Rev Irene Thung
Pastor Irene Thung shared with the CCMC Women’s Ministry in its From the Living Room series on Saturday, 13 June 2020. Among other things, she talked about her experience as a female pastor and the use of technology in ministry during the Covdo-19 pandemic.
She has been married to Teo Khoon Seng for 43 years. The couple have three daughters and two grandchildren.
A second career pastor, Ps Irene entered full-time ministry at age 55. She said that being mature helped her in her ministry. “It’s a joy that even the men are coming to me,” she said. “So, even when men share with me about prostate cancer, they are not shy about it. But when they know I would lay hands, to pray, they say, ‘You don’t have to lay hands on me!’” she continued with a chuckle.
In the first year in Paya Lebar MC, every time she preached, she received a rose placed on her car. “The male pastors were like detectives,” Ps Irene said. “They said, ‘Okay, we will look at the security camera and see who put it there!” But till today, the person remains a mystery.
Khoon Seng’s home church was Geylang Chinese Methodist Church, now Charis Methodist Church. In the past, Chinese-language churches did not have women pastors. The wife of the pastor would just tag along, stand at the door and wish everybody, and everyone would address her as boksu neo in Hokkien, meaning “pastor’s wife”. When Irene became a pastor, people in his home church started calling Khoon Seng boksu gong (pastor’s husband)!
When Irene became a pastor, people in his home church started calling Khoon Seng boksu gong (pastor’s husband)!
Wherever Ps Irene gets posted to, the congregation would want to know who her husband is. “So, I have no choice but have to show my face just to say please don’t put a rose on her car after her sermon!” Khoon Seng quipped. Initially, he told Ps Irene that he would join her once a month and that he would attend his home church on the other three weeks as he used to serve in the LCEC so couldn’t just move out of the church. The couple gave their youngest daughter the choice of going to church with one of them and she has been with her father’s home church till now.
“I try to make myself comfortable wherever Irene is posted to,” said Khoon Seng. But he does not sit with Ps Irene in church, preferring to sit in the middle of the congregation in CCMC. He said that before he got a to know everyone in CCMC, Covid-19 came.
For Pastor Irene, working from home during the Covid-19 lock-down period was initially a struggle for her as she is a people person who loves to meet people. This was specially challenging since she is taking care of the TRAC Senior Ministry where visitation is an important aspect of the ministry.
Working from home during the Covid-19 lock-down period was initially a struggle for her as she is a people person who loves to meet people.
She realized that virtual communication was the solution. “I am not very IT savvy, but I have come to learn that the resources are God given, so I literally have to ask God for ideas,” she said. She learnt to use Zoom and use it two or three times a week to meet with all the seniors’ ministry leaders, a small group she leads and a group that she follows up and disciples.
Her weekly written senior ministry devotions were originally sent to seniors who have registered with the ministry. But more recently, she decided to record the devotions. “I got a gadget and put the recorded devotions on Youtube for registered viewers. To launch one of the teachings, I have to practice about 10 times for the recording.”
Ps Irene also uses WhatsApp for her ministry and receives a lot of WhatsApp messages. “If I get messages in the middle of the night, I will pray and always follow up the next morning,” she elaborated.
Once, a lady for the seniors’ ministry called Pastor Irene to say that this lady’s husband had a heart attack. “They called me. Thank God we have this phone with video chat where she can look at my face. And I can see them and pray with them.”
She explained that when she prays over the phone, she prays into the spirit of the person listening on the other end of the line. “Don’t think of it as a phone. I take it as speaking into the spirit man of the person on the phone and declare healing over the person.” Once, she prayed for the husband of a woman from the Senior Ministry. He was 73 and had to go for an operation to put in stents in his coronary artery. “He didn’t believe in God. But after he came out of the operation, he said to me, ‘Pastor, I believe in God,’ shared Ps Irene. “His wife said, ‘This is the first time my husband declared that.’”
When she prays over the phone, she prays into the spirit of the person listening on the other end of the line.
Ps Irene feels that text messaging is a useful tool especially to those who find it difficult to talk about their problems. As an example, she shared about a couple who was healthy and very fit when the wife was suddenly diagnosed with cancer. “She is a very private person, so not even her church pastor knew about this situation,” said explained. When they contacted her, she knew this lady is so very private that she will never come on a video chat. ”So, I recorded a prayer for her before each of her chemo sessions to encourage her, and each time, she came out stronger.”
TRAC Senior Ministry has a Care Team of 10 callers with each one calling five senior a week using guided questions. This is how contact is maintained with those who are vulnerable during this period of Covid-19. Thus, those who need emergency visits can be attended to. Ps Irene shared about a call to a senior couple whose son had died in a motorbike accident in Malaysia. They were grieving and no one knew about it. “When we called, they said, ‘It is so nice for you to remember us and call us.’”
TRAC Senior Ministry has a Care Team of 10 callers with each one calling five senior a week using guided questions.
Ps Irene also keeps in touch with her large family using WhatsApp since they cannot meet because of Covid. ”I have four sisters so I have brothers-in-laws, nieces and nephews. One of my brothers-in-law contracted dengue. It was very serious. He was hospitalized and his blood count went down to 9,000. I started a chat group and said, “We go down to our knees right now.” Miraculously, God raised Ps Irene’s brother-in-law’s blood count overnight to 56,000. He was discharged within four days. “So my whole family is so encouraged by the power of God,” said Ps Irene. “This is something I want to give thanks to God for.”
A telephone call or a text message does make a difference. All of us have at least a phone, and also other communication technologies. Ps Irene believes that we can use them to minister to and encourage others.