Replacing Shame with Life
The Church should be known for our acts of love and what we are for, more than what we are against
Jennifer Heng is the Director of Safe Place in Singapore, aimed at empowering women and families with unsupported pregnancies to make life-giving choices.
What has been most challenging about the work you do?
My most challenging moments are when people whom I think will support me actually turn around and say they don’t agree with what I do, or that my work is promoting something different, such as being licentious.
When my book first came out, I was very excited. I invited someone I highly respected for many years, someone with whom I had a personal relationship, to my book launch. He didn’t reply.
Many months later I found out that he was upset that I had written the book, because he felt that I was endorsing abortion by sharing my story of being forgiven by God for my abortions. He felt as if I was saying, “It’s okay to have an abortion, because God will forgive you.” And this was coming from someone that knew me and knew my journey. We’ve reconciled since then and have cleared the air, but I have often felt misunderstood by people whom I thought would understand me.
Another challenging thing is balancing my personal life and my public life. Because my story is so open and so public, and I speak about my family very openly, I need to balance how much I reveal, and also protect my family’s privacy.
In the early years, people would write these horrible things about my husband, saying he got secondhand goods, that he is hen-pecked, and other things about him. They would call me a murderer and baby-killer. I share publicly and my family gets implicated, when they are really at no fault at all. They try to support me, but I know they are hurt by what is said.
Another one, also directly related to my family, is my daughter. She’s seen everything we’ve started and done. Sometimes I’ve had to carry her while I’m preaching, and she’s had to sit through long meetings that have nothing to do with her. I sometimes battle with the mom-guilt of not having time for her.
“Shame dwells in darkness. Anything left in darkness will fester and bear negative fruit. If we bring it to the light and let the light of God shine on it, there’s hope.”
As she’s getting older, I’ve learned to find time to engage her in the work. She’s 9 years old now, and is a rising advocate in what I do. She totally believes in the mission, and she can see God’s work in everything we’ve done. The hardest years should be over, I hope. It hasn’t been easy for our family.
With these challenges, how has your husband supported you in the work?
Many people are curious and they ask me, “Does your husband support what you do? Does he know about your past?” Before we started dating, I told my husband my entire life story, and he accepted everything and was very gracious and loving.
There have been many moments in my ministry life where I question myself, “Is this really what God wants me to do? I’m not good enough.”
Every single time this happens, it’s my husband John who reminds me, “If God has called you, you have to do it. He has strengthened you and given you the resources.”
John has done this time and time again, with my book, with Dayspring New Life Centre, with Safe Place. Every time I needed to step out in faith, and I felt hesitant, he’s the one to tell me, “You need to do this.” He doesn’t get the credit, everyone looks at me, but without him I can’t do what I need to do. His role is so important, although he’s often not seen.
What does the church need to do when it comes to tackling the issue of abortion?
I think that one of the most important things the church can do is to be educated about the issue. Education basically involves two questions. First, “What does Scripture say about abortion?” And second, “What are the facts about the issue – medically, socially, and legally?” I think education is very important.
Secondly, the church needs to respond in love with action. This is my very firm conviction – it is not enough for the church just to say what is right, they also have to do what is right. Faith without works is dead.
The church must not be known simply for what we are against, but for what we are for. Of course, we have to say that abortion is wrong, but beyond that – what are we building and what are we promoting? The church must not just have a lot of disagreements, but also offer a solution.
“The church needs to respond in love with action. This is my very firm conviction – it is not enough for the church just to say what is right, they also have to do what is right. Faith without works is dead.”
I feel this is an example of solution – a home. People could open up their homes, support a pregnant mom in need, support a father, and can be really embracing for those who have had an abortion. These are some of the things we can do.
How can we build a safe culture to replace a culture of shame?
I think we can all be better listeners, to learn to listen to another person’s story without judgment and preconceived opinions. I think we need to have more platforms where people can tell their stories. It’s not so much to hang their dirty laundry in public, but more to bring things in the darkness into the light, to bring about wholeness and healing.
Shame dwells in darkness. Anything left in darkness will fester and bear negative fruit. If we bring it to the light and let the light of God shine on it, there’s hope.
People want to know, “Is it safe to tell people my issues?” Sharing about our mistakes has to be done with wisdom – trumpeting our past mistakes to the whole world is unwise.
But is there someone I can talk to about the stuff that I don’t dare to face myself, and will I find love when I do so? I think that’s key to breaking a culture of shame.
When Jennifer became pregnant as a teenager, she experienced the fear, loneliness and desperation of having what was called a “crisis pregnancy”. She walked in the painful consequences of her choices for many years, but found hope and healing much later in her life through her faith, family and loved ones.