by Nicholas Francis Tan, 21
Making the transition to army life from my polytechnic studies required the willingness to adapt and much prayer. Even though the army instills virtues such as discipline, teamwork, and independence, vice is also equally present. I found myself questioning many of my principles and compromising with sin. Three of the hardest things I struggled with were gossip, objectification of women, and declining invitations to weekend clubbing sessions. These were some of the things I struggled with before encountering Christ and now that the opportunities surfaced again, I found myself divided between going back to my old ways or continuing on living out my identity as a Christian.
For a period of time, I was ashamed of my identity as a Christian. I was afraid that I wouldn’t fit in or that I’d be labeled as a religious prude. I bottled up these struggles largely because I felt that there was no one who could understand the struggles of an army boy trying to say no to temptation and live the life God wanted me to; one purity, love, and obedience. I eventually lost sight of the core of who I was and my identity became predicated upon how fit I was, how many leadership roles I was offered, how many achievements I had, and how many of my peers looked up to me. The heart that once was beating so strongly for its creator, was now given in pieces to the fleeting thrills of worldly pursuits and human affection.
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Every time a person complimented me, I’d eat it up and use it as motivation to strive even harder for more affirmation. But the pleasure I derived from being acclaimed only drove me to an unhealthy sense of perfectionism and a fear of failure. After the feeling of acclaim died out, I was always left feeling unworthy and unloved and thus, I adopted the mindset of, I’m only as good as what I can offer. On the outside, I wore a mask of perfection but inside, I was unsettled and insecure. But God never gives up on those He loves, He is the good shepherd who never stops pursuing me.
Before I started NS, I found out about CAYA, an OYP community for NSFs. I attended a few sessions but always with a sense of pride, “I’m too spiritually advanced to journey with these guys.” I would tell myself. So, once NS started, I stopped attending their sessions. It was only when I recognized that the problem was not with me being too spiritually advanced, but in fact, with me being too spiritually prideful, that I obeyed God’s invitation to a more intentional journey with CAYA. And I found myself awestruck by the men I met. They came from all walks of life and were at different stages of their national service. There were recruits, sergeants, officers from the army, SCDF and police, all of whom were in heartfelt pursuit of Our Lord. Like Paul on his road to Damascus, God healed me from my spiritual blindness and gave me a new lens to see the beauty of CAYA.
It became more than just a community. It was a place of solace, of breaking bread and of home. I find myself constantly inspired by the love these men have for Jesus. Despite their struggles, failings and weaknesses, in whatever little way they can, they still choose to carry their crosses willingly and joyfully. They showed me through their life that until I acknowledge that I am accepted and loved by the God who died for me whilst I was still a sinner, I cannot accept and love myself. This truth slowly seeped into my being and the core of my identity was restored. As Solomon echoes in his proverbs: “Iron sharpens Iron”, so too am I always exhorted to higher standards of holiness with CAYA.
After journeying with the community, I find that God has permitted more challenges and opportunities for growth because even though He loves me as I am, He loves me too much to see me remain where I am. He has given me opportunities to put my skills, experience and desires to good use, especially in my current appointment as platoon sergeant. He uses me as a testament and a vessel of His love, grace and mercy to others.
He has worked in me a new heart, a heart for his people. NS for me is no longer just “two years of getting by” but has become a journey of working on my weaknesses, purifying my love and faith in Him and being a witness of faith to those around me. In other words, it has become my mission field.
Looking back, even through all the struggles and lack of faith I had, I realize that God loves me especially whilst at my lowest. I now claim the truth that His plan and love for us is greater, higher, more beautiful and real than anything we can fathom. And joining CAYA has been one of the greatest blessings He has given me in NS. Never underestimate the power of community. Especially in a community of committed Christian men.