Tuesday, August 11

A journey of faith

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For GBI member Cindy Chow, the lesson she took from her disappointment over the cancellation of a much-awaited UN event is that the journey matters, not the destination

MISSING a once-in-a-lifetime chance to participate in a United Nations event was a huge disappointment for Cindy Chow.

The most awaited moment of her life turned into heart-wrenching dismay when the world body event she was looking forward to attending fell through.

The excitement and the support she received that had been building up to that moment finally saw her on the way to New York. It was the dream of a lifetime.

Unfortunately, when she arrived in the Big Apple, she received an email notifying her the event had been cancelled.

Chow at the compound of the UN building with flags of the member countries on both sides of the concrete pavement.

“Can you imagine how I felt? It was as if the sky had crashed down and the world had gone dark on me. Cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic,” she told thesundaypost.

And to get over the painful experience, she believes God gave her the strength to hold herself together and move on.

Chow, a Kuching lawyer, is a member of Girls’ Brigade International (GBI). Her team was given a parallel session in the UN Commission to speak on the topic – Status of Women 64 (UNCSW64) – for 90 minutes.

They would have had given the Girls’ Brigade their say on the need to address issues affecting women such as women and faith, women and education, and women and health together with a topic on gender-specific persecution.

Chow was to have spoken on the various persecutions women might face for being women.

Specifically, her topic would focus on Gender Justice and she was to be paired with another speaker, Tiffany Barrans from Open Doors International. But any hope of Chow sharing her topic at the UN forum was dashed by the last-minute cancellation – much to her chagrin.

Chow was devastated because she is a strong advocate of women’s rights, firmly believing in the cause and holding related issues close to her heart.

Chow poses with Mandela’s statue.

She regarded the UN event as an opportunity of a lifetime to voice out her views and she had prepared physically, mentally, and spiritually for it. But the most unthinkable cancellation happened at the last moment, leaving her distraught.

“From joy and excitement to disappointment and sadness,” she recalled.

Her anguish was compounded by having to deal with adjusting to her 12-hour jetlag, while she waited for further instructions from GBI.

“I couldn’t sleep for two nights because I didn’t know what to do. Should I stay? Should I head back to Malaysia,” she related.

At that time, Covid-19 had also broken out in Malaysia.

Chow said she eventually decided to cut short her stay in the US after being stranded there for two weeks. It took her four days to get her flights changed.

Later, she realised it was fortunate she decided to return home because right after she left New York, Covid-19 began spiking in the US.

She truly believes Providence helped her through her trauma and brought her home safely.

Chow with the women from Africa and Hong Kong.

Journey of faith

She regards her trip as a journey of faith, believing that only God understands exactly how she felt.

The experience taught her to understand the true meaning of being unable to foresee the future and the fact that her tomorrows are in God’s hands.

Chow said she now realised the ordeal had given her a chance to go through a lifetime experience in an unexpected manner.

“It was like seeing a rainbow after a storm,” she added.

For her two weeks in the US, she endured jetlag on the first few days and pulled herself and her thoughts together in the time left to arrange her flight home.

Chow said amid the frustration and confusion, she had even reached a point where she asked God “why did you send me so far away only for this to happen? Did I take the longest flight just to have a cup of tea in the US?”

She felt completely down and out – physically tired, mentally stressed, and spiritually weakened. And even worse, she noted, was feeling alone in a foreign land.

She did, however, receive texted messages from friends and her Brigade leaders, advising and encouraging her to take it easy and not be too hard on herself.

In hindsight, she feels the cancellation of the event was God’s plan for had it gone ahead, it would have been attended by some 10,000 people the world over and possibly resulted in a bigger disaster from the cluster of attendees.

Since the main event had been cancelled, GBI decided not to send official delegates to the conference.

GB Sarawak chaplain Rev Lau Hui Ming with the pastoral team, church leaders, and GB Leaders of Kuching Group Council hold prayers at Trinity Methodist Church to commission Chow for the Delegation of Hope.

A better turn

However, the situation took a turn for the better, bringing some comfort to Chow, when she and another team member, Quindell, the international vice-president for the Caribbean received invitations from some of the organisations and people they were supposed to meet at UNCSW.

Chow said she at least got to meet new people and attend some mini-events. The people she met included Amanda Jackson from World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), who met up with Chow and Quindell over breakfast.

It was an informal meeting where Jackson provided further details on The Girls’ Brigade.

Chow and Quindell were also invited by Christine Macmillan to attend WEA Interns’ meeting over lunch hosted by Rebecca Olsavska.

Macmillan was the person who assessed Chow in an interview following her application to be in the team for the conference in New York.

Chow said it was a great honour meeting Macmillan, otherwise she would not have known this woman of strong faith and passion for her ministry and innate ability as a motivator.

Macmillan also invited  Chow and Quindell to two more events at the International Social Justice Commission under Salvation Army to celebrate the transformation in women and girls around the world – themed Together under the Umbrella.

The umbrella imagery signifies the protection of women from rain and storm. When the umbrella is held upside down, it collects rain to symbolise the collective ability of an organisation to gather resources internationally for self-empowerment.

The testimonies and stories shared were confidential – no recordings of the proceedings were allowed.

Chow (third left) with Macmillan (left) and the interns at the WEA office.

Big lesson

Chow said the big lesson she learned through meeting these people was that in her journey of faith, she was not alone, adding, “I could sense God was sending His angels to assure me He is in control of the circumstances even though things did not happen as I expected.

“For instance, I didn’t expect to meet so many women who shared the same worries, the same fears, the same hopes, and the same vision, especially of building and empowering young women in societies to be leaders of tomorrow.”

In New York, she stayed at YMCA Vanderbilt, a mere five-minute walk to the UN Building.

After UNCSW64 was cancelled, she felt she must visit this significant building and take some photos but was not sure if she would be allowed in.

It was on a chilly, yet sunny, Monday morning that she decided to try her luck, bearing in mind she might end up just admiring the building from outside.

On arrival at the compound, she saw a notice directing visitors to get their pass at the Visitors’ Centre.

Chow decided to go for it although not getting her hopes up too high.

To her surprise, she was told by a security officer she only needed to produce an official ID to get a temporary visitor’s pass.

“That was simply a wow moment and I thanked God for making my wish come true,” she said.

As expected, she had to go through security checks and the first significant public area she saw was the United Nations General Assembly Hall, commonly known as UNGA.

Visitors are only allowed in the café, souvenir stores, and the ground floor exhibition area.

A statue of Nelson Mandela stands proudly at the entrance as though to welcome visitors.

Chow then saw a large billboard inscribed with CSW64: Beijing+25: Realising Gender Equality and the Empowerment of All Women and Girls. There was also an exhibition related to the topic.

She spent some two hours in the building and got to meet a few women from Africa and Hong Kong, who also came for the CSW64 event.

For the CSW64 theme on the topic – Gender Equality, Sustainability Development Goals, and Promoting the Important Role of Women in Community and Society – the organisers had prepared billboards, photograph and sticker booths for the public to voice their say on the various topics.

From the sticker roll, Chow chose five topics close to her heart – We Want Equality in Politics; Young Women Leaders: The Change We Want; Girls Just Want to Have Fundamental Rights; and Keep It Safe – All Women and Girls Everywhere and Equality Under All Laws: It’s Our Right.

Looking back, she said the cancellation of the much anticipated big event has been a blessing in disguise.

She felt she had weathered through tribulation and emerged victorious and stronger, having learnt so many things she had not expected to. And one of the lessons is “What matters is the journey, not the destination.”

As the famous quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century, goes – “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”

Indeed, it is through the journey that one grows and strengthens.