BGST this WEEK

4 - 10 FEBRUARY 2002

ISSUE NO. 6

Hedges & Edges. A compendium for Social Workers, Counsellors, & Family Therapists, edited by Lim K. Tham & Lynettes Balotta (Singapore: Care Corner Singapore, 2002) 

was ‘launched’ last week, with Government representatives and social work personnel gracing the occasion. "The title Hedges & Edges has been chosen to convey a sense of social work being an activity that is restrained by the sheer magnitude of its task, constrained by both human and financial resources, and yet one which has edges so cutting that it is a practical and an ever-evolving endeavour."

Six of the articles are written from a Christian perspective and are placed together in a special section at the end of the book. Three BGST Faculty members contributed articles: Dr Danny Goh, Rev Ng Seng Chuan, and Dr Quek Swee Hwa. The book was conceptualized and coordinated by Vivienne Ng (who has taken a course at BGST) and Wilson Mack of Care Corner Singapore on the occasion of their organization’s 20th Anniversary.

The value of this book is that it is a Singaporean production, dealing with burning societal issues that impact life in Singapore. A wide range of social problems are addressed: juvenile delinquency ("Connecting and Empowering" by Dr Cecilia Soong); rehabilitation of substance abusers ("Seventy Times Seven" by Dr Quek Swee Hwa, in this issue); counselling men ("Abusive Men" by Ang Thiam Hong); family counselling ("Grief and Recovery in Single Parent Families" by Nellie Mok); Mental Health ("Systemic Thinking in Working with Families of Children with Disabilities" by Foo Soo Jen); church work ("Pastoral Counselling: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Care and Cure of Souls" by Rev Dr Danny Goh; & "Do Pastors Make Good Counsellors?" by Rev Ng Seng Chuan; and other interesting articles.

This is a beautifully produced and readable book. Care has been taken to keep technical language down to a minimum. We congratulate Care Corner Singapore on a job well done. Our readers will find the range of articles wide enough that there will be something for everyone. (Dr Quek Swee Hwa)

SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN

by Dr Quek Swee Hwa

One nagging problem faced by caregivers in a ministry aimed at helping substance abusers is the high rate of recidivism. My approach in this article is to capture all the relevant issues in a narrative genre based on real life experience over some twenty years of agonizing efforts to help substance abusers kick off their habit. I wish to show that following woodenly policies aimed at curbing such abuse or labeling persons as "hardcore" and then subjecting them to correctional rather than rehabilitative institutional incarceration does not deal effectively with the core issues. The solution is not easy to find. One thing is certain: our clients, like any group of dysfunctional persons, are individuals with a wide range of problems. Their behaviour may not fit neatly into a syndrome, allowing law-enforcing agencies to do a rough classification of these clients and attach policies to deal with each category. It is my contention that most clients can be successfully rehabilitated when there is an acceptance on the part of both the law-enforcing agencies and the caregivers that it is best to focus on the change process rather than on the desired outcome. Because the client often lacks the will to act on what in his lucid moments he knows he must do, it is often necessary to force him to go through a physical withdrawal. The harder task is to help him along the road to full recovery by guiding him through a mental withdrawal from drugs and a cognitive, self-actualization as he regains his self-esteem. A strong, individualized mentoring process should help him consolidate his life pattern as he achieves full release from the grip of drugs. In the whole process, clients need to be assured that the biblical principle of "seventy times seven" and love will always be available to them, no matter how many times they have fallen. That in essence is the message of this literary piece.

Peter (not his real name) was an attractive, intelligent young man. He held the mobile phone in his hand, trembling. Should he or should he not answer that call? He knew who was trying to reach him. A strong urge rose up within him. He knew all too well that if he yielded he would surely descend down the slippery path to another few years within the confines of four walls and many fences.

He had just been released from Drug Rehabilitation Centre only a month ago. It was technically his second time. But in actual fact he had at least five episodes during which after brief periods free from drugs he returned to it again. Each time this happened he found himself spiralling downward. It was becoming harder and harder for him to quit drugs totally.

Life was tough in the ‘outside’ world. Cruel is really the right word. He emerged from DRC after three years with all the resolve to make good the broken pattern of his life. Had he not prayed for strength to ‘make it’ this time? Did he not have many friends inside DRC who had promised to pray for him, especially his chapel buddies with whom he had formed a strong prayer bond. But all that was now falling apart. His first disappointment when he returned home were the sullen looks of family members who grudgingly accepted him back home. His eldest brother had taken him aside and given him a firm warning that the family would not accept the wild behaviour that he displayed before his arrest and incarceration. In words bordering on cursing he told Peter that the family would definitely not tolerate him bringing friends home and locking themselves within their Housing Development Board flat for hours on end.

"Do you remember the endless reasons and excuses you made telling us your pitiful stories that you have no money?" his brother asked vehemently. "How could you, an unemployed person, spend over $100 a day on your evil habit?" He reminded him that when his request for money stopped, there were numerous phone calls and short disappearances to the void deck. The horrifying realization dawned upon his family that Peter was now either selling or pushing drugs to support his habit. In desperation they decided to report him to the police before it was too late and he had to face the gallows.

During the initial period of his detention when he was allowed visits, his family members were comforted a little when they were told that he had become a Christian. In his letters to them from DRC he sounded almost like a preacher, judging by the Bible verses he was quoting to them. They also saw his well-worn and heavily-marked Bible. At the back of their mind they were saying to themselves that if religion, any religion, could help Peter they would not stop him making his choice, though under other circumstances there would be a hullabaloo. To them leaving the family religion was comparable to leaving the family.

But what does all this matter now? In his reverie Peter felt the gnawing need for a drug fix. It was inexplicable to him. All his good intentions to stay clean of drugs seem to have flown out of the window. He pressed the green button on his mobile phone. Soon he was in touch again with his former drug friends. He had returned to the web of deceit and drug abuse. A new cycle was about to begin.

After a few fixes he became remorseful and called his counsellor. "When is the Sunday service at your church?" he asked to the delight of his counsellor. He appeared as arranged but was distinctly uncomfortable when he saw how different the church folks were from him. He grit his teeth and remembered his promise to God. He attended church for several weeks but found no solace either at home or in church. He knew he must find a job. Desperately he scoured the Classified Advertisements for days on ends, made many calls, and went for interviews. But all his attempts drew a blank. His drug debts were piling up alarmingly and the pocket money given to him by his family was pittance compared with his spending habits.

One "comfort" he was not able to discard was his cigarette smoking habit. It was costly to maintain. He had picked it up in DRC and it was sapping away his strength. Inside the DRC it was difficult (though not impossible) to obtain tobacco ("ang hoon") to roll his own cigarettes. He realized that his unwillingness to give up cigarettes formed a direct link with his drug habit. It was convenient for him to have a lighter with him. Inside his wallet was a neatly folded tin foil which he kept in a hidden compartment. He looked at the mirror and saw that he had lost the ‘clean’ look he had at his release from DRC. He was fast losing his muscular looks and his eyes were droopy and ringed with dark lines. "What had become of me?" he asked himself. He remembered his pledge to set aside time for prayer and devotions each day. Silently he uttered a prayer to God promising to reduce his smoking habit from one packet to half a packet of cigarettes. He took up his Bible and flipped through some pages looking for a suitable passage to read. His fingers touched several torn out pages. He remembered. He felt ashamed for these missing pages. They had been used to make those cigarettes while he was in DRC. He could not continue anymore and closed his Bible.

Boredom, frustration, joblessness despite many attempts at searching for a job, and other factors were eating away his resolve to stay clean. Secretly in his heart he longed to back in DRC with his buddies again. Life was routine then but definitely more tolerable than the dubious freedom he was experiencing outside.

"I must leave home before I am arrested again," he said to him as he packed his meagre belongings and said goodbye to his angry, disappointed family. He had to be on the move always so that the narcotics officers would not be able to catch up with him. His world was beginning to cave in. He was sleeping in the park, in nooks and corners in the corridors of empty buildings. He cried out to God many times and felt suicidal. He tried getting interviews to halfway houses but none would receive him because, frankly, he had been to most of these halfway houses and had left without finishing his programme. That was when he decided to end his life. He walked intentionally into the path of a motorcyclist as he was crossing the road. He was knocked down, slightly bruised and his spectacles were broken. He refused help from passersby and waved them aside as he walked on to the only friend he had, his counselor. He decided to give himself up.

He showed up unannounced in the office of his counselor, haggard, dirty, hungry and asked for help and forgiveness. Lovingly he was received and assisted in a physical withdrawal from drugs. It took long months of nurturing, counseling, and prayer before he was strong enough to be on his own again. He re-discovered the joy of following Jesus again and experienced the forgiveness of God. It took his family members a long time before he was accepted by them again. But in the end he was helped because there was a willingness on the part of his Christian friends to show him the attitude of Christ in forgiving him seventy times seven. (Extract from Hedges & Edges)

Chapel this week (6 Feb) will be special: it will be a Chapel cum Lunar New Year Celebration with Dr John Lim as the speaker. A noodle lunch will be provided without charge, courtesy of and prepared by Mrs Rubie Wee, a friend of BGST. Bring some new year goodies to share with others. All are welcome to come and join us this Wednesday at Room 302 at 12 noon.

At last week’s chapel (30th Jan) Dr Quek spoke from Eph. 4:1-16 on "Treasuring our Unity in Christ."

 
  1. The BGST Garage Sale, organized by Mrs Esther Quek was a huge success. It raised $7,313.76 for BGST. It is heartening to see the enthusiastic ground support for BGST. Also, the blessings of this Garage Sale was not just monetary, but in the manner people got to know about BGST through the sale. Many went away with real bargains. I saw several walk away smiling because of the bargains they were able to find. Where else can one find $5 for a large slightly damaged Filipino shell lampstand worth at least $50, $200 for a set of solid, wooden shelves with intricate Balinese carvings, dresses and other clothing going for $1 each, etc. Esther and I are delighted to pay $100 for a 1.5 meter double bass with a beautiful, mellow tone. Our very special thanks to the following who spent hours preparing, selling, publicising the sale, etc.: Esther Quek, Irene Wee, Samuel and Susan Lee, Yvonne Yeong, Chow Lye Kwan, Margaret Chin, Christina Tay and many others. Thanks also to Francis Wong for arranging for free tentage, and to all who donated items for sale (Dr Quek)
     
  2. With the completion of the special guest lectures by Dr Milne. the remainder of the Term 1 courses have started. Please note that NT Foundations I will be held in the main sanctuary, not in Room 3-02, since it has a registration of 34. The next class will be on Monday, 18th February, 2002. Tutorial starts at 7.00 pm and the class begins with Quiz #2 punctually at 7.30 pm.

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