Domestic Recognition Needed
"She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her - (Proverbs 31:26–28)
The recent US Presidential Inauguration is of importance not only because there is a change in the White House Administration, but also because it is the installation of Senator Kamala Harris as Vice President. Kamala Harris is the first non-White and female who has held this office. Many people hailed her rise as a sign of change, especially for the role and influence of women in politics and public office.
I am not here to look at the debate of women’s role in the marketplace and ministry. I will leave the subject to more qualified and interested people to think, speak, and write.
Here, in this reflection, I want to introduce you to an important woman who made an impact on my life. Although she had never held any corporate, communal, or public office, yet she made a deep impact on my life.
Madam Ijo Ngoan Gek (杨玩玉), was my mother for forty-seven years of my life. She was a simple woman who was born and raised on one of the Riau Islands. She came over to Singapore at the age of 19, to be married to my dad, who was 21 years old then. She became a mother a year later, at age 22. I was her fourth child, after three daughters. Living in a time where girls were often expected to give up their education to look after their younger siblings. My mom was such a case. She quitted after three years in elementary school to look after her two younger sisters and one youngest brother. Being much older, she was like a mother to them.
When she married into my dad’s family her in Singapore, her role of providing care and doing household chores continued, but with expanded and heavier load. My dad was much older than his two younger stepbrothers and two younger stepsisters. As such, my mom had to care for them. She cooked for the extended family and did all the household chores as well – washing, cleaning, ironing, etc. And, when her seven children came along, she continued caring and cooking for the extended family. I believed all these responsibilities had taken a toll on her health, which only showed up later in her life!
Despite my mother’s low education, she had clear moral convictions. I remember one incident where my mother showed me the law of love. One afternoon, I sneaked into the room while Mom was taking her afternoon nap. Perhaps, she was tired and so did not notice my presence in the room. I opened the drawer and took some money from her pouch. (By the way, I instigated my younger brother to join me as an accomplice. We then left home with the stolen money and bought our favourite titbits.
When I returned home, Mom was sitting on a chair in the living room, as if she had been waiting for me. Truly, she discovered the theft and suspected it was me. She asked me to kneel and she pulled my ear. She commanded me to confess my “crime of theft”.
Somehow, when she gazed at me, I felt naked before her. Guilt welled up in me, leading me to confess that I had stolen money from her pouch. She started caning me. As she was caning me, I looked up and saw tears streaming down her cheeks. She said, “I have been teaching you about honesty. We may be poor, but we must have character and integrity. Why did you not have self-respect? You have hurt me deeply.”
That day, I learned an important lesson: I didn’t only break a moral law; I had broken a mother’s heart!” Something happened deep inside me. I emerged from the discipline “transformed”, not because of law and judgment, but because of love. I resolved I would never steal or being dishonest, I would never want to break my mother’s heart!
When I became a Christian, God brought the incident to my mind and taught me about sin and disobedience – it is not merely breaking God’s law, it is breaking our Father’s heart! If I profess that I love Him in response to His love for me in Christ, then how could I be trivial about sin and disobedience?
This episode was just a small fraction of all that my mother had taught and more importantly, modelled for me -- how to walk an upright life. When I visited her niche after her death, I like to think the dash between the two dates – her birth and departure – were all encapsulated in caring for me and the rest of the family. That pretty much sums up her life and the influence she had on her immediate and extended family (grandchildren).
I started this reflection mentioning about feminism’s focus on women’s public role and responsibility, be it in the public square, marketplace, or ministry. Yet, my appeal to my sisters in Christ is not to overlook the unique contribution women and mothers make in the Christian home for disciple-making and Christian education. Mothers and sisters, you have a unique role that we, men – husbands, fathers, and brothers – cannot fulfil.
Many years ago, when we had our two young children, my wife Diana decided to answer the call to fulltime homemaking, after one year of prayerful consideration. When some ladies in the church learned of her decision, they cautioned her against it as it made her and the family more vulnerable financially. I also had fellow pastors advise me to persuade Diana to remain in the marketplace so that I would not be financially vulnerable in the pastoral ministry.
It saddened us to see and hear such response within the family of God. Should not pastors, like members, need to live by faith and walk not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7)? Ironically, we got affirmation from non-believers, outside the Church! The chairman of the group of companies Diana worked in complimented her wise and brave decision. He wished her the best, that her endeavour would have positive influence and impact on the family.
This leads me to conclude that, perhaps, as the Church works towards more equitable and just practices in the marketplace and ministry, let us also work hard at recognising the domestic ministry of women. Let the Church of Christ give due recognition to the unique contribution of women for the kingdom, Gospel, and glory of God! Amen.