I’ll probably receive some flak from City Harvest people – but through my years I’ve learnt that all they know is to spout out loud their blinded ‘opinions’.
People: They’re not opinions if you were brainwashed into it; that just makes it an influence over a weak mind.
I dare say this.
Why? Because I was one of them.
It was quite a number of years back, when I was still in secondary school. To be honest, I didn’t grow up in a happy home and endless hopes of getting out of my abyss was just part of my daily routine. While there were others who asked me to join their ‘gangs’, I didn’t want my daddy to look down from Heaven and be disappointed that he didn’t live long enough to love & protect me.
Soon enough I was invited to City Harvest Church and was quite intrigued by their style of worship. At that time, Charismatic churches weren’t very well-known in Singapore. So when songs had strong beats, fast rhythms and people grooving to them – it all seemed really new.
And deep down I wanted to believe that maybe, just maybe… They were the family that I lost. Oh, how stupid I was.
It wasn’t too long before the whole hype of their music tuned down a little and other ugly things started to sprout.
Disclaimer: Whatever I share here is entirely my own experiences and from my perspective, which can be limited. So if you experienced anything otherwise or feel that I’m spouting nonsense – you’re welcome to leave. Thank you.
First, I’ll start with offerings.
Quite a norm of the church, yes? So unlike the typical church that lets you put in the money into the little pouches and pass it on – they make you put the money into envelopes, then you put it into the pouches.
I didn’t think too much about it at first, but slowly I began to question – “Why was there this need?” Honestly it just didn’t make sense to spend money printing envelopes with the logos, etc. And the manpower spent inserting those envelopes to every newsletter (granted free labour, anyway).
Then one day I thought to myself, “It just seems like they want to obligate you to give. You were given a wrapping for a present; so therefore you feel you ought to give the present. It is also a way to monitor how much an average person gives during service. So why is there this obligation when it’s supposed to be freewill?”
So the next service, I tried something out – I didn’t give an offering. Oh, badass! 😀
Then my mentor (everyone is assigned one) looked at me when I just passed the pouch over, asking me why didn’t I give an offering. I said I have no more money left for the week, so can’t give anymore. After which, she gave a very disapproving glare.
After service at fellowship (dinner), the cell group leader requested to speak to me. He said he was informed that I didn’t give an offering because I had no more money left. Then he told me it was my duty to put aside money for God every week, it was to show God my love and sincerity in worshipping Him.
HAHAHA! Okay, I’m sorry. Right now I’m just laughing at how pathetic it sounds. But he really did say that! And at that age, I actually thought I did something gravely wrong to God. I failed to realise that it was between me & God.
The following week onwards, they monitored if I gave offerings closely. Even with the friendly reminder before service started.
Somewhere in the bible it says something about giving God 10% of your fortune or harvest… Truthfully quite vague about this. I just know the 10%.
So then every month, you’re supposed to give 10% of your salary/allowance to the church – on top of offerings.
“Whatever you have, actually belongs to God. Even your money. But God is so magnanimous that He only wants 10% of it.” Remember those words crystal clear.
So like I said, I didn’t grow up in a happy home. Sometimes my remaining parent would not give me money or take what little savings I had – sometimes I had no money to even eat. Therefore giving away 10% was asking a lot of me.
And on those envelopes that give you for offerings are forms as well. There you will fill up your name, cell group number, contact number and amount you are giving for your tithe.
Yes, they monitor your tithings.
So quite a few times my cell group leader said he was notified that I didn’t give my tithing for this month, or my tithing seemed significantly lesser than usual.
Again – I bought into it and felt like I could do better for God. I failed to realise I wasn’t chasing God; I was stupidly chasing their approval for God knows what reason.
Third, pledging monies.
Everyone should know more or less that the church has building funds. I was there when they just moved to the church in Jurong, near NTU. It was entirely brand new, nice facilities with obviously pricey construction. “Nothing but the best for God,” they said.
Then before I knew it, they had new ideas to build a stadium of some sort. Citing the rapid growth of church members as a reason. There was about a 20 to 30 minute speech on how we should contribute to building the house of God.
Nice words, eh? House of God. So of course I’d want to help! Pledge money that I rely on getting occasionally from concerned relatives? Sure!
What an idiot I was.
And the best part was that they even set a benchmark of how much they encouraged each church member to give. If I remember correctly, it was about $200 a month.
My mentor even sat down with me to plan out how I can somehow give $200 every month – on top of 10% tithing and very compulsory offering… to build the house of God.
Then I started to think, “Am I just here to give them free money; buying the illusion of a family that I crave for?”
Fourth, God the investment banker.
Every time before offering, we were told this – if you give to God, God will give you back 10 times.
So even if you do not have much money, just give what little you have… And somehow God will multiply it and give it back to you.
They preached that God wants all of us to be rich. And also that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. So therefore – to show your sincere love to God, you must give him your money.
I tried asking what if my treasure isn’t money? Then they said, “The bible meant money.”
Fifth, bringing in new people.
Every week we are expected to always bring in new people to service. ALWAYS expected to.
They even presented charts of who brought in new people and who didn’t. Those who didn’t were mildly humiliated, of course.
But it was really difficult and rather ironic. When I had too many close friends outside church, they were unhappy and told me that it was ungodly influence. I should surround myself with spiritual people.
Oh, but still must have a good enough relationship with these non-spiritual people to convince them to come to a religious event.
There was this time my mentor called another cell group member and myself to her house. There, she sat us both down and made us call each and every person on our handphone contact list – asking them to come to church. ‘No’ is not an answer.
If they were sick, we’d give a mask. If they were not free, plan the following weekend or the next. If they were not willing, ask why until they couldn’t give a legit reason.
I don’t know how many people I pissed off, how many friends I lost that day… but I know that month my phone bill was really high. 😦 And those people I called became even more guarded against anything to do with Christianity.
When we didn’t manage to get people, she scolded us. When I said this isn’t the right thing to do, she said I was being selfish and not sharing salvation. When my cell group member managed to get someone, they both said I didn’t care about this hard enough.
Then I asked, “What’s the point of bringing in people who are unwilling? Won’t this just shut their hearts to God even more when you force them like this?”
Needless to say, I was rebuked for not having child-like faith.
Basically what happened here was my mentor was to be kept informed of my whereabouts at all times.
After school, what I was doing… Who I’m hanging out with… It was a tad invasive.
And I wasn’t allowed to meet boys. Other church members in the school were to tell immediately if any of us did something the church won’t approve of.
I was in a girls’ school, but somehow I still got to know boys through friends or sometimes the Internet. However I wasn’t allowed to go out with boys because they do not approve of it. And according to them, I cannot start dating till I turned 21.
And when I asked the cell group leader, “Then why did you start dating your girlfriend at 16?” I was rebuked and told not to question my leader.
There was once I met this boy after school for a movie, it was supposed to be with another girl but she had to go home. So it was just the both of us. A cell group member in school saw and immediately informed our mentor, of which I quickly got a phone call to ask me what in the world I was doing.
Next service, I was rebuked again and I actually felt guilty for it even though I knew clearly he and I were just good friends.
I tried reasoning with my mentor that it didn’t start out this way, that the other girl was suddenly called to go home.
“Oh what a coincidence. How do I know that you’re speaking the truth? You always had boys, so maybe this was your way to go on a date. If it really wasn’t a date, you would’ve left when the other girl left as well. You don’t respect yourself.”
Seventh, buying Sun Ho’s albums.
Ah, everyone’s favourite.
So our pastor’s wife wanted to enter the music industry to preach the Word of God. Using songs to lead the people honestly didn’t sound like a bad idea.
Then it got to her albums. Every single person in church had to have her album. It was compulsory, really. If you didn’t have her album, then you don’t love your church family. And back then we still used portable CD players. Everyone was supposed to have the CD in their bags.
It seemed quite ridiculous to me at this point. Especially when they pushed us to buy several albums at service. Yes, several copies of the exact same album. Why? To give Sun Ho the support to spread the Word of God.
Everyone had to buy at least 3 to 5 albums. Cell group members collected money from the members to buy the albums. And told them to give the albums to other people to spread the Word.
Slowly, the number of albums each church member had to buy was increasing. Pastors and cell group leaders kept on pushing and pressurising everyone to buy the albums. It got to a point whereby another cell group member actually sold his car in order to buy more albums.
Eighth, Sun Ho’s crossovers.
True to her word, she did go overseas and preached the gospel through her concerts. She would sing some songs, share her testimony and call on people to receive Jesus as their one true saviour.
Every now and then we were shown numbers of souls she saved – tens of thousands at a time.
Then I asked, “Do these people have a church to go to, to continue building their relationship with God?”
“Not sure. We already shared the Word with them. It’s up to them now.”
“But without a spiritually supportive environment it’s easy to lose faith. Won’t they then be condemned to hell for knowing the Word but not believing in it?”
Yup. Got rebuked again.
Back then there was a man (yes, Mr Roland Poon) who told the public about the church forcing members to buy Sun Ho’s albums, of which he was fiercely dealt with in church. His cell group leader and mentor rebuked him to no end, his cell group members ostracised him.
Of which then he was pressured to give a public apology to the church and was definitely treated differently. And to give due credit, Kong Hee did announce in service to forgive and accept him back.
However this social outcasting happened to me when I started asking questions. I started mentally calculating how much money the church was making (10% tithe + offerings of $2 at a conservative amount of per pax), it gave me a rather high number. After thinking through it all, I realised every month the church should have a bit of money left after operational costs. Then why did they constantly ask for money all the time? So how much were they paying the pastors? What else are they spending on? Shouldn’t the leftover money be put into the church’s own building fund, instead of asking for more from the people? Wasn’t the money given to God, for God’s people?
They also showed how well Sun Ho was doing overseas – claiming she was popular in Taiwan and America. Showing us hit charts where she was #1. To me, if she was so popular… Then why did the church make everyone buy about 9-12 albums each to support her? So with the help of the Internet, I went to look around. Only to find that every weekend I was buying into a scam. I chatted up some Americans on IRC and asked about Sun Ho, where 100% response I got was along the lines of, “Who the f**k is that?”
They said the money goes to God. Fantastic. So tell me, do you actually give the money to God? I’m sure our Earthly money means to nothing to Him, who is in Heaven. So if you don’t actually give the money to God… What on Earth do you spend on that you deem worthy enough to be ‘God’?
It was just downright ludicrous.
If they did things the public disapproved of, they’ll say that Jesus also faced this and they need to move on. The devil was fighting against them. Resistance meant they were doing the right thing.
If they did things the public approved of, they’ll shout Hallelujah and how they are bringing God to the world.
In full honesty, they did very good marketing right there. They brainwashed the people into believing every single thing they did, no matter what other facts might state. The people in the church aren’t the bad guys – they were just steered the wrong direction.
To me, I saw the devil doing an excellent job there. I saw so many people leave and strongly shutting their hearts away from the very idea of God. And I saw how those people in church don’t worship God; they worship Kong Hee and the prosperity gospel they’re fed.
Feeling frustrated and powerless, I left and prayed, “God, if You do exist – please save these people.”
I’m thankful for the strength Mr Roland Poon found to stand up for what he believes in, despite all the opposing forces. And I’m glad that at least there’s a little justice out there.