Prior to National Service (NS), I was told by a priest that NS is a place where my faith could either blossom or hit rock bottom. I wasn’t too sure how the former could be true because my perception was that NS was a God-forsaken place. The countless stories told by friends who had completed their service made me certain that it was not possible for someone’s faith to grow during NS. It just didn’t match. To me, NS and faith were two ends of a spectrum. Nevertheless, I was up for the challenge.
I was in low spirits about entering NS. I felt like I was losing my freedom, losing time with family and friends, losing opportunities. Now, call me crazy but there was also a small part of me that was actually really excited to begin this new phase of life.
Eventually, enlistment day arrived on Oct 27, 2017, and I had to face the reality of every Singaporean male – it was time to serve the nation. The initial phase was hard – I had to get used to a whole new lifestyle which was regimental and strenuous. For me, the hardest part was the daily physical training (PT). Entering NS, I was not in my fittest state so daily PT was torturous for me.
Spiritually, I felt quite prepared for NS as I had just completed a silent retreat prior to enlisting. However, never had I been so wrong. Each day, it just got harder and harder to live out my faith. In an attempt to fit in, I constantly wrestled with my sins and inadequacies. Due to laziness and indifference, I struggled to keep up my prayer life and eventually, I grew distant from Jesus.
But Jesus is faithful and He always calls out to us. I recall one experience that I had. It was book-in day before field camp and I was feeling terrible, I was not looking forward to it at all. As I was packing my stuff, I stumbled across an ice cream stick which had the verse: “Do not be afraid for I am with you – Isaiah 41:10”. I was stunned when I saw this but at the same time it filled me with so much hope and peace. I knew that Jesus was fully present.
Six months into my service, I was introduced to Come As You Are (CAYA), a community for Full-time National Servicemen like myself. Initially there was some resistance to join the community since they gathered on Saturday mornings. But as time went by, I started to appreciate the community and enjoy their companionship.
Being a part of CAYA has made me realise that I am not alone in my struggles. I have my community members and Jesus! The community helps me to remember the intense desire that God has for me, His love and His mercy.
NS has been a difficult chapter, with many ups and downs. Sometimes, I question why I should put any effort into NS at all. But I am reminded that we are not called to be mediocre. We are called to be God’s salt and light. Serving the nation is an opportunity for me to glorify His name.
As I come towards the end of my NS journey in October this year, I’m thankful for the lessons learnt, the people I have met and the memories made. In what I first perceived as a “God-forsaken” place, I am glad that I have managed to find Jesus, if even in the smallest of ways. Jesus is truly present, yes, even in NS!
Being in a community has helped Matthew remember the intense love God has for him.