A Testimony of a NSF
Daniel 4:35, “And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?”
Almost every Singaporean son… and some daughters will eventually serve National Service Fulltime once they come of age. Many will agree that it is something inevitable and almost unavoidable. However, just because everyone is serving, that doesn’t mean that everyone is actually serving. Let me explain myself. Sitting in front of a desk and reading a textbook, doesn’t mean that you are studying. Your mind could be wandering or thinking of something else, but no studying is being done.
I have seen and experienced many different characters and individuals during my service thus far and there are simply two kinds of people in the army. Those who want to serve and those who do not.
Ultimately whether you like it or not, everyone has to serve. There’s just no getting around it or running away. Personally, serving in the army was not something I actively thought or worried about when I was growing up. The only reason I put thought into army when I was growing up was when my sisters or mum would mock and ask me how I would survive in the army next time whenever I did something that didn’t appear to be manly or soldier-ish enough. But I just brushed it aside and told myself that I would deal with it when the time comes.
If you know me well enough, you will realise that I am not a very optimistic person. And where I was going; pessimism could very easily kill your morale. Every soldier knows how important morale is, and why it is important. It would have been easy for me to approach Nation Service with a negative mind-set, but with much encouragement and prayer from my family, I went in with peace. Also, I thank God that I had my dad; who was the biggest pro-army non-regular I have met in my entire life.
My Basic Military Training days were basically an adjustment period from a civilian to a soldier. Suddenly, from having so much freedom to none at all, and at the same time; from so little real responsibility to so much all at once. Overcoming BMT was all about the mind-set. Physically, the instructors would train you and overtime, the drills and regimentation of the army would set into you. But the one thing that only you yourself can manage is your mentality. It can honestly be a very humbling experience, and being able to thank God for every single moment really helped get me through it. A quick prayer in a tough situation or reciting Psalms 1 whenever I felt weak or angry. It was clearly evident to me when I marched onto the floating platform, signifying the completion of my BMT, that I would not have been able to accomplish any of these without God’s help every step of the way.
After passing out from BMT, another trial awaited me in SAFTI MI. BMT had been fun and I was already missing the company of my platoon mates. My morale was pretty low and I struggled to find motivation in an entirely different environment. Officer Cadet School brought regimentation and discipline to a whole new level. There was pride that came with being an officer cadet, but that pride had to be earned. I still remember lying on my bed on the 2nd night; my mind was overwhelmed with the pressure of the upcoming schedule in the months to come. I debated with myself on what I had gotten myself into, and whether or not I could do this. I closed my eyes and prayed earnestly to God for strength and guidance.
The next morning, my buddy overslept and did not fall in for first parade. I got scolded and screamed at for about 30 minutes on the importance of the buddy level system and did about 100 push ups with my buddy. Later on in the afternoon, someone had left the tap running in one of the toilets. Our whole platoon had to write 3000 lines of “I will not waste any more water as it is a precious resource and will not leave the tap running.” by the end of that day. At the lecture, someone was caught writing his lines and not paying attention to the lesson, and every one of us had to write 2000 lines on “I will concentrate and focus during lectures.” My hands cramped up that entire day. That day, we did about a total of 500 push ups for all the mistakes we committed one way or the other. Somehow, at the end of the day, I was not so worried about the months to come and neither was I debating internally on whether or not I could do this anymore. God had seen me through what could have been a difficult day, and I was still in one piece lying on my bed waiting for rest to come. There was no point in worrying about what lay ahead or whether I could get through it, because I knew that God would see me through and whatever happened was in God’s control. I slept soundly knowing that I had absolutely nothing to worry about.
My buddy apologised to me for oversleeping and I apologised for not checking up on him. Because of the incident, we laughed it off and became a lot closer. I also found out he was a Christian and we managed to encourage each other throughout our OCS days because of this.
The days and months ahead in OCS were daunting and trying. There were many difficult exercises and short weekends, burnt holidays and family time. So many times I felt dread and exhausted. But through every step of the journey, God has undoubtedly been with me and guided me. The difficulties and trials that you will face in Army, whether big or small, outfield training or in-house administration, from superiors or your men; are part of God’s plan. It is up to you how you choose to face them. You can choose to do your best for Christ, or you can choose to escape. Everyone has to serve, but not everyone chooses to serve Christ. I hope you get the idea.
Psalms 1, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”
LTA Zachariah Quek
I thank God for the opportunity I have been given to share my testimony of my National Service (NS). God has been very merciful and gracious in preserving me throughout these two years. He has not only seen me through NS, but has also taught me many spiritual lessons.
As I share of God’s goodness to me, I pray that this testimony may be used for the edification and encouragement of others. May all things be done for His glory!
I have structured my testimony into five main points:
- My initial feelings when I enlisted into army
- What my army life was really like
- The joys I experienced during my NS
- The struggles I faced
- The spiritual lessons I learnt
My initial feelings when I enlisted into army
Prior to my enlistment into army, I received a letter from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) informing me of my Physical Employment Standards (PES) status. Having born with congenital heart defects, I was not surprised when my PES status was indicated as 'E9L9' - basically the lowest rating. Despite expecting this, I was still nonetheless a little disappointed. I enjoy new experiences and have always led a very active lifestyle. Thus, I was keen on experiencing what many referred to as the 'regimentation life'.
When I shared with others that my PES status was classified under 'E', many replied with similar statements. These responses largely revolved around something like "clerk life is the good life" and "so good, you will get to book out every day". The remarks I received naturally lowered my expectations of what I imagined my NS life to be. I remember enlisting with a bittersweet feeling - on one hand disappointed that I would not understand what it is like to be a combat soldier; but on the other, ready to enjoy what many described as a smoother NS journey.
What my army life was really like
With such sentiments towards my prospective clerk roles and duties, I started developing a very lackadaisical attitude. There were no milestones to clear, no physically strenuous obstacles to overcome and no exercises to showcase my team working abilities. There was simply my computer, my mouse and my keyboard. Therefore, I saw my NS life as degrading and monotonous. Despite living the "good life", there were many aspects of army which I still perceived as redundant and 'a waste of time'. Hence, I became very discontented and often complained to God.
Although I dreaded the dull office work in MINDEF HQ, there were some unique experiences that I relished. Being at the heart and core of the SAF where many important meetings are held, I got to see many high-ranking officers including foreign delegates at work. In addition, I often had the opportunity to despatch classified files to the chiefs' offices and sometimes even to the minister's office. There was absolutely zero regimentation imposed around the headquarters and the life there was similar to the life of an intern. Basically, nothing more was expected of us as long as we completed our work on time. This was the reality of my army life and it was something I did not expect at all.
The joys I experienced during my NS
As I was placed in a position which did not require much responsibility, I found a lot of time for myself. I was able to attend night classes at Far Eastern Bible College (FEBC) weekly, attend the weekly church prayer meetings, the annual church camps, YF activities, and to use the free time I had in the office to complete any commitments I had in church. Through all of these activities, I was able to grow in my knowledge of the Word of God and also to serve God without the constraint of time.
The struggles I faced
However, having the liberty of time during NS really acted as a double-edged sword. Although I was able to experience many spiritual blessings, it was also very easy for my mind to start pondering upon carnality during my free time. Through this struggle, God brought to remembrance a lesson I learnt in Teenz class many years ago. The lesson was about filling our minds with things which are holy and it was taken from Philippians 4:8.
"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
With such recollection, I was determined to prevent my mind from idling during my free time in the office. I started doing my Quiet Time (QT), reading Christian literature and studying for FEBC whenever I was done with my office work. This really helped me to refocus my thoughts on things that were godly.
The spiritual lessons I learnt
Although I had a lot of time to read God's word and to grow spiritually, there were days when time was not used for the Lord. In Matthew 6:21, the Bible reads "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also". In the preceding verses, the Bible talks about laying treasures either in heaven or upon earth. If I was not using the time to lay up treasures in heaven, my heart will not regard things of eternal value, but things of temporal worth. Hence, the things I chose to invest my free time in became a very clear indication of where my heart truly was and I reflected upon this a lot.
While reflecting upon my heart's desires, God taught me another very important lesson. Whenever I failed to spend my time wisely for the Lord, God used his Word to rebuke me. He reminded me that I am a steward of the possessions I have on this earth including the time given to me. My whole life is accountable to God and I would have to give an answer of how I have used it to serve Him. This fearful understanding caused me to search my intentions and motives. It made me resolved to use my time effectively to serve God and changed my whole perspective of my term in NS.
As my Operationally Ready Date (ORD) drew closer, I felt a sense of urgency to show Christ through my conduct. Furthermore, God gave me the burden to evangelise to some of my National Serviceman Full-time (NSF) friends. I managed to bring a friend for one of the FEBC night class for a semester. There were also times when my friends noticed me reading the Bible and came over to ask me about it. Through this, God opened many windows of opportunities to share the gospel and to invite them to church. With such a change in my perception of the limited time I had in NS, my initial reluctance of serving my nation was replaced by an eager desire to serve God. The joy I felt serving God in my workplace made my calling as a Christian in the SAF so much clearer and I thank God for that.
On hindsight, I have come to better understand what the phrase "clerk life is the good life" really means. Before enlisting, I saw clerk life as good for reasons such as daily book outs, relatively easier NS than combat soldiers, and lesser responsibility to the servicemen around me. However, I realised that with the daily book outs comes the accountability of my time to the Lord. With the 'easier' life comes the temptation to rely on self and not trusting in God. With the lesser responsibility comes more time on my hands and the tendency of not using it for the Lord. Evidently, the "good life" does not refer to all the superficial reasons that I previously regarded clerk life for; but rather, the abundant time I had in NS to grow spiritually and to serve God, and also the opportunity to use it to show Christ in my life.
God was gracious in reminding me of my role as a Christian in the SAF. It is true that I had a smaller extent of responsibilities in terms of my NS duties to fulfil. However, from a spiritual perspective, the commission to preach the gospel and to be a good witness for Christ remains the same whichever vocation I am called to in the army. Comparatively, I did not hold the responsibility of protecting the physical lives of my men as a combat soldier would. However, the spiritual lives of those around me mattered for eternity, and God made me realise that I still had that great responsibility of being a good ambassador for Christ.
To conclude, I thank God for seeing me through my NS. There were many spiritual trials that I had to wrestle with but God continued to preserve and to provide for me. It was in these difficulties that God helped me to recognise my true calling as a Christian in NS - not merely as a patriotic NSF of the SAF, but a faithful soldier of the Lord's army. To God be the glory!