by Juleen Shaw
This interview was first published in Salt & Light on 20 June 2020, and has been republished with permission.
The Invictus Fund is "an amazing story of God's goodness. We're talking about loaves and fishes."
The Invictus Fund is "an amazing story of God's goodness. We’re talking loaves and fishes", says NCSS president Anita Fam (left), seen here with President Halimah Yacob (middle) and president of the Association of Social Workers Long Chey May (right). All photos courtesy of Anita Fam.
When DPM Heng Swee Keat announced in a Facebook post on June 3 that the Government would be adding $18 million to the National Council of Social Service’s COVID-related Invictus Fund, the fund essentially quadrupled overnight.
The surprise announcement was met with quiet cheers from 400+ NCSS agencies with beneficiaries ranging from persons with mental health conditions to families in need.
But one woman, NCSS president Anita Fam, did more than cheer.
Ms Fam went on her knees.
She would be the first to tell you: It was not the Government who had initiated the fund. It was not NCSS, nor even she, who had initiated the fund.
It was God.
And it all began with a divine download.
What exactly is the Invictus Fund?
The Invictus Fund essentially channels donations to social service agencies so that they can continue delivering critical care to vulnerable groups.
Except for a very small handful of critical services like family service centres, which receive 99% funding from the government and Tote Board, the majority of charities, depending on their journey or programme, might get anything from 25% to 75% of their funding from established sources. The flip side is that they have to raise 75% to 25% from public donations.
Under COVID circumstances, these charities really suffer because public donations which they rely on are drying up.
How was the Fund conceived?
On March 27, as I was on one of my walks, I received a word from God telling me to donate $1 million to help NCSS agencies through this COVID season.
The Fund was to be the support package for our charities, as the Government did not have anything for them specifically in the earlier budgets.
“I realised that God really loves his charities.”
Immediately, I went back and messaged my CEO and the designate, and said: “I’m making this donation and it’s for two purposes: One is for triage for critical service providers, and the other is to support smaller charities through this COVID season. So, triage and support.”
Four days later on March 31, I was on another walk when the Lord said: “Call it Invictus Fund.”
I didn’t even know what invictus meant! And I thought I’d better just go and Google to make sure it provides the right context.
And when I Googled it – “unconquered”, “undefeated” – oh boy, that was the message of the Fund exactly.
I made that transfer within days of that divine instruction being given.
Were there any further surprises?
I thought I might get some friends to join in just to build up the Fund, because the bigger the Fund, the more help we could give. Internally I spoke to my Comchest* chair to get his support. So I knew that there would be more than what I put in.
* Community Chest, or Comchest, is the fund-raising arm of the National Council of Social Services.
But the quantums I was thinking of were so small. I thought we might help 50, 60 charities in a smallish sort of way, for maybe three months, to tide them over with some of their deficits.
Ms Fam (centre), who chairs the board of directors at Assisi Hospice, at the launch of Assisi’s 50th anniversary medallion in April 2019, together with Assisi’s patron, Mdm Ho Ching (right) and CEO Choo Shiu Ling (left).
But it started taking on a life of its own. Since we launched it probably in April, we’ve raised about $6.7 million for the fund.
We had corporate donations, donations from individuals. Diana Ser and friends got together to fundraise, apparently. One of the perm secs sent out an email to her colleagues sharing this as a good cause for anyone planning to donate their $600 solidarity payment.
Then I heard that the Government was putting $18 million into this Fund. It wasn’t as if I had suggested this or actively solicited for donations. I didn’t. It was mind blowing.
I realised that God really loves his charities.
Do you think there was a message God was giving?
You know, with my team, the only people who knew about my donation had been my CEO, my CEO designate, the head and chairman of Comchest.
And I said: “Please keep it anonymous. No one is to know.” And some weeks later, after the fund had gained traction and more people were putting money into it, Minister Desmond Lee asked if he could publicly acknowledge me. And I said: “No, thank you.”
The greatest fear I had was being trolled on the Internet. I don’t need that.
But it’s funny – in the last few weeks, I felt the Lord telling me that I needed to go public. So when my CEO called me three Fridays ago and said: “DPM wants to mention it in his Facebook post”, I prayed and I said: “Lord, if you really want me to do so, I will do so in personal witness, as a testimony of Your faithfulness.”
By that time, you know, there was this amazing story of God’s goodness. We’re talking loaves and fishes, because He multiplied that $1 million into something that’s $24.7 million now.
“God multiplied that $1 million into something that’s $24.7 million now … it was a divine multiplication.”
And that is the message: God brought about a divine multiplication. It’s got nothing to do with me. My act in it was just a simple act of short-sighted obedience.
At your peak you were on the Board of 18 charities.
Was the NCSS presidency a natural progression for you?
Eighteen was bad – now it’s not so many! I just retired from the Tote Board, so currently I have 10 appointments.
But you know, I never wanted the NCSS presidency. Never wanted it. I laid out nine fleeces (Judges 6:36-40) for the Lord!
At the Purple Parade 2019, a movement to include people with special needs to the main chapter of Singapore’s growth, and to afford them equal access to education, employment, transport and social networks.
I recorded all of God’s confirmations in my phone under the folder “God Notes”.
Finally, I received the verse Genesis 28:15: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
After that I said: “Okay lah, I surrender!”
When we surrender and He equips, it’s got nothing to do with us anymore.
It actually becomes a very liberating journey.
What do your divine downloads look like?
Ever since I’ve taken on the presidency of NCSS, I have been faithfully going on walks.
I don’t pray with words; it’s just a time of worship. And through the years, communicating with God and hearing His voice are not unusual for me.
* Ms Fam is a former vice-president at AWWA.
About 14 years ago, there was a church member who was dying of breast cancer. She had two children, a boy and a girl. I didn’t know them from Adam.
But as I was driving to AWWA that day, He instructed me to ring up the church office. The Sunday before, the church had put out a call for people to help the church member. So I called up the church office and said: “ I’m available to help.” They said this woman’s daughter, who was in P6, really wanted someone to take her to Spotlight to buy things to make a friendship bracelet.
I talked to the family on the phone and took the little girl to Spotlight. I knew her mother for a grand total of six weeks before she died – I would take her to the doctors, pick her up from the hospital. The week before she died, she asked me to watch over her children. It’s something I’ve continued to do to this day.
But it’s not as if there is a download every time. Many times when I walk, I just worship the Lord. It’s wonderful for the soul. And it’s good exercise!
But the day that I took on the NCSS presidency – with great fear, reluctance and trepidation – I started walking even more. Because I needed to hear Him more.
How can you be sure it’s God speaking?
There was a missionary staying with us once – Paul Hawkins. And he would also say: The Lord told me this, the Lord told me that.
My small group would ask: “How? How did you know it’s God?”
And he had this wonderful analogy: When someone close to you rings you – it may be your children or your parents – they don’t have to tell you their name for you to know who it is, because there’s so much familiarity. You just know.
But in order to know and recognise the voice, you need to test it in the beginning. The confirmation comes through our acts of obedience.
Paul Hawkins shared a story about how, one day, his wife was told by the Lord: “Go bake a lemon cake and give it to the neighbour.” She thought, “That’s really strange”, but she did it in obedience.
She went next door and rang the doorbell, holding this lemon cake, and told the neighbour: “I baked it for you.” And the young lady who opened the door burst into tears. Her husband had called her that morning and said: “I’m going to bring my boss home for dinner. And his favourite cake is lemon cake. Can you make one for him?” She didn’t have any time and she couldn’t bake it. And this neighbour, who was Paul’s wife, had gone over and provided her with one.
In the same way, even 14, 15 years ago, every so often I would get a voice saying donate, or send a cheque to someone. And I would do so. And then they would write back and say: Thank you so much. I really needed it at this time for such-and-such a reason.
How did your faith get so strong?
Was your family a big factor in your early faith?
My dad* and my brother did not go to church. My mum brought me to church from the time I was in kindergarten.
*Ms Fam’s father is the late Michael Fam, formerly the chairman of the Housing and Development Board, and subsequently chairman of the Mass Rapid Transit Corporation and F&N.
With the family on holiday. (L-R) Tim, Anita, Gillian and Eck Kheng.
I was one of those kids in Sunday School who always walked away with the Sunday School prizes – Paul Tambyah and myself were always the ones. I knew him then as Ananth – we were childhood friends, Sunday School rivals!
Raised in an Anglican church, I was confirmed when I was 13. I remember kneeling before Bishop Chiu Ban It during the confirmation. And I was wondering why he was pressing so hard on my head. But when I looked up, he wasn’t even touching me. So that was my first physical encounter of the Holy Spirit.
“I describe myself as being a Manglican – Anglican by birth, Methodist now!”
It was only the following year, exactly one year to the date of my confirmation, that I really came to know the Lord. We were at a youth fellowship camp and someone had shared the four spiritual laws with me. I was just overwhelmed with remorse and burst into tears – and I’m not one to cry openly.
After that I became chairman of youth fellowship. But by the time I was 18 or 19, I stopped going to church. I was going to parties and people were making me feel guilty about going to parties and I thought it was hypocritical and I felt more and more guilty and I changed churches so no one would judge me. But when no one knows you, there’s less accountability, right, so after a while I just stopped going completely.
That was like 10 years in exodus for me. It really was after I met Eck Kheng, who would become my husband, that I started going back to church again. When I was pregnant with my son, Tim, I joined a Bible study group and really started a more constant walk with God.
You are very open about being adopted.
Did that have an impact on you?
I’ve known since I was about five years old that I was adopted. I was curious about the circumstances, but I never felt the urge to look for my birth mother.
Then my dad died in 2016. In 2017, my brother was cleaning up the family house when he pulled out this brown envelope that said: Anita’s documents.
He passed it to me rather awkwardly and I didn’t think anything of it. That night when I opened the brown envelope, I discovered my adoption papers and my original birth certificate.
“I realised that nothing was by chance.”
The birth cert just had the name of this 19-year-old single mum from Johor and her address was c/o Salvation Army Singapore. So she’d come to Singapore to give birth. The father’s name was a dash.
And you know the most amazing thing? I looked at my adoption petition – it has to be signed by someone representing the Director of Social Welfare – and it was signed by none other than Leaena Chelliah, now Mrs Leaena Tambyah, Paul Tambyah’s mum and a good friend of my mum’s from church. She was the one who had invited me to join AWWA in 1994 and set me on this journey of what I am now.
Then I realised that nothing was by chance.
And, as I was holding on to my adoption papers, I heard the Lord say to me: “You are deeply favoured, My child.”
And I was like: Wow. From the time I was born, He had by design orchestrated my life.
It made me even more confident that I am to do what I do in even greater obedience.
“I’ve always believed that what I have materially is not mine to hoard.”
I’ve honestly been very blessed with the family that I’ve been given – in all senses. And I’ve always believed that what I have materially is not mine to hoard. I am to steward it, not just for my children, but others too.
That explains why, as in the Invictus Fund, when the Lord tells me to give, I give.
How important is it to discern the will of God in our decisions?
For Assisi Hospice, the first thing we do in our board meetings is spend time reflecting and discerning the will of God. So sometimes we reflect on a Bible passage, or a picture, for 10, 15 mins before we start our meeting.
“The Lord doesn’t just operate in the church or church boards, He’s there in all that we do.”
This is something that Sister Jane, the congregational leader of the FMDM sisters who started Assisi Hospice and Mt Alvernia, introduced to us. This element of discernment is what St John of God Healthcare in Australia does, and they told us what a difference it had made for their Board.
It is really about being still before the Lord, getting our hearts ready so that we are open to the Spirit’s leading, rather than just being dictated by our own human actions.
And that’s where I really think we need to operate more. The Lord doesn’t just operate in the church, the Lord doesn’t just operate on church boards, He’s there in all that we do.
What I’ve appreciated is how God is in the “secular”. I think of that wonderful example of Mr Sidkar, where God used everyone from different backgrounds. It didn’t matter – to Him, He just loves us all.
Has God ever remained silent when you sought His counsel?
Many many times. He doesn’t answer immediately.
Sometimes He’s answered it already but we don’t recognise it because we wanted Him to answer in a certain way. Other times there’s a long silence.
But it’s okay. He will answer in His way and in His time.
Which Bible tenets do you live by?
I like this quote of John Wesley’s a lot: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
I describe myself as being a “Manglican” – Anglican by birth, Methodist now! But that quote of Wesley’s really resonates.
And the verse that I really identify with is Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’.”
That has a deep meaning for me because of my birth and story.
Has any good come out of COVID?
I know there are a lot of people who are suffering in terms of financial and emotional toll. My heart goes out to them.
Three Januarys ago, God also planted the seed of the Community Capability Trust Fund, a substantial sum by the Government to build up the capability of charities, to Ms Fam. Knowing that “we need very clear guidance for the social services sector”, she also initiated the Government-funded Beyond COVID-19 Task Force to “take the learning from COVID and equip social service agencies to better manage themselves going forward”.
But from my perspective, a lot of good has come out of COVID. It really is a reset button for us all. I think it’s helped us appreciate time. It’s helped us appreciate family. It’s helped us appreciate friends.
And so, through this, I think we’ve realised what counts. It’s not the material things.
The question is: Will we blow it by going back to the way we were? Or will we really do things differently, better?
I just pray that we come out of this valuing things and people more, not taking them for granted.
For me, I have never been more reliant on God.