Hope and Human Suffering

November 3, 2009
mother teresa

Mother Teresa

This past week, our family had the wonderful opportunity to visit Mother House, the home of Mother Teresa in Kolkata. You can see the small, austere bedroom where she stayed. Her tomb is there, and there is a small museum documenting the life and work of Mother Teresa.

I am humbled when I think about how this woman gave her life to serve the poor and needy. And Kolkata is full of poor and needy people. They slept on the sidewalk just outside the gate of the compound where we stayed. They came up to us on the street, begging for money or food.

Dirty children walked up to us, touched our arms and called, “Aunty, please…. Please, Aunty.” Wrinkled old women, who probably looked much older than they were because of their harsh circumstances, looked hollow-eyed, searching for some relief. And, most heartbreaking of all, mothers with babies too small for their age would approach, holding out their baby’s empty bottle, a graphic picture of their need. Suffering was everywhere.

It was into the midst of such human suffering that Jesus came and walked. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, and touched lives. Mother Teresa also lived and walked among the suffering souls of Kolkata. She touched lives by nursing and comforting the sick, feeding the hungry, and loving the unlovable.

Where is God in the midst of human suffering? When faced with those who suffer, we become God incarnate. We become the hands and feet of Jesus. How? We packed up leftover food from a meal and gave it to a child on the street on our way back to our rooms. We discreetly tucked a few rupees into the hands of mothers with babies or old women. We stopped and paid a street vendor to feed a hungry child who was following us.

But we’re just one family, and there are untold thousands of poor, hungry, homeless people struggling to fill their empty bellies and stave off the hunger pangs. In the face of so much suffering, what difference did we make? Well, we made a difference to that mother with her baby. That baby got to eat for one more day. That mother didn’t have to listen to her baby cry with hunger that day. We made a difference to the little boy who got to eat when we paid the street vendor to feed him. He waved happily over his shoulder, already gobbling his food, as we walked away. And we made a difference to the ones who ate our leftovers. They went to sleep with satisfied stomachs that night.

Each of us has the chance to make a difference for one or two or three every day. We can become Jesus to the people around us, extending His love and compassion to those we come into contact with wherever we might be. We can shine a little light into the dark corners we discover. We can give hope for one more day. And, yes, we can make a difference in someone’s life, as we share Jesus’ love in practical ways with those who are less fortunate that we are.

–Debbie Ong


Step into the Water

September 8, 2009

“The priests will be carrying the Ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth.  When their feet touch the water, the flow of water will be cut off upstream, and the river will pile up there in one heap.”  (Joshua 3:13, NLT)


OceanIsrael was finally moving into the Promised Land.  After over 400 years of slavery, and 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, God’s promises to Israel were finally coming to their fulfillment!

And yet, the testing time wasn’t over yet.  They still had to get across the Jordan River.  Unlike Moses’ parting of the Red Sea, where Moses simply held his staff out over the water, and God parted the waters, this time God did not stop the flow of the Jordan River until the priests actually got their feet wet and stepped into the water.  What faith it must have taken to step into that water!  What a spirit of boldness!  Mrs. Cowman, in Streams in the Desert, calls this “holy audacity”.  I like that!  Am I audacious in my faith?

It is easy to trust standing safely on the shore.  It is easy to trust when the way is clear before you.  It gets tougher when the way ahead isn’t clear, when it’s dark and you can’t see where you’re going, when the path ahead leads straight into the deep.

William Carey, the father of modern missions, and missionary to India said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”  It takes audacious faith to do this. What step of faith do you need to take today?  Are you ready to step out into the water, and watch the hand of Almighty God roll back the waters for you so you can cross on dry ground?

–Debbie Ong

Chat Through the Bible

July 9, 2009

CB064077Genesis 1:1

“In the beginning God…”

Look at these first four words of the Bible. While on one level this verse simply introduces a historical account of God’s creation of the world, it can also be a lesson for us in priorities.

In the beginning: God. In other words, God should be at the first and foremost place in our lives. He should be number one, sitting on the throne of our lives. And, somehow, when we put God first, everything else seems to fall into place.

In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus promised when He said in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Spouse, family, career, finances, health, home, possessions, etc. will all come into alignment when we put Christ first.

It’s easy to say that Jesus is on the throne of our lives, but somehow I find that I keep trying to crawl back up on that throne myself. It’s not a once-and-for-all decision, but a constant battle. I need to continually reassess my priorities. I need to keep turning to God to ask for His will, His plans, His desires for me in my daily life.

So, let me ask you: where is God in your list of priorities? If you’ve caught yourself trying to reclaim that throne for yourself, why don’t you pray right now and ask Him to take back the throne. Have a little coronation ceremony right there in your heart, and crown Christ the rightful king over your life. Kneel before Him in submission as a loyal subject, and lay your life out before Him to take and use as He will.

–Debbie Ong

Gratitude and Grief

July 2, 2009

“…always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Ephesians 5:20


Father son oceanA well-loved and highly respected man in our church passed away recently, just ten days before Father’s Day.  He had lung cancer.  He left a wife and three children, ranging from their teens to early twenties.

On Father’s Day, his oldest son stood up and shared a beautiful poem he had written for his father and had read at his funeral service.  It was a celebration of this man’s life and a reflection of gratitude for all that he had done for his family.

It’s not easy to be thankful when we’re hurting.  It’s much more natural to wallow in the pain.  And yet, the apostle Paul instructs us to give thanks for everything—both the good and the bad (see Ephesians 5:20).  So, how do we give thanks when we’re hurting?  How do we feel gratitude in the midst of our pain?

Well, gratitude is a choice.  We can make a conscious choice to be thankful.  This particular family chose to be thankful for the years they did have with their husband and father, rather than mourning the years they would have to wait until they joined him in heaven.  They chose to be grateful to God for taking him home, and for relieving him from the terrible suffering and pain they had watched him go through in those horrible final weeks, instead of wishing he was still there.

I’m sure it isn’t always easy.  I know they wish they had a dad they could hug.  They wish he was around to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding.  They wish he was there to cheer for them and watch proudly as they graduate and receive their college diplomas.  But they have made a choice—a choice to be thankful.

And, like them, no matter what we may be facing, no matter what pain we may experience, we, too, can always choose to be thankful.

Have you ever heard the saying, “I was unhappy because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no legs”?  This is the kind of mentality we can choose too.  There is always someone who’s worse off than we are.  We need to count our blessings, such as they are, and be thankful for them.

Even if you think your home is shabby compared to others’, and you wish you had newer furniture, and you know you have quite a few repairs that need to be done, you can choose to be thankful that you have a roof over your head.  There are others who are less fortunate.

If you are struggling with illness, you can be thankful for friends and family who surround you and support you through the difficult and painful moments.

The point is that gratitude is a choice, not a feeling.  We can choose gratitude, whether we feel like it or not.  We can choose to be thankful, even in the midst of the most difficult or painful of circumstances, because it’s not about how we feel.  It’s a choice we make, a decision of the will.

And, while you’re at it, choose to focus on someone else.  Somehow, when we minister to the needs of those who are less fortunate, we begin to realize how blessed we really are, and we become truly thankful for what we have.

There are plenty of opportunities for you to bless others.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.  Buy groceries for an elderly neighbor who finds it difficult to get out.  Visit a nursing home or children’s hospital.  Bake cookies (or buy them!) for the kids at an after school care center.  Pack up a care package for a missionary.  Make a donation to the Red Cross or Salvation Army.  Volunteer your time and skills to help build homes for lower income families through Habitat for Humanity or some other charitable organization.  There are countless ways you can begin to get your mind off of your own problems and be a help to someone else.

And when you do, you’ll be amazed at how blessed you suddenly are.  You’ll see your life in a different light, and you will not only choose to be thankful, but you will feel truly grateful as well.

What losses have you suffered?  Are you thankful that you were able to have the experience and enjoy the blessing while you had it?  When is the last time you did something for someone else?  What could you do today, or this week to bless someone who is less fortunate than you?  Take a chance, and discover how truly blessed you are!

–Debbie Ong

Father Knows Best

June 25, 2009

father-knows-bestEver watched the old 1950s sitcom? In 30 short minutes, Betty, Bud and Kathy’s little world could be turned upside down and, almost with the snap of a finger, restored to perfect order…just like that.

Unfortunately, real life isn’t always that simple. Some of our problems don’t have such easy solutions.

Life has a way of handing us disappointments just when we thought things were smooth sailing. Just last week, my own family faced such a disappointment. With one simple email, a life dream was put on hold…indefinitely.

Our faith in God’s goodness could crash. Our hope and joy and peace could collapse under the weight of our sudden and dramatic change in circumstances.

BUT… if God truly loves me with absolute, perfect and unconditional love, and He does; and if He wants only the very best for me, which He does, then I can trust Him to have something better in store for our family—even better than the simple dreams we have for ourselves.

Do I really trust my Heavenly Father to do what is best for me? Can I really be sure that He has my best at heart? Can the foundations of our relationship stand up under the strain of pain and disappointment? Does Father God really know best?

God Himself answers the question for us. Listen to what He says:

“My thoughts are completely different from yours,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” — Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)

So, how about it? Are you prepared to trust, to just sit back and rest in the promises that Father truly does know best?

 – Debbie Ong

 photo copyright: estates of Young and producer Eugene Rodney

Teaching Thankfulness To Our Children

June 18, 2009

girlSaying ‘thank you’ isn’t just a matter of good manners. It’s also creating and establishing an attitude and lifestyle. You can help your child to learn gratitude through your example and also through a few simple activities you can try at home.

First, there can never be enough said about teaching by example. Lead the way by saying please and thank you regularly in your conversations. You may be surprised to find your children imitating you and sprinkling their conversations with please and thank you, and it actually took very little conscious effort on your part!

Another simple activity you can do to teach your children gratitude is to give thanks before meals. This teaches your children to be grateful for every day things we often take for granted, like food.

Find times in your daily routine to express your thankfulness to God. At bedtime, play a game taking turns to list all the things you’re thankful for. See who can name the most without repeating any.

Begin a family project and keep a notebook, journal, or scrapbook to record special memories, people and events for which you are thankful. This may be as simple as you want it: simply a list of blessings, or it may be as elaborate as a scrapbook, complete with photos, stickers, souvenirs and mementos.

Help children to appreciate their blessings by exposing them to others less fortunate than you are. Get involved in a community service project, volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, visit a children’s hospital or a nursing home, or even take them on a missions trip. Let them see the blessings they take for granted in a fresh new way by recognizing that there are those who do not have what they enjoy every day.

Let your family enter the ‘secret service’. Have each family member write his or her name on a slip of paper. Put the slips into a hat, and let each person draw a person’s name to shower with secret acts of kindness over the course of a week. At the end of the week, have family members reveal whose name they had, and express their appreciation for the nice things they experienced during the week.

Make a family keepsake to remind your family to be thankful. You may want to purchase a solid-colored tablecloth or bedsheet, and use fabric paints to write your blessings all over the cloth. Use the cloth for special occasions, and add the date and event to your special thanksgiving tablecloth. Another keepsake project might be a blessing tree. Mount a tree branch in a plant pot. Cut leaf shapes from colored paper. Have family members write their blessings, or prayers of thankfulness onto the leaves, and tie them with colorful ribbon all over the branches. Your family can add or change the leaves regularly. The ideas are only as limited as your imagination!

An attitude of gratitude can be both taught and caught. Your children will follow your lead. It’s never too late to give thanks, so get started today and begin to cultivate a family culture of thankfulness.  

–  Debbie Ong

My Source of Strength

June 11, 2009

j0438625Last year and early this year I felt so much like Job in the Bible.  Everything suddenly went downhill for me: my marriage, my career, my business, my finances and my child’s health.  It was like being pushed to the corner and receiving one hard blow after another.  I literally spent my days crying and feeling so miserable.  I just could not understand how things suddenly all spiralled out of control.  Life was one miserable existence. The Enemy was having a fiesta seeing me down on the pits  and wallowing in mud.  Where was God and why was I going through all these? I am a good christian girl ( or at least I think I am), and I read the bible and do my devotions everyday.  I even flew all over the region and did missions work. Then why was I punished? What have I done to deserve this?

In the midst of my trials and tribulations, one thing that I found rather intriguing was people and friends were suddenly appearing from nowhere offering help and support.  Someone would appear at my doorstep or in my life at the right moment when I felt so low and dispirited. Then I realised it was when I saw their love and concern that I saw God in action.  I saw God’s concern for me.  I felt Him lifting me up with His pair of steady hands and carried me through the fire of wretchedness. 

I had been through so many dramas in my life, and every single drama that occurred, I felt that God was always there for me and giving me strength to carry on.  It was no accident during one trying period that every morning when I flipped through the Bible the first verse that would always speak to my heart was God telling me not to fear. He had His reasons why I had to go through the tough times.  I didn’t understand why but all I had to do was trust Him. Trust Him when my human emotions were all crying in pain. However, succeeding events later did prove how true was His word of assurance – that there was nothing to fear at all, after all! God never wastes a hurt.

I received a Tweety soft toy with a funny and yet poignant note from a couple who are dear friends of mine.  The handwritten note said “Just as Sylvester can never get Tweety, the Enemy will not be able to get you as the LORD is with you.”  Tweety suddenly has a new meaning in my life.

– nkw

Thanks for the Little Things

June 11, 2009

kissI woke up this morning, snuggled deeper into my nice cozy bed, and rolled over for one last kiss and cuddle with my husband before getting up to face the day. Thank You, Lord.

I climbed into a nice, hot shower and washed the sleep from my eyes. I wrapped myself in a soft, thick towel and opened my closet to choose my clothes and dress. Thank You, Lord.

A steaming cup of coffee in my favorite mug waited in the kitchen to clear away any remaining drowsiness. Thank You, Lord.

I curled up in my favorite chair with my well-worn Bible to spend some time with God. The morning birds sang outside my window. The earthy green fragrance of the early morning rain lightly scented the air. Thank You, Lord.

Soon, I heard the children stirring. My daughter bounced into the room, already chattering away, full of her plans for the day. My son sidled over and squeezed into the oversized chair beside me, offering one of those rare moments for a morning hug. My husband joined us, smelling of soap and aftershave. Thank You, Lord.

As we gathered around the breakfast table, steaming bowls of oatmeal, platters of crispy toast and fresh fruit spread across the table, ready to fill our stomachs and give us the energy we needed for the day ahead. Thank You, Lord.

A whirlwind of backpacks, lunchbags, briefcases, umbrellas and good-bye kisses, and the house settles into a deafening silence, both sudden and tangible. Thank You, Lord.

As I rinsed the breakfast dishes and loaded the dishwasher, I delighted in the potted geraniums on the kitchen window sill. I listen to the thunder and the patter of the falling rain outside. Thank You, Lord.

I wandered through the house, gathering dirty clothes from the hampers. I sorted them and threw a load into the washer. How does one family go through so many clothes so quickly? Thank You, Lord.

A friend called and invited me to lunch. What a treat! I vacuumed the living room floor and picked up a few toys, quickly restoring the house to tidiness. I put the clothes in the dryer, popping another load into the wash, looking forward to my lunch date all the while. Thank You, Lord.

Then I freshened up, grabbed an umbrella, hopped in the car, and headed out. There’s nothing quite like a nice lunch with a good friend. Thank You, Lord.

Later, when I got home, I found that the washing machine had overflowed, spilling soapy water all over the kitchen floor. What a mess! I quickly mopped up the suds and called the repair man. Thank You, Lord, that You are there, even when things go wrong. I know You will somehow provide the money for these unexpected repairs.

The door slams and the kids come trooping through the kitchen. Not on my freshly mopped floor! “Sorry, Mom. I’ll mop it up. Just let me drop my things in my room and get changed first.” Thank You, Lord.

Oh, no! I forgot to take something out of the freezer for dinner. I pop a package of hamburger into the microwave and spin the dial to defrost. Thank You, Lord.

The dryer buzzes. I fold a load of clothes and put them away. I head to the kitchen and begin to peel and chop vegetables. A hearty stew will be just the thing for this dreary, gray day. Thank You, Lord.

Before I know it, I hear my husband’s car in the drive. The savory smells of dinner fill the house. He saunters into the kitchen, whistling, and bends down to give me a quick kiss. “Must have been a good day,” I say. “Yep, a great day,” he agrees. “Dinner smells fantastic. I’m starving,” he calls over his shoulder as he heads to our room to shower and change. Thank You, Lord.

An evening with a rented movie and popcorn entertained the whole family. Thank You, Lord.

Another day is gone. It’s time for bed, and I’m asleep almost as soon as my head hits the pillow. But not before I take a moment to say, “Thank You, Lord, for all the varied moments of my day. Thank You for being with me, and reminding me of Your constant presence through the good and the bad. Thank You for all Your blessings in my life, both big and small. Help me not to take them for granted. Thank You for times of rest. Give me a good night’s sleep so I can wake up refreshed and ready for a new day tomorrow. Amen.”

– Debbie Ong

Giving Thanks: Having a Pollyanna Mentality

April 23, 2009

Ever seen the Disney movie “Pollyanna”? It’s about a little girl, the daughter of missionaries, who is orphaned and goes to live with a wealthy maiden aunt.

Pollyanna seems to have the knack of seeing the bright side of everything. When her aunt, bitter and jaded by life’s disappointments, asks her why she’s always so glad, Pollyanna explains that her father taught her to make life’s disappointments into a game that she called the Glad Game. Whenever she felt sad or disappointed, Pollyanna would try to find something to be glad about. For example, when her family opened up a missionary barrel full of things sent to them by the church ladies missionary society, instead of a new doll or pretty dresses, Pollyanna found a child-sized pair of crutches. Instead of being disappointed at receiving nothing of any value to her, she decided to be glad that she didn’t need those crutches herself.

As Pollyanna’s lively cheerful spirit touches the lives of those around her, the entire community is transformed by the influence of this one small girl.

Pollyanna had the right idea. The Glad Game wasn’t original to her. The apostle Paul instructs believers in Ephesians 5:20 to be “… always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God wants us to live with a constant attitude of gratitude.

I can always tell when I’ve not been showing enough gratitude. It somehow comes out in the voices of my children. They seem to start whining for things they see and want. I hear the rumbles of discontentment as they bicker and quarrel and find fault with each other. They grumble as they do their chores. And, sometimes, I hear my own ugly ungrateful words spilling out of their little mouths. God seems to use my children to be a reflection to me of my own sinful attitudes and behaviors.

This ‘stinkin’ thinkin’’ of thanklessness is not a new problem. In fact, the Old Testament records time and time again how the people of Israel grumbled and complained against the Lord whenever things got tough. But look at the results! It took them forty years to make what should have been a journey of less than two weeks! An entire generation died out in the wilderness and missed the joys and blessings of the Promised Land.

glass-half-fullHow about you? Do you have a habit of seeing the glass half full or half empty? It’s so easy to become disillusioned with life with its daily challenges, trials and frustrations, and to begin grumbling, whining and complaining. Why don’t you do something today to begin to turn that stinkin’ thinkin’ into an attitude of gratitude?

• Get a notebook and begin to list your blessings, both big and small. Write each blessing on a separate line. Think of blessings from the past, present, and future. Keep the notebook handy, and add to it as often as you can. Use the notebook to remind you to be thankful when you catch yourself falling back into habits of stinkin’ thinkin’. Pray through your notebook to give thanks to God for all the blessings He has given you.

Rent the movie “Pollyanna” and watch it with your children. Teach them to play the Glad Game. Make it a family tradition that whenever you hear each other grumbling or complaining you remind each other to play the Glad Game.

Copy Ephesians 5:20 onto an index card and hang it on your bathroom mirror. Put another copy on the dashboard of your car. Carry another in your wallet. Memorize this verse and recite it aloud whenever you see one of these cards or whenever you need to remind yourself to be thankful.

Find a piece of art that reminds you to be thankful and hang it in a prominent place in your home. It may be a wood carving of Scripture that says ‘Give thanks’, a painting, a Norman Rockwell print, a poster, a photograph, a framed piece of counted cross stitch, or even a child’s drawing—anything! The art and its cost are not what’s important, but the fact that it reminds you to be grateful whenever you see it. Make this a family project so that its significance as a reminder to be thankful extends to every member of the family.

Having a Pollyanna mentality is not being out of touch with reality. Playing the Glad Game is not just looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. It is walking in obedience to God’s Word.

An attitude of gratitude is a habit that you can develop, but it takes practice. So, what are you waiting for? When that car cuts you off on the freeway, thank God that you didn’t have an accident. When your children keep you up at night and you lose sleep, thank God for blessing you with precious little ones. Start today to develop your thankful heart muscles. Practice a little bit every day. You’ll be glad you did!   –  Debbie Ong

Photo credit: Pollyanna copyright by Disney