Three weeks - just three weeks and already I’ve witnessed so many things here at college, and seen so many changes taking place within me.
Back in Singapore, I had painted a picture of how coming to Hillsong would be like - but that picture never included the varying hues within each primary colour, or the much-needed contrast of darker shades. Hence, it was never complete. It is easy to imagine all the hype, the amazing worship that sends goosebumps down one’s skin, and the spirit-filled sermons that never fail to hit home (I swear, each sermon felt like it was tailored specifically to chisel away unwanted parts in my heart and bring me into a higher revelation). But I never would have been able to foresee the other types of stretching that God would be doing in me.
For one thing, it was the new responsibilities that came with living alone. I had prepared myself for all the grocery shopping and meal planning, so all that was fine. In fact, I actually enjoy spending time in the kitchen. But one thing I wasn’t prepared for was having to get a car and start driving here. It may seem like no big deal to many, but to me it was a huge one. The first day I started driving alone was absolutely terrifying. And maybe the subsequent few days as well. You see, back in Singapore, I had never driven alone before (over-protective parents), so there wasn’t much practice or confidence in that area. Thankfully, there’s been quite some improvement as of now :) Isn’t it ironic how I was not allowed to drive alone back in my home country because it was “unsafe”, but eventually having to drive alone in a foreign land, and on foreign roads?
Another thing I did not expect were the bouts of loneliness that would come sometimes. Definitely the independence and freedom that would never have existed if I were still back home in Singapore is great. Not having to worry about curfews or constantly checking my phone for anxious text messages is liberating. But home is still home - and I do think about the people I had left behind to come here, whether they are safe, whether I had made the right decision to come here or if I should have stayed back there with them praying for them, reaching out to them. That’s where the loneliness would come in, not so much in terms of homesickness, but more of this journey that God is taking me through. The changes I see taking place inside, the (sometimes painful) molding, the constant challenging to step out of my comfort zone - are these preparations for what is to come in the future? And looking around at the youth ministry that I’m assigned to serve in for the next one year, as well as at my own classmates, there’s just so much that my heart yearns to do for them, but I do not know where to start.
Hence, it’s that feeling of stepping out on my own into the unknown, into deeper waters. I know that God has something amazing in store here, that He has many lessons to teach me that He could not have taught me back in Singapore, things to show me, and that’s why He said, “Come.” But when I’m not in a spirit-filled classroom, or dynamic worship environment, when I’m walking home along the poorly-lit streets, it’s easy to feel so small and alone in the darkness of the night.
Yet, as always, God is amazing. How He knows when and how to show up at the right time. There was one evening when that doubt and loneliness came really strong. Before I could entertain it, I looked up and saw the most breath-taking sunset ever. Everyone around (including me) was taking out their phones and snapping a picture of it to post on Instagram (I posted it on Facebook). But to me, that sunset meant more than just a lovely photo. It was God speaking directly to me - the kind that leaves a stinging sensation in your eyes, assuring me of His ever-present attention to the most hidden cries of my heart.
On another note, I am so thankful for the ministry that I was posted to for my practicum. It’s at one of the youth services that Hillsong conducts in another area in Sydney, to reach out to the teenagers in that neighbourhood. At first, it was pretty overwhelming. The environment of the youth service challenged every single introverted aspect of me - the loud music, the dancing, the Tribal Wars games (yes, that name says it all). I used to be afraid of balloons popping, but I think Tribal Wars has cured me of that fear. Burst ten balloons in my ear, I’m immune to it.
But the balloons are beside the point. As I began to hear some of the stories and testimonies of the youths, God revealed more of His heart for them. The backgrounds from which they came from - drug abuse, gangs, prison, loss of their parents, were enough to send them spiraling down a black hole. And quite a number of them did. But how each and everyone of them ended up here at church on a Friday night, instead of going to clubs like their other classmates do, just shows how strong the call of God is. There are still some of them that have yet to know how real God is, and how transforming and infinite the love of Jesus is for them, but them being here every Friday evening is already the first step :) I can’t wait to see how their journeys will be like.
So each and every day, I need to constantly remind myself not to take this for granted. It’s easy not to when you’re having a great time. But on days when things may not be going so great, or just days when everything’s moving like a clockwork routine, I need to constantly tell myself that I am living in the middle of God’s promise, and that I should always be thankful :)
It’s the end of the first week here. Finally, almost everything is in place, hence the time to sit down and reflect.
Looking back, it’s insane how so many things have happened in this short time, making me feel like I’ve gone through a month instead of a week.
1.Getting my Visa approved
I waited three restless weeks for the Australian Immigration department to approve my student visa, wondering why it was taking so unusually long. I even sent out a few emails to them with no satisfactory response.
Only at 9am on Monday (which was also the day of my flight) did I realize that the link at the bottom of the application page saying “Book your medical appointment today!” WAS NOT AN ADVERTISEMENT! So to describe the next few hours right up to my flight as a nightmare would be downplaying it alot - because at least nightmares were not real, but this one was.
However, it was precisely because this was such an impossible and hopeless situation that I could witness just how great the power of God was in it. The clinic told me that it would take at least 1-2 working days to process my medical and X-ray results and send them to the Australian Immigration department - but God did it in three hours.
Even then I still thought it was hopeless to get it in time for my flight. By the time the clinic managed to send my medical results to the immigration department, it was already past working office hours in Australia (they close at 2.30pm Singapore time). So of course according to my natural human logic, even if there were to be a miracle, the earliest I could get the visa would be the next day. But that wasn’t according to God’s logic. At 7.30pm (9.30pm Australia time), this kind officer from the department who was aware of my situation replied me, AND I FINALLY GOT THE VISA! 4 HOURS BEFORE MY FLIGHT!
What should have taken 2 weeks by the immigration department’s standards took only less than a day to be approved, simply because God is the God of the impossible. That was one faith-stretching and wrinkle-inducing ordeal, yet one that has left me speechless and so thankful to Him.
2. Looking back, moving forward
The principal told us at the very start of orientation that each of us would begin to go through battles of our own. She wasn’t kidding. My first battle came on that very day. Sitting outside the evaluation room awaiting my turn, a few students before me had already gone inside and sang, and they were incredible. Despite the instructors emphasizing many times that this evaluation session wasn’t an audition on The Voice, and that this was just a way for them to get an idea of where each student was, it wasn’t long before I began to get nervous and even intimidated.
There was such an intense urge to run away. I started telling myself that I wasn’t as good, that my voice and skill could never match up to the others, that I should just stop now and not embarrass myself further. I even had ridiculous thoughts about switching streams from music/songwriting to pastoral training.
But it was also at that moment when I remembered all those obstacles that tried to hinder me from coming here, hurdles that I had to overcome to get to Hillsong - and I stopped wanting to run away.
Because if God had gone through so much just to bring me here to this point, how could I deny that this is exactly where He wants me to be?
If all those impossible situations that should have been enough to shut the door could not stop God from keeping it wide open, how could I run away from that one spot He had reserved for me here in this course?
While one battle might have been won, this may only be the beginning. After all, I have one year to go in one of the most intensive courses with classmates representing such a diverse mix of cultures, personalities and talents. Yeah, group work will sure be interesting. Suddenly, it seemed like those four years of SMU had been a training ground for me. As long as I keep remembering that God has been preparing me for this, and did bring me here for a reason, I will continue to push forward. After all, if He could get me here, certainly He will get me through :)