Kwok Sian Yee

An Unstoppable Zeal for God

Produced by Our Stories, His Glory Team


Reading Progress:

One comes away with the impression that Kwok Sian Yee has lived life in the fast lane, as her zeal, passion and energy seem unstoppable. Yet, dive deeper, and one would come to truly appreciate that she has made multiple stops along the way. She never rushes, and she tarries even, as she has reached out to people in need, and whose lives she has made a difference in. From a fast-paced career in advertising, marketing and running her own business in the private sector, Sian Yee made the switch to care for the elderly in a Christian organization at 45 years old in the year 2000. “This role was completely outside my comfort zone. I had to roll up my sleeves to help the frail elderly in their homes with their very basic needs. I remember the first time I accompanied an elderly gentleman on a wheelchair into a disabled toilet and stayed while he went about his business. I saw him only as an elderly person who needed help.” Sian Yee’s deep desire to help wherever and whenever she’s needed has led her to serve in diverse areas—as full-time church staff to serve the disadvantaged and elderly; volunteer lay counsellor; volunteer teacher to “BeTweens” (11–14 year olds); and volunteer in sharing God’s Word with the elderly in Mandarin and Chinese dialects! Sian Yee has retired from full-time service with Wesley Methodist Church, but surely, “retirement” from making a difference is not in her vocabulary as she continues to forge ahead in different areas of need.

Sian Yee loves people the way she was loved (and continues to be loved) by family.

Born in 1955 in Singapore which she always considers her home, Kwok Sian Yee had a happy childhood, with a father who could be considered a hands-on parent for those times, and a mother who was affectionate. She recalled:  

“My dad was a conservative parent but he was also full of humour and I have lovely memories of the wonderful things he took time to do for and with us; my mum, who never went to school, was extremely affectionate and I remember her hugs and how she would take care of me when I was sick”.

Her family practiced nominal ancestral worship. Sian Yee’s care for people probably stems from her young days when her mother kept a menagerie of animals: dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens and fish. She and her siblings grew up loving animals, and sleeping with cats and dogs was the norm. Her mother was jovial and generous. Her self-confidence probably stems from the way her mother brought her up.  She recalls: “She would park me somewhere while she did her errands—it could be at the butcher stall or the Chinese medicinal shop and I was never afraid”.

• Sian Yee(back row, extreme left) and family.

Her parents always believed in mission school education as being “superior”. So she went to a Christian kindergarten and then a convent school (CHIJ Katong Convent) from Primary One till her ‘A’ Levels.

Sian Yee believes in people because people believed in her.

Of her school days, she recalls:

“I have really fond memories of school although I was not an exemplary student. My mum always said I was academically challenged but she assured me I will do well in life. My teachers loved me and I enjoyed subjects like English, Literature, Geography and History. I never understood Mathematics or Science (especially Physics and I nearly blew up the science lab in Chemistry!) but remember how the Math teachers never gave up on me. Neither did the Chinese Language 老师 (Teacher). In spite of not being a strong student in terms of my grades, I was Head Prefect when I was 18 years old. I was shocked to be selected and when I spoke with the Discipline Mistress at the time, she told me there are more important qualities in a person than good grades.”

“In convent school, I heard about Jesus and attended chapel with my friends but I think it was because I could wear a lace scarf to cover my head. I attended Bible classes and read the Gospels Matthew and Luke and could recite some verses. But it did not have an impact in my life. I had a bad experience in Secondary 2 when a classmate tried to evangelise and told me I must accept Jesus otherwise I will burn in hell. I made a hasty retreat and for a long time wanted nothing to do with Christians.”

“My childhood memories include riding on a trishaw to go to market with my mum. When I was in Primary Two, Singapore was a part of Malaysia (16 September 1963) and I remembered we sang “Negara Ku” at assembly. I also remember the racial riots quite vividly in 1964 because my mum had taken my brothers and I to Great World Amusement Park for some reason and when news of racial riots spread, she held on to us and we walked all the way home—and we had to pass Geylang Serai. Fortunately, we did not encounter any incident and arrived home where my mum called my dad who was stuck in his office, and he gave clear and precise instructions for us to barricade ourselves in the master bedroom. I think my brothers and I enjoyed being under the bed. The good bits about growing up in Singapore during the 1960s–1970s was that school was fun. I did not recall stress or pressure. Maybe it was just me.

“I started attending Wesley MC at 19, with a boy that I had met. His family worshipped at Foochow MC (Chinese services) but being considerate, he thought I might be more comfortable in an English-speaking session. When we had dated for a couple of years, with the intent to marry after he completed university studies and found a job, we decided to be baptized together. My parents did not object but asked me to be baptized when I turned 21. I was baptized on 18 December 1977 and became a member of Wesley MC. My parents were both present at my baptism. I attended the Billy Graham crusade in 1978 and was probably “on fire” with the thousands around me”.

When she first started work at age 20, her salary was so meagre, she made her own dresses using paper patterns from Simplicity1. Japanese department stores found their way to Singapore and she found work at Yaohan. Every evening at 6pm, there would be long queues snaking around the bakery waiting for the famous an-pan (a Japanese sweet roll most commonly filled with red bean paste) to be ready.

From 19 until she was 45, Sian Yee worked mainly in advertising and marketing. At Yaohan, she worked at copywriting, then moved on to join Polygram, where she was catapulted into the music scene—then dominated then by the Rolling Stones—and the media (radio, television, news, etc.). She helped a friend to manage her wholesale business of selling furnishing fabrics when she was 39 and this gave her the opportunity to pick up some skills in interior design. Giving herself three years to help her friend, she stayed on for nine! The skills she learnt in advertising, marketing and running a business—understanding and relating to people—stood her in good stead, while others she picked up—creativity, operating budgets, thinking out of the box and just never saying die—she put to even better use on her ministry journey, helping her stay the course.

• Sian Yee and the Ninja turtles her company was promoting.

“In the 70s and 80s, the disco era was celebrated by music and fashion and it was exciting for me as I was in the music industry for four years. The highlight of my career at this point was meeting real celebrities like Elton John (before he became Sir Elton), the late Teresa Teng and a host of others. Fortunately, my parents raised me to be a confident individual and I never bothered to have photos taken or asked for autographs. My dad worked for a Chinese company which managed cinemas and to him, celebrities are ordinary human beings making a living. He would bring Fung Bo Bo and Patrick Tse Yin home for a meal and it was ordinary.

Sian Yee’s life is punctuated by three events, each of which ended with a simple “okay” from her. It was not stoicism—it is her typical trait of composure combined with knowing God is taking care of her and will turn it around.

The first: When she was 26 and had started working, her older sister told her and her siblings that they were losing their family home—a landed piece of property in the East. Sian Yee remained calm and said okay; she accepted it, buoyed by the assurance from her sister, whom she is extremely close to, that she and her husband would help Sian Yee buy her own property eventually. Sian Yee checked out a few places before ending up in a flat in Holland Village. It was God’s timing. So at 26, Sian Yee bought a flat she stayed in with her family and continues to stay in today!

The second: “On hindsight, my initial attendance in church and my baptism were not with pure intentions. But God is loving and forgiving. When I was 27—and about to be married, I had a very deep nudge from the Holy Spirit to open my eyes and re-look at my almost perfect relationship—and that’s where I had to face the cracks. With great sadness I mustered up the courage to break up and two families were devastated. But I was convicted that it was the right thing to do at the time. Romans 8:28 reminds me ‘And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.’ It took me years to fully “recover” from the loss of this relationship but from the start of that journey, I found my identity in Christ and rededicated my life to Christ. That was my born-again moment.”

At 32–33, Sian Yee left Wesley Methodist Church (WMC) which was where she and her boyfriend had spent happy days together; she church-hopped for 4–5 years. When a Wesely friend asked her to return to WMC, she said her second “okay”, and at 39, the prodigal returned. She attended a workshop and used Network, a model of spiritual gifting assessment initiated by Bill Hybels, and over four sessions found that her giftings were in Faith, Mercy, Encouragement and Administration. But it was a passion for the elderly that Sian Yee clearly had. David Blakely, then PTM at Counselling Ministry, awakened and reminded her that she should try out a ministry related to the elderly. Christian Concerns and Social Outreach (COSC) caught her eye and that started her two decade-long association with it, first as volunteer and later as Administrative Team member (ATM).

The third:  “When we work with COSC, it’s demonstrative—we do it out of love and concern; at the most, when we see someone in distress, we pray for them,” said Sian Yee after almost 20 years at COSC. The third ‘okay’ came when  Pastor (Ps) David Ho asked: “You spent 20 years in Jalan Berseh—are you just going to walk away from it all?” Ps David’s words about the possibility of an opportunity to share faith with those on board was not lost on Sian Yee. The pandemic put a stop to this opening door. Sian Yee used it to effect—she mobilised her volunteers. “We need to get our resources ready—pray, equip, or loosely translated or actualised this way—build a relationship with God, be a part of the church community, so when we go to the community of need, we are in a good place.” That’s the beginning of the outreach group called 真❤️话,or “ZXH” (literally, “Words from the Heart”). This is how Sian Yee thinks of her new venture:  “Lord, you brought me to a place where I can share. This is Your sense of humour: an English-speaking church member evangelising in Chinese. But it’s okay—all you need is the heart.” 真❤️话 started in November 2022 and is celebrating (at the time of writing) its first anniversary.

The people she worked with in her ministries point to her total involvement with the elderly, the ease with which she works with people and her energy and passion. Sian Yee herself calls the respect she commands from co-volunteers, superiors and organisation partners “God’s favour upon her”. So is the help and support she has received from them.

Sian Yee recalls that when she applied for a job at WMC, Christina Stanley was then COSC Chairperson. Christina shares: “She was then working for a multi-national eye health products company. We had almost daily interactions as client and agency, and over contact lens solutions and the like, so we became friends too. I was taken with Sian Yee’s always-on positivity and enthusiasm—she also shared with me her passion for the disadvantaged. At that same time, I was also initiating a joint home-care programme with the Methodist Welfare Services, called Wesley HomeJoy. I thought Sian Yee would make a wonderful fit to manage this service, and the rest is history. It is all glory to God that He provided this opportunity that has resulted in such a long and satisfying tenure for Sian Yee all these years.”

Rosalia Mahendran first knew Sian Yee as a volunteer with the seniors at Befrienders to Older People (BOP), later as staff sent out to Methodist Welfare Service (MWS) and then later as her superior when Sian Yee started the Senior Activity Centre2 in Jalan Berseh. Rosalia is also her friend and Small Group (Holiness by Grace) mate:

“Sian Yee loves the Lord, she loves the elderly, she has so much passion, creativity, seemingly unrelentless energy even up to now when she has retired. She is a people person too. She works well with her volunteers. She reached out with words and action.

• Bonding with clients in a cultural event.

“She is a woman who oozes God’s joy and delight. She loves her family. She serves with all the gifts she has in every season of her life.” 

• Clowning around with beloved grandnieces and grandnephews.

Loke Ai Mei, Sian Yee’s Supervisor and Pastoral Team Member of Christian Outreach and Social Concerns (COSC), has known her for seven years. She has this to say:

“Sian Yee has the gift of hospitality and I have seen her exercising this gift when she was with the Wesley Senior Activity Centre2.

“She has a genuine concern for the seniors and knew how they were doing. She introduced a soup programme and constantly encouraged seniors to eat healthy. Sian Yee faithfully served healthy meals with the volunteers and served joyfully. She continues to keep in contact with the seniors even though she has retired.”

Sian Yee has served as a Lay Counsellor with Wesley Counselling Services since she was 48. This being her 20th year, and needing to focus on newer concerns, she has stepped down. She describes the counselling ministry thus: “This is another beautiful and amazing ministry where by helping others in their time of difficulty, I learn so much more about myself and my relationships and what God has done for me.”

Tony Ting who has known Sian Yee for the past 20 years as clinical supervisor at the Wesley Counselling Services (WCS), ministry partner and friend, describes her thus:

“She is a skillful and caring lay counsellor with a strong commitment to the helping profession. She is also a conscientious person who shows dedication and unwavering energy in her work. She is generous, sincere and has a friendly disposition and preference for amicable resolution of conflicts. Her performance as a lay counsellor has been consistently of a high standard. I have seen Sian Kee display sincere concern for the well-being and needs of her clients and staff of WCS. In return, she is well liked and held in high esteem by both her clients and staff.”

From breaking off from her boyfriend to coming back to Wesley Church from her church-hopping days, Sian Yee credits it all to her obedience to God. Each turning point of her life has been motivated by her waiting upon the Lord for His instruction to take the next step. She talks about her link with God this way: 

“I experience a close relationship with God and I know this not as a feeling but as a “knowing”. Oftentimes, I will contact someone, either by text or a phone call and it is always timely. Or I notice there are more divine appointments when I meet people I am supposed to meet for a reason. This helps me to seal my trust in God knowing that He is present in my everyday life.”

When she was 44, selling drinks at the church food fair, she found a poster with a verse from Psalm 32 going for $1.00. She recalled:

“This was before Bible Reading Drive (BRD), so the verse (8)—‘I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.’ —was new to me. I sent it to the framer and paid $25.00 for the framing. I took this as the Lord’s promise to show me His plans for me and He did not fail me. That framed poster has followed me from my office at Wesley HomeJoy inside Bethany Methodist Nursing Home in Choa Chu Kang and then to Wesley Seniors Activity Centre at Jalan Berseh and is now at home with me where I continue to trust that in whatever I do, my Lord continues to instruct and teach me, and He watches over me. I just need to be obedient.”

Moving from the business world to the one dominated by caring for the elderly took Sian Yee from her comfort zone to one that felt alien, yet one she knew was tailor-made for her, given her caring nature and sensitivity to the needs of the less fortunate. From the glitzy world of the arts and theatre, advertising and design, Sian Yee at 45 moved into care of the elderly. Was she equipped for this? Not really, she recalled:  

“To say that I had to step out of my comfort zone is an understatement. Home help services are for frail elderly living in 1-room rental and other purchased HDB flats and included meals delivery, taking care of personal hygiene of the elderly (bathing and changing), doing house cleaning and running errands for the elderly, and providing hospital escort services for elderly with medical appointments at specialist clinics. I barely needed to take care of my own parents when they were ill with cancers except to be good companions to them when I returned from work. I did night duty which was mostly manageable.”

She learnt on the job. “I remembered one of the first things I did with my brand-new team was to schedule lessons to learn how to bathe and change clothes for older persons—and we did this at 5am at the Methodist Home for the Aged Sick in St George’s Road for three mornings. I learnt to transfer the older person (men and women) off the bed onto a commode and wheel them to the shower room, soap and shower them and return them to the bed to change them into clean clothes—including putting on diapers and combing their hair. I remember the first time I brought an elderly gentleman for a hospital appointment, and he needed to use the disabled toilet since he was on a wheelchair.I just wheeled him in, stayed inside with him when he went about his business. When I told this to my Bible study group members (all women), they gasped in horror. And I remembered that I was not shy or embarrassed. I remembered that I saw this older man as a person who needed help.”

Sian Yee cites another story of how God equips her to see only people who needed her help:

“Wesley HomeJoy received a call from a man, who said his brother living in Bukit Batok has mental illness and needs help. Accompanied by the driver, Rosli, we answered this call for help. We arrived at the flat; it was pitch dark. A man opened the door; he was pale. The image that came to me instantly was that here was Boo Radley3 in front of me. He let us in; the amount of dust was incredible—they were like tumbleweeds; there were cockroaches everywhere. Fortunately, at that stage in my life—I was 30—I had overcome my fear of cockroaches, so they did not matter to me. I sent Rosli to survey the house while I talked to Mr Tan. There were disposable food boxes everywhere too. I was composed; Rosli was aghast and came to report that the whole flat was in a bad state, and the bathroom especially exuded a bad smell. One of God’s gifts to me is that I don’t miss the good smells; I don’t mind the bad ones, so I could imagine what Rosli meant but I could not smell it!

“It was clear Mr Tan suffered from anxiety, OCD and paranoia. He agreed to be taken care of. My team and I—three in all—promptly came back a few days later and spent a day cleaning and sprucing up the flat, till it was clean enough so we could sit on the floor. In 2013, when SARS hit, Mr Tan, who before was scared even to go to the nearby minimarket to buy groceries, was buying antiseptic disinfectant to clean his flat. He assured us that he could take care of himself—that’s when we knew he had learnt to be independent.”

Sian Yee loves outdoor pursuits but it wasn’t always so. She recalls:

I was not a very active child and did not like sports. I had no ball sense and used to get hurt by flying balls (soft ball, tennis and squash). My siblings took to swimming like fish to water, but I would scream every time my mother brought me to the pool. She finally gave up. But when I was 13, I joined the school’s swimming class and learnt to swim to save myself. I still do not like the water.”

Today, she loves to travel, particularly train travel: She has been on long and expansive train journeys in North America, England, China, Indonesia and Australia. She remembers fondly trips taken with seniors from Wesley Methodist Church when she was “younger”, to Kunming in Yunnan to see the Dongchuan Red Land; and with Pastor Philip leading a visit to the seven churches of Revelation in Turkey.

Post Covid-19, she went to South Korea in 2023 with two friends and they had an amazing time taking trains, buses and taxis in Seoul, Busan and Jeju Island.

Besides being a practitioner of lifelong learning, she did things later in life: at 40, she climbed  Kings Canyon (Alice Springs, Australia), at 50, Mount Kinabalu, and walked (something she loves doing) the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (388kms). At 50 too, she completed a Diploma in Counselling; at 62, she walked the Nakasendo Trail (from Tokyo to Kyoto). She quips: “But now at 68, I think it’s best not to test my joints too much!”

• On the Camino trail.

She asks herself where she got the bravado to do things that are physically challenging for her in the current season of her life. The answer? “It is God who put it in my heart to do all of it, so He can show me something about myself. Plus, the zest I see in the elderly, is infectious, to say the least.”

As if her hands were not full enough, after talking to Pastor David Ho about her burden for the next generation (starting with her own grandnieces and grandnephews, most of whom are living abroad), in 2021 Sian Yee joined the BeTween4 ministry as a teacher. After her ‘A’ levels, she had taken a year off to help her older sister with her first-born son. She is a doting aunt to her siblings’ children and grandchildren, and this could well be the reason she took on BeTween. She describes her love and hope for the new ministry passionately, albeit joining it in a season of life when others are slowing down:

“I asked to observe a class over Zoom in December 2020 and by January 2021, I was assigned to a class. The lessons were conducted every Sunday at 9.30am. For the whole year, I saw my tweens on camera, some who are tech savvy [had] funny effects on their faces; some literally rolled out of bed and others [were] munching their breakfast. I was out of my comfort zone again: first, interacting with young people and second, with technology. I survived that year. When my tweens were in PSLE in 2022, we were back onsite at the YWCA level 8 rooms. Being a critical academic year, I was able to encourage them by giving them love gifts (Bible verses, candy, sending them reminders that they are loved), and we all survived PSLE together. Now, they have just finished Sec 1 which felt like a “gap year” and I am looking forward to 2024 as the tweens continue to grow and mature before my eyes.”

• Finding purpose and meaning with the next generation – being a role model along their faith journey.

She credits her zest for learning partly to the elderly clients she served. She is particularly inspired by their learning in their old age, be it crafts, singing, writing calligraphy, cooking, performing on stage, etc. She is also spurred on by co-volunteers who in their 60s and 70s still serve and have been doing so since young.

“They made me realise that you stay serving because you find meaning and purpose; it’s not a social thing that you do in groups. If you don’t have company, you go at it alone. I have spent countless hours with doctors and nurses who inspire me to spend time at a person’s passing because it is important to the person and to God; it’s sacrificial—it’s giving up one’s time. We often say “family is important”, and if God asks us to sacrifice family to do another thing, to serve someone, it’s equally important. I have an understanding with my family—if I have to go help someone, I HAVE to go!

• With her clients and their craft work.

“Mentors keep me confident as to when things need to be done—and when to stop doing it—step down when you need to; don’t feel bad about it! You draw energy, you get charged up and energised by volunteers who respond to the call.”

Hence, when she took over  the outreach group 真❤️话, she began to re-learn Chinese, painstakingly, on her own, as well as assisted by a grand-niece who studied with her while she was taking her PSLE. There is every reason to believe that 真❤️话 won’t be the last venture Sian Yee will initiate in this season of her life.

• Practising Chinese writing.

We wish Sian Yee all of God’s richest blessings as she continues to wait for His bidding to grow this new venture, and others to come.  

End notes:

1 Simplicity is a company (amongst others such as McCalls) that produces sewing patterns. Robinson’s (the departmental store) used to have a haberdashery department that had catalogues of Simplicity clothing designs whose sewing patterns customers could purchase.

2 Wesley Senior Activity Centre (WSAC) was renamed Wesley Active Ageing Centre (WAAC) in 2023; an initiative by MOH to align all centres providing spaces for seniors 60 and above to age in place (this latter phrase means to keep the elderly living in their familiar space as independently as possible).

3 A character from the novel To KIll a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; Boo Radley is a kind but mentally underdeveloped recluse.

4 This is a ministry that serves 11–14 year olds and hopes to prepare them in their season of many transitions to join the Youth Ministry when they are 15.

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