God, in His sovereign counsel, has tasked Singaporean young men to give two years of their time to “National Service”. This article aims to give readers a brief overview of National Service, some of the struggles that the servicemen may face, and a Christian’s response to National Service.
Singapore is a young and tiny country that gained her own independence after separating from Malaysia on 9 August 1965. Singapore had to develop her own armed forces to maintain her sovereignty and to deter possible invasions. Thus, conscription was introduced in post-independence Singapore through the National Service Act of 1967. All Singaporean males and second-generation male permanent residents who reside in Singapore are required to undergo a period of two years of compulsory service when they reach eighteen years of age in either the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), or the Singapore Police Force (SPF). In layman terms, they will either be a soldier, a firefighter, or a policeman. National Service is compulsory and those who fail to comply will be seen as deserters, and will be severely dealt with in the military court. National Service is commonly spilt into three different phases – the Basic Military Training Phase, the Active Operations Phase, and the Operationally Ready Phase (ORD). All who go through National Service will have to go through basic military training in training institutes, which will range from 9 weeks to 30 weeks, before going into the active operations phase where they will be enrolled into an active unit and spend the remaining time of national service there. The serviceman will complete his two years of National Service in the first two phases, after which he will be finally declared as “Operationally Ready” and enters into the ORD Phase, where his National Service temporarily ends.
It Is Not Easy
National Service is not warmly welcomed even among Christians in Singapore. A life of routine and regimentation is not easy to get used to. However, God foreordains every unique circumstance in our lives and National Service is no different. National Service is a calling from God for every young man in Singapore. To be a soldier is not something foreign to a Christian, after all, for we have been trained as soldiers for Christ.
Outfield operations and exercises are the bread and butter of a serviceman, especially those who serve within the SAF. Often, we would hear that they are required to be away for extended periods of time to train in camp or to be overseas for exercises. It is not uncommon to hear that these trainings and exercises take place multiple times a year and as a result cause many Christian young men to miss church and Sunday worship. This can be frustrating because they usually have no say in their training or exercise schedules. If they were given a choice, they would definitely not want to train and work on Sundays, but frequent the house of God and worship Him on Sundays. In frustrating times like these, we have to remember that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isa. 59:9), and be wary and not allow discontentment to breed in our hearts due to the unhappiness we experience for being away from church, and then turn into unmotivated workers. God dislikes discontented and unmotivated workers, for He reminds us in the Bible, “whatsoever we do, we do it heartily as to the Lord and not unto men” (Col. 3:23). Our God is a great and all- knowing God. He knows what we need more than we think. Therefore, His ways are far higher than our ways. We also confess that that “He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1). We are God’s children and He watches over us as His own, so much that without the will of our Father, not a hair can fall from our head, and this applies to us during our National Service as well. All things (including National Service) work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28).
Remember the Sabbath Day
Through the course of National Service, it is inevitable that servicemen will miss church and Sunday worship. God commands us to remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy, and this command has one of the greatest importance. He created the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh day. He designated the Sabbath Day for His people to rest (Deut. 5:14). The Sabbath Day was also given as a covenant sign to identify those who are the people of God. Exodus 31:13 says, “Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you”. After knowing all these, the important question that we have to ask ourselves this: can we keep the Sabbath Day when we are not in church worshipping God?
Even though we may be away from the church, we are still called to remember and keep the Sabbath Day and preserve our identity as a Christian with great care and consciousness. Being away from church and in an environment that does not promote the sanctity of the Sabbath Day, we should be even more mindful and diligent in keeping the Sabbath Day. We fail to keep the Sabbath Day when we forget the Sabbath Day itself. Therefore, it is crucial to remember the Sabbath Day, and to keep it holy (Ex. 20:8). That day is important and precious to a Christian. To keep the Sabbath Day holy means to consecrate the day to the worship of God. So, remember your devotions! The Word of God is life! Read the Bible whenever you have the opportunity to or even talk to your fellow serviceman about spiritual topics. Text a church brother or sister or tune in to the online sermons on your phone if possible. Let all these be to the honour, glory and devotion of God. Nevertheless, all these are only possible with time. But more often than not, we know that most of the time it is not so. Therefore pray for grace to remember the Sabbath Day even when you are busy. Remember the Lord even on that day, and do all things to the worship of His holy name. God is our helper. He will sustain our soul (Ps. 54:4). Crave and long for the day when you can be back in God’s house worshipping Him together with your brothers and sisters in Christ again.
Not only will the young Christian men be away from church, they will also be placed in a godless environment where the majority of their peers will be of a different faith. They speak a different language, they think and behave differently. This calls for great attention as you young men will be spending a large amount of time with them and potentially be influenced by their ungodly beliefs and behaviours.
We do not want to sit “in the seat of the scornful” (Ps. 1:1b) unknowingly. The Bible warns us: “He that walketh with wise (men) shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed” (Pro. 13:20). Therefore, we have to exercise our wisdom in the choice of acquaintances we allow into our lives because once we allow them in, it will be hard to get them out. Serving in National Service is not easy and one may also say that inevitably some form of comradeship will be formed after going through thick and thin together. This can be true. However, the Word of God reminds us that we are a holy people and may not be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14). This is a command for us as Christians to live antithetically, a life of spiritual separation from the wicked world. We do not have to physically separate ourselves from our non-Christian servicemen but it all boils down to saying “no” when sin is involved. And when you have time, spend it with your church friends! “He that walketh with wise (men) shall be wise” (Pro. 13:20). Church friends are a great source of spiritual support when your spiritual life is challenged. They are able to give wise counsel from the Word of God because they know and love God.
National Service is a path our Lord has ordained our young men to go through. They may experience varying good or challenging times. Let us always seek God in prayer to aid and preserve our spiritual brothers in Christ in these times. Do not be discouraged for our God is good! Press on! Remember, Everyday Requires Prayer! (ERP!)
Written by: Paul Ong | Issue 42