“How did you do it?” was my opening question to Connie Ho, a petite, reserved and soft spoken veteran Sunday School teacher in her 70s.
Barely three minutes into our conversation about her long service in Children’s Ministry (CM) between 1965 to 2019, I could not resist asking Connie about how she could serve so tirelessly for such a long time in the ministry.
As a motherof three children myself, I found it amazing Connie could persevere serving week after week so patiently, doggedly and faithfully, looking after very young children, for over five decades.
I would soon find out Connie’s cheerful, youthful and humble disposition belies her real age. Her reticence and taciturnity belie her stoicism and strength.
How It All Started
It was 1965, and Connie had just completed her senior Cambridge exams (the equivalent of ‘O’ levels) at Methodist Girls’ School.
“I had some time after I completed my exams so I started helping out in the Children’s Sunday School,” recalled Connie.
Wesley Methodist Church then, reminisced Connie, was just the sanctuary building with a small spartan classroom beside it. Sunday School was held in that classroom. There were about 20 children in total for all primary school and secondary levels in the one and only session at 9.30am, with about three children from each level.
“In total, we had five to six teachers each Sunday in those days. The teachers were close.”
Church life was much simpler back in the 1960s. There were fewer people and so church felt more like a tight knit family to both the adults and children who came to Wesley on Sundays.
“The Sunday School teachers were very close and cooperative. We only had one mission — to bring God to the children who came from all walks of life. There were also many needy children in the vicinity then.”
Pastor Christopher Smith from the United Kingdom was the pastor in Wesley and Elsie Quah was the Sunday School superintendent then in the 1960s.
Said Connie: “I remember both of them well. Pastor Smith and Elsie were overseeing the programmes.”
Sunday School sessions were mostly about telling familiar Bible stories and completing some basic simple colouring and arts and craft projects. Much of the teaching was done using the chalkboard.
“There was zero technology and very limited resources. But the children were appreciative of whatever that was before them. We made do with a lot of used newspapers, paper scraps, discarded tin cans, whatever the church could provide and we could find,” said Connie, who recalled that the children were always excited and engaged and often enjoyed the sessions so much they clamoured for more stories and “work”.
After the Sunday School classes, Pastor Smith would thank the teachers and encourage them. Elsie would encourage Connie who had apprehensions about public speaking to go for further studies if she had the resources to.
Little did Pastor Smith and Elsie know then that such small gestures of kindness and care would be instrumental in encouraging Connie to go on serving in Wesley Sunday School for five decades.
Their small acts of kindness had made a big difference to Connie.
A Famed Family, a Famed Street
Connie had started attending Wesley in 1963, soon after she accepted the Lord.
Getting hit physically by parents for going to church was not uncommon back then in Singapore when many parents were averse to Christianity because of their lack of exposure to and understanding of it. Said Connie: “I was whacked by my father when he found out I went to church behind my parents’ backs.”
“But I continued going to church without my parents knowing,” recalled Connie with a chuckle.
It was not too difficult for Connie to hide her church going from her parents as they were always busy.
Apart from tending to their nine children, Connie’s parents were also the famous Hong Kee Wanton Mee hawkers on Hock Lam Street (near Fort Canning Hill) from the 50s to 70s. The Hong Kee wanton noodles had made such a name for themselves, so much so that they even had regular customers from Changi who would travel all the way to Hock Lam Street, to patronise the noodle stall: “My father would make all the ingredients himself including the wanton, char siew and noodles. Life was hard. My father sold pork in the day and wanton mee at night.”
Each bowl of noodles was only 30 cents back then and many Anglo-Chinese School teachers at the original Coleman Street site, would make a beeline for the Hos’ famous wanton noodles.
“I often had to help out selling wanton noodles and got the opportunities to meet the customers who came to the stall,” said Connie. “Some of these customers were Christians and I got to know them too.”
“God is so good to me. Because we lived near Wesley, I could just walk to Wesley every Sunday in five minutes.”
Beyond Call of Duty
In 1970, after five years of teaching in the Wesley Sunday School on Sundays and working as an accountant for small companies on weekdays, Connie decided to take no-pay leave to enroll in a Children’s Evangelism course.
Despite her family’s objections and reservations, Connie took a huge leap of faith, dipped into her hard earned savings and went to Johor Bahru for three months, to hone her skills in how to teach children’s Sunday School. Whilst there, she had the chance to experience a silent retreat in nature.
“I came back from the three-month training course, recharged with more ideas for our Sunday School programme and renewed in hope to bring God’s kingdom message to His precious little sheep. Although the money was a lot to me then, I have never regretted it.”
A Life of Fortitude and Faithfulness
From 1965 to 2019, Connie had literally seen thousands of children who had gone through the doors of the Wesley Sunday School.
Bringing God’s Word to the children through different media has given Connie over 50 years of sheer joy as she served tirelessly every Sunday for over 50 years. Besides Sundays, she sometimes also spent up to half-a-day on Saturdays to prepare the Sunday School resources for the next day.
“In the old days, we used whatever we could find to make activitiy sheets, puppets, toys, scripture verses to share with the kids. Even things like a humble piece of newspaper, a scrap of used gift wrapper, a marker pen were precious resources to us.”
The only longer break Connie had from Wesley CM was when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer in 1988. That is Connie’s other separate story of journey of faith. But in short, God has shown Connie that He is ever so faithful and has better plans for her life. In response, Connie has always put her trust in Him and obeyed His will.
When asked if she had ever encountered any big challenges in her years of serving in CM, Connie replied with a firm “no”.
“Occasionally, we would have kids who would scream and yell, bicker and argue, run out from the classrooms or hide in the bathrooms. Children being children, they could sometimes be a handful. But when parents trust us with their kids, I want to honour that trust and make sure I look after their kids well. I try my best to be patient and reason with the kids.”
Having served in CM for such a long time, Connie has seen many of the children she had taught, become parents themselves. She has also taught the children of many of her past students. Some of the children Connie had taught in the past included our Pastor-in-Charge Raymond Fong and his brother, Reverend Edmund Fong, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan.
In recent years, some of Connie’s ex-students have also become her teaching peers in CM. “It is always so gratifying to have my former Sunday School students, who have now become Sunday School teachers themselves, come up to me to say that they remember me well. I am serving God and I do not expect any recognition or reward. But it warmed my heart to be remembered.”
Seeds Planted, Many Trees Rooted
Today, Connie is no longer serving in Sunday School. She retired in 2019, believing that the younger and more tech savvy Sunday School teachers should succeed her.
But her lifelong ministry to the children have made a great impact to thousands of children who were taught, led and looked after by her – Connie had planted the seeds in all of their lives, and many have in turn been planted firmly by God’s living waters. Many Wesleyans have served in different ministries over the years. But few could say that they have served so resolutely and joyfully for over 50 years.
Undergirding Connie’s dedication, is her compassion and love for people and her love and reverence for the Lord.
“Most important of all, I love children. And God loves me so much.”
“So I want to bring the story of God’s wonderful plans of redemption and salvation to little children.”
Read also: God is Stronger than My Circumstances
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