While saying my rosary this morning, I had a sudden inspiration to volunteer to help clean up the church! Was it divine intervention or just pure coincidence? Read on to find out more!
Every Wednesday and Saturday at 9am, a group of volunteers called “Willing Hands” will spend about an hour cleaning the main church.
Since this morning I was ‘off’, I thought, “Why not?”
After my morning prayers and exercise/sunshine at the park below my place, I was running pretty late and so packed some sourdough in a hurry, thinking I would eat it after the church cleaning.
The church was eerily quiet as I cycled in. At first, I did not know where or who to report to. Father Peter suggested I check the Chapel or main Hall. The Chapel was empty so I went up.
I was greeted by a few Aunties and Uncles holding brooms, dustpans and trash bags. They were all wearing such big, warm smiles that I could not help but grin sheepishly back.
From the first aunty I met, I felt as if I was returning home to my family!
“Welcome, JOHN the Baptist!” one aunty joked.
“GOD sent you here to help us! He knew we were short-handed!” another one replied.
They were so warm and welcoming and cute and funny! I really felt right at home from the beginning!
We started by sweeping and picking up litter below the pews and arranging them neatly. We then proceeded to mop the floors. The entire operation took roughly about an hour, way faster than I’d expected! (My mother wasn’t exactly pleased at the idea of me going to help clean the church this morning. “Clean the church for what? Don’t go and clean the whole church arh!”)
Following this, I took a moment to breathe in the atmosphere of the empty church hall. Without the usual mass crowd, priests and formalities, it was a nice feeling. I took time to savour our beautiful stained-glass paintings and the statue of Jesus going up into heaven (some affectionately nickname this statue “The Spaceman” because of the blue background 😂).
***Side note: While looking back at this picture, I realized the shadows kind of show a person’s face! Face of God?
I could also walk up close to our beautiful crib and even picked baby Jesus up to cradle him and ‘tickle’ his feet! (okay, that may be a little weird but it brought me such joy haha!)
We then gathered for a closing prayer of which I felt some verses were very poetic! Our head then gave us all a box of Ricola Herbal Mint as a small Christmas gift. ☺️
We then proceeded to the crib to take the annual christmas group photo. How coincidental that they’d do this today, although it’s only my first day haha … Naturally I felt a little odd since some of them have been doing this for almost a decade!
At the end I tried a ‘selfie’ so I could get everyone in the picture.
It turned out pretty nice!
The good Lord might have even blessed us with some heavenly sunshine on the top right!
After that we took a slow walk to a nearby hawker centre cum wet market, aptly named the ‘Round Market’ because of its shape. The group did not like the limited breakfast options at the coffee shop opposite our church and would rather walk 15 minutes away!
All along the way, I was engaged in hearty conversation with one of the Aunties who was delighted to speak with me in chinese because the rest usually spoke in english and I wanted to practice my chinese.
I learned that she was almost 80! And that long ago her husband left the family after being seduced by a young pretty girl. He has since passed on. She already has many grandchildren, the youngest of which is just one year younger than me!
I also learnt that a number of them in the group are peranakan (hence they usually spoke english or Malay to each other) and that they loved gardening and plants!
My ears immediately pricked up when I heard this! Gardening is something that has been at the back of my mind that I’ve been meaning to pick up in my free time.
I was interested in how to grow plants, especially herbs, as well as the names of different plants, their medicinal properties, edible parts, how to tend to them and other uses like which plants are best for indoor air purification!
Along the way I was also given a ‘educational tour’ about different plants that owners of shophouses planted at the space in front of their shops below the HDB flats.
One plant in particular really caught my eye! They lovingly called this the “Birdie Plant” because its flowers looked just like little colourful canaries! Here is a picture of a red variety of this plant!
During breakfast, one of the aunties bought us drinks and even made a chocolate cake for us all! It was unexpected as it was actually her birthday! 😂 Fancy the birthday girl making the cake and buying drinks … we catholics are a weird bunch!
I shared my packed sourdough bread around and they loved it! I brought the two varieties we purchased this week – a white chocolate cranberry flavour and a Rugbread (dark rye with an assortment of seeds like pumpkin, flax, sesame and sunflower!).
The owner, Lionel is a one of the most cheerful and amiable young baker I’ve ever known! He always greets customers with a huge smile and will take time to interact with all his customers.
I also explained to them all about his sourdough bread and pizzas. How he uses traditional overnight fermentation methods with a “starter” vs commercial baker’s yeast which can reduce bread rising time from 7+ hours to just 1 hour! He got his starter from the bakery he was working at in Iceland!
The use of overnight fermentation in a humidity- and temperature-controlled environment ensures the gluten in the bread is more easily digested and the nutrients in the flour become more bioavailable!
This is especially important for someone with an autoimmune disease like me who may be intolerant to gluten but can tolerate this form of fermented bread! Even people with celiac disease, an allergy to gluten in wheat, may in time be able to tolerate sourdough if they are careful with introducing it very slowly! (Please be warned that I am not a physician and do check with your holistic healthcare practitioner before trying anything on this blog!)
Besides eating sourdough bread, a dear aunty, Aunty D (for privacy reasons), also shared a bowl of “Heih Mee” (or Prawn Noodle in Hokkien dialect) with me. This was the famous one which they were all raving about. The soup was really tasty! Despite breaking my vegetarian diet (I’m not so strict when eating out) I enjoyed it very much! 😄
Back to our conversations.
Throughout breakfast, we were passionately discussing about herbs and the plants they grew in the backyard of another church, Divine Mercy at Pasir Ris. Apparently, the Parish priest knew Aunty D very well and when the parish gardener suffered a serious accident, asked her if she knew anyone who loved gardening. That was how they started volunteering at the Church of the Divine Mercy every Tuesdays too!
They will go down after breakfast and help with some cleaning of the chapel before tending to the plants. What a special group! 😆
I learnt that they grew all kinds of plants and herbs there in abundance. From banana trees to papaya, olives and even grapes!
Aunty T also told me of two special plants they were especially proud of due to its healing properties.
The first was the Moringa plant! This plant is also known as the “Miracle Plant” due to its healing abilities for everything from the common cuts and headaches to stomach and skin infections, cardiovascular and cancer problems. Every part of the plant has a medicinal property! Read more about it here.
Its other name is the “Drumstick Tree” due to the seed pods of some varieties growing like drumsticks! 😂 The edible seeds inside the pods are commonly found in Indian Cuisines!
The second plant is the Sabah Snake Grass which anecdotally, has been very effective in treating all kinds of cancer in asian countries where this plant grows wildy and abundantly! Read more here.
We then took a tour of the nearby plant shop owned by a man they affectionately call the ‘Snake Man’. Aptly named because he likes to ‘snake’ around the shop and Round Market so they tend to have a hard time finding him! (‘Snaking around’ is also another way of saying you aren’t doing your job or remaining at your post, kind of like being lazy!)
Here I was amazed at the varieties of plants for sale. I was given another ‘plants crash course’ and found out the best plants for indoor air purification are the Aloe Vera and the Mother in Law’s tongue!
Another plant was the Peace lily. Named so because of its beautiful white flower! I purchased one of this for $9!
After this, I was promptly dragged aside by Aunty D and ‘scolded’ because I did not listen to her telling me not to buy from Snakeman haha. At the shop she was telling me that she has sooooo many plants at home and that she has extra pots and soil and can just give them to me. My reasoning was that I needed a plant soon for my father’s office table and did not think I was going to her house anytime soon as I did not know where it was.
However, she told me that her house was just walking distance from the church and that we could go there now and split this one Peace Lily that I’d bought into a few more pots! She added that it was clearly overcrowded.
So off we went to her place! Another unexpected turn of events haha. Initially I was thinking I’d be on my way home after cleaning the church and be back for lunch by 11am. 😂
It was about 12pm by the time we arrived. She stayed at a corner flat and since her neighbour did not keep plants, she had the entire corridor for herself! As you can see in the picture below, she has turned the place into a little garden of neatly arranged plants!
It was truly a sight to behold at first! You can just feel the air changing as you walk towards her house, lined with all the plants! I definitely felt the energy of the place changing too!
She had all sorts of flowering plants from Orchids to Cacti, Japanese Roses to Air Plants and even a green ‘Birdie Plant’! (picture below)
She then taught me how to split the one Peace Lily I bought into a few other pots. Initially I was just thinking of splitting it into 2 but after that, she still felt it was too crowded and we eventually split it into FIVE pots!!! All for the price of one! 😂
I also received 2 more pots of plants from her! One called a Lucky flower plant because its flowers only bloom from midnight to sunrise so you have to be ‘lucky’ to see it in full bloom. The other is another plant of which neither of us knows the name of. Its flowers were so unique and I thought my mother would love it so I asked if I could have a pot of it.
Before I left, she also educated me about fertilizers, how to take care of the plants and where her favourite place to shop for plants and gardening supplies was – at a nursery in Eunos!
Upon reaching home, I immediately set about arranging the plants. The first name that came to my mind when looking at the unusual flowered plant is ‘Morry’ so I named it so. My mother then named the other Lucky Flower plant ‘Angel’ haha.
What an unexpectedly blessed morning this was!
I never expected that a simple church cleaning session would bless me with a new ‘family’ of loving uncles and aunties, new knowledge about plants and herbs, an opportunity to learn gardening (I’m definitely going gardening next tuesday with them!) and 6 new pots of plants to bring home!
God truly works in unexpected ways and although I never really outright prayed for this to happen, it feels like he knew what I was missing/desired in the back of my head and heart and granted it today in the form of divine motivation to go and do some charity work in church!
My soul continues to rejoice in his majesty!
God bless you all!