in my stay there that I realised that time was crawling. How I wish I was back at home. My husband called a few times but I reassured him that I will take care of myself and the calls were made short because long distance calls were expensive and batteries were running low. At the back of my mind, I thought to set aside some battery life for emergency calls if required.
At the dining area, I saw a lot of foreigners who could not return back to their home countries. Most of them were Chinese coming from Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia and as the roads were closed they could not return home. The lunch was taken quickly with most of the people engaging in discussion on the political situation. Out of nowhere, a Taiwanese stood up and started to inform everybody that we should organise our own protection army as most of our belongings and valuables were kept in the hostel. Also, there was a big supermarket just across the road from our building which was inviting target for attacks!
Soon, men of all races and nationalities were being grouped, and leaders elected, and weapons improvised from daily use items were gathered. Duties to safeguard each part of the hostel vicinity were carefully planned and delegated. Children (some foreigners who were required to station for years in Indonesia also brought along their families) and women were told to retreat back into our respective rooms awaiting advice. Around 2.30 pm, in the humid weather, I was almost dozing off when a loud noise broke the tranquillity of the silence made by a pole hitting against some metal object. I was jolted wide awake and without much delay I grabbed my passport, hand phone and some valuables that I could lay my hands on and rushed towards the dining area which had become our assembly hall! Then the Taiwanese leader said, “Someone from our group has travelled out in a motorbike to find out the situation out there. He has reported that a big troop of people was heading our way. They were ransacking houses and looting shops as if they had been starved for years. Should these people attack our hostel, let’s try to provide as much food to them as possible but if they should turn violent, we have no choice but to attack back in defence.” Next he arranged for all the children and women to be transported to the hostels located at the production areas (by the way, I worked for a multinational pulp and paper manufacturing firm) where all the huge machinery were. While hiding, I made acquaintance with some people and realised that actually I was the only Singaporean there as most of my colleagues had returned to Singapore. Slowly the time crawled to 6.30 pm and another loud siren filled the air while I was deep in prayer. We were soon being transported back to the main building again. It was temporary good news for us when we were told that the troop of people disappeared without getting near to our area. GOD was working!
Shortly after dinner, we returned to our rooms to rest, but consciously speaking no one dared to close their eyes. Among my valuables there was the Bible which I brought along every time I’m on an overseas trip. Flipping though, a lot of known verses comforted my heart… Psalm 23, verse 5: …though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me… Psalm 27, verse 1: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? …plus many others. Suddenly, another round of sirens filled the air, this time more frantically and coming from more than one source. There was loud knocking on doors as if they were going to be torn down. Men’s voices shouting, “Quick, gather now… no time already… they’re coming,” were heard everywhere. Without further delay, in less than 10 minutes, all of us were assembled. Our leader spoke, “There is another troop coming our way. We must be prepared to fight. Please arm yourselves, if possible protect yourselves.” Quickly, we gathered in small groups among ourselves and all the lights were switched off. I could feel goose pimples on my hands and leg in the darkness and in my mind; I kept reciting Psalm 27, verse 1: …the Lord is the strength of my life… be strong…
Sure enough, around 10.40 pm, we could hear noises coming from outside, surrounding our building. We were all too scared to make noise. Thankfully, those children were already sound asleep and did not wake up in fear. At this moment, two lines of tears rolled down my cheeks as I thought of my daughter back home, telling myself that I would not leave her again if I could return back safely. After sometime the noises surrounding us subsided, then the lights were switched on and a gathering was called for again. There was some good news at least for that dreadful day. The message was conveyed to us that we managed to convince the hungry riot group that there was nothing edible in our company except papers… that turned their attention to the nearby supermarket instead! Although they had left, we were told to continue safeguarding our building as no one was sure whether they would return or another group might be coming.
So the men stayed awake the whole night while the women and children were told to squeeze into a few rooms located nearby. Some fell asleep after a tiring and dramatic day while some were still engaged in conversation. I was tired but my mind was still very active. Just as I was forcing myself to get a little rest, my hand phone sounded! One of my Singaporean colleagues who was stationed in another part of Indonesia was telling me that she and a few others were taking a risk by venturing out of her company hostel and travelling towards the airport and beckoned me to try since most of the roads were opened by then. According to my colleague, it would be better to leave early in the morning when the troublemakers were still resting and there also not many vehicles on the road. While I was hesitating whether to do so, there was this Malaysian colleague who asked if anybody was willing to join him as he hoped to head for the airport and try getting out of the country. Together, five of us including an army guy (by the way, there was an army barrack beside our hostel) seated beside the driver. Actually, we could not depend on one army guy for safety when our enemies could come in hundreds. Along the way, we could see smoke in the sky, some houses were still burning, there were overturned trucks on the road, shop fronts were vandalised. True enough, there were very few vehicles and not a single soul could be seen.
Throughout the less than 2 hours journey, I was praying silently in my heart. The next minute when I opened my eyes, I knew I was saved when the gigantic airport building stood in front of our vehicle. Quickly I dragged my luggage and disappeared into the crowd, departing from my other colleagues as we already had the agreement to arrange our own flight back to our countries. Painstakingly, I ‘swam’ my way through the ‘shoals’ of human beings in the airport building searching for the sign that says ‘Singapore Airline Ticketing Office’. When I finally waved my ticked at the counter staff to confirm my seat, I was told to wait for my turn. To my shock, the queue was extraordinarily long. It might take ages before it was my turn. I almost broke down then… I kept myself alert until 9.00 am on the 15th of May to contact my Singapore office travel coordinator who advised me to approach the airline office in the airport to appeal for my case. Forgoing the queue position, I dragged the heavy luggage with me, walked some distance, and climbed two floors up to reach the office. To my astonishment, the situation was worse there. I could not even fight my way through the crowds this time being tired and hungry. Food never crossed my mind as my first priority was to get out of the country fast! Without giving up immediately, I forced my way to speak to the officer in charge who told me to queue up at the ticketing counter again. Half dead, I dragged all my things with me and repeated the process to go back to the counter… this time around, the queue was even longer. Filled with anguish, I called my best friend in the company and both of us cried on the phone. She later suggested that I should forget the ticket I’m holding but get another ticket from another airline to get out of the country first. Heeding her advice, I headed for the ticketing office which had the shortest queue, Garuda Airline. Thankfully, I managed to buy a ticket for a plane flying to Kuala Lumpur that afternoon at 2.30 pm. Happily with the ticket safe in my pocket, I immediately checked-in to wait for the boarding time as it was still too early (about 11.05 am). I also chatted with my friend on the phone, not forgetting to inform Steven that I’m flying home. However the thing did not seem right when the time displayed on my watch turned 2.50 pm and there was still no announcement to board the plane. Also, there was no sign of the plane. Feeling panicky, I had no choice but to unwillingly approach the ground staff asking for an explanation. Putting on a smile, the staff told me that the flight had been cancelled due to the crew and pilots not being able to reach the airport on time because of traffic congestion I almost went hysterical but I did not because deep in my heart I know even if humans forsake me, GOD will not… I must have faith in Him. Again, I made my way towards the Singapore airline ticketing office, only to realise that the queue has multiplied in length! Preparing myself to stay overnight and not knowing when I can actually fly home, I contacted my husband and then my friend on the change of plans. Just when the battery on my hand phone almost went flat, my travel co-ordinator called again, telling me that our company at its discretion knowing that there are still many staff stranded in Indonesia (even for those who are not foreigners but hold high positions in the management must be ‘rescued’ out of the country) has decided to arrange for our very own private jet ‘rescue mission’ and I was told to meet so-and-so at the airport who will know how to go about boarding the private jet. I was not at all enthusiastic with the news as the airport building is so big, there were so many people walking around, there were so many exits and entrances. How would I know when and where the person would appear?
I told myself to be patient and wait for GOD’s answer. True enough, after switching off my hand phone and thinking that I should at least get some food before exercising my brain juice for alternatives. I walked towards the nearest entrance in front of me. And there, out of nowhere, I saw a familiar figure walking towards me. He was our company CEO, Mr. SK who happened to be the one that I was told to meet! Quickly I rushed towards him. In my mind, he was the ‘ANGEL RESCUED MISSION’ sent by GOD. He also told me that he did not want to board the jet as there were a lot of people and it can only be arranged the next day. Furthermore, he missed his family in Singapore. Being a frequent Singapore Airline flyer, he managed to get a ticket for himself without even being placed on the waiting list. Of course, he had no problem confirming a seat for me as well. Thus, I quickly informed Steven and I believed he rushed to the airport since then to wait for my return. When it was time to board the plane, Mr. SK came personally to my seat to ensure that I was safely on board before returning back to his seat. At my seat, I kept looking at my watch and wondered why the plane took such a long time to take off. In one hour and ten minutes, the plane finally reached Singapore Airport, and it was then that I finally heaved a sigh of long relief. I even pinched myself to ensure that I was indeed safe and sound back home not to mention that I took notice of the arriving time: 12.05 am on 16th May morning. I was very touched to note that my company CEO took the trouble to stand at the entrance of the walkway to wait for me as we approached the check-out counter together. Finally seeing my husband, I flew into his arms and kept telling him that I thought I would not see him again. I owe my life to the Almighty GOD!
A few days after that incident, I discovered that I was a few weeks pregnant! I was greatly and truly thankful to GOD for His grace and protection on this little life in me when I had to endure all those ordeals in Indonesia. Never did we plan that he was to be born exactly on Christmas morning just like infant Jesus many years ago… that’s why we called him ‘Christopher’ which simply means to put CHRIST on TOP of everything!
With all these happenings in our life, we hope to serve our Lord Jesus Christ faithfully and truly without forgetting to nurture our children in the same way!
MAY THE LORD TOUCH THE HEARTS OF UNSAVED SOULS AND LEAD THEM TO THE ONLY PATH TO SALVATION!
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want… Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and they staff they comfort me” – Ps. 23: 1,4.
(Christ Our Shepherd, Church Anniversary Magazine 7)